“Quit starin’ at my mouth, boy.”
I’m staring at his mouth. His lower jaw juts out sharply to the left. Broken bone that never healed quite right? Black, vegetal flecks of Copenhagen stick to his lower lip, a thin trail of brown saliva navigates his significant stubble. It rounds his chin. He sees me tracking its progress. Wiping the juice away quickly with the grease-stained cuff of his untucked blue Dickies work shirt he yells “Quit lookin’ at my goddamn mouth!”
He’s a short, wiry, dark haired man with a mustache and long tangled locks boiling out from under his dirty, boxy, mesh-backed ball cap. He’s got a long, bony face with deep sunken eyes and bushy brow. Big ears and a big nose. His once-blue work pants are now darker with grease and oil. Large black leather boots are out of proportion with his very skinny frame. He’s filthy. A mechanic maybe? Waving the rifle around now, veins and arteries ribbing his skinny, sinewy, red neck. He’s worked up. “You fuckin’ college boys come up here like you own the place. Well you don’t. I own it! And one of these days I’m gonna’ shoot one of you little shits for trespassin’. Now tell me you’re sorry and that you won’t never come up here again.”
“But sir, I just wandered off the trail. I was looking for a shortcut down to the river and I certainly didn’t mean to cause you…”
“SHUT THE FUCK UP!” Screaming this slowly, breaking the phrase into three distinct parts, daa da-daaa daaaa, his voice broke. Frothy pods of brown chew spit sprinkle my face as he pronounces the f. He was clearly drunk. Or completely insane. Couldn’t be reasoned with either way. “Do you want me to shoot you? Cause I will you big piece of shit. You ever see what a .243 ‘ill do to a deer? Blow it’s shoulder clean off from 100 yards!”
“Ok man, ok. You’ll never see me again. I’ll never come back up here.”
“Now start runnin’. If you’re not out of my sight by the time I count to thirty I’m gonna’ start shootin'. Now git!”
The only way to go is up. Open forest as far as I can see down the hill, there’s no way I’d cover that distance. I’ll try to make it up and over the rise. Big strides, trying to run but it’s steep and the new fall leaf litter slides against the old. I slip and stumble and my muscles ferment. Holy shit please don’t let me die in the woods, shot dead by a drunk mechanic. Almost there. CRACK! and a again CRACK! he shoots. The rifle’s deafening. My ears are ringing. Jesus fucking Christ I don’t want to die. CRACK! CRACK! One of the bullets ricochets to my left and sounds like a tightly wound spring being plucked. My body is vibrating with adrenaline. I’m melting. I scramble over large rocks and fall into a tangle of logs and mountain laurel. CRACK!
“And stay the fuck out!” I can barely hear his maniacal laughter over my breathing and heart beating. I vomit a little in my mouth and it burns. I let it run out and into the dirt. A small, bright blue metallic beetle clings to a blade of grass just inches from my face. Precariously perched, preening antennae.
As the African continent forced the rock to fold, a river cut a notch in the ancient sandstone.
One thousand feet deep.
Barree Gorge is a rugged, roadless place where Tussey Ridge is cleaved in two by the Little Juniata River. The red, orange, and yellow of late October cloaks the ravine in autumn brilliance and cold, crisp air makes the fresh fallen leaves crackle underfoot as I walk shaking. The dark blue water tumbles round rocks, swirling in pools serene from above.
I plot a course far west of the trail through the trees to avoid any more unfortunate encounters. I’ll walk along the river back to my car. It’s overcast. I should hurry.
But descending towards the river the water becomes white. Thick heavy cream lumbering through rapids. Red maple leaves swell to plump, fist size raspberries and float in the cream’s current. A pale, beautiful, naked woman sits in a small rock pool, breasts full and bulging. She says something softly to me in a delicate French accent: “I am sorry”.
I eat her slowly with a large silver spoon.
She’s sickly sweet.
Wednesday, September 27, 2006
“Quit starin’ at my mouth, boy.”