Writer of the Quarantine: Tony Beaulieu 

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Tony Beaulieu is a writer originally from Slaughterville, Oklahoma. He now lives and writes in Kansas City, Missouri. He has had fiction published by Tell-Tale Press, Collective Realms Magazine, Cirsova Magazine, and an article in MAD Magazine.

"It is about two young people who go for a fateful hike on one of Oklahoma's many abandoned cattle trails," Tony Beaulieu said. "It is about man's relationship to nature, grief, and childhood trauma."

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You’re Still a Fisherman

Drake reflexively checks his phone again. It’s close to 8:30 a.m., and he’ll be picking her up soon. The back of a 2003 Dodge Caravan steams in the dead of summer, beige carpet stained brown and black in random splotches, sediment of empty Coke bottles and fast food receipts settled in—the true inheritors of the long-disused vehicle. Drake pushes aside a torn gym bag fruitlessly then shuts the hatch door. Across the sparkling cement parking lot of his apartment complex, there’s a 2008 Chrysler that will take him to her, pack riding shotgun—half-gallon canteen of distilled water, jerky, granola, sunscreen SPF 30 that will need to be applied every 45 minutes over all exposed skin until the sun goes down, utility knife, machete for the weeds and because it felt cool to squeeze the grip and hold the blade out, matches, compass, a precautionary tent and a bedroll.

Annie’s apartments are a different color that Drake’s. He tosses the pack in the backseat as he again pulls up his phone and texts her “here.” She bounces out and down to the Chrysler dressed like him in a long-sleeved shirt, jeans, boots, white tube socks pulled up cuff-high around the neck, but she has rolled up her sleeves. Annie puts her own pack next to his then slides into the passenger seat.

“Dear god,” she says, “it’s hot,” pushing an errant strand of brown hair back behind one ear. She reaches toward the center console and dials the A/C to full blast.

“I was in my mom’s old car for five seconds and was already sweating,” Drake says. “It happens more or less instantaneously this time of year.” And after she doesn’t say anything, he continues. “It’s cooler out there. The asphalt, the blacktop, it radiates. It’s all flat too; there’s not valleys to trap the cool air.”

“You know, I read,” Annie says, fidgeting with the radio now, “that air conditioning makes us more uncomfortable when we step outside. A hundred years ago, your body would just acclimate to the climate. Now it never gets a chance to.”

That sounds true enough to Drake, but he can’t think of a proper response, so he just nods and says “Hmm.” Annie talks a lot when she’s not entirely comfortable, something Drake has noticed about her while she has dealt with patrons at the bar where they both work. He admires her for it because he is the opposite, and while she can diffuse stress with effervescent small talk, Drake sits quietly and it either gets worse or goes away.

Annie settles on a modern pop station. Drake merges the Chrysler onto the highway that will take them to the trail.

“What did you need from your mom’s old car?” Annie asks.

“Anything that I could use for a walking stick,” Drake says.

“A walking stick?” she asks, amused.

“For when the trail gets long and my legs get tired.”

Annie half-smiles. “How old are you?”

Drake’s grandfather always used a walking stick during their hikes when Drake was a kid. He would whittle Drake one, too, from a small branch with his pocketknife. It gave Drake surer footing on the path’s rougher patches and was a custom he’d grown used to on the trail, even though he hadn’t hiked, not really, in twenty years.

The two trails Drake and Annie had done before were just outside-the-city diversions for a couple hours. Late one hot, slow night in the nightclub, on the sticky floors and lit by televisions mounted on the carved and lacquered wood walls with the same music video playing simultaneously on all of them, Drake and Annie sat across the bar from one another, bored and sober, and daydreamed out loud. It was in this 4K glow that Drake mentioned his desire to return to nature, and Annie knew a state park she’d gone to a couple weekends before, so they’d made plans.

It’s the furthest either of them have been from the city in years, but it is a special hike from Drake’s childhood and a trail that might not even exist anymore—there, in Bickering (not a town, but a narrow blacktop road with trailers peppering the hills), a cattle trail passes by 500 yards from the backdoor of one house in particular. Backed up to a barbed wire fence in a field of crunchy overgrowth, trees surrounding in a circle, the trail dips out into the field for 200 yards before re-submerging into the woods to the south.

There are, or were, sights on the trail of unearthly beauty, one of which wasn’t the ancient, gnarled and dead tree near the re-entrance of the woods named Grandfather Tree. And there are canyons further south and out of the woods again, steep valleys and steeper inclines, a part where the trail passes under enormous powerlines, their pylons forming a line of giants cutting a swath through the wilderness as they marched in a line like soldiers, the only such foreboding intrusion of civilization in the otherwise untainted road.

Most of the time, Grandpa would pack a tackle box and two rods and they’d only hike as far as Big Catch Lake, a pond fed by a modest brook. Drake had once caught a huge bass—not huge but huge in the photograph of his 8-year-old self holding it proudly by the mouth.

“You’re a fisherman, now,” Grandpa proclaimed after snapping the photo and releasing the catch back into the lake. That was the best Drake had ever felt.

Drake wants to see Big Catch Lake again. In his memory, it is halfway between the dead tree that marked the entrance of the trail and Sunset Bluff. Perhaps if Drake and Annie make good time, they’ll arrive at Sunset Bluff right at the golden hour and dangle their legs over the edge while facing the sun going down on the horizon.

Annie is quiet now as they drive, letting the radio carry them down the highway. It dwindles over the course of 45 minutes from four lanes to two, a thin thread connecting Drake’s present and past. The closer they travel to Bickering and the fuzzier the radio signal becomes, the more apprehensive he feels about taking Annie to the cattle trail.

It isn’t going to be how he remembers; the clear, beaten-smooth path will be overgrown with weeds and crab grass. The trees will be yellow. Big Catch Lake will be all dried up in the record heat. The sunscreen Drake packed won’t be strong enough. It is mosquito season. It is hallowed ground, not a date idea.

The only thing he has told her about the trail is that he’d walked it as a kid. There is the Grandfather Tree, Big Catch Lake, and Sunset Bluff, but Drake hadn’t told Annie about Powerline Alley, or Crybaby Canyon, or the Big Valley, or the last time he had gone down the trail with his grandfather.

Grass grows between the gravel of the driveway, making it hard to see, but it’s still there. The car pulls up, and they open their doors to the unforgiving heat. Annie checks her phone and notes it’s only 10 o’clock in the morning.

Drake clicks the cap on the tube of sunscreen shut and hands it to her. He crunches over the gravel to the front of the car as he rubs the cream over the back of his neck and appraises Grandpa’s trailer.

It is overgrown, too, with white paint chipping to expose rotten, dark wood beneath, the roof coming off in pieces. A portion of the foundation has given way to earth—the trailer tilts to one side, capsizing into a mass of untamed vegetation.

This was once a yard with a garden of peppers, onions, flowers, and summer tomatoes that Drake would pluck and wash with the garden hose and bite into like an apple—luscious and floral, sweet like summer air, the juice would spurt into his mouth and dribble down his chin to drench his shirt and hands. The air no longer smells like that; it is ripe with the stench of mildew and rot. Grandpa would slice the tomatoes and eat them raw with a heavy dusting of salt and pepper.

“It’s this way, right?” Annie is already halfway up the hill with her pack. She wants to get to Sunset Bluff before night.

“Slow down. We’ll walk ourselves out by then.” Drake picks up his bag and follows.

“C’mon!” Annie says. “We’re still young—or at least I am.”

She walks to the rusted barbed wire fence, the barbs dulled by the elements over the decades. She plucks a wire up to make enough room to duck through then holds the wire for Drake while he catches up.

On the other side, they face a deep curve of tree line extending for several hundred yards around them. Drake can’t see the opening where the trail folds back into the woods, so he walks them straight ahead toward the trees, hoping to cross the trail in the open and have it sweep them along in the familiar direction he remembers.

At the moment, it looks like an indistinct field of overgrown chaff, nothing sparking a memory like he thought it would, and as they continue up the incline, he keeps his eyes to the ground for any indication of the ancient trail, any break in the relentless sea of weeds that seem to grown in every direction but straight up. There is no trail like he thought, and he can feel Annie’s steps flagging behind him. He thinks he can feel the apprehension in her footfalls. They won’t be able to find the trail, and they will have to turn around and drive home in awkward silence, and when they work next, they will say hello to one another and he’ll politely not mention the time he dragged her an hour outside the city in the uncomfortable part of summer with fifteen pounds on both their backs for a look at a rotting trailer.

Yet there it is, the trail still smooth, splitting the weeds like Moses parting the red sea, a strand of beauty cutting through a sea of ugliness. You can’t see it until you’re right on top of it, but it’s there. Drake stops over it and looks up, tracing the trail as it curves gently before disappearing into the trees ahead.

Annie stands next to him and follows his line of sight. “I was starting to think there wasn’t a trail after all.”

Drake beams. “I never doubted it for a second.”

The first beads of sweat begin to form on Drake’s forehead. At least they aren’t trudging through fallow field anymore. Annie walks behind Drake for now, as the path is clear but very thin. Drake could have easily stepped over it a moment ago.

The trail is swallowed by mongrel pines as they step through the threshold and into the woods, shunted along by the trail like long-ago cattle, out of the bright morning sunlight and into the shrouded canopy of sharp-needled trees.

They make their way deeper into the woods, and the air grows cooler and richer with the scent of rot. The air hits the sweat on the back of Annie’s neck and calms her. As the trail angles down into a wide divot, a looming blue monster stands sentry on the crest of the next hill.

It has crumbled over the years, but Drake recognizes it as the Grandfather Tree, the official trailhead, so named by his own grandfather, “‘Cause it’s old and worn-out, like me.” The Grandfather Tree was an ancient towering oak that had at some point before Drake was born been struck by lightning. Mother Nature had done the rest over the years to break its branches and scatter its remains. What is left now is still a substantial trunk too wide for Drake and Annie together to put their arms around.

“This is were the trail starts,” Drake says.

Branches from the old crone break under their boots as they approach.

“Oh, now it starts.” Annie sighs and then, a little more earnestly observing the impressive trunk, says, “Must have been a big tree once.” She puts her hand on the smooth, bone-white trunk.

Drake takes a sip from his canteen and picks up a fallen branch about four feet long and tests it out. It’s narrow but strong, not too flexible, but it splits into two parts at the end for surer leverage.

Annie leans against the old tree, pulling her hair back into a ponytail. “That your walking stick, old man?”

Drake holds up the stick proudly. “Yeah. Want one?”

Annie laughs and pushes off the Grandfather Tree, and Drake follows her down the trail, where a ring of sunlight shows through, the trail widening out into a clearing.

Annie goes ahead as they emerge back into the sun, shaded intermittently by passing clouds. She comes to an abrupt stop, staring down disconcertingly, and he jogs to catch up. Drake peers over Annie’s shoulder and sees not obstruction but a point where the path branches into many—One darting right into brush, one vaguely meandering left, and the more heavily-trod trail continuing straight ahead.

“Well?” Annie asks.

A smile touches Drake’s face, unconscious and serene, as one does at the sight of formerly unremembered details that strike even more from the recesses of the mind, sudden memories sparking like fireworks.

“Why are there so many ways?” Drake asked.

Grandpa looked down, for he was so tall. “This, son, is a cattle trail, an old, old cattle trail,” he said. “They would come up from Texas, on the way to Kansas City, before oil, when beef was the main economic driver in this part of the world.”

Drake had to walk very quickly through the clearing to keep up with his grandfather’s long strides. He lugged his pole over one shoulder and carried his tackle box in the other hand.

“Cattle are a grazing animal. Here, they’d spread out over the field, then they’d be herded back up into a single line to pass through the woods.”

“C’mon,” Drake says, and Annie follows him up the left-leaning path.

It seems to wander aimlessly, but Drake knows what will come if they just follow it, even if not every turn and twist is familiar to him.

It is as if a god had pushed its massive fist down between parting clouds and into the earth. The canyon is deep, falling straight down a shear edge with strata of red clay and dirt and pebbles visible in the wall all the way to the bottom.

“Wow!”

“I think,” Grandpa said, “that this was a watering hole. And when it rains, it not only fills up but gets dug down a little deeper.”

“How did it get here?”

“I don’t know, son.”

Drake and Annie walk around the rim of the canyon. He picks up a rock and throws it down, where it blemishes the smooth sheet of red sand at the bottom.

“This is Crybaby Canyon,” Drake says, and he can tell that Annie is again amused. “One of the first times my grandpa took me out here, I wanted to go back when we got this far, and I cried ’til he took me, and so—”

“What an honor,” Annie says, “to have such a natural wonder named after you. Hand me the canteen,” she says, easing herself down on the rim of Crybaby Canyon.

Drake feels a dull ache in his bladder. He stands at the trail that rims the canyon.

Twenty yards behind them, a flourishing line of trees rise like a wall, green leaves popping against the brilliants blue summer sky, inviting him to relieve himself. Drake excuses himself before plodding stick-first over the clusters of fine silk grass that make for such good grazing.

Annie dangles her legs off the edge of the canyon, the bottom about five short feet from the soles of her boots. The soil down the edge of the canyon tells the story of passing centuries in geographic radiance, a tableau of nature’s version of history.

“Hey! Come look at this!” Drake calls flatly from the tree line. He is obscured by a heavy group of trees.

Annie stands and joins him off the trail.

He had been pissing when he had seen it—just the white rim of an eye socket at first, peeking out from last fall’s brown dead leaves. It drew him further inside the bosom of forest, and he swept the leaves around the white to the side, revealing a horn. Drake had dug the rest out with his stick by the time Annie caught up.

She stands back against the edge of trees warily. “What is it?”

Drake draws Annie forward with his fingers, sullenly, and as she comes upon it, she can see—the white, dirt-matted skull of a longhorn bull peering up out of the ground, its left horn washed clean where it had been sticking up.

“They still graze out here?”

Drake shakes his head. “He’s been here a long time.” He stands back, puts his hands on his hips and squints back towards the not-far-off cattle trail. “Must have wandered from the herd, and something got him.”

Drake takes another sip from the canteen before they head back to the trail, leaving the longhorn behind in its undisturbed grave.

The image of the longhorn skull clings to Drake’s mind, even as they continue down the trail, first following the meandering offshoot that rims Crybaby Canyon until it regroups with the main trail.

Noon comes as they pass underneath the enormous power lines that cross the trail.

Grandpa sat on the edge in the little folding chair he’d brought along. Drake leaned on a log not far off, picking at something in the mud with a stick. In years past, they’d sat next to each other on the bowed tree, both fishing lines bobbing on the surface of the water, but the tough log was too hard on Grandpa’s back now.

Grandpa had brought both poles, but Drake didn’t feel like it. Fishing bored him. He pushed his stick deeper into the mud and thought about girls from school. He thought a lot now about a lot of things. His head was much louder than when he was younger. And maybe it would quiet down eventually. Grandpa’s seemed calm enough, for he still enjoyed the simple pleasure of a walk along the trail and the whipping of the pole to cast the line out to water. It was getting quiet just then, and there were no bites that day, so Drake helped pack up and carried his grandfather’s chair all the way back to the house.

Sometime later, Drake was in a saucer chair, his focus on a video game, one of the few things louder than his head, when Mom came in with the phone. Grandpa had gotten out of the hospital for the last time a month ago and was feeling well enough for another trip to Big Catch.

After Drake hung up the phone, he sighed a little. He’d agreed to go, but he knew it only meant he’d end up carrying everything. The final trip had been planned, but it would never come; Drake’s grandfather died before it could.

The way to Big Catch is easy; you just follow the trail and, at the appointed spot, turn right into a tall grove. Once you penetrate the outer plumes, you carefully step down a steep embankment twenty feet to the hidden body of water below.

Big Catch is fed by a brook jutting off a river somewhere, which keeps it thriving and alive. There are some fallen trees at the edge that have been submerged intermittently with the rising and lowering of the lake and are stricken free of bark or dirt.

Drake and Annie sit together on one and unpack their small lunch. The sun is high and harsh, but the trees are higher and provide some respite. The sunlight sparkles off the alive surface.

“It’s beautiful,” Annie says.

“I’m surprised it’s not dried up or infested with mosquitos,” Drake says, still in a sullen mood from the longhorn skull.

The brook twinkles almost inaudibly behind them as they scarf beef jerky and trail mix and take measured pulls from the canteen.

“You used to come here every week?”

“At one point.”

“Lucky.”

Drake examines the shore and tries to pinpoint the log he and Grandpa used to share, but it’s hard to distinguish between them all. It looks like more have fallen over the years, and the outcropping they’d slid down has grown more treacherous with emerging saplings.

Annie rips open a plastic sandwich bag and pulls out two slices of wheat bread. She unscrews a jar of crunchy peanut butter and spreads it on with a finger recently washed in the clear water.

Annie pops open a jar of honey and squeezes it over the peanut butter. Drake stares at the far shore of Big Catch. Annie holds out one of the sweet slices for him.

“What are you thinking?” she asks.

“Nothing,” he answers honestly, taking the honey-and-peanut butter concoction. “I like listening, just listening to the sound of it and taking it in. Not closing my eyes, but taking it in with all senses.”

Something flies overhead, an eagle or hawk, and disappears over treetops. The tree they both sit on is cool to the touch. Drake’s hand rests on its naked trunk near Annie’s.

“Where does the trail end?” she asks, her voice in harmony with falling water.

Drake shrugs. “Anywhere you want.”

“Sunset Bluff?”

He nods.

“How much longer?” She looks at her watch.

“Maybe forty-five minutes. Maybe an hour?”

“We’d better get going.”

They pack their food and stuff their trash in their empty pockets.

They plod up the steep incline straight into the brush, Annie ahead of Drake. His walking stick sinks into layers of detritus when he puts too much weigh on it. The ground is steep and uneven. The ground gives way under his left foot just as he shifts off it. Drake grips the stick and plants it hard into the soil. Annie looks back from the top of the ridge. Drake leans hard on the stick and tries to pull his foot free.

The stick breaks— not a loud snap, it just crumbles in two under his arm. And the ground is replaced by the sky, then the ground again, then the sky. And something does snap loudly, only it’s against Drake’s skull on the way back down. And now everything is still and quiet again. Just quiet.

***

Big Catch Lake stretches out before Drake like an alien ocean, going on forever in every direction. There is no far shore, only the endless water before him glowing lunar blue and holding the reflection of the moon in its full magnitude before him.

“I thought you’d never make it back,” Grandpa roars. There he is, standing on the shore in his overalls and sunhat, old but still spry. “Wanna cast out, son?”

Drake looks around. The trees are bigger than the greatest redwoods, and eons older. But there is no tackle box or poles resting on the shore like there used to be.

“We can’t fish, Grandpa. I forgot the fishing poles.”

Grandpa throws his head back and laughs. “Follow me!” he says.

Drake gets to his feet and follows his grandfather into the trunk of a downed redwood. A shiver comes over him as he passes into its shadow. The trunk is hollowed out, and moonlight shines in through several holes, large and small, in its hide. The floor is littered with the shells of massive beetles and dried-up fly carcasses.
“Don’t be scared,” Grandpa says, sensing Drake’s apprehension. He turns back to face his grandson, a huge spider’s web dwarfing him at his back, its strands also blue and glistening with globs of dew. Grandpa takes his fold-out knife from his overalls pocket and turns back towards it. He shakes the dew off with one hand and saws at the strands with the blade.

Drake is afraid. He doesn’t want to be caught in here when the spider comes back. Grandpa whistles to himself as he works at the web, carefully freeing long strands and wrapping them around his arm in a ball. He looks back at Drake.

“Little help, son?”

Drake crunches forward and collects the web that has fallen on the floor.

“That’s more than enough,” Grandpa finally says, and Drake is relieved.

He follows him back out of the trunk and onto the moonlight-washed sands.

Grandpa snaps down two sturdy blades of grass, cuts a hole through the end with his knife, and threads the line in and out. He works in silence while Drake watches. When he’s done, Grandpa hands one of the blades of grass to Drake.

“Let’s cast out,” he says.

The spider’s web is so strong, and the grass blade is supple. Grandpa has tied a swath of thicket to the end of the line to serve as a hook. The lines cast to the water perfectly, making little ripples on the glass surface.

“Is this what you’ve been doing this whole time?” Drake asks.

“Did you think I’d be selling cars?” Grandpa laughs. “Besides, it’s only been a moment or two.”

Something pulls on Drake’s line, gently at first and then more urgently. He is shocked by it.

Grandpa smiles. “Aren’t you going to pull it in, fisherman?”

Drake realizes he has a bite. He throws the blade down and grasps the web and pulls it in hand over hand.

“Atta boy!” Grandpa roars.

Drake’s catch flops to shore, and he hoists it, a minnow as big as a snapper. Drake never knew they could get this big. He smiles and laughs with Grandpa in amazement. The fish’s sinewy muscles bulge under the shimmering scales on its flank.

“Wow!” Drake screams, breaking the peaceful night air. “It must be a twelve-pounder!”

Grandpa’s line is still in the water, undisturbed. He looks at the catch, still holding his own blade and smiling proudly. “You’re still a fisherman.”

There are no pictures to take, so Drake unhooks the minnow and releases it back into Big Catch Lake. As it swims away, Drake takes his rod back up.

Something large and red is standing at the edge of the trees behind them. It is darker back there. Drake squints his eyes and walks towards it.

It is the longhorn he saw earlier that day, but this time fully fleshed. Its massive horns extend for several feet around its head, and the snake that had killed it is curled around the longhorn’s hooves, rattling its tail.

“Should have stayed with the herd,” Drake says to it.

“It’s okay,” the cow booms. “We all stray. But we all return eventually.”

***

The tops of the trees loom behind Annie’s face. She looks afraid.

“You blacked out!” she exclaims.

Drake blinks, and the trees stop spinning behind her. “How long?”

“Just now. I ran back down as fast as I could. Almost tripped myself,” she said, her breath catching between the words.

“What time is it?”

“It’s only been a minute, Drake.”

The sky is the same shade of blue. Drake sits up slowly and winces at how quickly the world is turning.

“Look at me.”

Annie peers into his eyes and pushes her fingers through his hair to steady his beating skull. He winces again as her fingertips brush a mound of raised scalp on the back of his head. She pulls her hands back.

“No blood. Your pupils aren’t dilated.”

“Got any aspirin?”

“What’s your full name?”

“Drake Wilson Everett.”

“What’s my name?”

“Annalisa Nicole Godwin.”

“Where are we now?”

Drake smiles. “Big Catch.”

He gives a wide, extended yawn. “Annie, I’m tired. Mind if I lay down, just for a little while?”

Annie smirks. “Go right ahead. You’re not concussed.”

Drake takes two aspirin with a gulp of cold water from his canteen. The ground stops shaking.

“We should head back to the car,” Annie says.

Drake shakes his head. “Sunset Bluff is closer than I thought. I just remembered.”

“You should get some rest. I’ll drive us back.”

“I’m alright. See?” He pushes himself to his feet as proof.

Annie rolls her eyes. “You really scared me.”

“The Bluffs are maybe fifteen minutes. When we get there, we can sit and rest a while then head back.”

The water swells behind Annie as she looks up at him.

“We came this far.”

He holds out his hand, and she takes it. Drake pulls Annie to her feet.

“You go first this time.”

Drake isn’t entirely right; Sunset Bluff is about 28 minutes. Annie doesn’t mention it.

The trail eventually curves around to a drop-off. The rocks, sandstone red on the sheer edge, extend down 25 feet before hitting a smooth sand bank spreading out the rest of the way into the ocean of sun-bathed treetops before them. There were so many different kinds of trees Annie couldn’t count them as she peered over the edge of Sunset Bluff.

Before them, the open country is dwarfed by a wide sky, low in which hangs the waning summer sun—so bright and hot and tormenting before, reduced to a glowing quarter now shedding its final golden light over Annie and Drake.

Behind her, he lays his pack down on the grass, approaches the edge and eases himself down. The ground is growing cold as they sit on the edge of the bluff and hang their legs over the side.

“Sure you’re not going to fall over?”

“You’ll grab me if you see me start to lean, right?” Drake asks, his palm over his brow to shield his eyes from the last rays of light.

“How much longer ‘til sunset?”

Drake shrugs. “Soon, I guess.” She shields her eyes, too.

“How’re you feeling?”

“The aspirin’s working.”

“When you fell … when you blacked out,” Annie begins, “did you dream?”

Drake shifts uncomfortably. “Why do you ask?”

“When I was running back down the hill, I thought I saw your lips moving, like you were talking to someone.”

“I don’t know.”

“You don’t remember?”

“No, I remember. But I don’t know if I was dreaming. I actually don’t know if I’m still dreaming.”

“What did you see?”

“It was confusing.”

“Was it a good dream?”

“Kind of.”

She stares at him.

“I think so.”

The sun is falling near to the horizon now. Annie takes her hand from over her eyes and rests it on the ground near Drake’s.

“It’s coming on fast,” he says. “Once you see the sun moving against the still horizon, until you see it, you never realize how quickly it moves, how fast the sun sets, and then all of a sudden, it’s gone. Watch.”

The light is dimming, and when Annie looks out, she can see the world unfolded before them, green and live.

“Thanks for coming along,” Drake says distantly.

“Drake.” Her eyes don’t leave the view.

“Yes?”

“Can we come here again?”

“We can come here as many times as we want,” he says. “There are miles of this trail I’ve never seen. Most of it.”

“Up ahead, do you think there’s anything as beautiful as this?”

Drake shrugs.

The sun eventually dips below the distant horizon, setting the sky into a purple-pink glow and alighting the trees below in orange fire. The middle of the sky grows gold and yellow as it intensifies. A small band of clouds stringing the horizon shine purple before dissolving in the late evening heat. The trees below for miles and endless miles bask in the yellow glow before resigning into a mass of shadow.

Annie can’t look away until it’s almost over. When she finally does, she turns toward Drake and his mouth leans into hers above the living ocean.

They wait a while for the moon to appear and then simultaneously and soundlessly, as if communicating telepathically, get up and shoulder their packs.

The moon lights the way back even as Drake and Annie retreat from it, smiling sublimely all the way.

As they trek back across the massive pylons and around Big Catch Lake and Crybaby Canyon and through Grandfather Tree’s woods, back to the car and Grandpa’s capsized trailer home, as they drive back to the city, they both know that nothing will ever be the same as long as they live.
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Tony Beaulieu

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