East Fork Teaser

I stumbled away from the campfire, leaving its light behind and wiping away the tears in my eyes. I’d never seen my father cry and even here in the middle of nowhere, I didn’t want to cry. The branches of a fir tree scratched my face as I blundered into it in the dark. I spun away from the branch blindly fleeing until I tripped and fell, grabbing wildly for anything to help me keep my balance. I slammed into something, not a tree trunk but softer. Arms wrapped around me and slammed me on my butt. I thought Pete had followed me from the campfire and I pushed away from him telling him to leave me alone. A strong hand covered my mouth pushing my head into the bear grass. Whoever I had run into now sat on my chest cutting off my air. The quarter moon waxed, or maybe it waned, in the sky to the left. I could never remember which was which, but the light it gave off was sufficient to tell it wasn’t Pete sitting on my chest.
There he was, the fugitive we had been scouring the forest for sat on my chest, clamping my mouth shut with one hand with a pistol in the other. Even in the low light, I could see him forming the shush sign by holding the muzzle perpendicular to his lips.
I guess I should have been scared, but I wasn’t, which surprised me. Every Louis L’Amour book I’d read said that the opening in the end of a gun barrel appeared huge when the gun was pointed at you, but I could plainly see the barrel was almost a half an inch in diameter, which meant a .45 was pointed at my head not a 9mm.
After the surprise, shock set in as I realized my life had become a story. Last winter, one of my mom’s clients had recommended the book A River Run’s Through It to her. Mom had told the guy how I always read before going to bed and he suggested Mom buy Norman Maclean’s book for me. This was back before Brad Pitt met Louise and Thelma and went on to tell everyone how fly-fishing was for the cool kids. Back when people fly-fished because they wanted to catch more fish to eat, not release.
Besides the fly-fishing story, the book had two more stories in it. I had wondered why the guy recommended the book to my mom because the second story featured a tough logger who liked to screw fat women. What kind of guy recommends that story to a lady’s impressionable fifteen-year-old? I’m not sure which story, probably the last story about the Forest Service ranger who played cribbage, but one of the stories talked about how sometimes your life becomes a story.
Well, when I read that, I was disappointed because my life had never been a story and I was eager for the day something would happen to make my life a story. I tried hard to fashion everything I did into a legend, but it wasn’t until the kidnapper stuck a gun in my face that I knew, right then, my life had become a story. In fact, my life had been a story for a while, but I just hadn’t known it. If this man killed me, then I hadn’t figured out I was in a story until the last page of the last chapter.
His hand eased the pressure on my mouth as I quit struggling. He hissed, “Yell, and so help me, I’ll put a bullet in your brain.”
I wiggled my head against his hand letting him now I wouldn’t scream for help. That was the last thing on my mind. When did my life become a story? When did this start? When I agreed to go with Pete to look for the kidnapper? No. Earlier, when I agreed to build the fence for Cherylann?
The fugitive shifted the muzzle of the gun to the side of my head and leaned forward. His black eyes were wide in the pale moonlight and his breath was hot compared to the damp air. “What the fuck are you doing? Why did you run into me?”
I blinked, feeling the dried tears in the corners of my eyes, then looked past the muzzle of the gun at the kidnapper’s face. I didn’t run into him. He’d tackled me. I tried to speak but only stuttered nonsense about getting away from the fire.
“Did you hurt the girl with you?” His words searing like a hot cast-iron skillet.
I found my voice, replying in a whisper only he and the half-dozen mosquitoes circling our warm breath could hear. “No.”
“What was all the yelling?”
How do I explain to a man holding a gun to my head that my best friend had just destroyed my life then tried to kick my ass? “We had an argument.”
His leaned back a hair, giving me room to breathe. His whispered voice turned nonchalant as if we were discussing the weather while waiting in the checkout line at People’s Market. “Do you have any guns?”
I thought of the revolver buried inside my backpack. If I told the kidnapper about the gun, I would lose the chance to use it. If I didn’t tell him and he found it, it would anger him. If only I had it strapped to my belt right now.
That line of thought flitted away like a mosquito, my mind drawn back to the question of when had my life become a story. Graduation day when Jenny, Pete, and I stood around in the parking lot talking after the ceremony sprang to mind.
The gun pushed into the side of my temple. “Boy, you don’t answer me, and I may not shoot you, but I will choke the ever-livin’ shit out of you.” His hand gripped my throat to emphasize his point.
I thought about it. Yeah, that was exactly when my life became a story.