Darla and Tres were just finished setting up the tent and were building a fire in the afternoon sun in the Olympic Peninsula. Darla was trying to start the fire while Tres was piling wood near the pit. Shafts of sunlight penetrated through the tall fir trees and created spotlights around the campsite. Darla was starting to get frustrated with the kindling not staying lit.
Tres ignored Darla’s muttering and swearing and kept bringing more wood over; he wanted to have a huge fire that lasted for the night. As he went through the shafts of light he would feel the warmth of the sun and then would shudder when he went back into the shade. Darla finally turned towards him and watched him pile some logs into his arms.
“Hey,” she said, “Could you help me with this? The wood won’t stay lit.”
He sighed and came over to her pile of wood and saw that she tried to build a pyramid with some paper and small strips of bark in the middle while some sticks all joined to a point at the top. He knocked the teepee of wood down and started building a log cabin with the paper in the middle and built four walls of sticks on the outside. He lit some paper and stuck into the square pen. Soon flames started climbing the walls and Tres started stacking logs on the outside and after he placed enough to his satisfaction looked with a look of annoyance at Darla.
She bit her lip and stood up and went to the picnic table to start getting food ready for lunch. She started placing everything in neat rows on the table and took a mental inventory of what they had. She started making herself a turkey sandwich. She wasn’t hungry, but she just wanted to look busy while Tres squatted by the fire.
The fire started licking the air and crackling and little sparks soared up to the tall fir trees that kept the sun from finding them. Tres closed his eyes and listened to the wind blow through the Douglas firs and the cedars that encircled the camp and he heard a stream in the distance.
They had camped in this exact spot last year when they had been together for a few months. They had been so affectionate then. They made love all day and all night as the fire died and the meteorites they wanted to watch fell without their notice. They had decided to camp in the Washington peninsula every year. She loved the green lush forests and he loved the misty coastline. Tres had said it felt like he was at the end of the world.
This time they drove up the 101 from Aberdeen and argued about her music tastes. He said he was tired of listening to Imogene Leap and Sleater Kinney and he wanted to listen to some Cannonball Adderly album he had brought. She couldn’t drive and listen to that noisy jazz that he loved so much. She loved that he listened to jazz and classical, but truth be told, she couldn’t stand listening to it. He finally crossed his arms and leaned his head against the window watching the trees fly by. His ankles were crossed.
She made him a sandwich, which wasn’t very hard because all he wanted was the turkey and the Swiss and just a smear of mayonnaise. He accepted the sandwich with a nod and ate while staring into the fire.
“You wanna walk around the lake tomorrow?” she asked.
“Yeah, that sounds cool.”
“Maybe we can get over to the coast and see some pelicans.”
He just nodded and kept staring at the fire. She sighed and sat on the picnic table bench and munched on her sandwich. Her sandwich had lettuce, tomato and some sprouts on it. She didn’t use any mayonnaise. She wished he would eat more vegetables instead of eating only meat and cheese and bread.
“Did you talk to Carl about getting that raise?” she asked.
“Nah, it was too busy and then he left before I could.”
“Tres! You said you’d ask before we left!”
“Jesus, Darla, I just didn’t get a chance. I’ll do it when we get back.”
“You’ve been saying you’ll ask Carl for that raise for a month now. He’s not just going to give you one. He’ll use you and not reward you. You work so hard there and he just pays you shit.”
“Ok! I’ll ask! Jesus!”
“I’m just trying to help! Don’t get all upset with me. I just want you to get paid for all the hard work you do. You come home all mad from work and I think if you got paid a little more, you’d be happier.”
“I don’t need you riding me about it, Darla, I can make my own decisions.”
“I’m not saying you can’t. I just think you need to ask for a raise.”
He took off his hat and rubbed his face with his hand and looked at her with disdain. He had such intense eyes that made his anger seem so real. She looked away, but she could feel his angry stare on the side of her face. Her cheeks and ears felt hot and her arms and feet were freezing. She wanted him to walk over and hug her and tell her everything is all right, but she knew he would just squat there either staring at her or into the fire.
He started stoking the fire with a long stick he found and put a few more logs on. He then sat on his butt and put his feet up to the circle of rocks that framed the fire. He put his hat back on and pulled it down so she couldn’t see his eyes anymore.
“I’m sorry,” she finally said, “Let’s just have a good time. We’re up here for a week and we shouldn’t fight the whole time.”
“I’m sorry too.”
He was obviously still mad and she got mad again because he couldn’t just let it go. He was good at carrying a grudge. She knew he couldn’t just turn it around, but she wish he would. This trip was supposed to spark their relationship again.
“Tres? Please?” she begged.
“Goddamnit!” Tres yelled as he stood up.
Tres walked into the forest following a small trail that led to a lake on the other side of a small ridge. He stormed off and didn’t look back. He wanted to walk all the way to Portland and lay in bed and listen to music and not see the world and she could just camp by herself. They spend every day together and the idea of some alone time sounds so nice.
He briskly walked up the side of the hill through the dark fir forest. The entire floor of the forest was covered in moss and moss was hanging from the tree branches. Everything was wet and rotting and green. He saw stripes of sunlight slant through the forest.
It was October, so the weather was still nice, but colder, and the campgrounds weren’t as busy as they were in the summer. The last time they came was for his birthday and it was so nice to have entire campgrounds to them because the season was over. Tres finally looked over his shoulder and saw the smoke from their camp, but she didn’t follow. This made Tres more mad and stomped off quickly towards the lake that he saw the silver surface through the trees.
He found a deer trail cutting through some salmon berry bushes and he decided to follow that towards the lake. He still had this idea that she’d follow and while he wanted her to find him he still wanted to freak her out when she didn’t find him on the main trail.
The trail quickly disappeared and he was squeezing through thick Salal shrubs. He was getting annoyed with the branches catching his shirt and shorts. He also was excited by the adventure of blazing his own trail. Tres would discover new lands and claim them for Spain!
He came on a small meadow and spied a couple of does eating berries off some vines, but they smelled the air and knew Tres was near and darted into the shrubs and cedars.
He saw a Great Blue Heron fly across the lake towards a misty island and disappeared behind some rocks that spilled off the island into the water. He heard bird cries all around and saw ducks swimming in the lake and even saw a Belted Kingfisher dive into the lake. A mist started getting thicker around him as he found himself on the rocky lakeshore.
He felt cold and he couldn’t place where the sun had hidden itself. A breeze came off the lake and chilled his bones. He tucked his arms inside of his shirt while he followed the shoreline.
He crossed small streams that were barely trickles in moss beds feed the lake and some that were six or eight feet wide and he would hop rock to rock to cross. He looked for crawdads and other fish in the wider streams, but couldn’t find anything. He loved staring at water flowing over mossy rocks and hearing the rush pass him.
He could see his breath now, so he decided that maybe he should head back. He decided to skip some rocks first. He felt like the only man left on earth and now he couldn’t see the other side of the lake because of how thick the fog got.
At first the loneliness was refreshing and he tried to embrace it. He felt that everything that was wrong with him was the doings of other people. Darla had become a bossy girlfriend – as girlfriends are prone to do. She was prone to telling him how to live his life and now he felt like he could never get any rest. When she got home from work he would get anxious and feel so tired. She would spend that first hour complaining about work and who said this and who didn’t do that. He would listen, but he wished they could just sit in silence and enjoy each other’s existence.
He thought about how he would sell all his stuff and move into the wilderness and live off the land and become a hermit. Maybe he would find himself and he would finally not feel like a lost puzzle piece. The wind picked up and reminded him how alone he was.
He was shivering now and the sun was setting and the world was becoming grey and dark green and in some parts: black. He was following the shoreline and trying to find the trail back to the campsite. He kept walking with his arms in his shirt and biting the collar.
He started to panic. He couldn’t find the trail and he felt like he had now gone too far, but he never saw anything like a trail that led to the water. He started running and a lump formed in his throat while he trotted down the rocky wet beach to find something that reminded him of a way to get out of there.
When Tres looked straight up, he could see stars peeking at him through the fog. He decided to just follow the next creek inland and hope it crossed a trail. He walked up the mossy banks and stepped in deep mud and on slippery rocks. The temperature was a little better in the trees and the creek even had a little steam on it. Branches were smacking him in the face because now it was almost all the way dark and he left his flashlight and phone back at the camp. He just made sure that he stayed with the creek.
The silence of the forest became very apparent to Tres. He was filled with fear and started hearing branches snap and things slithering and sneaking and things moved in his peripheral vision. A coyote howled in the distance and he heard a branch snap behind him and when he twisted to see what it was he fell right into the creek.
He was going to die out here, he thought. He always stormed off when he and Darla had fights, but this time it was going to kill him. He was stupid, he thought. He was now soaking wet at night lost in a rain forest in Northern Washington. Darla would never forgive him for dying out here in the wilderness.
An owl hooted and then he could hear it fly through the dark canopy of trees. He climbed through a maple vine and found himself on top of a stump. He looked around for any light but it was now pitch black. He smelled the air to see if he could smell campfire, but all he smelt was rot and wet. He was shivering violently now and he followed the creek further.
The creek took a turn and widened. The banks were steeper and muddier. He kept slipping and his shoes kept getting stuck in the muck. Small rocks and roots kept tripping him and he now kept one arm up in front of his face to keep the claw like branches from the shrubs and trees from raking his eyes out. He would keep one arm in his shirt, but now it didn’t matter because his shirt was soaking wet.
He took a break and sat on a fallen tree. He was tired now and he wish he was in a sleeping bag with Darla and feeling her warm stomach and following the contour of her hip. He would squeeze her and fall asleep like that. He would smash his face into her neck and hair. He would smell her sleep, which was her greatest aphrodisiac.
He thought about standing up but he couldn’t. He was just too tired and he kept thinking about Darla and picturing her sleep in the tent and he could picture the fire dying down to coals and a few logs where they would be black with glowing orange lines. The tent would flutter in the breeze and the fir trees would dance around the campsite to ensure her safety. He could picture the branches shaking loose small bits to fall like confetti on her tent to baptize her. Water would drip from the hanging moss and witches hair to give her the blood of earth.
He lay down on the fallen log and felt the cool moss on his face and he knew right then and there that he would die there. This was where he would lie for eternity. His body would fuel the forest and his bones would slowly rot into the moss and the roots and the earth and he would become forgotten and no one would know he ever existed. Some would question if he ever existed in the first place.
He pictured Darla at his funeral. She looked more mad than sad. His parents were there, but everyone else stayed away. He knew he screwed up his life and he was watching all his regrets play out again. He saw the disappointment in everyone he let down, the hurt in everyone he hurt and the pain in everyone he ever tried to love. Darla held a single magnolia bloom. One of those giant Southern blossoms and he could almost smell the citrus aroma.
He felt bugs and things crawl on him. The forest was already accepting the new addition. Tres wanted to cry, but he was just too tired. His lids became heavy and the silence became hypnotic. He pictured his mom crying and his dad stoic as they were told that they had to call off the search party.
He started drifting off and the forest became pitch black. He dreamed that he was in a kitchen and Darla was washing a pot and talking to him. She was wearing his favorite dress, a thirties style dress that looked like it was made out of a curtain and had a belt. It was short and had small flowers all over it and when she wasn’t doing anything with her hands, she’d put them in the pockets.
He couldn’t understand anything she was saying. She was talking in gibberish and her back was to him. He was sitting on a wooden chair that he leaned back on the wall and he watched her wash her pot, which was taking a long time. He was staring at the way her ass jiggled as she worked on that pot. He wanted to grab a cheek and give it a squeeze. She looked so soft and warm. She turned towards him and gave him that smile she gave him when she wanted him to know she loved him. She put one of her hand in her pocket and the other she put on his shoulder and said something loud, but it sounded like Latin or Japanese or not a language he knew.
For some reason he sat up awake on the log and stood up and just turned started running. He didn’t know where he was running, but he held out his hands so he wouldn’t crash into a tree. He stumbled a few times, but he just kept jogging and zigzagging around trees and giant shrubs and he hurtled rocks and fallen logs and he was screaming Darla’s name.
He came over a little rise and he saw an orange glow on the other side of a gully. He ran with all his might down the hill and even slid and rolled into some shrubs and blackberry vines and he just hopped up and kept on running. He had to get on all fours to scurry up the other side of the gully and crawl through underbrush. He got to the side and saw a camp down below, but he wasn’t sure if it was Darla’s yet.
He started walking down the hill and looking at the fire and the tent and the picnic table, but he felt like it was all so alien.
Then he saw her standing at the fire with her hands on her elbows. She had her chin tucked into her chest and was just staring at the flames. He leaned against a tree and just stared at her standing there. She was wearing a big poofy red vest and she was wearing his hat.
He hated himself for leaving and now he would have to face the music and deal with her wrath. He took a deep breath and started down the hill towards that warm fire.
She heard him coming immediately and turned towards the dark wall of trees to see what was making that entire racket. When Tres came out of the tree line and into the light, Darla’s jaw dropped and saw him bloody, muddy and wet. He had gashes all over his face and his shirt was torn and covered in mud and his shoes up to his knees were covered in muck.
She just stood there and watched him walk towards her. She turned to face him straight on, but kept her arms crossed in front of her.
He stood in front of her and when she saw his eyes, she dropped her arms and grabbed him and never wanted to let go. She felt him tremble in her arms and he held on to her shaking and sobbing. She thought she heard him say he was sorry between sobs.