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Happy Trails

fiction by Mark Davis


The sky seemed a dark purple canopy thrown over the invisible wire mesh of a large cage and the sun pierced the sky’s velvet fabric though it was still night, shadows and echoes unable to define daylight. You can see the moon during the day sometimes, she said, why not see the sun at night? Still I felt disease. My throat was cracked from so much barking.

I remember she said we must tell them as soon as we see them, and I agreed. It was important, a matter of life and death.

The rocks that they had taped to my back had settled into my skin and had begun to rest in the crevices and upon the bones and along the spine, making walking difficult and not altogether painless. She urged me on and I followed her trail of blood in the dust. Sometimes I would whistle a tune from my childhood, a song that my mother would sing to me when I was still tugging at her tit. It was, I believe, a song about cannibals. I had forgotten most of the words but the melody stuck like a scab. Music and an undefinable desire to carry on were all we had, in the end.

We walked on into endless night, along the happy trail that hugged the mountain made of recycled dream trash. Occasionally we had to stop for an avalanche, hearing the crack of loosened rubble and then watching the debris break free and gather speed and force as it fell in the gloam, rolling and roaring and rattling over the trail, making a terrible fuss as it tumbled over the edge, sliding into the canyon’s hungry open mouth, something she termed the abyss, something whose bottom could neither be apprehended nor imagined, sending up clouds of soot and ash that would cover us, the watchers, the walkers, from head to toe. It was a comfort to stand on the trail and lean carefully over the edge and listen for the shifting of debris, the settling, the seeming conclusion to the seeming event. She warned me not to get too close to the edge. She warned me of the dangers of whistling a tune from my childhood about summer cannibals. She warned me, too, that an avalanche is not a story, though it appears to have a beginning and a middle and an end. An avalanche of dream debris is a continuum of a downward breaking apart of all things, an application of a law of thermodynamics, she said, something that would be best served by not . . . and now I have forgotten the rest of what she said, as if the thought has been . . . as

if . . . something is happening.

Belly to the ground?

Hand to the face?

Onward?

I remember she said we must tell them as soon as we see them, and I agreed. It was important, a matter of life and death.

For the most part we walked, following an unbroken trail along the mountain, through valleys, over deserts and plains, through canyons, along ridges. At one point we came upon what looked to be a tree.

This is a tree, she said.

How do you like that? I said.

We should do something.

We sat, or, I should say, we leaned, against a broken something and considered the tree, dead to all eyes but our own, an objectified echo of nostalgia resounding from all of the words we had thought to say but did not. A tree. In the wilderness of our undefinable desire to carry on, we . . . All that can be said is that we considered the tree.

Well?

And?

So?

Onward?

There was nothing left to do but chop down the tree and carry on.

I remember she said we must tell them as soon as we see them, and I agreed. It was important, a matter of life and death.

We will say nothing about the tree, she said.

Mum’s the word, I said.

Onward.

Though I did not observe the bones of the birds along this trail of ancient footprints, I noticed almost all at once that she was growing weaker. She had weakened. The dead children in her arms were a burden, but not nearly as burdensome as the shafts of grain, the tools, the texts. Heaviest of all, the most solid, the least understood, the most worthless and hence, the most expendable, were the texts. Speaking of dead trees. She carried the texts and the grain in one arm and the tools and the dead children in another. To illustrate the balance of weight. This is what I remember. She had a certain manner of speech to which I had grown accustomed. She did not need to open her mouth at all. Her speech was clear, by which I mean articulate and unadorned. No unnecessary words, no needless repetition, even for the sake of emphasis. She used only the words that existed within my own limited vocabulary. I never had to look anything up, even if I wanted to, just to buy some time. Still, I could linger over one sentence of hers for a very long stretch of the walk, running it over and over in my mind, coming up with one meaning one time and then an entirely different meaning another. I found this profound, and confusing.

She was all I had in the end, besides the rocks.

I remember she said we must tell them as soon as we see them, and I agreed. It was important, a matter of life and death.

What will it look like? I said.

You will know when you see it, she said.

Are you dying?

I am dying, she said.

Those were her last words.

I had never really understood the purpose of irony before. I never even really understood what the word meant. The opposite of what is expected, she would say. But that is all that there is, I would say. She would remain silent, which I took to mean that she was considering what I had said, though one cannot be too hopeful. So I buried her. It took a long stretch of trail for me to find a wide enough berth for a grave. I dug and I dug and I dug, mostly with my hands, on my knees, in the debris, deeper and deeper, slow going, belly to the ground, mostly with my hands. I pulled her into the opening I had created. Not deep enough. I pulled her out again. I dug some more, mostly with my hands, on my knees, slow going. I pulled her into the hollow I had created. Not deep enough. I pulled her out again. I dug some more, mostly with my hands, on my knees, slow going. I pulled her into the rut I had created. Not deep enough. I pulled her out again. I dug some more, mostly with my hands, on my knees, slow going. I pulled her into the burrow I had created. Not deep enough. I pulled her out again. I dug some more, mostly with my hands, on my knees, slow going. I pulled her into the pit I had created. Not deep enough. I pulled her out again. I dug some more, mostly with my hands, on my knees, slow going. I pulled her into the crater I had created. Too deep. I pulled her out again. I added more dirt, with my bruised stumps, leaning precariously too near the edge, for a duration of time immeasurable. I pulled her into the grave. Just deep enough. I covered her with the debris which I had excavated. Just then, an avalanche. I stepped back from the grave. The falling debris fell upon the site. That is irony.

I understand now, I intoned. A ceremony.

I remember she said we must tell them as soon as we see them, and I agreed. It was important, a matter of life and death.

Onward?

The silence replied like a learned solitude, Onward.

In the desert, again. Along the mountain, again. Through the valley, over the plains, again.

Then, a miracle. In the distance, a sliver of yellow light, a stringy shadow along the horizon. She said I would know when I arrived. From here to there, that is arrival. Nothing more. I could now measure with my eyes the distance of my desire to carry on. From here to there, and no farther.

Well? they said.

Yes? I said.

What do you have to say for yourself? they said.

I forgot. I remember she said we must tell them as soon as we see them, and I agreed. It was important, a matter of life and death. But now I had forgotten the message. They grew impatient. They walked away. They left me to stew in my own juices, as the saying goes. I removed the rocks from my back, pried them from my skin and they fell from my bones and rolled down my spine to rest at my feet, as the saying goes.

But then I remembered that she had said we could probably tell them the opposite and it would amount to the same thing.

I called out.

No one.

What more? Nothing more.

I notice my hair is starting to fall out.

This is just an observation.


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