Loran Smith & Leesa Cross-Smith
The scope barely wobbles as I take another sip of whiskey, replacing the cap with one hand while the bottle is jammed between my thigh and the rock I’ve claimed. The wolves (3) still clustered loosely around that pinpoint tight center dot piercing the glass-green-hued sheer white snow tinted by the double lens separating us, and about fifty meters.
Fuck, if I had a cartridge and something else to stop the bleeding.
Of course it couldn’t be that easy; truck just over the ridge with tranquilizer darts, provisions for a week, water and maps. Idiot I am, pinned down behind this rock, hiding from wolves, half-drunk and wounded with a rusted revolver of questionable make and accuracy. No chance at a clean shot from this distance, and that pack won’t scare after the chase they gave and their first taste of my blood.
I figured the spot we’d pinned on the map the night before was near when I pulled off the main road into this back country. A clearer head and I would’ve paid attention to Chloe’s warnings and exchanged the whiskey for the right gun.
A. Turn back. Look for her. Maybe she followed me because she knows I’d get myself into trouble. Maybe she went back for help and they’re on their way.
B. Move forward. Attempt to outsmart the wolves. Try not to freeze to death or get mauled, which are both the unmentionable option C.
Which would you choose?
Should You Choose Option A:
Turn back. You cross yourself although the only time you step foot in a church is when you’re hunting treasure and that doesn’t count because they’re always abandoned; rich-colored shards of broken stained-glass and the creaking floorboards. Ghostly groans of old things growing older. You never have any real time to notice the beauty. You’ve been trapped in a church before, hidden in the guts of a tinkling chandelier, still-swinging and sea-monster-big, never realizing the majesty of it all until you’d wiped the dark, slick-dripping blood from your hands. Not until you were clean again.
You lay flat on your belly, silent in the snow. Listening to the wolves howl like they expect you to answer back. But you won’t. You never will. You are an animal, but you are not one of them. You slither and stand and limp your way into the forest until you find a safe place to lean against the thick trunk of a tree you can’t remember the name of anymore. You used to know them all. You knife off another strip of fabric from your pants, wrap it around your wounded leg. The bleeding is slowing and you don’t know if that’s good or bad.
You can barely hear Chloe’s voice over the howling and wonder if you’ve fallen asleep. If you’re dreaming. Maybe you’re standing at the sink in your house and you’ve left the water running. Who are you? You can crawl into that life now if you choose to. Crawl into that life and work a 9-5 and come home and help your wife do the dishes in your warm, sunny kitchen. If that’s your choice, then go.
Enter cheat code and skip ahead to
THE OPTION THAT ISN’T A REAL OPTION BUT GO AHEAD AND READ IT ANYWAY BECAUSE A BOY CAN DREAM.
You hear it again. And you think you can make out Chloe’s red shirt against the snow, her thick, black braid. She’ll freeze. Where is her coat? Fear spilling out of you like smoke; spreading like ink in water. Ribbons of it, billowing in slow-motion. Is that her?
It is. And you don’t have time to wonder how she knew exactly where you were or how she got to you so fast. Fuck it. She throws you a shotgun and you reach out your freezing hand to catch it. You take your coat off in an instant and put it around her shoulders. The fear is gone as you head back towards the wolves, taking out all three of them. One. Two. Three. Hell yeah.
You have to keep moving. You take Chloe’s hand. Keep going somewhere up the road. A safer place to rest and scream for help. And even if it doesn’t come, the two of you together can make it to the truck.
You have received a trophy! LIKE A BOSS.
ADVANCE TO NEXT LEVEL.
Should You Choose Option B:
Move forward. Maybe you can make it to another big rock, closer to the truck. Somewhere to hide and wait it out. Maybe there’s a gun or a clip, some extra hearts or fucking something. Of course there isn’t, but you don’t hate yourself for hoping. You’ve limped slowly, dragging your wounded leg behind you, leaving a trail that the wolves will be sure to follow. And when they find you, you are sober. Neither the whiskey nor the wolves nor the cold know the meaning of mercy. You take out one wolf with the revolver but the other two don’t flinch. Mercy: those two syllables pump out as your blood melts the snow. Sure, the princess is in another castle but there is no princess, there is no castle. You hear Chloe screaming your name. You hear rushing water and growling. Everything flickers grey and white. You hear nothing. There is nothing. And there never was.
You have received a trophy! WOLF COOKIES, YOU ARE.
The Option That Isn’t A Real Option But Go Ahead And Read It Anyway Because A Boy Can Dream:
You’re not Nathan Drake. You’re someone else. You take the bus. You work in an office and fortune-hunting is something kids read about in books, the stuff of pirates. You pat the yellow dog’s head when you come home for the evening and help your children with their homework. When you crawl into bed at night, you put on a pair of reading glasses and let your eyes wander over stories about adventures and murder and revenge and romance until your head is falling-down-heavy and snapping up again. Your wife is next to you and smells like the brightness of her soft, washed cotton lilac-print pajamas. But even when you sleep, you dream of shooting and running and being chased. Climbing, climbing, climbing. Up, up, up. Treasures glinting in the too-bright sun. Frenetic drumming. Gunfire. Your heart busting out of your chest and flying away like a bloody bird with hulking, thumping wings.
LORAN SMITH & LEESA CROSS-SMITH are a boy and a girl from Kentucky and 90s high school sweethearts. (They shared a locker and everything.) Now they share a home and some kiddos and a literary magazine called WhiskeyPaper. Leesa’s work has appeared or is forthcoming in places like SmokeLong Quarterly, Word Riot and Carve Magazine among others. Find more at WhiskeyPaper.com or LeesaCrossSmith.com.