There in that very epicenter of the wild, Samuel Fletcher found what he had been looking for. The fact that he hadn’t been looking for anything to begin with made the discovery that much more amazing. He likened it to eating when you don’t feel hunger in your stomach: you are finally able to get that fulfillment which you hadn’t even known you needed. The body is hungry without knowing. And some unconscious signal informs you that it’s time to eat, and you contradict the will (or lack thereof) of your stomach, so you go to get some grub—and you find that that was the very cure you had been, without even knowing it, long searching for. This reservoir of hunger is The Metaphor, and to fill the subconscious needs of The Metaphor was exactly what Samuel Fletcher had been looking for.
The idea to come out to the woods hadn’t been the original plan of the day. Samuel’s idea of fun was more characteristic in the grasp of civilization than in the malleability of nature. He would have preferred to get a coffee with a few friends at the local coffeeshop. Would rather have a nice satisfying meal amongst companions. He would much rather have watched, for the umpteenth time, a repeat of some classic film on ABC Family, than to step out alone into the catastrophic potential of The Outer World. The indoors were so calm, controlled, contained, familiar. Going outside, seeing what the outdoors had to offer, was tantamount to plunging oneself deep into the chaos of The Unknown, of discomfort, and it was just so warm where he sat, so warm and so cozy.
But he wasn’t happy. And he knew he wasn’t happy.
The longer he followed that paradigm—of watching the same movies on repeat amongst friends, of attending hazy social gatherings which began to all just blend into a single Life it was so routine—the more it became like The Metaphor. Hunger without hunger. The body craving food without an understanding that it craves food. To delve deep into the heart of the Earth, soil and all. To act on impulse, stray from routine: this was his newfound goal. In order to connect with himself he first needed to connect with the nature around him.
If there was anything Samuel learned on his hike, it was that there is no instant gratification in the wild. The gratification of nature comes in its positive essence of reality. It is where we come from and where we still belong. Man feeds on meat; man drinks water: man uses what he is given to his own benefit. There are structural patterns. The parallels are far beyond the differences. The clothing, the acquisition of taste, the symbols, the speech, the usage of thought, handiwork, are but the only differences. These are the defining factors of the Homo “sapiens,” and these are all the works of excess. The gratification of nature stems from the stability of its beauty, the regulated chaos of its structure. There is no need for 3D glasses, for objects will approach you and you them, all in reality. The sun will teach you when to have energy and the moon will teach you to be tired. The definition is as “hi-” as it gets. The color depth is extreme; the frames per second: off the charts. You haven’t heard production quality until you’ve listened to the river and the trees.
Most of all, Samuel learned that nature is cruel. Yet it is not nature that is the foremost danger to nature. But rather something closer, something more familiar….
The day’s events
Samuel Fletcher awoke with a flurry of bedsprings. It was 5:20 A.M. on a Saturday. He had been having troubles sleeping. In the comfort of his room there had always been the desire to stay awake. To sleep, as he understood it, was to reveal an essence of weakness. The night before had been like the others: full of the company of others: loud, tyrannical, hectic: unhappy. The insincerity of the smiles never impacted him while he was out with friends because his own insincerity was the same, if not greater, and he knew it, and he knew they knew it. Hanging out at his friends’ house was habitual, part of him. When he returned home, even following the influx of smiles and positivity, he still felt malnourished.
He had been having a dream of his friend Ty and The Guy In Corduroys, where they all had been walking together through a black and onstretching canvas. Ty and Samuel had known each other since pre-school, and yet it wasn’t until last year—seventh grade—that Ty started changing. There was a glint of evil in Ty’s eyes that came about ever since he began associating with The Guy In Corduroys. He was always with a group of girls that wanted nothing to do with Samuel, and so Samuel had had to find a new group of friends. Then, whenever Samuel saw Ty in the hallways, it became awkward, and The Guy In Corduroys had an unrelenting stare….
Samuel’s house was empty throughout the day because his mom and dad worked nine-to-five and beyond to maintain the upkeep of the house. They even worked on weekends. So that’s why Samuel found himself so free to gather the materials for his journey, so at liberty to exit the backdoors, to find those roaming gates and unfurl the journey for himself. For Samuel it was a giant step from out of his comfort zone, to delve without contemplation into that uncommon personless mess of nature. And yet his body told him to go, and it is the body which knows what’s best for the body. He had decided it was time to undergo some sort of variation in his life, and he was prepared by far to leap into that realm of knowledge of which he knew he wanted to be a part. He felt, in a hunger of the heart, a desire to indulge in the marrow-scraps of the mountains, to go hiking.
He put in his backpack a water bottle, a bag of trail mix, a jacket, a sandwich, a book and a pen: he was ready to satiate that hunger which he did not yet know existed. He left all of his electronics at home, and set out to live in deliberation, if for even a moment. There was nothing to hold him back as he made the first step into the plush and delicate grass. The sun had recently come out of dormancy, and it greeted him with enthusiasm. Light filled his eyes and he breathed the crystalline air, and the poison that had been once in his lungs escaped with immediacy.
He had walked now for a significant amount of time, finding himself nearly halfway through his journey. The sun was tipping upon the banks, the Gates of the Mountains opening, invitational. The leaves fell in glorious autumnal patterns. The trail which he followed was myriad in organic beauty. Each element was indulgent, honest, resurgent, perfect in its imperfection. Everywhere the colors flashed phantasmal. And the sunlight fell with such a decent propensity—so elegant and warm and sonorous. In this fall-time wonder, the spectacle was beyond magnificent. This place could become my refuge, Samuel thought: an escape from the miseries, the aspects of horror so persistent in daily life. Through the walk in the woods he experienced and encountered various wonders, and he found himself captivated in the beauty of the moment. The cure, he found, was to sit back and listen: the river has the answers.
Near the end of his voyage, Samuel discovered the form of a small rodential creature dragging itself against the ground, chocking up dust in its lethargic movements. It was a sight of confusion. After adjusting his vision and rubbing his eyes he was able to see that it was a squirrel. It was peculiar, the way the squirrel moved. It seemed to hobble, as if wounded, and Samuel was confused. There was no route of understanding for what was before his eyes. The squirrel had materialized out of nothing, wounded, as if nature herself had taken the creature between its grinding teeth upon creation and shook the defenseless manifestation about before letting it go to watch it drag its wounded self away.
The squirrel he saw scuttled wounded across the tabletop forest. It kept moving, flinging itself about spasmodically with the will of life. But it was as if the animal were a pawn on the chessboard of humanity. Mankind was the king; the creatures were the pawns; and the knights, the rooks, the bishops, these were the leaves, the snow, the sky; they were all forfeited to protect that one piece which was always implied to denote a loss once taken out by opposing forces. Even the queen herself, the Mother—the elastic, the strong, the elegant—was oh-so-readily sacrificed to protect that very entity of the king: mankind. But what man forgets is that nature is a rubberband, and that every action has its own equal, its own opposite. And the pain of this squirrel would ring true, and its melody would fluctuate in wavelengths through the cosmos, until some inopportune entity in an inopportune civilization elsewhere hears its screams in the form of tonal frequencies, and the listener will be overcome with feelings of fear, sadness, and disgust, without knowing the source of the feelings or the reason why.
He did not know where the squirrel had come from, and he did not know the cause of its injury. All he was able to deduce was that some foul predator had taken it by the leg and had broken it, to let it scamper off, filled with fear. He grew worried, because he imagined some great mountain lion crawling about, preparing to dig down into unsuspecting creatures, itself being either incompetent or cruel, tearing into the leg of the hors d’oeuvres of a squirrel, to let it run away, to watch it run away.
Samuel heard the rustle of the leaves and he grew afraid. Were there mountain lions around here? He had heard stories, stories of awful encounters with great big beasts: bears which tore campers to shreds, mountain lions which had no remorse when it came to unsuspecting travelers. He didn’t have anything to protect himself! The leaves rustled and he heard deep groans approaching, approaching. He was fearful. And he saw it, he saw it! The creature, it appeared!
“Ugghhhh!” Ty groaned. He had a slingshot in hand with a giant rock clasped in the elastic band. Two girls and a guy were nearby. The Guy In Corduroys was there and he had a swollen lip.
“Hey, it’s Samuel!” one of the girls said, pointing.
Ty looked over and smiled. “Samuel! What’s up, bro?”
“Hey, Samuel,” the other girl said.
The Guy In Corduroys stared.
“Did you happen to see a squirrel pass by around here?” Ty asked.
“Nope, nope, nothing,” Samuel said.
Ty looked at him with a skeptical air.
“Okay… Well I’ll see you later then…” Ty laughed at him.
As the four walked away, Samuel heard one of the girls.
“There it is!” she squealed. “Over there!”
Samuel heard the yipping of Ty, the laughter and excitement of the girls, and he stood there, waiting. Immediately a pok! followed, the rock either making contact with the ground or the wounded flesh of the squirrel. And he heard either yips of happiness or groans of disappointment. He was petrified, the howls of his former friends imprisoning him with fear. These were the same people he had once socialized with, once spoken to, and now they had a thirst for blood which could never be satisfied. It was horrifying—and yet Samuel could do nothing about it: his entire body was unmoving. The Guy In Corduroys howled, and Samuel knew it was over. Samuel stood paralyzed in the headlights of the sun, the sounds of Ty and The Guy In Corduroys moving closer and closer at inestimable speeds, him trembling in fear, knowing very well what was going to happen next.
Bio: Isaac Birchmier was born in Mountain Home, Idaho and raised in Helena, Montana. He has been published in theNewerYork, Theme of Absence, cattails, and Morgen Bailey's Writing Blog. His website (http://www.isaacbirchmier.com) features many of his writings for free, and, for updates regarding new stories, you can follow him on Twitter through http://www.twitter.com/isaacbirchmier. He is currently a student at the University of Montana pursuing a BFA in Creative Writing.