This One Time, 53

This one time I was maybe on my third day out in the woods. The food in my duffel was down to maybe fifteen packets of instant oatmeal and a sack of venison jerky I had bought for a different trip a couple of months ago. I’d nearly forgotten about it. As long as I had that stuff in the bag to avoid eating, I would never be starving. Just, you know, deliberately getting skinny.

And if I was shy a tent stake, there was at least one piece of jerky in there that could do the trick. Another was just about perfect for putting an edge on and using for a razor when it was time to clean up and walk out of the woods. If that time ever came.

I’d had some in my hand when I discovered a rattlesnake. When she just slithered away, I couldn’t decide whether it was because she thought I was going to stab her with it or offer her a bite. You get the idea.

In addition to the food, or possible food, I had a change of clothes, two plastic bottles full of water, three identical .40 caliber pistols and a box of rounds, maybe close to a hundred, and maybe $180,000 in tens and twenties. The bag was heavy, is what I’m saying, and that’s an awful lot of not-food to be slogging around in the woods with.

The scam was more tedious than interesting. Two hundred thousand in cash was supposed to buy half a million in counterfeit twenties of a grade for use overseas where people weren’t as particular about serial numbers or bleach pens. But $20,000 in cash bought $200,000 in a better grade of counterfeit cash from someone in a huge panic who had the right paper but was iffy on all those different fiddly inks. Well, $20,000 in cash and about ten pounds of chopped-up newspaper. So a couple of swaps later and maybe a few more days in the woods and a hike down a section of the Appalachian Trail and I’d wander out in some podunk townlet, rent a room somewhere, register an LLC, buy a web domain, buy a business license, and pretend to sell stuff online until I could explain the deposits. I’d even pay my taxes.

The guy in a huge hurry got twenty grand for a plane ticket and a quick vacation and all of his uncomfortable evidence taken off his hands. He’d be happy enough. The guys who were expecting two hundred grand of clean cash now had, at least, ten thousand pieces of paper of the right grade to do something a little more impressive. If they did fifties or hundreds, they’d get way more profit than the cash in my bag. I hate to leave people with nothing.

It was a big change from working Wall Street, but somehow this felt … cleaner. Knock a couple of zeroes off the end of the numbers changing hands and it was only criminals you were stealing from. At the previous levels, it was corporations and governments, and, while you were still screwing with criminals, /they/ were slinging around money skimmed from taxes and pension plans, and just about always there was at least one starving grandmother on the business end of the stick.

I didn’t have enough money to retire on, but it was enough for a fresh start and maybe some legitimate investing. And if I had any luck, I could still retire someplace overseas in a year or two. Or, I dunno, get a legitimate job again.

And hell, if you ignored the smell, I was probably in the best shape of my life. The scenery was amazing. I got to sleep when I felt like it. I could set fire to things if I wanted. Other than the ground being cold, hard, and more than a bit lumpy, and being hungry, and drinking water that was largely what you get from flushing the giant toilet that is the forest floor with the occasional rainstorm, and needing a shower, and feeling like I had been beaten by a giant with a sack full of car tires and also generally exhausted, this was a vacation.

So I was lying on the ground where I had scraped together a pile of leaf litter, the sun having dropped just a bit too far to be of any use to someone trying to not break an ankle on a rocky trail. I’d scutted maybe two hundred yards downhill to be closer to water and found a spot where someone else had cleared out a pit for a fire. I had a healthy blaze going already, but I needed it to die down a bit before I could use the coals to heat some water. I had maybe an hour, so I couldn’t resist the temptation to lie down and veg.

I had half drifted off when I heard something through the spare pair of pants I was using for a pillow. Something through the rock that the wad of jeans was on. Something rumbling.

I could see a clear patch of sky through the trees up to the north, and hanging there was a star bright enough to be Venus, and that’s what I thought it was until I remembered that you don’t get planets in the northern sky unless you’re in the southern hemisphere. I’d been hiking for a while, but not that long. Maybe I was just a bit turned around. I fished my compass out of a pocket on the bag — and I was nowhere near as turned around as the compass was. It just wandered around and refused to settle down.

Meanwhile the rumbling got louder — loud enough for me to hear it without my head on the rock. And I could hear something else in it.

I laid my head back down. Moved the jeans, even, and just let the rock talk to me via bone conduction. And sure enough, it started to sound like a voice, like what you’d expect it to sound like if you taught a bear to talk and then muffled it with a pillow. And the point of light in the sky had gotten brighter, and maybe a touch yellow. And it was surrounded by a greenish halo, like I’ve seen with pictures of the aurora, only not like some vertical curtain. Just a halo. A huge one.

Then it lengthened into a streak and vanished toward the horizon to the north.

The growling got louder. I jumped up and grabbed my bag and started toward the fire, though I have no inkling at all of why.

And then the ground started jumping up and down and trees cracked and broke and fell down and I fell down and the rumbling filled the sky and it went on way longer than I had any care for.

And then everything quietened down and stopped shaking. For some reason I scrambled back to the stone and put my head to it again. And I really wish I hadn’t. Because what I heard through the stone then sounded like a bear that had been taught to speak, muffled with a pillow, laughing quietly to itself.


February 22, 2011 · by xalieri · Posted in This One Time  


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