Harvey Huddleston

Masters of Time and Distance

Part 2

               Theory has it that the Ozark Mountains were once the western edge of the Appalachian Range. As the North American plate passed over an intermittent hot spot, the land rose a mile or two in elevation. When this land cooled and shrank back down to its original height, the rock and soil had eroded away, leaving a depression where the mountains had been. An inland sea formed in this depression. Over the next hundred million years, the sea receded and the waters of middle America were drained by this depression, creating the Mississippi River. The river valley stretched three hundred miles to the east and a hundred miles to the west.

               They headed north into the Ozarks. The rice fields and straight-line highways gave way to country roads winding through overgrown hillsides and pastures. This rise in elevation caused a heaviness in Bill to lift, the same as it always did at this point in the trip but that didn’t help with their immediate problem. The sun had already dipped below the hills and he knew there was no way now they’d reach the canoe rental by dark. He took an even smaller road off the one they were on and pulled over to the side.
               Lewis pulled up behind him and Bill waited for everyone to get out. So how are you guys?
               Richard answered. Okay, except for being a hundred dollars poorer.
               That sucks. We’ll kick in.
               Thanks but I’m over it. Why have we stopped?
               I’m thinking we should camp here for the night.
               Why here?
               I don’t think we have a choice.
               The rest of them looked out at a field overgrown with brush and weeds. It was fast becoming twilight.
               Rhonda finally spoke. Look at all the fireflies.
               What a racket.
               Gretchen corrected Richard. I think they’re grasshoppers actually.
               There was another silence until John spoke up. So the question remains.
               Gretchen said. I don’t think there is a question.
               It’s trespassing.
               But there’s nobody out here.
               Then Rhonda came up with an advantage to staying. There’s probably not even any serial killers here.
               But do we know that for sure?
               We don’t but if anyone came out here, what’s the chance that they’d be one?
               Pretty small.
               It’s up to you, Bill. You’re the one who knows how far we have to go.
               I know how far it is but there’s a few turns I’m not sure I can find in the dark and it’ll be closed anyway by the time we get there. And that campground will be even harder to find.
               Gretchen spoke. There we have it. Straight from the master of time and distance.
               So let’s unload.
               John asked Rhonda. Are we really doing this?
               Yes, we are.
               But —
               But what?
               I should just say it. Hey everyone, I’ve got something to say. It’s a confession actually. I want you to know that I kept three joints in reserve for just such an emergency as this.
               At that there was a round of applause and Richard high fived him. I knew you were put here for a reason.

               About an hour later all six were stretched out side by side in the oversized tent. There was a long silence until Gretchen spoke.
               Good night. Then she added, and if anyone says it, I’ll kill them.
               Says what?
               Nice try, Richard, but you won’t make me say it.
               Then you’d have to kill yourself.
               So who needs a serial killer with Gretchen around?
               Rhonda wondered aloud if Ted Bundy was still running loose and Bill remembered he was locked up in Florida.
               Unless he’s escaped again and is outside the tent right now wondering if we could make some room.
               Come on, guys. You act like we’ve never slept together.
               That was back in the dorms at school.
               So how is this any different?
               Okay, I’m sorry. I’m sorry I said good night. Let’s just try to sleep and then get up early and have a nice day.
               Another silence settled in until John broke it. I still want to know, Gretchen, why crashing in the dorm at Southwestern was any different than this.
               Okay, John, for one thing we weren’t out in a goddamn field with half a million half-crazed redneck butt fucks running around! Got it?!!
               Still sounds like Southwestern.
               It was quiet after that and they all dropped off into their own separate worlds.

               At ten the next morning they pulled into “Woods Canoe Rental,” announced by the red and yellow sign across the roof of the building. They piled out and began scrunching their way across the brown pebble lot. Banners, vacationers, cars and campers were spread out all around them. Next to the building was a stack of canoes.
               Rhonda stopped in the middle of the lot. Can you believe this day?
               Richard stopped too. Incredible.
               John and Gretchen turned in a circle.
               Crystal clear.
               Just perfect.
               Bill turned back to them. So let’s get some canoes.
               All six filed in and Bill recognized Mr. Woods behind the counter. He figured those were his family members helping customers with everything from where to park to the best sunscreen. Bill approached Mr. Woods, wondering if he’d remember him.
               Hello there, folks. What can I do for you?
               We’d like to rent some canoes.
               Mr. Woods smiled. Well you’ve come to the right place. How many do you want?
               There’s six of us.
               Then I’d say you need three canoes.
               They all looked at each other so Mr. Woods explained. Now I’ve been doing this awhile so here’s the deal. You could ride three to a canoe if you want but take my word, it’ll be a lot more comfortable in three canoes, riding two in each with your gear and all.
               Bill looked at the others. We’ve got the tent and coolers.
               Coolers? Then you need some ice too.
               Do you have any?
               In that freezer outside the door. Fifty cents a bag.
               You know, I was here about two years ago and you seem to have expanded.
               Two years? That was right after we opened. And you’re right. Business is booming to the point where my whole family has to come in to help. That’s my wife, Adele, over there and that was my boy, Scottie, who just went out the door. What’d you say your name was again?
               Lewis had gone to check out some shelves with sunglasses, bug spray, hats, visors, seat cushions, etc. At the end of the shelves he came to a solitary figure, pawing at the air. It was a black bear, standing about five feet tall. Gretchen came to look.
               Do you think it’s real?
               Pretty sure it is.
               Rhonda joined them. His eyes are glass.
               I think they have to be.
               John came and stood next to them. Wow.
               You said it.
               Rhonda reached out and touched the bear’s arm. She quickly pulled her finger back and John asked. What does it feel like?
               Like nothing. Hair maybe... hard hair.
               Bill came up behind them. Are you guys ready?
               Yeah but check out the bear.
               Impressive. Especially those claws.
               Rhonda commented. I think he looks sweet.
               Richard was there now too. I’d still hate to meet him in his prime.
               Do we have canoes?
               Three. Mr. Woods even gave us a discount because Bill was one of his first customers back when he opened. And then he throws in two bags of free ice. What a nice guy.
               So let’s go. His son is already outside loading the canoes.
               Rhonda exclaimed. Whoop-eeee! Let’s do it!
               Gretchen said. Bye bear.
               Lewis hung back a few seconds. Bye. And then followed the others out.
               Parked near the canoes was a large Suburban type truck with a trailer hooked up to it. They helped a skinny teenager load the canoes which he then secured down with bungee cords as the others transferred their gear into the bed of the truck.
               John and Rhonda climbed into the back row of seats while Richard, Gretchen and Bill took the middle. Lewis got up front on the passenger side. The teenager then jumped up into the driver’s seat, taking some sunglasses from over the visor. As he checked his shades in the mirror, Richard asked. So you’re Scottie, right?
               Sure am. How’d you know?
               Your dad pointed you out.
               Scottie turned back with a grin. Oh yeah, that’s dad alright. Y’all ready?
               They all agreed they were and Scottie revved the engine. Hope y’all don’t mind me talking.
               Lewis asked. Why?
               Cause I do.
               They then took a narrow gravel road that wound up and down through thick forest on both sides. The gravel outside crunched loudly under the Suburban’s wheels as Scottie talked over it and the engine.
               Y’all picked a really nice day to be out on the river. All week nothing but rain but then y’all show up and we get this.
               Bill called up to him. Have you heard what it’ll be like tomorrow?
               They say more of the same.
               Gretchen asked. Will you pick us up?
               Me or somebody else.
               How will you know where we are?
               Well, there’s only two places you can be. So you’re on the river today and tomorrow. That puts you at the first bridge you’ll see tomorrow afternoon. Pull your canoes out there and one of us will pick you up and bring you back to your cars. There’s always trucks going back and forth.
               John called out. You’ve got a system.
               Oh yeah. And it works fine if we all stick to the schedule.
               Richard said to the others. Looks like we’ve found a new master of time and distance.
               Gretchen commented. You’ve lost your title, Bill.
               Can’t argue with excellence. Bill raised his voice. Your dad’s a really nice guy.
               Your dad!
               Oh, yes he is! Dad tried a lot of things before he got this canoe idea. I’ve never seen him happier if you want to know the truth. I just do this during the summer. I’ll stick with it so long as business holds or something else pops up. Are y’all from Memphis?
               Gretchen answered. How’d you know?
               The way you talk.
               There’s nothing wrong with it. And you’re in college too, right?
               Bill answered. Good call.
               Maybe you should be a mind reader.
               Gretchen said. We graduated last week.
               Scottie yelled back. I did too! From high school!
               They all congratulated him.
               Thanks and same to you. So I’ll just keep helping dad out and try to enjoy myself. For the summer anyway.
               Rhonda said almost to herself. Like me.
               John turned to her next to him. So what does that mean?
               ... Maybe I’ll just stay in Memphis this summer.
               Richard turned back to her. I thought you were going back to Charlotte.
               I was but… I don’t know… we’ll see…
               John said. Uh oh, here we go again.
               Don’t worry about it, John. I’ll figure it out.
               I guess we should, huh?
               Scottie and Lewis were now chatting up front, the gravel and engine noise drowning out their conversation.
               Scottie suddenly called out. Raise your feet!
               They all lifted their feet as Scottie yelled. Tight bridge! He then looked around, laughing wildly.
               As the Suburban started across the narrow bridge they all looked at each other, confused but enjoying themselves. The wooden planks of the bridge drummed hard against the wheels, blocking everything else out. Bill glimpsed a sparkling stream, winding its way through the trees forty feet below.

previous page     contents     next page


Post a Comment

<< Home