Rain in a Forest
An orange leaf drifts to rest on black water. Rain falls on its face. Saturation darkens and adds weight. The middle sinks first. Two corners reach for the surface like arms grabbing for air. It slides below same as it fell from the tree above though slower now. Others already line the bottom of the pool. Rain loosens another leaf. This one is red. Everything else is the same. It twists in the air and finds water without a sound.
Moss cushions underfoot. It swallows boulders and strangles saplings and grows up the trunks of larger trees. Some fight the moss. Others suffocate in green softness.
Footsteps press undergrowth into a brown trail that passes the pool. A clump of green is torn from where it clings to wood. It plops in the water and floats beside drowning leaves. Another backpack passes. It does not scrape the tree.
Rain washes dust from cheeks into a beard that drips dirty water. A finger explores the hole in a speckled shirt that sits over his heart. A pressure lingers. Through the hole he feels coarse hair and warm skin. Head bows. Hands shove back into the pockets of a jacket. Fingers curl to hide in palms. He keeps his eyes on the trail before him.
Ya sure this is the right way?
Where are the others?
Up ahead. Waitin.
Ya sure? We aint seen em in a bit.
Yeah. I’m sure.
The second wears the same uniform. Khaki boots turn brown at the toe. Sand wets on the soles and in the rivets and washes away. A hole punches through his collar in the back over his spine. A hand sneaks below a hood to rub where upper back becomes neck. Fingers walk across rough and weathered skin. Cool feels good on the tight and heat of sunburn. He touches bone pressing against skin. Legs tingle. He hikes his pack higher and grips the shoulder straps.
Sure is wet.
Dont normally shower with clothes on.
Stay out much longer an moss is gonna be growin on me.
Nothing crosses the trail. Nothing flies overhead. Rain patters on leaves above and on the ground. No other sound comes from the landscape. The men listen to their breathing. The fog of breath hangs in the air before them until they walk through it. One man coughs. Steam bursts forth. He rubs his chest under the hole in his shirt. The other raises his gaze before letting it drop back to the trail. Rifles tap against backpacks in rhythm with steps.
Aint no bugs.
Rain musta killed em.
Fingernails scratch a cheek.
Does rain kill bugs?
I dont think rain kills bugs. If it did there wouldnt be no bugs. Specially not places it rains a lot. An there are more bugs where it rains a lot.
I dont know.
You jest said it did.
I never said that.
Sure ya did. Ya jest agreed with me bout the rain killin bugs.
I’m jest tryin ta be agreeable. I dont know.
So neither of us knows.
Well I’m surprised there aint bugs.
Wonder where they are.
They might be hidin.
I dont know. Maybe.
You jest said they did.
I didnt say they did. I said they might be. I dont know fer certain.
Ya gotta stop sayin things like facts when they aint. Yer confusin me.
I aint sayin things like facts. I’m jest offerin possibilities.
Sure sound like facts.
Aint my problem how they sound. I’m sayin em as possibilities. Aint got control over how ya hear em.
Hm. Well I hope they aint hidin. I hope they's dead.
The bugs. Who do ya think? What’ve we been talkin bout this whole time?
I aint havin this conversation no more.
Fog hangs above. Tree tops disappear into white. Neither man looks up. Both watch the ground before them. They walk through the forest.
The trail winds around a large boulder. A tree grows on top of the rock. Its roots web down the side like a hand gripping the stone before burying themselves in the ground. On the other side of the boulder the trail climbs towards white. Men pause. Legs ache. One man stands with his hands on his hips and looks up the trail. Water drips onto his face. He wipes it and wrings his hand. The other bends forward and leans on his knees. Rain runs off his hood in a stream.
I’m bout tuckered out.
Let’s take a break.
They’s waitin. Shouldnt keep em waitin longer than we have to.
What’s an extra minute? They’s already waitin. Wouldnt notice an extra minute. But I’d notice a minute of a break. That’s fer sure.
He straightens. Water cleans his cheeks. No beard catches the moisture. Instead droplets stream through the beginnings of wrinkles before beading on his chin and falling off. The jawline is the same as the other man. So is his nose. He looks around him.
Minds me of home.
Wonder when we’ll see it again.
I hope Ma aint still mad at me.
Why would she be?
She didnt want me comin here.
Naw. If she’s mad at someone she’ll be mad at me. She thinks I talked ya into it.
Ya didnt. I decided my own self.
I know that. She dont.
The bearded man takes a step up the incline. Then he takes another. The second man follows.
The trail climbs. Compacted moss gives way to exposed rock. The rock is slick. Feet test grip before bodies trust them with weight. In some sections the second man pushes up the first. The first turns to pull up the second. They nod at each other.
The second man slips. The first feels himself being pulled down. He grabs a thin tree beside him. White and smooth bark is cool on his hand. A knot presses into his skin and peels back a layer. He winces. His brother’s wrist tries to slip from his other hand. He holds tight. Both men pant on the ledge.
Both look down to where they came from. A gully hugs the side of the trail. Branches hide its bottom. The gap in the earth echoes emptiness.
I woulda been fallin awhile.
We’re gettin up there.
White clouds draw closer. Trees grow further apart. Trunks grow thinner. Small bushes brush against and wet legs. Rain becomes mist that falls without sound and catches in eyebrows and eyelashes. Blinking makes droplets run like tears.
The men press on the tops of their knees to push themselves forward and up. A pause comes between each step. Sometimes they look up. Mostly they keep their eyes on the trail. Mouths hang open as breath comes in and out. In and out. The fog from their chests joins that of the sky. The air feels soft. Neither hot nor cold it passes in and out of lungs with smoothness. In and out. In and out.
The trail grows steeper. The men rely on one another. Push up the first then pull up the second. Wet hands grip one another. Nod and turn to face the next incline. Rain no longer falls. Water suspends in the air. To the men it feels the same but moisture accumulating on them is that they walk into.
A ledge rests below white. Trees stand barely taller than bushes around them. The men rest. The first scratches water from his beard and looks up the trail that disappears into the clouds. The second drops his pack and squats on his heels. He faces down the trial they came from.
Naw. I’m restin.
You kin rest when we get there.
I’m restin now.
The first turns with his hand still on his beard. He sighs and takes off his pack and squats beside his brother.
We caint be long.
I know. We wont be. Jest takin a second.
They sit in silence. Both men relax into the squat. The first lets tension release from his shoulders. A trickle of water flows through a crack in the rock between them. It splatters as it drips from the ledge. On the ledge below it gathers in a small pool before flowing to the edge and repeating. The men watch. The second plugs the crack with a finger. The water is cold. The dribble off the ledge ceases. So does the dribble off the next. A puddle forms behind his finger. He lifts his hand. Water flows forth splashing off the rock below. The surge continues off the next ledge and the next. Water resumes its silent trickle. The second looks up.
Sure is perdy.
Aintchu glad we stopped?
Yeah. I am.
The fabric of their jackets rubs together. The second rests his hand on the other’s back. Then he lets it relax to his side.
Thanks fer stoppin.
Course. Didnt have much choice.
Ya coulda kept going without me. You bein in such a rush an all.
Ya seem ta think everbody’s awfully impatient. They’ll be happy when we get there either way. Aint like we aint goin eventually.
I jest wanna get there.
Evergreens mix with yellow and red and orange. Some trees hold all three colors on every leaf. Others represent a single color in purity. The green brings contrast. The first man reaches and squeezes the other on the shoulder.
Time ta go.
The second remains squatting. The first looks down at the curled back and the head still looking back to where they came from. Shoulders shake.
The first squats again. His hand rubs the other’s back. He looks to where they came from. His throat tightens.
I dont have a choice do I.
Naw. You dont. Nobody does.
It jest seems too soon.
I know. But it’s time.
They remain as they are for many moments. The shaking slows. The second man sniffles and blows snot into his hands. He wipes his palms on his pants. A cough clears his throat. He stands.
The first tosses his bag onto his shoulder. The second clears his eyes with the back of his hand. Knuckles are wet. He staggers under the weight of his pack. The first helps him. They look up the trail. White hangs without movement. The second man takes deep breaths and releases them in sighs. The first keeps his eyes forward.
Aint yer fault.
Then whaddya sorry for?
I dont know.
They look in silence.
I’m glad yer here. I’d hate ta do this walk alone.
Wish neither one a us had ta do it.
The second man turns once more to look over the landscape. He can see farther now. Beyond the trees is a clearing. A rope hangs a tire from a tree. In the tire a small figure is pushed by another. They are too far away for the man to hear laughter. He hears it in his memory. Eyes clench shut. Droplets run on his cheeks. Then they open. He sighs and coughs.
Sure is beautiful up here.
The first holds tears in his beard. He looks to the clearing. The clouds lower again until only the trees before them are visible. He moves a thick thumb under each eye and nods.
Both turn away from the view. Before them wet rock rises. Granite presses into tough hands. Muzzles drag over the rock. Toes grip on indentations. Knuckles whiten. Caution slows each move. The tips of fingers become numb. Silence strengthens. Even exhalations of effort mute as they leave mouths.
The first man looks back now and then to check on the second. Otherwise he keeps his focus on the next grip. Steepness increases. He flattens his weight against the wall. Visibility decreases. Whiteness blocks all except that a few feet in front of eyes. The first man squints to see where he will grab the rock next. The second places his hands where the other lifts his feet.
A chunk of rock breaks off. Skin flays on sharp holds as weight falls onto hands. The rock bounces past the second man. The click of each bounce does not echo. The second man keeps his gaze through his legs and watches the stone disappear into white. When he looks up the first man is gone.
White surrounds him. He can taste the water in the air. Listening reveals nothing. No grunt of exertion or scrape of boot on stone comes through the cloud. He stays in place. Fingers hold no feeling. Forearms ache. Calves tremble. Eyes shut.
The voice of his brother comes from above. The second man does not respond. Skin of his forehead is cooled by stone.
Naw. I caint.
An arm reaches from the cloud. Fingers extend towards the second man.
Cmon. Please, Al. Cmon.
I aint ready.
Ya dont get that choice.
Damnit, Al. Dont do this.
Tell them I said hi.
He lets go.
The rock disappears. The ledge is not there. He falls. A breeze hits his face. Raindrops return. Wind fills his ears and brings wet hair from his forehead to blow behind him. His eyes close. Then they open.
About the Author: Tim Drugan-Eppich lives in Colorado.