Steam.

I ran out the back door. I only had to run the twenty feet or so to the woods. No way he’d follow me in there. I knew among the trees and darkness, I would be safe.

It was hard to know when it was coming, but it was easy to know when to leave. Once the storm blew in, I didn’t want to be anywhere nearby. So I ran.

It was pitch black this time of year, and there was nothing to tell you where to go. I loved that feeling, it made me feel like I was smart. You could just wander and explore, free from any guidance. I felt like a wolf on the prowl, away from the pack, nothing but my instincts to lead me. Even the stars were hidden tonight.

I usually made my way down to the stream in the woods. There, I could sit on a rock and listen to the crickets and the brook drift by. Or, not too far there was an old hunting blind, up in the trees. Of course I didn’t have a gun, and wouldn’t have shot anything either way, but I liked to go sit up there and wait.

It was my own little temple, a treehouse I’d never had, where I could pretend to be a bird. I would wait as quietly as I could, and hope to cross paths with a deer. I loved the way they walked. The bucks strode confidently, kings of the forests like the lions on the plains. The does and fawns were more cautious, watching out for any sign of trouble. 

The last time I was up there, I saw a fawn look right at me. She looked right into the trees, right into my eyes, and I saw them glow like little candles. It was a long moment. A twig broke somewhere in the distance and she ran off.

Not this night. I was tired of the stream. With no stars or moon, I decided to just wander as long as I could. I’d see if I could make my way down to the river, which I’d only been once when I was small. 

My dad took me down, before he was too busy and mean, and promised to teach me fishing. He only had one pole and lost the lure as soon as we got there. I sat at the water’s edge with my feet in the current as he drank beer from a cooler. But now, I could do whatever I wanted.

I walked through the trees, wading through the brush. I wished I had grabbed my coat, for even on these summer nights the wind whipped through the trees and cooled your bones. I felt the bushes and branches scraping at my bare legs. I didn’t care. Once I got to the river, everything would be worth it.

The river stretched wide across, as big as I remembered. On the walk over, I had tried to prepare myself for disappointment, ready to be let down by the size and scale. I figured now that I wasn’t small any more, it wouldn’t seem so big. 

I was wrong.

The river raged on and I swear it was a mile across. The current wasn’t violent, but constant, like it was moving in slow motion, molasses flowing from the mountains, and only by the will of God did it not take us all along with it.

I sat there for a moment, just taking it all in. Downstream, coming my way, a great ball of flame sound barreled lazily along. I stood to see what it was, but it was too far. I waited in the dark as the sound grew.

A large steamboat, like from an old American novel puttered along the water’s surface. The ship was in no rush. Loud St. Louis jazz came from the deck, and I knew it was bound for New Orleans. People milled about on the deck, through the cabin, all dressed in the finest clothes and drinking from tall crystal glasses.

Up at the bow, a woman stood like the living figurehead. She was all curves, her voluptuous body wrapped in a dark dress, and her hair falling loosely at her back. She looked over at me, and looked into my soul. Her eyes were the color of the moon, and half as big too. 

As she passed me on the river, moving away forever, she nodded. I sat a long while thinking of this, of her, of what it must be like on that ship. I thought of distant shores, of loud cities and louder parties. I thought of getting away, for good.

I walked back home when everyone had gone to sleep, and made my way into my bed. The clouds were still thick outside my window. I knew I would not see the moon that night. She had already left.


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