Two Days in September

Four men in their thirties, comfortable but bored with their lives, give in to a sudden yen for adventure. Soon the wild mountain valley to the north will be under water, drowned by a new dam. They decide to see the wilderness before it disappears, and embark blithely on a canoe trip that carries them into terror and violence. This episode of the adventure is drawn from Deliverance, the first novel by the prizewinning American poet James Dickey. The full novel will be published next month by Houghton Mifflin. It is the April Literary Guild selection and will be made into a movie by Warner Brothers.

It unrolled slowly, forced to show its colors, curling and snapping back whenever one of us turned it loose. The whole land was very tense until we put our four steins on its corners and laid the river out to run for us through the mountains a hundred and fifty miles north. Lewis’ hand took a pencil and marked out a small, strong X in a place where some of the green bled away and the paper changed with high ground, and began to work downstream, northeast to southwest, through the printed woods. I watched the hand rather than the location, for it seemed to have power over the terrain, and when it stopped for Lewis’ voice to explain something, it was as though all streams everywhere quit running, hanging silently where they were to let the point be made. The pencil turned over and pretended to sketch in with the eraser an area that must have been around fifty miles long, through which the river hooked and cramped.

“When they take another survey and rework this map,”Lewis said, “all this in here will be blue. The dam at Aintry has already been started, and when it’s finished next spring the river will back up last. This whole valley will be under water. But right now it’s wild. And I mean wild; it looks like something up in Alaska. We really ought to go up there before the real estate people get hold of it and make it over into one of their heavens.”

I leaned forward and concentrated down into the invisible shape he had drawn, trying to see the changes that would come, the nighttime rising of dammed water bringing a new lake up with its choice lots, its marinas and beer cans, and also trying to visualize the land as Lewis said it was at that moment, unvisited and free. I breathed in and out once, consciously; my body, particularly the back and arms, felt ready for something like this. I looked around the bar and then back into the map, picking up the river where we would enter it. A little way to the southwest the paper blanched.

“Does this mean it’s higher here?” I asked.

“Yes,” Lewis said, looking quickly at me to see if I saw he was being tolerant.

Ah, he’s going to turn this into something, I thought. A lesson. A moral. A life principle. A Way.

“It must run through a gorge or something,” was all he said though. “But we can get through that in a day, easy. And the water should be good, in that part especially.”

I didn’t have much idea what good meant in the Way of river water, but for it to seem good to Lewis it would have to meet some very definite standards. The way he went about things was strictly his own; that was mainly what he liked about doing them. He liked particularly to take some extremely specialized and difficult form of sport, usually one he could do by himself, and evolve a personal approach to it which he could then expound. I had been through this with him in fly casting, in archery and weight lifting and spelunking, in all of which he had developed complete mystiques. Now it was canoeing. I settled back and came out of the map.

Bobby Trippe was there, across from me. He had smooth thin hair and a high pink complexion. I knew him least well of the others at the table, but I liked him a good deal, even so. He was pleasantly cynical, and gave me the impression that he shared some kind of understanding with me that neither of us was to take Lewis too seriously.

“They tell me this is the kind of thing that gets hold of middle-class householders every once in a while,” Bobby said. “But most of them just lie down till the feeling passes.”

“And when most of them lie down, they’re at Woodlawn before they think about getting up,”Lewis said.

“It’s like that old idea that you’re going to get yourself in shape, one of these days. Just like you were when you were on Lite B-team in high school and had to do all those wind sprints. Some few people may jog, once in a while. But who runs sprints? Who goes down rivers?”

“Well, you’ve got a chance to go down one,”Lewis said. “The chance is coming up this weekend, if you can get Friday off. Either Ed and I will go, or we all four can go. But you have to let me know right now, so I can get the other canoe.”

I liked Lewis; I could feel myself getting caught up again in his capricious and tenacious enthusiasms that had already taken me bow-hunting and varmint-calling with him, and down into a small, miserably cold cave where there was one dead, crystalline frog. Lewis was the only man I knew who could do with his life exactly what he wanted to. He talked continually of resettling in New Zealand or South Africa or Uruguay, but he had to be near the rental property he had inherited, and 1 didn’t much think he would ever leave. But in his mind he was always leaving, always going somewhere, always doing something else. These techniques and mystiques had built up in him something that impressed me a good deal, even so. He was not only self-determined; he was determined. He was one of the best tournament archers in the state, and even at the age of thirty-eight or -nine, one of the strongest men I had ever shaken hands with. He lifted weights and shot arrows every day in a special kind of alternating rhythm and as a result was so steady that he could easily hold a sixty-pound bow at full draw for twenty seconds. I once saw him kill a quail with an aluminum target arrow at forty yards, the arrow diving into the back-feathers at the last possible instant.

So I usually went with him whenever he asked me. I had a bow that he helped me pick out, and a few tags and odds of secondhand equipment, and it was enjoyable walking in the woods with Lewis, when the weather was good, as it usually is in our part of the South in hunting season. Because it took place in such pleasant country, and because of Lewis, I liked field archery—with its faint promise of one day killing a deer—better than golf. But it was really Lewis. He was the only man I knew determined to get something out of life who had both the means and the will to do it, and it interested me to see how, as an experiment, this turned out.

I was not much on theories myself. But I had a good feeling about this trip. After so much shooting at paper images of deer, it was exciting to think of encountering a real one.

“How, exactly, do we get to the river in the first place?” Drew Ballinger asked.

“There’s a little nothing town up here just past the high ground,” Lewis said, “name of Orce. We can put in there and come out in Aintry a couple of days later. If we get on the water late Friday, we can be back here the middle of Sunday afternoon, maybe in time for the last half of the pro game on TV.”

“There’s one thing that bothers me,” Drew said. “We don’t really know what we’re getting into. There’s not one of us knows a damned thing about the woods, or about rivers. The last boat I was in was my father-in-law’s Chris Craft, up on Lake Bodie. I can’t even row a boat straight, much less paddle my own or anybody else’s canoe. What business have I got up there in those mountains?”

“Listen,” Lewis said, knocking on the air with his fore-knuckle, “you’ll be in more danger on the four-lane going home tonight than you’d ever be on the river. Somebody might jump the divider. Who knows?”

“I mean,” Bobby said, “the whole thing does seem kind of crazy.”

“All right,” Lewis said. “Let me demonstrate. What are you going to be doing this afternoon?”

“Well.” Bobby thought a minute. “Most likely I’ll see a couple of new people about mutual funds. I have to draw up some papers and get them notarized.”

“How about you, Drew?”

“See some more route salesmen. We’re making a cooler count to figure out who’s doing what, and where we’re falling short. We’re trying to find ways to up the cold-bottle sales, the same as always. Sometimes they’re up, sometimes they’re down. Right now they’re down.”


“Oh,” I said. “Take some photographs for Kitts Textile Mills. Kitt’n Britches. Cute girl in our britches stroking her pussy. A real cat, you understand.”

“Too bad,” Lewis said, and grinned, although talk about sex was never something he seemed to enjoy. He had made his point without saying anything about the afternoon. He looked around the suburban bar and brought his hand under his chin, waiting for the other two to decide.

I thought that they probably wouldn’t go. They were day-to-day happy enough; they were not bored in the way Lewis and I were bored, and Bobby, particularly, seemed to enjoy the life he was in. He came, I believe, from some otherpart of the South, maybe Louisiana, and since he had been around—since I had known him, anyway—had seemed to do well. He was very social, and would not have been displeased if someone had called him a born salesman. He liked people, he said, and most of them liked him—some genuinely and some merely because he was a bachelor and a good dinner or party guest. He was always around. Every place I went I saw him, or caught a glimpse of him going by or leaving. If I were at a driving range or supermarket I would be sure to see him; when I thought beforehand I would see him, I would, and if I didn’t, I’d also see him. He was a pleasant surface human being, though I had heard him blow up at a party once and hadn’t forgotten it. I still don’t know what the cause was, but his face changed in a dreadful way, like the rage of a weak king. But that was only once.

Drew Ballinger was a straightforward, quiet fellow. He was devoted to his family, particularly to his little boy Pope, who had some kind of risen hornlike blood blister on his forehead that his eyebrow grew out of and around in a way to make you realize the true horrors of biology. He worked as a sales supervisor for a big soft-drink company, and he believed in it and the things it said it stood for with his very soul. He kept a copy of the company history on his living-room coffee table at home, and the only time I ever saw him get mad was over a rival and newer company’s sales claims having to do with its drink’s weight-reducing properties. “Goddamned liars,” he said. “They’ve got just as many calories as we have, and we can prove it.”

But Lewis and I were different, and were different from each other. I had nothing like his drive, or his obsessions. Lewis wanted to be immortal. He had everything that life could give, and he couldn’t make it work. And he couldn’t bear to give it up or see age take it away from him, either, because in the meantime he might be able to find what it was he wanted, the thing that must be there, and that must be subject to the will. He was the kind of man who tries by any meansweight lifting, diet, exercise, self-help manuals from taxidermy to modern art—to hold on to his body and mind and improve them, to rise above time. And yet he was also the first to take a chance, as though the burden of his own laborious immortality were too heavy to bear, and he wanted to get out of it by means of an accident, or what would appear to others to be an accident. A year or two before, he had stumbled and crawled for three miles to get out of the woods and back to his car and then driven it home using a stick to work the gas because his right ankle was so painfully broken. I visited him in the hospital mainly because he had asked me to go to the woods with him and I hadn’t been able to go, and I asked him how he felt. “It’s a luxury,” he said. “For a while I don’t have to lift weights, or work out on the bag.”

I glanced over at him. He had a face like a hawk, but it was a special kind of hawk. Instead of the front of his head seeming to be made from top to bottom, his looked like it had been palm-molded into a long-nosed shape from the sides. He was clay red and sandy-haired, with a whitish patch back up toward the crown of his head, where the other hair was darker.

“Well well,” he said. “What about it?”

“I’ll go,” Drew said, “if I can bring a guitar.”

“Sure, bring it,” Lewis said. “It would be kind of good to hear, way off up in there.”

Without having any talent, as he would be the first to tell you, Drew played mighty well, through sheer devotion. He had been at it with guitar and banjo—mostly guitar—for twelve years, and went in for all the really hard finger-picking stuff: Reverend Gary Davis, Dave Van Ronk, Merle Travis, Doc Watson.

“I’ve got a stove-in, reconditioned Martin I picked up from some school kid,” Drew said. “Don’t worry; I wouldn’t bring my number one.”

“OK, fellow primitives,” Bobby said. “But I insist on some creature comforts. Namely liquor.”

“Bring all you like,” Lewis said. “In fact, the sensation of going down white water about half drunk is not to be missed.”

“You taking your bow, Lewis?” I asked.

“You know it,” he said. “And if one of us stabs a deer, we can eat the meat and pack the hide and the head out, and I’ll cure the hide and mount the head.”

“Atomic-survival stuff, eh?” Bobby said.

“The best kind.”

It sounded fine to me, though I knew it would be poaching, this early in the fall. But I also knew Lewis would do what he said; these were some of the other things he had learned.

Waitresses in sheer-net tights and corsages kept staring down into the map. It was time to go. Lewis took off the weight of the stein, and the map leapt shut.

“Can you get your car, Drew?” Lewis asked as we stood up together.

“Sure,” he said. “One of ‘em’s mine, and my boy’s not old enough to drive it.”

“Ed and I’ll meet you-all early Friday, around six thirty, where Will’s Ferry Road runs into the four-lane, at the big new Will’s Plaza Shopping Center. I’ll call Sam Steinhauser this evening and see what shape his canoe’s in. Most of Lhe other stuff I’ve got. Wear tennis shoes. Bring liquor and an open mind. . . .”

A round noon on Friday we started up among the hills, still on the highway. At an intersection we turned off onto a blacktop state road, and from that onto a badly cracked and weedy concrete highway of the old days—the thirties as nearly as I could tell—with the old splattered tar center line wavering onward. From that we turned onto another concrete road that sagged and slewed and holed-out and bumped ahead, not worth maintaining at all.

It was still about forty miles to Oree. We had to get there, hire two men to drive the cars back down to Aintry, and then go downriver and find a campsite and set up camp. If possible we also wanted to buy some more supplies. We had time, but we didn’t have any to waste. Lewis speeded up; a bad road always challenged him. The canoe bumped and grated overhead.

We were among trees now, lots of them. I could have told you with my eyes closed; I could hear them whish, then open to space, and then close with another whish. I was surprised at how much color there was in them. I had thought that the pine tree was about the only tree in Georgia, but that wasn t the case, as I saw. I had no notion what the trees were, but they were beautiful, flaming and turning color almost as I looked at them. They were just beginning to turn, and the flame was not hot yet. But it was there, beginning to come on.

“You look at these trees,” Lew said. “I’ve been up here in April when you could see the most amazing thing about them.”

“They look pretty amazing now,” I said. “What do you mean?”

“Have you ever heard of the larva of the linden moth?”

“Sure,” I said..“All the time. Tell you the truth, no.”

“Every year when the larvae are ambitiouslarva is larvae—you can look at the trees and you see something happening. You can see a mass hanging. A self-hanging of millions of ‘em.”

“Is this another put-on?”

“No, buddy. They let themselves down on threads. You can look anywhere you like and see ‘em, wringing and twisting on the ends of the threads like men that can’t die. Some of them are black and some are brown. And everything is quiiet. It’s so quiet. And they’re there, twisting. But they’re bad news. They eat the hardwood leaves. The government’s trying to figure some way to get rid of ‘em.”

It was a warm day. Everything was green, and through the green there was that subtle gold-coming color that makes the green hurt to look at. We passed through Whitepath and Pelham, towns smaller than the others, and Pelham smaller than Whitepath, and then began to wind and climb. The woods were heavy between the towns, and closed in around them.

“Look for deer,” Lewis said. “When there’s not much mast, they come down to the cornfields and along the roads.”

I looked but didn’t see any, though at one curve in the road I thought I saw something dart back into the woods to the right. But the leaves where I thought it had gone in were not moving, so probably it was my imagination.

Finally we came to Oree. It was evidently the county seat, for it had a little whitewashed building it called the town hall; the jail was part of it, and an old-fashioned fire engine was parked at one side. We went to a Texaco station and asked if there was anybody there who’d like to make some money. When Lewis killed the engine, the air came alive and shook with insects, even in the center of town, an in-and-out responding silence of noise. An old man with a straw hat and work shirt appeared at Lewis’ window, talking in. He looked like a hillbilly in some badly cast movie, a character actor too much in character to be believed. I wondered where the excitement was that intrigued Lewis so much; everything in Oree was sleepy and hookwormy and ugly, and most of all, inconsequential. Nobody worth a damn could ever come from such a place. It was nothing, like most places and people are nothing. Lewis asked the fellow if he and somebody else would drive our cars down to Aintry for twenty dollars.

“Take two of you to drive this thing?” the man asked.

“If that was the case we’d need four,” Lewis said, and didn’t explain. He just sat there and waited. I glanced up at the prow of the canoe, the hook coming at us from above.

After a long minute Drew and Bobby drove up beside us.

“See what I mean?” Lewis said.

The other two got out and came over. The old man turned as though he were being surrounded. His movements were very slow, like those of someone whose energies have been taken by some other thing than old age. It was humiliating to be around him, especially with Lewis’ huge pumped-up bicep shoving out its veins in the sun, where it lay casually on the window of the car. Out ol the side of my eye I saw the old man’s spotted hands trembling like he was deliberately making them do it. There is always something wrong with people in the country, I thought, in the comparatively lew times I had ever been in the rural South I had been struck by the number ol missing fingers. Offhand I had counted around twenty, at least. There had also been several people with some form of crippling or twisting illness, and some blind or oneeyed. No adequate medical treatment, maybe. But there was something else. You’d think that farming was a healthy life, with fresh air and fresh food and plenty of exercise, but I never saw a farmer who didn’t have something wrong with him, and most of the time obviously wrong; I never saw one who was physically powerful either: certainly there were none like Lewis. The work with the hands must be fantastically dangerous, in all that fresh air and sunshine, I thought: the catching of an arm in a tractor-part somewhere off in the middle of a field where nothing happened but that the sun blazed back more fiercely down the open mouth of one’s screams. And so many snakebites deep in the woods as one stepped over a rotten log, so many domestic animals suddenly turning and crushing one against the splintering side of a barn stall. I wanted none of it, and I didn’t want to be around where it happened either. But I was there, and there was no way for me to escape, except by water, from the country of nine-fingered people.

I looked off into the woods, then, and shot an eye corner back at my bow. This trip would sure be the farthest off in the woods I had ever been; there would be more animals than I had ever been close to, and they would be wilder. Lewis said he believed there were even a few bears and wild hogs in the mountains, though he said that the hogs were more likely to be domestic pigs that had run off. But they revert fast, he said; they grow that ruff up the back of the neck and the snout stretches out and the tushes get long, and in six or seven years you can’t tell them from the ones in Russia, except maybe by a notch in the ear or a ring in the nose. I knew there was not much chance of our running into a bear or a hog; that was romance. But then, the idea of hunting, for me, was also a kind of romance. The death of a real deer at my hands was just a vaporous, remote presence that hovered over the figure of the paper deer forty-five yards away at target six of our archery range, as I tried to hit the heart-lung section marked out in heavy black.

“Man, I like the way you wear that hat,”Bobby said to the old man.

The man took off the hat and looked at it carefully; there was nothing remarkable about it, but when it was on his head it had a curious awkwardarrogant tilt that you find only in the country South. He put the hat back on the other side of his head with the same tilt.

“You don’t know nothin’,” he said to Bobby.

Drew said, “Can you tell us something about the land around here? I mean, suppose we wanted to get down the river to Aintry. Could we do it?”

The man turned away from Bobby, and the finality with which he did it made me glance at Bobby to see if he had disappeared as a result. Bobby was smiling the kind of smile that might or might not come before a mean remark.

“Well,” the man said, “it’s right rocky, on down a piece, if there’s been a rain it raises way up, but it don’t come over the banks, leastways in most places. There ain’t no danger of the valley floodin’; ain’t nothin’ in it anyway. Furthest down I been is Walker’s Point, about fifteen miles, where the land starts gettin’ high. In a dry spell the river drops on down out of sight; you got to lean way out over the rocks to see it. And they say there’s another big gorge on down south, but I ain’t never been there.”

“Do you think we can get down the river?” Drew asked.

“In whut?”

“In these two canoes.”

“I wouldn’t want to try it,” he said, and straightened up. “If it rains, you’re liable to be in bad trouble. The water climbs them rock walls like a monkey.”

“What the hell,” Lewis said. “It’s not going to rain. Look up yonder.”

I looked up yonder. It was clear, hazy-hot blue with no clouds. It seemed all right, if it stayed that way.

“If it rains, we’ll just find us a place and hole up,” Lewis said. “I’ve done it before.”

“You’ll have a time holing up if you get down in that gorge.”

“We’ll make out.”

“All right,” the old man said. “You asked me. I told you.”

Drew and Bobby turned to go back to the Olds, and the Texaco man walked back alongside of Drew. I heard him ask, whose guitar is that-there yonder? Then he was jumping like a dog on its hind legs back into the filling station. “Lonnie,” he hollered, “come on out chere.”

He came back, and behind him was an albino boy with pink eyes like a white rabbit’s; one of them stared off at a furious and complicated angle. That was the eye he looked at us with, with his face set in another direction. The sane, rational eye was fixed on something that wasn’t there, somewhere in the dust of the road.

“Git yer banjo,” the old man said, and then to Drew, “Come on; play us a little somethin’.”

Drew grinned, rolled down the back window of the wagon, got out the big cracked Martin, and put on his finger picks. He came back to the front of the Olds and hiked himself onto the hood with one leg up to hold the guitar. He tuned for a minute, and Lonnie came back holding up a five-string banjo with a capo made out of rags and rubber bands.

“Lonnie don’t know nothin’ but banjo pickin’,"’ the old man said. “He ain’t never been to school; when he was little he used to sit out in the yard and beat on a lard can with a stick.”

“What’re we going to play, Lonnie?" Drew asked, his glasses opaque with pleasure.

Lonnie stood holding the banjo, looking off from us now with both eyes, the eyes splitting apart and all of us in the blind spot.

“Anything,” the old man said. “Play anything.”

Drew started in on “Wildwood Flower,”picking it out at medium tempo and not putting in many runs. Lonnie dragged on the rubber bands and slipped the capo up. Drew started to come on with the volume; the Martin boomed out and over the dusty filling station. I had never heard him play so well, and I really began to listen deeply, moved as an unmusical person is moved when he sees that the music is meant. After a little while it sounded as though Drew were adding another kind of sound to every note he played, a higher, tinny echo of the melody, and then it broke in on me that this was the banjo, played so softly and rightly that it sounded like Drew’s own fingering. I could not see Drew’s face, but the back of his neck was sheer joy. He eased out of the melody and played rhythm, and Lonnie took it. He emphasized nothing, but through everything he played there was a lovely unimpeded flowing that seemed endless. His hands, full of long scratches, took time; the fingers moved only slightly, about like those of a good typist; the music was just there. Drew came back in the new key and they finished, riding together. For the last couple of minutes of the song, Drew slid down and went over and stood beside Lonnie. They put the instruments together and leaned close to each other in the pose you see vocal groups and phony folk singers take on TV programs, and something rare and unrepeatable took hold of the way I saw them, the demented country kid and the big-faced decent city man, the minor civic leader and hedge-clipper, I was glad for Drew’s sake we had come. Just this incident would be plenty to satisfy him.

“God damn,” he said as they finished.

“Come on, Drew,” Lewis said. “Put that thing away. We got to get water under us. ...”

September 15

I kept waking, and waking again, but when I was alive for good, the screen wire of the tent front was gray and steady. Drew was deep in his sack, his head away from me. I lay with a flashlight in one hand, and tried to shape the day. The river ran through it, but before we got back into the current other things were possible. What I thought about mainly was that I was in a place where none—or almost none—of my daily ways of living my life would work; there was no habit I could call on. Is tli is freedom? I wondered.

I zipped the sleeping bag down and rolled out, holding my breath, my own heat rising from me and fading away as I crawled free. I pulled on my tennis shoes and bent toward the river sound, then stood up.

It was oddly warm and still and close, and the river was running with a heavy smoke of fog that moved just a little slower than the current must have been doing, rolling down the water in huge bodiless billows from upstream. It hovered at the bank while I watched, and overflowed, and in its silence 1 realized that I had been waiting for it to make a sound when it did this. I looked at my legs and they were gone, and my hands at my sides also; I stood with the fog eating me alive.

An idea came to me. I went back to my duffel bag, got out a two-piece suit of long underwear, and put it on; it was almost exactly the color of the fog. My bow was backed and faced with white fiber glass, usually a disadvantage in green or brown woods but a very good thing now. I strung the bow, leaning on the live weight and resistance, took an arrow out of the bow quiver, and went around behind the tents. The fog was seeping up over the canvas, swirling a little with the motion of deep water around Lewis and the others. It went back into the woods up what looked to be a long thin draw or little ravine, and I followed it, giving up my idea of waking Lewis and concentrating on being quiet. I couldn’t see far ahead, but I knew that if I stayed in the draw, all I would have to do to get back down to camp, even if the fog got worse, would be to turn around and come back down until I practically—or actually—stumbled over the tents. I concentrated on getting into some kind of relation to the woods under these conditions; I was as invisible as a tree.

At first I didn’t have any idea of really hunting. I had no firm notion of what I was doing, except walking forward carefully, away from the river and into more and more silence and blindness—for the fog was now coming up past me and thickening straight back into my face—and carrying a bow and a nocked arrow and three other arrows in one hand and fingering the bowstring with the other. It tingled like a wire in my right-hand fingers, giving off an electric current that came from the woods and the fog and the fact that hunting and pretending to hunt had come together and I could not now tell them apart. Behind the tents, before I had got into the woods, I had figured that since I had the equipment to hunt and knew to some extent how to use it, I might as well make some show of doing what I said I had come for. All I had really wanted was to stay away a reasonable length of time, long enough for the others to wake and find me gone— I thought of just sitting down on the bank of the ravine and waiting for half an hour by my watch —and then walk back into camp with my bow strung and say I’d been out taking a look around. That would satisfy honor.

But now not; not quite. I was really looking and really listening, and a good many things came together in my legs and arms and fingers. I was a good shot, at least up to thirty-five yards; and the visibility I had was not going to be anything like that in the next half hour. I could do it, if I came on a deer; I felt certain I could, and would.

The fog was still heavy, but the draw bottom began to climb, and as I went upward there was more light, first light through the fog and then things through the fog—leaves and twigs. The walls of the ditch, which I now saw was what I was in, were not as high now, barely to my shoulders, and I could see levelly along the ground into the woods a little way on both sides. Nothing moved, and there was also the quiet of nothing being there, though I did my best not to make a sound in case there was. The wet ground helped me; as far as I could tell I caused very little sound to come into the place, and thought that technically perhaps I didn’t make such a bad hunter after all, at least for a little while.

Now I was walking up what was hardly more than a sunken track, caved in on both sides, with the last rags of mist around me. I knew I had better not go much farther or I might lose the ditch. 1 stopped to turn around. There was nothing in any direction I hadn’t already seen.

I started back, still looking as far off as I could into the woods rising slowly up to eye level right and left. The mist began to roll into my face in thin puffs. I was beginning to worry about walking right off past the tents into the river when to the left I saw something move. I stopped, and the fog rose exactly to my teeth. About fifteen yards from me, right at the limit of my vision, was a small deer, a spike buck as nearly as I could tell from the shape of his head. He was browsing, the ghost of a deer but a deer just the same. He lifted his head and looked directly at my face, which from his angle must have seemed like a curious stone on the ground, if he saw it. I stood there, buried to the neck in the ditch, in the floor of the forest. He was broadside to me; I had shot a thousand targets one quarter his size at the same distance, and when I recalled this, when my eyes and hands got together on it, I knew I could kill him just as easily as I could hit his outline on cardboard. I raised the bow.

He brought his head a little higher and lowered it again. I pulled the string back to the right side of my face and began to steady down. For a moment I braced there at the fullest tension of the bow, which brought out of me and into the bow about three fourths of my own strength, with the arrow pointing directly into his heart. It was a slight upshot, and 1 allowed for this, though at the range it wouldn’t matter much.

I let go, but as I released I knew it was a wrong shot: not very wrong but wrong enough; I had done the same thing on key shots in archery tournaments: lifted my bow hand just as the shot went. At the sound of the bowstring the deer jumped and wheeled at about the time the arrow should have gone through him. I thought I might have hit him high, but actually I had seen the orange feathers flick and disappear over his shoulder; I may even have touched him, but I was fairly sure I had not drawn blood. He ran a few steps and turned, looking back around his side at me. I jerked loose another arrow and strung it, but my heart was gone. I was shaking, and I had trouble getting the arrow nocked. I had it only about halfway back when he took off for good. I turned loose anyway and saw the arrow whip badly and disappear somewhere above where he had been.

I was heaving and sweating as I drew in the fog and let it back out, a sick, steaming gas. Like that I went downhill, part of the time with my hand at arm’s length in front of my face. I saw the tents— one of them, then another thing like it—as low dark patches with something structured about them, clearly out of place here.

Lewis was up, trying to make a fire with wet twigs and branches. As I unstrung the bow, the others came out too.

“What about it, buddy?” Lewis said, looking at the two empty slots in the quiver.

“I got a shot.”

“You did?” Lewis said, straightening.

“I did. A spectacular miss at fifteen yards.”

“What happened? We could’a had meat.”

“I boosted my bow hand, I think. I psyched out. I’ll be damned if I know how. I had him. He was getting bigger all the time. It was like shooting at the wall of a room. But I missed all right. It was just that little second, right when I turned loose. Something said raise your hand, and before I could do anything about it, I did it.”

“Damn,” Bobby said. “Psychology. The delicate art of the forest.”

“You’ll get another chance,” Drew said. “We got a long ways to go yet.”

“What the hell,” I said. “If I’d hit him I’d be back in the woods now, tracking. He’d be hard to find in this fog. So would I.”

“You could’ve marked the place you shot from and come back and got us,” Lewis said. “We could’ve found him.”

“You’d have a time finding him now,” I said. “He’s probably in the next county.”

“I guess so,” Lewis said. “But it’s a shame. Where’s my old steady buddy?”

“Your old steady buddy exploded,”I said. “High and wide.” Lewis looked at me.

“I know you wouldn’t’ve, Lewis,” I said. “You don’t need to tell me. We’d have meat. We’d all live forever. And you know something? I wish you d been up there and I’d been with you. I would’a just unstrung my bow anti watched you put it right into the heart-lung area. Right into the boiler room. The pinwheel, at fifteen yards. What I was really thinking about up there was you.”

“Well, next time don’t think about me. Think about the deer.”

I let that ride and went to drag the stuff out of the tents. Lewis finally got a kind of fire started. When the sun began to take on height and force, the mist burned off in a few minutes. Through it the river, which we could hardly make out at first, showed itself more and more until we could see not only the flat of it and the stitches of the current but down through it into the pebbles of the stream bed near the bank.

We had pancakes with butter and sorghum. After we finished, Lewis went over to the stream to wash out the cooking stuff. I pulled all the air mattresses out on the ground, unscrewed their caps, and lay on each in turn until the ground came up to me through it and I was lying on the last sigh of air I had pumped into it the night before. We rolled the tents, wet and covered with leaves and pieces of bark, and lashed them into the canoes. I asked the others if they thought we might team up differently this time, for I was afraid that Lewis in his impatience might say something unpleasant to Bobby, and since Bobby suddenly seemed to me on the edge of exasperation with himself for coming, I thought it would probably be best if I took him on. Drew would not have laughed, or laughed in the right way, at the cracks that were Bobby’s only means of salvaging his civility, and I figured I would.

“How about it, tiger?” I said to Bobby.

“OK,” he said. “How far can we get today, do you reckon?”

“Beats me,” I said. “We’ll get as far as we can. Depends on the water, and how many places we have to walk through. Everybody including the map says there’s a gorge down below here, and that sort of bothers me. But there’s nothing we can do about it now.”

Bobby and I got in and shoved ofl, and right away I cotdd tell I was in for a hard time. I was not in awfully good shape myself, but Bobby was whee/ing and panting after the first hundred yards. Lie had no coordination at all, and changed the canoe from what it was with Drew’s steady, serious weight in front to a nervous, unstable craft that seemed bound and determined to do everything wrong, to get rid of us. I was sure that Lewis was disgusted with Bobby, and just as sure that I would be, also, before much longer.

“Easy,” I said. “Easy. You’re trying too hard. All we want to do is hold this thing straight. We don’t need to be pulling our guts out to get there. Just let the river do it. Let George do it.”

“George ain’t doing it fast enough. I want to get the hell and gone out of this goddamned place.”

“Ah, now. It’s not all that bad.”

“It’s not? Mosquitoes ate me up last night. My bites have got bites. I’m catching a fucking cold from sleeping on the fucking ground. I’m hungry as hell for something that tastes good. And I don’t mean sorghum.”

“Just steady down a little, and we’ll get there . . . when we get there. It’s not going to do your cold any good to dump in this river, you can bloody well bet.”

“Fuck it,” he said. “Let’s get on with it. I’m tired of this woods scene; I’m tired of shitting in a hole in the ground. This is for the Indians.”

After a while he settled down a little, and the back of his neck lightened its red. We dug a couple of strokes for every twenty-five yards, and the river moved us along. But I thought that the chances were pretty good, with my high center of gravity and his nerves, that we would spill before the day was out, especially if there were any fast stretches with lots of rocks. With the equipment and with Bobby and me, who were at least fifty pounds heavier than the other two, we were riding far too low in the water. We had too much stuff with us for the way we were teamed, and I signaled back to Lewis to pull over to the bank. He did, and we wallowed alongside the other canoe and tied up.

“Getting hot,” Lewis said.

“Hot as the hinges,” I said.

“Did you see that big snake back yonder?”

“No. Where?”

“He was lying up in the limbs of that old oak tree you went under about a mile and a half back, I didn’t see him till you were right under him, and he lifted his head. I didn’t want to make any fuss; thought it might make him nervous. I’m pretty sure it was a moccasin. I’ve heard of them dropping in boats.”

“Shit fire,” Bobby said. “That’s all we need.”

“Yeah,” said Lewis. “I can imagine.”

“Can you take on some of the stuff in our canoe, Lewis?” I asked. “We’re awful low and logy.”

“Sure. Go get the cooking equipment and the bedrolls. That ought to equalize us, just about. You can also let us have about half the beer that’s left.”

“Happy to. Everybody’s going to need something to cool off with today.”

“Why do it just with beer?” Lewis said, unbuttoning his shirt. “It’s shallow and slow here. I’m going to get wet.”

I transferred the bedrolls and beer and the Primus and the rest of the cooking equipment to the other canoe. Lewis was already in the water naked, booming overhand down the current with a lot of back showing, like Johnny Weissmuller in the old Tarzan movies. He swam as well as he did everything else, and outran the current easily. Then he came back, his eyes glaring with effort at water level. I shucked off my coveralls and dived in, and so did Drew.

The river was very cold; it felt as though it had snow and ice in it, and had only just turned them to water. But it was marvelously clear and alive, and broke like glass around you and came together unhurt. I swam a little way into the current and would gladly have given up all human effort—I was tired of human efforts of all kinds, especially my own—and gone on downstream either dead or alive, to wherever it would take me. But I swam back, a hard forty yards against the subtle tearing and downstream insistence, and stood up next to Lewis, who was waist-deep, with water crumpling and flopping at his belly. I looked at him, for I had never seen him with his clothes off.

Everything he had done for himself for years paid off as he stood there in his tracks, in the water, I could tell by the way he glanced at me; the payoff was in my eyes. I had never seen such a male body in my life, even in the pictures in the weight-lifting magazines, for most of those fellows are short, and Lewis was about an even six feet. I’d say he weighed about a hundred and ninety. The muscles were bound up in him smoothly, and when he moved, the veins in the moving part would surface. If you looked at him that way, he seemed made out of well-matched red-brown chunks wrapped in blue wire. You could even see the veins in his gut, and I knew I could not even begin to conceive how many sit-ups and leg-raises—and how much dieting—had gone into bringing them into view.

He dropped a hand on my shoulder and stirred the fur around. “What do you think, Bolgani the Gorilla?”

“I think Tarzan speak with forked tongue,” I said. “I think Lord of Jungle speak with tongue of Histah the Snake. I think we never get out of woods. He bring us here to stay and found kingdom.”

“Yeah,” said Bobby from the bank. “Kingdom of Snakes is right.”

Drew came out of the river near us. “Gosh, that feels good,” he said. “It really does. I never felt anything more wonderful in my life. Refreshing. You know, that’s just what it is. I feel like I can go all day, now. You better come on in for a minute, Bobby.”

“No, thanks. Whenever you’re ready, me and the other Fatso will just Fatso on down, the washed and the unwashed.”

He sat with his knees drawn up, self-protective in the sun against the water-chill he could see on us. Our nipples were blue and drawn up, and my stomach muscles were beginning to heave against the moving underwater freeze. I climbed out and pulled on my sweaty coveralls. My head was fresh and cool while my body heated up, and I wanted to get back on the river before I began to melt again.

Bobby and I went over to our canoe and tried to figure out what else we might be able to transfer to the other one. We finally ended up taking only one tent, my bow, a six-pack of beer, and Drew’s guitar, for the wooden canoe was leaking a little and our aluminum one was more or less dry. We wrapped the guitar in the tent, got in and pushed off.

We rode a lot better now, and Bobby’s paddling improved a good deal because of this, and maybe because he had convinced himself that the less trouble he was the quicker we’d get off the river.

The water was calm for a long time. We made turn after turn, sometimes near one bank, and sometimes near the other. I tried not to go under any more limbs, and this was easy enough to do. The river spread and slowed and quieted, and we had to paddle more than we had been doing. We could hardly feel any current at all; it was very faint, and when we rested it was as though we were drawn forward by something invisible underneath us, while the water around us stood still. We could hear sound far off in front, but it kept retreating downstream. Each turn opened out only on another stretch of river, gradually unfolding its woods along both banks. A heron of some kind flushed on the right. He swept downstream in front of us, going left, then right, then left-right, dipping quickly and indecisively. He would disappear around the next turn; then, as we came around it, would spring up again from leaves where we had not seen him, and muscle himself into the air on long blue wings, giving a hoarse agonized inhuman cry and making a magnificent half-turn over the river ahead of us; then start downstream again with long wingbeats, the tips of his wings all but touching the water, so that wherever he was his shadow started up under him at each downstroke, vague and misshapen with the river. This continued through four or five turns, until we came around another one like the others, and did not see him. He may have veered into the woods, but I thought that most probably he had learned to sit still, maybe nearing hysterical flight once again as we approached and went past, but managing to keep that long-necked, desperate cry in his throat until we had gone.

In the new silence the river seemed to go deeper and deeper under us; the colors changed toward denser greens as the sun got higher. The pace of the water began to pick up; we slid farther and farther with each stroke. I thought to myself that anyone fighting the brush along the bank could not keep up with us.

Every now and then I glanced down at the how at my feet, big-handled and tense-looking, and at its arrows slathered with house paint. The big orange leathers spiraled out of them, and the emery-wheeled edges of the broadheads shone in the sun like radium. Though I would have had to do a good deal of curious balancing to string the bow, I kept looking on both sides of the river for deer, hoping that we might float in on a big buck drinking. It was something to do.

We went through some deep, quickened water and floated out into a calm broad stretch of a long turn that slid us into a dim underpass of enormous trees, conifers of some kind, spruce or fir. It was dark and heavy in there; the packed greenness seemed to suck the breath out of your lungs. Bobby and I lifted our paddles clear of the river as by a signal, and we eased through the place the way one river wanted to go. Intense needles of light shook on the ripples, gold, hot enough to burn, and almost solid enough to pick up from the surface like nails.

We came out among some fields grown up six or seven feet high in grass. A mottled part of the bank slipped into the water, and it took me a minute to realize it was a snake. He went across about twenty feet in front of us, swimming as if crawling, his ficad high, and came out on the opposite bank without changing his motion at all, a thing with a single spell, a single movement, and no barriers.

We went on, taking long slow swings at the water. I had fitted my stroke to Bobby’s the best I could; I moved when he moved, and had got to the point where I could put my paddle in the water and lift it out at the same time he did. I thought he must surely be taking some satisfaction in the improvement, but I didn’t say anything for fear ol upsetting the rhythm.

After two hours from the time the heron left us we had drunk all the beer we had. The sun was eating my bald spot, and my nylon outfit was soaking with me. My tongue began to balloon in my mouth, and my backbone was splintering through the skin; I kept touching it between strokes to see if anything had given way. The edge of the seat was digging into my right thigh, for that was the only position in which I could get a good grip on the river. All the pains began to try to link up with each other, and there was nothing I could do about it.

I looked back. The other canoe was just coming around: Lewis had lagged behind us because, I suppose, he wanted us in sight in case we got into trouble. Anyway, they were about half a mile back, and disappeared as we rounded another curve, and I pointed with my paddle to the left bank. I didn’t know whether they saw me or not, but I figured to flag them in when they came by. I wanted to lie up in the shade and rest for a while. I was hungry, and I sure would’ve liked to have had another beer. We dug in and strung over.

As we closed in on the left bank, a pouring sound came from under the trees; the leaves at a certain place moved as if in a little wind. The fresh greenwhite of a creek was frothing into the river. We sailed past it half broadside and came to the bank about seventy-five yards downstream. I put the nose against it and paddled hard to hold it there while Bobby got out and moored us.

“This is too much like work,” Bobby said as he gate me a hand up.

“Lord, Lord,”I said. “I’m getting too old for this kind of business. I suppose you could call it learning the hard way.”

Bobby sat down on the ground and untied a handkerchief bom around his neck. He leaned down to the river and sopped it, then swabbed his face and neck down, rubbing a long time in the nose area. I bent over and touched my toes a couple of times to get rid of the position that had been maiming my back, and then looked upstream. I still couldn’t see the other canoe. I turned to say something to Bobby.

Two men stepped out of the woods, one of them trailing a shotgun by the barrel.

Bobby had no notion they were there until he looked at me. Then he turned his head until he could see over his shoulder, and got up, brushing at himself.

“How goes it?" he said.

One of them, the taller one, narrowed in the eyes and face. They came forward, moving in a kind of half-circle as though they were stepping around something. The shorter one was older, with big white eyes and a half-white stubble that grew in whorls on his cheeks: his face seemed to spin in many directions. He had on overalls, and his stomach looked like it was falling through them. The other was lean and tall, and peered as though out of a cave or some dim, simple place far back in his yellow-tinged eyeballs. When he moved his jaws, the lower bone came up too far for him to have teeth. “Escaped convicts” Hashed up in my mind on one side, “bootleggers” on the other. But they still could have been hunting.

They came on, and were ridiculously close for some reason. I tried not to give ground; some principle may have been involved.

The older one. looming and spinning his sicklooking lace in front ol me, said, “What the hail you think you’re doin’?”

“Going downriver. Been going since yesterday.”

I hoped that the fact that we were at least talking to each other would do some good of some kind.

He looked at the tall man; either something or nothing was passing between them. I could not feel Bobby anywhere near, and the other canoe was not in sight. I shrank to my own true size, a physical movement known only to me, and with the strain my solar plexus failed. I said, “We started from Oree yesterday afternoon, and we hope we can get to Aintry some time late today or early tomorrow.”


Bobby said, and I could have killed him, “Sure. This river just runs one way, Cap’n. Haven’t you heard?”

“You ain’t never going to get down to Aintry,” he said, without any emphasis on any word.

“Why not?” I asked, scared but also curious; in a strange way it was interesting to cause him to explain.

“Because this river don’t go to Aintry,” he said. “You done taken a wrong turn somewhere. Thishere river don’t go nowhere near Aintry.”

“Where does it go?”

“It goes ... it goes . . .”

“It goes to Circle Gap,” the other man said, missing his teeth and not caring. “ ‘Bout fifty miles.”

“Boy,” said the whorl-faced man, “you don’t know where you are.”

“Well,” I said, “we’re going where the river’s going. We’ll come out somewhere, I reckon.”

The other man moved closer to Bobby.

“Hell,” I said, “we don’t have anything to do with you. We sure don’t want any trouble. If you’ve got a still near here, that’s fine with us. We could never tell anybody where it is; because you know something? You’re right: we don’t know where we are.”

“A stee-ul?” the tall man said, and seemed honestly surprised.

“Sure,” I said. “If you’re making whiskey, we’ll buy some from you. We could sure use it.”

The drop-gutted man faced me squarely. “Do you know what the hail you’re talkin’ about?”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” I said.

“You done said something about makin’ whiskey. You think we’re makin’ whiskey. Now come on. Ain’t that right?”

“Shit,”I said. “I don’t know whether you’re making whiskey or hunting or rambling around in the woods for your whole fucking life. I don’t know and I don’t care what you’re doing. It’s not any of my business.”

I looked at the river, but we were a little back I rom the bank, and I couldn’t see the other canoe. I didn’t think it could have gone past, but I was not really sure that it hadn’t. I shook my head in a complete void, at the thought that it might have; we had got too far ahead, maybe.

With the greatest effort in the world, I came back into the man’s face, and tried to cope with it. He had noticed something about the way I had looked at the river.

“Anybody else with you?” he asked me.

I swallowed and thought, with possibilities shooting through each other. If I said yes, and they meant trouble, we would bring Lewis and Drew into it with no defenses. Or it might mean that we would be left alone, four being too many to handle. On the other hand, if I said no, then Lewis and Drew, especially Lewis, might be able to . . . well, to do something. Lewis’ pectorals loomed up in my mind, and his leg, with the veins bulging out of the divided muscles of his thigh, wavering underwater small-ankled and massive as a centaur’s.

I would go with that.

“No,” I said, and took a couple of steps inland to draw them away from the river.

The lean man reached over and touched Bobby’s arm, feeling it with strange delicacy. Bobby jerked back, and when he did, the gun barrel came up, almost casually but decisively.

“We’d better get on with it,” I said. “We got a long ways to go.” I took part of a step toward the canoe.

“You ain’t goin’ nowhere,” the man in front of me said, and leveled the shotgun straight into my chest. My heart quailed away from the blast tamped into both barrels, and I wondered what the barrelopenings would look like at the exact instant they went off: if fire would come out of them, or if they would just be a gray blur, or if they would change at all between the time yon lived and died, blown in half. He took a turn around his hand with the string he used for a trigger.

“You come on back in here less you want your guts all over this-here woods.”

I half-raised my hands like a character in a movie. Bobby looked at me, but I was helpless, my bladder quavering. I stepped forward into the woods through some big bushes that I saw but didn’t feel. They were all behind me. The voice of one of them said, “Back up to that saplin’.”

I picked out a tree. “This one?” I said.

There was no answer. I backed up to the tree I had selected. The lean man came up to me and took off my web belt with the knife and rope on it. Moving bis hands very quickly, he unfastened the rope, let the belt out, and put it around me and the tree so tight I could hardly breathe, with the buckle on the other side of the tree. He came back holding the knife, it occurred to me that they must have done this before; it was not a technique they would just have thought of for the occasion.

The lean man held up the knife, and I looked for the sun to strike it, blit there was no sun where we were. Even so, in the intense shadow, I could see the edge I had put on it with a suburban grindstone: the minute cross-hatching of high-speed abrasions, the wearing away of metal into a murderous edge.

“Look at that,”the tall man said to the other. “I bet that’ll shave ha’r.”

“Why’ont you try it? Looks like that’n’sgot plenty of it. ‘Cept on his head.”

The tall man took hold of the zipper of my coveralls, breathing lightly, and zipped it down to the belt as though tearing me open.

“Good God Almighty,” said the older one. “He’s like a goddamned monkey. You ever see anything like that?”

The lean man put the point of the knife under my chin and lifted it.

“You ever had your balls cut oft, you fuckin’ ape?”

“Not lately,” I said, clinging to the city. “What good would they do you?”

He put the flat of the knife against my chest and scraped it across. He held it up, covered with black hair and a little blood. “It’s sharp,”he said. “Could be sharper, but it’s sharp.”

The blood was running down from under my jaw where the point had been. I had never felt such brutality and carelessness of touch, or such disregard for another person’s body. It was not the steel or the edge of the steel that was frightening; the man’s fingernail, used in any gesture of his, would have been just as brutal; the knife only magnified his unconcern. I shook my head again, trying to get my breath in a gray void full of leaves, I looked straight up into the branches of the sapling I was tied to, and then down into the clearing at Bobby.

He was watching me with his mouth open as I gasped for enough breath to live on from second to second. There was nothing he could do, but as he looked at the blood on my chest and under my throat, I could see that his position terrified him more than mine did; the fact that he was not tied mattered in some way.

They both went toward Bobby, the lean man with the gun this time. The white-bearded one look him by the shoulders and turned him around toward downstream.

“Now let’s you just drop them pants,” he said.

Bobby lowered his hands hesitantly. “Drop . . . ?" he began.

My rectum and intestines contracted: Lord God.

The toothless man put the barrels of the shotgun under Bobby’s right ear and shoved a little. Just take ‘em right on off,” he said.

“I mean, what’s this all . . . ?” Bobby started again weakly.

“Don’t say nothin’,” the older man said. “Just do it.”

The man with the gun gave Bobby s head a vicious shove, so quick that I thought the gun had gone off. Bobby unbuckled his belt and unbuttoned his pants. He took them off. looking around ridiculously for a place to put them.

“Them panties too, the man with the belly said.

Bobby took oil his shorts like a boy undressing for the first time in a gym, and stood there plump and pink, his hairless thighs shaking, his legs close together.

“See that log? Walk over yonder.”

Wincing from the feet, Bobby went slowly over to a big fallen tree and stood near it with his head bowed.

“Now git on down crost it.”

I fte tall man followed Bobby’s head down with the gun as Bobby knelt over the log.

“Pull your shirttail up, Fat-ass.”

Bobby reached back with one hand and pulled his shirt up to his lower back. I could not imagine what he was thinking.

“I said up,” the tall man said. He took the shotgun and shoved the back of the shirt up to Bobby s neck, scraping a long red mark along his spine.

The white-bearded man was suddenly also naked up to the waist. There was no need to justify or rationalize anything; they were going to do what they wanted to. I struggled for life in the air, and Bobby’s body was still and pink in an obscene posture that no one could help. The tall man restored the gun to Bobby’s head, and the other one knelt behind him.

A scream hit me, and I would have thought it was mine except for the lack of breath. It was a sound of pain and outrage, and was followed by one of simple and wordless pain. Again it came out of him, higher and mote carrying. I let all the breath out of myself and brought my head down to look at the river. Where are they, every vein stood out to ask, and as I looked the bushes broke a little in a place I would not have thought of and made a kind of complicated alleyway out onto the stream—I was not sure for a moment whether it was water or leaves—and Lewis’ canoe was in it. He and Drew both had their paddles out of water, and then they turned and disappeared.

The white-haired man worked steadily on Bobby, every now and then getting a better grip on the ground with his knees. At last he raised his face as though to howl with all his strength into the leaves and the sky, and quivered silently while the man with the gun looked on with an odd mixture of approval and sympathy. The whorl-faced man drew back, drew out.

The standing man backed up a step and took the gun from behind Bobby’s car. Bobby let go the log and fell to his side, both arms over his face.

We all sighed. I could get better breath, but only a 1ittle.

The two of them turned to me. I drew as straight up as I could and waited with the tree, it was up to them. I could sense my knife sticking in the bark next to my head and I could see the blood vessels in the eyes of the tall man. That was all; I was blank.

The bearded man came to me and disappeared around me. The tree jerked and air came into my lungs in great gratitude. I fell forward and caught up short, for the tall man had put the gun up under my nose; it was a very odd sensation, funnier than it might have been when 1 thought of my brain as thinking of my son and my wife at that instant and also of its being scattered, material of some sort, over the bush-leaves and twigs in the next second.

“You’re kind of ball-headed and fat, ain’t you?” the tall man said.

“What do you want me to say?” I said. “Yeah. I’m bald-headed and fat. That OK?”

“You’re hairy as a goddamned dog, ain’t you?”

“Some dogs, I suppose.”

“What the hail . . .” he said, half turning to the other man.

“Ain’t no hair in his mouth,” the other one said.

“That’s the truth,” the tall one said. “Hold this on him.”

Then he turned to me, handing the gun off without looking, it stood in the middle of the air at the end of his extended arm. He said to me, “Fall down on your knees and pray, boy. And you better pray good.”

I knelt down. As my knees hit, I heard a sound, a snap-slap off in the woods, a sound like a rubber band popping or a sickle blade cutting quick. The older man was standing with the gun barrel in his hand and no change in the stupid, advantage-taking expression of his face, and a foot and a half of bright red arrow was shoved forward from the middle of his chest, it was there so suddenly it seemed to have come from within him.

None of us understood; we just hung where we were, the tall man in front of me unbuttoning his pants, me on my knees with my eyelids clouding the forest, and Bobby rolling back and forth, off in the leaves in the corner of my eye. The gun fell, and 1 made a slow-motion grab for it as the tall man sprang like an animal in the same direction. I had it by the stock with both hands, and if I coidd have pulled it in to me, I would have blown him in half in the next second. But he only gripped the barrel lightly and must have felt that I had it better, and felt also what every part of me was concentrated on doing; he jumped aside and was gone into the woods opposite where the arrow must have come from.

I got up with the gun and the power, wrapping the string around my right hand. I swung the barrel back and forth to cover everything, the woods and the world. There was nothing in the clearing but Bobby and the short man and me. Bobby was still on the ground, though now he was lifting his head, I could understand that much, but something kept blurring the clear idea of Bobby and myself and the leaves and the river. The shot man was still standing. He wouldn’t concentrate in my vision; I couldn’t believe him. He was like a film over the scene, gray and vague, with the force gone out of him; I was amazed at how he did everything. He touched the arrow experimentally, and I could tell that it was in him as solidly as his breastbones. It was in him tight and unwobbling, coming out front and back.

He took hold of it with both hands, but compared with the arrow’s strength his hands were weak; they weakened more as I looked, and began to melt. He was on his knees, and then fell to his side, pulling his legs up. He rolled back and forth like a man with the wind knocked out of him, all the time making a bubbling, gritting sound. His lips turned red, but from his convulsions—in which there was something comical and unspeakable—he seemed to gain strength. He got up on one knee and then to his feet again while I stood with the shotgun at port arms. He took a couple of strides toward the woods and then seemed to change his mind and danced back to me, lurching and clogstepping in a secret circle. He held out a hand to me, like a prophet, and I pointed the shotgun straight at the head of the arrow, ice coming into my teeth. I was ready to put it all behind me with one act, with one pull of a string.

But there was no need. He crouched and fell forward with his face on my white tennis-shoe tops, trembled away into his legs, and shook down to stillness. He opened his mouth and it was full of blood like an apple. A clear bubble formed on his lips and stayed there.

i stepped back and looked at the whole scene again, trying to place things. Bobby was propped up on one elbow, with his eyes as reel as the bubble in the dead man’s mouth. He got up looking at me.

I realized that I was swinging the gun toward him: that. I pointed wherever I looked. I lowered the barrel a little. What to say?


“Ford God,” Bobby said. “Lord God.”

“You all right?” I asked, since I needed to know even though I cringed with the directness.

Bobby’s face expanded its crimson, and he shook his head. “I don’t know,”he said. “I don’t know.”

I stood and lie lay with his head on his palm, both looking straight ahead. Everything was quiet. The man with the aluminum shaft in him lay with his head on one shoulder and his right hand relaxedly holding the barb of the arrow. Behind him the blue and silver of Lewis’ fancy arrow-crest shone, unnatural in the woods.

Nothing happened for ten minutes. I wondered if maybe the other man wouldn’t come back before Lewis showed himself, and I began to compose a scene in which Lewis would step out of the woods on one side of the clearing with his bow and the tall man would show on the other, and they would have it out in some way that it was hard to imagine. I was working on the details when I heard something move. Part of the bark of a big water oak moved at leg level, and Lewis moved with it out into the open, stepping sideways into the clearing with another brightcrested arrow on the string of his bow. Drew followed him, holding a canoe paddle like a baseball bat.

Lewis walked out between me and Bobby, over the man on the ground, and put his bow tip on a leaf. Drew moved to Bobby. I had been holding the gun ready lor so long that it felt strange to lowct the barrels so that they were pointing down, and could kill nothing but the ground, I did, though, and Lewis and I laced each other across the dead man. His eyes were vivid and alive; he was smiling easily and with great friendliness.

“Well, now, how about this? Just . . . how about this?”

I went over to Bobby and Drew, though I had no notion of what to do when I got there. I Intel watched everything that had happened to Bobby, had heard him scream and squall, and wanted to reassure him that we could set all that aside; that it would he forgotten as soon as we lelt the wootls, or as soon as we got back in the canoes. But there was no way to say this, or to ask him how his lower intestine lelt, or whether he thought he was bleeding internally. Any examination of him would be unthinkably ridiculous and humiliating.

There was no question of that, though; he was furiously closed off hom all of us. He stood up and backed away, still naked from the middle down, his sexual organs wasted with pain. I picked up his pants and shorts and handed them to him, and he reached for them in wonderment. He took out a handkerchief and went behind some bushes.

Still holding the gun at trail, as the tall man had been doing when I first saw him step out ot the woods, I went back to Lewis, who was leaning on his bow and gazing out over the river.

Without looking at me, he said, “I figured it was the only thing to do.”

“It was,” I agreed, though I wasn’t all that sure. “I thought we’d had it.”

Lewis glanced in the direction Bobby had taken, and I realized I could have put it better.

“I thought sure they’d kill us.”

“Probably they would have. The penalty for sodomy in this state is death, anyway. And at the point of a gun . . . no, they wouldn’t have let you go. Why should they?”

“How did you figure it?”

“We heard Bobby, and the only thing we could think of was that one of you had been bit by a snake. We started to come right in, but all at once it hit me that if it was something like snakebite, the other one of you could take care of the one that was bit just as well as three of us could, at least for a little while. And if there were other people involved, I told Drew I had just as soon come in on them without them knowing it.”

“What did you do?”

“We turned in that little creek and went up it about fifty yards. Then we shoved the canoe in some bushes and got out; I strung up and nocked an arrow, and we came on up to about thirty yards from where you were. As soon as I saw four people there, I began to shift around to find a place I could shoot through the leaves. I couldn’t tell what was going on at first, though I thought it was probably what it was. I’m sorry I couldn’t do anything lot Bobby, but at least I didn’t make a misntove and get his head blown off. When the guy started getting back up on his feet, I drew down on him, and waited.”

“How did you know when to shoot?”

“Any time that the gun wasn’t pointed at you and Bobby would have been all right. I just had to wait till that time came. The other guy hadn’t had am action yet, and I was pretty sure they’d swap the gun. The only thing I was worried about was that you might get in between me and him. But I was on him all the time, looking right down the arrow. I must have been at full draw for at least a minute. It would’ve been a much easier shot it I hadn’t had to hold so long. But it was fairly easy anyway. I knew I was right on him; I tried to hit him halfway up the back and a little to the left. He moved, or that’s just where it would have caught him. I knew I had him when I let go.”

“You had him,”I said. “And now what’re we going to do with him?”

Drew moved up to us, washing his hands with dirt and beating them against the sides of his legs.

“There’s not but one thing to do,”he said. “Put the body in one of the canoes and take it on down to Aintry and turn it over to the Highway Patrol, Tell them the whole story.”

“Tell them what, exactly?” Lewis asked.

“Just what happened,”Drew said, his voice rising a tone. “This is justifiable homicide if anything is. They were sexually assaulting two members of our party at gunpoint. Like you said, there was nothing else we could do.”

“Nothing else but shoot him in the back with an arrow?" Lewis asked pleasantly.

“It was your doing, Lewis,”Drew said.

“What would you have done?”

“It doesn’t make any difference what I would have done,” Drew said stoutly. “But I can tell you, I don’t believe . . .”

“Don’t believe what?”

“Wait a minute,”I broke in. “What we should or shouldn’t have done is beside the point. He’s there, and we’re here. We didn’t start any of this. We didn’t ask for it. But what happens now?”

Something close to my feet moved. I looked down, and the man shook his head as though at something past belief, gave a long sigh, and slumped again. Drew and Lewis bent down on him.

“Is he dead?” I asked. I had already fixed him as dead in my mind, and couldn’t imagine how he could have moved and sighed.

“He is now,”Lewis said without looking up. ‘He’s mighty dead. We couldn’t have saved him, though; he’s center-shot.”

Lewis and Drew got up, and we tried to think our way back into the conversation. “Let’s just figure for a minute,” Lewis said. “Let’s just calm down and think about it. Does anybody know anything about the law?”

“I’ve been on jury duty exactly once,” Drew said. “That’s once more than I have,” I said. “And about all the different degrees of murder and homicide and manslaughter I don’t know anything at all.”

We all turned to Bobby, who had rejoined us. He shook his fiery face.

“You don’t have to know much law to know that if we take this guy down out of these mountains and turn him over to tHe sheriff, there’s going to be an investigation, and I would bet we’d go on trial,”Lewis said. “I don’t know what the charge would be, technically, but we’d be up against a jury, sure as hell.”

“Well, so what?” Drew said.

“All right, now,” said Lewis, shifting to the other leg. “We’ve killed a man. Shot him in the back. And we not only killed a man, we killed a cracker, a mountain man. Let’s consider what might happen.”

“All right,” Drew said. “Consider it. We’re listening.”

Lewis sighed and scratched his head. “We just ought to wait a minute before we decide to be so all-fired Boy Scoutish and do the right thing. There’s not any right thing.”

“You bet there is,”Drew said. “There’s only one thing.”

I tried to think ahead, and I couldn’t see anything but desperate trouble, and for the rest of my life. I have always been scared to death of anything to do with the police; the sight of a police uniform turns my saliva cold. I could feel myself beginning to breathe fast in the stillness, and I noticed the sound of the river for a moment, like something heard through a door.

“We ought to do some hard decision-making before we let ourselves in for standing trial up in these hills. We don’t know who this man is, but we know that he lived up here. He may be an escaped convict, or he may have a still, or he may be everybody in the county’s father, or brother, or cousin. I can almost guarantee you that he’s got relatives all over the place. Everybody up here is kin to everybody else, in one way or another. And consider this, too: there’s a lot of resentment in these hill counties about the dam. There are going to have to be some cemeteries moved, like in the old TVA days. Things like that. These people don’t want any ‘furriners’ around. And I’m goddamned if I want to come back up here for shooting this guy in the back, with a jury made up of his cousins and brothers, maybe his mother and father too, for all I know.”

Lewis had a point. I listened to the woods and the river to see if I could get an answer. I saw myself and the others rotting for weeks in some county jail with country drunks, leeding on sorghum, salt pork, and sowbelly, trying to pass the time without dying of worry, negotiating with lawyers, paying then fees month after month, or maybe posting bond—I had no idea whether that was allowable in a case like this, or not—and drawing my family into the whole sickening, unresolvable mess, getting them all more and more deeply entangled in the life, death, and identity of the repulsive, useless man at my feet, who was holding the head of the arrow thoughtfully, the red bubble at his lips collapsed into a small weak stream of blood that gathered slowly under his ear into a drop. Granted, Lewis was in more trouble than the rest of us were, but we all had a lot to lose. Just the publicity of being connected with a killing would be long-lasting trouble. I didn’t want it, if there was any way out.

“What do you think, Bobby?” Lewis asked, and there was a tone in his voice which suggested that Bobby’s decision would be final. Bobby was sitting on the same log he had been forced to lean over, one hand propping up his chin and the other over his eyes. He got up, twenty years older, and walked over to the dead man. Then, in an explosion so sudden that it was like something bursting through from another world, he kicked the body in the face, and again.

Lewis pulled him back, his hands on Bobby’s shoulders. Then he let him go, and Bobby turned his back and walked away.

“How about you, Ed?” Lewis asked me.

“God, I don’t know. I really don’t.”

Drew moved over to the other side of the dead man and pointed down at him very deliberately. “I don’t know what you have in mind, Lewis,” he said. “But if you conceal this body you’re setting yourself up for a murder charge. That much law I do know. And a murder charge is going to be a little Hit more than you’re going to want to deal with, particularly with conditions like they are; I mean, like you’ve just been describing them. You better think about it, unless you want to start thinking about the electric chair.”

Lewis looked at him with an interested expression. “Suppose there’s no body?” he said. “No body, no crime. Isn’t that right?”

“I think so, but I’m not sure,”Drew said, peering closely at Lewis and then looking down at the man. “What are you thinking about, Lewis?” he said. “We’ve got a right to know. And we damned well better get to doing something right quick. We can’t just stand around and wring our hands.”

“Nobody’s wringing his hands,”Lewis said. “I’ve just been thinking, while you’ve been giving out with what we might call the conventional point of view.”

“Thinking what?' I asked.

“Thinking of what we might do with the body,”Lewis said.

“You’re a goddamned tool,”Drew said in a low voice. “Doing what with the body? Tbrowing it in the river? That’s the first place they’d look.”

“Who’d look?”

“Anybody who was looking for him. family, friends, police. The fellow who was with him, maybe.”

“We don’t have to put him in the river, Lewis said.

“Lewis,” Drew said, “I mean it. You level with us. This is not one of your fucking games. You killed somebody. There he is.”

“I did kill him,” Lewis said. “But you’re wrong when you say that there’s nothing like a game connected with the position we’re in now. It may be the most serious kind of game there is, but if you don’t see it as a game, you’re missing an important point.”

“Come on, Lewis,”I said. “For once let’s not carry on this way.”

Lewis turned to me. “Ed, you listen, and listen good. We can get out of this, I think. Get out without any questions asked, and no troubles of am kind, if we just take hold in the next hour and do a couple of things right, if we think it through, and act it through, and don’t make any mistakes, we can get out without a thing ever being said about it. If we connect up with the law, we’ll be connected to this man, this body, for the rest of our lives. We’ve got to get rid of him.”

“How?” I asked. “Where?

Lewis turned his head to the river, then halllifted his hand, and moved it in a wide gesture inland, taking in the woods in a sweep obviously meant to include miles of them, thousands of acres. Another expression—a new color—came into his eves, a humorous conspiratorial craftiness, his look of calculated pleasure, his enthusiast’s look. He dropped the hand and rested it easily on the bow, having given Drew and me the woods, the whole wilderness. “Everywhere,”he said. “Anywhere. Nowhere.”

“Yes,” Drew went on excitedly, “we could do something with him. We could throw him in the river. We could bury him. We could even burn him up. But they’d find him, or find something, if they came looking. And how about the other one, the one who was with him? All he’s got to do is to go and bring . . .”

“Bring who?” Lewis asked. “I doubt if he’d want anybody, much less the sheriff or the State Police, to know what he was doing when this character was shot. He may bring somebody back here, though I doubt it, but it won’t be the law. And if he does come back, so what?

Lewis touched the corpse with his bow tip and put his eyes squarely into Drew’s. “He won’t be here.”

“Where’ll he be?” Drew asked, his jaw setting blackly. “And how do you know that other guy is not around here right now? It just might he that he’s watching everything you do. We wouldn the so hard to follow, dragging a corpse off somewhere and ditching it. lie could find some way to let the police know. He could bring them right back here. You look around, Lewis. He could be anywhere.

Lewis didn’t look around, but I did. The other side of the river was not dangerous, but the side where we were was becoming more and more terrilving to stand on. A powerful unseen presence seemed to How and float in on us from three directions—upstream, downstream, and inland. Drew was right, he could be anywhere. The trees and leaves were so thick that the eye gave up easily, lost in the useless tangle of plants living out their time in this choked darkness; among them the thin, stupid, and crafty body of the other man could How as naturally as a snake or fog, going where we went, watching what we did. What we had against him—I was shocked by the hope of it—teas Lewis. The assurance with which he had killed a man was desperately frightening to me, but the same quality was also calming, and I moved, without being completely aware of movement, nearer to him; I would have liked nothing better than to touch that big relaxed forearm as he stood there, one hip raised until the leg made longer by the position bent gracefully at the knee. I would have followed him anywhere, and I realized that I was going to have ter do just that.

Still looking off at the river, Lewis said, “Let’s figure.”Bobby got off the log and stood with us, all facing Lewis over the corpse. I moved away from Bobby’s red face. None of this was his fault, but he felt tainted to me. I remembered how he had looked over the log, how willing to let anything be done to him, and how high his voice was when he screamed.

Lewis crouched down over the dead man, a wisp of dry weed in his mouth. “If we take him on the river in the canoe we’ll be out in the open. If somebody was watching he could see where we dropped him in. Besides, like Drew says, the river’s the first place anybody’d look. Where does that leave us? “Upstream or down,”I said.

“Or in,”Lewis said. “Or maybe a combination.”“Which combination?”

“I’d say a combination of in and up. Suppose we took him downstream along the bank. We’re heading downriver, and if we wanted to get rid of him as fast as possible, we’d bury him or leave him somewhere along the way.”

Again, his idea fitted; the woods upstream became more mysterious than those downstream; the future opened only on that side.

“So . . . we take him inland, and upstream. We carry him to that little creek and up it until we find a good place, and then we bury him and the gun. And I’d be willing to bet that nothing will ever come of it. These woods are full of more human bones than anybody’ll ever know; people disappear up here all the time, and nobody ever hears about it. And in a month or six weeks the valley’ll be flooded, and the whole area will be hundreds of feet underwater. Do you think the state is going to hold up this dam project just to look for some hillbilly? Especially if they don’t know where he is, or even if he’s in the woods at all? It’s not likely. And in six weeks . . . well, did you ever look out over a lake? There’s plenty of water. Something buried under it—under it—is as buried as it can get.”

Drew shook his head. “I’m telling you, I don’t want any part of it.”

“What do you mean?” Lewis turned on him sharply and said. “You are part of it. You want to be honest, you want to make a clean breast, you want to do the right thing, But you haven’t got the guts to take a chance. Believe me, if we do this right, we’ll go home as clean as we came. That is, if somebody doesn’t crap out.”

“You know better than that, Lewis,” Drew said, his glasses deepening with anger. “But I can’t go along with this. It’s not a matter of guts; it’s a matter of the law.”

“You see any law around here?” Lewis said. “We’re the law. What we decide is going to be the way things are. So let’s vote on it. I’ll go along with the vote. And so will you, Drew. You’ve got no choice.” He turned to Bobby. “How about it?”

“I say get rid of the son of a bitch,” Bobby said, his voice thick and strangled. “Do you think I want this to get around?”


Drew put the tense flat of his hand before my face and shook it. “Think what you’re doing, Ed, for God’s sake,” he said. “This self-hypnotized maniac is going to get us all in jail for life, if he doesn’t get us killed. You’re a reasonable man. You’ve got a family. You’re not implicated in this unless you go along with what Lewis wants to do. Listen to reason, don’t do this thing. Ed, don’t. I’m begging you. Don’t.”

But I was ready to gamble. After all, I hadn’t done anything but stand tied to a tree, and nobody could prove anything else, no matter what it came to. I believed Lewis could get us out. If I went along with concealing the body and we got caught, it could be made to seem a matter of necessity, of simply being outvoted.

“I’m with you,” I said, around Drew.

“All right, then,” Lewis said, and reached for the dead man’s shoulder.

He rolled him over, took hold of the arrow shaft where it came out of the chest, and began to pull. He added his other hand and jerked to get it started out, and then hauled strongly with one hand again as the arrow slowly slithered from the body, painted a dark uneven red. Lewis stood up, went to the river and washed it, then came back. He clipped the shaft into his bow quiver.

Drew and I bent to the shoulders and lifted, and Bobby and Lewis took a foot apiece, with their free hands carrying the bow and the shotgun. The corpse sagged between us, extremely heavy, and the full meaning of the words dead weight dragged at me as I tried to straighten. We moved toward the place where Lewis had come from.

Before we had gone twenty yards Drew and I were staggering, our feet going any way they could through the dry grass. Once I heard a ratcheting I was sure was a rattlesnake, and looked right and left of the body sliding feet-first ahead of me into the woods. The man’s head hung back and rolled between Drew and me, dragging at everything it could touch.

It was not believable. I had never done anything like it even in my mind. To say that it was like a game would not describe exactly how it felt. I knew it was not a game, and yet, whenever I could, I glanced at the corpse to see if it would come out of the phony trance it was in, and stand up and shake hands all around, someone new we’d met in the woods, who could give us some idea where we were. But the head kept dropping back, and we kept having to keep it up, clear of the weeds and briars, so that we could go wherever we were going with it.

We came out finally at the creek bank near the green canoe. Water was pushing through the leaves, and the whole stream looked as though it were about half slow water and half bushes and branches. There was nothing in my life like it, but I was there. I helped Lewis and the others put the body into the canoe. The hull rode deep and low in the leafy water, and we began to push it up the creek, deeper into the woods. I could feel every pebble through the city rubber of my tennis shoes, and the creek flowed as untouchable as a shadow around my legs. There was nothing else to do except what we were doing.

Lewis led, drawing the canoe by the bow painter, plodding bent-over upstream with the veins popping, the rope over his shoulder like a bag of gold. The trees, mostly mountain laurel and rhododendron, made an arch over the creek, so that at times we had to get down on one knee or both knees and grope through leaves and branches, going right into the most direct push of water against our chests as it came through the foliage; at places it was like a tunnel where nothing human had ever been expected to come, and at others it was like a long green hall where the water changed tones and temperatures and was much quieter than it would have been in the open.

In this endless water-floored cave of leaves we kept going for twenty minutes by my watch, until the only point at all was to keep going, to find the creek our feet were in when the leaves of rhododendrons dropped in our faces and hid it. I wondered what on earth I would do if the others disappeared, the creek disappeared, and left only me and the woods and the corpse. Which way would I go? Without the creek to go back down, could I find the river? Probably not, and I bound myself with my brain and heart to the others; with them was the only way I would ever get out.

Every now and then I looked into the canoe and saw the body riding there, slumped back with its hand over its face and its feet crossed, a caricature of the Southern small-town bum, too lazy to do anything but sleep.

Lewis held up his hand. We all straightened up around the canoe, holding it lightly head-on into the current. Lewis went up the far bank like a creature. Drew and Bobby and I stood with the canoe at our hips and the sleeping man rocking softly between. Around us the woods were so thick that there would have been trouble putting an arm into it in places. We could have been watched from anywhere, any angle, any tree or bush, but nothing happened. I could feel the others’ hands on the canoe, keeping it steady.

In about ten minutes Lewis came back, lifting a limb out of the water and appearing. It was as though the tree raised its own limb out of the water like a man; I had the feeling that such things happened all the time to branches in woods that were deep enough: the leaves lifted carefully but decisively, and Lewis Medlock came through.

We tied the canoe to a bush and picked up the body, each of us having the same relationship to it as before; I don’t believe I could have brought myself to take hold of it in any other way.

Lewis had not found a path, but he had come on an opening between trees that went back inland and, he said, upstream. That was good enough; it was as good as anything. . . .

It was a dark place, quiet and almost airless. When we were finished with the hole there was not a dry spot anywhere on my nylon. We had hollowed out a narrow trench about two feet deep.

We hauled the body over and rolled it in on its side, unbelievably far from us. Lewis reached his hand, and Bobby handed him the shotgun. Lewis put the gun in and pulled back his hands to his knees, looking. Then his right hand went back into the grave, and he gave the gun a turn, arranging it in some kind of way.

“OK,” he said.

We shoveled and scrambled the dirt back in, working wildly. I kept throwing the stuff in his face, to get it covered up quick. But it was easy, in double handfuls. He disappeared slowly, into the general sloppiness and uselessness of the woods. When he was gone, Lewis smoothed out the leaf mold over him.

We stood on our knees. We leaned forward, panting, our hands on the fronts of our thighs or on the ground. I had a tremendous, driving moment of wanting to dig him up again, of siding with Drew: now, if not later, we knew where he was. But there was already too much to explain: the dirt, the delay, and the rest of it. Or should we take him and wash him in the river? The thought of doing that convinced me; it was impossible, and I stood up with the others.

“Ferns’ll be growing here in a few days,” Lewis said: it was good to hear a voice, especially his. “Nobody’d ever come on him in a million years. I doubt if we could even find this place again.”

“There’s still time, Lewis,” Drew said. “You better be sure you know what you’re doing.”

“I’m sure,” Lewis said. “The first rain will kill every sign we made. There’s not a dog can follow us here. When we get off this river, we’ll be all right. Believe me. . . .”

When we got back to the canoes, Lewis said, “This is no time for vanity or hurt feelings. How much work can you do, Bobby?”

“I don’t know, Lewis,” Bobby said. “I’ll try.” “It’s not your fault,” Lewis said. “But trying is not going to be enough. We’ve got to get the best combinations we can get. I expect I’d better take Bobby with me. Ed, how much have you got left?” “I don’t know. Some.”

“All right. You and Drew keep my boat. Bobby and I will take everything we can in the other one. We’ll try to keep up with you, but it’ll be better if you lead off, so that we can see you if you get into trouble. I hate to tell you, but from what little I know, we haven’t hit the rough part of this river yet.”

“The part that was going to be fun,” Bobby said.

“The part that’s going to knock your stupid brains out if you don’t do exactly what I tell you to do,” Lewis said without raising his voice. “Come on; let’s get whatever else we can carry out of my canoe. You want out of this, don’t you?”

We took about ten minutes shifting equipment around.

“Take everything, if you can take it. Lewis,” I said. “If Drew and I have to go through these damned rapids first, I want a boat I can at least halfway handle. And I don’t want that tent wrapping around me in the water.

“I don’t blame you,” Lew said. “We’ll take all we can.”

“All I want is a weapon,” I said. “I’ll take my bow.”

“I’d think twice about that,” Lewis said. “If you think tents can be bad, you wait’ll those bare broadheads gore you a few times when you’re in the water with them.”

“I’ll take it anyway,” I said. “And I sure wish we still had that guy’s gun. Why the hell did we leave it with him?”

“The gun is better right where it is,” Lewis said.

“We could have got rid of it later.”

“No; too risky. Every mile we carried that shotgun with us would increase the danger of our being caught with it. That could be the thing, buddy. That could be the thing.”

We were ready. Drew crawled into the front of the aluminum canoe. I was glad he was there; I could work with him. He sat with the paddle just out of the river, shaking his head. Neither of us said anything until I told him to push off.

It was about four o’clock, and the thought of spending another night in the woods paralyzed me. The problems and the physical work of the burial had taken my mind off our situation, but now the thought of it and of what might happen to us surrounded me; I felt driven into it by a hammer. But something came to an edge in me also. The leaves glittered, all mysterious points, and the river and the light on it were nothing but pure energy. I had never lived sheerly on nerves before, and a gigantic steadiness took me over, a constant trembling of awareness in a hundred places that added up to a kind of equilibrium, that made my arms move in long steady motions and showed me where the rocks were by the differences in the swirling of the water.

We moved well for the better part of an hour. Lewis was keeping up, too, driving the almost buried canoe forward with an effort I could not even guess at. He liked to take things on himself, and because he could, do more than anyone else. And I was glad to see that in an emergency his self-system didn’t fold up on him, but carried on the same, or even stronger.

But I was also very glad that Drew and I were light and maneuverable. There were no rapids, but the river seemed to be moving faster. There was an odd but definite sensation of going downhill in a long curving slant like a ramp. I noticed this more and more, and finally it occurred to me that the feeling was caused by what the land on both sides was doing. At first it had lifted into higher banks, the left higher than the right, and now it was going up raggedly and steadily, higher and higher, changing the sound of the river to include a kind of deep beating noise, the tone coming out more and more as the walls climbed, shedding their trees and all but a few bushes and turning to stone. Most of the time the sides were not vertical, but were very steep, and I knew we would be in real trouble if we spilled. I prayed that there would be no rapids while we were in the gorge, or that they would be easy ones.

We pulled and pulled at the river. Drew was hunched forward in a studious position like a man at a desk, and at every stroke the old GI shirt he wore took a new hold across his shoulders, one which was the old hold as well.

I looked back. We had opened up a little distance on the other canoe; it was about thirty yards behind us. I thought I heard Lewis holler to us, probably to slow down, but the voice, thinly floating through the boom of wall-sound, had no authority and very little being at all.

The walls were at least one hundred and fifty feet High on both sides now, The cross-reverberation seemed to hold us on course as much as the current did; it was part of the same thing: the way we had to move to get through the gorge.

I looked around again, and Lewis and Bobby had gained a little. They were too close to us for running rapids, but there was nothing I could do about it; as far as I was concerned they were going to have to take their chances.

As we cleared each turn, before Drew swung across in front of me I kept looking for white water, and when I’d checked for that I looked along both banks as far downriver as I could see, to try to tell if either of them was lowering. There was no white water, and the walls stayed like they were, gray and scrubby, limestonish, pitted and scabby.

But the sound was changing, getting deeper and more massively frantic and authoritative. It was the old sound, but it was also new, it was a fuller one even than the reverberations off the walls, with their overtones and undertones; it was like a ground bass that was made of all the sounds of the river we’d heard since we’d been on it. God, God, I thought, I know what it is. If it’s a falls, we’re gone.

The sun fell behind the right side of the gorge, and the shadow of the bank crossed the water so fast that it was like a quick step from one side to the other. The beginning of darkness was thrown over us like a sheet, and in it the water ran even faster, frothing and near-foaming under the canoe. My teeth were chattering; I felt them shaking my skull, as though I had already been in the river and now had to suffer in the stone shade of the bank. We seemed to leap and then leap from that leap to another down the immense ditch, like flying down an underground stream with the ceiling ripped off.

We couldn’t make it to Aintry by dark; I knew that now. And we couldn’t survive on the river, even as it was here, without being able to see. The last place I wanted to be was on the river in the gorge in the dark. It might be better to pull over while there was still light and find a flat rock or a sandbar to camp on, or get ready to sleep in the canoes.

We came around one more bend, and at the far end of it the riverbed began to step down. There was a succession of small, rough rapids; I couldn’t tell how far they went on. About the only thing I had learned about canoeing was to head into the part of the rapids that seemed to be moving the fastest, where the most white water was. There was not much light left, and I had already made up my mind to get through this stretch of water and pull over to the bank, no matter what Lewis and Bobby decided to do.

The water was throwing us mercilessly. We came out in a short stretch between rapids, but we were going too fast to get out of the middle of the river before the next rocks. I didn’t want to risk getting the canoe broadside to the river and then be sucked into the rocks. That would not only spill us, but would probably wedge the canoe on the rocks, and the force of water against it would keep it there. And we couldn’t make it downriver with four of us in one canoe, as low in the water and hard to turn as it would be. I tried to hold Drew centered on the white water, to line him up and shoot him through the rocks; if I could get him through, I’d be with him.

“Give me some speed, baby,”I hollered.

Drew lifted his paddle and started to dig in long and hard.

Something happened to him. It looked at first—I can see it in my mind in three dimensions and slow motion and stop action—as if something, a puff of wind, but much more definite and concentrated, snatched at some of the hair at the back of his head. For a second I thought he had just shaken his head, or had been jarred by the canoe in some way I hadn’t felt, but at the same instant I saw this happen I felt all control of the canoe go out of it.

The river whirled the paddle from Drew’s hand as though it had never been there. His right arm shot straight out, and he followed it, turning the whole canoe with him. There was nothing I could do; I rolled with the rest.

In a reflex, just before my head smashed facefirst into the white water with the whole river turning around in midair and beginning to swing upside down, I let go the paddle and grabbed for the bow at my feet, for even in panic I knew I would rather have a weapon than the paddle, as dangerous as it would be to have the naked broadheads near me in such water.

The river took me in, and I had the bow. My life jacket brought me up, and the wooden canoe was on top of me like a whale, rising up on the current. It hit me in the shoulder, driving me down where the rocks swirled like marbles, and something, probably a paddle, thrust into the side of my head as Lewis or Bobby fended me off like a rock. I kicked at the rushing stones and rose up. Downstream the green canoe drove up over the broadside other one, reared nearly straight up, and Bobby and Lewis pitched out on opposite sides. A rock hit me, and I felt some necessary thing—a muscle or bone —go in my leg. I kicked back with both feet and caught something solid. I must have been upside down, for there was no air. I opened my eyes but there was nothing to see. I threw my head, hoping I would be throwing it clear of the water, but it did not clear. I was not breathing and was being beaten from all sides, being hit and hit-at and brushed-by in the most unlikely and unexpected places in my body, rushing forward to be kicked and stomped by everything in the river.

I turned over and over. I rolled, I tried to crawl along the flying bottom. Nothing worked; I was dead; I felt myself fading out into the unbelievable violence and brutality of the river, joining it. This is not such a bad way to go, I thought; maybe I’m already there.

My head came out of the water, and I actually thought of putting it under again. But I got a glimpse of the two canoes, and that interested me enough to keep me alive. They were together, the green one buckled, rolling over and over each other like logs. Something was nailing one of my hands, the left one, to the water. The wooden canoe burst open on a rock and disappeared, and the aluminum one leapt free and went on.

Get your feet forward of you, boy, I said with my mouth dragging through the current. Get on your back.

I tried, but every time I came up with my leet I hit a rock either with my shins or thighs. I went under again, and faintly I heard what must have been the aluminum canoe banging on the stones, a ringing, distant, beautiful sound.

I got on my back and poured with the river, sliding over the stones like a creature I had always contained but never released. With my life preserver the upper part of my body drew almost no water. If I could get my leet—my heels—over the stones, I slid over like a moccasin, feeling the moss flutter lightly against the back of my neck belore I cascaded down into the next rapids.

Body-surfing and skidding along, I realized that we could never have got through this stretch in canoes; there were too many rocks, they were too haphazardly jumbled, and the water was too fast; faster and faster. We couldn’t have portaged, either, because of the banks, and we couldn’t have got out and walked the canoes through. We would have spilled one way or the other, and strangely I was just as glad. Everything told me that the way I was doing it was the only way, and I was doing it. . . .

Either upstream or down, there was nobody in the river but me. I kept watching the last of the falls, for I had an idea that I might have passed the others, somewhere along. There had probably been several places where the water split and came down through the rocks in different ways; all three of them might be back there somewhere, dead or alive.

As I thought that, Bobby tumbled out of the rapids, rolling over and over on the slick rocks, and then flopped belly-down into the calm. I pointed to the bank, and he began feebly to work toward it. So did I.

“Where is Lewis?” I yelled.

He shook his head, and I stopped pulling on the water and turned to wait in midstream.

After a minute or two Lewis came, doubled-up and broken-looking, one hand still holding his paddle and the other on his face, clasping something intolerable. I breaststroked to him and lay beside him in the cold coiling water under the falls. He was writhing and twisting uselessly, caught by something that didn’t have hold of me, something that seemed not present.

“Lewis,” I said.

“My leg’s broke,” he gasped. “It feels like it broke off.”

The water where we were did not change. “Hold on to me,” I said.

He moved his other hand through the river and fixed the fingers into the collar of my slick nylon outfit, and I moved gradually crossways on the water toward the big boulders under the cliff. The dark came on us faster and faster as I hauled on the cross grain of the current with Lewis’ choking weight dragging at my throat.

From where we were, the cliff looked like a gigantic drive-in movie screen waiting for an epic film to begin; I listened for interim music, glancing now and again up the pale curved stone for Victor Matures stupendous image, wondering where it would appear, or if the whole thing were not now already playing, and I hadn’t yet managed to put it together.

As we neared the wall, I saw that there were a few random rocks and a tiny sand beach where we were going to come out; where Bobby was, another rock. I motioned to him, and he unfolded and came to the edge of the water, his hands embarrassing.

He gave me one of them, and I dragged us out. Lewis hopped up onto a huge placid stone, working hard, and then failed and crumpled again. The rock, still warm with the last of the sun that had crossed the river on its way down, held him easily, and I turned him on his back with his hand over his face.

“Drew was shot,” Lewis said with no lips. “I saw it. He’s dead.”

“I’m not sure,” I said, but I was afraid that’s what it was. “Something happened to him. But I don’t know. I don’t know.”

“Let’s take Ins pants down,” I said to Bobby. He looked at me.

“God damn phraseology,” I said. “We’re in another bag, now, baby. Get his pants oft him, and see if you can tell how bad he’s hurt. I’ve got to try to get that goddamned canoe, or we’ll stay here.”

I turned back to the river. I waded in, feeling the possibility of a rifle shot die with the very last light, moving back into the current like an out-of-shape animal, taking on the familiar weight and lack-ofweight of water. Very clearheaded, I sank down.

The depth came into me, increasing—no one can tell me different—in the darkness. The aluminum canoe floated palely, bulging half out of the total dark, making slowly for the next rapids, but idly, and unnaturally slowed and stogged with calm water. Nearly there, I ran into a thing of wood that turned out to be a broken paddle. I took it on.

I swam slow-motion around the canoe, listening for the rifle shot I would never hear if it killed me; that I had not heard when it killed Drew, if it did. Nothing from that high up could see me, and I knew it, though it might see the canoe. Even that was doubtful, though, and the conviction enlarged on me that I could circle the canoe all night, if I chose, in the open.

The calm was deep; there was no place to stand to dump the water out. I hung to the upside-down gunwale, tipping it this way and that, trying to slip the river out of the factory metal. Finally it rolled luckily, and the stream that had been in it began to flow again; the hull lightened and climbed out of the water, and was mostly on top of it. I pushed on the sharp stern, keeping it going with excruciating frog legs. The current went around me, heading into the darkness downstream. I could see a little white foaming, but it was peacefully beyond, another problem for another time. I turned to the cliff and called softly out to Bobby, and he answered.

I looked up and could barely make out his face. The canoe went in to him, guided by the shove I gave it. He waded and drew it up onto the sand by the bow rope, and we beached it under the overhang.

I moved onto land, not saying anything.

“For God’s sake,” Bobby said. “Don’t be so damned quiet. I’m flipping already.”

Though my mouth was open, I closed it against the blackness and moved to Lewis, who was now down off the rock and lying in the sand. His bare legs were luminous, and the right leg of his drawers was lifted up to the groin. I could tell by its outline that his thigh was broken; I reached down and ielt of it very softly. Against the back of ray hand his penis stirred with pain. His hair gritted in sand, turning from one side to the other.

It was not a compound fracture; I couldn’t feel my of the bone splinters I had been taught to look for in innumerable compulsory first-aid courses, but there was a great profound human swelling under my hand. It felt like a thing that was trying to open, to split, to let something out.

“Hold on, Lew.” I said. “Were all right now.”

It was all-dark. The river-sound enveloped us as it never could have in light. I sat down beside Lewis and motioned to Bobby. He crouched down as well.

“Where is Drew’?” Bobby asked.

“Lewds says he’s dead,” I said. “Probably he is. He may have been shot. But I can’t really say. I was looking right at him, but I can’t say.”

Lewis’ hand was pulling at me from underneath.

I bent down near his face. He tried to say something, but couldn’t. Then he said. “It’s you. It’s got to be you.”

“Sure it’s me,” I said. “I’m right here. Nothing can touch us.”

“No. That’s not . . .” The river had the rest of what he said, but Bobby picked it up.

“What are we going to do?” he made the dark say; night had taken his red face.

“I think,” I said, “that we’ll never get out of this gorge alive.”

Did I say that? I thought. Yes, a dream-man said, you did. You did say it, and you believe it.

“I think lie means to pick the rest of us off tomorrow’,” I said out loud, still stranger than anything I had ever imagined. When do the movies start, Lord?

“What. . . ?”

“That’s what I’d do. Wouldn’t you?”

“I don’t . .

“If Lewis is right, and I think he is, that toothless bastard drew down on us while we were lining up to go through the rapids, and before we were going too fast. He killed the first man in the boat. Next would have been me. Then you.”

“In other words, it’s lucky we spilled.”

“Right. Lucky. Very lucky.”

It was an odd word to use, where we were. It was a good thing that we couldn’t see faces. Mine felt calm and narrow-eyed, but it might not have been. There was something to act out.

“What are we going to do?” Bobby said again. “The question is, what is he going to do?”

Nothing came back. I went on.

“What can he lose now? He’s got exactly the same thing going for him that we had going for us when we buried his buddy back in the woods. There won’t be any witnesses. There’s no motive to trace him by. As far as anybody else knows, he’s never seen us and we’ve never seen him. If all four of us wind up in the river, that’ll just even things out. Who in the hell cares? What kind of search party could get up into these rapids? A helicopter’s not going to do any good, even if you could see into the river from one, which you can’t. You think anybody’s going to fly a helicopter down into this gorge, just on the chance that he might see something? Not a chance in the world. There might be an investigation, but you can bet nothing will come of it. This is a wild goddamned river, as you might know. What is going to happen to us, if he kills us, is that we are going to become a legend. You bet, baby: one of those unsolved things.”

“You think lie’s up there? Do you really?”

“I’m thinking we better believe he’s up there.”

“But then what?”

“We’re caught in this gorge. He can’t come down here, but the only way out of this place for us is down the river. We can’t run out of here at night, and when we move in the morning he’ll be up there somewhere.”

“Jesus Christ Almighty.”

“Yes,” I said. “You might say that. As Lewis might say, ‘Come on, Jesus boy, walk on down to us over that white water. But if you don’t, we’ve got to do whatever there is to do.'”

“But listen, Ed,” he said, and the pathetic human tone against the river-sound made me cringe, “you got to be sure.”

“Sure of what?”

“Sure you’re right. What if you’re wrong? I mean, we may not really be in any danger at all, from anybody up . . . up there.”

He gestured, but it was lost.

“You want to take a chance?”

“Well, no. Not if I don’t have to. But what . . . ?”

“What, what?”

“What can we do?”

“We can do three things,” I said, and some other person began to tell me what they were. “We can just sit here and sweat and call for our mamas. We can appeal to the elements. Maybe we can put Lewis back up on the rock and do a rain dance around him, to cut down the visibility. But if we got rain, we couldn’t get out through it, and Lewis would probably die of exposure. Look up yonder.”

I liked hearing the sound of my voice in the mountain speech, especially in the dark; it sounded like somebody who knew where he was and knew what he was doing.

There was a pause while we looked up between the wings of cliff and saw that the stars were beginning there, and no clouds at all.

“And then what?” Bobby said.

“Or somebody can try to go up there and wait for him on top.”

“What you mean is . . .”

“What I mean is, like they say in the movies, especially on Saturday afternoon. It’s either him or us. We’ve killed a man. So has he. Whoever gets out depends on who kills who. It’s just that simple.”

“Well, he said. “All right. I don’t want to die.”

“If you don’t, help me figure. We’ve got to figure like he s figuring, up there. Everything depends on that.”

“I don’t have any idea what he’s figuring.”

“We can start out with the assumption that he’s going to kill us.”

“I got that far.”

“The next thing is when. He can’t do anything until it gets light. So that means we’ve got till morning to do whatever we’re going to do.”

“I still don’t know what that is.”

“Just let me go on a minute. My feeling is this. You can’t hear a gunshot that far off, with all this goddamned noise down here. After he shot Drew, he might have shot at us some more, and we’d never have known it unless another one of us was hit. I don’t have any idea how well he can see from where he is. But I think it’s reasonable to suppose that he saw well enough to know that he hit Drew, and that the canoes turned over. He might believe that the rest of us drowned, but I don’t believe he’d want to take a chance that we did. That’s awful rough water, but the fact that you and Lewis and I got out of it proves that it can be done, and I’m thinking he probably knows it. Again, maybe the reason he didn’t nail the rest of us was that by the time we got down here where we are now, we’d been carried a good ways past him, and also it was too dark. That’s our good luck; it means we’ve got at least a couple of advantages, if we can figure how to work them.”

“Advantages? Some advantages. We’ve got a hurt man. We’ve got a waterlogged canoe with the bottom stove in. We’ve got two guys who don’t know the first thing about the woods: who don’t even know where in the hell they are. He’s got a rifle, and he’s up above us. He knows where we are and can’t help being, and we don’t have the slightest notion of where he is, or even who he is. We haven’t got a goddamned chance, if you and Lewis are right. If he’s up there and wants to kill us, he can kill us.”

“Well now, it hasn’t happened yet. And we’ve got one big card.”


“He thinks we can’t get at him. And if we can, we can kill him.”


“With either a knife or a bow. Or with bare hands, if we have to.”


“No. One of us.”

“I can’t even shoot a bow,” he said. He was saved for a little while.

“That narrows it down, sure enough,” I said. You see what I mean about solving our problems? If you just do a little figuring.”

It was a decision, and I could feel it set us apart. Even in the dark the separation was obvious.

“Ed, level with me. Do you really think you can get up there in the dark?”

“To tell the truth, I don’t. But we haven’t got any other choice.”

“I still think that maybe he’s jusL gone away. Suppose lie has?”

“Suppose he hasn’t,” I said. “Do you want to take the chance? Look, if 1 fall off this fucking cliff, it’s not going to hurt you any. If I get shot, it’s not going to be you getting shot. You’ve got two chances to live. If he’s gone away, or if for some reason or other he doesn’t shoot, or if he misses enough times for the canoe to get away downriver, you’ll live. Or if I get up there and kill him, you’ll live. So don’t worry about it. Let me worry.”

“Ed . . .”

“Shut up and let me think some more.”

I looked up at the gorge side, but I couldn’t tell much about it, except that it was awfully high. But the lower part of it at least wasn’t quite as steep as I had thought at first. Rather than being absolutely vertical, it was more of a very steep slant, and I believed I could get up it at least part of the way, when the moon came up enough for me to see a little better.

“Come here, Bobby. And listen to everything I tell you. I’m going to make you go back over it before I leave, because the whole thing has got to be done right, and done right the first time. Here’s what I want you to do.”

“All right. I’m listening.”

“Keep Lewis as warm and comfortable as you can. When it gets first light—and I mean just barely light, light enough for you to see where you’re going—get Lewis into the canoe and move out. The whole business is going to have to be decided right there.”

I was the one. I walked up and down a little on the sandbar, for that should have been my privilege. Then for some reason I stepped into the edge of the river. In a way, I guess, I wanted to get a renewed feel of all the elements present, and also to look as far up the cliff as I could. I stood with the cold water flowing around my calves, and my head back, watching the cliff slant up into the darkness. More stars had come out around the top of the gorge, a kind of river of them. I strung the bow.

I ran my right hand over the limbs, feeling for broken pieces and splinters of fiber glass. Part of the upper limb seemed a little rougher than it should have, but it had been that way before. I took out the arrows I had left. I had started with four but had wasted two on the deer. One of the remaining ones was fairly straight; I spun it through my fingers as Lewis had taught me to do, feeling for the passing tick and jump a crooked aluminum arrow has when it spins. It may have been a little bent up in the crest, just under the feathers, but it was shootable, and at short range it ought to be accurate. The other arrow was badly bent, and I straightened it as well as I could with my hands, but there was not much I could do in the dark. Holding it at eye level and pointing it toward the best of the light places in the sky, I could not see even well enough to tell exactly where and how badly it was bent. But the broad head was all right.

I walked back to Bobby and leaned the bow against the spur of stone that overhung the canoe. Bobby stepped over to me as I paid out and recoiled the thin rope that had been at my waist the whole time. I had made a lucky buy—considering that a cliff I had not counted on being involved was involved, and a rope was a good thing to have in such a situation—and I had a brief moment of believing that the luck would run through the other things that were coming. I ran the rope over and over my left thumb and elbow until I had a tight ring. I tied the ends and passed the belt that held the bigknife through the coil.

“Don’t go to sleep,” I said to Bobby.

“Not likely,” he said. “Oh, God.”

“Now listen. If you go at first light, you’ll make a damned hard target from the top of the gorge; it’s a long ways up there. You should be safe as long as you’re running these little rapids along here. If I’m going to get on top of the cliff, I’ll be there In then, and the odds will be evened out a little, if our man the Human Fly really does find a way to climb up there. I’ll do everything I can to see that he doesn’t crack down on you. From the little I was able to tell about the cliff before it got dark, it’s rough as hell up there, and if he misses you at one place, or if you can slip by him without his seeing you, he won’t be able to keep up with you; all you have to do is get by him and get around one turn and you’re home free.”

“Ed, will you tell me one thing? Have you ever thought there might be more than one?”

“Yes, I’ve thought of it. I must say I have.”

“What if there is?”

“Then we’re likely to die, early tomorrow morning.”

“I believe you.”

“I don’t believe, though, that there’s more than one man. I’ll tell you why. It’s not a good idea to involve somebody else in a murder if you don’t have to. That’s one thing. The other is that I don’t think there’s been time for him to go and get anybody else. He’s got all the advantages; he doesn’t need anybody to help him.”

“I sure hope you’re right.”

“We’ll have to figure I am. Anything else?”

“Yes, I’ve got to say it. I don’t think we’re going about this the right way. We may have the whole thing wrong.”

“I’m staking my life on being right. Lewis would do it. Now I’m going to have to. Let me get going.”

“Listen,” Bobby said, grabbing at me weakly. “I can’t do it. I won’t make a sitting duck out of myself so you can go off in the woods and leave us to be shot down. I can’t. I just can’t.”

“Listen, you son of a bitch. If you want to go up that cliff, you go right ahead. There it is; it’s not going away. But if I go up it, we’re going to play this my way. And I swear to God that if you don’t do exactly what I say I’ll kill you myself. It’s just that goddamned simple. And if you leave Lewis on this rock, I’ll do the same thing.”

“Ed, I’m not going to leave him. You know I wouldn’t do that. It’s just that I don’t want to go out there in plain sight of some murderous hillbilly and set myself up to be killed like Drew.”

“If everything works right—and if you do what I tell you to do—you won’t get killed. Just listen to me. I’m going through this one more time, and it’s got to stick. I’m going to tell you what to do no matter what should happen.”

“All right,” he said at last.

“Number one, move out as soon as you can see the river well enough to get through the next set of rapids. It’ll probably still be too dark to shoot from the top Even if it isn’t, he doesn’t stand much chance of hitting you when you’re in the rapids. Whenever you’re in calm water, pull like hell for a while, then slack off; don’t hit a constant speed. If he does shoot at you, try your goddamndest to get to the next set of rapids, or around the next turn. If you see you can’t possibly get away—that is, if you see he’s got you bracketed, and the shots are comingcloser and closer—dump the canoe and let it go. Try to get Lewis out, then stay with him and wait for a day, and I’ll try to bring back help. If nothing happens by that time, you’ll know I didn’t make it. Then leave Lewis and try to get downriver the best way you can, even if you have to swim part of the way. Take all the life jackets and float yourself down. We can’t be more than fifteen miles from a highway bridge. If you have to do that, though, for God’s sake remember where you left Lewis. If you don’t remember, he’s going to die. And that’s for sure.”

He looked at me, and for the first time since the sun had gone down I could see his eyes; they had some points of light in them.

“That’s about it, then,” I said. I picked up the bow and went over to the canoe near where Lewis was lying, tirelessly grinding the back of his head into the sand. I crouched down beside him; he was shaking in a certain matter-of-fact way, with the false cold of pain, and some of it came into me as he reached up and touched me on the front of the shoulder.

“Do you know what the fuck you’re doing?”

“No, creature,” I said. “I’m going to try to make it up as I go along.”

“Don’t let him see you,” he said. “And don’t have any mercy. Not any.”

“I won’t if I can help it.”

“Help it.”

I held my breath.

“Kill him,” Lewis said with the river.

“I’ll kill him if I can find him,” I said.

“Well,”he said, lying back, “here we are, at the heart of the Lewis Wedlock country.”

“Pure survival,” I said.

“This is what it comes to,” he said. “I told you.”

“Yes. You told me.”

Everything around me changed. I put my left arm between the bowstring and the bow and slid the bow back over my shoulder with the broadheads turned down. Then I walked to the gorge side and put a hand on it, as though I might be able to feel what the whole cliff was like, the whole problem, and hold it in my palm. The rock was rough, and a part of it fell away under my hand. The river-sound loudened as though the rocks in the channel had shifted their positions. Then it relaxed, and the extra sound died or went away again into the middle distance, the middle of the stream.

I knew that was the sign, and I backed off and ran with a hard scramble at the bank, and stretched up far enough to get an elbow over the top side of the first low overhang. Scraping my sides and legs, I got up on it and stood up. Bobby and Lewis were directly beneath me, under a roof of stone, and might as well not have been there. I was standing in the most entire aloneness that I had ever been given.

My heart expanded with joy at the thought of where I was and what I was doing. There was a new light on the water; the moon was going up and up, and I stood watching the stream with my back to the rock for a few minutes, not thinking of anything, with a deep feeling of nakedness and helplessness and intimacy.

I turned around with many small foot movements and leaned close to the cliff, taking on its slant exactly. I put my cheek against it and raised both hands up into the darkness, letting the fingers crawl independently over the soft rock. It was this softness that bothered me more than anything else; I was afraid that anything I would stand on or hold to would give way. I got my right hand placed in what felt like a crack, and began to feel with my left toes for something, anything. There was an unevenness —a bulge—in the rock and I kicked at it and worried it to see how solid it was, then put my foot on it and pulled hard with my right arm.

I rose slowly off the top of the overhang, the bow dropping back further over my left shoulder—which made it necessary to depend more on my right arm than my left—got my right knee and then my foot into some kind of hole. I settled as well as I could into my new position and began to feel upward again. There was a bulge to the left, and I worked toward it, full of wonder at the whole situation. The cliff was not as steep as I had thought, though from what I had been able to tell earlier, before we spilled, it would probably get steeper toward the top. If I had turned loose it would have been a slide rather than a fall back down to the river or the overhang, and this reassured me a little —though not much—as I watched it happen in my mind.

I got to the bulge and then went up over it and planted my left foot solidly on it and found a good hold on what felt like a root with my right hand. I looked down.

The top of the overhang was pale now, ten or twelve feet below. I turned and forgot about it, pulling upward, kneeing and toeing into the cliff, kicking steps into the shaly rock wherever I could, trying to position both hands and one foot before moving to a new position. Some of the time I could do this, and each time my confidence increased. At times I could only get one handhold and a foothold or two handholds. Once I could only get one handhold, but it was a strong one, and I scrambled and shifted around it until I could get a toe into the rock and pull up.

The problem-interest of it absorbed me at first, but I began to notice that the solutions were getting harder and harder: the cliff was starting to shudder in my face and against my chest. I became aware of the sound of my breath, whistling and humming crazily into the stone: the cliff was steepening, and I was laboring back-breakingly for every inch. My arms were tiring, and my calves were not so much trembling as jumping. I knew now that not looking down or back, the famous advice to people climbing things, was going to enter into it. Panic was getting near me. Not as near as it might have been, but near. I concentrated everything I had to become ultrasensitive to the cliff, feeling it more gently than before, though I was shaking badly. I kept inching up. With each shift to a newer and higher position I felt more and more tenderness toward the wall.

Despite everything, I looked down. The river had spread flat and filled with moonlight. It took up the whole of space under me, bearing in the center of itself a long coiling image of light, a chill, bending flame. I must have been seventy-five or a hundred feet above it, hanging poised over some kind of inescapable glory, a bright pit.

I turned back into the cliff and leaned my mouth against it, feeling all the way out through my nerves and muscles exactly how I had possession of the wall at four random points in a way that held the whole thing together.

It was about this time that I thought of going back down, working along the bank and looking for an easier way up, and I let one foot down behind me into the void. There was nothing. I stood with the foot groping for a hold in the air, then pulled it back to the place on the cliff where it had been. It burrowed in like an animal, and I started up again.

I caught something—part of the rock—with my left hand and started to pull. I could not rise. I let go with my right hand and grabbed the wrist of the left, my left-hand fingers shuddering and popping with weight. I got one toe into the cliff, but that was till I could do. I looked up and held on. The wall was giving me nothing. It no longer sent back any pressure against me. Something I had come to rely on had been taken away, and that was it. I was hanging, but just barely. I concentrated all my strength into the fingers of my left hand, but they were leaving me. I was on the perpendiculai part of the cliff, and unless I could get over it soon I wotdd just peel off the wall. I had what I thought of as a plan if this should happen; this was to kick out as strongly as I coultl from the cliff lace and try to get clear of the overhang and out into the river, into the bright coiling ol the pit. But even if I cleared the rocks, the river was probably shallow near the bank where I would land, and it would be about as bad as if I were to hit the rocks. And I would have to get rid of the bow.

I held on. By a lot of small tentative maneuvers I swapped hands in the crevice and touched upward with my left hand, weighted down by the bow hanging over my shoulder, along the wall, remembering scenes in movies where a close-up of a hand teaches desperately for something, through a prison grate for a key, or from quicksand toward someone or something on solid ground. There was nothing there. I swapped hands again and tried the wall to my right. There was nothing. I tried the loose foot, hoping that if I could get a good enough foothold, I could gel up enough to explore a little more ol the wall with my hands, but I couldn’t find anything there either, though I searched as far as I could with the toe and the knee, up and down and back and forth. The back of my left leg was shaking badly. My mind began to speed up, in the useless energy of panic. The urine in my bladdei turned solid and painful, and then ran with a delicious sexual voiding like a wet dream, sometiling vou can’t help or be blamed lor. There was nothing to do but fall. The last hope I had was that I might awaken.

I was going, but anger held me up a little longer. I would have done something desperate if I had had a little more mobility, but I was practically nailed in one position; there was nothing desperate I could do. Yet I knew that if I were going to try something, I had better do it now.

1 hunched down into what little power was left in my left leg muscles and drove as hard as it was possible for me to do; harder than it was possible. With no holds on the cliff, I fought with the wall for anything I could make it give me. For a second I tore at it with both hands. In a flash inside a flash I told myself not to double up my fists but to keep my hands open. I was up against a surface as smooth as monument stone, and I still believe that for a space of time I was held in the air by pure will, fighting an immense rock.

Then it seemed to spring a crack under one finger of my right hand; I thought surely I had split the stone myself. I thrust in other fingers and hung, and as I did, I got the other hand over, feeling for a continuation of the crack, and it was there. I had both hands in the cliff to the palms, and strength from the stone flowed into me. I pulled up as though chinning on a sill and swung a leg in. I got the middle section of my body into the crevice as well, which was the hardest part to provide for, as it had been everywhere else. I wedged into the ciack like a lizard, not able to get far enough in. As I flattened out on the floor of the crevice, with all my laborious verticality gone, the bow slid down my arm and I hooked upward just in time to stop it with my wrist. I pulled it into the cliff with me, the broadheads at my throat.

September 16

With my cheek on one shoulder, I lay there on my side in the crevice, facing out, not thinking about anything, solid on one side with stone and open to the darkness on the other, as though I were in a sideways grave. The glass ol the bow was cold in my hands, cold and familiar. The curves were beautiful to the touch, a smooth chill flowing, and beside the curves the arrow lay, or stood, rigidly, the feathers bristling when I moved a little, and the points pricking at me. But it was good pain; it was reality, and deep in the situation. I simply lay in nature, my pants legs sopping with my juices, not cold, not warm, but in a kind of hovering. Think, I said, think. But f could not. I won’t think yet; I don’t have to for a while. I closed my eyes. . . .

I slid farther into the crack to draw from the stone a last encouragement, but I was already tired of being there. It would be best to stand up, and get on with it.

I got on one knee and went cautiously outward, rising slowly with both hands palm up on the underside of the fissure top. I was up, slanting backwards,. and I felt along and around the bulge over my head. To the right there was nothing I could do, but I was glad to be back. To the left the crevice went on beyond where I could reach, and the only thing to do was to edge along it, sidestepping inch by inch until only my toes, very tired again, were in the crack. But I was able to straighten from my back-leaning position to an upright one—really upright—and then to lean surprisingly forward at the waist, as I edged to the left. This was unexpected and exhilarating: the stone came back at me strong. I got on the lock with my knees instead of my toes and fingertips, and had a new body position. With it, I wormed. I went to the left and then to the right, and the river-pit blazed. It was slow going, for the handholds were not good, and the broadheads gored me under the arms a good deal, but there was a trembling and near-perfect balance between gravity—or my version of it—and the slant of the stone: I was at the place where staying on the wall and falling canceled each other out in my body, yet were slightly in favor of my staying where I was, and edging up. Time after time I lay there sweating, having no handhold or foothold, the rubber of my toes bending back against the soft rock, my hands open. Then I would begin to try to inch upward again, moving with the most intimate motions of my body, motions I had never dared use with my wife, or with any other human woman. Fear and a kind of enormous moon-blazing sexuality lifted me, millimeter by millimeter.

Above me the darks changed, and in one of them was a star. On both sides of that small light the rocks went on up, black and solid as ever, but their power was broken. The high, deadly part of the cliff I was on bent and rocked steadily over toward life, and toward the hole with the star in it, where, as I went, more stars were added until a constellation like a crown began to form. I was now able to travel on knees—my knees after all—the bow scraping the ground beside me,

I was crying. What reason? There was not any, for I was really not ashamed or terrified; I was just there. But I lay down against the cliff to get my eyesight cleared. I turned and propped on my elbow like a tourist, and looked at it again. Lord, Lord. The river hazed and danced into the sparkle of my eyelashes, the more wonderful for being unbearable. This was something: it was something. . . .

By some such way as this, I got into a little canyon. Yes, and I stood up. I could not see much, but it felt like the little draw where I had hunted the deer in tiie fog. The bottom under foot—under foot—was full ol loose rocks and boulders, but I was walking it. At each shoulder, the walls were wanting to come down, but they did not. Instead, they started to fill with bushes and small, ghostly, dense trees. These were solid, and I came up to them, little by little. Then their limbs were above me. I was out.

I picked up the bow, out of the crook of my arm. Everything was with me; the knife at my side said what it teas. And there was rope, for nothing, or for something. And f looked out, on the mindlessness and the beauty.

Upriver, I could see only the ragged, blinding Y ol the rapids that had thrown us, and there was nothing to look at there, except only the continual, almost silent pouring of the water, through and through. I faced around, and for what I judged an equal amount of time, looked into the woods. I went back into the pines growing on solid ground, leaned my forehead on a tree, and then put my forearm between the tree and it.

Where? I went back to look down on the river. Trees, fewer and fewer, were growing to the edge of the cliff. The moon shone down through their needles on the Cahulawassee. I thought for the first time seriously of the coming destruction on the river, of the water rising to the place I was standing now, lifting out of its natural bed up over the stones that had given us such a hard time in the white water, and slowly also up the cliff, the water patiently and inevitably searching out every handhold I had had, then coming to rest where I was standing in the moonlight. I sat on a cold rock at the edge looking down. I believed, in the great light, that if I fell I could instinctively reach to the cliff and catch on to something that would hold: that, among all the places in the world that could kill me, there was one that could not.

I came back by degrees to the purpose. First, I assumed that the man who had shot Drew knew that he had shot him. That was a beginning. I also assumed that he knew we hadn’t all been killed in the rapids. What then? He might be waiting above the calm where Bobby and Lewis were—where I was, more or less—planning to draw down on them when they started out. If that were the case, he would kill them both, though if Bobbygauged the change in the light well enough and set out when there was enough visibility to use the canoe but not enough to shoot by, they might have a chance to get past him, through the next stretch of rapids—the ones now a little downstream from me—and on down.

Our whole hope rested on our being able to second-guess the man, and now that I was on top of the gorge, it seemed to me that we had guessed right, or as right as it was possible for us to do. If Bobby moved out in the very early half-light, the chances of making a good shot down onto the water would be greatly reduced, and big gaps in the upper part of the wall, small deep ravines such as the one I had come up, would keep him from getting downstream at anything like the speed the canoe could make. I counted on his knowing this, and on the idea that he would try to solve the problem by setting up his shots downstream at calm water, where the target would be moving at a more constant speed and not leaping and bobbing. Below me, except for one rush of whiteness cramped between two big hedges of stone, the rapids seemed comparatively gentle, in places—so far as I could tell —scarcely more than a heavy-twilled rippling. But even this would be disconcerting for a marksman because of the bobbing it would cause. If I were going to kill somebody front this distance and this angle, I would want to draw a long bead. Under those conditions, and if he was a good shot, there was no reason he couldn’t get Bobby and Lewis both, and within a few seconds of each other, if he took his time and dropped the first one cleanly. That would take calm water, as slow as possible, and it would have to be downstream, out of sight around the next turn.

That’s it, then, I thought. I had to ambush him in some way, if possible from behind, and this depended on my being able to locate the place he would pick to shoot from, and on luck. And I would have to get him as he was steadying down to fire, which cut the margin ol safety lor Bobby and Lewis very thin.

I had thought so long and hard about him that to this day I still believe I felt, in the moonlight, our minds fuse. It was not that I felt myself turning evil, but that an enormous physical indifference, as vast as the whole abyss of light at my feet, came to me: an indifference not only to the other man’s body scrambling and kicking on the ground with an arrow through it, but also to mine. If Lewis had not shot his companion, he and I would have made a kind of love, painful and terrifying to me, in some dreadful way pleasurable to him, but we would have been together in the flesh, there on the floor of the woods, and it was strange to think of it. Who was he? An escaped convict? Just a dirt farmer out hunting? A bootlegger?

Since I needed to be in a place where I could see the river, and as much of it as possible, in order to know whether or not the canoe was in sight of the man, I wanted to get as high as possible, and out of sight, and that meant a rock with an overlook, or a tree. I remembered that when the bow hunting of deer from tree-stands first hit our state, a lot of hunters who had never been near an animal in the woods bagged deer the first time they tried it. Deer are supposed to have no natural enemies in trees, and so seldom look up. I his was not much to go on, but there were plenty of trees growing near the edge of the cliff. First, though, I would have to get down the river and find the right spot.

1 began to make my way over the boulders at the edge, paralleling the rapids, which went on and on as far as I could see. Most of the time it was not as haul going as I would have thought. The rocks were very big ones, and I stepped and jumped from one dark mass to another with a sureness of foot that astonished me, for there seemed nothing at all to be afraid of. The only thing that bothered me now and then was the harshness of my breath, in which there was still the sound of panic, and this appeared to have nothing to do with the actions of my body. It took me a good while—at least an hour, maybe two—to get down past the rapids. When the moon smoothed out below me, and the rising sound fell back, I had the river where I wanted it. What now?

The top was mostly boulders, and there were a lot of them I could have hidden behind, but I would have had almost no visibility, f decided to go downstream a little farther just to get a look at what was there, and then to come back to about where I was now standing.

This time the traveling was much rougher; there were some very bad places: big hacked-feeling boulders with fallen trees wedged between them, and at one spot there was a kind of natural wall, high like a stone barricade, that I didn’t think I’d be able to get over. Both going downriver and coming back I had to feel my way inland twenty or thirty yards to find a way to get over it. There were saplings growing near it on both sides, though, and with the help of these, which gave me something to hold on to as my feet were climbing the rock, I got on top of it and slid down the other side. All the time I was traveling I was looking at the river, and unless Lite man lay on top of the stone wall, where visibility was not good, die river showing only as a faint movement like the leaves ol a tree seen through another tree, he would have to get somewhere on the edge itself to have a wide enough view of the stream to sight and lead accurately. Of the part of the calm water I had been back and lorth over, there was only one place that looked right for this. It was surrounded on the upstream side by jumbled roc ks, but was easier to get to from inland, as far as I could tell. There was a pale sandy platform at the very edge that looked down on the river through a thicket of grass about a yard high. As far as I was concerned, this was it. We were still far enough from houses and highways not to be heard, but I was fairly sure that we were not awfully far, even so, and the closer we were the less likely be wotdd be to take a chance. If he doesn’t come here, I thought, but picks another calm place downstream, Bobby and Lewis have had it.

Yes, I thought with a cowardly but good feeling, they’ve had it. After all, I would have clone all I could, and as a last resort could work my way out of the woods, following the river down to the first highway bridge. I was not particularly afraid ol the man s hunting, me clown after killing the others— though I was afraid to some extent, imagining suddenly his moving along my uncertain tracks in the windless underbrush and dark foliage—for he wouldn’t know where I was. Though he most likely recalled that thcre’d been four people in the canoes, one of us could easily have been drowned in the rapids; after all, the three of us nearly had drowned there. Mv life was safer than anyone’s unless the toothless man and I came on each other by chance.

Or unless I took a shot at him and missed. That chilled me; I felt my tongue thicken at the possibility. I thought about starting the trek out of the woods now, but the back of my mind told me that I had not gone through enough of the right motions yet; if Bobby and Lewis died, I wanted to be able to say to myself that I had done more than just climb up a gorge side and leave them helpless. But if the man I was looking for didn’t come where I expected him to after I had done my best to find him and kill him, that was not my fault. And there was not much chance that I had really guessed right. It was just the best that I could do.

There was still no light in the sky but moonlight. I turned away from the river where the land shelved back to some boulders and low trees, and felt around. Among the trees, which held the light from me, I could tell nothing except by touch. I put out a foot because I could reach farther that way. Something solid was there. I took a step toward it and was enveloped at once in branches and the stiff pine-hairs. I set the bow down and climbed into the lower limbs, which were very thick and close together, and went up until the tree swayed.

There was a little visibility through the needles, a little flickering light off the river, which the tree set twice as far oft as it had been when I looked at it from the grasses at the edge of the cliff. I finally figured out that the part of the river I could see was where it came out of the turn from the last of the rapids below Lewis and Bobby, and calmed and smoothed out, losing its own thready silver for the broad-lying moonlight.

I went back down and got the bow and began to do what I could about setting up a blind in the tree. I had never shot anything, or at anything, from a tree before, not even a target, though I remembered someone’s telling me to aim a little lower than seemed right. I thought about this while I worked.

Moving as though I were instructing myself —where does this hand go? Here? No, it would be better over here, or a little lower down—I cleared away the small needled twigs between myself and the platform of sand. It was not hard to do; 1 just kept taking things away from between the riverlight and my face until there were not any. When I was back against the bole of the tree, I was looking down a short, shaggy tunnel of needles; I would shoot right down that; it even seemed to help me aim. All the time I was clearing, I was aided by a totally different sense of touch than I had ever had, and it occurred to me that I must have developed it on the cliff. I seemed able to tell the exact shape and weight of anything at first touch, and had to put out no extra strength to break or strip off any part of the tree I wanted to. Being alive in the dark and doing what I was doing was like a powerful drunkenness, because I didn’t believe it. There had never been anything in my life remotely like it. I felt the bark next to me with the most intimate part of my palm, then broke off a needle and put it in my mouth and bit down. It was the right taste. . . .

The needles were filling slowly with the beginnings of daylight, and the tree began to glow softly, shining the frail light held by the needles inward on me, and I felt as though I were giving it back outward. I kept looking down the tunnel, now not a massed darkness; there were greens. I opened my mouth so that my breathing would be more silent; so that a nostril would not whistle, or drag with phlegm.

I could see plainly now: the needled and rocky space just beneath the tree, and out from that to the sandy shell, maybe twenty feet wide, with its fringe of tall ragged grass, and beyond that down into space, the eye falling like a body, not dying, but coming to rest on the river. Bobby should be starting now. In a few minutes it would all be over; I would have been either wrong or right, and we would be dead or alive.

Or maybe he had already started, and slipped by me. There was no way to tell, and I cringed among the branches, waiting to hear a rifle shot from another place, a location I couldn’t have guessed or known about.

None came, though. The light strengthened. My sense of utter concealment began to die out of me, and out of the tree. At the right angle, someone standing on the sandy shelf could look right up my tunnel of pine branches at me, and this could be either deliberate or by chance. A lot was hanging on chance. I moved cautiously, as much as I could like a creature who lived in a tree, craning my neck and leaning out from the trunk to see a foot or two more of the cliff edge, to see if I could make out the canoe.

Something caught the tail of my left eye, and my stomach froze, I didn’t turn my head at once, but slowly. I knew, though. I knew, and knew.

A rock clicked on another, and a man was walking forward onto the sand with a rifle. His hand was in Ins right pocket.

This is it, I thought, but my first hope, one I could not keep off me, was that I could stay in the tree until he went away. My climb up the cliff had left me; all I wanted was my life. Everything in me was shaking: I could not even have nocked the arrow. Then I looked downward and saw my hands holding the bow, with the broadhead’s two colors, sharpened and unsharpened, separating from each other. This steadied me, and I began to believe, once more, that I would do what I had come to do, in this is kind ol deadly charade. If he lay down with his back to me, I would shoot. I squeezed the first and middle fingers around the arrow nock, took a slow open-mouthed breath, and leaned back tense and still.

He was looking up the river and standing now with both hands on the gun, but with the attitude of holding it at his waist without necessarily thinking of raising it to his shoulder. There was something relaxed and enjoying in his body position, something primally graceful; I had never seen a more beautiful or convincing element of a design. I wanted to kill him just like that, and I prayed for Bobby to come into sight at that instant, but I could see nothing on the river, and he apparently couldn t either. He shifted around for some reason, with half of him framed by my tunnel of needles. Wait till he lies down, I said far back in my throat, and then hit him dead center of the back. Make it a problem: try to break his back, so that even it you don’t hit the spine, you’ll still hit something vital.

But he was still standing there, not indecisively or decisively; just standing, part of his body clear for a shot, but his head and the other part, not. I had better try now; he may move out of my line of fire, I tensed my arm to see it the muscles would work. The string took on a small angle. I looked right at him, and he gave a little more ot himsell to the hole in the needles. He was sideways to me, but if his face came into view, he had only to raise it a little to be looking directly at me. I knew that my next battle would be with hysteria, the wild hysteria of full draw, of wanting to let the arrow go and get the tension of holding the bow out ot the body: to get the shot off and get it over with. I began to set up in my head the whole delicate routine of making a good archery shot, all the time aware that the most perfect form goes for nothing if the release doesn’t happen right; the fingers of the right hand must be relaxed, and above all the bow arm must not move.

He seemed puzzled. He kept looking back from the river clown at his feet, at the ground there, halt sand and half rock, and every time his head inclined and his hidden face bent down he looked at a place farther from the river and nearer to where I was.

I closed my eyes, opened them, took a slow threequarter breath, held it, and leveled the bow.inch by inch. When it was approximately in the position I wanted, I went to my muscles and drew. My back spread broader, drawing strength from the tree, the broadhead came back to the bow face along the arrow rest, the unborn calf. It chattered there with the unnatural tension of my body and a sound that was a sound only to the nerves in the palm ot my left hand. I pulled the barb of the arrow firmly against the bow, and began checking things in the bow and the arrow and in my hands and arms and body, like a countdown.

He was just out ot the frame ot thread on the string; my peepsight. I had only to move the bow slightly for him to come into the peepsight and the right-left problem, except possibly for the release, was solved. That left only elevation, always the main problem when shooting downward, and the release. The tip of the arrow appeared, in my secondary vision as I looked at him, to be about six inches under his feet, and I brought it down another inch or so until, as I judged, it looked to me as though I were trying to shoot him through the stomach; looking through the string down the shaft and out the cave of needles, I could see the arrow as being in a plane extending through the middle ot him.

We were closed together, and the feeling of a peculiar kind of intimacy increased, for he was shut within a frame within a frame, all of my making: the peepsight and the alleyway of needles, and I knew then that I had him, if my right hand just relaxed and let the arrow tear itself away, and if my left arm did not move, but merely took up the shock of the vibrating bow.

Everything was right; it could not have been better. My anchor was good and firm, and the broadhead seemed almost rock-steady. I was full of the transfiguring power of full draw, the draw-hysteria that is the ruination of some archers and the making of others who can conquer it and make it work for them.

I was down to my last two points, and he was still right there, stooping a little but now facing me just a shade more than he had been. Then he moved, slightly but quickly, and I fought to hold on to the arrow.

He stirred the ground once with his foot, and I saw his face—saw that he had a face—for the first time. The whole careful structure of my shot began to come apart, and I struggled in my muscles and guts and heart to hold it together. His eyes were moving over the sand and rock, faster and faster. They were coming. When they began to rise from the ground they triggered my release. I never saw the arrow in the air, and I don t believe he did either, though he surely must have heard the bow twang. I had been at full draw so long that even in the instant of release I believed that I would no more have been able to move my left arm than a statue would. I was afraid that my concentiation had blown apart under the recognition that he knew where I was, and some of it had; but not all. The shot had been lined up correctly; if the left arm had held, he was hit.

What happened next I was not sure about, and still am not. The tree thrummed like an ax had struck it, and the woods, so long quiet around me, were full of unbelievable sound. The next thing I knew there was no tree with me anymore, nor any bow. A limb caught my leg and tried to tear it off me, and I was going down the trunk backwards and upside down with many things touching and hitting upward at me with live weight, like arms. To this day I will contend that I spent part of the fall checking the fingers of my right hand to see if they were relaxed, had been relaxed when the shot went, and they were.

I tried also to turn in the air so as not to strike on the back of my head, and was beginning to turn, I think, when I hit. Something went through me hom behind, and I heard a rip like tearing a bedsheet. Another thing buckled and snapped under me, and I was out of breath on the ground, hurt badly somewhere as the gun went off again, and I could not get to my feet but clawed backward, dragging something. The gun boomed again, then again and again; a branch whipsawed in the tree, but higher than my head would’ve been if I’d been standing. There was something odd about the shooting; I could tell that even as I was, and I got to one knee and then to my feet from that, and crouched and crowhopped toward, to, and finally behind some rocks on the upriver side of the tree. I stayed low; the gun went off again. Then I slowly lifted my head over the rock.

He was staggering toward the tree, still ten or fifteen feet from it, trying to get the gun up as though it were something too long, or too limber to raise, like a hose. He fired again, but only a yard in front of his feet. The top of his chest was another color, and as he melted forward I saw the arrow hanging down his back just below the neck; it was painted entirely red, and was just hanging by the neck and flipping stiffly and softly. He got carefully down to his knees; blood poured when his mouth opened and seemed to splash up out of the ground, to have the force of something coming out of the earth, a spring revealed when the right stone was moved. Die, I thought, my God, die, die.

I slid down on my right side on the back of the rock and laid my cheek to the stone. What is wrong with me? I asked, as the rock seriously and gravely began to turn, as though it might rise. I looked down at my side and the other arrow, the crooked one from the bow quiver, was sticking through it, and the broken bow was still hanging to it by the lower part of the clip.

I put my head down, and was gone. Where? I went comfortably into the distance, and I had a dim image in my head of mysell turning around, disappearing into mist, waving good-bye.


More nothing, another kind, and out of this I looked up, amazed. In front of me a man was down on his hands and knees giving up his blood like a man vomiting in the home of a friend, careful to get his head down into the toilet bowl. I put my head back and went away again.

The hardness of the rock against my breath woke me; it was too difficult to get air in the place where I had been. I lifted my head and my eyes again, but there was no man there to see with them. I would have lain there forever but for that, but because of the mystery I slowly struggled back into doing something.

I propped up and looked at myself. The arrow had gone through about an inch of flesh in my side, the llesh that age and inactivity were beginning to load on me. I would either have to cut it out of my side or pull the shaft through. As carefully as I could, but with the pain of every move making my soul shrivel and beg for help, I stripped the feathers oft the arrow, and then set my teeth and started to work it through and out. It came slowly, and I thought of the arrow paint I was leaving inside the wound, but there was no way to get away from it. I licked my hand and put saliva on the shaft, hoping that the lubrication would help. It did at first, and then it didn’t; the arrow stuck solidly, and I could not move it at all without coming very close to passing out. I would have to cut.

I took the knife from my belt, sliced away the nylon I was wearing from around it, and looked. Just looked, and that was more terrifying than trying to work the arrow out with my eyes closed. The broadhead had torn my side open, as it was designed to do, and if it had not gone quite as deep it would have just made a bad flesh wound, but that was not the case, and it was in me. In me. The flesh around the metal moved pitifully, like a mouth, when I moved the shaft. I put the knife against the flesh above the wound. Just cut right down, I said aloud, hut down and cut it loose, and you’ll be able to clean the wound out in the river. It will be a lot better that way, boy.

I cut. My stomach heaved at the pain, and I cut inside the cut I had made. The woods and air were dizzy as with birds flying from all the trees straight into my face. I took the knife and turned it so Lhe curved part of the blade was in the wound, and drove it down with both hands. I felt it grate on the shaft. This will have to be it, I said. I’m not going to cut myself anymore even if I have to grab the shalt and tear it loose, and tear myself in half with it.

The slant of the rock was covered with blood, and I felt in my side to see if the shaft was more or less clear of flesh. The knife fell and rang on the stone. The shaft would come; I moved it through me a little more, and the wound changed. The bloody shaft was in my hands, and my side was oozing and pouring down the rock. I went down after it, the arrow still in my hands, and stood up.

There had never been a freedom like it. □