The Short, Happy Trip Of

He closed his eyes into the stream of hot water and tried to remember the exact expression. Was it Like the Old West with modern guns, or was it Like the Old West with more guns? Both seemed like they could be right, and they seemed to have similar meanings, but he nonetheless concentrated because he wanted his rebuttal to be perfect once he got back home. He imagined himself telling the story of his trip at the next party and slipping in his correction of that assessment of contemporary Texas; his experience was sure to give him a more legitimate view, and he was ready to correct the error as soon as he was able to pin it down. 

Without opening his eyes, he reached down to the valves to request hotter water. Even after so long, the shower responded instantly, and what was a steam-producing torrent became even more of one. He ovaled his mouth and exhaled, forcing himself to keep his head steady and brave the flow that seemed to be setting his hair on liquid fire. The feeling was like a massage, but one had to have enough intestinal fortitude to not move one’s head and be willing to endure something that pricked a little while producing pleasure. 

He had been about to leave the shower, but its ability to get hotter convinced him to stay. He refocused on the line. Like the Old West with modern guns, or Like the Old West with more guns? He could see himself making his friends laugh at either of the two, but not knowing which actually needed laughing at made him vulnerable in a dangerous way, and he could see himself easily becoming the butt. He replayed the scene of the line over and over again in his mind, but his memory was no more willing to be certain than he.

In any event, he quipped to himself, I know at least the first half of the line to be wrong. Guns aside, it may still be called the West, but it certainly isn't Old anymore. There's isn't a surer sign of modernity than a good, long, hot shower.

When eventually leaving the shower, he found that the naturally-warm Texas air made it so he could dry at his leisure without shivering. The mirror was fogged, and he wiped so that he could see himself. He had brought his toiletry bag with him into the bathroom, and he unzipped it and began his routine. 

Later, once fully prepared for bed, he found he was too antsy to sleep. The window of the bedroom looked out upon the vast country, and he had already lowered the blinds to no effect. The ceiling fan was turned up to its highest speed, but the chirps of life that passed the window glass from outside were nonetheless the most audible things in the room. He looked down at the bed sheets while realizing that climbing into them would only lead to kicking them off. With an odd feeling of procrastination, he left the room.

The small cabin he was staying in consisted of simply a bedroom, bathroom, living room, and kitchen. Each of the rooms was a study in designed rusticity, and the only furniture in the living room that did not appear to be made of wood was the dark brown leather couch. He passed along the front of the couch and made his way to the kitchen.  

He wasn’t thirsty, but the occasion seemed to call for a beer. The stainless-steel refrigerator was empty except for the twelve-pack he had brought with him earlier that afternoon. He started to search cabinets for a glass but a moment later decided that such would be unbecoming. Taking his first sips, he walked back through the living room, slipped on his sandals, then walked outside.

Like an unprepared astronaut, he found the depth of the darkness to be startling. Unlike at home where the world ran twenty-four hours a day, here was a place where night still retained its ancestral power; nature still asserted its right to be dark and scary. Just outside the cabin door was a bulb of a light designed to illuminate the entrance, but he found the little halo it gave off served merely to showcase the fact that it was the only light around. 

He began walking down the short pathway, and the crunch of gravel beneath his feet made him think of potential predators nearby. At pathway’s end was parked his cabin’s UTV; the purpose of the bulked-up golf cart was to allow him transportation anywhere on the ranch for the duration of his stay. He placed his beer in one of the vehicle’s cup holders then took a seat.

Though every night of his life had been lived under stars, he now looked up at those faraway winks with a sense of meaning. Like being near a volcano, being were one could see stars gave life a raw flair, and he felt himself to be rugged as a result. 

For centuries, he said to himself, men have looked up and thought as I do. Men of old saw the sky as just another aspect of nature to be tamed, and they created constellations for pens. They faced what they did not know and overcame it, just like the adventurer in the jungle. Man is a natural hunter of manhood, and when it turns and comes charging, he stands firm. Tomorrow, I will charge myself, if need be.

While speaking this way to himself, he suddenly felt pain. Instinctively, he slapped the outside of his right calf. He examined his legs by the light of his phone then slapped again just below his right knee. He twisted his left leg and saw two developing bites that began to itch. From beneath his shirt came the feeling of blood being sucked away, and he violently shook his head upon hearing the distinctive sound of a mosquito near his ear. While itching his left elbow, he hurriedly stood from the UTV and made his way back inside the cabin.

He immediately went to the bathroom and began applying a cream to his bites. His irritations were slowly soothed by the product, and before long, it had covered the sense of them entirely. Relieved, he headed back to bed. 

It wasn’t until he was lying in bed that he thought of his beer. He didn’t feel any qualms about leaving it unfinished, but he thought of the potential impression in the morning that he had been unable to finish it. He kicked off the covers and stepped back into his sandals. 

When he got to the door of the cabin, he hesitated. He thought of wrapping a blanket around himself but rejected the idea as impractical. As if waiting for him, mosquitoes swarmed about the bulb of light just outside the door. He pressed his face against the glass of the door then decided he could pass the gauntlet with minimal injury if he ran.    

When ready, he threw open the door and made his dash. He returned successfully moments later, and he spent enough of his life in gyms that the effort hardly changed his breath. Walking into the kitchen, he turned on the light to check himself for any additional bites while pouring the beer down the sink.






Stewart Michael Berg lives in Austin, Texas. He has two collections currently available (The Sored Incident, and Six Similar Stories and Nine and One Stories). He recommends Little Free Library.


Edited for Unlikely by Jonathan Penton, Editor-in-Chief
Last revised on Thursday, June 18, 2020 - 21:38