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Tweets
Places I Hang Out
Sunday
May192019

Overdue

Harlan sat on his porch of worn uneven planks that, like our world and Harlan himself, had seen better days. We faced west, the direction that once meant hope. The last glint of sun had slid below the rim of the land and only a narrow yellowish strip gleamed through the dead and silhouetted trees, the darkened plain and the starless sky crushing it like a seam of gold in the ground.

We sat in silence awhile. Until we both seemed to realize something at once.

He was the first to say it. "Well, I'll be damned."

"Yeah."

Cicadas. The Collapse had brought such ornate miseries it seemed almost impudent to include among them the silencing of the insect world, but even on a subliminal level we'd felt their loss keenly. Ghosts come in many forms. Yet here they were. Tentative and hushed, but back in some facsimile of numbers.

"Thought surprise was a thing of the past," said Harlan, and I smiled. 

The scattering of bug sounds stabbed at the silence under gathering clouds we could sense more than see.

A breeze was testing the air, thinking about becoming a gust or two.

"Mr. Cutler… Harlan, I mean?" Dammit. How many times over the years had the old man corrected me?

"Son?"

"I want you to know you've kept me sane all these years since the Collapse."

"I know that, son."

"I know you know it. I just wanted to say it."

"Alright. Good to know. Let's drink to that—"

"Sir, I'll get it—"

"The hell you will. And the name's Harlan. How many times…?"

I lost his words on the gathering breeze as he made his slow hunched way into the cabin to fetch a jar or two of the crude cider he fermented from some unknown organic thing. Roots. Fungus. Squash, maybe. It always tasted about the same as it sounded.

I knew what he was gonna say before he said it.

"Bourbon, young fella?"

I laughed. We sat and drank, pretending it was Wild Turkey 101. Imagination ain't exactly perfect, but it can get you halfway there sometimes.

"They quieted down again," I said. 

"Huh. Mayhap the orchestra's done tuning and the symphony's comin'."

We wouldn't get to find out. Those gusts had turned to squalls and soon great hollerings, and the sky dropped its pent-up grief on everything. I scrambled to join him on the porch, and we waited it out, drinking slow and steady, hearing the mayhem of trees crack and splinter and jettison their bones in the dark.

Felt like wicked black wolves now governed the night.

When it was done, a sadness came over me and I no longer felt like pretending Harlan's concoction was even drinkable and I told him I didn't feel too good and took myself home, a ruder shack about a mile south of his place.

Next afternoon, a mite rueful, I hiked my sleepless and hungover ass back over to the old man's cabin. 

Harlan was gone. Debris covered his porch, but so much of it; dirt and bits of tree and even what looked like old coyote shit. From the storm, I figured. Some of it, at least. But after calling his name awhile and knocking on his door like a fool, I went inside. A layer of dust covered everything, the only places clear of dirt my bootprints behind me. What in the hell? I grabbed a jar of his moonjuice, a sandy film on the outside, a dark layer of silt inside, and sat in his creaky old chair on the porch sipping my friend's godawful liquor, hair of the mangiest of dogs. 

Things in my head didn't feel right. The silence in everything was too loud.

I listened for the bugs again, but nothing. Thought maybe it hadn't been a chorus but a coda after all. 

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