The Bog (part three)
Amanda laid the tent on top of the table. They heard the clacking of its fiberglass exoskeleton. Her radio squawked two messages that Laurel heard only as static, and that Amanda ignored.
“You heard the weather report?” she asked.
“Um,” Rachel answered.
“There’s a twenty percent chance of a thunderstorm tonight. So you wanna go back to your car. You don’t wanna be out here in your tent. Out in the open.”
“If you get stuck, get away from your tent, and get rid of your pack. Look for lower ground, but stay away from water.”
A chime sounded from Laurel’s windbreaker. She pulled the phone from her pocket, tapped the screen. She had a new Twitter follower: @lesdack69.
“It’s my stalker,” she told Rachel.
Rachel’s eyes shifted to Amanda, and her cheeks seemed to puff, a volume of words she would rather not say before a stranger gathering inside her mouth.
“You good?” Amanda asked.
“Night,” Laurel said.
“See you later,” Rachel said.
“Oh!” Amanda said. “By the way. Does that thing lock? We don’t have bears. But we could have a bear…you know, there are bears in the state…”
“It sort of snaps.” Laurel showed Amanda how the cooler fastened. Amanda said, “Okay, good luck.” She had been trying, since the first stars began to show above the dying sunset, to leave them. The sisters wanted her to go.
“Anyway,” Amanda said, “if you did see a bear, you shouldn’t try to scare it off. Just leave the cooler alone. Black bears almost never would bother anyone, though.”
“So… Thanks for helping. See you tomorrow!”
Laurel, cheery enough to release, as she hoped, Amanda’s conscience…stop her searching her mind for the next warning, and the one after, cut in with this.
Their names were signed to the terms of the permit. They had assumed all risk. And would not be hit by lightning, mauled by a bear, assaulted by a Free Lander…these possible threats no likelier, during this window of exposure, than being killed by a meteorite, or abducted by cultists.
“No! Don’t put your end down til I say!”
“What difference does it make? It’s a tent.”
Rachel stood angling her phone, right, left, moving it closer, farther. She was using a leveling app. “It’s raining, Laurel. You want your sleeping bag where the tent’s not sitting even?”
“Too bad we didn’t bring a shovel.”
She feared a hint—prickly as the two of them were together—of double meaning might have rung in this. “Well, there’s no place the ground’s gonna be even,” Laurel amended.
“Listen.” Rachel threw her bedroll inside the flap, ducked in, and remained there. Laurel listened to raindrops, the fulsome plop they made against the hood of her windbreaker.
Rachel’s voice came out. “You should call the police on those people.”
Now Laurel heard a country singer, the crackle of an energy bar unwrapped. Her sister might do this…be on the phone, snack and play music, put busyness between them. The sojourn would end, and they would not have spent it together. Rachel was nervous, out of her element.
Laurel’s own phone played a snatch of rock organ.
“Laurel, hey! I can’t get my wife. She there?”
Rachel muttered, “Oh, Jesus!” Her hand came out. “You’re gonna trash that song.”
“No.” Laurel hunkered down, peered through the flap, saw by the light of the screen a space barely big enough for two short people to stretch out. More likely, draw up knees and face the walls, neither of them able to uncramp a leg without waking the other. She had bought the tent brand new, expecting to use it alone. The cooler was new. The windbreaker and hiking shoes were new.
“Why would you buy stuff?” Rachel had asked. Meaning, how can you spend money, when you haven’t got any?
Because this is the only thing I’ve done for ages, the only place I’ve gone. I like spending money. “No,” Laurel repeated, sighing and clambering in. “It’s okay.” She tugged her pack to the entry and unstrapped her own bedroll. “I love that song. I was sixteen or something, when it first came on the radio. I thought it was the most beautiful thing I’d ever heard.”
“You better cancel your notifications.”
“Rachel, they don’t control me. I don’t change my life for them. And how could I call the police? Who are they? Maybe not Free Landers. It’s just these little spates they go through, inventing things, stupid name-calling that’s too cowardly to even be name-calling. The whole thing’s kind of trainwrecky, you know? They’re just giving themselves guilty knowledge…I’ll be in the nursing home one day, and they’ll still be out there, twitching whenever something reminds them…I mean, one of them might grow up and run for sheriff, or preach at a church, or something.”
(2017, Stephanie Foster)