The Bog: part three (short story)
The sad thing, maybe the ironic thing, was that at the heart of the bog, signal strength, phone reception, was fine. Two towers on not so distant hilltops could be seen, already—or always—lighted red. It was dusk, and with Amanda, Laurel and her sister were hiking a mile deep along the plank walkways. Soon they would beat their way over dry ground onto the slip, an elevation of sand and pebbles that had avalanched into the bog, nearly a century ago. Once, in the days of canals, it had been a man-made hill, dredge taken from Rust Creek to make the passage for cargo traffic deeper and straighter. They’d forgotten it, the county fathers, and the mound in its shallow topsoil had grown a meadow…daisies, bee balm, ironweed. Waving grasses. These and other weeds, indifferent to their topography, remained, sowing unwelcome seeds.
Until 1920, picnickers had spread blankets there on the fourth of July.
Today, a trail exited the public zone, climbing through a border of burdock, a young grove of sumac and black locust, reaching a leveled clearing, a padlocked storage shed, portable toilet, and outdoor table, belonging to Fish and Wildlife. As for camping, the women had their choice of any clearing on the slip.
“But,” Amanda began.
They’d had an awkward moment, the three of them, women failing to take the initiative, watching each other falter instead of hoisting gear. Amanda, of a younger generation—and though she did not owe Laurel her assistance, only her guidance—had moved first, grabbing the zippered tube of canvas: the pop-up tent. Rachel then caught one handle of the cooler, Laurel the other, and the sisters lurched forward in the officer’s wake.
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, and 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 sunset’s dying rim, 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.”
“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.
They’d signed their names to the terms of the permit. They had assumed all risk. And would not be hit by lightning, mauled by a bear, or assaulted by a Free Lander…these possible threats no likelier, during this window of exposure, than being killed by a meteor, or abducted by the Red Brigade.
“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. She followed it, ducking in, and remained there. Laurel listened to raindrops, the odd, fulsome plop they made against the hood of her windbreaker.
Rachel’s voice came out. “You should call the police on those people.”
(copyright 2017 Stephanie Foster)