It was time I got outside and back to nature. I’d been cooped up in my cubicle for weeks; my eyes strained red from scanning websites and spreadsheets. That’s no way to live. Truly. So, I decided to take a long lunch and go to the local State Park—an old Civil War battlefield equipped with hiking trails and campgrounds, right off the Mobile-Tensaw Delta. My office was in downtown Mobile, so it was only a short drive. I figured I’d walk the trails, check out some ghostly battlefields, reach the bay, take in some brackish air, and walk back; refreshed and recharged for another long week at my computer screen. The scenery at first wasn’t that spectacular, but it was good to immerse myself in the woods. A different world; a long forgotten world. I turned my iPod on shuffle and stuck in my headphones. First song was “Instinct Blues” by The White Stripes. It was fitting for my nature walk, with all the references to wild animals getting busy and just following their instincts. Ten minutes in I saw my first wild animal, aside from all the damn birds and squirrels that one can see in any typical subdivision or parking lot; this was something I didn’t get to see every day: a large brown rabbit hunching its way through the brush. Before he noticed me I took out my iPhone and snapped some great pictures. I uploaded them to Instagram, but first chose the option for a weathered sepia tone. My favorite tone by far. It placed the rabbit in another time, as though he was standing before General Ulysses S. Grant rather than some 21st century office drone. I liked it because the rabbit now seemed more important than it was. I texted it to my girlfriend, Kim, because I knew she would think it was so damn cute. Also, I thought it might help her think of me as more of a sensitive guy, the kind she could trust with her secrets and naked vulnerable body. I started getting hard right there in the middle of the damn woods. I truly had the instinct blues. The music was perfect. I loved when my iPod shuffle played a suitable soundtrack to my life. It gave me the sense as though someone was watching my movements, like my life was a movie, and that every subtlety mattered. When I looked up the rabbit was gone. I never heard him scamper off—but then again I couldn’t have anyway because of The White Stripes pounding out the blues. Regardless of my headphones, the creatures of the wild come and go like whispers; this was their world, I was merely walking through it.
I chose the hiking trail that would lead me by the Civil War battlefield. And I was so glad I did. It was a famous battlefield, not just some run-of-the-mill-battlefield stuck off a county road in Hicksville that nobody ever heard of. It was the site of the Battle of Blakely. It had purpose. Noteworthy. I cannot recall why exactly, but I think it had something to do with the Confederates surrendering. My shuffle then played “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” by The Band. It was as if God himself was directing the movie of my life. I couldn’t believe the odds of such a coincidence. I had to tweet it to my followers.
The battlefield looked like any old cattle pasture. Though there did appear to be some breastwork still intact. Then again, I was not sure if those were the original structures or recreated for entertainment purposes. I started to read the historical marker, but instead decided to take a picture and post it to Facebook. Again I had to add a sepia tone. I hated becoming repetitive and predictable, but the picture was screaming for sepia. I mean it was the Civil War for Christ’s sake. I was pleased with how it came out and excited about what my friends would think. They would then know I was intelligent, cultured, and truly interested in the past. But also they’d see my artistic side, which could take a simple modern day plaque and give it even more of a historical air. And, most importantly, they’d know that I wasn’t just some desk jockey, but that I actually got out into the world during my work week, while they were all sitting at their computers watching me live my life, status update by status update. My hike was going well.
When I ultimately made it to the shores of the river delta I was amazed at the scenery. The palms mixed in with the old trees made me feel as though I was walking through Jurassic Park. I suddenly wanted a Jeep. Warning signs for alligators were everywhere. And that’s dinosaur enough for me. My shuffle started playing “Modern Man” by Arcade Fire. Unfortunately, the song wasn’t that fitting, so I assumed my divine director had taken a break. They can’t all be perfect.
I made my way to a raised boardwalk that allowed me to safely look for the killer reptiles without being down in the muck with them. Some strange guy stood on the other end. I briefly wondered what the hell he was doing down in the swamp by himself—a serial killer scouting out a dumping ground or a child porn pervert looking for somewhere to release his urges—but then I realized I must’ve looked strange to him as well. So I nodded a friendly hello. He replied with a weird smile.
I looked at the water’s edge and at the smooth banks where the grass blades were matted flat. It looked like a perfect place for a gator to sunbathe. I was sure of it. But no gator. Then Kim texted a reply to the sepia-toned rabbit picture. I was right; she thought it was “soooooooo cute!” I immediately replied to her that I was “scouting for gators.” I knew that would scare and worry her, but at the same time, subconsciously, make her hot for my daring machismo.
As I texted the words I still felt the awkward heat of the other guy staring in my direction. I couldn’t quit thinking about him. I knew I must’ve looked like a weirdo down there by myself too, but this guy had that creepy, basement-living look. He resembled Dwight from The Office. I began to worry. He wouldn’t quit looking at me.
While still staring at my phone, waiting for Kim’s reply, I decided to look up nonchalantly and try to see why he was still staring at me. I was going to act like I was observing some pelican out over the Delta. But it didn’t work. Soon as I raised my head he was already locked in. He nodded without a smile and pointed directly at me. I instinctively threw my head back down into my phone. I was not proud of my reaction, but I couldn’t help it. It was a fight or flight decision, one without forethought. With his eyes and his lonely pointing finger held out in the air like E.T., I had to retreat back to my familiar phone and pretend that world didn’t exist.
This was the guy you see on Dateline once it’s too late, learning later that he would wait daily at the edge of the delta for some unsuspecting rube to walk down into his web, hoping for a young naïve Boy Scout, but taking whatever he could get. I was now that rube, all alone in the wild woods. I tried not to freak out. I could’ve simply walked off the boardwalk, but I didn’t, I remained locked in a frozen state, focusing on my text messages and hoping he would simply dissolve away. I muted my iPod. From all I could sense, while continually looking down, was that the creep was still standing there with his damn finger out, pointing at me like some possessed child from The Shining. But I had to look again. And I was wrong. Soon as I raised my head, he was right beside me.
“I think he saw you,” he said like a pervert.
I nodded, without knowing what else to say or do. What was one supposed to say to that? We were obviously the only two people down in the damn swamp. He was obviously referring to himself in the third person, or his pointy finger, or his penis. Any way you sliced it the man liked me for something: torture, death or butt-sex. None of which were on my radar for the day. I regretted ever getting the idea to change up my routine.
“Funny, he’s so much bigger and older, but still scared of you,” the creep said, looking down like he was talking about his dick.
That was the tipping point for me. I reached in my pocket to grab my pen; I was ready to stab the pervert in the neck and roll him in the swamp with the gators.
“You ok?” he asked like a creep.
I stepped back, “Yea, guy, just trying to look for some damn gators like a normal person. What’s it to you?”
I think he finally got my message at that point. He didn’t say anything; just walked past and down the boardwalk steps. Before getting too far away, he turned around one last time.
“Doubt he’ll come back out again with you still standing there. If you would’ve looked up from your damn phone you might’ve see him. ASS!”
I couldn’t respond. My mind was too busy processing everything that just went down. It didn’t take me long to realize my mistake, but by then he was far up the trail. I was too embarrassed to say anything anyway. I was fine with letting him just think I was simply an asshole.
I decided not to tell Kim about it either. Such an encounter wouldn’t help promote the persona I was trying to project. Instead I took a picture of the matted grass blades and posted it on her Facebook wall with the caption, “Just watched a gator crawl into the water. I scared him!” That way she and her friends would all know how much I loved the wild. No need for details.
About the Author: The author is a thirty-year-old attorney, writer and musician living on the Eastern Shore of Mobile Bay with his wife, Libba, and fat wiener dog, Gus. He fights with his Alabama-born insecurities, but will never leave her. His short story, “Hummingbird," was published in Mod Mobilian Press’ anthology Tributaries 2012 and his short story, “Christmas Miracle,” was published in the Steel Toe Review.