Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta mountains, Colombia – March 2017
I wrote this 381 word short story when I was either 19 or 20 years old; about the same age as the two young men therein featured. This was perhaps the first story I wrote at the age of something approximating adulthood, and brought me out of a long dry spell wherein I had written nothing save for school papers and correspondence. It’s often jarring to read something one wrote long ago, especially when young — we tend to change quite a bit from our 20-year old selves, after all, but this vignette I would write much the same even today.
Forty Seven Seconds
The man was about a hundred yards away. He was sitting, his back against a tree, with his eyes closed. He was facing away from Thom. His profile was not striking. He needed to shave. Unconsciously, Thom stroked his own chin, clean-shaven for the moment. He wondered…
The man by the tree opened his eyes, blinked, and took in a long breath. Then he closed his eyes and lowered his head back onto his chest. He had a cigarette behind his right ear. He was thinking about a football game he had played in when he was younger. He had caught nine passes that day—the best of his short career. That was during high school, in a suburb of Houston.
Thom did not know the man had gone to school in Texas. He did not know that the man had only been a smoker for three months. Thom had smoked since the age of sixteen. Half a decade had past since then; Thom had smoked twenty-one thousand, nine hundred and thirty cigarettes in total. He did not know this specifically, of course.
The man lying against the tree had only smoked one thousand twenty-six in his life—mostly Lucky Strikes and Camels, and a few foreign brands he could not name. He was a virgin, but had created a rich fabrication to subvert this fact.
Thom knew none of these things about the man. All Thom knew was that he needed to shave, and that his right bootlace was not tied. It hung limply. Thom knew about the cigarette behind his ear too, and that his boot needed lacing. Thom did not know why the man had joined the army. Thom did not remember exactly why he himself had volunteered. But he knew that the man’s uniform was green, and that his own was gray, and so he closed his right eye and steadied his hand.
The man under the tree had never made it beyond junior varsity, and had never been with a woman. He had untied his bootlace to relieve pressure on a massive blister. It had been bothering him for days. He was unshaven and was about to smoke his one thousand twenty-seventh cigarette when Thom shot him, through the neck, from about one hundred yards away.
Pointing the way toward what would be a very long, hard, cold climb.