By Anthony DiMartino
Slingshot knew the path back to his farm in Winston County naturally. He followed it like the wolf followed the scent of its prey, like a hunter followed tracks in the woods. The Native Americans had carved his path centuries ago. He studied their culture for years after sundown, when he no longer could work on the farm. He loved them like friends, brothers, and members of the same pack. They represented what he saw in himself, and he represented them by honoring their traditions. His radio was off. He only heard the wheels of the car grinding and the sound of a siren calling his name. His real name. The road stretched on past the capital and further into the heart of Alabama; he knew it all. In lonesomeness, he drove and the road winded onward like a narrow, slithery snake caught by its tail by a Cherokee on the hunt.
On the way home, while thinking about the Native American tribes and their collective values, he recalled a repressed memory from his youth. He drove on with it in mind.
It was nearing the evening. His family had just finished dinner when they looked out the window. Fog clouded the sun. A dry mist enveloped the farm. The cows and the horses were lost in the confusion. They stopped dinner to try to fix the problem.
They wanted to gather the frenzied animals, and then herd them into the farmhouse by the ranch. They hoped that, by that time, the fog would have cleared.
“We should split up! Meet back here!” his mother shouted to him. “Stay here and wait awhile if we’re too slow for you. We’ll be fine. And when we’re back, we’ll enjoy dinner together at the table!”
They had not predicted this thick of a fog. If so, they would have cooperated. Slingshot ran deeper into it, disobeying his mother, and unsure where he was headed at first. His eyes followed his feet, as he slowly recalled the feel of the soil on his toes. His surroundings came to life in his head. He pictured where he was and he knew where the animals would be. He picked hollow nuts from the ground. To alert the cows, he pelted them with the nuts. The horses scurried rampantly. They trampled fervently over the grass they ate and the soil. In their confusion, they were angry. Anger translated into fear. Fear made them run uncontrollably. The fog was growing. It was late at night, and so they could not see. They could not hear each other’s voices. He gathered the animals quickly by instinct and ran with them. When Slingshot made his trip back to the farmhouse, with cows and horses in tow, he realized that his father and mother were still missing. He shouted, but heard nothing. He herded the animals into the farmhouse, then sat outside and waited.
He was patient. During this time, he imagined himself riding his horses into romantic sunsets. He imagined his family and him together eating the rest of their dinner. He imagined the animals grazing in the grass carelessly, not frightened or confused. He imagined his family joining the animals in the field, playing games and feeding them. He imagined the animals stampeding through the farm, but then he cast that dream away. He imagined them frolicking, then he was happy again. He loved to imagine.
After twenty minutes, his patience wore thin. He replaced wishful imagination with worriment. He returned into the fog once more. He traveled aimlessly. He could no longer see his toes, but he felt the trickling blood that streamed off of them. He shouted into the depths of the mist and began to cry teenage tears. He ran for what seemed like an endless stream of time, a cycle. The fog never ended, like his running. It rose upwards in the sky and above the trees. It brought him chaos. Chaos like he had never experienced before. He yelled:
His bare feet bled more as he stepped through rough, unfamiliar ground. Jutting rocks and stones from beneath. He wasn’t sure where he was going. The unforgiving nature burdened him. It had never betrayed him this way; they were always together, like partners of a tribe, like members of a family. They understood each other, he thought. He ran faster and screamed louder. The earth had betrayed its most appreciative and loving son.
“Mom! Dad! Where are you?”
He thought the fog had thickened even more. It encompassed his entire world, threatening not only his vision and emotional stability, but his family. He valued his family far above the horses and the cows or the nature of the farm. He cared for his parents like they cared for him. For the first time in his childish life, he felt true fear. Fright. Anguish. His childish imagination would not cast the fog away or find his parents. His screams would not suddenly save his world. It was time to grow up. And in that instant, Lawrence Sloane, Jr., matured. He reached somewhere deep into his frightened mind and found solace. He discovered security and sanctity. Now, he stepped forward into the breach as an adult. The chaos inside the fog rose. His feet sobbed red tears uncontrollably. He felt an imprint on the soil, maybe Cherokee, but he could not make out what it resembled.
And finally after an hour of searching, crying, and yelling, he found their corpses in a field, their bodies trampled by hooves. His father’s arm covered his mother’s back. They must have found each other in the fog, and then died. He wanted to protect her. They were buried in the same way.
The fog had now faded.
He looted a slingshot from his father’s back pocket. He held it dear to his heart and felt the wet wood of the weapon against his jacket like his father’s embrace.
The fifteen-year-old Lawrence Sloane, Jr., returned to his ranch and slept in his bedroom for what seemed like days. No one saw him or knew what happened; their ranch was located so far from civilization that the first police officer arrived a mere week after the event. When he awoke, he had adapted to the changes he would have needed to make; he had accepted their deaths. He had moved on. He was an adult. On the next day, he awoke early and returned to the fields, restoring order to the farm animals and renewing the calmness that once settled abound. His presence brought renewed faith to his farm. Nothing had changed, so the animals figured. He had not sought revenge against the horses; they did not know any better. They were as afraid as he was. In their fright they ran, just like he did.
Slingshot drove back to the farm he had inherited and opened the rickety front door to utter silence, for he lived and maintained the whole three-hundred acres on his own. He kept the ranch clean and tidy. He neglected fancy machinery and newfound advancements. He used proper tools, the same ones his parents used years ago. He kept the slingshot hanging from his back pocket like his father had on his dead body; it was his way to remember and accept his self-induced loneliness.
The memory of his parents’ deaths had not haunted him; it had enlightened him. He embraced it. Slingshot would never trust nature with people’s lives again. He trusted no one –he understood the world better now. The immature, ignorant fifteen-year-old Lawrence Sloane, Jr., evolved into the stoic, unforgiving twenty-six-year-old Slingshot. When a fog rose again in Winston County, Slingshot was prepared; this time, there was no one to lose but himself.
And the memory remained with him for the rest of his existence, but he never felt sad; he felt assured. He realized the nature of evil. In the time since their deaths, through ancient Cherokee teachings which he read from books and further outside learning, he discovered that all humans contain the same evil that nature possesses; they all acquire instinct and they all act unreasonably. Some humans are left behind, while others carry on. Animals are excused, for they do not act superior to their environment like the urban human-machines act. He despised the machines as his father did, as his grandfather did, and as his children will in the future, if he even has children to whom he will tell stories and raise up to till the farm for generations to come. Thinking about life, he walked outside during sunset. He turned to his favorite horse and rode it side-by-side the others into the enveloping, protecting wilderness.