“No Man” by Nathaniel Kressen
Akashic Books introduces a new flash fiction series, Wilderness Wednesdays. Inspired by Nina Revoyr’s brilliant and chilling new novel, Lost Canyon, which is set in the Sierra Nevada and could be categorized as “wilderness noir,” this series will showcase hard-boiled short stories of men and women in perilous encounters with the natural world. But if you think surviving an encounter with a black bear, a 10,000-foot elevation, or a cell phone dead zone sounds difficult, try describing the experience in 750 words or less. Pretty wild.
This week, Nathaniel Kressen brings us one man’s reflection on the choices he’s made.
Bugs fornicate in the still water from the storm. They leave their young to swarm my knotted limbs. I flash my teeth like a horse resisting the needle.
The clouds have yet to part, though the sun shone briefly. It was all I could do not to choke on the falling water. I never could breathe out of my nose.
The blood’s turned black and white in places. If it weren’t for the elevation, I’d have visitors by now. Nightfall may bring them yet.
There was never a thing I did that matched the beauty of this mountain.
No man should whimper like a child.
The goddamned rope. The goddamned safety. Nothing’s built to last.
If I were a younger man I’d pray. I’d mourn the things I’d never done. As it is, I’ve made my choices. The trees don’t ask why they burn.
If I could just taste the inside of a woman’s thigh. If I could just hear that preacher’s voice from when I was a child. He made me believe. He died before his time.
The dirt’s just out of reach of my tongue. The hunger’s the worst part.
I can’t remember when I last felt a loss like that preacher. The miscarriage and the divorce are the obvious choices, but there was rage and guilt and hope mixed in. The preacher was a loss, pure and simple. There was no hope he’d come back to inspire us. A light had gone out.
One taste of whiskey. One glass of bourbon. If ever there was cause to sell one’s soul.
The air smells like chili powder. It smelled of sea salt on the cliff face. It’s miles to the ocean.
As a child, you picture the end like a blaze of glory. You worship superheroes. Then time lets you know your place. One small bug climbing over rocks, thinking you’re topping Everest. The weather’s the enemy there. I respect any man who makes his way. But stockbrokers paying to have their tents set up is not man conquering nature. I climbed the unscalable cliff face. I made it farther up than any man on record. And without a son, if I’d made the peak, this mountain would have been my legacy. The crux of it is, if I’d bragged about what I was doing, there’d be a search party out right now.
My legacy is tall and cruel, but honest and just. No man claims what he does not earn.
The dog. My god, the dog. He’s a tough son of a bitch but he’s got good years left. Someone will take him in. I’ll be damned if we both end up like this.
The rain starts to fall again. There’s rustling out of sight. I try to look but a shock of pain spreads through me. Everything shines white, save for the bugs over the still water.
NATHANIEL KRESSEN is the author of Concrete Fever, the cofounder of Second Skin Books, and the leader of the Greenpoint Writers Group. His debut novel was independently released and went on to grace the shelves of fifty-plus stores nationwide and become a best seller at NYC’s legendary Strand Book Store. His second novel is on the way, to be titled Dahlia Cassandra.
—We are not offering payment, and are asking for first digital rights. The rights to the story revert to the author immediately upon publication.
—Include the location of the story next to your byline.
—Please include a short bio with your submission.
—Your story should not exceed 750 words.
—Accepted submissions to Wilderness Wednesdays are typically posted 2–4 months after being accepted.
—E-mail your submission to [email protected]. Please paste the story into the body of the email, and also attach it as a PDF file.
Posted: Jul 29, 2015
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