Kenny’s problem wasn’t that he no longer felt like a man, though that was most certainly the case. His real problem was that he no longer even knew what a man was supposed to be or if it was something worth striving for or if it was something he should run like hell from. He’d tried every identity he could find and always wound up back at the same depressingly coddled starting point feeling flaccid in spirit and lost in his head, longing for some great test to pass but always inevitably finding only himself.
Maybe he never forgot any of those things at all. Maybe the truth was that he never knew them at all. He couldn’t even remember, anymore.
Either way, on the day of his thirtieth birthday he found himself driving too fast through the winding rainforest roads north of Aberdeen, Washington, hometown Seattle more than a hundred miles back over his shoulder. The roads had been transitioning between asphalt and dirt for an hour at least and the fuel gage of his ancient Subaru Outback now pointed directly over the “empty” line.
He didn’t care anymore if he wreaked or sputtered out in the middle of nowhere. That morning he’d looked at his unshaven face bathroom in the mirror and blasted the damn glass into spider webs with his fist. Without wrapping the hand or putting on any antiseptic he’d marched out to his car and headed west, struck by an overwhelming need to get out of the city, out of himself, and into the mountains.
Speeding down a narrow country road he caught a glimpse of his reflection in the rearview mirror and nearly snapped the thing off as he twisted it until it showed only the reflection of the ceiling of his car.
He stopped momentarily to appreciate his swollen, bloody hand. It was one good thing to come out of all this, at least. It hurt in a tangible way, and punching a mirror was better than crying into Facebook. No matter how this whole stupid thing turned out, at least he’d have a busted hand and some scars as souvenirs.
He looked back to the road and saw a sharp turn coming his way far too fast. The car turned sideways over the wet road as jerked the wheel and slid towards a prehistoric-sized hemlock lined up perfectly to greet the side of his head with skull-crushing force. His front tires found traction before impact and Kenny pulled the car fishtailing back on course.
His blood raced with animal adrenaline but other than that he didn’t really feel much of anything at all. It occurred to him for the first that he truly didn’t care if he lived or died anymore, and he wasn’t sure how long he’d been living in that vacant space.
After years of feeling like just another spoiled, mewling pussy of the modern world, he found his own self-destructive reality oddly reassuring. At least the things he’d been feeling all these years were real, after all.
Kenny gunned the gas. He wouldn’t kill himself out there, he decided, but he wouldn’t try overly hard to live. He’d just drive, fast and reckless on the rain-slicked forest roads, and let the bones fall where they may. One thing he knew was that running from this story again wasn’t an option. One way or another he would not return to the person he’d fled from. He’d said that many times over the course of his life. ON this day, he meant it.
As he accelerated into another sharp turn, a massive deer appeared in the middle of the road ahead, its body turned aside so that no space was left to pass by its right or left sides. Kenny slammed on his brakes and felt his tires jerking over the road like stones skipping over a pond. The car stopped inches from the animal, which did not budge or even flinch through any of it.
Kenny gripped his steering wheel hard in both hands and worked to catch him breath. The sick smell of burnt rubber filled his nose.
The animal moved a little closer and extended its neck over the hood of Kenny’s car. It looked straight at him, the reflection of Kenny and his car visible in its placid black eyes.
Kenny normally idealized nature in a way only city kids can, but on this day his miraculous encounter with a gigantic deer was an annoyance.
“I don’t have time for this shit.”
Kenny reversed a few feet and angled his car to go around the deer’s left side. Before he could pass, the animal stepped in that direction to cut him.
“Stupid ass animal.”
Kenny reversed again and went right. Again the deer blocked his path.
Kenny fixed the rearview mirror he’d flipped upside-down minutes before. He’d drive backwards a ways and turn around before he lost his temper and nudged the damn animal out of his way with his car.
In the rearview mirror he noticed a one-lane dirt road intersecting the one he was on. His attention must have been so fixated on his impending collision with the deer that he’d not even noticed the primitive road as he skidded past it, yet there it was, less than ten feet behind him.
Kenny reversed towards the road to use it to turn around. The idea wasn’t appealing, though. He had no idea where he was going or why, but the same internal push that had brought him to that point kept on pushing still. He didn’t know where he was going, but he had to get there — to not be back in the city again, defeated, unchanged, thirty years old and stuck back where he started.
As suddenly as the impulse to drive to the mountains had him, an impulse now compelled him to head down the narrow drive, sealing his immediate fate. His gas tank was now stood officially empty. His Outback could go quite a ways on empty, as he knew from personal experience, but not forever. The situation didn’t frighten Kenny. In fact, for the first time that day he felt a rush of triumph at the sheer recklessness of it all.
As he hit the gas and sped down the narrow road he glanced back in his mirror one last time. The deer stood where it had been before, still watching him, and remained that way as he went deeper into the forest and lost sight of it.
The road wound steadily, gradually upwards. Hemlock branches flapped against his windshield and doors as if he was driving into a massive carwash.
The cool, wet smell of ancient silence filled the air. Once his car died there’d be no sounds to disturb that silence. He imagined it overtaking him like ocean waves and dragging him into its depths, down with the roots and worms and burrowing things, into a calm and soundless sleep. The thought did not bother him.
Better than another goddamn club night, he thought.
The idea of becoming stuck out there, dying, even, became more comforting as the space of the silence expanded to swallow the cacophonous idiocy of his life.
What ludicrous aspirations, he thought.
He grew so comfortable with the idea of breaking down out there in the wilderness that he felt disappointed when a ramshackle trailer appeared in a clearing full of gnarled apple trees and tall weeds and grape vines snaking over trellises. A myriad of plants grew so thick together that he couldn’t tell where one started and one stopped. A little stream of smoke piped out from a small chimney sticking out the trailer’s roof like a stray hair.
Kenny sat in his car for a few moments taking in the strange sight before a man stood up out of the weeds with two freshly picked squash in his hands. He was completely nude. Grey hair tufted out from the sides of his bald-topped dome and deep wrinkles caverned his face but his body was still strong and fit and looked in better shape than Kenny had ever been. He also possessed an enviously thick, long member that swung like a pendulum across his thighs as he came stomping towards Kenny.
“This is private property. Get the hell out of here.”
“Sorry,” Kenny sputtered. “I got lost.”
“Lost. It’s a one-lane goddamn road. You can’t get lost on a one-lane road.”
“No, I mean back there.” Kenny pointed over his shoulder. “I got lost back there.”
“You were lost so you thought the solution was to drive down a dirt road in the middle of goddamn nowhere?”
The man stood a few feet from Kenny’s car holding two squash in his left hand and pointing back down the road with his right. Kenny noticed these things only vaguely, his eyes continually drawn back to the center of the man’s shameless nudity.
“Look, man, I’m sorry. I got lost back there and then there was this freaking deer and then I just drove down this road. I didn’t see any posted signs or anything and figured it was a forest service road or something.”
The old man’s face scrunched up in what was either deep thought or disgust. “A deer?”
“Yea. A big one. Back there on the road. It wouldn’t get out of way so I drove up this road. I didn’t know anyone would be on it.”
“You’ve got to be fucking kidding me.” The man threw the squash down and clutched the tufts of hair at his head.
Kenny started to lose his own patience. “Alright, man, I’m sorry, but come on, my driving up here isn’t that unforgivable or unbelievable, is it? I mean, really?”
“I’m not talking about that. I’m talking about the fucking deer. You think that was just an accident? You do, don’t you? You think a fucking deer nudged you down this road and that doesn’t mean a damn thing. Just some random bullshit, right?”
Kenny felt thoroughly perplexed at this point and did not respond.
“Well, you’re some piece of work, aren’t you?” The man said.
He turned and headed towards his trailer. Halfway there he spun back around. “Well, park your dumbass car and come on. You’re obviously here for some reason and of course I have to help you figure it out because that’s just the bullshit I have to do.”
Kenny shifted the car into reverse and got ready to gun the gas out of there. “Man, I don’t even know who you are.”
The man rolled his eyes in annoyance. “My name is Bruce, and I live here in this trailer in these woods growing these plants. I used to be a financial advisor in Seattle. I made more money than you, I’m sure. Now I’m a shaman, and I don’t make shit.”
“Shaman?” Kenny scoffed. “You’re an old white guy. Isn’t that cultural appropriation?”
“Dude.” Bruce straightened up and titled his chin back. For a moment Kenny thought he may actually charge the car.
“I didn’t want this shaman gig, it wanted me, so give me that shit again and I swear on the spirit of this beloved mountain that my foot will appropriate your teeth.”
Kenny slid the car back into neutral. He didn’t know why. “So you want to help me because a deer blocked the road I was on and I just happened to drive down this road? Seriously?”
“Not just that, no. He told me a while ago you’d come by. I was hoping he was wrong. He usually is. I just didn’t recognize you at first.”
Bruce threw up his arms in exasperation and pointed back towards the road. “The fucking deer, man. A month or so ago in a dream. He showed me your face but I didn’t recognize it just now because in the dream it was all broken up and distorted, like broken glass or something.”
A jolt ran up Kenny’s spine at the mention of the broken glass. He thought back to the mirror he’d broken that morning, and his reflection in it. He also thought about the strange push to drive out there to those mountains, a place he’d been only once in his life as a kid while camping with Uncle Walt. Then the deer that wouldn’t get out of his way and seemed to be herding him onto this road.
Kenny turned his car off. Hell, no matter how crazy this thing, the thought of returning to his data entry position and his binge-watching, binge-drinking, binge-being existence seemed far worse.
“Okay, Bruce, I’ll see where this goes, but can you do me one favor?”
Bruce cupped his hands over his mouth and addressed the sky. “Hear that? The little prick’s already asking for favors.”
Kenny held up his hands deferentially. “Dude, can you just put some clothes on?”