Marshmallows suck. There. I said it. Before you attack me hear me out. Let me set the scene. You're sitting outside on a chilly October night, surrounded by your closest friends, laughing and singing dumb campfire songs. Even though the music is loud, the comforting crackling of the fire is still heard and it reminds you that you are here. You are not spinning around alone and forgotten. You are here. In your best friend's backyard, with your other friends, with food, with music. For a split second, everything is okay. You don't think about how you failed your Chemistry test. You don't think about how your dad left. You don't think about how Katniss should have gotten with Gale. You don't feel crippled by life. You feel okay.
Until Emma brings out the marshmallows. Sure, some people like them. They're soft. Squishy. Kind of like boobs. But those little clouds of gelatin, corn starch, sugar and water are demons in disguise. They are impossible to roast properly. If you overcook them they shrivel and burn, just like your GPA. If you undercook them, they're hot and cold. Indecisive. Just like that girl you were gonna ask out. Marshmallows can act like they are perfect. All golden on the outside when really they are just sticky and gross on the inside, just like your life. On the outside you seem to have everything together when in reality you are just as confused and lost as everyone else. But, for the sake of those still clinging to the hope that marshmallows are good, lets just say you were able to correctly cook one. It's golden. Melty. Not too burnt, not too soft. Right in between.
Now try eating it. You can try this three different ways. The first, is just eating it right off the skewer. Good luck with that. You will burn your face off. In your haste to remove the smoldering skewer from your face you will burn your fingers. You will end up in the emergency room with second degree burns and when the nurse asks you what happened, you will lose all dignity and tell her you tried to eat a marshmallow.
The second, is waiting until the marshmallow has cooled down enough to touch and eating it with your hands. Bad plan. Very. Bad. Plan. Only three things can bring something together faster than a college student with a two hour deadline; Hate, the gel form of super glue and a half melted marshmallow. Got melted marshmallow between your fingers? Get used to living a cohesive life with your fingers cemented together, because friend, that's never coming off. It will get stuck in your hair. It will get stuck in your clothes. Accidentally touch someone? Congratulations! You and that poor person are now siamese twins. There is no escaping it. You will suffer through life with a preventable handicap. All because you tried to eat a marshmallow.
The third and final way one can try to enjoy a marshmallow is by making a smore. What could be better than a warm chocolate covered melted marshmallow squished between two golden graham crackers? Sanity. Have you ever tried to eat a smore? The chocolate never stays on the marshmallow. The graham crackers always break. You will burn fingers and your mouth. The chocolate will always be colder than the marshmallow. And those are just the trials of eating a smore, I'm not even going to mention how hard it is to make one. Twenty years later you are still living in denial. You still pretend to enjoy this process. You are trapped in a never ending saga, because you just had to eat a marshmallow.
So, Emma brings out the marshmallows. Everyone gets up and goes for the skewers. You sit alone, accompanied only by the cold air, distant laughter from friends and the fire. The red, blue and orange swirl together into flames and the comforting crackling has now turned into a mocking laugh. You are alone. Again. Marshmallows suck.
There is a slightly crumpled pack of Lucky Strikes on the central console.
Wind whips through open doors, and a green leafy sea flows beneath the hull. Like a jealous and unpredictable ocean, a blanket of trees forms an ebb and flow that is less than predictable; starbursts of bright orange or yellow are the only sign of jetties and shallows that will tear a ship apart.
The spang of metal on metal reverberates through the airframe as the jungle ocean roils, and a Kalishnikov mist reaches skyward.
Not a word is spoken, and the door gunner does what door gunners do. For a few moments, the sea of trees below is churned; soon, the ocean calms.
Two men, alert, awake, and weary, watch the gunner at work. A third man lies supine on a canvas gurney, eyes clenched shut. He is ashen, gray, fading in and out of consciousness. When he’s awake, he grimaces in pain. Blood pools beneath him, and everyone’s hands are stained crimson.
They are all too tired to speak, too stunned to be afraid, too shocked to care. One of the men seated upright wears a dirty bandage on his left hand, and another where his left boot used to be. “Million Dollar Wounds,” they said. Folks get by fine with seven toes instead of ten.
The other passenger stares at the world with only one eye. Vermilion gauze makes a patch, and he is the resident pirate of this airship.
Ninety mile an hour winds whip through the cabin, but the dying man on his back wants a smoke. He’s come to, and in a moment of clarity, catches the one remaining eye of his companion. With trembling hands, he pantomimes the act of smoking.
There is a slightly crumpled pack of Lucky Strikes on the central console. The G.I. leans forward between the two officers operating the vehicle, and without asking, helps himself and divides the secret booty. Shielding the flame as best he can, he lights up.
Almost immediately, the wind whips away any chance of a good inhale, but he tries, just the same. The cherry flares, glowing brightly and burning furiously.
His fingers leave pink stains on the white paper of the cigarette.
He leans down, gently and lovingly placing bloodstained tobacco between the lips of his mortally wounded friend.
The man on the gurney smiles his thanks and does his best to finish the stolen, secret cigarette before death robs him of his last chance at momentary joy.
After they land, the captain notices his Lucky Strikes are missing. When he finds the pack stuck to the deck, crimson and tattered, he doesn’t mind. He fishes out one of the three smokes he has left.
It’s just another day in Lai Khê, 1968.
I'm in love,
don't you see?
Hush, it's a secret
even from me.
Can't let myself fall
or trip on my heart,
when I catch a glimpse
it tends to start.
My nerves, they tingle
My heart starts dancing
⠀⠀⠀ blushing deeper
⠀⠀⠀ flash a smile
⠀⠀⠀ tumbling down
⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀ from up above
⠀⠀⠀ and that's how I'll know
⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀I'm falling
⠀⠀⠀ in love.
(but don't tell me, please, not yet.)
Should I Tell
Yes, I have secrets, but don't we all? Secrets from a past thought fogotten, to secrets only moments ago hidden.
I'm sure no one really wants to know what I don't tell openly, otherwise it wouldn't be a secret now, would it?
I know of no secret passageway so that's not a secret, and the only code I know is basic stuff to do online that's not much of a secret either.
Secret desire? Hmm. Maybe. But you wouldn't be interested. At least I don't think you would be interested. We all know the writing I do is a desire of mine, and that isn't a secret.
Secrets are like a good mystery book. Start from the beginning, work your way through until the surprise ending may very well be a twist you weren't expecting but are satisfied just the same.
So what one secret could I open up about and let everyone know?
Tell you what I'm going to do. I'm going to think longer about this and get back to you another time.
One More Scar
Only one strand of the threefold cord remains intact, taut with my weight. It creaks as it slowly unwinds, and my view of the waves turns.
The rope around my wrists itches. I can’t feel my hands. My last breath burns.
The crowd murmurs, restless, anxious for something to happen. The blood dripping down my neck isn’t enough for them. They can’t feel its sting, hear its gush, or taste its metallic tang. Arrows wink in the slanted sunlight and whisper there is no escape. The crowd wants me to beg for those. They crave tears and screams, blubbering words that fail to express how sorry I am, but they will never know my true regret.
A hanged man keeps his secrets.
My legs twitch, adjusting my position so I can steal a glance at Unmei. Sunrise paints a pink glaze over the glitter of his hair but can’t touch the blue of his eyes. Do mine look the same, hard and sharp as a sword and glossed with pain?
Look at me, Friend. See the truth I cannot tell them.
The unraveling cord reflects in his glassy gaze. He’s not here in the present. He sees another rope as the last thread snapped and a raven-haired girl plunged. Can he still feel the heft of the coarse hemp as it tore at our palms? The weightlessness, hopelessness as we both fell backward, as we scrambled to the edge and watched Kichi shrink in the distance.
I kick again, trying to keep from turning away from him, and his sightline drops to me, to the heavy irons jingling at my ankles.
Meet my gaze one last time, Unmei. I wish I could scream. Listen to the words I can’t say.
His eyes lift to my face, but without understanding, only sadness and rage.
I should have told him as soon as she fell, the only moment we had alone, where I wouldn’t be overheard.
Your sister asked me to give her to the ravine.
Her azure eyes shone with stubbornness as she thanked me for reporting the trap complete. “Now I will never be the property of that disgusting duke.”
“Until you step on that bridge, you can still change your mind. ’Tis a frightful thing we’ve planned.”
“I am courageous, Jōzu. Are you?”
Against my will, my back faces Unmei, and there is no one in this direction I wish to see, especially not our noble lord. I close my eyes and listen to the hum of the wind, the calls of the spectating birds, and most importantly, the groaning rope. Will it break soon? I’ll have an instant to draw a breath before water swallows me.
Our lord laughs. ’Tis like a file against my teeth. His daughter is believed dead, her body turned to dust when she struck the ground, nothing left for honorable internment, yet he laughs.
Don’t think of him. He slaughters your patience, and your timing must be perfect.
On the inside of my eyelids, Kichi steps onto the narrow suspension bridge. As the supports fray and the planks drop, she hovers for an instant, whirling to give me a grin, white knuckles strangling the loose rope.
I didn’t expect Unmei to dive for it, to refuse to let go as the weight of the bridge dragged him to the edge. I grabbed it, too.
The sun caresses my face, and I reopen my eyes. Unmei stands within my sight again.
He swallows as our eyes meet. “Say something in your defense. Please! ’Tis not too late.”
He has said that at least twenty times since yesterday when they made him testify against me.
“Could Jōzu have saved her?”
Dead, distant eyes looked past me. He didn’t want to say, but their serums gave him no choice.
“His Affinity is Wind. He could have called upon it to catch her.”
“Jōzu is the child of a maid, and the Affinities of servants are weak. Would Wind have taken such an arduous mandate from him?”
“He never uses it, but testing stones claim his influence is strong.”
A judge leaned closer, blocking our sight of one another. “Why would you present a servant’s blood to testing stones?”
“To see if he could be a suitable rival.”
They called for more stones, slit my palms, and wrapped the pebbles in my grasp. With such a strong Affinity for Wind, they said, I should be able to command hurricanes. Why am I not a feared warrior, a general of vast armies? What is a servant to do with this awesome power?
I remained silent. I showed them nothing.
My Affinity is not Wind like my mother’s, barely able to summon a breeze to cool her sweating brow. My true Affinity would raise the wrong questions.
Now I hang for not using power I do not have.
I’m sorry, Unmei. If any plan could have spared you, I’d have chosen it.
The rope concedes, and salty air rushes into my lungs. For a moment, I feel I could call upon Wind to carry me. Then the ocean beats that notion aside. My legs sting with its reprimand, and fire churns in my nose as the sun becomes a distorted flicker.
A chill seeps into my bones, and something even colder wraps me, soft as a mother’s goodnight kiss, limber as molten iron, and harder than steel. A second arm encircles me, then a third, dragging me deeper. Panic stokes the fire within, but still I wait.
Serrated suckers hook into my skin, and I flinch. Much of my captured breath escapes in a parade of bubbles. Krakens have an embrace like daggers. ’Tis why I ensured the bait for today would lure this creature, why I weakened the rope so it would fail. They’ll think me eaten and not look too hard for my body.
Yet, that book knowledge did not lead me to imagine it would feel like the prick of a hundred bees.
I clench my jaw and puff my cheeks, swallowing a scream as I deliberately move my arms and legs to saw off my bonds. Even the metal chains are sliced like paper, rattling as they sink into darkness.
Now I am deep enough.
I call to the energy within. ’Tis sluggish, groggy, unfamiliar, but it slithers to the surface, curious of my voice. Every vein glows, flashing with lightning as blue as my eyes. It feeds on my fear, a warhorse pounding the ground, begging to charge forth, and I am hard pressed to hold it back.
It ekes between my fingers, and shimmies over my whole body. It jumps and stabs at anything that touches me.
The kraken jolts, grip tightening, then fleeing. My lightning wants to chase the beast, but I hold its reins, keep it quiet. The water fizzes as I draw the energy back in, and a few more flashes pierce the darkness. Can Unmei and his lordly father sense the use of their Affinity so near?
My lungs shrivel into prunes as I swim deeper and slip through a passage that has never seen the sun. Its jewel-like walls blink at my bursts of light. The fish hide. I’m in too much of a hurry to avoid disturbing their refuges. Mud and detritus roil in my wake.
Finally, the surface breaks over my face, and I gulp air, choking on it as I drag my heavy body onto shore. A waterfall giggles behind me, and the pond laps at needle-covered sand. Pine and wintergreen fill my nostrils and loiter on my tongue. I lie there, panting, forehead on my arms.
A twig snaps, and I look up. Kichi pauses, chagrin in the twist of her rosy lips. The rest of her face hides in the shadow of a cowl.
“Congratulations, we’re both dead,” she greets, kneeling alongside me. “You look terrible.”
“I always look terrible.” I rise, knees shaking and dark hair plastered to my face. An arm swiping across my brow only halfway remedies this. A murder of crows drapes a dry cloak over me before perching on Kichi. Her Affinity might become a problem if I have to fight her.
I walk, cloak billowing behind me, and she trots to keep up.
“You’re free, Kichi. You could go anywhere. You don’t have to follow me.”
“You have proven the mettle of your heart. I trust you.”
You shouldn’t, Little Sister.
If I don’t bring her, the plan will fail.
If the plan fails, Unmei will live.
If the plan fails, our lordly father will live.
If the plan fails, I will die.
I keep walking.
“You’re bleeding.” Kichi points at my neck. The birds seem way too interested.
I wipe a wet sleeve under my chin. “So what else is new.”
“It is deep. If you do not treat it, it will scar.”
I stare straight ahead, unable to face those azure eyes exactly like mine. “What’s one more scar?”
Thank you for reading!
This is part 1 of 3. Together, the titles form a phrase:
One More Scar
Beneath My Skin
Etched Upon This Heart I Hold
Link to Beneath My Skin: https://theprose.com/post/428337/beneath-my-skin
This tale is set in a fictional, unnamed mountain range. While the story is told in English, the characters are named in Japanese, and each is an allegory of their name’s meaning. Here is a list of the characters, the ideographic writing of their name, and an approximate English translation.
Jōzu | 上手 | Skill
Kichi | 吉 | Luck
Unmei | 運命 | Destiny
Bees, Venom, and Love for a Boy
My first bee sting wasn't all it was hyped up to be. Okay, hear me out. I mean seriously, this is it? I think the worst part wasn't the initial pain, it was the fear that I had been stung by a god-forsaken bee. I was like 8. It was a summer of avoiding group sports at all costs, but happily playing with toads, selling lemonade, and escaping to any and all available shade. I'd been told my whole life that the first thing you do in this terrifying situation, is remove the stinger. So 8 year old me, who was rolling around in a field by the way, stood up, grabbed onto my quickly swelling arm, and looked for the nearest camp- counselor. Meanwhile, I was pushing back tears and wiping away snot because the bees weren't as nice as the toads or the dandelions. Under the safety of a nearby pavilion, the counselor removed the stinger, popped on a Band-Aid, and that was pretty much it. Oh, besides me hyperventilting of course.
Okay so I started thinking that secrets, they're like bee stingers right? If you let a secret sink in and stay, it will eventually make you sick. I had to look this up; what's so bad about the stinger anyway? I'll settle it right here and now for you. Basically if you leave the stinger in, you get a much higher dose of the venom released into your body. You'll eventually be fine, but it's going to be much more painful.
My secret is about a boy. This is a boy who has loved me for as long as I can remember. Before you get too sentimental, nothing ever happened because I always turned him down. We were inseperable best friends for years. The truth is: I loved him too. Okay well maybe I just loved him in a different way? Nope. I've had feelings for him equally, for as long as I can remember. My secret is that I loved him too but I was terrified. The idea of giving into all those feelings was always too scary. And somehow in all the no's I gave him, the truth got completely lost.
It's years later now and I think we're both trying to figure out what happened. I realize that I took how I felt about him, and buried it as deep as I possibly could. Now, all I'm left with is guilt and no freaking good excuses. I read that bee stingers are barbed, that's why it can be so difficult to get them out. Well I think secrets are barbed too. It figures, because God-knows they hang on tight.
#writing #writer #prose #shortstory #nonfiction #mylife #truestory #refelct #reflections #memories #lessons #feels #story #poetry #secrets #secret #love #inlove #hurt #heartbreak #author
The study was supposed to be simple. I needed the cash, they needed a test subject; it was a simple arrangement. They hook me up to a machine, and I think about different things. Sometimes they let me nap or read a book.
It was easy.
When I joined, there were a lot of forms to sign. A lot of promising not to talk about this with anyone else. Top Secret, the documents reminded me again and again. I didn’t see what the big deal was, but they were paying me well enough that I’d be able to afford rent for a few months until I found a decent job.
My friends had started to notice my increase in wealth. “How come you finally started coming out with us? Did you get a new job?”
I shrugged the first thousand times they asked, but it gets old eventually. “Sort of,” I explained one afternoon, sitting at the bar. “I’m doing a clinical study.” I enjoyed the looks on their faces as they envisioned being poked and prodded, downing strange pills. “Nothing too obscene; I go into a room, I drink a bottle of water, and then they hook up some electrodes to my head and then I just kind of chill for a few hours. Every now and then they ask me questions, but nothing invasive. It pays pretty well, too.”
“Sounds like a sweet deal,” Kennedy observed. I recognized the look of interest (who doesn’t like easy cash?), and I suddenly felt uncomfortable. I wasn’t supposed to be talking about this, but it’s not like I gave out any real details.
I shrugged. “Kind of boring, actually.” I checked my watch. “Anyway, I should be going. Supposed to swing by my mom’s.” I managed to look apologetic for bailing. In truth, I was headed to another session with the Top Secret Team of Scientists. So top secret, I wasn’t even sure what their machines did. Not that it mattered, too much.
As usual, when I got there, they did a thorough search of my person. Searching for wires, or something, I’m sure. Then they insisted I drank a bottle of water, and I they didn’t hook me up until I was all finished. No liquids in the room, they would always explain. The session started off the same as all the others. “Have you told anyone about this experiment.” Yes.
For the first time since starting, I lied. “Nope.” I saw the two men observing the screen exchange a look. I shifted in my seat, and they asked if they were sure. It wasn’t an unusual question, but I still felt nervous. “Positive,” I lied again.
A man I had never met entered the room, then. He looked angry; his brows were furrowed, his round cheeks bright red. “Who did you talk to?” He demanded.
“No one,” but I couldn’t help but replay in my mind the scene at the bar, what exactly I had said.
“Not too much detail,” One of the men watching the screen murmured. I tore my eyes from the angry man, to glance at them. They weren’t paying attention to me, staring intently at the screen.
“She looks familiar, though.” The other man said.
The angry hulking figure glared at me and then stomped over to the other two, shoving them out of the way. He scowled, “You gave information out.” I cowered in the chair; somehow they knew what I had done; I couldn’t think of anything to say to get me out of this. “Worse, you gave information to a competitor.”
Confusion outweighed my fear, briefly. “A competitor? I hardly gave any details, and only to my friends.”
The screen turned to me, and I saw Kennedy looking back at the screen, the same expression of interest painted on her features. The bar was still in the background, and it took me a second to realize that it was my memory of Kennedy at the bar. “She’s not a competitor. She’s a bartender.”
The angry man shook his head, yanking the screen back toward him. I saw the other two men wince at his rough treatment of the machine. “She works for our competitor. She gets paid to weasel information out of unsuspecting employees, and sends it back to her employers so they can get ahead.”
“But... she’s a bartender.”
He snorted, “She’s a corporate spy. What better way to get information than from a bar frequented by members of the scientific community.” He sounded disgusted, and frankly, I felt it. I had known Kennedy since middle school; she was always the most honest person I had ever known. She’d been keeping this secret this whole time? If that was true, what else had she been keeping from me?
“I...” I don’t know what I intended to stay, but the man who was apparently in charge shook his head.
“Get out.” He demanded. “Your study is over.”
“But sir, the research--”
“I said she’s done.”
I started to panic, I needed this money. I still hadn’t found a job, despite how hard I had been looking. I knew this wasn’t going to last forever, but I didn’t think it would end so soon. “No, I won’t talk about it with anyone else.”
“You’ve already broken our trust. Get. Out.”
“Use me.” He paused as he was about to order me once more to leave. “I can give her false information. Tell me what to say, I’ll say it. That way you can complete your experiment and lead her off whatever you’re working on. Please. Clearly, you can check whether or not I actually tell her what you want.”
He paused, still, and seemed to be considering what I had said. When he nodded, I slumped into my chair in relief. “But we are done for today. Leave.” I nodded, and the other two began unhooking the electrodes from my head.
That day is how I began keeping more and more secrets from my best friend. It was the day I lost all trust in her. And it was the day I realized I’d been spilling all my secrets to strangers in a lab.
Just shut the f*** up all ya all
The vegan at the front desk with her smoothie.....
"Please don't put that s*** in a see through container for all of us to see," I want to say. "You should try this recipe." She says when she sees me glance towards the repulsive green slim. "Kale, spinach, sweet potato and wheat grass. Delish and nutrish." I do believe she wanted to reach out and poke the roll hanging over my belt to shame me. "If you ask me, any kind of grass should remain on the ground; for that matter so should kale, spinach and sweet potatoes," is on the tip of my tongue, but I say, "I'll take it under advisement." Her father's a VP. That's my polite way of saying, "There is not a chance in hell your ectoplasum is gonna touch my lips."
My neighbor across the street with her vegetable garden.....
"Oh for Christ's sake. Here she comes with her tisket a tasket basket again." I say under my breath, not really caring if she hears me. "Hi!" My wife says from behind me." I
didn't know she was there. Shit. I hope she didnt hear my mumble. "How you doin Rita? What ya got there?" "Well today I'm happy to say I've got a bumper crop of zucchini and a couple of eggplant too. I know how much you both enjoyed grillin these puppies up last year, so I came here first. You can use them, right?" "Oh absolutely Rita. Thanks so much. Sebastian loves it when I grill veggies, don't you honey," she says looking at me for a response with those two chocolates that melt me into saying, "Yes. Thank you very much Rita," with a smile, instead of, "Oh no he doesn't!" I man can do much worse than a white lie.
Old Doc McFarland....
"I want you to come back in 3 months. If you blood pressure is still high I'm going to write you a presciption for meds." He just can't understand why my blood pressure is so high and why I keep gaining weight at my yearly physical. "So tell me. Are you exercising?" "Yes." I lie. "Are you eating a healthy diet?" "Yes. My wife see's to that." I half lie. When I am with my wife, love makes me do all sorts of crazy thinks like eating grilled zucchini and eggplant. And when I'm not with my wife....
"The extra weight on you doesnt bother me, as long as you are healthy." She says when I get back from my physical. I don't really want her to shut the f*** up like all the others, so I let what she says about my current situation go in one ear and out the other. She loves me and I really love her too, but I also love something she wouldnt approve of, that's the reason why I must continue to deceive her. Do you tell grandma that you hate her cookies? Same principle. At 34, it's just all so perplexing and disconcerting to my lovely wife that I'm gaining weight and that Dr. M wants me to go on blood pressure meds. "Don't they cause erectile dysfunction?" She asks with a concerned look on her face. Oh no way baby. Don't you worry about that. If I have to go on the meds, rest assured nothing could keep Mr. P from coming out to play. What do you say we go upstairs now?" Why would I want to get her upset and let her in on my only weakness? Does it make a guy a bad husband to keep one minor detail from his wife?
So here's the deal. You can keep a secret right? I'm really good at what I do and I never leave a paper trail. Wrappers crumbled and tossed, and baby wipes at all times in the glove compartment keep my car oil free. Here goes, and please don't judge:
Each day on the way to work, even though my wife has taken the time to prepare me overnight oats, I stop at Jack in the box for a bacon egg and cheese biscuit. 99 cents of delish. Yeah. Duh. I know, not nutrish. I've been hitting up Jack for years on the way to work, long before I met my wife. And lunch? She wants to pack me a healthy lunch, but I tell her I'm getting a green salad at the office cafeteria cheap, $3.49. And then instead, mainly because I convince myself it's good to get out of the building, I hit the dollar menu at, McD's, BK, Arby's, Hardee's, and sometimes TacoBell. The dollar menu clearly doesn't break the bank although I did start out with a limit of 2 items, I'm now up to 4. 4 bucks clearly will not break the bank and I have promised myself to stop this charade at some point, really I do, but it's almost as if my car just drives to the fast food joint on its own. It's not like I'm cheating on my wife, or am I?
On the Surface
On the surface
It's smiles and laughs
But I keep the words to myself
On the surface
I can laugh in all the right places
But on the inside...
I keep cracks hidden where even you don't see
To keep a friendship together despite everything.
Beneath a bubble, well worn by time
I think of you as mine;
What we could be if you gave it a chance
But then its back to reality again...
A normal conversation between two friends
And that's where it ends.
You trust me with your secrets
Can't I trust you with mine?
Say how much I love you
Underneath the surface
Some people carry a secret forever. Some carry it as long as it suits them. I carried Tony Martinez’s secret for twenty-five years before he decided to unburden me. I met Tony in the most unlikely of places. The shallow woods of Sawyer County, Wisconsin in the 1970’s were a well traveled destination. But the deep woods were obscure and not easily traversed. It was place reserved for Rangers and wildlife and even the Rangers didn’t go DEEP in. Even now, in most of the acreage, there are no roads to drive and no trails to hike. You don’t go in those woods for recreation, you go in to disappear.
I met Tony because we had one thing in common. We both wanted to disappear.
I grew up in the town of Hayward, the seat of Sawyer County. I lived with my mom and Stepdad and neither one of them paid much attention to me.
Until I found the key to my stepdads safe. I had nothing against my Stepdad, but I felt no guilt in grabbing a $100 bill and having a great time with my friends in Duluth for a weekend. It’s when I took off with the whole $10,000 that I got his attention. I didn’t think twice about taking it and he didn’t think twice about calling the cops. It probably won’t surprise you if I said I was certain I could outsmart the entire Sawyer County sheriffs department. I took off to the vast expanse of Wisconsin woodlands to wait it out. Scared and totally unprepared, I ran into Tony after my first horrible night in that wilderness. I wandered into a small clearing hidden deep in the woods. I took my backpack off and lay down in the clearing exhausted, scratched and marred from my trek through the trees and brush. As silent as the insects that crawled in soil around me, he came out of his hiding spot and stood over me. I almost pissed myself when opened my eyes to see him towering over me.
An hour of interrogation and intimidation followed. I finally convinced him that I was who I said I was and he invited me to stay in his “camp” with him.
Tony was an ex-cop. He wouldn’t tell me what department he’d worked for. I found out years later it was the New Orleans Police Dept.. It was pretty corrupt in those days and he crossed the wrong people, effectively exposing himself to both the department and the crime syndicate. He was as good as dead if he was sentenced to any prison. He was as good as dead if he stayed and the criminals found him. So he fled. He went way north, ditched his car on the streets of Chicago and hitchhiked into the northern woods of Wisconsin where he’d been for 10 years. 10 years! I’d been there overnight and I was ready to cry and crawl back home. He’d learned, out of necessity and pure will, what he’d needed to know about living out there. He kept warm without a fire. He hunted without a gun. Fashioned clothes from animals and built makeshift shelters. The only things he really missed were Hershey bars and comic books. This large, muscle bound, ex-cop, who’d lived on the edge of death for many years, missed Hershey bars and comic books!
It was pretty clear to him that I wasn’t going to make it out there, based on the look of tortured confusion on my face, the defeated slump of my shoulders and obvious fear in my every movement. He talked me into going back and turning myself in, which I did. But, he also made me promise not to tell of my encounter with him. I promised to keep this secret forever, but I also wanted to help him. He said he didn’t need my help. I asked him to let me bring him Hershey bars and comic books. He said he never wanted to see me back in those woods again. I told him I would leave them in an old firewood box on the side of county road HH on the outskirts of Hayward. It was an old milling road that no one traveled anymore. He agreed. Our arrangement was every twenty days, I would leave him the chocolate, whatever comic he liked and a letter from me telling him about what was going on in the world. He agreed.
For fifteen years I dropped candy, comics and a letter in that wooden box. It was always gone when I came with a new batch and there was always a return letter on the extra blank paper I included in the envelope. Tony wrote about his days and nights in the wilderness and what he remembered about life outside the woods. He never wrote about the specifics of his former life as a cop, only that he regretted his failure to uphold the law and his duty to protect and serve. He felt like he had served a sentence and I agreed. I’m certain it was a harder life than he, I or anyone could have imagined living out there with no comfort or human contact of any kind. Many nights I contemplated telling someone about him, but I never did. I’ve never spoken of it until I wrote this piece.
One day Tony simply decided he’d had enough. He came out of the woods, walked to the nearest town (which was a little unincorporated called Taylor) and called the sheriff. After coming and picking him up, taking him down to Madison and contacting the NOPD from there, they released him. They had no criminal record of a Tony Martinez. They didn’t even have a record of him being on the police force. He was free to go. Go he did. He move to St. Louis and worked as a die cutter for a few years. The problem was, just because the law had forgotten, didn’t mean everyone else had. The very dangerous people Tony had crossed in his former life didn’t forget and they figured out not only that he’d rejoined civilization, but where he was. Luckily, Tony knew that they knew and stayed a step ahead.
Once again, he headed north. One step ahead was however, just that, one step. They pursued him northward, determined to finally settle the score.
The cops found Tony’s car on the side of a road on Highway 61 on the edge of Superior National Forest in Ontario, Canada.
I have no clue what happened; if they caught up to him, or he simply found a spot that looked good and just walked into the woods. There’s no romantic or poetic ending to this story, no trail of Hershey bar wrappers letting me know that he made it. My instincts tell me he did, but that could be wishful thinking. I do know that it feels good to finally be able to tell this story. I have wanted to for a long time, but I felt like it would have been a betrayal to Tony. I’m only telling it now because I’m certain he won’t be back.