As soon as night fell they really started to whoop it up down at the river camp. Hip hop and country, taking turns. Music to starve by. Trash is trash, leaves trash behind. Mr. Snow put down his book and looked out. Nothing, just night composed of acrid smoke and the tart jangle of jealous laughter. Moths bounced off the screened slider. Then they settled thick, some of them with extraordinary patterns and colors across their hairy wings. They were the only wild things he loved, truth be told.
Darkness hid the forest that spilled down the ridge to the hillbilly camp. But it was Mr. Snow’s woods, his rocks, his bramble. Sometimes things scurried out there. Chippies and cats for sure, but never anything interesting like a coyote or a bear. Mr. Snow lived alone, which is an important point. Once an acquaintance remarked, having learned that Mr. Snow lived in a remote mountain cabin, “Oh man we could smoke so much weed in a place like that.” And then for some reason the subject was dropped. They met at a wine tasting. They never crossed paths again.
The deck was just five feet above a very steep slope. So when he saw Bun’s face, it was just half a face, peeking over the edge. Eyes, and then: “Hey.”
Bun climbed onto the deck with a dead chicken in his hand. Bun was a mountain man, or at least Mr. Snow thought so. Bun carried the bird carcass by its long, broken neck. Said, “Jesus, I thought you could see me. You were watching me walk up.” Bun backed up, one hand up in jokey surrender. The chicken swung from the other, shedding filth.
Mr. Snow was fascinated. “What the hell are you doing here?”
“You saw me coming.”
“I did not.”
“Really? Cause you were right at the screen, staring straight down at me.”
“I didn’t see you until you stepped up on the deck.”
“Oh wow.” Bun giggled.
Mr. Snow felt crazy. “Get out of here, Bun. I’m calling the Sheriff.” Just saying the man’s name was exhilarating. Mr. Snow was aware that he was in a situation.
“Relax. I’m just on my way from work.” Bun crossed his ankles and dangled the chicken briefcase-style. Moths kept diving for it.
A mere screen panel separated the men. Mr. Snow thought, calm down, shut up, calm down, shut up. But sweeping away his panic only made room for a more dangerous mood. Mr. Snow was skeptical. “What work?”
“Down there. The new cabins going in.” Bun nodded toward the river road properties, gesturing into darkness. Now Mr. Snow saw Bun’s dirt caked jeans, steel-toed boots, sweaty t-shirt.
“What’s with the chicken, Bun?”
Bun’s soul patch spiked out, like it wanted to take a turn giving answers. “Putting in a new septic tank. You get it cooking by tossing in a chicken. You never heard of that?”
“Yes, sir. I work the night shift. Do everything at night. Look, I didn’t mean to scare you. I thought you saw me taking the shortcut. My brother’s house is over in the Clearspring subdivision. I was gonna cut through.”
Such bullshit. “Why tote a dead chicken to your brother’s house?”
A good question but not to ask out loud. Not in that tone, either.
The summer previous Mr. Snow had a metal detector, and as he went through the woods he was astounded by the number of hunting knives he found. Mostly broke at the tip, but he found one every day he went out. When he got to eleven he spread them out on a ragged towel in his kitchen and decided to quit the metal detector. The following winter, he went out into a blizzard to take pictures of a bufflehead that was blown off course. But before he could get to it, he came across a man laying in the meadow. The man had become lost and disoriented, and his limbs weren’t working the way they should. He needed help. It was only 17 degrees and no one ever came this way. When Mr. Snow introduced himself, the man laughed and cried. He was going into shock, but Mr. Snow’s feelings were hurt just the same.
Bun turned edgy, strange. He stopped answering Mr. Snow’s questions. Mr. Snow had a terrifying thought: I might be kissed tonight. His imagination was a poor speller. Down by the camp, music. The twining odors of wood and pot smoke. “You’ll need to hold me down,” he said to Bun. “Depending.”
Mr. Snow felt like a bird, tilting into an updraft.