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Coming of Age

“That’s not what I’m saying at all.”

“Then what are you saying?”

“We should've stayed near the river.”

“What river?”

Lightning stretched and cracked above, illuminating the forest glen.

Carl stared at his brother. He always did this. Saying things with supreme authority. It infuriated Carl.

Thunder boomed. Loud enough to shake the ground. Carl felt it in his chest. Strangely, it calmed him. Knowing there is something more powerful than his brother Avery in the world.

“Avery, are we lost?"

"Does it matter if we're lost?”

“Can you just tell me what to do?”

Another bolt of lightning and the clouds glowed with electricity. Thunder crashed and Carl flinched. Avery glowered back at his brother. Another lightning strike, this one in the distance. The glen filled with light again. Avery’s eyes glowed white hot, boring into Carl’s soul.

“You are asking the wrong question," Avery growled.

“Oh hell! I came to you for advice!”

Avery’s struck a match, his face glowed amber as he lit a cigarette. He offered the pack to his brother who declined.

“Have a smoke with me, Carl.” His face lit up with every puff.

Lightning cracked off to the West and thunder bounced off the trees. A sweet awesome crash.

Avery sniffed the air. “The rain missed us. Shame. I needed a quick rinse.”

He gathered sticks, tossing them into a pile at the center of the clearing.

“Go into the tree line and grab a few large branches. Nothing too big.”

Carl obeyed. He trudged into the wood like a petulant child told to brush their teeth. Avery was always the leader and that’s how it is. No questions asked. Ever.

By the time he returned, Avery had a small fire going.

“Perfect timing my boy.”

Carl dumped the sticks at his brother's feet. He watched his brother examine each branch before placing it on the fire. He arranged a neat tent-like pattern above the small flame. Soon the branches lit and the fire crackled. Carl hated how effortless his brother was with everything.

“Ave. Please. We didn’t come all the way out here for you to do this.”

“Maybe I did.”

Carl plopped down in the dirt an arm's length from the fire. He rummaged through his rucksack. After some frustration and cursing, he pulled out a plastic bag.

“Jerky. I ate some on the way. Sorry.”

He grabbed a handful and tossed the bag to his brother.

Avery grinned. “Of course you did. You’re the reason Maw Maw super glued the cookie jar shut.”

“I thought you did that...”

“Nah man, she did it. It was her saying you’ll never eat another cookie in her house again.”

Carl snorted. “Why didn’t she just tell me to stop eating cookies?” He grazed his hands on the forest floor, searching for and finding a rock. He examined the rock with his fingers. Running his thumb over each sharp ridge, a little too roughly.

“Ow!”

He put his thumb in his mouth, tasting blood. He liked the taste.

Avery watched his brother nurse the wound. He tried so hard to see a man. Instead, he saw a child sucking his thumb. He took a bite of jerky, gnawing and pulling at the tough meat.

“What the hell Carl? How long have you had this?”

“I bought it this morning.”

Avery struggled to chew. He searched for his canteen.

“Jesus boy, it’s like eating a tire. Is that where you bought it?”

Avery grinned. “Yup. Poli’s.”

“Dammit son. Do you know all that is for decoration? You’re not supposed to actually buy anything he sells in the office.

“So why does he sell it?”

“Because once in a while an out-of-towner with a flat tire waits in the office. And once in a blue moon, they buy some of his expired food!”

Carl bursts out laughing. “I didn’t buy it at Poli’s. I’m not that dumb.” He cleared his throat. “I bought it at the convenience store up past Danby’s Moot.

Avery swallows at last after a gulp of water and takes another bite.

“It’s not that bad, but you bring a bag of jerky out of everything in the world to eat. Not soup? Or those freeze-dried meals?”

Carl rubs his neck and gazes into the fire while still nursing his wound. “I had other things on my mind.”

Avery drops his smile and chews his food. He stares at the ground.

“This decision is eating you up…”

Carl grunts and nods. “Yep.”

Avery looks over at his younger brother.

“Boy! Stop sucking your thumb!” He throws his rucksack hitting Carl in the arm.

“I cut my finger on a rock! It’s bleeding.”

I don’t care if you sliced the tip off opening a can of tuna. Knock it off.”

“That was once and I didn’t slice off the tip. You’re such an ass.” Carl tossed the bag back but missed. It landed on top of the fire.

“Jesus!”

Carl bursts out laughing as he jumps up and pulls the bag off the flames. The fire's tent-like structure is gone.

“I meant to do that,” Carl said.

Avery hadn’t moved. He watched his brother struggle. He wished it hadn’t come to this, but wishing is like pissing in the wind.

Carl threw a few sticks on the fire haphazardly. They wouldn’t burn as well, but Avery didn’t say anything. He needed to learn from his mistakes.

“Carl, how old are you?”

“You know how old I am.”

“I know but do you?”

“I’m seventeen.”

“Of course you are. You are seventeen for three more months. And then what?”

“And then I turn eighteen.”

“Oh good, you can do basic math.”

“Shut up!” I’ll throw another bag at you,” Carl laughed.

The storm had passed and the crickets began to crawl back out of the leaf-packed forest floor. A breeze brought wafts of rain, but far in the North. Its sweet odor could lull one to sleep. Avery watched the branches high above lean into the wind.

“Do you remember Paul?”

“Dad? Maybe, but it could be false memories. From looking at all the photographs of him in that album Maw Maw had.”

An owl hooted in the distance. Both followed the sound instinctively.

“Why do you ask that?”

“He left when I was eight. And you were two.”

“What’s your point?”

“I became a man at eight years old. Not because I wanted to, but because I had to.”

“Ok…”

“I tried for so long. I fought as much as possible, but the thing is—“

“What are you saying?”

“I’m sick.”

“Why’d you drag me out here if you’re sick? Let's get you home.”

“It doesn't matter. Bed rest ain’t gonna fix what I got.”

A gust of wind rolled through the glen. Leaves chattered and crunched across the ground.

Avery watched his brother think. His eyes squinted as he aligned the pieces.

“It’s your blood.”

Avery nodded.

“Just like—“

“Yep.”

Carl stiffened. “I can help. I can—“

“Listen hombre. It skipped you. It’s my burden.”

Carl rubbed an eye with his thumb. He winced and watched it bleed anew. He forgot the tears and stared at the blood as it ran down his thumb.

“So my blood works and yours doesn't?”

“Something like that.”

“So what are you saying?”

Avery crumbled the empty bag of jerky. “I’m saying we should’ve stayed near the river. How should we get back?”

“We follow the ridge line south. We missed the rain so it won’t be slick.”

Avery sighed and watched his brother work. Carl stamped the remains of the fire out and kicked dirt over the embers. He collected the rucksacks and tossed the empty jerky bag in his own.

“We’ll be home by noon. Let’s go,” Carl said.

Avery nodded in approval.

September 09, 2022 16:58

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2 comments

Anthony D'amico
17:30 Sep 12, 2022

Nice story, having 3 older brothers I can sympathize with Carl. One thing you might consider is using a few dialogue tags, especially at the start of the story. I found myself back tracking a couple of times to confirm who said what. Just a suggestion, otherwise, nicely done.

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Ian Matonti
18:11 Sep 12, 2022

Thanks for the feedback Anthony!

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