What Were You Hunting Last Night?
A Short Story by Nolan Wilson Goff
WHAT WERE YOU HUNTING LAST NIGHT?
The morning after.
“What were you hunting last night?” Banks stepped out of the steaming plumes of the shower and patted down his damp frame. “Banks, like a river,” he’d say, when people did a double take on his name. Abilene’s question puzzled him. What was he hunting last night?
“You look like a puppy dog when you sleep.”
“It’s like you’re chasing a rabbit.”
Tangled up and wearing only the thread count, Abilene inched over closer to Banks. But instead of drawing close to her, he stepped farther away. Away from the bed. Into the bathroom and closer to a familiar face looking back at him. What was he hunting?
For weeks, they had been cutting across the dusty map of the Southwest, trying to revive their travels from years prior, when their spiraling paths collided, intersecting for a few short days.
Every few years, it happened again. There would be a check in. A text. Check in. Whatever you want to call it. And again, they’d be on the road chasing down that feeling from all the years before. Once chased, the light would fade, only to be lit again. Bright and then dark. Sunlight and then a tunnel. The single moment and then the forever ahead.
“I always remember my dreams,” offers Abilene. “I know some people can’t.”
Her intentions are all too clear, so he follows her lead, “What about last night’s?”
“Didn’t have one. You did enough for the both of us, by the looks of it. Where’d you go last night?”
It didn’t answer his question.
“I didn’t want to say anything, but you got up and left. Wandered out the door. In your boxers. It was kinda funny.”
He had wandered out though. Out of the room and out into the cold desert. So cold, it was hard to imagine that just twelve hours later, the same desert would possess air so hot and thick you could bottle it up and carry it with you.
That’s how he felt though. Like hot air in a bottle.
Banks changes the subject.
“Did you look at the paper yet?” He swings the door open, and gets the answer himself.
Distracted, he fumbles for bed’s edge and sits back turned to Abilene, and hurriedly opens the paper.
“What are you looking for?” Abilene says.
With the shining day pouring through the door, Abilene can only make out her partner’s shape. His silhouette. His shadow.
“Information,” he dodges while thumbing through the pages.
“What sorts of information?”
“Where they tell the future.”
Banks grabs at his foot with his free hand, feeling for the callus on his big toe. Instead, he finds a series of cuts.
When his subconscious did in fact carry him from the room, it was his bare feet plodding against the parking lot asphalt, in a series of meandering non-specific laps.
Banks turns to Abilene, “What’s my sign?”
“Hmm.” His response is foreboding.
“It’s not good.”
He was doing that thing again. The thing where he draws away. Where the road ahead turns on him. Where the looming tunnel has him shaking in his boots. The thing where he says goodbye, all over again.
The night of.
Nothing is happening. Nothing ever happens. Not in this desert, and especially not on the CTV feed that the new owner was insistent I put in. What’s he think I am? Some sort of leck-trician? I thought I was the landlord? And the cook? And the cleaner? The leck-trician, my ass.
Can’t remember his name. Some guy from the other side of BFE. He’s never been here. He doesn’t know this town. I bet he keeps his doors locked tight. Deadbolt and all. I’ll leave my doors unlocked, no problem.
Here, people are just comin’ through. They stay for a night. We’ve got free HBO and those instant eggs in the morning. These folks just go on up ahead. Onto whatever’s coming towards them. Towards the tunnel.
This tv might as well be one of those new changing picture nick nacks. The one with the little screen. The better mousetrap. I could take photos of these hallways. Make my own slideshow. Send that out to him. He’d never know the difference. Then I could get some goddamn sleep. Maybe that’s what I’ll do. Send him some pictures so I can sleep.
Or, I can just sit here. Get through this shift. Then sleep. Fill out the security log with everything I see. All the nothing. Be a good boy. Do what I’m told. How ‘bout that?
SECURITY LOG. 8/13/17. 10:07 pm. Nothing.
SECURITY LOG. 8/14/17. 10:21 pm. Nada.
SECURITY LOG. 8/15/17. 10:48 pm. See above.
SECURITY LOG. 8/16/17. 11:07 pm. Not a peep.
SECURITY LOG. 8/17/17. 2:12am. Man from 209 stumping through the parking lot in his boxers and a bedsheet.
Awh, hell. Now I gotta deal with this shit. Come on, buddy. Back to bed, whaddaya say?
The big glowing, cratered ball is nowhere to be found covered in low hanging clouds, which spread the glow across the landscape. Tired paws plod ahead, stabbing into the desert’s dust. Breathing air deep into its lungs, the coyote lets out a series of yips that cut the darkness like a knife.
“Where have you gone off to?”
“Give me a howl back, so I know where to go.”
“I’ll come right to you, if only you’ll howl.”
“Let it out.”
“Come on now.”
“Give me a good howl back. Like old times.”
“Tell me which way to go.”
The edge of the flanking mesas run off down towards him in the arid valley. His lonely valley. He darts his head left and right, searching for a pack or another stray or any other indicator of life. Hell, even the unseen wind.
Cast from above, a shadow passes over and through him. And then, another and another. Other opportunistic hunters, but of the flying variety -- big black buzzards.
“I see you up there. What are you hunting?”
“Maybe you’ll lead me to something to eat? Will you share?”
“Yes, eat. Sustenance. Food. That’s what I need. Maybe a delicious rabbit?”
Company, at last.
“It’s good to not be alone.”
Like-minded company. The kind to share a meal with. The ones that look out for you, care for you, share a meal with you. The ones that keep you warm at night. The ones that hunt with you.
“You are friends, right?
“Have you seen my friends?”
“Can you show me where to go?”
“Wait a minute.”
“Why are you circling me?”
“What are you looking at?”
“Are you waiting for something?”
“Are you hunting me? Just waiting for me to keel over and call it quits?”
“I’m hunting too. One day, I’ll find--”
A familiar yip, a howl, bounces across the desert, stopping the coyote in its tracks, and sending the buzzards away into the night.
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