They’d been on the road for an hour. In another, they’d reach the cabin. They’d cracked the pint once they exited the interstate. Now they followed the river north, two against the current. The leaves gone. The road twisting. The water a gray vein beneath the stars.
Their gear rattled in the pickup’s bed. Boots and lanterns. A cooler for beer, another for food. Gas for the generator. Their rifles hung from the rack, and in the cab, the scent of gun oil. They’d first come to the cabin as teens. Twenty years had changed a lot, but not the cabin, not this ride. They passed through river towns. Churches on the squares, white steeples that had seen high water. On the town’s shadowed outskirts, smut shops and speakeasies. The river flowed past, as old as time itself.
The men passed the pint. Warmth in their bellies, a loosening of muscles. The driver, Kenny, recounted a story fifteen years gone: the two of them saucer-eyed with meth, a traffic stop on this very stretch. The cop with his raised flashlight, a blinding beam. “Every time you told a lie, you twitched,” Kenny said. “Like a rusty wind-up toy.”
“What the hell were we thinking?”
“You always twitch when you lie. You shuffle or tug your ear or blink. The speed just brought it to another level.”
“I know you like a brother.” A pause. “I think Amy’s cheating.” Amy, his wife. The mother of his sons.
Static on the radio. “You sure?”
“No.” They turned off the river road, the flatlands abandoned, an ascent into the hills. “Maybe.”
Generations-old spruce and maples blotted the stars. The road twisted and dipped. A pothole, and the liquor spilled over Kenny’s chin. The headlights carved a sliver into a darkness deeper than any back home. Orange eyes flashed in the brush.
The whiskey was gone by the time they reached the cabin. The last five miles on unpaved roads. Dust on the windshield. A jostling in their bones. Flashlight in hand, Kenny watched his friend crank the generator and turn on the water main. The generator hummed. Inside, the spigots ran brown, then clear. The men put away their food and beer.
Kenny proposed a contest. Forty yards on the makeshift range behind the cabin.The winner would take the next morning’s first shot. The target illuminated by the cabin’s floodlight and the truck’s high beams. An oasis in the dark.
Kenny set the bottle atop a stump near the range’s earthen wall. Beneath his feet, mud speckled with shattered glass. Deer tracks, fox. The men counted forty paces. Once they’d left the light, Kenny spoke. “You’d need to tell me if you knew anything.”
His friend adjusted the rifle slung over his shoulder. At the count of forty, they stopped. Kenny lifted his barrel and placed his sights on the bottle, the glass a heart of captured light. “I’ll go first,” he said.