Old Men

Tyler Barton

Just past the creek leaned a low wire fence we could step right over to trespass. Old Man Wire, a widower, owned those ten acres of fallow field, bramble, tic patch, pitch pine, hills dipping like long waves, a pond we’d search for frozen in winter. It felt never undangerous wading through those long dead grasses—he’d come up the hill from his farmhouse once, on a scream red tractor, and we’d fled, directionless, me way behind, stumbling home to tell the story better:

Old Man Wire stood up on his John Deer, beer in his left hand, shotgun in the other. For real,  dudes, I saw him level the barrel! I ducked down flat in the tallgrass and…  

Six years later, I stretched out in that same grass, now chopped short, writing poems for my senior focal. I watched surveyors in orange plant long sticks in the land, searching through bizarre binoculars for ways to wrestle value from this bunk terrain. I wrote righteous and sloppy about how the ground did not belong to them, how I hoped Old Man Wire would come rumbling through the trees on a steed, a-holler, crushing empties, taking aim. 

We were twelve when an emu stole through those woods, and we gave chase, and it chased back, and later I rumored how Wire shot it dead. He was the future. Out to get us. Ten acres of his land we once raced nude through, but he laid waiting around every corner. 

We hunted deep into nights just to hear chupacabra, the animal Erik told us made those freakish screams. Of course it was only the noise of feral strays mating. We didn’t know. And it wouldn’t have mattered if we did, mesmerized by the sound the night makes all alone. 

I’ve lost myself in those woods so many times, calling out to friends. I never learned to make a fire. Knew only how to keep a good joke going, to feed rumor fiction, to get us all coming back. My truest fear was that one day I’d sprint home before dad’s dinner got cold, and every one of my friends would be gone before I ever returned to the woods. Shot, snatched, lost, rapt with distance we could never imagine. But this time I think it’s actually happened—we’ve traipsed out onto Old Man’s frozen pond, just to hear it crack.

 
 
 

about the writer

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Tyler Barton is the author of the chapbook of flash fiction, The Quiet Part Loud (2019), which won the Turnbuckle Chapbook Contest from Split Lip Press. His stories are forthcoming in The Iowa Review, Wigleaf, Subtropics, and Paper Darts. He's the co-founder of Fear No Lit, the organization responsible for one-of-a-kind literary experiences like The Submerging Writer Fellowship and Page Match. Find him at @goftyler or tsbarton.com.

 
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