The Box Canyon Serial appears below, after The Day I Die
The Day I Die
The locals were wrapped in parkas, hats, and gloves. Anna and I wore t-shirts, jeans, and cardigans slung across our arms. It was early afternoon. The olive skin and thick black hair of the other passengers told us that this was a common flight for the locals of Santorini, Greece. An airport employee received the ‘okay’ from the flight crew and motioned for everyone to leave the terminal and walk across the tarmac to the small airplane that would take us to Athens.
Anna and I were on the first leg of our three-week long trek across Europe. It was February, a time when most tourists would rather visit Paris than the Greek Isles, but after spending an entire semester studying abroad on the coast of Scotland Anna and I felt like we were in the tropics. From Athens we would fly to Rome, Italy, where we would then traverse the rest of Western Europe via the Eurail.
We boarded the flight and were surprised to find we weren’t sitting together. When planning the trip we made sure to book our tickets simultaneously and chose seats next to each other. Anna thought we were doing this because it’s nice to talk with a friend during a flight. I was doing it because I didn’t want to die alone.
A military brat, I was practically born on a plane. I spent my childhood living and traveling between various countries. Even when my family finally settled in the southeastern United States, my mother made sure I traveled often and took every opportunity I could to fly across the ocean. My fear of flying grew gradually, not peaking until I started college in Michigan and spent every Christmas flying home by myself. By my junior year I started to look at each plane flight as the day I was likely to die.
I hadn’t told Anna of my fears. Unlike the anxious fliers who grip the armrest, fiddle with crosses, or have a constant look of panic plastered to their face, I kept my nervousness to myself. I took pride in the fact that if someone were to look at me they would see a calm, confident flier. Inside, however, my blood pressure threatened to erupt like Mount Vesuvius.
We approached my row first. A large, balding man by the window was already reclining his seat for a nap. A plump woman with thick curly, black hair sat by the aisle. “Excuse me,” I said, “my friend and I were hoping to sit together. Would either of you mind switching seats with her?”
The bald man furrowed his brow. “No.” He leaned back in his seat and closed his eyes.
The woman explained that she was a regular commuter on the flight and preferred the aisle. Anna shrugged and continued to her assigned seat. “At least it’s a short flight,” she said.
I checked my ticket and found that the bald man was sitting in my seat. If I couldn’t sit next to my friend, I at least wanted to sit by the window so I could see death coming if we crashed. I tried to get his attention again, but he feigned sleep. Finally, I accepted my fate and crawled over the curly haired lady and into the middle seat.
It was windy outside and take off was shaky. I thought about looking back and catching Anna’s eye, but to do that was to give away my trepidation. We hit cruising altitude, but the plane continued to dip and rise vehemently. I kept my hands in my lap and stared out the window. I silently damned the bald man. The captain came over the intercom. He spoke in Greek first, then in English. He said there would be no drink service because it was unsafe for the flight attendants to move about the cabin. The plane dipped again and the curly haired woman grabbed my hand. She clamped her fingers around my knuckles until her skin was translucent. She whispered quick words to herself. That’s it, I thought, we’re going to die.
I thought of all the normal stuff you do when you believe death is imminent. I thought of my parents, my friends, my dog. I thought of Anna and her family, who would surely blame me for having proposed this whole excursion. I thought about traveling in general and whether or not, should the plane be going down as my seatmate and I expected, I should have gone on this trip at all. I was terrified of flying, convinced it spelled utter doom, and yet I flew multiple times a year. I wasn’t old enough to fly for business purposes yet so every time I stepped onto a plane it was voluntary. Each purchased plane ticket brought excitement for where that plane would take me, and the adventures I might have. Was flying worth this panic? Was traveling worth the extreme anxiety I felt before and after every trip?
After forty-five minutes the plane began its descent. The curly haired woman loosened her grip and eventually released my hand. I turned in my seat and searched for Anna. I finally spotted her on the opposite side of the plane, fast asleep and snuggled against her bunched up cardigan. I faced the front again and watched the port of Athens come into view. The plane was calm as we reached the runway. By the time the wheels touched the tarmac I felt giddy with relief to have survived yet another flight. The plane slowed to a reasonable speed. Again, I wondered if flying was worth the heart racing moments of fear I felt after each take off and before each touch down. As we taxied towards our gate I bent down to get a better look at what could be seen of Athens. Small, but still visible, the Parthenon stood on its acropolis overlooking the ancient, weathered city. Yeah, I thought, this is definitely worth it.
Georgia Knapp is a Creative Nonfiction Writing MFA candidate at Georgia College and State University. Before uprooting her life to move to the land of Flannery O’Connor, Georgia lived and worked in Chicago’s nonprofit theatre world. She is an avid traveler and storyteller, and hopes to make her living through those avenues some day. Her works can be found in The Huffington Post, The Purple Fig, and The Smoking Poet.
The Box Canyon
A Serial in Eight Parts
Sam woke suddenly, heart beating fast. He listened intently, but everything was quiet, except for the owls, still calling back and forth to each other. Must have been dreaming.
The sky was just beginning to brighten, and a waning moon shed a faint light. Across the box canyon he could see his horse grazing in knee high grass with a couple deer nearby. He shouldered his Winchester and started walking toward the arroyo. He could see his tracks from the night before along with tracks of deer. When he reached the stand of mesquite, he sat and listened for a long time while the day grew light. All he heard were bird calls and the faint gurgle of the water that ran placidly in the arroyo. After a while Sam heard grunting and a herd of javelina came to drink. They were calm and unperturbed, and eventually moved back up the slope.
After they left, Sam moved closer to the little stream, staying on the hard ground at the edge of the stand of mesquites. He checked the sand, but there were no sign of followers. Relieved, he started back up the side canyon, wiping out his tracks for the first hundred yards until the first bend. He hoped that he had thrown them off his trail so that he could stay and rest his horse. He needed to give his horse some rest in case he had to run again. If his horse went down, so did he.
When back at the box canyon, he caught and checked his horse over carefully, making sure that the last three days hard ride hadn’t caused an injury. He checked hooves and shoes, ran his hands up the pasterns and fetlocks. There were no hot spots and the horse seemed fine, though the ribs showed results of the hard riding. Couple days in the deep grass will do ya good, hoss.
His horse seen to, he felt secure enough to build a small fire. He picked small dry branches and made a small fire under a large mesquite, which would help dissipate the smoke some. Sam threw some grounds in a pan and made coffee, the first in three days. He drank the coffee and chewed on some jerky and hard tack while he took in his surroundings. The floor of the box canyon was mostly grassy and sloped gently uphill, but all around was a steep wall. There was a small swale running down the middle, probably made by run-off from hard rains. It was a pleasant, if lonely, place. Right now, the lonelier the better.
He decided that this would be a good place to hole up. A few days would give Glory’s ranchhands time to give up their pursuit. The ranch needed tending with round-up coming, and they couldn’t be gone too long. With all the game nearby he wouldn’t go hungry, and his horse would have plenty of good pasture.
He sighed. Put it off long enough, time to deal with the dead man. It would be a kind of payment for using the man’s canyon and pasture. He found a shovel and pick in the shed out back of the house and scouted out a nice place for a grave. Because of the condition of the body, he didn’t not have to dig very deep—a good thing because the ground was hard.
Entering the cabin, he left the door open and opened the shutters on the two small windows, creating a small draft. Moving to the bunk he examined the body. Clutched to its chest was a small tin box. A Colt revolver in a holster hung from a peg in the wall within easy reach, along with a coat and other clothes. Sam took a closer look at a leg that jutted at a bad angle, bone broken and sticking through the skin. The blanket showed dried blood stains. Poor bastard. Sam had no doubt of cause of the man’s death. Alone with no help and that leg, he would not have lasted long.
Opening the tin box he found some letters. Some were to a Chester. Others that were apparently written by Chester but not mailed yet. There was a bill of sale for a horse with a Double O brand made out to Chester Jefferson and several more papers that Sam did not bother to look at. He set the box aside and wrapped Chester in the blanket Come on Chester and carried him to the grave. He was surprisingly light. Sam laid him in the grave and filled it. He collected rocks for the top, to mark it more than anything else. Sam wasn’t much into religion so he had no words to say.
To be continued