The Box Canyon Serial – Episode 4 below, after December’s Touch
by Himanshu Goel
“There is no greater pain in the world but to watch your beloved die right in front of your eyes. Supported by the machines that couldn’t hold any longer as you helplessly watch the life sniff out from their eyes.” —Dr Ravindra, Kuil General Hospital.
Zoya remembers it as the most picturesque park beside the most beautiful river that she has ever seen. In reality though, it is anything but. The trees that seemed to tower into the sky aren’t as tall as she remembered. The leaves aren’t as beautiful and intricate, and the river in front is just a bog with garbage thrown from the nearby city. The garbage is scattered in all shapes and sizes, from broken computers to old underwear. She climbs up the unsteady rocks and rubble. Just as she had expected, the sepia picnic basket lay in the clearing. The clearing amongst the rocks and the tall grass is barely visible from outside. The grass envelopes the small sitting place as if nature itself has provided a curtain for privacy. It is amazing that the picnic basket is still there, not blown away by wind or taken away by some passing traveller.
* * *
Zoya was here with her partner Shreya a month ago.
It was a day of celebration; Shreya had just got a new job at Mahindra Tech. Not a fan of parties and fancy restaurants, the pair had decided to have a private picnic. They planned to have it in a park on the side of the Kuil 52 highway that Zoya remembered. When they got there though, Zoya felt a little adventurous and they ended up traversing the wilds and found themselves in a clearing. Zoya had called it divine intervention, a sign from higher powers. No matter if the world outside wasn’t always comfortable with a relationship like theirs, nature was on their side.
The sun was about to set and the tall grass filtered the sunlight with just the right amount. They sat cross legged and talked to each other, the picnic basket on the side. Zoya had cooked the Tofu sandwiches and cinnamon cupcakes herself. Shreya always felt so lucky to have her, even though her Tofu sandwiches weren’t the best thing in the world. If another person was there, they would have been able to feel the sparks emanating between those two, but then again if another person was there, the sparks might not have existed.
Zoya put the basket on her lap as Shreya ate the sandwiches and the cupcakes. She leaned against her partner as night struck, not wanting to leave. But time was against them. Shreya couldn’t complete half the sandwich from the picnic basket and Zoya said it was okay. The cupcakes she ate with utter joy, after every bite they kissed each other. The cupcakes ran out but the kisses went on through the night. They were so engrossed with themselves, they completely forgot about the basket with the half-eaten sandwich inside as they went back to Zoya’s Corolla. Shreya joked that she promised she would finish the sandwich if they come back here.
* * *
And here is Zoya, back in the same clearing, but—alone. Zoya slowly bends down and slowly touches the basket, her hand shaking and lingering on the jute handle.
Shreya had been affected by a condition the doctor’s called December’s touch. It is common amongst ex-addicts of substance, or at least that’s what they told Zoya. She had passed out right in front of Zoya a week ago. Zoya had seen her lover’s heartbeat die out on a hospital bed. With the questions, the funeral and everything else she didn’t even have time to grieve. She did not know how to grieve, she had never been so lost in her life. She surrounded herself with Shreya’s belongings. Longing to feel her essence again. She missed Shreya terribly, her voice, her words, the food she cooked—her touch. A week after Zoya’s death she cleared out her schedule and ended up here, the place nature had sculpted for them.
Slowly she clutches the jute handle and lifts the basket. She grabs the sandwich decayed beyond consumption. Green fungi and dirt spread over the bread, she doesn’t open it up because she knew the contents inside would have probably been worse. She had never really liked Shreya’s tofu sandwiches. What she would give to have Shreya cook a hundred of them right now. She brushed off the dirty sandwich as she put it slowly to her mouth. She held on to the sandwich as if it was Shreya herself. It had the essence of her, didn’t it? She cooked it for us, Zoya thought. Her knees dug in the ground as she ate the half sandwich. It tasted horrible, but it didn’t bother Zoya. The decayed tofu fought back as she chewed, but she forced it down her throat.
It brought her back to the that night when she was leaning against her lover and eating the same sandwich. She pushes the ground with her hands as tears trickled down her cheeks. Her hands opened up and dug in the ground as if she could pry Shreya’s essence from the ground—but it wasn’t there. She dug until her hands grow tired and red and she couldn’t go on any longer.
She had finished the sandwich though, just like she had promised Shreya that night.
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Himanshu Goel is a 20 year old engineering student in Punjab University, India. He is featured in 101words.org, Flash fiction magazine, a long story short and beam me up podcast and forthcoming in Polychrome Ink, The Singularity and The transnational. When not writing he likes to play football.
The Box Canyon
A Serial in Seven Parts
The rest of the day was spent scouting the area. He found several trails out of the box canyon, steep but usable—if just barely—and walked around the rim. The rim was high enough that the junipers were just starting to grow. Later on, he spent time in the side canyon also, finding two steep trails leading out to the higher ground that overlooked the arroyo and the mesquite grove. He also spent some time down at the arroyo’s mesquite grove, checking for tracks and just listening.
As evening approached he settled down on his bedroll. Supper was jerky and the last of the hard tack from the line shack, washed down with cold and sweet spring water. He lay and watched as the stars appeared. Chester, you picked yourself a nice spot.
With the night came the night sounds. Two great horned owls called to each other and there were poorwills in the mesquites. Farther away he could hear the occasional coyote. He drifted off with the moon just beginning to cast its light on the canyon wall.
* * *
The next morning he again walked to the arroyo to check for tracks and sat a long while under the mesquites. Wearing moccasins was helping his feet recover, and they also left less noticeable tracks. The strain of three days trying to avoid his pursuers was easing and he felt fairly rested.
Taking one of the trails up out of the side canyon, he found a comfortable spot under a juniper where he could look down into the arroyo and the mesquite bosque. The junipers, plentiful higher up were just starting to grow at this level. As he sat, clouds began to gather. Rain’s a comin’. He headed back toward the box canyon, staying on the higher ground, descending to the canyon floor on a javelina trail back behind the cabin. By the time he got to his bedroll he could smell rain on the wind. Gathering saddle and bedroll, he made his way to the cabin, which he had been avoiding.
By the time he had reached the door, the wind had begun to blow hard and he felt the first drops. Within a heartbeat it was pouring. He shut the door and the shutter on the windward side. The lee window let in some light though the day had suddenly turned dark. Stashing his gear in the corner he found the lantern and with its light looked around the cabin.
Over the door was a rack with a long barrelled rolling block rifle and at least ten boxes of shells. Setting the lantern on the table, he took down the rifle. It was a 50-70 Remington. The shell boxes read .50-70 Government, .45 Colt and 44WCF. Also on the rack was an older Remington Army pistol like he had during the war, but this one was converted to use the 44-40 cartridges. Checking the Colt hanging by the bed, it turned out to be a .45. His Colt was a 44-40, the same as his rifle. Sam replaced the Colt in the holster.
The leather covered trunk in the corner held clothes. Next he looked at the shelves at the rear of the cabin. In the tins were salt, sugar, and flour. There was a large clay pot with a lid under the shelves. Inside was shelled corn, almost a bushel’s worth. Hanging from the ceiling, out of reach of mice, was some jerky and also some dried plants Sam didn’t recognize.
On the raised hearth of the fireplace was an iron pot and a Dutch Oven with a baking pan inside. A flat griddle hung from an iron peg in the stonework. There was a thick iron rod with a rounded end in the pot. Sam finally decided that this was used to grind the shelled corn into meal using the iron pot. Now the pot just contained some mouse droppings.
Going back to the shelves, he looked at the dozen or so books. The two on the ends had been chewed by mice a bit, but only the covers. There was a book of Shakespeare plays but the rest of them were by people he didn’t recognize. Sam’s education had been very spotty, but he had read a lot in the evenings as he worked on ranches.
Sam looked around the cabin. All in all it was a comfortable, well set up cabin. Removing Chester and his blanket, and leaving the door and the shutters open had dispelled the lingering smell of death.
The initial burst of rain had passed and there was now just a light sprinkle. Sam walked around back of the cabin to the shed. In the corner were the shovel and pick, and also a long bar. Hanging on the walls were a hatchet and axe, along with miscellaneous small tools. Hanging from a rafter was a saddle and blanket. On the back of the shed was a lean-to roof, providing shelter for a horse, Chester’s missing horse.
By now the sky had cleared and the afternoon sun blazed hot. Sam returning to the cabin, he took down the 44-40 Remington Army revolver and the box of 44WCF shells and added them to his saddle bags in the corner.
Going out the door he saw a horse with a drooping head by the gate.
To be continued