The Packing House

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Chapter 15 | Fishing

I pass the welcome sign, only this side reads, Thanks for visiting, come back soon. It’s just as well: I don’t belong. Since it doesn’t matter if I’m on this side of the river or the other, I head right into the woods and put layers of trees between myself and the road. It’s time to get my head on straight and finish Amber’s letter.

Being back in the woods is where I belong. The sound of birds and animals fills the air. As I head in the direction of the river, I notice water flowing in the background. I can smell it in the air. It rejuvenates me.

Finding a shady spot on a fallen trunk, I plunk down and lean against the tree. I pull out the letters and a notebook then read Amber’s letter again and decide to tell her the truth. She hasn’t betrayed me; why should I do that to her?

Lost in thought, I begin to drift and imagine I’m sluicing down the river on a boat or raft. Then a flash of memory startles me… There was a lake—it was hot and muggy, like summertime—and we were fishing. There was a blue two-tone pickup truck, two shades of blue. I can’t see who I’m with, but I remember how I felt. I feel the same stomach churns and knots as I did when I headed back to the woods.

“C’mere, Joel!” echoes from somewhere—past or present?

I tried to take a worm, lance the side of its flesh with the hook, and shove it through so I could cast my line into the water, only—I couldn’t bring myself to do it. I chickened out. I looked at the worm and thought it didn’t deserve to die. Not like that.

It didn’t have any choice.

Instead, I watched the worm wriggle in my hands and then let it go in the grass at my feet.

I jolt. A chill shoots up my back, breaking me from my reverie. I can’t remember the last time I’d thought of that trip to the lake. I know I was young—five or six—but I remember bits of it like pictures emblazoned in my mind.

Something unsettling pulses around in my mind. I can’t put my finger on it, can’t make it come back clearly, or fill in the gaps from so long ago. Who brought us to the lake? I know I wasn’t alone, but I can’t remember who it was.

I turn back to the notebook. I need to finish one task. Since I can’t make sense of these bits of memory, I focus on my letter to Amber. It will be good to share all this with someone. Maybe I won’t go crazy if Amber knows. Plus, she might be able to help. More than anything, I want her to know the truth.

Dear Amber,

You’re right. I haven’t been good about keeping up with our letters. You’ve guessed it has something to do with my mother. Right again. One of her boyfriends tore up our townhouse after they had a fight a couple days ago. We moved into a trailer to get away from him, and I haven’t started at the new school yet. In fact, that’s why I’m writing you.

I found some papers that showed my mother is at it again—gambling. You know what happened the last time. You were there. I can’t go through all that again. And my nightmares are back. So I stuffed my backpack and took off. I’m all right. I wanted to tell you so you wouldn’t worry. I’ll be fine. In fact, I’m thinking of coming out your way. Would you like me to?

As soon as I have an address, I’ll let you know. I’m sorry I didn’t write a new story this time. I’ll work on that, too.


I close the notebook and tuck everything in my backpack. Hunger sweeps over me. I scrounge and find an apple. It’s better than nothing, so I eat it and then dig around until I hit gold: a pack of pop tarts I’d forgotten about. This takes the edge off, but I’m still hungry. Junk food never satisfies hunger. The only thing left is the last Terror, but I’m saving that for a real emergency. I have a little water to drink, instead.

I wish I knew what that other letter from Amber was about. Could I have dropped it somewhere? Damn it. I’ve been in and out of my backpack, through the woods, the gas station, and Sanderville. It could be anywhere or nowhere. Either place is just as far away from here as possible.

Fu-uck. Fuck it.

I have no idea what time it is, but I guess it’s before 8 a.m. I still need a distraction. Pulling out the book I started, I read about a boy named Jerry who stood up to this group of bullies, determined he wouldn’t sell their chocolates. I can relate, except I’m not as athletic. If I were crushed at try-outs, I’d stay down on the ground. You couldn’t pry me up with a crowbar.

“. . . Do I dare disturb the universe? . . .”

I don’t know if I have what it takes to stand up, to fight back. Overcome. I need a motivation beyond myself. What is it that this kid Jerry has that I don’t?

Thirst nudges me, so I refill from the river, drink most of it down, and refill again. Just as I tuck the bottle in my backpack, a bunch of birds squawk and chirp as they tear out from a clump of trees a few hundred yards downstream.

Then I hear it—Bang! A rifle or a gunshot for sure. Great, now I’m being descended upon by hunters. Or maybe a SWAT team. It’s my own dumb fault for not keeping an eye out for my mother. Guess I won’t spend the morning in this shady spot I found. I hitch my backpack up on my shoulders and hightail it out of there. I’m not looking to get any closer to gun or rifle shots than that. Another bang—much closer this time—and I scramble up the hill as fast as I can go.

[From the journal of Joel Scrivener. Included in a letter to Amber Walker.]


My words rise like a worm to the surface.

I devour earth, minerals, filaments of light,

pass these through a fiery, ribbed body.

Down in the stalks of gathered water

I posture hands, bent to the hardened womb,

and turn to eat the placenta now worn at my feet.

Perched atop dark pines, crows tear flesh.

Hell is not much farther than their feathery

darkness, gorged, clinging to a dead tree.

What will come next, but the distance

of rivers which worms move between;

flesh stirring flesh, spirit stirring spirit.

Through water, the glimpse of light passes

between the bowels.

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