Blue Morning Dark

by Brock Adams

There was a man in our town who was trying to commune with nature. He had walked out of his office one day and taken off his tie and his jacket and his shoes, and he walked out of the business district and past the lines of houses in the stucco neighborhoods and up to the top of a grassy hill on the outside of town, where he sat down in his Dockers and his undershirt and looked out to the west, out to the woods where the sun was still burning hot in the afternoon.

He sat there looking at the dark woods with his hands on his knees, day and night, and his friends brought him food and drink, and he got up from time to time and walked down the hill and into the woods, which is where he went to do his business, we supposed.

It wasn’t long before he was a town fixture. People besides his friends brought him food. They showed him off to visitors — there’s the mall, there’s the botanical gardens, there’s the man who’s trying to commune with nature. They’d try to talk to him at the top of the hill, ask him if he’d done it yet, if he’d communed with nature, and he’d say, “Still working on it.”

He went up there when I was young. My dad wouldn’t let me talk to him. “Don’t you go anywhere near that hippie,” he’d say. “He’s up to no good up there. It don’t do a person right to spend his days alone, up on a damn hill, relying on everyone else to feed him. No sir, you stay away from him.”

When I was twelve, my friends dared me to talk to the man on the hill. I wasn’t going to, but then they double-dog dared me, so I had to. I walked up the hill. This was still early in the day and the grass was wet with dew. The man was sitting cross-legged, looking out over the woods. His shirt was dirty. He’d torn the legs off of his Dockers so that they were like a pair of shorts. He reached into a basket that was sitting beside him and pulled out an apple and started eating it. There was a bird, a woodpecker, sitting on his shoulder, and it flew away when it saw me coming. I walked up to him and said hi.

He looked at me. “Hi,” he said.

Then I didn’t know what to say, so I said, “They dared me to come up here.”

“You better have something good to tell them when you get back, then.”

“Yeah.”

He drummed his fingers on his knee and looked out over the woods. “What do you think is out there?” he said.

“I don’t know. Trees. Animals.”

He kept looking. “Tell your friends that I smelled bad,” he said, and I left.

My friends didn’t believe that I’d talked to him. My dad found out, though, and he believed it, and he grounded me for two weeks.

The man stayed on the hill. I didn’t go out there again for six more years.

*****

On the morning that I was going to leave for college, I woke up before dawn because I could hear my parents yelling at each other.

“We’re not going out there,” my dad said.

“I’m seeing this,” my mom said, “I’ve been waiting fifteen years to see this. Don’t you try and stop me.” Then I heard her walking toward my room, and she opened the door and shook me even though I was already awake and she said, “He’s about to do it.”

“Do what?” I asked.

“Commune with nature.”

“How do you know?”

“I can see it,” she said. She went to the window and pulled open the curtains. “Out there in the sky.”

I got dressed and my mom and I went outside into the blue morning dark. We got into the car and were pulling out of the driveway when we saw my dad coming out of the house, pulling on his coat, so we stopped and let him in the back seat.

“If that damn hippie’s finally going to get off that hill,” he said, “that might be something worth seeing.”

We drove over to the edge of town where the hill was and pulled over on the side of the road. We had to park a long way away because most of the town was there already; the cars lined the road, bumper to bumper on either side. The crowd stood around the hill, looking up at the man, leaving a clearing around him like an old man’s bald spot. When we got close I could see that there were animals all around him: a bunch of birds and squirrels, three raccoons, a turtle, and a deer with a huge rack of antlers. The man had his hands on top of his head.

“Damn hip-” my dad said, but everyone turned around and glared at him, so he shut up, and we stood there, totally silent.

The sky to the east was orange and red, and the birds were starting to make noise as the sun came up. The night was still pooled heavy and blue in the woods, but the man was facing east now, his eyes closed. The wind was coming in, getting stronger. A woman held her hat down on top of her head. The wind blew harder. I could hear it coursing through the trees, shaking the leaves with a sound like white water. The birds were getting louder and the wind was getting louder and the sun was about to breach the horizon but over it all we could hear the man; he was singing. He was singing a song none of us had heard before at the top of his voice while the crowd and the animals stood watching him and the wind blew and blew.

Then the first sliver of sun broke over the trees and the crowd watched the man while the sun painted them with orange, and the man’s skin became tinged with gold, as if the light had hit him and liquefied and coated him like oil. The outline of his body seemed to wobble, and as the wind screamed across the top of the hill and into the crowd, the man began to come apart; bits of him, tiny particles like sand, began to break off and blow into the crowd. A woman beside me smiled and batted pieces of him — pale and white as flour — away from her eyelashes. The man stopped singing and the wind took him slowly and gracefully apart. When the wind started to die the man was nothing but a skeleton, and that came apart, too, and the last breath of the wind wafted the dust of his bones over the tops of our heads.

The animals stood there and looked at us for a minute, then they wandered off toward the woods. The sun was up now, an orange ball hovering just above the horizon. There was nothing left of the man but a pair of cutoff Dockers and a dirty undershirt.

The crowd started to break apart. My mom put her hand on my shoulder.

My dad looked at me and up at the top of the hill and back down at me again. “Hey,” he said, “You didn’t get any of him on you, did you?”

 


Brock Adams received his MFA from the University of Central Florida this year and will be moving to South Carolina in the fall to teach English at USC Upstate. His fiction has appeared in Eureka Literary Magazine, The Cypress Dome, and The Mangrove Review. His short story "Audacious" has received several honors, including second prize in Playboy's College Fiction Contest.