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‘Ownless’
Holiday Blue Chapter 12.0: Temporary Matt
© 2022 James LaFond
APR/29/23
What a slog it had been from Rock Springs and to Evenston, Wyoming—a nightmare born of a favor. With a fifty pound rucksack gifted to him by a kind old cowboy in Red Lodge, Montana, Matt had often felt lucky to have this magic home on his back. After scraping by in Portland, getting his ass kicked there, scraping by in Seattle, and getting beat up by tweakers and then arrested there, and slipping onto that freight train before getting kicked off and wandering down to Red Lodge, Matt had finally struck it lucky—for a while.
This was an old prepper’s bug-out bag. The old cowboy that picked him up at the campsite where he had come to commit suicide, and had befriended Matt, had supplied the biggest loser that Matt had ever known—that person being Matt—with a full survival kit including hatchet, knife, machete, fire starting rods, tent, sleeping bag, poncho, dry socks—dry wool socks!—two canteens and water purification tablets. This gift had been given over a bottle of whiskey in which the old timer had tried to impart every trick of living out in the wild to his new protege—for the cowboy’s sons had become, one a junky, another a tweaker, and a third, both—and a pothead to boot.
The boots, the boots had even fit, like he might have been that cowboy’s real flesh and blood son. That cowboy’s name was Ed. Ed had sent Matt packing on the road down to Cody and Lovell, with advice not to hitchhike and not to dally, for Matt to get to the Uinta Basin by September last or end up freezing to death somewhere north of there. Matt even had $200 for food given by the old man, who made Matt promise to carry a letter from the old man explaining that Matt had been given his gear.
But the hike was hard, after a summer of hiking around Montana, being arrested twice for vagrancy and released at a county line with a boot in his ass…
So, when that cool, blond man, a young man, offered Matt a lift in his red pickup, Matt accepted. And, when the young man, named, Dee, only Dee, asked if in return for the ride south through half of Wyoming, if Matt would watch his camper for him while he was in Cheyenne, Matt said, “Yes, sure.”
Not an hour after Dee pulled off, a meth whore came knocking, wanting to blow Matt for meth.
“I don’t have any meth,” objected Matt, and she said, “Well, you’re Dee’s friend, aren’t you—liar, liar, pants on fire!” and stormed off, the brain of a five year-old, trapped in the soul of a 30 year-old in the body of a 40 year old, tweaking off into the noon sun.
Well, Matt was a loser, and stupid besides, but after that whore stormed off and got into that wrecked car with no tags and rattled off, and a black pickup rolled out of Rock Springs to where Matt’s camper sat under the big hideous bluffs, parked across the dusty street, and two Mexicans got out and started walking towards the camper—well, that’s when Matt bailed out the back window behind his ruck, and beat feet for the cottonwoods.
That had been a week ago, a week of walking. Then, just yesterday, as he passed the head of the Bear River where it wound out past the cattle pastures from those beautiful and ominous mountains, he had felt like a lost dog what found a home he never knew was his. He was tempted to find a cave and make a shelter and become a mountain man. But old Ed’s advice to not winter in the Rockies drove him forth and onward, the boots giving way, the tread getting slim, his feet beginning to bruise even through two pair of wool socks…
He was leg weary and foot sore as he kept hiking up and up into the mountains, heading south and then west along the one highway, tourists and such passing him, hipsters in sports cars passing him. Convinced that no one would pick him up, and too proud to hitchhike—and besides having made that promise to Ed not to hitchhike—Matt crossed the two-lane mountain Utah State Highway 150: ‘Utah, oh my. Ed said I could hike through the Uintas in three days, as young as I am. I don’t know.’
Matt looked to his left, at all the massive long mountain and the dry dead evergreens seeming the victims of some plague, and saw that cool looking stream. The canteens were empty. The meal eaten yesterday at Jodi’s Diner was gone and his slim stomach growled as it shrank inside to make way for the nothing coming its way.
‘Water, hell yeah.’
Matt walked down into a dirt park driveway towards the river, thirsty, so thirsty inside…
The ruck was against the tree, the knife on his hip, the machete and ax in his pack. After being attacked so many places in the Pacific Northwest, he dared not go unarmed. But, he did not want to bring down some park ranger or cop on him for open carrying a machete along the highway. Against a gun, a knife, hatchet, machete, were all just as worthless, and against a redneck or tweaker beating, just as effective. Matt’s every interaction with the world had been such a convergent calculation, a negotiation with civilization and its brutal criminal undercurrent, he treading somewhere hopelessly and doomed between…
He stood and looked off into the mountainside as the sun set behind him, behind the other mountains and thought, ‘I should camp here—but is it against the law? If it is, maybe they drop me off further along—oh shit, no—they’ll set me off across the state line back in Wyoming!’
On impulse he began to heft his ruck, his canteens filled, and looked for a place on the mountainside where there might be a cave, “I wouldn’t, son,” came a voice behind him.
Matt turned and saw a tall man with a charcoal painted face and a yellow vest over camo overalls, carrying a bow. The man seemed stern but not mean, a hunter. Matt opened his mouth and the man continued, “It’s bow season and you wear no yellow. Besides, with so many rich flat-landers using this land, the National Forest pricks will send you on your way since you have no permit for land use. It costs twenty dollars a day to be up here.”
Matt’s spirit sank and he finished hefting the ruck and started buckling the waist strap, “Thanks...I’ll get back to the road and walk. If they catch me on the road—”
“They won’t, son. I’ll drive you down to Kamas. Got to get back to the Mrs. My hunt’s over—goddamned tourists and hikers and fаggot campers have all but spooked the game. Tomorrow they’ll be coming in thick as fleas, hundreds of them. I never hunt on the weekend.”
“It’s Friday already, sir?”
“No, Thursday. Come on, we’re burning daylight, kid. My truck is up the road a click.”
Matt fell in with the tall, rangy hunter, who barely spared him a glance:
“Name’s Brock.”
“Matt.”
“Homeless?”
“More like ‘ownless.’ Since old Ed gave me this ruck, I feel like I have a home, like a turtle with shell on its back. But since all I have has been gived, I figure I own nothin’ just a renter on my feet.”
“Well, that’s alright, Kid. My taxes go up a week’s wages every year. If I live long enough, I’ll be homeless too—ain’t our country no more, belongs to the rich and the Government.”
Matt shrugged and his shoulders hurt.
“Your friend had an eye for a good rig. We get to town, you can camp in the yard under the quakies. If my wife approves, you can even shower tomorrow before we look to a new set of boots—they’re about done I see. You’ve been seriously hiking hard surfaces based on your gait and boot wear.”
They soon stood behind a black pickup truck that had been pulled off behind some short pine. The lower distant mountains to the west were glowing red before the sunken sun lost in the distance. Darkness seemed but a breath away.
“Hoist your gear in the back,” said Brock, a man that seemed fifty, perhaps and had a confidence Matt had never seen in his discouraging flirtations with the mirror of life. Matt hesitated, having lost a pack that way, when the person who had offered him a ride pulled off as soon as his belongings were in the bed of the truck.
Brock glanced at him with a kind of wince and said, “I’ll wait for you to get in, its unlocked.”
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