This story is by Maxwell Dyke and was part of our 2017 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the Summer Writing Contest stories here.
Amos pulled another unfiltered Camel cigarette from his pack with a worn, dirty hand and stuck it between two sun-cracked lips. He reached his hand up and brushed his matted dirty blonde hair out of his eyes. His forehead was drenched in sweat and a portion of his damp hair remained plastered on it like a stray piece of paper maché.
A bright red bic lighter emitted a jet of fire after a flick of his thumb. Amos stared at it, never able to get used to the ease with which fire is summoned. He touched it to the tip of his cigarette and inhaled, savoring the bite of the smoke filling his lungs. He closed his eyes, exhaled and leaned back in his chair, thinking of the whiskey neat in front of him and certainly nothing else.
“Nothin’ that makes you feel quite like that cracklin’ sound of puttin’ fire to a smoke, eh?” Amos cracked one eye to investigate this unwelcomed disturbance as it pulled up a chair to his table in the back of the bar.
“Cay help you?” he jabbed at the newcomer.
“No, no. Jus’ makin’ conversation is all.” The man paused giving Amos a chance to respond. Amos said nothing.
“ I reckon you’re not a man who likes to be disturbed,” he said matter-of-factly. “I’ll keep to myself, long as you don’t mind me sittin’ here. Don’t need the questions, the attention, of them folks at the bar.” Amos shrugged, uninterested.
After a few minutes his curiosity got the better of him, and like a dog introduced to a new smell, he began to investigate this new character. The man had a thick mane of grey hair underneath a well-worn cowboy hat. His salt and pepper handlebar mustache framed a leathery-tan face housing two blue eyes, and in them Amos saw the ends of the earth.
“What d’you mean questions,” he questioned.
“S’cuse me?” the old man replied.
“What d’you mean you don’t want no questions? You said you wan’ sit here so you don’t get no questions. Well, what are these questions you’re so keen on avoiding?” Amos sat up in his chair as he said this and looked the newcomer straight in the eyes.
The man smiled, sat back in his chair and signaled the bartender for two more.
“So you’re sayin’,” Amos paused to light his Camel unfiltered, “that it was only by the grace of God that you made it out.” He said skeptically.
“That’s right.” He said with a simple smile, the content smile of a man who’s put all of his faith in something and succeeded. A man with nothing to prove, but will never be swayed.
“Horse shit,” Amos stated. “Now look, I’m not sayin’ I wasn’t raised Christian and I’m not sayin I don’t understand you. But I am sayin that I’ve seen more than enough in my life to know that that’s a load of horse shit. There is no god. Ain’t no Christian God, aint no Jewish God, aint no Muslim god. Shit, there aint even no god damned Greek Gods floatin around up there lookin out for your, mine or nobody else’s ass.” He drained the rest of his whiskey and slammed the glass on the table like a judge with his gavel, ready for the man’s rebuttal.
But none came. The man continued to smile and signaled for two more whiskeys. “I think it’s your turn for the story now.”
Amos went quiet and sat back in his chair. He stared at his hands, interwoven in his lap, until the ash from his still burning but long forgotten cigarette fell and broke upon them like a soft asteroid. The drinks were brought, and Amos finished the cig with one deep pull, drained his whiskey and exhaled. He signaled the bartender for another, pulled out a Camel unfiltered cigarette, lit it and looked up straight at the man.
“How’d you hear about me?” he asked casually. The man said nothing. “You have heard of me, right? Of course you have, I can see it in your eyes. Well all right then, haven’t had someone come and ask my story for years now. And I guess you’ve paid your dues with your whiskey and history, so ill just go’n an’ start from the beginning.”
The thick night air was silent but for the orchestra of the forest. Sweat dribbled down the back of the men’s necks, dripping off their chin’s and stinging as the droplets rolled into their eye’s. Not a rustle was heard from them, all three lay motionless in the underbrush, waiting for the signal to break from their stint as a tree, a bush, a pile of moss. And as still as their bodies were was as fast as their minds moved, again and again running through their mission, how they ended up here and what might happen if they failed.
Amos felt a nudge to his shoulder, and he shifted his eyes to the left in time to see a shadow slide by. After a minute, another appeared and Amos was able to make out his uniform. It was them. They waited 30 minutes after the last shadow disappeared into the brush and followed the men back to their camp, silent stalkers in the night.
“I’ve done some terrible things in my life, but that night changed me. I’m no conspiracy theorist, just a man who’s seen the other side of the government, worked for ‘em, and I know what they’re capable of. Might be I’m the last one alive who knows the things I do.” Amos was looking into the bottom of his glass for answers. 15 years and all he’d found were more questions. “God forgive me,” he muttered to himself.
“ And so Amos,” the man said, grabbing his head and twisting with a sharp jerk,” it seems in the end, you do believe.”