Zac stood in the stream that flowed through the woods at the edge of town, looking up at the dark blue sky of oncoming evening. The water was tepid, warmed by the summer heat, made warmer by the clouds of mud that drifted in and darkened the stream's rapid current.  Eyes heavenward where nothing moved, absent of the flocks of birds that had been in abundance earlier that day, Zac was looking for something, a sign, an answer.  Zac turned his gaze from the empty sky to Largo who stood a few feet away, four feet away at the most, also in the tepid water, reaching toward him, his large meaty fingers grasping toward him.

“I'll get you, you son of a bitch,” Largo growled.

Zac shifted, turned his look away from Largo, turned his look to the grassy bank a few feet away. Zac's slight movement shifted the current flowing around him. The bank was out of reach, but yet so close.  The bank was a soft mattress of grass, and just beyond the grass, more woods. He knew those woods, had known them since he was a young boy who explored them without fear, without the fear of dying at the hands of Largo. To those wood he had retreated, lived among them, alone, hiding out in them, protected by the knowledge of them, how to survive in them. He thought he knew the stream also, but that had been an error, thinking he knew it without hesitation or caution.

     Largo's growl, the growl of anger and rage at being betrayed, the sound of gnashing and grinding teeth, and a splash from Largo's hand hitting the water, turned Zac's attention away from the woods, back to Largo. Before this, before being in the stream, Zac had not known Largo well. But there they were, companions in the muddy water. The two were locked together in the stream: one pursued, the other in pursuit.  Largo's gray prison shirt was missing buttons and the mud had turned the prison shirt to rusty beige.

     Largo was about the same age as Zac. Zac had summed him up the first time he saw him in the prison yard; Largo's body size, probable age, the tattoo of some kind of dragon on his forearm, thinking they were similar in many ways, except for the tattoo. That Largo was now pursuing him made sense to Zac. It was the way things were, an endless succession of things that shouldn't make sense, but were facts nevertheless.

     “How could I have been so stupid?” Zac said aloud, almost startled by the sound of his own voice. He smacked at the surface of the water. He had known this stream, how to navigate the murky water, where to avoid the muddy bottom of this stream for as long as he had also known the woods. He had known its banks, its deepest parts and the shallowest parts, where to catch trout or crayfish, where it was so clear that you could see the small pebbles and sand at its bottom. He had known where you could get stuck in the sucking mud at its bottom if you weren't careful. He had not been careful and now he was stuck.

     Zac shifted, twisted at the waist, reaching around to pull his arm through the strap of his backpack, and pulled the backpack, an item stolen from a department store, around to his chest, holding it against his chest.  The reaching for the backpack, stirred the currents around him, stirring up silt and mud from where his feet, his legs up to his knees, were stuck in the glue-like mud. He opened the top of the backpack and reached in, reaching under a t-shirt and under a pair of prison boots, and took out a piece of dried squirrel meat and stuck it in his mouth and bit into it. This was the meal for the day. It had been late morning when he first stepped into the water and now from the looks of the sky, early evening was closing in. He had gone into the water soon followed by the pursuing Largo; Largo who unlike Zac had not gotten exhausted no matter how much he tried to extricate himself from the muddy trap.

Zac chewed on the squirrel meat watching Largo who had moved nearer.  Zac momentarily gagged on the squirrel meat dropping his backpack in the water, the current catching it, taking it too quickly for Zac to catch it from his stuck position. Zac cursed aloud as he watched the backpack with his boots and t-shirt and food float away. Although angry at his own clumsiness, he was simultaneously glad that what other few possessions and necessities for survival he owned had been left in the stick and leaves lean-to he had built in the woods. He had left the lean-to early that morning, planning a short trip to the edge of town to scrounge for items he needed, and all he found was Largo who had finally caught up to him.

     Largo had inched closer. He was strong enough to pull his way through the thick mud that encased his feet in the stream bed, with one intention, to wring Zac's neck. Largo's eyes glared. And now he was closer to Zac, his dirty hands, broken fingernails, reaching toward Zac, grasping the air, grasping for Zac, not yet within touching distance, but nearer.

     Zac reached down into the mud-brown water, and again as he had tried earlier, wrapped his hands around the knee of his left leg and pulled upward, trying to extricate his foot from the muck that held him prisoner. Like before, he could not pull his foot up. He then tried the same thing with his right knee, and as before, was unable to move his right foot.

He looked into Largo's soulless crystal blue eyes. “Can't we talk about this?” Zac said. “I shouldn't have turned you into the guards. But we both broke out. We're free now.”

Largo growled like an animal. He was getting closer, and Zac tried to run through his options, ways to escape what was happening, and found none. Again, he looked to the sky, a sky now at twilight, hoping for a miracle, a contrail, anything as some sign of hope. Then the splash of Largo's body falling into the water brought Zac back to the reality of the moment. His nemesis, the revenge-starved creature named Largo, had become freed from the floor of the stream. He was thrashing in the water, swinging his arms in the currents propelling himself toward Zac, driven only by the need to kill.

    More than any time that day, or any time at all for that matter, Zac imagined that this is how his life would cease. The woods had been there for him just as it had always been and dying in them, dying in the stream, had not occurred to him. He flung his body backward with all his remaining strength, flinging himself onto the grassy bank. Then Largo was on him. They became entangled in each other's flailing bodies. Zac punched at Largo's ugly face with tightly clenched fists then pushed hard, sending Largo back into the water. Zac turned over on his back, his heart pounding, and laid on the plush bed of grass and looked up at the twilight sky. He relaxed, and in that relaxation his clenched fists unfurled, then he felt Largo's hand around his ankle pulling him into the water. As they both went under the water, the pursued and the pursuer drowned in each other's grasp beneath the swirling muddy water.

Steve Carr

Steve Carr began his writing career as a military journalist and has had over sixty short stories published internationally in print and online magazines, literary journals and anthologies including Rhetoric Askew Anthology, Fictive Dream, The Wagon Magazine and Visitant Literary Journal. His plays have been produced in several states. He was a 2017 Pushcart Prize nominee. He lives in Richmond, Virginia and writes full time. He is on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100012966314127 and Twitter @carrsteven960.

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