Hunting in the Dark (an excerpt)

by William Burleson

J.J. started the Chevy up, patched out in the gravel, but then moved slowly down the drive, into the absolute dark except for what the headlights found. We got on the county road next to the short bridge over the Black River, drove no more than thirty or forty yards in the other direction, and turned left onto a road that I'd never noticed before since it wasn't really a road, just a once-graded flat strip now overgrown with foxtail and thistle.

"This is an old logging road." J.J. said. We drove along the so-called road—no more than two tire ruts—first along the edge of an alfalfa field and then into the forest of scrubby jack pine, birch, and the occasional balsam. He drove slowly, carefully, maybe five miles an hour, trees brushing the sides of the car. Eerie, spooky even, silent except for the frogs and crickets and the low, throaty rumble of the 307 V-8 and glass-packs. We were still passing that number—until it was no more, saying nothing, arms out the window, touching branches as they slid along the side of the car, the air smelling of burnt sage and pine.

"Check it out," J.J. said. He turned on his emergency flashers and turned off the headlights. The woods lazily strobed around us.

"Whoa!" we yelled, except for Ken, who was Bogarting the joint, and J.J., who laughed.

"You like that? How about this." J.J. turned the flashers off and we were in the complete dark, even the stars obscured by the canopy above us. It felt scary and thrilling. I couldn't wait for him to stop, while I hoped he never would. After no more than three or four seconds, he turned the flashers back on.

"That was so cool, man," Lenny said.

"Freaky," Mikey said.

J.J. did it two more times, each time a little longer, before tiring of the thrill and risk. The flashers were sufficiently cool. J.J. talked his way along the route, "I think there's a turn soon...is this the road?...I'm pretty sure this should connect up to another logging road soon."

"What's on the radio?" Lenny asked.

Ken clicked it on to static. He dialed around, not finding anything at first but the most distant signal. The only strong station available was a polka station. We cranked up some of that Whoopee John shit and laughed.

Eventually the logging road ended at the county road about a mile north of where we started. J.J. restored the headlights and we drove back to the cabin. We got out of the car yelling and laughing, now much more animated than we were when we were doing it, proud of our big balls and happy that it was over. I went to the cooler and got another Old Milwaukee, my third for the night, and I was feeling it. J.J. threw some twigs and two new birch logs on the fire, which hadn't quite gone out yet. The white bark caught immediately, causing the fire to flair and light all of us.

We sat back around the fire, feeling giddy. Ken got another beer, too, his fifth or sixth. He looked completely sober. "Hey," Ken said, "Who wants to go out again?"

This excerpt is from William Burleson's forthcoming flash novel, Hunting in the Dark, which will be published by Bartleby Snopes Press in October 2014.

BIO: William E Burleson's writing spans several forms and genres. Burleson's short stories have appeared in literary journals such as the Prague Review and 34th Parallel, as well as two recent anthologies, Cosmic Vegetable and Rec*og*nize. His one-act play, Manfinders.com, won the 2002 Metropolitan State University play writing contest. And in between plays and fiction, Burleson published extensively in non-fiction as a regular contributor to the Lambda Book Report and juror for their annual book awards, as a columnist for Lavender Magazine, and as a contributor to the Minneapolis Star Tribune and the Journal of Bisexuality (Haworth Press, 2008). Burleson, however, is perhaps best known as the author of the book, Bi America, an exploration of the bisexual experience published by Haworth Press in 2005. Burleson works in communications and lives in the Longfellow neighborhood of Minneapolis with his wife, Mariann, and their dogs Rosie and Ollie. For more information about William E Burleson, visit www.williamburleson.com.