Red Tartan

Len Kuntz

We stare at the body thinking one of us should do something, but the more we look the more it seems the man resembles a maw of meat and cord word. Maybe it helps that his face is gone, ripped off or eaten by wild animals.

"Scarecrow," Gordy mumbles. He lifts his boot as if to kick the corpse's leg, then thinks better of it, staggering off balance for a second.

"We should go," I say.

"What we should do is take a photo first, you know, in case the cops need it or we can't find our way back here."

Flopped above the man's scalp is a red tartan hat made of wool with burrs stuck along the brim. My grandfather had a Pendleton shirt made of similar fabric—red with black window pane patterns. I've only seen it in pictures.

I study the cap the way I did the road ahead of me whenever we'd cross the long bridge over the bay all those years ago, us still city people then. My sister would call me a coward, say, "What do you think, that we're going to fall into the ocean?" Then, to goad me, she'd cry, "Earthquake!" and laugh if I closed my eyes.

Now I hear Gordy's cell phone clicking like beetles. "Jeesh, Gordy. Knock it off."

"This is unbelievable."


We walk back through the dense forest, our pace as fast as the thick branches and uneven earth allows. Gordy takes the lead as always. I don't know what he's thinking, but he is breathing hard, from exertion or excitement or both.

My father's father had been a mechanic. He hunted deer and pheasants and ate the meat, trying to school his son about simple provision, the ways of making a life with one's hands. Only once did I broach the subject, and even then Dad shrugged off my question, saying hunting wasn't his thing, that he couldn't kill anything so innocent.

Dad ran away, moved to the city, and became a surgeon, saving lives. My mother loved him and I did, too.

One summer things shifted—something about a mishap in an operating room. A ten year old boy bled out. After that, Dad only appeared for dinner, otherwise he holed up in his den, lights off, Coltrane warbling low with his voodoo horn.

"Come on," Gordy says. "It's getting dark."

Shadows slash the ground in every open setting, the quilts of pine needles no different than brittle syringes. Underfoot they sound like teeth being crushed.

"Okay," Gordy says, stopping. "What is it? What're you thinking?"

I never told Gordy what Dad did to that boy, or to himself in the closed garage with the car running. I have another father now, and as far as Gordy knows, that man's the only dad I've ever had.

I look up at the wide eye of the sinking sun, staring between breeze-tagged limbs. I pick up my pace and say, "I think we should hurry."

BIO: Len Kuntz is a writer from Washington State and an editor at the online literary magazine Metazen.  Len's story collection, "I'm Not Supposed To Be Here And Neither Are You", debuts from Aqueous Books next year. You can find him at lenkuntz.blogspot.com.