by Justin Hunter
My body’s down there. Right beneath me. Six feet, give or take a few inches. But I’m here, above it. Suspended. I can see three hundred and sixty degrees around me, but I can’t get away. I was able to escape once, but now I’m not sure that will happen again.
There’s not much snow in the winter. Not here. But when it does come, the cold blackens my toes. The flakes slice at skin that’s not there. Morning frost clings to my lips, and icicles form along my nails. In the summer, my skin bubbles. It reddens, it bakes, it bursts. In the summer, I wish there were trees to hide the sun.
Through it all, I can’t move. I can’t go out and find out who I am. I can’t search for the person who caused this. I wish I could remember what happened to me, but all I remember is my body. The first time I was stuck.
The first time, I was there for months. I watched my skin fall away from muscle and bone. My body was half-covered by a tarp in the middle of the desert. I could see the world going on around me, but I wasn’t a part of it. The animals came. They gnawed. They ate. And I watched, unable to stop them. Unable to move.
Until he found me. The boy with the blonde, curly hair. The boy who didn’t want to see my body but didn’t leave me there. When he found me, I could move. I followed him when he told his parents. I followed his parents when they called the police. I followed the police when they came out to collect my body. I followed the detective when she tried to identify me. I followed the medical examiner when he loaded me into a cheap coffin. I followed the state employee who drove me out here.
And now I’m stuck again.
They stopped trying to find me. They still don’t know who I am. They gave up. They don’t know who did what to me. I’m just a body, buried in a state cemetery with a headstone that doesn’t even have a name.
Now I watch the seasons. I used to count the days, but there are too many of those. Four is a nice number. I count the seasons. I’ve seen each season three times from this spot.
There’s a mesquite tree that’s missing a branch now because of the last summer storm. Lightning hit it, snapped the branch, left the tree scorched. There’s a tall saguaro with arms that have begun to sag since I first got here. There’s the hole to a rattlesnake den not far from my grave. I wonder if the snake is down there with me.
Sometimes I make up names for myself. While I watch the sun slide across the sky, I think I might have a plain, common name. Other times, under the moon, I think I’m unique. No one would have my name but me.
I just want to know who I am. Then I’ll be free.
I watch the hawks high above me. They circle. They dive. They eat and they leave. Back to their homes. I watch them fly until I can’t see them anymore, and I imagine I’m with them. Away from this place.
Someone will figure out who I am. I don’t know exactly what happens when they do, but I know I’ll be free. Someone will start searching again. I’ll stop being forgotten. I’ll get my name. I’ll get my story. But for now, I’ll just count the seasons.
***Justin Hunter is currently working on his MFA at Arcadia University. He lives in Dallas with his wife and kids, and when he’s not writing, Justin is probably buried under a doggie pile of children and, well, dogs. His work has been published or is forthcoming in Corvus Review, Down in the Dirt Magazine, and Near to the Knuckle Magazine, among others.***