The threshold between dark and light rolled its steady pace across rows of soybeans and onto the front lawn. The line stalled on a set of eyelids, splitting Jacob into two worlds for only a moment. His upper eyelids rose with the incoming light.
The previous night, Jacob tore his house apart trying to find a mysterious constant beep. The delay in the pulse made it impossible to triangulate, so he opted to spend the night on the lawn lest his search expand beyond the drywall. Itchy, irate, and tired, he decided to delay the search even longer and walk downtown without going back into the house.
The transition from rural to urban in Shifton, Iowa can be covered on foot in about a beer and a half, which locally was a useful measure of both time and distance. Walking in the cool summer morning air woke him by the time he reached the car shop where he worked most days. He waved at his boss, who stood out front. He felt like he should stop and talk, but he just kept walking.
Two blocks later, he was at Jed and Danny’s apartment. The apartment, like most in that town, was located above a small shop. The business below them just happened to be Tic’s Liquor Fix, a twenty-four hour liquor store operated solely by Tic himself. Tic encouraged customers to wake him up for sales, and even seemed thrilled to sell Jacob his tallboys for late night treks home. With a TV and a custom pullout bed behind the counter, Tic hardly ever found a reason to leave his store.
Jacob waived at Tic through the storefront window as he made his way to the fire escape to Jed and Danny’s place. He let himself in through the window. Before Jacob even had his footing on the other side, Jed was already talking to him. “So are you going to the concert or what?”
“What are you talking about?”
Danny jumped in, “Jed’s boyfriend is coming into town. Wanna go watch him squeal in the crowd with all the girls?”
“Hey some of his songs are alright, when is it?”
“Check your texts.”
“Why don’t you just tell me?”
Jed sighed. He took out his phone to check the date and told him it was August 12th. “Did you not get my message?”
“I don’t have my phone,” Jacob responded, just then realizing that he left this morning without going back inside to shower, change, and collect his everyday things.
“Aw man that sucks, wanna take my car and go get it?” Danny offered.
“Nah I’ll just leave it for the day.”
“I could never leave my baby alone for a whole day,” Jed said while heavily petting his phone.
There was a general sense of inactivity in the brick walled room. Danny was standing and waiting for his toast to brown. Jed was absentmindedly stroking his phone and staring blankly at a soap opera. Jacob lingered by the window, trying to spot his usual fold-up chair. Nothing moved substantially for some time.
“Sleeping outside last night reminded me of Fort Sweet Tiffany.” Jacob finally spoke up.
From the couch, “I wonder if she’s still a mega babe, we should go find her.”
Buttering his toast, “You slept outside?”
“See I was wondering if the fort is still mega-awesome, and that we should go find it.”
“Why were you outside?”
Jed finally broke eye contact with the television, “There’s no way it is still going to be there. There were like fifteen years worth of kids running through that forest to find it and mess it up since we abandoned
“You never know, it was pretty deep in there. Come on, let’s go check it out. I bet I can still find it.”
“I’m watching this.”
“You’re kidding right?”
“I’ll go Jacob, just let me finish my breakfast and I’ll go grab a few bucks for Tic’s.”
“Oh there’s beer involved? I’m in.”
Jed winked at Danny, acknowledging his use of the famous Jed coax. As they got ready, there was a long argument between Jacob and the roommates but ultimately they decided to do it right. As it was back then, they decided on no cell phones to keep them disconnected, and a generous amount of malt liquor to restore the childlike sense of adventure.
They got to Tic’s to find the only employee re-organizing his cigarette stock and yelling out answers to a game show. “Morning Tic,” the three said in unison.
“Ronald Regan” Tic shouted back. “Morning boys, never see you in here this early, what’s the occasion?”
The T.V. said “Jimmy Carter”.
“We all have the day off for once so we are taking a hike through the woods.” Danny stopped to talk while Jed and Jacob walked to the back to gather the supplies.
“I’ve been hearin’ a lot of talk about those woods lately. People are havin’ trouble with traps and stuff.”
“Yep, they say that the traps are never even broken, but carefully dismantled and set aside. Sounds like the work of a younger version of you boys if you ask me.”
“Yeah probably, we were just talking about how we haven’t gone in there since those mischief days.”
The other two came back with arms full of large glass bottles. “How much for these?” Jacob asked as he placed them on the counter.
“Seventeen Seventy Six.” Tic shouted.
The T.V said, “Fourteen Ninety Two.”
“That’ll be 12.50 Jacob,” Tic responded.
They paid and headed out towards the sun hanging high in the East. Shifton was surrounded on the East and North by a gigantic contortion of coniferous and deciduous life. The West and South held farmlands that went on further than what could possibly be visually consumable. The grid layout of downtown Shifton made it easy to get to the forest. Follow any road east and you will run into the border road of Frontier Street. The wall around the outside of Frontier kept the wildlife off the road, but did little to stop the trio from entering the wild.
“I would have killed to get with her, even if I didn’t get her v-card in return.” Jed said as he landed on the other side of the wall, protecting his beer as he nearly slipped upon landing.
“You really would have cared if she was with another guy first? She could have been a humanoid praying mantis for all I would have cared at the time.” Danny said as thrust his pelvis forward and then pretended to slit his throat with his beer bottle.
“Well not really I guess. I mean it’s easy for you to say though. You already got someone else’s v-card. It still looks like I’m going to hell. There aren’t many virgins left who would be willing to get with this.” Jed slapped his slightly protruding belly.
“Oh here we go again.”
Jacob, confused, asked, “What the hell are you talking about Jed?”
“Why doesn’t anyone know this? You need a v-card to get into heaven, whether it’s yours or someone else’s, you need one to get in. It’s classic bible subtext. Of course, they could never talk about it outright, because that would promote rape and all that. But really, the whole ‘no sex until marriage’ thing is to make sure there is a one-to-one ratio of v-card transactions.”
“Jesus Jed,” Jacob said as he smacked his forehead.
“Yeah, I’m sure Jesus had one.”
The three continued their trek through the foliage, pointing out forgotten landmarks along the way. The terrain seemed to have grown with them. The hills were steeper, the canopy fuller, and bushes thicker. Almost fifteen minutes after they crossed the wall, they found the famous half-way point. The logs they set up as benches were decomposed, but they stopped to discuss it anyway.
“The old midpoint between civilization and the chaos that was Fort Sweet Tiffany,” Jacob said.
“Remember how often we had to wait here for Jed to convince his mom to let him come?”
Jed, in defense, said, “Looking back at it, she may have had a point.”
“Hey look, my arrow is still up!” Danny pointed at a tree.
“Oh yeah,” Jed recounted, “Didn’t you put that up when you thought Terry Waithe was following us here so you nailed an arrow facing the wrong way? I remember walking five minutes out of the way for a month just to try to get him off our trail.”
“The kid was weird. I didn’t want him to start hanging out at FST.”
“Have either of you seen him around town?” Danny asked. “I think I can account for nine-tenths of our graduating class, but he is one of the outliers.”
“You keep tabs on everyone?” Jed laughed. “That’s not creepy at all.”
Jacob stepped in, “I felt bad for the kid but he was literally impossible to talk to or look at. But past that, don’t you guys remember walking left at that tree? The arrow is pointing the correct way now isn’t it?”
The three exchanged glances and decided that is was in fact now pointing towards Fort Sweet Tiffany instead of away from it. Instinctively, they headed in the way of the arrow. The increasingly dense canopy let fewer rays of sun touch the ground, dimming all sense of time. Somehow, they managed to find the path that they formed in the ground after so many dry summer days. The trail seemed inexplicably kept up, with only the slightest vegetation popping up through the packed earth. Everyone in the group noticed this individually, but before they could vocalize it, they all heard an oddly human cough just off the trail. They stopped abruptly, which caused Danny to drop his beer after walking into Jed.
“Look!” Danny whispered with some authority, pointing at the ground.
They all looked down and saw a set of set of bare-footprints, which were strangely accompanied by a pair of handprints. They stood for a moment until Jed suggested that they go back, not wanting to face whatever prankster was leaving these marks.
“It’s probably just a bunch of kids. Remember the weird stuff we used to do out here?” Jacob said, persuading the others to keep going. They made a silent decision and started down the path again.
Just a few yards down the path, they heard the noise again. This time, hesitantly, they went off the trail towards the noise. It didn’t take long for Jed to lock eyes with it. Brown matted fur, big black eyes, and stark-white foot-and-a-half long tusks stood collectively as the largest boar Jed had ever seen. His arm shot backwards, making a silent motion for the other two to back up. They boar stood still as they made their way back to their path.
Back on the path, they stood in a parabola staring down the direction they came.
“What was it Jed?” Danny whispered.
“Huge furry pig with tusks, it was looking right at me.”
They stood in silence, looking and listening for movement. Time resumed when Jacob finally spoke up. “Those things are mean. We should just get out of here.” Again, the three silently agreed and then slowly turned around, breaking vigilant eye contact with the forest ahead. Behind them, they found the boar standing on the path looking right at them.
Jed turned to run but Jacob grabbed his arm, “Look at its feet!”
Where there should have been hooves, stood human hands in the front and human feet in the back. Jed whispered, “Did that thing kill someone and use their appendages as shoes? Why aren’t we running?”
The stare-down continued and the boar scanned the three faces. Jed and Jacob slowly stepped backwards but Danny didn’t seem to notice. Instead, he saw the boar reach its hand out, as if requesting a handshake. Danny, entranced by the creature, inched forward and extended his arm with great caution. Their hands met. The boars fingers gradually wrapped around Danny’s hand, gently at first but then pressure incessantly increased. Danny tried to pull away but the boar pulled back with enormous strength, causing Danny to lose his footing, falling gut-first into a tusk. The boar lifted him up parallel to the ground and ran off the trail with Danny dangling from a tusk.
Jacob and Jed sprinted after, following the disruptions in the leaves. Danny, who was unable to detach himself from the tusk, could only keep a screaming trail for a few seconds. The gap widened until Jed and Jacob had to stop to catch their breath. They lost Danny and their sense of direction.
“That fucking thing gored Danny.” Jed was able to get out between gasps. “What the hell do we do? We can’t call for help.”
“Who would believe us if we tried?”
They stood there, listening for any movement. Jed, who was hunched over, stood up straight to look over Jacob when his jaw dropped. “What the…”
Jacob turned around and his jaw followed suit.
Before I continue, I should explain the fort they built as kids before they lost interest. The three of them, armed with small shovels and axes would spend weeks finding and felling trees to build the walls and roof. They dug holes, stood the larger branches up vertically, and then wedged the branches with leaves on them across the top. It was an impressive structure, considering their age. Danny, the premier architect, even engineered a hinging and locking door. But what stood before them at that moment was not what they left behind. In fact, the only thing that was the same was the plank with Fort Sweet Tiffany burned into it. Sometime (even unknown to me) between their youth and that moment, Fort Sweet Tiffany became a beautifully maintained cabin.
From that point, Jed and Jacob entered the cabin to find it to be empty besides a few crude pieces of furniture. They then reentered the forest to continue looking for Danny. The whole day passed and they never regained their sense of direction until they stumbled back onto Frontier Street. They stood there defeated, not knowing what to do next. No options seemed possible. They lost Danny and there was no reasonable explanation.
Much later, after time and nature blended into a solution of identity indifference, Danny would watch the other two wander the forest from a distance. Afraid of what they might do with the arms they brought, he hid in the tree branches with his hands and feet surely out of sight, covered by a furry tail.