Native to North America
Sebastian died last week. I buried him in his hovel, read a poem written with dried berry juice on rotten oak leaf papyrus to his wife and kids. It had been three years since he took me under his wing. I still can’t believe that he’s gone.
I fled because I wanted to. And also out of fear. The bills had started coming immediately following my graduation. Red letters accompanied by big, big numbers. YOU OWE US MONEY! The job offers did not come quickly. Or at all. There was nothing to do besides disappear. I didn’t fake my death or cut up my credit cards. Just left everything as it was; dirty dishes sat in my sink and the washer waited to be turned off. Cycle complete.
I didn’t make it very far into the woods behind my apartment complex. I think maybe one or two miles. There were still lots of street lights visible, the stars weren’t very easy to see. When evening started to set in I built a crude shelter out of dead twigs because the living branches, those with protective leaves that could shield me from rain, were simply too strong to be torn off and my Swiss Army Knife couldn’t saw through them. The shelter fell apart almost immediately even though it wasn’t even windy. I slept in my sleeping bag while rain drizzled on my face and that night I dreamed of hunting deer with a handmade bow.
The next day I woke up and ate trail mix and a clementine for breakfast. I walked further through the woods; past the beer cans left by lingering homeless, used condoms, bags of trash discarded by seedy residents, and clubhouses constructed by local middle-schoolers (though I swiped some of their fireworks and playboy magazines). People say that if you’re blindfolded that you’ll walk in circles. But I think people will walk in circles no matter what, because I never really lost sight of power lines or the tip of the Orlando cityscape while I was hiking, and I wasn’t even blindfolded. Maybe that’s just something people say to keep dying conversations alive?
“Did you know that if you’re blindfolded you’ll walk in circles?”
“You don’t say!”
Since I was a kid I had always felt like I was being hunted by little league coaches and birthday parties. Those predators eventually transformed into loan sharks, grocery lists, and supervisors as I got older. I’m not much of an alpha male or a predator. Never was. A helicopter flew over head three hours into my hike on the second day and even though I knew it was just Channel 6 News I couldn’t help but imagine the craft stocked with old men in suits, wearing hunting gear. They were using binoculars to search through the pines for me. “We’ll get that fucker's loan money,” one of them hisses, “this is what you get for going to school, son!” I was petrified and energized, felt like a regular old explorer. The only real difference between myself and Louis & Clark is that I didn’t have a compass. And I had always thought that moss grew on the south side of trees. It doesn’t. Does it?
On the second night, I slept in my sleeping bag stuffed with thick blankets, listened to the radio play light jazz, and pretended that I was really doing it. You know, do-ing-it. “It” is the whole wilderness thing. The following morning I had another breakfast of trail mix and clementines. I had packed that, at least, and some beef jerky. Other various snacks. Gummies. Chicken broth. Rope. Lots of water. A children's fishing pole with Spiderman on it (that, admittedly, I jacked from my neighbor's back porch just as I was leaving). A rash started forming on my neck and I remembered that I was allergic to some kind of leaf, or flower, or needle. Something. Definitely allergic to something.
The first thing I learned about living outside is that worms are really elusive whenever there isn’t a sidewalk to make them slow and dumb and shriveled. I caught four after about an hour of digging around the mud with my bare hands. The second thing I learned was that fishing was equally as hard as it was boring. I mean, geez, there’s only so much to look at. The radio kept me company. It was a good friend, even though it talked over me constantly. I should mention here that I never liked using public restrooms and the woods are about as public as it gets. Life was hard but it wasn’t terrible. Not yet. Even with the mosquitoes, absurd amount of free time, and lack of social interaction, I still preferred it to the cement world of coupons and reality television.
Days passed. The food dwindled. I caught no fish with my Spiderman fishing pole. There were no rabbits in my traps. In fact, I hadn’t even seen many animals because I wasn’t really doing it, not that I could admit it to myself. I think it was the fifth day when I started to panic. The batteries in my radio died because they had been in there since I got it for Christmas last year and I kicked myself for not thinking to pack more. When I had to choose between the electric lamp light and radio, I chose the radio-- listened to crackling late night talk shows until I fell asleep in utter darkness. Night after night I ate assorted snacks and imagined real meals like spaghetti and blackened chicken over red beans and white rice. I was probably dreaming of Cuban sandwiches when a pair of tiny hands clutched at the half eaten cliff bar resting next to my face. I leapt up and a round shape, alarmed at my sudden revival, took a few steps back and clicked-- clk, clk, clk. He had a fantastic mask and sneaky little paws. When I offered him the rest of the cliff bar, he scuttled forward and snatched a little bit from my hand. After we got to know each other, he showed me back to his hovel beneath a withering tree. I dug a hole next to it and stuffed my sleeping bag in there. It was surprisingly warm. I named the raccoon Sebastian, and I couldn’t tell you why for the life of me. I never liked the name before, don’t even think I like it now. But I loved Sebastian. The raccoon, of course, not the name.
When I awoke the next morning I sat next to his hovel. Went back to sleep. Woke up again. Checked the hovel. Sebastian opened one eye and clicked passively, saying, man, it is too early for this. Finally, right around dusk, he came out and sniffed my backpack. I gave him a tiny piece of jerky and he seemed grateful; clk-clk-clk.
That evening, I followed Sebastian all the way back to my apartment complex. “Oh no way man,” I said, peering at the road from inside of a bush, “I can’t go back there; they’ll recognize me.” But Sebastian didn’t listen because he was a good teacher. No, a great teacher. The best. Raccoons don’t care if they get noticed. They just care that they’re fast enough to gather enough loot before they are. And Sebastian was the fastest I ever saw. Even though I couldn’t trap rabbits or catch fish, I still got to eat that night. Leftover pizza. Hardly expired cans of vegetables. This continued for weeks, with Sebastian teaching me how to forage the manscape for food. Sometimes car windows would be left down and we could get our paws on fruits and chocolate bars. “Clk-clk-clk-clk,” he would say as the sun rose, as we rubbed our full tummies with grubby, thieving paws. “Yeah brother, you already know,” I would say. Fist bump. Sebastian made sure I was never hungry. He saved my life.
Assimilation was easy; we share much more in common with raccoons than you might think. Sure I missed some humans but I tried not to think about it. I had a new family, new friends. We picked lice off each other and sometimes Sebastian slept in my hovel, curled up, paw pressed to my cheek. He was grateful for just my warmth (like a real friend is).
We were two thieves, brothers in arms, parasites living off the monsters we feared most. I only got recognized a few times during our food looting excursions. “Mark?” someone would ask, raising a flashlight to my torn clothes and muddied hair. Then Sebastian would hiss and I would hiss and they would say, “What in the wild fuck is wrong with you?” And we would scamper, oh how we would scamper! Ha, the bastards were never fast enough.
As I said before, it’s been a week since he died. His family moved deeper into the forest than I felt comfortable in. Sometimes, when the sun rises, I look out at my old apartment complex and wonder what life would have been like if I stayed. Would I have gotten that dream job eventually? Would I have met a woman to make my wife, procreate? Would it have satisfied me? But then I crawl into my hovel because a raccoon out in the day is likely to have rabies and I don’t need that rumor spreading through the forest. I go back to sleep and sometimes I dream of Chinese takeout and television.
Cavin Gonzalez is a twenty-one year old graduate from the University of Central Florida. He is the prose editor for SOFT CARTEL and book reviewer for Pidgeon Holes. Twitter: @CavinBryce