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Deliverance, James Dickey

Houghton Mifflin, 1970

Know your surroundings. When brutality like this lurks, ready to pounce at any old unimaginable instant, life hangs perilously in the balance. Survival kits are mandatory, and escape routes need to be well-rehearsed. But all the paranoia and all the planning in the world can offer nothing resembling reassurance. It didn’t for these two girls. It only took one gruesome instant to stumble upon the wrong place, wrong time. It’s terrifying to contemplate how quick it can happen, where no pregnant pause is offered, no blip of a momentary conflict of conscience, nary a single word. Bat (money) skull (drugs). Thud! That the resulting bloody lumps were, just giggles before, beautiful young woman living with real life dreams of futures and families and friends aplenty … all of it amounts to nothing in this forest, this jungle, this alley. The moment in fact offers absolutely nothing, least of all a helping hand. The imaginary boundaries and promises of tomorrow smear silently across a red-stained streak in the sidewalk. A cab driver reportedly pauses before driving on, too spooked to stop and help.

“You ain’t goin’ nowhere,” the man in front of me said, and leveled the shotgun straight into my chest. My heart quailed away from the blast tamped into both barrels, and I wondered what the barrel opening would look like at the exact instant they went off: if fire would come out of them, or if they would just be a gray blur or if they would change at all between the time you lived and died, blown in half.

A bat signal flashes on news and government sites as a nation looks on. It is strange really, how terror alert levels fluctuate akin to weather reports, as if we were talking about two storm fronts colliding in the night. One suggestion says to simply take it in with a deep breath. Panic is your worst enemy. Exhale a long slow wave of calm. And when you are ready, you can ponder things you thought of post-September: things you could do to help boost your chances in the face of, well, events unthinkable.

In nightmares, you try and run, but you are stuck in slow motion. Even if you could run, it wouldn’t matter. You had no idea where you are or how to map a path to safety.

I could hear the river running at my feet, and behind my head the woods were unimaginably dense and dark; there was nothing in them that knew me. There were creatures with one forepaw lifted, not wanting yet to put the other down on a dry leaf, for fear of the sound.

Some left hand in hand. All were cloaked in sheets of terror, but with enough courage to choose to own their own unfathomable end as they leapt out into the sky. Or maybe there was no choosing at all, just the gates of hell.

I swam a little way into the current, and would gladly have given up all human effort I was tired of human efforts of all kinds, especially my own and gone downstream either dead or alive, to wherever it would take me.

The city did not win. The nightmares would never win. If you are wondering, tonight I simply do not feel like going out. There is nothing more to it than that. The new Wild Wild West down Ashland and Damen and State Street had not won. My mood for a Saturday evening was simply somber as I read the news today, oh boy. Know too that I was also somehow very charged. As the sun was just now beginning to contemplate setting, I was sitting in the reflected glare of survival.