Y’all want something real. Y’all live in Austin, where autumn is one long festival weekend, and every thoroughfare is overhung with vinyl banners punched with holes so the wind can get to work, and y’all want out. Just for a weekend. Y’all want to leave behind the organic neighborhood Saturday markets and the middle-aged triathletes. Y’all want to see Texas, the way y’all always thought y’all would.
Y’all aren’t from Texas. Y’all are from LA, and Madison, and San Francisco via Madison, and Russia via San Francisco. Y’all moved to Austin for grad school, but also because it was Texas, and some part of y’all had always wanted that: cowboys, cowgirls, deserts. But Austin isn’t like that, and y’all realize, over margherita pizza and extra hoppy beers, that y’all could do something about it. Y’all could go west, to real cowboy country.
The way to Bandera isn’t easy. Y’all didn’t realize how long it would take (it looks so close on Google Maps). Y’all aren’t used to driving in a place that is neither a freeway nor a neighborhood. Y’all drive slow. There are hills that hide the setting sun and leave strips of night in their shadows. It’s pretty out here, where the green hills and mesquite open into horse ranch and broken homestead, half-gone log houses fallen into creeks. Y’all lose service. Y’all go in circles. Y’all laugh at the names of little hill country roads: Verde Creek, Prison Canyon Road, Dead Poacher Pass. It starts to rain, and by the time y’all find the cabin, y’all stick y’all’s car in the mud.
Y’all get drunk and talk about the drive, and the next morning y’all are hung over, but still make it out to Maple Leaf. The park isn’t crowded—y’all’re a long way from the city—and y’all manage to find a trail that’s out of the way, where y’all can smoke a joint and talk about the kind of thing y’all talk about: music, the idea of nature, the invention of landscape, and different kinds of high. The park must go on some miles, but in the low places y’all can still hear flat reports of rifle fire. Y’all have some vague notion that deer are hunted here, but none of y’all know exactly what that means. At a bend in the creek the water flattens into pond, and small fish flit nervous in the clear light. Y’all wonder how they got here: did they swim down the tiny rivulets as babies, or did someone put them here?
Y’all get a little lost in the park, but y’all still make it out before two or three, plenty of time to grab a bite. Only there almost isn’t any place where y’all can grab a bite. There are only one or two little dining rooms, Texas German places that stink of sausage grease, and y’all sure as hell aren’t getting anything vegetarian there. But y’all think y’all might have some food back at the house, and anyway y’all don’t want to take too long: y’all want to save the sunlight for y’all’s mushroom trip.
Of course y’all brought mushrooms. That’s the only thing y’all think about doingoutside the city, is eating hallucinogens and looking at trees—y’all don’t know how to look at them otherwise. So y’all pass out the mushrooms, and it’s a kind of game: first, y’all empty the baggie on the coffee table in the cabin; then, y’all take turns picking the pieces y’all want to eat, till y’all each have a little pile of dried fungus in front of you, grayish chunks and slivers marbled with blue veins. Y’all are so excited, y’all don’t eat anything else.
At first, y’all try to record what y’all say and do: y’all have iPhones and iPads and Androids with cameras and microphones, but half an hour in y’all are just laughing too hard to even remember. Y’all’s heads feel big. Y’all can’t decide whether to stay inside on the couches or outside on the porch. Y’all wander into the high grass, which ends up higher than y’all ever thought, high over y’all’s heads like a forest, and y’all take forever to reach the pond, and the sky is bright green and jagged.
Across the pond y’all see a buck. He is big and proud, and y’all have never seen anything like it. He disappears into the woods beyond, and before y’all know it, y’all are following him. At first he seems like a spirit guide, but then y’all lose him in the woods, and by then y’all have no idea where y’all are, and so it turns out he was the opposite of a spirit guide, he was a spirit decoy.
It’s getting cold fast. The red sun is melting through the branches, and the naked oaks are black lightning leaping from the hills. The grass is slick with cold sweat. Do y’all know where y’all are? Y’all think the cabin must be downhill, but it’s hard to say which way that is—the slope keeps yawing under y’all’s feet, and y’all can’t hear each other anymore, but y’all do hear the rifle.
It sounds like the whole hill cracking in half. Y’all are all shaking in different ways, and slipping through the mud and the roots, and y’all see the blood in the grass, and the blood is too bright. And y’all keep on asking, is this for real? And if y’all were a cabin, where would y’all be? And if y’all were a bullet, who would y’all find to bury y’all’s little metal head in?
Byron Landry was born and raised in Texas, and received his bachelor’s degree from the University of Texas at Austin. His fiction has appeared in Bat City Review, 3:AM Magazine, Spork, and elsewhere. He is an MFA candidate in fiction at Johns Hopkins University.