May. 23rd, 2014

Carlyle was barely alive when we found him, stumbling up the path to the barn, face covered in earth, and his clothes speared by a hundred pine needles. He'd spent two weeks lost and wandering around the national forest that bordered our spread. The sheriff got the National Guard to do a couple of flyovers, but one person in two million acres of scrub and trees is just a dandelion seed on the wind. Ma was inconsolable, and my uncle Derrick could only stare out from the porch with his binoculars. He reminded her every so often that Carl was a tough kid, and that he could take care of himself. Out of earshot, he reminded me several times my brother'd probably been eaten by wolves.

At the end of the day before he found his way out, Carlyle said he rested on a giant cypress trunk by the side of a dry river bed, and closed his eyes figuring he'd be dead soon. He said he felt himself drifting off, the sun warm, and his body floating up to heaven like Reverend Ellis said so. Then he heard a voice like an angel singing, and turned to see an enormous black woman in a blue and white Baptist gown. He said she sang a gospel hymn; her voice was so clear and perfect he started to cry. When he did, she opened her arms and he went to her. She took him and placed the side of his face to her breast, which was warm and ample he said, and he fell asleep right away.

When he woke up again it was the next morning. He was still holding the woman, but she felt cold, sharp, and skinnier. He didn't understand why until he opened his eyes: he was hugging a prickly pear cactus. It was the first food he'd seen in ten days, aside from a few blueberries and an afternoon wasted throwing rocks at jack rabbits. The cactus was flush with six or seven fruits. He ate all of them, ravenous, and the juice stains were still splashed across his face and shirt as he told us the story. After his belly was full, he felt so good he walked straight towards the late day sun. In three or four hours, he came out along route 238, just short of five miles from the road back up to our place. He hitched a ride in the back of a hay truck, and stared up at the clouds going past.

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