Abandoned Settlement

By Christopher Brean Murray

Featured Art: Frontier Cabin by William Louis Sonntag, 1894

We came upon it at midday. We were in need
of a rest. Our rucksacks were heavy,
and the trail we’d navigated wove serpentine
through mountain crags. It laced figure-eights
though fields of stone before tracing the lips
of cliffs that hung over the gaping abyss.
Eagles cried and soared through the cloudless
expanse. A violet lizard stared at us
before vanishing. Vegetation was sparse:
only trailside scrub and grass-clumps.
Yet, at the settlement we found shaggy spruces.
Aspen leaves flickered in the breeze.
The odor of Douglas fir streaked the air.
We advanced into the enclave, offering
a polite greeting to our anticipated hosts.
No answer. I kicked open the door of a cabin—
it smelled of urine. On dusty floorboards lay
a collapsed soccer ball and some thumb-tacks.
Pinned above a soiled bunk, a picture of
a sable-skinned seductress spreading her sex.
She wore high purple boots and a white derby.
Mouse shit speckled the floor. Otherwise,
the cabin was empty. We walked a trail
that hugged a creek into which someone
had hurled a mini-fridge. Did we hear music?
Perhaps a cuckoo was protesting our invasion.
We arrived at a fire pit encircled by benches.
This, I imagined, was where the settlers met
to discuss the state of the tribe. Who were they?
On a bench I discovered a coin. One side
pictured an orb to which birds or angels
flocked. Below it stood a naked man
glimpsed from behind, his arms extended
to welcome the tides that washed his ankles.
The other side depicted a battle, but the grappling forces
resembled apes more than men. In the foreground,
one bit another’s brow. Above the scene,
a scroll billowed. The phrase etched there
was in a language I didn’t know. I put the coin
in my pocket and looked up: my companions
were gone. Their packs leaned against trees.
A water bottle rested on a stump. I called
their names. No answer. Removing my pack,
I smiled at their prank and stepped toward
the backside of a cabin. I leapt to startle them,
but they weren’t there. I approached the door,
found it locked, and felt the first pang of fear.
I retraced our path. Their packs were gone.
I wrestled mine to my back and followed the trail
up an incline and down into a fern-strewn bowl.
The air was cool. A deer paused to regard me
with apprehension. I found a weather-stained
trailer-home tucked in a shady nook.
Between a tree and the trailer spanned
a dewy web on which rested an ugly
brown spider larger than my thumb. I knocked,
careful not to disturb it. Hearing a voice,
I entered. It came from a talk station. A woman
spoke about her daughter who couldn’t sleep
after a road-rage incident. The host advised her
to read to her daughter from a book
the show’s listeners would know. I shut off the radio
and surveyed the trailer: an overstuffed chair
on my right. Before me, a table over which hung
a shelf clogged with novels. The narrow hallway
extended further than I’d thought possible.
My pack scraped the walls. Beyond the water closet
was a curtain. I imagined that on the other side
a large, tattoo-streaked man performed oral sex
on his teenage daughter. He wouldn’t be happy
to see me. Instead, I found a table on which rested
four video monitors. One showed the flow
of foot traffic on the street of a large city.
On the second: the spider weaving the web
outside. The third played a terrorist training video.
Men in hoods kicked open doors and maniacally
scanned rooms with their weapons. The fourth
played a loop of a car straying off a road,
shattering a guard rail, and hurtling blindly
through an empty lot before plunging off
a seaside cliff. Why a loop? I wondered. Then,
through the fogged windows of the careening sedan,
I glimpsed the horrified faces of my friends.

Christopher Brean Murray’s poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Colorado Review, Copper Nickel, Epoch, jubilat, Pleiades, Plume, and Quarterly West. He lives in Houston.

Originally appeared in NOR 20.

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