Brad trotted, arms loose at his side, Ranger-style, as his Dad had taught him, through a section of planted pines into the wildlife refuge property and soon found himself in the fern field. Dusty bounded ahead, seeking out smells left and right. Some low scrub, wild grasses, scorched palmetto, and millions of ferns spread out before him. Spotting the toppled cypress, he approached it. The hole in the ground left by the root ball was already sprouting growth, its shallow pool alive with water bugs lunching on mosquito larvae. He looked at the knife scrapings his dad had made and convinced himself that the soil over the artifact did not appear to be any different from the soil around it.
Dusty lapped at the small pool. Reaching for his canteen, Brad realized that he hadn’t put on his web belt. That meant no water, no knife, no camera. Though thirsty, he didn’t like the look of the puddle even though it didn’t bother Dusty
He remembered the little sinkhole beyond the titi thicket. That was decent water, he recalled, if a little tannic. Pushing through the web of branches in the thicket, he thought he might need to bring a machete out next time to cut a little trail through. The water in the hole was dark, even at midday.
He leaned over the same cypress root to get a drink and saw his own reflection in the smooth, dark mirror. Sitting back and leaning on a cypress, he relaxed. Dusty curled up beside him and rested his nose on his leg. Soon, as the low whirring of insects and the last heat of the afternoon began to dull his senses, he was nearly asleep.
“hell-o?” The thought was tentative. Was it a thought?
“What?” Brad sat up, peering through the underbrush all around.
“please not a-fraid.” The thoughts forming on their own came in single syllables.
“Who is that? Who’s there?” He stood up and twirled around looking for anyone who could sound so close.
“friend … glad you back … friend.”
“Where are you?” He could feel a cool sweat on his flushed forehead.
“here … with you … here long time.”
“Where are you? I’m leaving if you don’t show yourself.”
“not go … want talk … talked before, you leave.”
“not know week … be-fore i talk … you leave.”
“Why are you hiding? Why won’t you show yourself?”
“not hide … here can not see … can only feel.”
“How long have you been here? Where are you from?”
“here long time … far way … long time be-fore I talk others.”
The above excerpt is the beginning of a long and strange relationship that enforces Brad’s need for secrecy as he avoids federal pursuit.