“No,” Frank said. It was so preposterous he nearly laughed.

“Do you think it’s funny to destroy someone?” René asked.

“No. I don’t.”

René was wringing her hands. She hadn’t slept in a week. “Before he left I gave him a rabbit’s foot for luck. It’s what killed him.”

“Rabbits don’t kill people, René. War does.”

“I gave him a black rabbit’s foot. I think it brought him bad luck.”

“It didn’t,” Frank said evenly. “I don’t know much, but I know that for certain.”

René’s mother was at the screen door, watching. For a while they just stood there, until René’s mother went back to the stove.

“I hear you’re not the same man anymore,” René said then.

“That’s what they say,” Frank replied.

“Well, that’s too bad,” René remarked before she went back into the house.


THE FARM FELL into disarray that summer. It came apart just as quickly as it had begun one stoned night in a bar near Penn Station when Simone mentioned she’d come into some money due to the death of her grandfather. The first sign of bad luck was when Pete stumbled into a thicket of poison ivy and had to be admitted to the Blackwell Hospital. It was such a bad case, the doctors thought he might go blind. After Pete’s parents drove from Manhattan to claim him, the Farm began to falter. Romance was the cause, or maybe it was only thoughtless desire. Rattler started sleeping with Rose as well as with Jenna and all hell broke lose. People stopped talking to each other, and then there was a week of rain, which put everyone on edge. They sloshed around in the mud, grumbling, the sexual tension turning to despair. One night there was screaming and fighting, all of which Frank ignored as he cooked lentil stew over the fire. He hated scenes and shows of emotion. He heard car doors slamming and wheels spinning in the dirt. When he went to investigate, the only person left behind was Simone, who was sitting cross-legged on a blanket, crying. He drove her to the bus stop in Blackwell the next morning and waited with her on the bench until the bus pulled in. They held hands because they’d been through something together, not that either one imagined they’d ever see each other again. When Simone got on the bus, Frank realized that he didn’t know her last name. He’d never bothered to ask.

PEOPLE THOUGHT HE would move back into his parents’ house then, or rent a place for himself. He’d get a job, be the person he’d once been. But he continued to stay away. A couple of his old friends drove up to the Farm late in July. They figured they’d ambush Frank and give him a good talking-to; they’d set him straight. There were coyote pups yelping somewhere close by, and the sky was bright with the last of the day’s light. The guys from town found a lot of trash strewn around, and the half-built log house, abandoned now, but no sign of Frank. His friends shouted his name, but nothing came back. Just an echo and the lulling sound of the Eel River, slower now that it was midsummer.

It was said Frank was sleeping in the caves, where there were known to be bears. Some kids in a Scout troop camping up there had seen him. They thought they spied a ghost, or maybe a bear, but it was only Frank, wearing jeans and an old leather jacket and the cowboy boots, cutting down firewood. Leo Mott went out searching for his son soon after. He didn’t find him, but when he came back to his parked truck, there was a note stuck on the windshield, the message scrawled on a brown paper bag.

I’m fine, Dad, Frank had written. Don’t worry about me.

FRANK TOOK EVERYTHING worthwhile that had been left behind at the Farm. A tent, some pots and pans, blankets, matches. He had a rifle that Rattler had bought, but he had no idea how to use it. He was sleeping in the tent, spending his days converting one of the smaller caves into a house for the coming winter. He insulated the walls with ferns and grass, then covered the insulation with planks of wood. He had the saw and toolbox from the Farm and was fashioning a hole in the top of the cave. He planned to rig up an exhaust system for smoke to escape, which would allow him to keep a fire going all winter. He’d build a door, a bed, a table, some chairs. He was growing marijuana in a pasture between the highest cliffs, a place of great beauty where he spent his afternoons. He thought he lived the way most people dreamed. In slow motion, in the dark, alone.

One day he heard a truck straining to get up an old logging road that cut through the mountain. The road was nearly impassable and not many people knew about it. Frank was in a section of the woods where there was a litter of fox pups he liked to watch. The foxes had gotten used to him and mostly ignored him, but they too heard the truck and they scampered away. Frank climbed down to an overlook, rifle over his shoulder, careful to ensure that no rocks would roll down into the road. If you could even call it a road. It was more of a trail, seeded with ferns, and moss, and young birch. Down below there was a Jeep, stuck in the mud.

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