The International Writers Magazine:
Autumn in August
I’m fluttering like a streamer attached to a fan. A fan, however, is the last thing I need right now. I grab at the Ranger’s console and crank the heat on high. Hot air fills the Ford, but goose bumps keep popping through my skin.
I yank my baseball cap down as far as possible. I fold my arms. Checking my pickup’s mirrors to see if anyone picks up on my delirium, I realize the other cars at the intersection have their windows closed as well. The only difference is that they’re running their ACs. It is mid-August after all, and the temp is near ninety degrees.
Clenching the wheel to stabilize my shivering body, I squint at the red light dangling overhead. The moment it turns green I shove the gearshift into first and hit the gas like I’m trying to stomp the pedal through the floor. The rest of the ride home is a blur.
“It sounds like the ocean!”
||Snapping my eyes open to the present, I see Alyssa’s peepers transfixed by the swaying trees of the Murphy-Hanrehan Park Reserve. She, too, is enjoying the summer breeze blowing through Savage, Minnesota. The wind steadily rustles the branches, creating a hypnotic white noise that could very likely lull those within earshot (at least me anyway) into a daydream.
“Yup, sounds just like it,” I sigh in relief.
I am grateful to be back in the thicket instead of reliving my dreadful commute from a couple weeks before. I have nonetheless failed to completely shake all the shakes of that feverish Friday. In fact that bedridden weekend has weakened me; I still find myself easily winded a fortnight later. At least the lullaby of the refuge has made today’s decision, albeit a bullheaded one, to force myself outdoors worthwhile thus far.
But the woodland’s soothing gusts aren’t the only thing we take in. We’re hardly beyond the entrance when we discover that the leaves are beginning to turn, even though three weeks remain until the official start of autumn. Dead petals litter the beaten path while warm hues poke through the verdant backdrop. Alyssa, who loves the fall, is pleased by the season’s apparent head start.
“Autumn in August!” she exclaims. “There’s a title for you!”
“It’s actually September 1 today.”
“You know it looked like this yesterday though.”
“Nope, don’t think so,” I say with a smirk.
Alyssa smiles and naturally rolls her eyes. Holding hands we proceed into the park, wondering what other surprises the forest has in store for us.
||We notice the glow right away. Absorbing the bright rays of the late afternoon sun, the thick canopy luminesces above. The distinct color produced by some sections of the treetops reminds me of glow sticks. I also envision the tiny stars shining from the ceiling of my childhood bedroom at night. Slowly treading through the dense refuge, Alyssa and I catch sporadic glimpses of secluded ponds. We spot various mushrooms protruding from trailside trunks. And the trees lean in all directions—many of their branches curl like twist ties.
Moreover, the pathway proves to be interesting in and of itself. Not only does the route wind up and down steep hills, but it also leads us through flat stretches laden with acorns. The track even transforms into a weathered boardwalk lined with cattails, cutting through the middle of some low-lying marshes.
While I wheeze and whine my way through the woods, my girlfriend ambles at my slothful pace, constantly checking on me in case I need a breather.
“We probably should have stayed home. You need to rest.”
“Yeah I know. I’m just tired of being cooped up.”
“You’re so stubborn!”
About ninety minutes pass when we find ourselves back at the front. Studying a map posted near the parking lot, we learn we have only toured the tip of the iceberg, or rather the northern tip of the reserve. The grid shows umpteen more miles of unpaved tracks snaking southward.
Be that as it may, I can’t look at another tree. I am bushed.
“We’ll have to come back,” Alyssa quickly decides, noting my shortness in breath. “How ya doing?”
“Not too bad,” I respond before a series of coughs. “You’re driving home, right?”
I hand Alyssa the keys while we cross the dusty lot. She fires up her Hyundai, and I slouch in the passenger seat.
I turn the radio dial to the Minnesota Twins game. Oddly enough, listening to America’s favorite pastime reminds me of my childhood illnesses. In truth, for much of my youth, it was a given: I was going to get sick at some point during the first few months of the year. I don’t know if it was something seasonal or simply bad luck, but from elementary to high school, I spent dozens of days on the couch, shivering under layers of blankets in front of the TV, and hoping that I’d recover before baseball season started. Some springs I regained my health just in time, whereas I had to gasp my way through tryouts during others.
Struggling to watch the countryside whip by at 60 mph, I continue to think about my phlegm-filled days of yesteryear. I practically taste those ever-flowing glasses of OJ, repulsive puffs off inhalers, and bottomless bowls of chicken soup. I swear I can smell Vicks VapoRub as my eyelids become heavier and heavier.
The rest of the ride home is a blur.
© Tyrel Nelson Feb 2013
Book your US trip here
Flashbacks, Fear, and Flamingos
It’s the summer of 1987. We are on a family vacation in Wisconsin Dells. My little brother Jay, who is only six, is beside my parents’ boat, or Mercury Grand Marquis, bawling—his tears full of fear.