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••• The International Writers Magazine: Life and Nothing But ...

How the Hell Did This Turn Into a Period Story
• Cassidy Mull

Swampy Car Park

A bright morning under the Florida sun, my girlfriend and I awoke to a healthy helping of mosquitoes and started a light fire with palm fronds to fend off their munching. I clicked on Spotify to launch the morning with The Devil Makes Three and realized that nothing was saved for offline. We had just gotten a new phone the week before in Zephyrhills so anything important was forgotten, lost in the cloud somewhere.

We had been camping at a swampy little campsite in a cow pasture on the Kissimmee River for three nights. It was the fourth and final morning of our camping reservation here. I was using the map on my phone and a mostly wonderful website called to figure out our next destination. My girlfriend and I were sipping on a Jamaican blend of coffee, Blue Mountain, that we steeped in our French press.

Inevitably, the call of the wild struck our bowels and it was time to find a good spot for hole-digging. The soil at this site was gravelly and difficult to dig up. Granted it would have been much easier with a trowel. Instead, we searched around for a sharpish, longish rock or a hard, fat stick to dig a little hole. We wandered around to see if the ground was more forgiving in the surrounding pasture. Luck did not strike as far as earth is concerned, but we did happen upon a pickle bucket. A pickle bucket with the bottom cut out and an old toilet seat perched on top.
Despite, or perhaps in light of, the chipping porcelain and the rusty handle, we were inspired by the abandoned contraption and drug it along with us. The hole still had to be dug. We managed. And excited both by the history and the luxury, dropped our turds through the pickle bucket.

I located a nearby campsite along the same river. We decided to go to a park with a nice pavilion to make lunch and work on our drawings before setting up camp. After parking, we marched our food and art supplies to the picnic tables. Our new phone didn’t have a case yet. I’m sure you know how it goes. Trip, slip, whack on the concrete pad and a shattered screen to show for it. At least the phone still works. But the screen was in bad condition. This was the turning point-- the first omen. The moment when the day turns from fresh and hopeful to a dark shade of terra incognita.

Because our next campsite was just down the road, we decided to venture into Sebring to replenish our stock of grub before setting up camp. I wish I could remember what we purchased. I’m sure we had delectable ambitions. Linguini noodles in a cashew curry sauce with broccoli, mushrooms, and Napa cabbage; black bean burgers on everything bagels with greasy pub fries slathered with Sriracha. All I can recall for sure is that we bought a pint of blueberries. At the end of the day, this is all we had for dinner.

By the time we pulled up to the campsite the sun was setting. Often a free campsite reservation in Florida includes a gate code that you need in order to drive in to the site. We pulled into the parking lot and immediately noticed the height of the grass. Deep end of a kiddy-pool at least. When I got out of the car to see if the gate code worked, the grass brushed against my hips and part of me hoped the code wouldn’t work and it was all a mistake. The lock clicked and the gate swung open.

The road looked unkempt. It was difficult to make out where the road was supposed to be. In a couple places I could see muddy ruts where tires had spun. It was getting dark and we were getting tired and hungry. Because the grass was so high and the lighting dim, I couldn’t tell if the ground itself was dry mud or wet mud. Hindsight: I should have assumed that mud at a low elevation site along a river would be wet.
“I don’t think we should do it”, my girlfriend wisely suggested, “the grass… I don’t think we should”.

Unfortunately, a wave of courage and confidence washed over me. I asserted that the gate code worked, which meant we should be able to get to the site, and if I steer to the right of the ruts, we shouldn’t get stuck. Maybe the road gets better after this first stretch.

Pertinent information about our car: Most importantly, it is our home. For at least five months, Emma and I had been traveling around, mostly Florida, living out of our car; camping primarily, we stay with friends and crash in parking lots as well. It is not a truck nor a Jeep. Not even a four-wheel-drive or a feisty little mountain Subaru. We drive a 1998 Buick LeSabre, a great car. In no way is our vehicular home meant for off-roading.

With the accursed wave of self-assurance that had coursed through me, I threw the car in drive. I managed to barrel a solid quarter mile through the swamp grass before coming to a giant mud puddle. The front tires were sinking into the edge of this damn puddle. I tried to put it in reverse, but my gear shift was in vain. The tires spun and we weren't budging.

Harking back to a previous muddy road we nearly got stuck on, “I don’t believe in God and I don’t have to”, my girlfriend had said, “because we have Triple A”. Yes, luckily we do have Triple A, thanks be to Gram. I called the number to kick off the whole soirée.

Of course things were immediately complicated by our location. Where were we exactly? Apparently equidistant from the towns of Sebring and Okeechobee, this in itself proved to be a problem of delegation for Triple A. The conundrum was further exacerbated by my inability to “drop a pin”; I still can’t do it. Instead I called 911 and explained that this was “not an emergency but I need my coordinates”. Who knew you could just call the cops to ‘drop a pin’ on your location. Someone was coming for us from Okeechobee, one to two hours out.

In order for the Triple A servicer to find us, we needed to get out of the car and tromp back to the main road. Now we don’t scare easily, but it was dark by this point and the tall grass seemed perfect for snakes and probably alligators. We geared up as best we could with our Florida provisions. Long pants and socks of course; Emma wore sneakers, mine were in the trunk so I just doubled up on socks and loosened my sandal straps. To stave off potential boredom and the encroaching hunger, we also grabbed a fat red book of short stories by Cheever and our pint of blueberries.

Using the flashlight on my phone we began our march through the marsh at a quick pace. It didn’t take long to realize that we wouldn’t be reading any Cheever, unless we didn’t mind the millions of moths and mosquitoes swarming our flashlight. Almost back to the parking lot, I hear a scream and see Emma fly past my elbow. I start sprinting before I know what’s going on and then I felt a sharp pain on my left forearm.

Wasps. When I reached the parking lot I saw that Emma had stripped. I asked, even though I pretty well knew, what happened. A bee had gone up her shirt and stung her on the rib cage. She had a red welt the size of a mini-pancake. My sting was already going down, but her allergic reactions are more severe than mine. To make sure the bee was gone, I shook out her clothes and she put them back on. Wishing we had grabbed antihistamines instead of Cheever, we trudged up to the main road.

For a curvy country road, it’s surprising how many transfer trucks whoosh by. Some passenger vehicles too, but mostly transfer trucks. After an hour of standing there laughing and reflecting on what a shit-show of a day it had been, my phone rang. It was our tow sent by Triple A and he was about forty-five minutes away. The situation seemed to be looking up. Our tow was en route and the sting of Emma’s welt was abating. At this point I gave no fucks about the campsite, I was ready to crash in a parking lot and find some other spot tomorrow.

Time was dragging its ass, but we had hope. We thought every pair of headlights coming around the bend was our tow until they passed us by. Eventually our tow did arrive. I was overwhelmed with relief. He rolled his window down and asked where the car was. We climbed into the massive tow truck-- Emma took the back-- and I directed him through the lot to the gated swamp road I had stupidly condemned our Buick to.

He took a deep breath and let it out quick, like a wind that had been trapped behind a mountain and finally found escape through a cranny. “Let’s take a look”, he said, “I don’t know if I’m gonna be able to get your car out”. He and I hopped out and started walking down the road toward the car. I knew I was going to be embarrassed when the tow came to see what I had done, but now I found myself nervous that the damage was irreparable and we were going to be stranded. As we passed by deep muddy ruts and tire tracks, he’d point his flashlight, test for firmness with his left boot, and shake his head.

With the car about two meters ahead, he stopped and looked at me. Scratching his head, he asked, “How’d ya get it all the way back here?”. I told him I had no idea and that I wished I hadn't. He reckoned so and we proceeded to the car. Once we got to the car, he and I marched around it occasionally throwing our heads down, like a better look at the tires in the mud would reveal some key perspective or an untapped secret of Houdini’s.
“There’s definitely no pushing and reversing out of this puddle”, with some shame and despair, “Yeah I didn’t think so”. He took a look back down the swamp road and brought his gaze back to the Buick. “If I just had a four-wheel truck”, he started, “you see, the problem is, I don’t think I can get back here in that”. Pointing back down the road toward the massive tow truck, he shook his head again. “You’d be easy to pull out”, a sigh, “just a little ol’ Buick car”. With a turn he began walking the road back, I trotted after him and he kept talking.

Back in the cab of the tow he said, “I’m gonna see what I can do. Chances are I won’t be able to make it down this road without getting stuck before we reach your car, but I’m gonna reverse down this road and see how far I can go. It would be better if I had a regular truck, like I’ve got at home”. And so down the road we backed. Not for long.
“Nope”. He hopped out of the tow, took a look around, and told us he was sorry but he wasn’t going to be able to get us out. Buick stuck, tow stuck. Do I get extra points for that? Our defeated hero pulled out his phone and called his boss,
“Hey, yeah, uh. We don’t have any four-wheel, little trucks do we?
No. Nah, I didn’t think so, just thought I’d check.
Well I can’t get back to this Buick, just a little ol’ Buick car, yeah.
In a marsh.
Now I’m stuck too, but.
No, no, not like that. I’ll be fine, I got me. I can get out, I’m just not gonna be able to get that little car out.
No, nah, thanks. Yep”.

Unsettling as it was that this tow was not getting our home out of the nasty mud swamp, the novelty of unsticking a stuck tow truck was not lost on me. Although I don’t recommend getting stuck in a mud puddle down a boggy road, I will say if you’ve never seen a tow truck use the bed to maneuver the truck itself, it is impressive.
Before hopping out of the truck, he asked me to slide into the driver's seat and take the wheel. All he needed me to do was to keep it straight. Got it! And more than a little bit exhilarated to find myself at the helm of a massive tow truck. Up to this point, the largest vehicle I’d ever commanded was a Chevy Tahoe; I have steered a boat or two as well-- more as an assistant than a captain, however. I was delighted to find that my position at the wheel was more than just insurance. Once the bed struck solid ground and began pushing the truck forward, it started veering to the left. Pleased to be contributing, I adjusted the wheel and kept us on the road.

After five, six, maybe seven times lowering the bed to push the truck forward a roll, he got back in the truck, I slid back into the passenger role and he drove out of that road and pulled into the parking lot. This was our stop.
He apologized for not being able to get us out and reiterated that we really needed a four-wheel truck and a chain. We confirmed his suspicion that we weren’t from around here and didn’t have any contacts nearby. Grabbing a scrap of paper and a pink highlighter, he wrote down his name-- Brad-- and number, and told us to give him a call tomorrow if we still needed help. For the rest of the night he was on the clock, but once he was off he could come back out with his personal truck, and maybe we could throw him fifty bucks or so.

As we descended the cab, I noticed that my pants felt wet. Damp air? A little excitement from driving the tow? I stuck my finger in for an assessment. Shit, I knew before I pulled out for the sniff of confirmation: my fucking period. Further analysis showed my pants to be soaked through, crotch to butt and back. Certain that I must have tracked blood from the passenger’s seat to the driver’s seat, less than certain that Brad would be willing to help once he shed some light on the carnage-- I marched to the Buick. For the tent and a tampon.

© Cassidy Mull September 2018
cassidyca at

Author Bio:
A native of Nebo, North Carolina, Cassidy Mull is taking advantage of her youth by travelling the United States in her maroon 1998 Buick LeSabre with her girlfriend, Emma. Cassidy is currently working to publish a handful of short stories and poems inspired by her travels and musings.

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