The door of the cabin creaked open, and from my spot in the shadows I narrowed my eyes at the intruder who stepped through its frame. I knew him immediately: that sinister build, those piercing eyes. “It’s been a long time, Vido,” I growled. “If you’re here for the money, I already spent it. Tell your mother I said thanks.”
“My name is Joe, Ryan,” said Joe Fox, associate editor of The Post. “We were on break for a month. Did you forget my name already? Also, who is Vido, and what did you do with his mother?”
“Nothing, I just — it’s not important,” I muttered, hastily scanning the list of names I had stapled to my hand last month. Jack, Janiqua, Jörmungandr the World-Serpent ... Joe! “Ah, yes, Joe, my bosom pal!” I threw out my arms for a hug and he recoiled as if I were covered in dried vomit or something. “I haven’t seen you in years!”
“Month. We saw each other last month. Have you been living in this dump?” My editor cringed as he looked about the interior of the cabin. I don’t know what he was complaining about. I’d endeavored to keep the place clean, and the family of raccoons living in my laundry pile(s) never seemed to mind. “They sent me out here to find you. Why, exactly, have you been living in an abandoned cabin in the middle of nowhere?”
“After what happened in Bosnia, I needed to get away from it all. Just clear my head and be at peace with nature,” I said. “Also, my parents kicked me out. That was kind of a factor.”
“Bosnia?” Joe raised an inquisitive eyebrow, and then shook his head. “Look, it doesn’t matter. We need you to come back to Athens. Some psychopath attacked one of our columnists with a whiffle bat last night and he’s not getting out of the hospital for a while. We need you to fill his spot.”
I chuckled darkly. “So there it is. I knew you’d come crawling back begging for my talents again. Well, sorry, Jake — Joe. But that ship has left the station.” I took a long drag on my cigar. “I quit the business. Me and these raccoons, we’re going straight. Opening up a pastry shop for bears. ‘Honey Mutual.’ It’s gonna be huge.”
“As much as I wouldn’t mind seeing you torn apart by ravenous bears, The Post needs you to fill space,” Joe said firmly. “Take that pine cone out of your mouth, clean the vomit off your shirt and let’s get going.”
“The answer is no.”
Joe shrugged. “If that’s how you feel, we’ll find someone else. Good luck with, you know, all this.”
He turned and started walking away. I jumped up and waved my arms.
“Whoa, hey now, let’s not be too hasty! I mean, I guess I could come back and write for a bit. Just as a personal favor to you, my friend Jaleel.”
Joe’s voice trailed off as he spotted the bloody whiffle bat leaning against my chair. “Hey, is that-?”
I quickly clapped an arm around his shoulder and led him out the door. Despite my earlier reticence, I had a certain measure of excitement. The torpor of winter break sloughed off my shoulders, and a song bubbled in my heart. Thank God for Athens, and thank God for Ohio University!
“So, hey, you guys are gonna pay me this time, right?”
I hate this place.
Ryan McAndrews is on the lam and, in his free time, studying journalism at Ohio University and is a columnist for The Post. Ask him about Bosnia at email@example.com.