Was That the Time We Walked Through a Field or "The Most Dangerous Game"? by Anthony Varallo
Associate fiction editor Sofie Harsha, on today's story: The world Anthony Varallo imagines in this piece managed to simultaneously evoke in me both a sense of dread and a sense of comfort. The quiet threading of the hunted Rainsford throughout is what does it for me. And, of course, the simple and lovely poeticism of each line. Was that the Time is perfect for those moments we half-remember. Those moments when the world when relationships, seemingly benign, suddenly become littered with both real and imagined fears. Those moments we inherently understand we are bound for transformation the minute we start looking back.
Was that the Time We Walked Through a Field or "The Most Dangerous Game"?
It was hot out, that’s for certain. We hadn’t dressed properly for a long afternoon walk, especially on an unmarked path, as this one was, with tire tracks disappearing into the mud and cows lingering beneath low trees. They can’t hurt you, you said, but I didn’t say anything. I didn’t want to go for a walk. You knew that. I was happy sitting by the lake where kids shouted from Jet-Skis. It was that kind of lake. Or it wasn’t. Was it the ocean instead? Hadn’t I just washed ashore, my boat lost at sea? My clothes seemed torn. I wandered through the forest, following the path that led to your mansion. Just the kind of place I’d expect from you: extravagant, excessive, lit by torches.
“You have some wonderful heads here,” said Rainsford as he ate a particularly well-cooked filet mignon.
I wasn’t afraid of the cows, really. But there were so many of them, so few of us. Do the math, I said. Orange tags hung from their ears. Remember that? My idea: run the length of the fence before they noticed us. Your idea: walk right through them, following the path. But weren’t you hunting me then? Didn’t the path disguise a trap whereby I’d impale myself on several lengths of sharpened sticks? A tiger trap. Wasn’t that your plan? I followed you anyway.
The pent-up air burst hotly from Rainsford’s lungs.
Up close, I could hear the cows breathing. Their fur matted with briars. They regarded us like we were the idea of something they already knew. Wind, perhaps. You cupped your hands to you mouth. Moo, you said. Cows, formerly sitting, stood. Tails swished. I began to run. For my life, I would have said, had you thought to ask.
“Nerve, nerve, nerve!” he panted as he went along.
The fence was high, but I managed to jump it. Or was it an ocean cliff? Didn’t I feel myself falling from an impossible height? Didn’t I pierce the water like a flung coin, rising, then gasping for air? Didn’t you think me gone?
“Rainsford!” screamed the general. “How in God’s name did you get in here?”
That night, we stayed up late playing cards, drinking beer. You lost several hands to me, on purpose, I thought, by way of apology. It didn’t matter. We cooked fish over an open fire, something that had always been on my list. Then S’mores, because those were also on the list. It was cool out, starry. The stars seemed to say, You’ve won. You’ve won again.
Or was that you, dealing another round?
He had never slept in a better bed, Rainsford decided.
Anthony Varallo is the author of This Day in History, winner of the John Simmons Short Fiction Award; Out Loud, winner of the Drue Heinz Literature Prize; and Think of Me and I'll Know (TriQuarterly Books/Northwestern University Press). Currently he is an associate professor of English at the College of Charleston, where he is the fiction editor of Crazyhorse.