Sex & Sourdough

By: A.J. Thomas

Chapter 1





ANDERS SAT down in the dirt, four hundred miles from home, with nothing but a backpack and basic camping gear, and stared at the black screen of his cell phone. He had been staring at it for over an hour, and he’d turned the damn thing on and off again three times just to replay the angry voice mails. He didn’t want to listen to them again, since it would just waste the battery on his phone, but the furious messages his lover had left him the night before made him feel like getting sick rather than hiking.

The Amicalola Falls Visitor Center parking lot was quiet, since it was a Tuesday morning. Most of the other hikers who had come up on the shuttle from Atlanta had already gotten started. After listening to his lover rage and belittle him until his voice mail cut off the recording, Anders still managed to check in at the ranger station, signing his name and address in the logbook for hikers and backcountry campers in the park. He even made it back across the parking lot and as far as the stone arch that would eventually lead him to the start of the Appalachian Trail.

That was where he’d choked.

And where he’d stayed, replaying his lover’s messages like an idiot. The first message was an insulting rant about how stupid it was for Anders to take off hiking on his own, and it continued until the message time cut off Joel’s rant. The second message was Joel screaming about how he planned to punish Anders for not keeping his phone turned on. The third, which he really didn’t want to listen to again, was a slurred, hissing series of insults in which Joel accused him of taking this trip without him just so he could fuck around behind Joel’s back. Since they were recordings, there was no way for Anders to remind Joel that the only reason he was out here alone was because Joel had decided to sign up for a summer class two days before they were supposed to begin this hike together. That was probably for the best, since arguing with him would just make Joel angrier.

He turned his phone on and drew circles in the dirt, waiting for it to connect to the weak cellular signal. He got as far as entering his voice mail pin number before he came to his senses. With trembling fingers, he deleted the first three messages as they began to play.

Then his phone announced that he had one new voice mail. “Anders, baby, I’m so sorry that I got upset last night,” Joel’s recorded voice—sweet, calm, and sober this time—said through the phone. “You know how crazy I get when I think about us being apart. So, there’s a little store near Neels Gap, about thirty miles from the start of the trail. I’ve still got two weeks before my class starts, and I can drive down and meet you there on Friday. You should be able to get there in four days to meet me, and we’ll talk about how you’re going to make this up to me when I get there. Love you, baby.”

Anders looked down at the phone after the message ended and deleted it too.

Just so he didn’t feel stupid for wasting more of his phone’s battery, he snapped a picture of the sign next to the arch, and then turned the phone off again. Once the phone was back in his pocket, he climbed to his feet and looked down the trail beyond the stone arch. It was just dirt, the same as on the parking lot side.

“You all right there, Butch?”

Anders looked around. The only hiker near him was a large, scruffy man with a full brown beard, a thick baby-blue down coat and heavy gloves. He looked like he was ready for a mountaineering expedition instead of a spring hike on what promised to be a sunny day. Anders himself already felt warm in a light fleece, and he hadn’t even started moving yet. Between the man’s beard, sunglasses, and layers of clothes, Anders wasn’t sure if he was a hiker or a transient. He had a faded old backpack on, and a set of scratched and dented hiking poles, so he had to be a hiker.

Anders looked around again, trying to figure out who the stranger was talking to. Anders was anything but butch. He was only five foot seven, and at a hundred and sixty pounds, he was so skinny he was often mistaken for a teenager, even at twenty-three.

Anders recalled all of the warnings his parents had issued about psychopaths roaming this trail, then banished the thoughts immediately. Dressing for subzero temperatures during the last week of April and calling Anders butch might mean the man was out of touch with reality, but that wasn’t always the same thing as dangerous.

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