the id is: 5511

Content:

Camping at Dead Man's Point

By Matthew J. Trafford

Body:

Certain things about our camping trip never change. It's always the third week of August. It's always men-only. We always meet at the Sobeys at the intersection of Highways 11 and 60 to get groceries before we pick up our gear at Algonquin Outfitters. I was driving up solo, my brother Thomas was driving up with our friend Ron, and Andy was taking his truck and bringing Lewis and Barry. Or so I thought.

When Andy's beat-up Ford pulled into the parking lot, I couldn't help but smile: Dunhill cigarette hanging out of his mouth, bright orange hunting toque on his head, and Bon Jovi blaring out the open windows. Then Lewis got out. I hadn't seen him since last year's trip, and he'd lost a lot of weight. Then some other guy got out of the truck, pale and kind of strange looking.

"Hey buddy," Andy said, and clapped me in a bear hug.

"Hey bud," I said. "Who'd you bring?"

"Oh, a guy from my site. Barry couldn't make it -- he forgot he had to do some work for his parents this weekend. They wouldn't let him out of it. This is Jim, but we all call him Maury."

I shook his hand -- it felt clammy and cold. There was something a little off about Jim, but I couldn't figure out what it was. Lewis started introducing him to the other guys and they headed towards the store.

"How long have you known him?" I asked.

"A while. He's great. And he's, you know..." Andy waggled his eyebrows at me.

"What?" I asked. Was Andy trying to set us up?

"He's dead."

I guess I had a funny look on my face without realizing it because Andy went on, "Be cool man -- we're all down with your gay shit. Trust me, it's not even that weird."

***

But it was weird. It was weirder than the year Thomas became the only married guy, and got offended by the way the other guys were joking about his wife. It was weirder than the year I came out around the campfire: that silence, all those awkward glances the next day, me trying to convince them all -- and myself -- that I was still just one of the guys. But this, this... dead guy? This was pretty much the weirdest thing I'd ever seen. I mean come on: the guy was dead. I don't care how politically incorrect it sounds; I still think it's freakish.

But I tried to put on my roll-with-it-face. Guys don't fight during boys weekend. But Andy knew me too well.

"Sorry I didn't call first," Andy said. "But Barry cancelled last minute, and I didn't want somebody to have to kneel in the middle of one of the canoes -- that's so gay. Oops, sorry buddy."

"Suck it," I said. "No, it's cool. Whatever. Always happy to initiate a new guy into the fold! He'll have the time of his life -- oops, sorry."

He laughed. "It'll be great -- he doesn't even eat," Andy emphasized, as though it was the best thing ever. "More food for us!"

***

We walked around putting stuff in the cart -- Andy wanted a double-sized meal of beans and wieners, to get the farts going on the first night. We all basically agreed with that. Then we started discussing which meat to bring and how long it could keep, the convenience of canned foods versus their weight in the barrel, and all the other arguments we had every single year. I wandered over to Thomas to talk bro-to-bro.

"Hey, you heard about the new guy?"

"That he's dead? Yeah, no biggie. We have a dead lady at the studio."

I let that settle for a second; I hadn't known. "Do you think the dead guy farts?"

"No, Ron already asked him. He basically has no metabolism -- so, no eating, no farting, no puking, nothing. When he died, he only had enough juice left in his balls for a couple more spurts -- he froze that, and he's saving it in case he ever meets someone and wants to have kids."

"Are you kidding me?"

"Nope. Welcome to the 21st century."

We all got our boats into the water, and for twenty minutes we just paddled hard, the wind rushing up into our faces, working our bodies -- it felt good. It was what these trips to Algonquin were supposed to be all about.

"Which way do we go?" Lewis asked.

"Straight across," Thomas said.

"Gaily forward," I countered. They all looked at me. "I don't like to use the word 'straight' in directions. It implies that 'straight' is the only correct path. I don't promote that way of thinking."

Thomas rolled his eyes. I thought I heard the dead man scoff, but it was hard to tell from downwind. Ron lit a spliff.

***

There was a little bit of water in the bottom of our canoe and before long it really stank. Sitting in the stern (the dead guy couldn't even steer), I could see it -- the water would wash across his feet and little white and grey flakes would come off, and then swish around in the puddle. The sun was beating down on us pretty much directly. The stench was horrible.

"Can you do anything about your, um, foot odour?" I asked.

"That's just the decomp," he said.

"Excuse me?"

"Decomposition," he clarified. As if I'd never seen an episode of CSI.

"I know what decomp is. I meant: isn't there anything you can do about it?"

"Nope. Comes with the territory. Death ain't pretty. Don't worry, you'll get used to it after a while. I did."

I wanted to point out to him that not breathing had probably been a major factor in that accomplishment, but I didn't want to be too much of a dick. I mean, the guy's feet were flaking off, after all, and he wasn't getting them back.

Matthew J. Trafford's fiction has appeared in The Malahat Review and Matrix and has been anthologized in I.V. Lounge Nights and Darwin's Bastards: Astounding Tales from Tomorrow. He lives in Toronto, where he works with Deaf college students and performs long-form improv with his brother in their two-person troupe, The Bromos.

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