A displaced American and his British boyfriend, on a hiking trip into the mountains, find that the explorations of both wilderness and relationships have much in common with the works of Kipling. A short story from our Diversity line.
“Now the Four-way Lodge is opened: Now the hunting winds are loose, Now the Smokes of Spring go up to clear the brain; Now the young men’s hearts are troubled for the whisper of the trues, Now the Red Gods make their medicine again!” John threw his arms wide, purposely dramatic, and declaimed his poetry to the trailhead they were standing at. If his voice didn’t quite boom—well, no matter. He did startle a squirrel, at least.
“Oh, shut up, please.” Evan shot him a dirty look. “Which horrible pagan said that?”
“Rudyard Kipling was not a horrible pagan, thank you, and I’ll not have you stain his name.” John checked the straps on his rucksack one last time, and led the way into the forest. The path, clear and well-trod here, curved its way to the left, and, unmistakably, gently rose. They’d have to get over this hill somehow, and John reckoned that the longer, though gentler, path might be best. At least for their first day.
Evan sighed, deeply, and started plodding after the other man. “Wasn’t he racist and imperialist?”
“Well, yes,” John admitted. “It rather came with the territory. But the man could write some good poetry.”
Evan made a face at his boyfriend’s back. “Just you keep quoting him, you anarchic atheist.”
“Oh, bugger off,” John announced, far too cheerfully. Particularly considering that the man before him was wearing a pack that had to weigh at least a hundred pounds, and he was facing down three whole nights spent sleeping in some drippy tent. And that was after spending all day tramping through the countryside. “Besides, you are British now, and you might as well get used to our culture.”
“I have, you enormous plonker. It’s called rugby every week, pubs, and chip shops.” And I could kiss you on the Tube, and no one would blink an eye. Assuming we could afford to go to London, anyway. Evan smiled a little at the thought, though quickly hid it. Best to not let John think he was enjoying himself. Dear God, what if he wants to do this again this summer?
John laughed, and paused, waiting for Evan to catch up the step or two; the path had widened and they could walk side-by-side here. “It’s also Kipling. And tramping through a stunning countryside.”
“We have nature in America,” Evan pointed out. “I didn’t like it there, either.”
“Oh, now you’re just moaning for the sake of it,” John announced, and picked up his pace. Solely to be a complete pain in the ass, of course.
He examined the path under his feet, watching for roots or rocks or other bits of nature in his way. His plan was to find something, trip over it, break his ankle, and end this forced death march. John had insisted on taking him out into the countryside, had insisted on his buying a horrid, overpriced rucksack, and filling it with thousands of clever little camping accessories, and the two of them taking to the Welsh hills for three days. It was supposed to be fun. Evan had previously considered staying in a motel on the edge of town to be roughing it.
The path picked up in steepness, a hairpin turn that had them nearly doubling back, and even John had his head down, powering up the side of the mountain. Hill, really, but Evan decided quickly that it was the steepest climb on the whole bloody island.
“When does the fun part begin?” he gasped out, when the trail flattened out microscopically.
“It has you big baby. Look around you—isn’t this beautiful?” John waved to one side, and Evan regarded the steep, muddy hillside. It was covered in twisting trees that had grown odd and off-kilter to accommodate a stone wall that was mostly fallen. Ferns and other low, brushy plants demarcated the side of the path where the relative lack of trees had allowed them to grow. It was an overcast day—of course, this was Wales after all—and the fog of the morning had resulted in drippy leaves, the smell of fresh earth, and growing things.
It was beautiful, and Evan was man enough to admit it, even managing a smile. It had earned him a few seconds to stop and catch his breath, anyway, even though his legs were still complaining. Little wonder at that; they were generally expected to get him down to their local pub and back, and not much more.
“It gets better above the treeline—low red ferns, tons of long grass, and gorse, and all that beautiful wildness,” John promised.
“Will we get there today?” Evan scowled when John burst out laughing. How was he to know these things?
“We’ll be there by lunchtime,” John promised, and clapped him on the shoulder. “C’mon.”
“I just think you should know that right now, I loathe you more than anyone else on the planet.”