Pigs bleed different to that. Manny said it under the glare of a torchlight. They don’t bleed up trees.
It must be a pig, I said.
How’s a pig leave a mark like that on a tree?
On its way to Heaven, I suppose.
We’re going to hell, Manny said.
Manny always thought the worst of things. He told me his mother raped his dad.
He said she was determined to get something solid out of the relationship, anything, so when Manny’s dad said he was leaving her she gave him one for the road as he walked out the door and that’s how she got Manny. That was one of his campfire stories. The other was about the Crystal Highway, the stretch of blue metal nothingness between Rockhampton and Mackay. It’s straight and ugly and lined with broken glass. Manny said that’s where he was born. But first, he was nearly killed there when his pregnant mum’s windscreen took a rock from a passing semi. She said she couldn’t see where she was going, so she pulled over and had a baby. It’s a metaphor, he said, for shattered dreams.
Manny’s campfire stories came with the camping. There was too much drinking, not enough sleep, but plenty of bullshit to go around. Four nights of bad stories and days of shooting in between. Angry bullets aimed at nothing, just the bush. Then, we’d pack up and leave. Eventually Manny’s trips stopped happening. I got busy with other people, I suppose, wife and kids and business crap. I got the feeling that Manny didn’t want all of that to come camping with us too, so he stopped inviting me.
I hadn’t heard from Manny for a while, then he offed himself. I read about it on Facebook, but I missed the funeral. Two weeks after that, I got a knock at the door. It was some cop from the Cape with a bald scone and little white teeth like Tic Tacs. He told me Manny had left a note. It said Manny and I used to go camping together and then he smiled as if there was something odd about that. I told him we used to, but we hadn’t for years. He asked what we did on those trips. I told him we drank and told stories around the campfire and of course we had mad, passionate sex. It was a joke, but the cop didn’t appreciate it. Then he asked me if we took guns with us. I told him we did but we only shot up tins and targets. Then he asked me about the time we went shooting, at what we thought was a pig and how we found blood high up on a tree. I told him it was just one of Manny’s campfire stories. He told me that might very well be, but a local man went missing around the same time and then he asked if I understood the significance of that.
(Competition winner Queensland Writers Centre RightLeftWrite 500 word challenge in May 2022.)