Two buddies swilling beer and fishing. Along came a strangerà

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Dark was setting fast. The sun was a big, red, angry eye just behind the tree line, which ran along the creek to the west of the stock pond. Shining fingers of God jutted up from the western skies, pointing the way to Heaven.

"Hey, Mike," called Ron, "Do me a favor and lay off the peanuts, alright? You sound like a friggin' chipmunk over there!" Ron was drunk and slurred his words slightly. He stood, and stumbled over his tackle box. "Sumbitch!" he cursed, kicking the tackle until it was scattered all over the bank. When he saw what he had done, he cursed some more.

"Ron! Ron, guess what I am! Shhh. Listen, 'kay?" Ron stopped picking up his bait, floats, weights and line from the grass. He was dutifully listening for his brother-in-law's mystery imitation. From Mike's side of the tiny tank there came a tinkling sound of pouring water.

"I give up. What are you, besides shit faced?"

"I'm a fountain! Get it?" They snickered drunkenly together, though there was little real humor in the joke. Besides, the fish were certainly spooked now, if they hadn't been before. Mike's yellow, hot urine spread out in the dark, cool water of the pond like a toxic spill.

"Hey," said Ron seriously. "Fire up the lanterns. Somethin' spilled my tackle over here. Musta been a friggin' bear." They broke into laughter again.

Their laughter drifted up into the crystal air of evening, and filtered through the woods, warning the creatures of nature for miles about that danger was near. But Mike and Ron didn't care about any of that, and weren't necessarily interested in catching any fish. They were out of the house; away from the women and the children and the old folks.

They were out in the boondocks, the weeds, the sticks, they were roughin' it for the night. Tonight Mike and Ron would sleep beneath a luminescent ocean of stars. Crystal clear, vividly bright stars.

Mike stopped urinating in the pond, zipped up, then reached for another beer to process through his kidneys. It reminded him of a joke. "You wanna hear a joke, Ron?"

POP! FIZZZZZ! The beer was getting warm, suds splashed over Ron's hand, and ran down his arm to his elbow. There was an identical sound across the pond as Mike opened his own can of beer. "Sure," called Ron.

"Okay. There was this old Irish man dying one day. His only living relative was by his side, tryin' to comfort the old guy as he kicked off, you know," Mike paused to guzzle half his beer. "So anyway, this old fart's bitin' the big one and his nephew's there, praying by the bed. The old guy opens his eyes and motions for his nephew to come closer. Being an Irish man, he says, 'Laddie, I don' hov much, but wot I do hov is a case of Irish whiskey. An' I wont ye to pour it over me grave when I'm gone! D'ye hear me, Laddie? Pour it over me grave after I'm buried.'

"So the nephew thinks awhile, considerin' the old guy's request, then he says, 'Sure, I'll do it fer ye. But do ye mind if I pass it through me kidneys first?'" They burst with laughter, overwhelming the natural stillness of the night.

"I heard that one before," chided Ron, "But it's still as funny as my grandma in boxer shorts."

Ron eased back onto the bank, sipped his beer, and watched the sky. It was an exceptionally clear night. He could feel the heat steaming off the ground beneath him, the heat from a sun that was now shining on the other side of the planet. Mike chuckled to himself across the pond, stumbling about in the weeds, trying to set his hook.

"This is the life, huh?" queried Ron.

A light fizzed and sizzled across the pond, reflected a thousand times in the rippling water. Mike put the match to the lantern and rolled the knob until the wick was just the right length. Ron could hear the lantern gas hissing in the night.

Now there was a small sun burning beneath the great oak tree on the opposite bank. He could see Mike stumble drunkenly to his chair, swatting mosquitoes and spilling his beer. Mike cursed fluently.

In all the great expanse of empty pasture, here they were, two men alone in the night with but a tiny bubble of light to keep nature at bay. Ron closed his eyes, imagining himself a winged spirit, rising above his body. He could see the Brazos river, cutting a serpentine path to the west, he could see the interstate to the north. To the east there was only stars and a broad horizon, and below him, below him there was a tiny spark in the darkness. It was a spark so dim as to be invisible, but Ron could see it. And he could see two men fishing from the banks of a pond. They were so insignificant, so meager. Their contribution to the world was pitiful and slight, but there they were, lighting the void far below.

"Christ, look at that!" Mike's urgent call shattered Ron's reverie.

Ron opened his eyes. There was nothing. Nothing but the pond and the lantern, and Mike's shadowed form. He was pointing; pointing up, up into the . . . tree?

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