Whiskey & Cigarettes

Photo by Stijn Dijkstra on Pexels.com

BY: TODOR PAVLOVIC

A pelican dove down and grabbed a fish from the sea. It was one final snack before the migration south. Winter was coming and pelicans do not handle winter well. Harold was looking at this spectacle from his balcony. Lately he felt lonely. He wished he could share moments like these with someone. He thought about how weird life is. Just like that, within a second, the predator had taken the life of the prey. The prey was not even aware of what had happened. He remembered years ago when he had seen a beach covered in dead pelican bodies. They had frozen to death during winter. Back then, he had wondered how it would feel to be the last alive pelican on that beach. He put down his favorite mug after finishing his coffee and left his house. He lived in a stone cottage at the edge of a small town. The cottage was near the shore, but the sea was freezing. Rarely anyone went swimming in it. The sea was used as a source of food and income, it was a fishing town. Besides fishing, there was not really anything else to it. 

Winters were cold in Harold’s hometown. The town lay in the shadows of a mountain range. Harold would go hiking with his friends in those mountains every year, right before the winter started. This year, the winter came early. This year it was just Harold. He packed everything he thought to be necessary for this trip and started the hike. He was not going to break the tradition just because no one else went with him. It was not long before he entered the coniferous forest. He knew the path to the top like the back of his hand. First, it was the forest, then the path transitioned into a clearing which went upwards for another mile, and then it would enter the zone under the snow. He had to move quickly; a snowstorm was predicted to hit the top of the mountain that same night. The hike was more demanding than he expected. Harold often had to take breaks just to catch some air and gather the strength to continue. Time got to him. There were hikes in the past when he and his friends would speed up the side of the mountain. Now it did not go as smooth, he missed the old times.

Some hour and a half into the hike, Harold ran into a group of hunters that had just caught a wild boar. The boar had a bullet hole somewhere around its shoulder blades. No doubt about it, the hunters will enjoy themselves in a hot boar goulash during this cold weekend. Harold waved to them and continued. The next stop he made was near a stream. He had to refill his water bottle. While enjoying the peace along with the sounds of the running water and wind, he noticed something. Another animal, a young deer, lying dead a few feet away from the creek. He probably ate too much of a poisonous plant and died. After half an hour, Harold finally made it to the clearing. He was out of the forest and he did not have much further to hike. As he approached the top, he noticed a nest crushed by a boulder and eggs squashed under it. The top of the mountain was exposed to wind, rain, and lightning. It was constantly defying mother nature but with time, slowly crumbling under pressure. Without much thinking, he continued. He was not a sentimental person.

He was at the spot in no time. He unpacked his bag and cracked a bottle of whiskey he brought. He poured a shot. “Igor”, he said to himself and took a shot. Igor was his college friend who died in the war decades ago. They said he had been shot by an enemy sniper in the back while retreating. Much like the boar, he never saw it coming. He poured the next shot. “Grace”, he said and drank that one. Grace was his cousin from Australia. They had grown up together. It crushed him when he’d heard that she died from a taipan snake bite. She died alone, in the middle of nowhere, just like the deer he saw earlier. She knew it was coming though, she died knowing there was no way out of the situation. Must have been a terrifying death for a fifteen-year-old. Again, he poured. “Milutin”, he said. His son. Way back in the past, so far that he does not remember, he had a wife. They lived in Japan together. It seemed like a lifetime ago when he found out that he had lost his unborn son and his wife. Much like the nest, he had found them crushed under the ruins of their family home after a devastating earthquake. His life was never the same after that.

Thirty-two shots later, each dedicated to a person he cared about and lost, there was only one shot left in the bottle. He coughed in his handkerchief before pouring it. There it was. His life, painted bloody red on the white canvas. He had calculated everything perfectly. The winter was not early; Harold was late. He was not trying to avoid the snowstorm; he was trying to catch it. He did not have an extra shot; he had just the right number. He no longer had to wonder how the last pelican felt while standing on the beach surrounded by dead friends. He was the last pelican. He lit up his last cigarette left in the Parliament pack, grabbed the shot, and drank it. “Harold”, he said, pulling his last smoke as the snowstorm swallowed him.

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