Copperhead Canyon


“Because we need the lighter to start a fire or we’ll freeze tonight,” Emily said.

“I mean, why should I go with him?  Send Jimmy or Rex.  Or Deb.”  Tim stared down at his so-called friends, who stared up from their tents, watching the drama on the ridge of Copperhead Canyon.  That fucker Kurt down there somewhere.  Hotshot college asshole.  Some graduation trip this was turning out to be.

“It’ll give you a chance to get to know him,” Emily said.

“What if I don’t want to get to know him?”

“Then you won’t be a part of my life.”

Tim stared, blankly.

“I’m with Kurt now,” Emily said.  “That’s never gonna change.”

“Never?  How can you possibly say—” Tim kicked at a clay clump.  “So that means I have to hike five miles in 100° heat, probably get bit by a copperhead—”

“If you got bit by anything, it’d be a rattlesnake.”  Emily forced a smile.  “We don’t have copperheads in Arizona.  It’s just a name.  Like Dead Man’s Curve.”


Emily took his hand.  “You ever think maybe this is why I broke up with you?”

“Because I don’t wanna play Moses with your new boyfriend?”

“No,” Emily said.  “Because you don’t make the most of opportunities when they are presented to you.”

The entire long trek back to the cars, Kurt wouldn’t shut up, not taking the hint when Tim didn’t respond to single goddamn thing he said.  At least the heat, so unbearable earlier, had given way to cool afternoon winds, the dipping sun casting long shadows over the dry bed and shrubs of the desert floor.

By the time they made the mesa, Kurt and his athletic calves leading the way, Tim decided he was getting in his truck and leaving.  Let these assholes all trying packing into Kurt’s Audi tomorrow morning, see how far they get.

“I know all about you and Em,” Kurt said over his shoulder as he rifled through his glove compartment.  “And I respect that.”

I’ve known Emily since nursery school.  Like I need your approval.

“Emily is going to need you in her life now more than ever.”

What was this jerk talking about?

Kurt turned and held up the lighter, which he flipped to Tim, proudly.  He walked over, looking all sincere and mature.  “I want you to know,” Kurt said, placing a sympathetic hand on Tim’s shoulder.  “I’m going to do right by her and this baby.”

Walking back through the canyon, Tim felt numb inside.  It had turned much colder with the setting sun, any hope of a reunion gone forever.  It was wrong.  He should be the father, just like they always talked about.

A guttural scream bounced off the canyon walls, snapping Tim out of his head.

On the ground, Kurt lay, moaning.

The rattlesnake writhed away through the red dust and rock.

“Help me up!”

Tim rushed to lift him, but Kurt immediately fell back to the ground, crying out and clutching his calf, which was already severely swollen and blistered, oozing gooey white pus.

Tim grabbed his cell, frantically pushing numbers.  “There’s no reception down here.”

“No shit.  You’ll have to climb back up on the mesa to call.”  Kurt grit his teeth.  “Go!”

Tim ran as fast as he could.  This wasn’t happening.  He’d seen people get bitten by snakes in movies.  But this was real life.  Tim scaled big boulders and slithered through narrow passages in the rock.  Pictures of Emily getting fat kept popping into his brain, holding her up new baby, smiling.

Tim tried to climb the rocky bank up to the mesa, but his hands shook and he kept slipping.

He slumped against the rocks to catch his breath.

Tim gazed over Copperhead Canyon, calm washing over him, heartbeat slowing.  The desert looked beautiful at night, the sky dancing with a million blinking stars coming out of hiding.

Tim reached for his cell but pulled out the lighter instead.  He flicked the head, making little sparks, tiny fireworks against the black sky.

He leisurely rose and meandered back in the general direction of the campsite, thinking about good names for a baby.

~ fin ~


Joe Clifford is acquisitions editor for Gutter Books and managing editor of The Flash Fiction Offensive. He is also the producer of Lip Service West, a “gritty, real, raw” reading series in Oakland, CA. Joe is the author of three books: Choice Cuts and Wake the Undertaker (Snubnose Press), and Junkie Love (Battered Suitcase Press). Joe’s writing can be found at