Prologue – Mr. Jameson's Handy Dandy Guide to the Outdoors and What You'll Find There

The bell hanging above the door of the secondhand bookshop jingled quietly. A bored looking woman lounged leisurely against the front counter, eyes flued to the tabloid papers held in her hands. She muttered an unenthusiastic hello.

Milo nodded in return as he quickly, awkwardly rushed passed the counter, not wanting to really to confront or disturb the cashier. As odd as it seems, that was just how Milo was. Never one to be boisterous or brazen, the young man often times spent his days at home, in the company of a good book, or at the local park where he would sit on a green park bench underneath the massive oak tree and watch the puffy white clouds go by in the powder blue sky.

As long as he was alone, Milo could not be happier. He was, as many of his few friends identified him as, a lone wolf by heart. He quite enjoyed his solitary lifestyle; to Milo, there was nothing wrong or abnormal about it. He found by himself. He could be himself while being by himself.

And so, here he was, in a secondhand bookshop on Willow Street in Pine Hills, Mississippi.

A wide range of books adorned walls, neatly and meticulously organized on the shelves. Each rack of shelves housed a genre of books, the largest being the fantasy and mystery sections. Hand painted signs hung above the shelves and indicated what each genre was. A bright red heart above the romance novels reflected itself in the murky blueness of Milo's eyes, but he ignored it. Romance wasn't what he was after. He needed something more down to Earth. Something practical. Useful.

Aha!

He found what he was looking for. The Non-Fiction Section where people could find all those lovely books about dead people and different ways for dummies to learn about various things. Eyes roaming through the shelves, Milo bit his lip. He was on a hunt, a hunt for nature guides. It was all apart of his plan.

Drumming his fingers on the fabric of his blue jeans, Milo squatted down low with a grunt. Head tilted slightly sideways, he carefully read the spine of the books, one by one, until he finally unearthed something of interest.

Milo pulled the book off the shelf and hefted it a few times in his hands. There was a certain weight to its pages that suggested to Milo that the knowledge held within the book was, indeed, something useful. Printed on the unimpressive forest green cover, in gilded gold lettering, shone the words: Mr. Jameson's Handy Dandy Guide to the Outdoors and What You'll Find There. There was even an etching of a pine cone underneath the rather superfluous title.

A tiny smile cracked Milo's face.

This was the book. This was one of the final pieces he needed to complete his plan.

Now… off to find a decent sized notebook for cheap…

Milo let out a quiet cough and carefully arranged the field guide, a thick hardbacked notebook, and a set of black Bic ballpoint pens on the counter in front of the cashier. The gal gave him a rather uninterested glance and asked if he needed anything else. Milo shook his head no, and that settled it.

Bags in hand, Milo was in and out the door within fifteen minutes.

Just how he liked it.

He climbed into the driver's seat of his cherry red Ford Bronco and carefully placed the shopping bag of books and pens on the passenger's seat, patting it lovingly like a father would a baby's head.

Milo cranked the Bronco's engine and pulled out onto Willow Street. The radio kicked on to a local radio station; the gritty vocals of Iggy Pop and the Stooges filled his ears. Milo's smile widened even more. He loved the Stooges. Too bad he'd have to see them go for a while.

The sun was just beginning to set in the western horizon as he pulled into the parking lot of Pine Creek Apartments; splashes of brilliant oranges and yellows and reds and purples filled Milo with something warm and fuzzy. A few long, thin clouds stretched out across the sky like tumbled over logs. The sun burned an angry, hot red the lower it sunk beneath the tree line.

Milo sat there in his Ford Bronco, thinking. Just thinking. His fingers drummed idly against the rubber of the steering wheel to the beat of some crummy 80s hair band wailing over the radio. His mind wandered to various books he had read in the past months: My Side of the Mountain, Robinson Crusoe, Call of the Wild, The Old Man and the Sea… The list of books kept scrolling through his head, going on and on and on.

They filled him with hope and excitement and anxiousness all at once. He could hardly contain the feelings bubbling up inside of him. This is what Sam Gribley and Santiago and all the others must have felt when they made their first decisions to head out in the great unknown of Nature.

A shiver rattled up and down Milo's spine, shaking him from his musings. He pawed at his eyes. The AC was blaring full blast directly into his face. Milo quickly killed the engine and pocketed his keys. Grabbing the bag of books, he dashed up the steps to Apartment 11H, his home.

Whistling a tune, Milo dropped the bag on the tiny table in the kitchen and sat down in a chair. He pulled out the field guide and notebook and pack of pens. Wiping off the cover of the guide, he opened it up to the first page, carefully as if the book would disintegrate into dust if handled too roughly.

The title page was very much like the front cover. Plain, simple, and practical. It told what needed to be told, none of this frilly nilly flair many liked to use. In Milo's opinion, flair was unnecessary and unneeded. It just added weight and bogged things down, drawing attention away from the more useful things in life. Milo liked simple. Simple was easy.

He gently ran his fingers along the pages of the book. The paper felt heavy and durable beneath his fingertips, like it could take a beating- and with how dense the book was, it could quite possibly stop a bullet.

Milo fingered the corner of the book. He knew this guide was filled to the brim with knowledge and information about everything he needed to know about the outdoors, from flora and fauna to shelter building and food production. Whoever this Mr. Jameson was, Milo smiled, he must certainly know his stuff. This fellow had to be smart, right? Otherwise he wouldn't have written a book on the subject. Of course, look at some of the more unfavorable characters around the world who'd recently written books. Milo pondered how they could even form a decent sentence.

As he toyed with the front pages of the guide, the fly leaf flapped open with a miniscule creak. Milo's gaze immediately snapped to it where he saw that something was written in a neat scrawl from top to bottom on the fly leaf. He guessed the note had been written by the previous own of the guide. The ink was faded and lightened with age, and the entire note was written in cursive, something he rarely saw nowadays. Milo smiled. He liked cursive. It was simple and fluid. A capital "A" was signed on the bottom of the letter.

Peering in close, Milo began to read:

To the next owner of this book,

I see you've finally unearthed this little treasure form somewhere. Obviously somewhere tucked away and not easily found. Or maybe you found it easily. Who knows? Life is one strange and fickle mistress, likes to fuck around with people. Pretty sure she gets a right hoot outta the whole ordeal. At least, that's how I see it. Anyways, so now you find yourself in possession of a rather interesting piece of literature- a field guide. One of the most underrated styles of books out there. So what're you gonna do with it? Put it back on the shelf where you found it? Use it a paper weight or coaster for your coffee? Maybe you'll actually crack it open and dive head first into its wonderful pages. It's actually pretty useful. I should know. Used the damn thing for nearly a decade I did. So answer my question: What're you gonna do? Put it to use or waste it? Opportunity is knocking on your doorstep. You better answer before she gets sore knuckles and leaves.

~A.

Leaning back in his chair, Milo mulled over what this mysterious A had written. He eyed the letter once more, skimming it over and over. A's question bounced around in his brain like a Mexican jumping bean trapped underneath a plastic red Solo cup. What're you gonna do? Milo bit his lip and stared at the calendar hanging on the tack board on the wall. What're you gonna do, Milo? What're you gonna do?

Milo snapped the field guide shut. His mind was made up. One hundred percent. He was going to go through with his plan once and for all.

Standing up, the young man ran a hand through his feathery blonde hair and picked up his cell phone. Punching number 2 on the speed dial, he held it to his ear. There was a quite ringing, followed by a quiet click, then an cheery, "Hello?"

"Mom?" Milo asked.

"Milo, baby! About time you finally called your poor mother! So, did you figure out what you're going to do on your vacation?"

Milo nodded as if his mother could see him through the phone's speaker. "Yes, mam. Uh, do you think you could come water my plants every few days or me?"