Wild Onions

Joshua Wade Freeman


Eric’s car broke down almost twenty miles from his campsite, and to make matters worse, his phone was dead. He pulled into a barren strip mall surrounded by pine trees and non-functioning street lights before the engine died, so at the very least, he wasn’t stuck on the side of the highway for the night.

The rain showed no sign of stopping, and the night was only going to get colder. While he debated sleeping in his car, the temperature dropped. The tile floors and high ceilings of what was once a big box store would let him make a fire. He went inside.

                The shelves were gone, but he could see their outlines on the floor as he walked down what was once the center aisle.  A blue reverse letter “R” placed high above the back door was the only splash of color left in the now gray void.

Eric wondered where everything went when a store cleaned house. Was there a warehouse somewhere stacked wall to wall with cash registers and products that didn’t sell? Why bother to haul out the shelves but not the trashcans and mascot uniform by the front door?

                With his tent set up in the middle of the building, Eric started a fire in a garbage can with the scrap paper and giraffe mascot head inside it and settled in for the night. He sat on his rolled-up sleeping bag across from the fire, picking at a bag of trail mix with an absent mind.

                “You should not be here,” someone said from the back of the building. They spoke just above a whisper—the concrete walls made for excellent acoustics.

                Eric slid his hand into the front pocket of his pack and gripped the handle of his hunting knife. “I’m just trying to wait out the weather. Is this your property?”

                “No, you could say I am also,” they cleared their throat, “weathering the storm. Would you mind if I sat with you for a moment?”

                Whoever was speaking dragged their feet toward the fire in a slow but constant tempo. The fire wasn’t giving out as much light as Eric needed it to, so he could only see the broad shoulders and hunched back of whoever was talking to him.

                “What’s your name?” Eric asked as he dropped the trail mix, put the knife in his pocket, and stood up straight.

The dragging steps grew louder.

                The stranger stopped just outside the fire’s reach, right across from Eric.

                “Tell me,” they said through their gravel tone as they stepped into the light and leaned over the fire, “what would you like to call me?” Matted gray and black hair hung from their body as their branch-like fingers gripped the edge of the can. They leaned down so that their face was even with Eric’s. The smell of roadkill emanated from their breath. There were dark chasms where eyes should be.

                An impulse to run away was interrupted by the urge to attack whatever was in front of Eric. He froze, not sure which action was the more intelligent choice.

                Their face ended at a point like a cow skull that bobbed with each breath it took. It was as if their torso blended into the darkness around the makeshift camp.

                Eric’s throat tightened.

                “Tell me about something you miss. Something you don’t have anymore.” They leaned back and stood up straight.

The giraffe’s head melted. An eye had fallen off.

                “What if I don’t?” Eric hated himself for asking this.

                No response.

Coyotes yipped and stampeded out from the trees behind the mall and past the broken windows that lined the building. If Eric wanted to leave, he’d have to outrun wild dogs.

                He stared at his feet, weighing his odds. He hoped that at any second, he’d gain enough courage to run or find the strength to lunge his knife at the monster before him.

The fire popped, smoke rose to the ceiling, and he stayed where he was.

“I guess I miss,” he paused and searched his mind. He missed many things in life, but something told him that saying Shamrock Shake wouldn’t be good enough. “Wild onions.”

                Labored breathing. “What is it about,” a small coughing fit, “onions that you miss?”

                “Summers mean yard work, and sometimes you mow the grass on top of some wild onions, letting their scent out into the air. I haven’t smelt that since I moved up north. It’s hard to do landscaping in your studio apartment.” Eric’s hands shook.

The being blew air from its nose in amusement.

“One night, about ten years ago,” Eric continued, “I was a freshman in high school, and my friends invited me out to Jessica’s. I was so excited about it. I can’t remember much of what happened anymore, but I do remember that we all laid out in the grass that her parents had cut that day, looking at the stars. I was happy.” He ran a hand through his brown hair. He didn’t expect to be this honest.  “When I got home that night, I smelled like onions and felt lucky to have been able to have had friends like the ones I did then.”


                “You know how it is, time goes on, and people drift apart.”

                “I do not,” they said, “but I appreciate the story. Stay here tonight, and do not leave until daylight. I’m not the only one interested in you.” They turned from the fire and walked back into the darkness. Dry coughs echoed through the hollow building reminding Eric he wasn’t out of the woods.

                The mascot’s wire lining was beginning to show, and it would be a while until sunrise.

Eric sat awake in his tent until he could hear the birds outside.



Joshua Wade Freeman likes to view unemployment as an opportunity to be more creative. When he isn’t writing, he is most likely spending time with his dogs. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram at @jwfreeman_.