Here I am waiting in the middle of the woods in North Wood County Park, and Jenna hasn’t showed up to meet at our usual wooden barn owl statue. She said she would be here on time but, if not, I could just run the trails before her and meet at Kelly’s Coffee for brunch.
Jenna and I got drunk as hell last night, and now all I can think about is syrupy pancakes and a big glass of milk to alleviate the hangover. My stomach growls.
I kick, and we are off. We are going to sweat this out, Greg. And, if I am sober enough, I’ll mind-review for my anthropology exams. Go over Eric Wolf’s work, then maybe Edward Sapir’s relationship studies in linguistics, and finally, Strauss’s structuralism.
Anthropology fills my heart and keeps it to this world like glue. Without it, I would just be floating in space, nothing but molecules without a purpose.
Humans are what—
My ponderings come to a stop at a seven minute per mile pace when I hear gurgles in the brush ahead. It comes again: rustling leaves, gurgles, birds chirping, cold wind licking my skin, a whisper of needles grazing the hardened fall ground.
But it’s the gurgle—the gurgle that strikes and plunges deep into my conscious.
It’s the man in the brush that quivers and trembles, a man dressed in blaze orange hunting gear who cracks my mind and tests my sanity.
“Help,” the man says, as blood trickles down his chin, his hand his held hard to his neck.
I almost pass out on the trail. This only happens in the movies. Jesus Christ. This kind of shit doesn’t happen to me.
He waves a hand towards himself in quick, jutting motions, and dashes down and skids to his side. “Who did this? What happened?” I scream. I put a hand to his neck, and the blood comes forth hot and wet. There is no stopping it. It runs through my fingers.
He points ahead to a clearing through the woods.
The shots come, and I hear the air split but two feet from my head. The man’s neck snaps down, and his eyeballs glaze over. He is done for. My heart is nearly beating out of my chest. I have never been so close to death in my life. Even when the caves had nearly collapsed on me in Nevada, I never felt such animal instinct to stay alive. It’s primal, it’s real.
Poison ivy burns me. Twigs and thorns scrape at my body, but they are nothing compared to the fear of a bullet tearing into me. Bullets don’t stop; they don’t care about anything—they scream through the air to end life.
I run for what seems like miles and storm into a small creek to ease the burning of the ivy. Who the hell could shoot a man in blaze orange? Even when dad took me hunting back in high school, I could see other hunters four or five football fields away in their blaze orange. It can’t be a hunting accident. It has to be something more.
I head in the direction of Kelly’s Café, to the east, towards the edge of Grola Forest, and realize that I probably still have at least ten miles to go. I curse at the trees as they pass by. The poison ivy made its way to my crotch, and I can’t keep my pace up.
The air splits in front of my face and bark explodes in all directions. I fall to my knees. A man screams, and I walk towards the curdling sound. Bushes rattle ahead, and I can hear raspy breathing and grunts. I pull back thick overgrowth.
A rat nest haired man heaves up and down as he grips his foot. A bear trap bites down hard on the top of his boot, and the teeth have sunken deep in the leather. My human instinct at first tells me to help the man, but this asshole just about killed me.
“What the hell were you shooting at?”
I look for the gun, but it is nowhere. He must have stepped on the bear trap right before he shot and then the gun went flying into the woods somewhere.
I want to bless the bear trap that saved my life.
He looks up through his bird nest locks, covered in twigs and foliage.
I want to scream at him. My running attire is bright red. There is no goddamn way that I look anything like a deer out here in the middle of the woods.
I want to grab his hand and pull him up because I am a humanitarian. The anthropologist in me wants to help people, understand them, but there is some glint of madness in the man’s eyes that tells me that there is nothing I can do for him and nor can I expect him to do anything for me.
A gust of wind tickles my skin, the hair on my arm rises, and goosebumps spread like a wildfire. The air I inhale feels thick and warm.
“I’m sorry,” I say and back away through the brush.
He lunges out at me, but the bear trap keeps him at bay, and he grits his teeth as the trap bites deeper.
I begin to jog. I ignore the echoes of his pleads and cries in the forest as we part ways. He yells, “Don’t leave me here please! They will eat me!”
I don’t want anything to do with this place.
I want to be at the cafe having brunch with my Jenna.
My god, Jenna!
Images of crazed men hunting fill my mind.