Hunger Mountain - Vermont College Journal of the arts
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Not Knowing

by Stacy Patton

She’d repeated the story often, imagining it so clearly—the dark eyes of the boys, dusty hair and dirty fingernails, the heat like a fist. She felt like it had happened to her, though it hadn’t. It was just a story she told.

~

The street where she parked dead-ended in an expanse of chain-link that divided the river parkway from Delta Bend. A narrow gate led directly out onto the levee, where she usually began her run, overlooking the deserted backyards of houses where people must have lived but never seemed to be—cold barbecues, placid pools, empty patios.

The levee separated the houses from a hundred yards of riverfront. The top of the embankment was about as wide as a residential road, but poorly paved. On weekends, parents trailing small children on bikes, dog walkers, and the occasional park maintenance truck trundled in a steady stream along the ridge. For more serious cyclists, the cycling path below sliced through the floodplain about halfway between the levee and the river, and beyond that, a rough-hewn horse trail divided the land again, meandering through blackberry thickets and the deep shade of trees along the riverbank. Footpaths, worn by years of hikers and runners, wove among paths like tangled yarn.

On her way through the gate onto the levee she passed three loud-talking boys coming out, sun-washed and maybe a little drunk, two of them shirtless. They were all a head taller than she was, as boys of that age are, and their bodies filled her vision as they came, flat nipples and thin muscle, ribs and skin so close she side-stepped to avoid brushing against them. She flicked her wrist and wrapped the leash another turn around the back of her hand, pulled her dog close to her hip.

The boys passed behind her, and one of them whistled low. She pretended not to hear. She knew who he was whistling at, but she was alone, and they were boys, more than two. She tried to be flattered instead of afraid. She’d worn a new athletic skirt with quick-dry fabric and shorts underneath, and the summer heat rose from the asphalt, warming her legs, strong and tan from daily runs. The boys were laughing, the doors on their pickup thudding shut as she passed through the gate, remembering days when rowdy boys whistled more often—days when she might have gone swimming all afternoon with boys like that, instead of stealing a quick run before spaghetti night with her husband and two kids. A low-slung camp chair in the shallows near the shore, the current flowing round her calves, bikini straps slipped off her carefully oiled shoulders. And a beer, of course. A cold bottled beer sluicing the back of her throat, watching boys show off on a rope swing nearby.

~

What happened in the story was this: a college friend had traveled to Guatemala. He’d left the bus in the first village he came to between Guatemala City and Atitlán, intending to hike overland to the caldera. He’d walked alone for miles over steep and dusty trails, climbing into the heat of exposed ridges, descending into the cool shaded hillsides, admiring distant villages where undulating lines of colored washing danced on lines outside low-slung houses.  He heard something behind him. Thunder? But almost immediately he realized no—the sky overhead was painfully blue, and he recognized the sound of running feet a split-second before three boys overtook him in a pounding wash of noise and motion. And then gone. The power of their passage reverberated in the quiet left behind, and her friend stopped for a moment, his heart pinging in his ears. But then he kept walking, feeling the crunch of dry earth under his boots, the sweat gathering on his skin, wondering if he should turn back because some boys ran by. He was in a foreign country—but hadn’t he come to experience things he didn’t understand? There was surely a logical explanation—they had lost a goat, or they were running a traditional footrace. They were late for some mid-day celebration he didn’t know about. He was still turning the possibilities over in his mind a short while later, still thinking about them when he rounded a bend and found them waiting, clutching knives and asking politely for his money, his backpack, and his boots.

~

“Com’on, Dogg, we’re up. I’m hungry.” The younger one opened the pickup truck door while the mean one looked down the levee after her. He looked back at his friends. “You see them cakes on her?”

The yes-man said, “Yo, how old was Betty, you think?”

“Who gives a fuck?” He came back to the truck, walking fast, and climbed in, forcing the younger one to draw his knees up and scoot to the middle. “Drive up to Western.”

There was another entrance to the parkway at Western Avenue, about a mile upriver. Sometimes kids drank beer in the weedy parking lot there. The young one ran a hand through his wet hair and said, “I thought we were going to eat.” The yes-man gunned the engine up to the main road, jerked a rolling turn through the stop sign towards Western Avenue, driving fast.

~

The light was gold and low as the boys came off the levee, tumbling through the gate nipping and snarling at each other. There were three—one ropy and bare-chested, two with baseball caps. She couldn’t say which two. One or all of them might have had wet hair. They were white boys—not teenagers, exactly, but not much older than that. Or maybe they were skinny men pushing thirty. She couldn’t be sure; she’d looked away quickly, trying not to draw their attention. One of them made a noise at her. A vulgar sound.

She wanted the dog out of the car. She gripped the key, focused on sliding it into the lock without dropping it, fighting the urge to steal a glance at them across the street. The hatchback rose with a hiss and she ducked under it, clipped the leash to Diva’s collar and stood to one side as she dropped to the asphalt in a two-part thud. She controlled her breath, moving deliberately, even obliviously. Convincing them—she hoped, should they be watching—that she wasn’t concerned with them in the least.

Now that she had Diva out, something shifted on the street. The boys turned away, went on about the business of packing up to leave. But as she crossed to the parkway gate, one of them said something to the others she didn’t quite hear. Didn’t matter. She wasn’t looking at them, why would they be talking to her? But he repeated it, louder, tossing it after her into the street like a challenge: “Hey, Breezy, you’re looking fine, Girl. Come on back here with them goodies. Why you high sidin’?”

~

“Why doncha step off that girl?” The youngest one opened the pick-up truck door. The mean one stood at the gate, watching her walk away. He looked back at them. “Bitch was fine, wasn’t she?”

The other one, his sidekick and general yes-man said, “I dunno, Hoss, I seen two car seats in the backa that wagon. She’s somebody’s mother.”

“Who gives a fuck?” The mean one stepped through the gate and out onto the levee. She was moving fast along the top of it away from him, shaking her ass under that little skirt. The dog trotting alongside. Maybe college, he thought. It might not be her car. You could be sure a girl like that went to college.

The youngest one said: “Roll up,” but the mean one stayed where he was. He tried again. “Com’on, B, I’m hungry.”

The mean one patted his pants pockets. “I think I left something down at the river. Gimme my shirt, I’m a go see if I can find it.”

“What’d you forget?” said the yes-man, tossing him a damp t-shirt.

“Aw, hell no,” said the young one. “I’m starving, yo.”

“I said I forgot something, Motherfucker. I’m going to get it, and you two assholes stay here and wait for me.”

He took off over the levee, walking fast.

~

She didn’t have time to wait them out. Colors were deepening, darkness bleeding along the horizon, her shadow long and thin beside her. She should turn around, maybe come from an unexpected direction. And if they were behind her? If they were behind her on the trail she could turn and cut through the brush closer to the river—maybe get behind them. If they had gone ahead, up toward Western to intercept her, then she would have outsmarted them. She turned impulsively and took the footpath down to the water, looping back through the trees, Diva panting, every flickering leaf and snapping twig unnerving. She moved quickly. Those boys were probably off having pizza somewhere, probably on the couch in someone’s apartment playing Xbox. Her life was not a paperback thriller. Talking about “goodies” like she was something tasty, something sweet. He’d called her something—what was it? They so fully occupied her thoughts that by the time they stepped out on the trail in front of her, she felt like it had already happened.

~

A fine girl. It had been a while since anyone referred to her as a “girl,” and even longer since she’d been considered a fine one. How fine would she look if they had seen her as she usually was—pushing a stroller, buckling a grubby toddler into a car seat, cradling the baby in her arms, nursing at her breast? She crossed the street from her car to the levee gate, letting Diva lead the way at the end of the leash, her tail high. They were only boys. Just young, not criminal.

She’d read somewhere it was important not to act like a victim—behaving like prey made you more attractive to predators. Or something. To show herself unafraid, to prove the innocence of the situation, to them, maybe—to herself, surely—once she reached the gate she smiled and called over her shoulder, “And way too old for you!”

A confession of her age would make her immediately less attractive. If she said she was old, then they would see that she was, and she’d slip beneath their attention. She imagined their disgust at seeing her body up close—her soft stomach, deflated breasts, the cellulite on the back of her thighs.

Never too old for a nine-inch cock! one yelled.

Mine’s nine-and-a-half! said another. It’s tool time, baby!

She pulled Diva closer to her hip and resisted the urge to run, though that’s what she’d come to do. Running suddenly felt like an invitation to get chased. She looked out across the field below the levee and to the cycling path. A lone cyclist spun past far below, 40 yards off, and a pair of ponytailed joggers bobbed in the distance, lit in the final glow of the lowering sun. Up on the levee, a breeze lifted her hair, the cooling shadows rising up to meet her. Where were all the people?

~

“Leave her alone, why doncha?” The youngest one opened the car door. The mean one stood on the levee, watching her walk away, whistling low. He looked back over at them. “Breezy was fine, wasn’t she?”

The yes-man watched her, too. “I don’t know, Dogg, she might’ve been old.”

“Shut-up, Cletus,” said the mean one. “She was fine.”

“Where’re we going to eat?” said the younger one.

The mean one climbed in the truck next to him, squeezing him to the middle, making him draw his knees up. “I’m all outta cream,” he said. “Let’s go to Giovanni’s and you assholes can buy me some fucking pizza.”

~

As they came through the narrow gate, pushing and shoving each other and talking loud, she immediately wished she’d brought Diva. She felt them noticing her, alone in the street next to her car, as they gathered around their truck. She busied herself at the car door, trying to decide whether she should just get back in and leave. They’d think she forgot something. And who cared what they thought, anyway? Maybe they wouldn’t even notice. She was confident, practical. Getting back in the car was something her little sister might do—she lived generally as if the rest of the world was poised to attack her, to take something from her. Her sister triple-locked every door, clutched mace while crossing every parking lot, kept watchful guard on her purse at the grocery store lest a fellow shopper attempt to lift it. Such tiresome vigilance. She probably flattered herself thinking she was desirable enough to be targeted. If she got back in her car and drove away they would look at each other and laugh. They would shake their heads with quizzical expressions, like—Did she just leave because of us? Because of us! Ha! Ha!

Christ, they were just boys coming back from a swim.

But she opened the car door anyway, leaning in as if she forgot something in the front seat. She rummaged around, trying to decide whether to get in or get out, too aware of her legs beneath her skirt, the soft backs of her thighs exposed. She wished she hadn’t worn it. She resisted the urge to tug it down. She’d just decided to get on with her run when somewhere close behind her one of them said, Yo, Breezy, where you think you’re going?

~

She usually walked straight down the hill and across the cycling path to the river, to let Diva swim, maybe stopping to throw the ball in a field along the way. Today she stayed on the levee, away from the riverbank, away from the trails where the shadows wound round the trees. Her mind touched on things three good-sized boys could do—the pain they might inflict with teeth and fists and cocks, Baby, of whatever size.

There were more people along the cycling path, so she came down from the levee and walked alongside it. It was designed for the serious cyclist, smooth and flat, banked in the curves, a bright yellow center stripe tracing 50 miles between downtown and the fish hatchery. On a summer weekend, families on bicycles and hard-core athletes streamed by like colored ribbon.

Today she’d stay near the people, what few there were. She’d consider carefully her route back to the car. Maybe she’d circle around and come from another direction back through the neighborhood. She’d take her time. If they were waiting for her, she’d wait them out.

~

They stepped out on the trail in front of her, and without a thought she pivoted hard on her next step, cut a tight buttonhook on pure instinct.

She ran.

She ran as if a giant hand lifted her up and away, her heart rising, pulling her forward. She was pure speed, Diva surging alongside her, glancing at her now and then, pleased, surprised. She didn’t look back, didn’t break stride as she leapt over ruts and rocks and tree roots. There was an opening on the trail ahead, a spur leading back to the cycling path, to the levee, to the people.

She cut the corner, stepping high through dry grass. Diva, trying to keep pace, stumbled over the leash, clipping her heels and bringing her down. Her wrist jammed hard against the ground; she tore her shin from knee to ankle on something hidden in the grass. She staggered to her feet, maintaining forward motion, trying to regain her stride.

She risked a glance over her shoulder. They weren’t there.

She kept running, though not quite so fast. With every step her wrist throbbed. Her knee hot with pain. She reached the cycling path, a team of cyclists streaking by in citrus shades, hunched low over their handlebars. One of them turned his head as he passed, as if his chin were connected to her shins by a string. Blood ran thick and bright down her leg, staining her sock. Diva trotted up, trailing the leash and nudging her thigh, dancing a tight pattern in the dust around her heels. She clutched one hip with both hands and bent over, her breath a knife in her side. Afraid to really stop moving she took up the leash and crossed the cycling path, making her way back toward the levee. Her limbs felt disconnected, her hands fluttering at the ends of her arms, like broken birds. She inhaled and counted. At three she picked up speed, walking faster. At five, she lengthened her stride, and by ten, she was running again.

~

Yo, Breezy. Where you think you’re going?

All the sounds in the world winnowed down to that one voice, a strange silence warping the words as she swung her body into the driver’s seat, slammed the door and hit the power locks. They were laughing, maybe, as she jammed the keys at the ignition. She couldn’t bear to look.  The keys slipped from her fingers to the floorboard, and her cheek struck the steering wheel hard enough to make her eyes water as she lunged and grasped for them under her feet. They pressed around the car like rising water. One stood next to her door, another leaned against the fender, just outside the windshield. He adjusted his cap and crossed his pale arms, his skin taut over stringy muscles. She stared at those arms, avoiding his face, his unimaginable eyes. A tuft of brown hair peeped from his armpit; fuzzy tattoos littered his forearms.

He glanced away as a car cruised by on the street below. “You wanna party with us?” he said, as casual as if they were standing around a keg together. “We got that good shit—you wanna get on the line?”

She kept her fingers on the keys in the ignition, but she didn’t start the car, didn’t reach for her cell phone, locked in the glove box. Not yet.

“Don’t think she likes us,” he said to his friends. From inside the car his voice was muffled. She sat, one hand on the wheel, one hand on the ignition, like an exhibit under glass. What did they see? Did they see the car seats jammed side-by-side in the back, the toy trains and juice straws and crayons and crumbs? He tucked his chin and peered through the windshield at her, inserting himself in her line of vision, bobbing his head like a bird seeking a better angle on a worm.

~

She dropped off the levee and wove her way round to the footpath along the riverbank, unclipped Diva’s leash, and lengthened her stride. She liked the rough terrain, running in and out of shadows, imagining the muscles along the back of her thighs growing longer and stronger. Imagining the years of deskwork and child-friendly food peeling away to reveal the thighs she’d had at seventeen—a body she had fretted over at the time but would expose with glee if she had it today.

The younger one had smiled at her. Maybe. A shy smile, more at the ground near her than at her, actually. He would have been the one. He lacked confidence—she could tell by the way he followed the others. He probably had no idea how cute he was.

She’d have let him sit next to her in the shallow water, watching his friends and bringing her beers, shiny drops of water clinging to the tips of his short hair. She’d make him laugh, and later, when she caught a ride home with them, she would make sure she sat next to him—or on his lap, maybe, if the car was full. She’d drape her arm along the seat behind him, her forearm brushing the sun-warmed skin along the back of his neck. And that night, at whatever party that surely followed such a day of swimming and drinking, she’d lure him to the backyard, lead him around the side of the house where she’d let him kiss her and grope her until they collapsed in the grass, where he’d feel her up until she came.

~

He dropped down over the levee and crossed the field toward the trails by the river. He’d seen which way she’d gone and he followed, moving fast under cover, slowing down in the open, and it wasn’t long before he saw her again: a smudge of color in a field between paths, the dog off the leash.

The weight of his daddy’s hunting knife hung in his belt. He didn’t use it much, but he was in the habit of keeping it with him. You never knew when you might need to end a fight quick, and he’d ended more than one with a well-placed jab. People freaked out when they got stabbed—all the fight went out of them, even if they weren’t hurt that bad. A dog wouldn’t be different.

The girl left the trail and walked out in the clearing. She threw the ball—the dog, a big German Shepherd, chased it. He faded back into the brush, watching. She threw the ball pretty good for a girl, and the dog raced off and fetched it back, raced and fetched, stopping in front of her with the ball in its mouth, tossing it back to her with a flip of its big head. After a while, the dog slowed down, trotting after the ball instead of running, until finally, it loped off and lay down about 30 yards away with the ball between its paws, chewing.

The girl put her hands on her hips. “Is that it?” she called. She cocked her head at the dog and made a big show of turning to walk away. She moved toward where the boy crouched, behind a thick wooded bush just off the trail. After a few paces she stopped short, looked up and down the trail, then hard out over the river. He stayed absolutely still, breathing slow and quiet through his nose.

He didn’t think she saw him, but she turned abruptly, walking away fast towards the levee. She shouted, “Come!” and the dog jumped up and bounded back to her, the ball still in its mouth. She clipped the leash to its collar on the move, glancing back over her shoulder. A stream of cyclists slipped by on the path between them.

~

She started the car, jumped when the music blared out of the stereo. She looked up now, met his pale gaze and shook her head. “Get off my car,” she said, not quite loud enough. She felt old. Fragile. She thought of the cell phone but she’d have to take the keys out of the ignition to get it out of the glove box and she’d read somewhere that in a bad situation, a woman locked in her car with the engine running had some options.

“Come on, now,” he said, “why you hate-n?” He grinned, revealing a set of crowded yellow teeth. She dropped the car into gear. Out of the corner of her eye the third one appeared at the passenger door. He reached for the door handle. It was locked, of course, but the casual way he reached for it made it all too easy to imagine it opening for him. She stepped on the gas and the car lurched away from the curb. Something thumped against the back of the car as the one on the hood reached up and slipped his fingers over the edge of the sunroof she’d left cracked open in the heat. He pulled himself further up on the hood, and held on as she tore hard right at the intersection, trying to spin him off. He threw his head back, whooping and cackling through the curve, like her car was a teacup at Disneyland. On the straightaway she reached up and jammed the button on the sunroof, closing it on his fingers, those pink buds encroaching into the safety of her car. She made 40, then 50 as she approached the bend at the end of the street. He was cursing now, the tips of his fingers blooming purple, the sunroof motor clicking mindlessly as she held the button down, no purchase for his other hand. She slammed left down a side street, the main road up ahead, two cars in line at a four-way stop. His body rolled across the hood, his arm twisting in its socket with a wet snap that arched his back like a fish on a line. They passed an old man watering his front yard, water flowing in cool arc, white hair, his free hand in his pocket. She slowed, reached up and cracked the sunroof open, and the boy slipped from the hood into the street.

The old man dropped the hose on the grass and jogged towards his front door as the pickup screeched up behind her. She gunned it, swerving around the line of cars at the stop sign and out onto the main road. She headed for the highway.

~

She usually let Diva off the leash when she reached the horse trail, past the cycling path before she reached the river. Although it was marked with the occasional brown sign depicting a horseshoe, she’d never seen an actual horse on the horse trail. It was isolated enough to let Diva off the leash without bothering anyone. It was also mostly out of sight of the levee where the occasional Park Ranger rumbled by in a dull green truck, handing out tickets for dogs off-leash. A web of footpaths connected the horse trail to the river itself, and to spots along the river bank—fishing holes and swimming holes, abandoned campsites where teenagers partied or homeless men slept—places hidden from view unless you were on the water, watching the banks unfurl from the safety of a boat. Sometimes she sought out these places. She liked to forget she was in the city, if only for half an hour. She’d sit on the bank watching a bobbing strand of ducklings, or sunning turtles, or wild geese skidding in for a landing over the water.

~

He crouched in the brush, breathing slow. She called the dog, and moved back toward him. He stayed absolutely still until the moment she passed him, when he stood up, took hold of her arm, jerked her off the path and punched her in the back. Her knees buckled and she went down with a soft grunt. He let her fall then yanked her by the hair so she tumbled backwards into the dirt. He stepped over her and brought his fist down in the middle of her face, bloodying her nose and ensuring she’d stay down until he was done with the dog.

He unclipped his knife from his belt. When the dog came charging he grabbed the loose skin near its collar as it leapt and jabbed it in the throat, twisting the knife, ripping it free. The snarl died away in a liquid burbling. It crashed to the ground and struggled to get up, collapsed and lay heaving. He grabbed its collar and pulled it deep under the bush where he’d been hiding, sticking it again for good measure. His veins sang with pure voltage, surging in his chest, racing to the tips of his fingers, filling his arms with power. He was already hard and he felt strong, armed and ready like a soldier in the jungle, eyes bright in a paint-smeared face. The dog had been a kind of bonus. He wiped its blood on his thigh, folded and sheathed his knife and turned back to the woman, who was gasping now, on her knees with her back to him, dripping blood in the dirt. He stomped her ass with his boot, sending her sprawling. He chuckled, feeling huge, enormous, a fucking giant. He grabbed her by the arm and dragged her into the trees.

~

The point of the story about the boys on the trail in Guatemala, when she told it at cocktail parties, was that sometimes your body knows more than your mind. He knew something was wrong when those boys ran by, but he ignored it. Beat it back. She said she believed in trusting her instincts, but in practice instinct is hardly distinguishable from paranoia. How do we choose, in a given moment, between justifiable fear and nervous stupidity? Are we brave or do we hesitate?

~

They stepped out on the trail in front of her. She brought Diva up short, pulled her right up close to her hip. They blocked the path, two abreast and one behind. One of them squatted, reached out his hand as if offering Diva something. She extended her neck, nostrils flared, but the woman looped the leash tight around her hand, gave a sharp tug, pulled her back.

“Are you going to let me by?” She was surprised at the even sound of her own voice, the steadiness of her hands. She’d jogged along, fearing they might materialize on the trail, pretty much exactly as it happened, and now that they stood in front of her she felt strangely ready. She wasn’t unafraid, it was just that the fear existed somewhere outside her body, allowing her to speak without squeaking, to move without shaking. The hair on Diva’s neck rose—she made a low noise in her throat, audible in the evening around them.

“Go on by,” said the one in front. He stepped to one side of the trail, made an open gesture with his hand. “We ain’t stopping you.” He smiled, baring his teeth. Diva barked once, then twice more. A warning. The boy in front stood absolutely still, his eyes fixed on the woman. The younger one, standing behind the other two, farthest from her, took a step back.

She singled him out. “Your mama know where you are?” she said. His eyes flickered, and she almost smiled. “I thought not.” She turned back to the leader. “Just what exactly are you trying to do?”

“Easy, now,” he said, his eyes hard and bright as wet pebbles. “Maybe we’re just out walking, like you.”

She looked him full in the face for longer than she wanted to. Without breaking her stare she said, “Why don’t you boys go on back to your truck? Get back to whatever it is you were doing before I came along.”

He took a step toward her. She loosened her grip on the leash and stepped back as Diva lunged, snarling.

~

They had ruined her run, is what they’d done. She couldn’t get them and their Nine-inch cocks, Baby, out of her head.

Every day she looked forward to this time alone, breathing deep, stretching her legs as the sun went down over the river. She let the leash out a bit, but kept Diva on it. She’d run to the Landing and turn around. Or maybe run to the Landing and cut back through the neighborhood, return to her car from a different direction.

There were a few vehicles in the parking lot when she got there. One of them was a dark red pickup. Had their truck been red? She resisted the urge to turn around. Random crimes were rare, she thought. Cue the discordant violins: her life was not a B movie. But that’s what everyone thought, right? That’s what everyone thought just before they took a flashlight down the basement stairs.

And it was them. Two of them, anyway, standing by the truck next to the trail. Where was the other one? She looked around. She had to decide what to do. Stop and turn and they’d see her. Pass right by and they’d surely see her. Slow down and walk? That’d make her nice target again, wouldn’t it? One of them leaned against the bumper of the truck and took a long draw from a can of beer. The other with his shirt still off and his ball cap low over his eyes, motioned up the trail towards her, as if he were pointing her out, or toasting her.

Cheers, Motherfucker. She met his eyes as she passed.

~

Usually she headed straight down for the shady privacy of the horse trail, but today she was spooked. Where were all the people? She stuck to the levee, where people were more likely to come and go, more likely to hear if she called for help. Called for help. Seriously, what did she think those boys were going to do, chase her down the levee and attack her in broad daylight?  She just needed to keep moving, put a little distance between them and she’d feel better. She wanted to look back, but what if she looked back and they were watching? As long as she didn’t look, it was silly to think they might be there.

Diva strained against the leash, pulling her to the levee’s edge, anxious to get down to the river. She wanted off the leash, wanted to chase the ball. She kept Diva close. There had been three of them. All she could hope, aside from the fact that she was being ridiculous, was that a German Shepherd was enough of a deterrent to make her too much trouble. Surely it was easier to pick on a girl without a dog. She should’ve kept her mouth shut, though, and shouldn’t have worn the stupid skirt.

Her heart was beating too fast. Or was it the walking? She’d come far enough now that they would have had to follow her a good long way, and they couldn’t have gotten ahead without her seeing them. Could they?

Believing herself both brave and sensible, she took the next path down to the cycling trail and crossed, made her way down to the river and kept pace. They’d ruined her run, is what they’d done. She couldn’t get them out of her mind. Every bend, every bush, every clutch of trees had become a sinister hiding place for them. What if—this just occurred to her—what if they drove up ahead, accessed the trail in front of her, and then just lay in wait? She hadn’t really gotten a good look at them—what if they hadn’t been boys at all, but men? Maybe even men just out of jail.

That’s actually how she described them later, when she told her husband about it and when she called her sister, and later still her girlfriends, to tell the story. She said, “They could’ve been anywhere between sixteen and thirty-two. They might’ve been kids, or they might’ve been men just out of jail.” It was the not knowing that made the story worth telling.


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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Kester November 26, 2012 at 4:20 pm

Great piece. Weaves together with such good tension. Vividly done.

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Gail Willoughby November 28, 2012 at 9:35 am

A wonderful read…flowed well and kept me anticipating what was coming next. Thanks for sharing!

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Candace Osterhout May 13, 2013 at 10:36 pm

I read this and then made the mistake of ex-ing out of the page. I went back the next day searching like crazy just find this story again! Very original and engaging. It’s inspired me in my own writing.

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Ron February 6, 2014 at 12:26 pm

Compelling story. Excellent descriptive writing and realistic dialogue. I passed on this story the first time when I read the author’s bio and she described herself as having a filthy mouth. I’m not a prude, but that made me pass. Now having read it, she has too much talent to give that personality quirk any notice.

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