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Archive for September, 2013

New Project: Excerpt

The taillights faded, their reddened glow swimming into a pinkish hue before succumbing to the darkness.  The shrill pierce of the screams fading along with the color.

From the hill top, an open mouth gaped into the darkness, the pale of his eyes interrupted only by the blinking of his lids.  Humor had vanished, leaving only an empty churn deep in the gut.  Bitter bile flooded his throat, foreshadowing the rising tied, and he doubled over.  The contents of his dinner, a double bacon cheeseburger and a watery lite beer, the pride of Elton’s Diner on the edge of tiny Carleton Crest, soaked the gravel shoulder of the highway.  His stomach clenched once and then again, until only a coughing rasp escaped.  Still it heaved again.

“We’re so stupid,” the blonde had laughed when he had finally delivered them to the rust-colored Honda Fit, sitting in the darkened gravel parking lot.

He’d laughed, less out of amusement than awkwardness.  “Nah, people get lost out here all the time.  Y’all take care now and next time you think about hiking ol’ Yellowtail, bring a map along with ya!”

But people didn’t lose their way all the time.  In fact, he couldn’t remember the last time he’d even seen a stranger hiking the trails that wound their way up the sides of the half-domed granite peak like the knot of a drunken sailor.  To be honest, he didn’t even know if there were trail maps available.  But one would hardly need a map, anyway.  There was but one side up the rocky incline, beyond which a sheer cliff cascaded straight into the surf below.  Oh sure, locals were occasionally found dashed along the rocks at the base of the cliff, particularly high schoolers, unable to hold their liquor and overflowing with adolescent invincibility and lust.  It was a potentially deadly combination to which Carleton Crest youth were too often not quite immune.  Why, just last year a couple of star-crossed high school lovers had disappeared over the cliff, although whether the tragedy had been accidental or a suicide pact had stoked the town’s gossip mill for months.

Strangers were a different matter, though.  Outsiders simply didn’t come to Carleton Crest, let alone get lost hiking the hills.  And yet, they had.  These three, all of them in their late twenties, he would have guessed.  The man, a quiet one without much to say at all.  Sort of non-descript, except for the scar that scrunched up his cheek, but that didn’t detract from his overall attractiveness.  The two others – women.  One blonde, with wavy bangs that just poked out from beneath the front of the blue bandana she wore like the Aunt Jemima character on the syrup bottles.  The other a brunette, her belly swollen considerably with expectancy.  Seven months, they’d told him.  Nope, no father in the picture.   He hadn’t pried further, and no explanation was given, only a raised eyebrow by their male companion.

It had been their yells that had piqued Roderick’s ears earlier. Not panicked cries, but more a sing-song yodeling that had wound its way amongst the scraggly evergreens and invasive kudzu that dotted the hills surrounding Yellowtail.   His hearing only revealed long enough to reset the playlist on his iPod, but long enough to hear the voices.

At first, it hadn’t registered that what he heard were even human and not the random howl of coyotes that could increasingly be heard in the area these days.  He’d never seen the coyotes himself, but he heard them aplenty.  And their scat littered nearly every trail in and around the checkerboard plots of state forest and private preserves that dotted the coastline.  He hadn’t heard them as a child, although he’d roamed these hills and woods daily, it seemed.  No, the coyotes had arrived more recently, slowly moving in as the urban push from the larger metropolises of Silver Springs and Gauntlet increasingly intruded into their natural domain.

Tires clawing at the loose gravel, followed by a slight popping sound.  That’s all he’d heard before the deep splash as the Honda’s front end hit the water.  He’d turned, and through the shadows, the taillights had move away from the shore, but only about six feet before settling into the still, deep water.  Screams.  Then nothing.

He’d taken two steps toward the boat ramp, an instinctual, heroic urge to sprint to the rescue.  But something in his mind held him back, a split second of self-preservation that swept over him and halted his movement.  In an instant, he crouched down into the kudzu.  And in the next, a slight breeze kicked up around him, and he felt slight movement.  He spun around, all senses on high alert, his eyes scanning left as the dark shadow drifted right.  By the time his eyes moved back in that direction, it was gone.  But the eerie cold remained high in his chest, where his heart beat a staccato rhythm.  The adrenalin surged through his body, and he felt his stomach clench once again.  But this time, he wrestled the retch back down.  And slowly, he raised back up to his feet.

The water was still once again, where the stubby little car had disappeared.  The night air was strangely silent.  Even the evening birds had gone quiet, as if no one wanted to admit to what they had seen.  Still, Roderick remain motionless, his ears straining to pick up even the slighted sound.  Little more than a flutter could be heard at all, as if a lone bird had taken flight from the frightful scene of the accident.  Within moments, even the fluttering was gone.  Then just a void.

Without another sound, Roderick slipped silently back up the trail, his smooth gait moving quicker and quicker with each passing minute, until he too had left the shoreline far behind the distant bluffs and he disappeared into the wood line of the forest preserve.

________________

High above, a solitary figure waited patiently for the man in the kudzu to depart.  In the green haze of the night vision goggles, he watch the man begin moving, slowly and deliberately at first, but building up speed as he went until finally, he disappeared into the dense forest.  That had been close.  Too close.  How had he missed seeing the man on the hilltop, until he had been nearly on top of him.  A quick tuck of his feet, and a bit of luck as the man turned left instead of right, and he’d swept just above and beyond.  Yes, far too close for comfort.

The figure let out a silent sigh, one that had been held inside for far too long.  His temples pounded, as he slowly turned counterclockwise and drifted down the coast line.  Reaching up to the lanyard that hung limp from his left shoulder, he slid a darkened bead down the nylon cord.  And with his fingers, he traced up from the bottom.  ThreeThree down and counting.  Fifteen to go.

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