This story is by Brian Palmer and was part of our 2018 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
A crisp breeze whipped through my shirt as I stepped onto my front stoop. A small voice whispered in my ear to give up this childish business and return to the TV program still in progress inside as I yanked the door shut behind me. Nonchalantly, I raised my left foot and then the right behind my butt stretching the tightness from my legs. “This is going to hurt, but your wife will thank you later,” I muttered to myself before leaning forward and trotting down the moonlit sidewalk away from my home. With the push of a button on my armband, ACDC blasted deafening rock music into my headphones throttling me forward. My knees screamed in agony at the onslaught of excessive movement like they always did at the beginning of a run.
I reached the end of the neighborhood and continued onto a running trail that winded through a small forest. Joggers, hikers, dog walkers, and the occasional speedy mountain biker occupied these trails during the day, but it was mostly uninhabited at night. Darkness always spun my imagination into a frenzy. Negative shocks rode through my spine compelling the hair on my neck to stand straight up as I entered the black forest. I ignored the foul feeling, knowing my distaste for running during the night well enough. I forced myself to lean further forward and speed up the tempo. Nothing dangerous lived among these trees. Just rabbits and a few deer called it home. I responded to my angst by cranking my music up to drown out any counterproductive thoughts. Nightfall eclipsed the forest blinding the trail from sight. My feet followed the paved pathway the best they could from memory. Portions of light from the moon’s glow penetrated through the trees hinting directional cues to the forest’s visitors.
As I finished one mile, a trailhead with a dirt parking lot bounced into view with each step. Two vehicles sat idle in the lot with their lights turned on to the left of the path. An overturned bike awaiting a tire change laid behind a green Subaru with an old, red Chevy truck and camper shell next to it. The scene stayed motionless as I passed by. The slack from my untied shoe nagged at my train of thought. Peering down, I saw the laces laying on the sides. The vehicle lights presented an opportunity for me to tie them before pushing on. Kneeling, I paused to catch my breath before grasping the laces. Noticing the ground while manipulating the laces, I saw that I accidentally placed my foot down in a puddle. Squinting, I could see that it wasn’t water on the trail. I swiped at the substance with my index finger and brought it up to my eyes. “This looks like…”, I thought now rubbing the substance between my finger and thumb, “blood.” My focus shifted to the empty vehicles in the lot. I stood and cautiously approached the parking lot. “Hello? Anyone there?” I questioned aloud. I shuffled my feet kicking up dirt to signal my presence. I had no desire to scare anybody, but needed assurance everyone was alright.
As I crossed behind the Subaru, I noted a large nail pierced into the back tire of the overturned mountain bike. I froze when my eyes drifted to the open tailgate of the Chevy. “Oh crap, sorry. I thought somebody needed help,” I stammered backing away from a pair of feet sticking out from under a blanket in the truck bed. Gradually turning away from the truck, I began to replace my earbuds, yet no sound or voice rang from the truck. Curiously, I performed an about-face towards the truck. The wool blanket remained stationary. Lowering my earbuds, I crept up to the eerie, recumbent figure. I jabbed at the shin of the person with a finger. No reaction arose from the body or the leg. I poked again, but harder. Nothing. Horror swept my insides as I attempted to swallow down my stomach which slithered into my throat. Reluctantly, I clenched the edge of the blanket and lifted it over to the side revealing a man dressed mountain biking attire. The man’s eyes remained open despite that his life force departed.
Gazing down, I fell into shock when my vision centered on the laceration from the man’s chest to his abdomen. The wound still trickled with blood indicating the freshness of the gash. My fingers shot to the man’s neck checking for any sign of life. He was dead. I plucked the cellphone from the holder on my arm. Fearfully shaking, I struggled to light up the screen on my Samsung to begin dialing 9-1-1. My trembling fingers smeared blood across the screen. I scanned around the parking lot impatiently awaiting an answer on the other line.
“911, what’s your emergency?” an operator answered. “Uh yes, I need the police and an ambulance immediately to the Pine Forest Trailhead…” I stuttered still trying to get a hold of myself. “There’s a man here who…” I continued, but trailed off at the sound of a branch snapping in the trees in front of the truck. Leaning to my side, I stared into the trees for anything. Just as I returned upright, a figure emerged around the front of the vehicle, dashing towards my position. A loud yelp escaped me when I reeled around and bolted towards the trail. Adrenaline surged through me rocketing me onto the trail.
“Help …!” I screamed into my phone before an overhanging tree branch snatched it out of my hand and tossed it to the ground as I passed by. My feet screeched to a halt staring down at the phone in a pile of branches. The enormous figure continued to pursue me onto the trail making up ground with my stop. The murmur from the 911 operator’s voice murmured from the ground as I fled from it.
The killer matched my movement step for step with ease. I stayed on the path at first, but chose not to be easy prey. Immediately, I jumped off the trail, zipping into the timber in hopes the hunter would trip or lose me in the foliage. I blindly waved my arms in front of my face still running to stop the needle-pointed branches already scratching my skin. My legs strained to carry me at a full sprint through the forest before arriving at a steep downhill. A flash of hope lit my soul when my head whirled around to find the vegetation behind me empty of any movement. I would not stop. I vigilantly galloped down the steep hill concentrating on each step as to not lose my footing.
Streetlamps burned from down below giving me a hint of faith, but a loud commotion caught my attention only yards away. The man or creature barreled down the descent side by side with me, struggling to trap me in the forest. My gait opened and I uncontrollably flew down the hillside. He relentlessly engaged me nearly traversing into my path before a thorny bush snagged my untied shoelaces. I tumbled to the ground. The force pulled my body down slamming it into a nearby log. Instantly, I tried to recover to my feet, yet the log ensnared my leg. My hands felt down my leg until they arrived at a broken branch protruding from the log and into my quadriceps. I painfully pushed the log away from me inching the jagged wood from my flesh. A gaping quarter sized hole remained from the impact with scarlet red pouring from the lesion.
My attacker converged on me from twenty yards away. He wore a trench coat with black combat boots that swiftly advanced towards me. As he strode towards me, he placed his foot on a flat, slick rock, slipped, and lost his balance. This was my chance. I vaulted to my feet racing to the bottom of the hill with everything left in my tank. Arriving at the bottom, my leg surrendered to the blood loss and collapsed, spilling me out onto the grass.
The agonizing pain coursing through my leg anchored me to the Earth with no glimpse of escape. The resonance of the now familiar sound of approaching footsteps stalking me overwhelmed my system with despair. With the realization of the impending doom, I closed my eyes and silently whispered a prayer to God for my children, my loving wife, and my desperate soul. I refused to feed this monster’s twisted hunger by hiding my dread as he stood over me, but rather my sight fell on his black boots in front of me. I laid awaiting the downward thrash of whatever tool he had to dispatch my exhausted spirit. The moment felt like a lifetime until a beam of light engulfed me on the ground from a flashlight. “Sir, are you okay? We’re going to get you some help. I’m with the police!”