By Joseph Grant

Things had certainly changed in America, she thought as she ran through the wet, leafy trees. She stopped momentarily and rested against the bark of a tree and drew heavy breaths. She could see her breath frost the air in front of her in quick successions.

“Just keep running! If you stop, they’ll find you!” She swallowed, feeling the burn of her parched throat from running and hyperventilating. It had been that way for most of the late afternoon. She wiped at the sweat that soaked her forehead. She could feel that her shirt and underclothing were drenched. She took a quick look in back of her, ran in place a few steps and took off again. They would catch up soon, she told herself.

She rethought the day’s events. It was early this morning that she was at home sitting in the kitchen, thinking how drab her life had become. She remembered it so vividly in the way she sat at the table and smoked a cigarette and planned out her day. Sure, she had both a fine husband and an adorable third-grader that came home every day and gave her unconditional love, but she had nothing of herself.

God, she thought as she kept her pace; dodging branches that grabbed at her hair, face and clothing. God, she could use that cigarette. It occurred to her that it was probably the smoking that held her back from covering more ground. She could barely breathe with all of this fresh air she smiled as she trod down an old Indian path. She didn’t care; she was dying for a cigarette! Such thought would make her give up and open herself to defeat. No, she mustn’t think such thought, she scolded herself.

She stepped off the Indian path, thick with mud for last night’s rain. She was leaving footprints that she did not want to leave. The further she ran, there were more undergrowth and more trees into which she could vanish. The thicket turned into woods and sensing her good fortune, she turned towards a more secluded part of the woods, careful not leave tracks.

She searched her mind for any reason why she was a wanted woman, a common fugitive. She could not come up with any clear reason in her mind as to a motive. She searched her heart for what she had done to them or anyone that would bring out such a hysterical response. The provocation of such a manhunt after her ate at her as she ran through the woods. She nodded to herself; it certainly was a hunt. Why else would she have heard the barking and growling of the dogs?

She ran down a small embankment and descended through a grouping of young white pine. The area on which she now trod became dense with precarious roots and scrub and her footing more unsteady. Some limbs snagged at her hair and her vision and she lost her footing and fell again.

As she tumbled down the decline, her body was assaulted by treacherous rocks that dotted the hill. She let out a piercing shrill and fell into a heap at the bottom. She lay there for a few minutes, panting into the ground, sending leaves scurrying away from her mouth as she breathed.

With the pain at her side, she wondered if she had been hit by errant buckshot, she tugged at her jeans and pulled her sweatshirt away. What she saw was a much bruised hip and some broken skin. She peered at her wound in a hurtful gaze of her how her body had betrayed her. Blood raised itself and oozed from the break in the skin. The pain and a wave of nausea that followed were intense and she was unable to move for quite some time afterward.

She put pressure on her hip, as much as she could stand and wondered if she had chipped the bone. She was pretty confident she had not been grazed, for she would have been bleeding more so, but she knew the woods were full of hunters this time of year.

Finally, she knelt, getting her knees soaked through to the skin as she tried to rise. She felt so alone and helpless and began for the first time to feel despair. From the pain and confused emotion, she felt like crying but knew from her father that crying was a weakness and if she let the tears flow they might never stop.

Defiantly, she got up slowly and struggled along, knowing each time that she was not on the run that she was more likely to be captured. She held her hip as she ran and her entire body shook from the experience and exhaustion but she continued on, fueled by self-preservation. She promised herself she would continue until darkness fell.

She mustn’t ruminate on the corporeal, she told herself. If she allowed that little mutiny to occur, her mind would start playing tricks on her. As she ran through the leaves and by small knee-high bushes that lightly scratched against her legs, she ignored the sensation, instead concentrating on what pretty country it was.

Her lungs hurt from the constant workout that they were receiving. She stopped for a second to catch her breath. Her breaths came hard and deep as she leaned against a spruce. She could feel the sweatshirt pressed against her body like a second, mucous skin. Her mind was reeling and she was very lightheaded from not having had breakfast, which she never did. If she survived this ordeal she pledged she would eat breakfast from now on, she said to herself. Being borderline anorexic so she could outdo the women at her husband’s law office in which she sometimes worked had served her well there, but not here in the woods. She felt worn out and older than her twenty-nine years. Her mind raced, as she wondered what time of day it could be. She squinted and looked up, but could not see much for the ceiling of trees above her. The old ironic adage of not seeing the forest for the trees was painfully obvious. She wished she knew this morning what she knew now.

Mercifully, she came upon a stream and fell down beside it in glee. She cupped a dirty hand and then two into the clear, cold water and drank. As her thirst was sated, she washed her face, knowing what a fright she must have been. She could feel leaves and mud dried in her hair and even pulled out a writhing worm. Normally this would have extracted a shriek, but she let out a laugh. And then, she allowed herself to finally cry.

When her emotions subsided, she found herself walking with a limp beside the stream. Her soaked sweatshirt was now chilling her body and she shuddered as she crossed her arms. It was darkening now and soon those who were chasing her would settle down and set up a base camp.

The thought of ditching her sweatshirt crossed her mind for a moment, but all she had underneath was a lacy bra. She nixed the idea. Rather, she took off the shirt and tied it around her waist, giving her wounded hip some warmth, even if it was a sodden sensation.

She decided it was not wise to discard any clothing behind. How could she have been so stupid, she wondered? That would be leaving a trail for them. Why didn’t she just wave a white flag over the trees, she scolded herself. It would also be very dark and cold soon, she reminded herself and she would be freezing without her sweatshirt. She needed to dry her clothes. It was time to stop and build a fire.

She wandered away from the sanctity of the rippling stream and into the silent, dark patch of trees. It frightened the hell out of her to walk into the woods at night. It reminded her of her childhood and how she once got lost in the woods in back of her aunt’s house and how her family had to find her. She was aware that childhood fears never truly went away and they just became repressed with all the other unpleasant memories that created neurotic adults.

As she ventured into the shadows, her senses became alive with all those that she had not been aware of earlier. Glowing eyes met her at all depths of the blackness and she knew then that she was not alone.

She carefully gathered up a few twigs and branches as hurriedly as she could but the sense of futility washes over her in the mist. No timber would catch fire in all of this dampness. She grabbed at a large piece of log and dropped it almost immediately as she could feel a thousand crawlers upon it.

She brought the twigs back besides the clearing of the stream which she could see was illuminated by a moon that peeked through the cloud covering. She felt around in her pockets for a pack of matches. Instead, she found her lighter. It filled her with happiness. She greedily struck at the lighter with her thumb and pressed it against the damp kindling. The flame licked at the wood and ran along the sides of it in a playful passion, but it was a dead passion. The wood did not ignite. She threw the pieces down in disgust and let out a scream.

She massaged at her sore tendons and placed her head against her knees. She relaxed and started to fall asleep. She had been out for almost ten minutes when she awoke with a start. She did not look up, but could feel a gentle tapping on her shoulders and her head. It was raining. She suddenly sensed that she was not alone. She cautiously peered to her right side and into the woods. She looked for the lights, the men and listened for the dogs. It was the two glowing eyes in the forest coming closer that unnerved her.

She had heard about wolves in these parts, because of construction of condos and deforestation and how wolves and bears were venturing out of the deep woods and mountain areas in search of food. She shook with fright. The creature walked ever so closer. She knew any sudden reaction on her part could mean consequences that had not foreseen.

She carefully picked up the heaviest branch she could find and watched her adversary. It eyed her with the same suspicion. She took the plank and threw it with all of her strength at the animal. The plank sailed by the animal and disappeared into the darkness.

The wolf watched the wood fly past it with a curious abandon. She stood immediately, now that his attention was diverted and threw another piece at it. Again, it watched the wood fly over it and then returned its gaze.

She then took a handful of sand and rocks and hurled it at the animal. It hit the snout and dazed it. It shook its head and she could hear it try to clear its nostrils. She took another handful and hit it again.

“Get! Get!!” She screamed at the top of her lungs.

If she had wanted to startle the animal, it was not phased. It shook off the latest attacks and edged even closer. She suddenly remembered the lighter in her pocket and turned the nozzle up and struck at the lever. The flame blew high into the rainy, cool air and she yelled again at the wolf. From somewhere deep within, she took courage and walked menacingly towards it. She kicked dirt and rocks as she walked closer. She screamed at the thing to go away. Amazingly, it did.

She watched it turn and saunter back into the blackness from whence it came and she could not believe her luck at first and then took laughing pride in her victory. She took off her sneakers and walked to the dark, ice cold stream. The flowing water felt good on her swollen, sore and blistered feet. She knew that this was a tactic used by even the most hardened of criminals to avoid detection on the run.

She walked along the stream until her feet became numb and chilled to the touch and wandered off into a field and followed the stars. She had no idea where she was headed, but knew that if she could only get in touch with her husband, everything would be alright.

She spotted a ramshackle farm and decided to slumber indoors, even if that meant with a leaky roof overhead from the look of things. The grass beneath her feet felt cool and soft in the rain and every now and then a sharp blade would tweak her foot, but she did not care.

Light from above awoke her from the hole in the roof. Ants crawled all over her and she smacked off those that she could. It was a queasy feeling to her whenever she felt insects on her and grimaced and swatted at those still present.

Weak from not eating, she went in search of nourishment. She wandered aimlessly around the abandoned acre and found a crab apple tree. She snatched a handful and went back to the stable. She bit into one and noticed it was rotten. She flung the apple aside for the ants and bit into another. It was sour and sticky but she did not care, she had to eat something.

When she finished her first meal in a day, she put her sweatshirt back on. The shirt was dry and warm from her body and it felt nice to wear it once again. She looked for her sneakers. She did not remember what she had done with them; such was her state without sustenance. She found one, but could not find the other. She must have dropped it in the tall grass, she concluded.

She dozed and her mind wandered to happier times and how it was to sleep in her own comfortable bed and the cozy feeling of the soft sheets and her pillow. She was still sore from the run and was not comforted by the fact of sleeping the whole night on a dirt floor.

Her mind raced through different scenarios. What had she done, what crime had she committed to be chased like this? She traced her steps over the last few weeks when she, her husband and daughter had moved from the City into the small town of Lynn, affluent suburb in New England, where her husband’s job had relocated. A few neighbors welcomed them, but for the most part those in the town seemed to keep to themselves. It struck her as odd, as even in a big city like Hartford, people were friendly and accommodating. Believing they had made a huge mistake, it was only when they began to make friends with some couples at their church that they felt finally welcome.

It also struck her as peculiar that their church was not the predominant faith of the townspeople. In fact, their church had been pushed off out of the common view and shuttered away near these very woods. This was made further strange by the stares she and her family would get from those in town as they left every Saturday morning to worship.

She felt ill. She thought it might have been due to the green crab apples. She became very sick and peristaltic, but she after sleeping, she felt fine. She had to move again. Find a phone, she grumbled to herself.

The thought came to her about heading back to the mountains in the distance where her home was located but she discarded that idea. How stupid, she thought, that would be where they’d be waiting. She blinked and focused her weary eyes on those mountains and noticed the shimmering colors of fall and wondered where the hell she was.

She walked awhile, trying to spot the interstate, but the land rolled on endlessly in front of her. It was pointless, she deduced, she was in the middle of nowhere. She plotted her way back into the sanctity of the woods.

As the day progressed, it became unseasonably warm and she felt she had made the right decision to take to the woods where at least it was cooler. She hobbled along only taking a brief respite to wash in the river that had been the stream and rested only when her body became too weak.

Upon one of these resting places, she heard the sound of barking dogs in the distance. Panicked, she started off in a confused direction. It wasn’t long until she met up with a pack of dogs. Then she heard the excited screams: “There she is!”

With overpowering fright, she ran towards the river. The savage mutts chased after her, snapping at her heels. Over her heart pounding in her ears, she heard the sickly laugh of those running behind the dogs. One canine jumped up and bit her on the arm. She momentarily stopped and became a blur of blood and dogs. They enshrouded her body in tearing assaults. Instantly, she felt her body being pulled down to the floor of the forest and the sensation of being dragged. She instinctively remembered her lighter and grabbed frantically down to her pocket as the dogs bit at her hand. She punched and kicked at the dogs, who were now proceeding to rip shreds of her clothing and skin at the same time. She reached her lighter and thumbed hysterically at the lever and sent one or two of the pack scattering.

She reached to her side and found a rock and smashed another growling dog’s head in and proceeded to hit at another with a small log.

Bleeding and torn, she faltered off towards the river. She knew that if she could make it to the water, the river would take her. With the whole of the forest reeling about her, she staggered towards the shoreline. She could hear a voice scream: “She killed my dog, Pa! She killed my dog!” as her feet met the cold, wet pebbled sand.

The sound of buckshot met her as she sunk into the icy depths. It was a comfortable feeling as she sank below water level. They could not reach her anymore, she smiled. The river was her sanctuary. She felt safe and let the river carry her, as if already dead. The coldness of the water was therapeutic on her bruised body as she drifted quickly along.

She would let the river take her down, away from them and then she would find a phone, somewhere perhaps a ranger’s station and report these depraved human beings to the proper authorities. She smiled as she pictured them being locked up.

Her weightlessness in the river almost felt like flying and she opened her limbs and accepted the river. She was so exhausted that she felt if she closed her eyes, maybe she could finally drift away for good. She lifted her wet hair out of the water and it made a gurgling sound near her ears. No, she had to stop thinking such defeatist thoughts. There would be retribution, she promised herself, no question of it.

Suddenly, her leg snagged on something. She cleared the water out of her eyes and screamed in horror. For, caught under a log, was one of the women from her church. She was drowned and somewhat bloated and stared out into nothing. The sight of the woman stiff and dead in the water shook her out of her frame of mind and into the real and extreme nature of her predicament.

She drifted to the side of the river and became ensnared in the brush and accumulated debris on the side of the river. She felt two hands on her arms grab her up and excited voices and more hands grab at her. Someone shouted: “We got her! Tell ‘em we got her!”

She smiled as they pulled her out of the water; “Ophelia from the river.” She murmured. They forcibly wrestled her onto the beach and held her down. She noticed the rest of an obvious group spilling forth from behind the trees and running over. They all looked like hunters, she thought. She breathed a sigh and wondered if she was going home. Her mind braced and she remembered who these people were. She feared if she was going to be raped. She looked up with wide eyes at those standing above her. She noticed a few of the men were breathing heavy and red-faced.

One of the dogs came up and sniffed at her and started to growl. Someone pulled on the leash and said: “It’s okay, Bud. We got her.”, and pulled the dog back. She stared at one of the older men. He stared back with unforgiving eyes, without expression. He spoke up:

“Is your name Sarah Post?”

She could not speak. Her voice was paralyzed with fear and her throat was burned from running for two days. She nodded.

“Well, then, I sentence you to death by compression!” He snarled.

Her eyes widened in horror. What could this man be talking about? He must have sensed her confusion.

“Are you not Sarah Post?” He demanded.

She weakly uttered: “Yes.”

“We find you are a witch and must, by the old laws, die of compression.”

“But, I am not-.”

“Quiet!” He roared and ordered those present to start gathering large stones. She tried to wriggle but the men continued to hold her down.

“This is the United States of America!” Her voice cracked. “You can’t do this! I’ll sue you! My husband will sue you!”

Panic gripped her as the first large stone was placed onto her midsection, her resistance now futile. The rock must have weighed fifty pounds and pinned her flat to the beach. She screamed and struggled in vain as yet another rock was lowered and then another was piled on top of her.

“As you may have seen, we have already gotten most of your cult that you have an abomination to call a religion. Lydia Parsons was drowned the other day and your husband and child have been hanged yesterday when they came home. Be rest assured, we will get the others. “Stop moving, you’ll only prolong your ungodly agony!” He barked as the stones crushed at her body. A wooden plank was added for the next level and then finally she gave up and closed her eyes for the next world. She found herself running through another forest as she drifted away and the pain began to subside. She wondered where she was now headed.

(C)opyright 2009 Joseph Grant All Rights Reserved

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