The names. Don’t know the names of the trees. Go to the library. Don’t know if there is a library. Not much of anything in town. Engineer thinking. Enjoy the forest. Forget the names.
That’s just what Scott Felton did that summer morning. After only one day his mind began to clear of former thoughts, many of them painful. Even the locomotive that roared past his ear–the sound of his life barreling by–faded now. He’d made his escape. Escape to what he didn’t know yet. Scott stepped from his cabin door to find out. First thing in the morning. Best thing. No need to lock up–he didn’t own anything anymore, just a sleeping bag, a couple cans of food and an old guitar he hadn’t played in fifteen years. Last night he played Woody Guthrie and Bob Dylan songs–all he remembered from his playing days.
Scott’s feet marched down the path. The Jeep was where he’d left it. Arrow right to your cabin, open door to theft and murder. City thinking again.
Scott crossed the road and made his way through forest brambles. Things were complicated, even here. Thorns poked Scott’s jeans, mosquitoes buzzed his ears, birds announced his arrival in angry cries.
“You’re a rugged mountain man in an untamed wilderness,” Scott told himself aloud.
Is that what’s going to happen? Talk to yourself and play the guitar and slowly go nuts. Nothing is what you envisioned–you know that. You’re thirty-seven years old–you must have learned something in that time.
“Dav-y-y-y, Davy Crockett, king of the wild frontier!” Scott sang.
The project will help. Love and work–that’s what Freud said, wasn’t it? Love will have to wait. Except for Kathy, his daughter, six years old now, who loved him unconditionally, though her life coincided so tragically with the worst of Scott’s life. And he remembered the love of his wife Lorraine, before it all soured.
Footprints in the dirt. Oh, God, you’re not alone. Scott knelt. Two human beings, both in boots. One smaller, maybe a woman. Scott remembered the blue-eyed girl from the day before. Fresh prints, Scott decided, though he wasn’t sure how he knew.
Put there when the ground was wet. Last night. Follow them, see where they lead. Be careful, could be someone dangerous hiding out. Or hunters. Lovers perhaps–a secret rendezvous, naked on soft ground, pine needles stuck in bare, pink flesh. Should have brought a camera. Read about this in Letters to Penthouse.
The tracks led uphill in a straight line. Going somewhere specific. The tracks swerved west and Scott decided not to trail them. They want to be alone. That’s why you’re here, after all. Respect their privacy. Wouldn’t want people following you around in the woods, would you?
Scott sat on a downed log and considered. He was tired anyway.
1. Start a list. 2. Learn the names. 3. Get in shape. 4. Begin the project. 5. Fill lungs with mountain air. Thinner up here. But clean…you think. Does the smog stay low? Not sure. Look it up.
Scott felt it at the back of his neck: eyes. Four…or is it six? Scott swung quickly, looking up the mountain behind, catching only a blast of sun. He squinted. No faces in the distant pines.
Nobody’s watching. Nobody cares. Your life is your own. Fly, little bird, fly.
Scott turned back down the mountain. They’re still watching.
Scott reached the spot where he’d first seen the prints. Follow them down the hill. See whether they start from a logger’s pickup or a tourist’s rental car. See if there’s another cabin down there. Squatter maybe. Marijuana growers. Or worse. Hired killers hiding out in the woods. Get back to the cabin. Start the project. Many projects. Who gives a damn who they are?
A blast of hot air hit Scott when he opened the cabin door. He had shut the windows and door. City habit. Still, there might be bears. Or snakes. Is there a rake around here? Kill a snake with a rake. How? God, you’re driving yourself nuts. What the hell kind of mountain man are you?
“Unlikeliest one you ever met,” Scott chuckled to himself.
Scott opened the footlocker that contained his files.
So much to learn. Time to start on the project.
It was monumental in scope. Nothing less than the whole planet was at stake. There was work to do and what better place than deep in the forest, where the example of the ideal faced you every day in the sight of the trees, the smell of the wildflowers and the song of the birds?
This was Eden, Scott knew, and he wouldn’t make the same mistake as the original inhabitants. No tasting of the fruit, no disobedience. Whatever Nature wanted of him, Scott was prepared to give. It gave him a new, endless life.
It’s being profoundly alone for the first time. You can’t act spontaneously because you’re always watching yourself, questioning your every move, doubting each action.
It’s not the woods, Scott decided. You’ve always been that way. You’re just cautious. Even the wild things you’ve done were calculated to come out right at the other end.
The drive up had been tense. The new vehicle drove like a truck and Scott fought every curve with arm-muscles he hadn’t used in years. He’d sold his classic Triumph at half its market value, but sacrifice was part of it.
Pickets blocked the lumber mill. Banners proclaimed “Save the Trees” and “Protect the Forest.” Scott weaved his Jeep to the center of town where another group stood in front of the Hafton city hall. A protester in a bird costume danced a wild gyration on the hood of a pickup truck. A bearded young man thrashed an old guitar and a singing crowd pounded tambourines.
“What’s wrong with you?!” a logger shouted, throwing down his cigarette. “Are you on drugs, or what?!”
“We want to stop the destruction of the forest!” the guitar man shouted back.
“You talk like it’s some kind of cathedral,” the exasperated logger yelled. “The trees are a harvest crop, like wheat!”
Scott parked. This wasn’t what he had in mind. Shouted slogans and conflict leading nowhere. After all, the people had voted down every environmental initiative on the ballot. Maybe you didn’t go far enough, Scott thought to himself. Maybe Canada. Or Sweden, or Denmark.
Scott tried to make himself invisible as he crossed the street to the real estate office. But the blue-eyed girl spotted him and there was no escape. She handed him a pamphlet.
“Would you read this, please?” Kerry Inglesol asked politely. Scott took the liberty of looking into her face.
She had a clear, young complexion with a little row of freckles across the bridge of her nose. Her hair was brown and straight and parted in the middle. She wore a loose shift and Scott couldn’t help but imagine her eighteen-year-old body under it. “It’s about the forest,” Kerry added.
Scott glanced at the document, then back into the girl’s face. A blush this time. The translucent blue eyes glanced downward. She’s not used to this.
“I’ll be sure to read it,” Scott said sincerely.
Combination Judy Collins/Joni Mitchell. Scott’s sinuses hurt, his feet ached. A vague headache started behind his ears. Scott felt old as Hell. “Thank you,” was all he said.
Reinforcements came up, members of the girl’s group. She apologized with her eyes. The group’s leader, Armstrong Gault, tall and intense, assaulted Scott with slogans.
She’ll never belong. She’s like you in that. Share their goals, agree with the cause, but when it comes time for committees and tactics and confrontation and selfless dedication to the group, she’ll never belong.
“Excuse me,” Scott said simply and crossed the street to the real estate agency, where he paid the first month’s rent on his cabin.
“The key?” Scott asked.
“Isn’t one,” the rental agent replied.
“Oh,” Scott said, surprised.
“Don’t worry, nobody gets up there,” the rental agent assured him. “Fact is, you could’ve just moved in. Don’t think anybody’d been the wiser.”
“Makes you feel like a fool, doesn’t it?” the rental agent grinned.
“Yes,” Scott admitted. “Well, thanks anyway.”
“Sheriff got a phone call for you,” the rental agent added before Scott could make his exit.
“Pardon me?” Scott asked, disguising the panic in his voice.
“Sheriff said he got a phone call for you.”
Now the protesters were more than just an annoyance as Scott pushed urgently through to the sheriff’s office across the street.
What was it? Lorraine? Kathy? It had taken eight hours to drive the coast and up the mountain. Maybe, downhill, he could be back in six.
Deputy Sheriff Jack Steadman stood at the office window and watched the continuing argument between the protesters and the lumbermen. Convenient of them to do it right outside, Steadman thought. He heard Scott burst through the door.
“Did you get a phone call for me?” Scott almost shouted
“This ain’t an answering service, you know,” Steadman said. He sorted through the mess on his desk to find a little slip of paper.
“A Terry Peters,” Steadman said flatly, handing Scott the note. It was a familiar number, Scott’s old work phone
“May I?” Scott asked, pointing to the phone on Steadman’s desk.
“This ain’t the bus station,” Steadman told him. Still, Steadman pushed the phone to Scott.
“I’d like to make a collect call to Los Angeles,” Scott told the operator.
Steadman smiled. He’d intimidated Scott a little anyway. There were advantages to being a deputy sheriff, besides the $416.00 a week take-home.
“When did he call?” Scott asked.
“This morning,” Steadman answered. “Early.”
Damn. Eight hours ago. Why didn’t Lorraine call the sheriff herself? Maybe she was at the hospital. With Kathy.
Scott braced for the worst.
“Hey there, mountain man!” Terry Peters said when he came on the line.
“What is it?” Scott asked urgently.
“Clean air getting to you yet?”
“Cut the crap,” Scott replied, relaxing a little. Even Terry, jerk that he was sometimes, wouldn’t kid around if there was a real emergency.
“I need you here,” Terry said. “The Radidyne account’s going to hell. Farrell’s gonna blow up the whole facility.”
“Forget it, Terry.”
“I can get you a fifteen percent raise, but that’s as high as I can go, and only if you don’t mention it to the other engineers.”
“I said forget it.”
“Okay, twenty percent.”
“I’m happy up here,” Scott said. “The sun is shining and the air is magnificent. The people here are unbelievably friendly,” Scott added for the deputy’s benefit. Steadman smiled.
“I’m not going back for anything in the world,” Scott announced. “And don’t call the sheriff anymore. This ain’t an answering service.”
Scott hung up. Steadman grinned.
“My old boss,” Scott explained.
“City guy getting back to nature, are you?” Steadman ribbed.
“Something like that.”
“Flatlanders don’t usually last more than a month up here,” Steadman mused.
“Sometimes it’s a bear gets ‘em, sometimes a mountain lion. Usually they just go stark raving mad.”
Scott grinned too. Steadman was okay. Liked a good joke at the expense of outsiders, that was all.
“I feel a little loony already,” Scott told the deputy.
“Might go out and eat a toad.”
Scott waved good-bye as Steadman chuckled. Scott wasn’t going back to his old job and hadn’t let the deputy sheriff get to him. Two minor tests, with more to come.
Scott veered through the crowds in town and was soon back into the mountains. The trees grew tall, the rain fell cold and Scott finally knew he’d made his escape.
copyright 2007 Brenda H – all rights reserved
[tags]Brenda H, sci-fi, novel, excerpt, chapter, fiction, science fiction, thriller[/tags]