Blood in the Forest

The path ahead is clear, the ground compressed by thousands of footsteps during the course of several years.  Leaves cover the ground in a moist, mottled brown and grey and beige blanket, cushioning the terrain. But it’s not smooth; no, far from it. Rocks unwilling to yield to the pressure of human feet protrude from the ground.  Tree roots, too stubborn to remain comfortably beneath the surface, bulge underfoot, doing their best to trip up intruders in the forest. Beneath the naked trees, on both sides of the path, dried leaves left unmolested by the heavy shoes and boots plodding along the path form a crust on the forest floor.  As we trudge along the trail, birds flit from tree to tree, hiding among the few dried leaves remaining attached to the branches. Occasionally, beneath the thick crust of leaves, rustling sounds confirm the presence of ground squirrels making a hasty retreat from the vibrations our feet make as they strike the ground with each heavy step.

My mind is not on the nature around me; rather, my thoughts focus on the figure fifty feet ahead of me in the forest, the person leading the way along the path. I know he has a compelling reason to hate me. He has never verbally expressed his hatred, but he has implied it a thousand time with his eyes. He could decide at any moment that this is the right place, the right time, to kill  me.  As I contemplate this unsettling idea, he stops suddenly, turns, and points a pistol in my direction. I hear the sound of the bullet ripping through my abdomen at the same time I hear the report of the shot. I feel no pain, only surprise and fear.

I step backward, trying to catch myself before I fall, but my efforts are to no avail. Stumbling down a gentle slope beside the trail, I crack my head against a tree, which spins me sideways into another tree and, finally, I fall face-up on the forest floor. Now I feel the pain in my gut, not the excruciating pain one might expect after having been shot, but a broad, ugly agony, enveloping my torso like a vice is closing around it. I try to breathe, but can’t take in air. My brain ceases to process the pain of the gunshot and, instead, floods me with panic that I cannot breathe. Terror overtakes the pain of the gut wound. I struggle to breathe, I try to take in air. It’s as if my throat and my chest and all the muscles that function so automatically and so effortlessly have stopped working.  I bring my hands to my mouth, hopelessly trying to use them to open my mouth, attempting to force my mouth to work for me.  Then, I see him standing over me, his face expressionless.

“Uh oh. Looks like your day just took a turn for the worse.  Too bad. And it started out as such a nice one.” He snickers and smiles.

A loud crack of thunder punctuates his comment.  As he turns and walks away, the sky seems to explode with rain, the downpour  so heavy I feel like a bucket of water has been thrown on my face. Just as suddenly as my breath left me, it returns. The rush of oxygen and rain-drops into my lungs coincide with a blinding pain in my chest, as if the air ignited, filling my lungs with fire. I start coughing convulsively, each spasm sending waves of intolerable pain through my body.  Slowly, the pain diminishes.  It’s there, but it seems distant, like it doesn’t belong to me. I feel drops of rain pelt my face as my eyes lose focus; I stare up at the bare trees and drift into a haze of wetness and pain and fear that I’ll die where I lay, unable to explain to Carolina what happened and why.

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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