BEGIN By L. Hill

Out of the door and onto the trail tucking the tail of an ace into it’s wrapping.  It wasn't really needed but was just there for support.  The air was clear and crisp, the sky a brilliant blue having burned away the fog that rose at this time sending it to heaven, wisps on golden beams that whispered and played as they dissolved into one light.  Strange how the desolate can harness such beauty.  Still, a picture never paints what the eye truly beholds and words cannot adequately describe those facts found by the senses.

I began, the pad of my feet first soft then growing loud as I found my stride on the uneven trail.  Ta-dumph, ta-dumph, the soft earth fell aside as my feet stamped the dirt brushing it off with every step.  On a normal run it does not take long, less than an hour, to get through the dark path in the woods that dips and twists over swells and ravines.   You emerge on a flowered path dripping with milkweed and towering black-eyed Susans that is wide enough for two to run side by side, bursting into a welcome bath of blistering sun that warms you after the gloom and causes your eyes to tear up at such radiant brilliance that only the crisp, blue autumn sky can bring.

This run was to be uneventful a quick diversion to clear my head but already I sensed a change in the air, a thin cold sharpness punctuated by the rapid pop of buckshot hardly heard in such a populated area.  They were hunting squab, duck by the pond where the children fed bread to the drakes they named Chubby and Fresh.  It hardly seemed fair, or admirable, but who am I to judge.

I ran on now, spurred on by the pop, pop behind me until I was deep in the woods where the trail cut sharply, twisting as it wound first upward then down between tall thin sentries that had seen me come and go all summer and had kept my secrets well.  I picked up the pace shaking my head to free myself from the worries that chased me like demons, letting my thoughts roll away on beads of perspiration. And after I ran a bit I slowed again adjusting my gait to give preference to the knee with the ace.  It was just a swollen tendon, still the path was full of roots that could serve as a stair or just as easily ensnare a foot giving a nasty twist to an unstable limb.  Besides, the woods were deep and hard to get out of once you crossed the path I was upon and I didn't want to get caught out in the woods alone.

It had been a long summer of surgeries and arguments and unpleasantness-but that was all over for now though the loose ends were by no means tied up.  It had been a hard summer of truths and when I finally spoke my mind it was with such hostility and force as it had been pent up for so long that it proved more than my Love could bear.  So now I was alone and lonely and ready for the change and promise of fall; the harvest, the death and finally the rebirth.

The popping that had unnerved me had fallen off now and having caught my breath I ran on with unprecedented swiftness.  Squirrels jumping between the boughs above me shook the limbs and rained acorns on the path, which was already obscured with leaves and branches fallen in heavy rain the night before. I rolled over these much like a skater rolls on a polished floor, swiftly pushing out until I was gliding up and down the trail.  It was strangely quiet. At this part of the path the tall trees obliterated the rays of sun and even the few that were able to stream past seemed weak as if tired of their effort and content with wavering in mediocrity.

What did the hunters seek to gain killing such meager sport? As I ran I let my thoughts flow again over the summer, the fights, the harsh words, the meanness I thought I didn't possess but you know what?  I used it with relish and delight.   Like an animal in a cage of my own design who finally got a claw on the warden I struck with a cruelty and ferocity that at first surprised me then filled me with hunger and I thirsted for more.  Perhaps it is this same type of ultimate authority that pushes the hunter to pursue his prey, to attempt to command even life and death when the world tells you you cannot even universally effect a single change.  Perhaps it is a release akin to that of taunting school children who push their hapless peer into a state of distress so great that even their own life is not worth continuing.  Or the rush of striking fear in the hearts of a community that has spurned you when you wished only to be loved.

Here in the heart the wood is still and silent but if you, dear reader, choose to take pause and see, you will find the heart is full of life and hidden creatures that dwell amongst the trees and in holes beneath the earth.  Look quickly before they scurry away from the sound of your steps, wary of the fate that awaits them if they are caught by your fancy.

Here, if you raise your eyes even for the briefest moment you will find a land seeped in mystery and gloom from the treetops to the deep ravines where the mighty felled make home for the meekest creatures and the grand foul, his round eyes ablaze, keeps watch from the highest bough.  The frightened, the toothed, those that slither and those that scamper about in an intricate game of tag will watch and wait and even emerge from the shadows to approach you if your soul is gentle and you stand very still.

Here there is only the pounding of my feet, the white jet of my breath, the rapid beat of my heart.  But am I alone?

The hoaxes have made these woods deserted, the fear of masked stalkers luring unsuspecting young ones, calling from the trees and behind the brush have raised the cold damp specter of fear.  The rise of the youth who would hunt them down has been quelled by those in authority who dislike an uprising and refuse to believe that anything these hoaxes have promised could happen here, in their town.  But now from the corner of my eye I see a sight that makes me think that they may have been gravely mistaken. 

Faster now, past the tangled bramble that edges the path and blocks my way with thorns, I climb the ridge lengthening my stride feeling as I do the strain behind my knee, shooting pain from my toes to my hip.  I glance behind without slowing my stride, is there another on the path I've just trespassed?  Is there a reason to flee?
The brush moves with me concealing fellow souls, and beasts as I rapidly descend, acorns falling behind me now sounding like gunshots, now sounding like footsteps.  Why do you mock me?  Was I not deserving after all I've been through to cast you aside, you who I could no longer trust?  This lie I've been living has been going on too long!  

Faster now pushing aside the brush that obscures the path, past the rocks that loom to the side I lurch forward tripping on wooden fingers hitting my mouth on a smooth hard side.  I taste iron.  I see a shadow slip behind the rocks.

Briars line the path with pointed thorns adorning tangled wreaths of vine.  Leaping away with a flash of white tails mother and fawn run far enough to stop and stare at the queer visage that lumbers through their forest. And they are right to fear even this deep in woods.  Now that I know what I am capable of why would they think I wouldn't harm them too?

The leaves here are slippery from the torrid rain that fell in the night. I run though my knee is aching and spasms arch through my back and legs.  My breath comes in ragged gasps.  Hunter to hunted, pious to sinner, what vengeance have I put in the quiet of my heart that conjures up the apparition that now gives chase?  

Pursued, I smell a familiar breath at my neck, hear a gasp I know far too well though I tell myself it is not, it cannot be you.

All signs say stay to the path.

Church bells chime from a nearby steeple calling the devout and the penitent to worship.  

Hoaxes that never gave me worry before play on my mind now as the dark closes in.  I looked back as I run thinking to see a specter beckoning from behind the trunk of a tree but I see only your face laughing at me, the sound mingling with the pop of falling acorns, the scuttling of brush on either side and the cawing of a crow whose coarse song echoes the wretched squeal of my own sordid soul.

Sliding over acorns and roots my limb is twisted even more until it is wrenched and gives up at the task of supporting my weight, I fall.

Deeper and deeper through more treacherous terrain, down unknown paths I clamor chased by demons of my own design.  And there I stop, steps from the edge of where the path leaves off and opens onto a sunny clearing spattered with brightly colored leaves.  I hear walkers and the snorts of their dogs as they stumble upon me trapped in a tangled nest of thorns and blooms that never left bud.

In the end it was my own demons that did me in.  I never stopped running in my shame and fear to see the lighted path or the Angels waiting with open palms dying to help me.

Looking down now I can see what has befallen me but still I do not know what to say or what is to come as this new journey has not yet begun.

In chaos and kindness,

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