0 comments

American Fiction Contemporary

‘Speak your heart. If they don’t understand, the message was never meant for them anyway.’

- Ashley Ormon

Everything in the forest around him was still and quiet. Birds flitted around the branches, a few small mammals rustled through the undergrowth, but not a sound made by any man was heard. He approached from the southeast, careful to switch his route to avoid discovery. For almost a month, he had managed to keep his location secret.

He watched the entrance from a kudzu shelter. He could observe the entire area and would wait until he was satisfied that he hadn’t been followed. He fell into a troubled doze, wrestling with feelings rather than visions. His dreams had been this way since it happened. He awoke uneasy and nauseous as the shadows had gathered towards dusk.

Blinking away sleep and looking across the glade, he judged it safe. The entrance could not be seen, it was hidden by a thick bank of ferns and cattails, surrounded by a crescent of wetland. He slipped quietly from hiding, little more than a shape in the gloom, and with practiced steps on only the most solid ground and unseen by any person, he climbed inside the narrow opening.

Just inside the entrance, he sat perfectly still and listened. Silence rang in his ears. Confident he was alone, he crept further into the cave and settled at his camp. Every movement was a muffled echo accompanied by the sound of dripping water. For dinner, he picked at his dwindling supply of nuts and dried fruit. Comfort was dark and damp, though he had managed to drag in a small tent, which provided a measure of protection.

Once zipped inside, he loosened his laces, unbuckled his belt and lay back. He couldn’t risk any light, so he went without its’ glowing comfort. The darkness dragged him slowly into sleep and inexorably back to that day.

----------

The trip was a planned through hike. He planned for three days and brought enough supplies for five. He’d be walking a seldom travelled trail in the far eastern portion of the national park, about a two-hour drive from his home in Black Mountain. The final few miles to access the trail were along an old logging road known only to locals. There were no facilities, no ranger station, no cell reception, and the trail was rugged and poorly maintained.

It was familiar ground, and he hadn’t ever encountered another hiker there. With full light still an hour away, he locked his truck, hefted his backpack onto his shoulders, and set off. This part of the park was crisscrossed with old wagon roads and walking paths, some dating from when the indigenous called this home. The area was scattered with old stone walls, shattered fireplace hearths, log cabin foundations, and dozens of trash middens built up over decades. Some were centuries old.

Any scientific curiosities were outweighed by his desire for complete isolation. He loved to explore the old homesteading sites but took these hikes to shed the noisome chaos that was modern life. Finding and photographing the occasional 19th century artifact stimulated his sense of history, but the solitude and isolation had far deeper rewards.

A larger voice called to him, and he heard it more clearly in the seclusion of nature. He asked the questions of life’s meaning each day. Whether those answers be spiritual or secular, he was unsure, but it kept him searching. He was no genius destined to solve great equations, nor a gifted politician with a desire to lead men, neither had he an abundance of religious faith, but he kept coming alone to these lonely places, seeking that elevated state that might lead to understanding.

----------

An aquifer is an underground holding tank for fresh water. Rainwater, runoff, and seepage percolate through the ground and into these storage areas. Levels fluctuate seasonally and according to overall weather trends. This part of the country had become dry in the last decade, causing the water to drop significantly, leaving dry voids just beneath the ground. It was in one of these that the man now took refuge.

Local law enforcement had been informed that he was a ‘person of interest’ in a federal investigation. That was enough for the friendly folk in his hometown to willingly reveal the location of his land and home. He had abandoned both a few weeks earlier when a friend in town had come to warn him. He fled in the middle of the night, later learning that his animals had been killed, and his buildings set ablaze. It seemed the feds didn’t just want to talk.

In the pitch dark, he stayed moments ahead and was led to this place as if he knew its exact location, suffering not a twisted ankle, nor even a scratch. It seemed to take only minutes to arrive, but he had somehow travelled over twelve miles through dense forest and uneven terrain. He was nearing the end of his forced exile, but he knew he had to stay safe and wait. So he ventured outside only to harvest the occasional fish or check his rabbit snares. He left no sign of his passing, and he waited.

----------

The day was uneventful, and he hiked for eight hours without seeing another person. He had somehow strayed from his planned path and drifted across the park boundary into the neighboring national forest. Marked paths here were scarce, and he found himself breaking trail most of the afternoon. As the day begun to lose its hold on the light, he suddenly emerged into a clearing. The tree line was a perfect circle which looked cut into the forest. A shallow pond marked the middle of the space.

The mottled shadows of approaching dusk made it difficult to see details, but the scant orange light which still angled through the trees, caused a reflection across the pond’s surface and its sides. His feet felt weighted as he moved slowly, stopping a few feet from the edge. It was as if the pond bank was polished, and he could barely focus on the edge of the water. He slid his pack off and let it settle on the ground behind him, kneeling at the edge of the pond.

He reached into his pocket and pulled out his phone. There was no cell signal, but he activated the GPS locator and saved the coordinates into memory. Activating the camera app, he propped the phone on his backpack and began recording. He reached down and lightly brushed the bank with his fingertips, and at this touch, a pale blue arc of light sped away from him across the entire depression, forming a luminous membrane that glowed and pulsed in time with his wildly beating heart.

He became transfixed with the muted luminescence. The drumming heart of the light slowed, as did the beating of his own. Gathering his wits, he felt compelled to reach out and touch the now barely visible surface of the water. His hand broke the membrane, and as it did, a sharp-edged relief sprang up before him, outlined in a silvery starlight, filling the entire space above the depression. He leaned back on his haunches and his attention was rapt as a vividly detailed sequence of events was displayed. After several horrific minutes, there was a blinding flash and the scene winked out. The camera recorded it all.

----------

The rhythmic dripping of water from deep within the cave marked his time. Neither his meetings with the government nor his audiences with Christian leaders went as he had hoped. But it wasn’t until the copies of the recording were made public that what remained of his time became a fight for his life. There was no acceptance of his claims and no validation of his proof. He was not so naïve that he really thought he would be taken seriously nor given the least bit of credibility. But the message had been revealed to him after all.

He had been instructed to issue the warning and extend the invitation. Not a person accepted either. He sense a change in pressure inside his shelter. The repeated warning of the emergency broadcast network looped on his phone, as he crawled to the entrance and gazed up at a night sky awash with stars. Just beneath Orion, a fiery orange glow began to expand in the east. He crawled into the clearing and stood up. He had suspected he would be travelling alone.  

The Ineffable sadness in his eyes was reflected by the blue, pulsing light which advanced towards him across the clearing. He would miss his long, solitary hikes.

April 10, 2021 03:13

You must sign up or log in to submit a comment.

0 comments

RBE | Illustration — We made a writing app for you | 2023-02

We made a writing app for you

Yes, you! Write. Format. Export for ebook and print. 100% free, always.