Attack of the Dead Presidents

Submitted into Contest #16 in response to: Write a story in which characters are warned not to go into the woods.... view prompt

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Mystery

 The rain has stopped, but only barely.

“Finally!” I shout to the empty room. I can feel my cabin fever drop from my shoulders like a heavy coat. I wouldn’t say I love walking, but I do love the idea, and after being cooped up in this house for a solid week I need to stretch my legs.

There’s a wooded area behind my house I find especially enticing on days like this, so before the rain can harass me anymore, I’m getting my tennis shoes on and taking one of those rare walks that I enjoy thinking about so much.

 

I’m surprised by the temperature out here. I thought after so much rain it would be chillier, but I feel very comfortable. My jacket is just enough without warming me up too much. Really, it’s just perfect. The air has that usual fresh scent following a rainstorm, and though I don’t like the rain I do love that smell. Who doesn’t? It’s clean and new like it’s washed away all the human and animal buildup. I hate that stagnant feeling, but rain has its way of washing it all away.

 

Around the last corner, I can see the wooded area from here, but I still have one more street to cross. As I do, I see some motion near the path into the woods. I guess someone else had the same idea as me. The one time I did leave the house during the week of rain, there was nobody on the roads. We all stuck to our homes, like rabbits forced into hibernation. We didn’t really get a say. Now you couldn’t keep us inside without a bribe. I even saw my reclusive neighbor step onto his front porch to admire the empty sky, though only for a minute. We’re all excited to get out.

 

I’m across the street and near the woods, sure enough, there’s someone standing up ahead. It’s weird though, because he is just standing there, or rather, he’s shaking there. He’s either seriously on edge, or this guy didn’t have the good sense to stay inside during all that rain. Or option three, he’s very high right now. Regardless, I have no interest in talking to this person, so I’ll move as swiftly as I can and pass him.

 

“I wouldn’t go in there if I were you.”

 

Damn, I was hoping to avoid this, but that is an unusual hook.

 

“Excuse me?” I’m still walking, but slowly. Is this the option where he’s a normal guy, shaking because something in the woods scared him? That’s possible, right?

 

“I wouldn’t go in there if I were you. I, uh, I saw something pretty s-scary in there.”

 

I’ll bite.

 

“You saw something scary in the woods? Can you elaborate?” I’m more skeptical with each word out of his mouth, but I can’t ignore a legitimate warning if that’s what this is.

 

“A bear,” He whispered more to himself. “A grizzly bear!” He shouted at me.

 

“I’m sorry.” I stop and hang my head. It’s difficult for me to keep myself from laughing at this guy. He can’t be serious, but he’s putting on a good show. His face looks worried, and he is shaking like a baby tree, but does he actually expect me to believe there’s a grizzly bear in here? It’s just so hard to tell.

 

“I’m sorry,” I repeat, looking back up at him. “You said there’s a grizzly bear in here? You saw it yourself? Definitely a grizzly?”

 

“Definitely a grizzly! Don’t go in there if you value your life, is all I’m saying!”

 

“So, you came face-to-face with a grizzly bear and ran away unscathed, just to stand here and, what, wait for him to catch up?”

 

“I’m … waiting for animal control.” He stopped looking at me to stare at his feet. He’s still shaking and I’m still skeptical. I’m far from an expert on animal habitats, but I know that this isn’t grizzly territory. That doesn’t mean we don’t get the occasional brown bear, and who is to say this person didn’t just mistake a brown bear for a grizzly? What he’s saying isn’t so far-fetched, but I still get the sense that something’s off.

 

“Well, I’ll keep an eye out. Thanks for the heads up.” I start walking and give him a nod. He faces me one last time before I carry on and I can’t tell if he’s disappointed I didn’t take him seriously, or genuinely concerned I’m about to be eaten by a bear. Either way, that’s his problem.

 

Once I’m far enough down the path, I look over my shoulder to make sure this weirdo isn’t following me. The coast is clear, I can relax. All I wanted was a peaceful walk, but sometimes that’s asking too much. Now that I think of it, I hope that guy was another run-of-the-mill weirdo because I’m going to feel like such a schmuck if I find any bears in here. Maybe buying some bear mace will make its way onto my to-do list, but that’s for later. Right now, I’m enjoying my walk in the woods.

 

As usual, I’ve fallen into the rabbit hole in my head, and when I snap out of it, I realize how long I’ve been walking. It’s funny how the walk there is a piece of cake, but when I turn around to double back the distance seems so much farther. I need to start paying more attention to these things. Today I’m not worried about it, in fact, I think I can keep going a while longer. After all, if that rain comes back this could be my last chance for a nice outdoor activity for who knows how long.

 

The path is covered in fallen leaves, soaked with rain, so every step I take is muffled by their softness. I prefer the sound leaves make underfoot when they’re crunchy, but they never asked for my opinion, so here we are. Ahead of me and off to my right, a small ravine sits below the path. Even from this distance, I can hear a commotion. I stop to listen, but it’s still far away. All I can tell is there are at least two voices and one of them sounds angry. I’ve never heard of drug addicts or criminals squatting in this area, even mischievous kids are a rarity, let alone see it for myself, but this town has been going to the dogs lately, so maybe I shouldn’t be surprised. Unless, of course, these people nearby are being attacked by a grizzly bear. I chuckle to myself at the absurdity, but I can suspend my judgment until I get close enough to figure out what’s going on.

 

I continue walking without changing my pace, but before I can see anyone, I start to make out words of their conversation. I stop again to listen. It’s only when one of them shouts that I can really hear anything, but now that I’m closer I feel confident that they’re both in an aggressive mood. Great, two more people I don’t want to be around disrupting my otherwise pleasant walk through the woods. If I walk several more feet forward, I could see these two people over the edge of the ravine. Now I’m almost curious. They’re obviously not dealing with a bear of any kind, I’m quite sure there would be more screaming and whimpering, but they’re up to something no doubt.

 

I take two steps off the path toward the ravine and lean forward, listening for more clues without exposing myself to anyone below. They’re still just out of earshot. Wait, he just barked loud enough for me to hear!

 

“Hurry up!” A man’s voice.

 

Without craning forward more it’ll be impossible to see or hear clearly. I notice my leg is starting to cramp in my awkward position, so I slink back to the path and stand there. In truth, I’m probably looking at a few bums trying to cover up the evidence of their campsite. Why the hell am I so invested in this, like it’s some kind of mystery to solve? Really, I’m not here for this. I shake my head and keep on down the path. Whatever they’re up to, I’ll leave them be.

 

I’m only walking for a few minutes when the ravine twists and runs across the path. As I cross the intersection, I see something peeking from behind a rock. I suppose my curiosity has the better of me today because I’m heading toward it before I can debate a thing. It’s a large backpack, and I think at some point it might have been buried because this thing is filthy. Okay, this day has been weird enough, why not throw in a mystery bag? I give it a little kick before reaching down, it feels full. I bend over to tap it with one finger, it feels cold and damp but not soaked. I pick it up with one hand, it’s heavy. I shake most of the dirt and debris off and set it back down, I squat over it and unzip.

 

“Fucking A!” I whisper to avoid attention. I must be staring at thousands of dollars, maybe hundreds of thousands of dollars, I can’t tell. This mystery bag is full of money. Without another word, I zip the backpack and look around for spying eyes. I don’t see anyone, so as quickly as I can, I stand up swinging the bag over one shoulder and bolt. Thankfully this area has plenty of paths in and out, so I don’t have to pass the three people I passed coming in. Without slowing down, I question whether the ethical thing to do is turning around to ask the men behind me if they’re missing a backpack full of money. I realize how that would sound as I say it in my head. First, nobody carrying around a backpack of money obtained it ethically, myself included. Second, why wouldn’t they say yes, if I’m asking, they’re free to answer either way? What a dumb thing to do, turn around and ask those men if they’ve lost a backpack full of money! No, this money is mine now.

 

I’m fast, but not suspicious. I’m taking a longer way home, but I manage to miss any other people out on walks or digging up buried treasure. I’m out of the woods, I’m passing neighborhoods, and around one more corner I’m home. I shut the front door and lock it behind me. I carry the bag to my dining room table and drop it with a loud thud. Unzipping the bag, I feel butterflies in my stomach. I need to count it first, but maybe there’s enough in here I can finally move somewhere without all this goddamn rain.

November 17, 2019 00:56

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