cheesy art by Sascha Darlington
Mouse in the Woods
Tom and I hurry along a downward slope, aided only by the moon overhead that barely lights our path, its beam filtered by the leafed branches above us. Boom! The earth shakes and I find myself falling forward into Tom who rights me, but we both crouch. His hand grips my forearm as we wait a moment.
“Was that the compound?” I ask quietly.
“Fraid it probably was.”
“Ryder might have done it.” I remember seeing the wires placed around the facility, understanding that it was a precaution for a night like this.
Tom doesn’t venture a guess, but after a moment, he begins hiking down the mountain again. I have never hiked this trail before, not that you could really call it a trail. In places, gullies have formed from the frequently torrential summer storms. I am mindful of my steps, glad that I had opted for ankle boots today rather than my usual sneakers. This particular path ends near the town of Wattstone, which I have visited a couple of times because it’s the only nearby town with a bus terminal.
Tom stops, grabs my wrist, and pulls me with him against a tree. He withdraws his gun from his shoulder holster. I listen and hear what he must have heard well before me, the sound of twigs crackling. I hold my breath until I see a doe and fawn emerge from the thatch of woods and climb the part of the path we had just come down.
In the distance there’s a shout and another round of gunfire. I grab at Tom’s arm because I am freaking frightened now. He just squeezes my hand and then pulls me onto the trail.
I don’t know how much time passes. We seem to be alone in this direction, although I am very much aware that if those invading men had followed the tunnels, they would have branched out in each direction. This path diverges farther south than the others.
I am tempted to pull out my phone and check the time, but remind myself that I have no idea how far the glow from its display would be visible. Why am I worried about time anyway? I no longer have any place to be.
I wonder about Sandra, Derek, and Nick and the others. Were they as lucky as we have been? Will our luck continue to hold up?
A cloud passes over the moon. The light the moon shed vanishes, but Tom keeps moving and I’m beginning to think he must have had a night vision implant. I wonder what he thinks when he hikes like this, but then maybe he doesn’t. Maybe he is just concentrating on the environment, trying to discern which sounds fit and which don’t.
Then I see lights, yellow glares punching through the darkness. Wattstone. Relief pours through me until I notice Tom crouching. A shiny black Humvee motors down the road with almost agonizing slowness. They park in a lot by the Baptist Church, which is almost directly across from where we are, and then they emerge. One of the men immediately lights up a cigarette and leans back against the truck. Their voices are low. It’s clear that they are going to wait out the night there. They have all of the time in the world while I think our plans of just sliding down the incline have been altered. I realize that we are going to have to find another path out of the woods, but if we just start angling parallel to the road where there is no bare path, we’re going to make noise and those men are close enough now to hear.
Just as I expected, Tom motions for me to follow the path we just came along. When we are a safe distance, he presses his mouth near my ear, his breath warm.
“Stay close to me and step where I step.”
I almost ask how in the hell am I supposed to do that? I can barely see. But he’s already started walking away from the trail to the east and I have little choice but to follow as best I can.