“I do know that for the sympathy of one living being, I would make peace with all. I have love in me the likes of which you can scarcely imagine and rage the likes of which you would not believe. If I cannot satisfy the one, I will indulge the other.”
― Mary Shelley, Frankenstein
R had been hiding out at Fred and Ethyl’s house, in their basement. Fred and Ethyl weren’t their real names, of course, it wasn’t safe to know anybody’s real name – and they had this old-fashioned sense of humor. R felt safe in the basement but Fred and Ethyl said they had seen this non-descript car, so non-descript that it had to be ordinary on purpose, driving slowly around the neighborhood. Fred and Ethyl were worried and they kicked him out – left him in the woods.
The woods were mostly Cedar, Fred called it a Cedar Brake. There were a whole series of them along the lake, with thicker woods full of bigger trees and heavy brush, in between. R spent a lot of time looking at the Cedar trees nothing better to do. They were dark and twisted their trunks looking like misshapen limbs – bodies curled together. There was fresh new wood growing from roots up to the dark green fuzzy needles and a lot of old dead stuff mixed and twisted in.
R wasn’t much of an outdoorsman and it was getting hard on him, living in the breaks. He had plenty of food so far. On the way out from the basement they had stopped at this warehouse store and Ethyl went in and bought cases of canned food – chili, beans, some kind of ham. R knew he’d get sick of eating this stuff fast, especially eating it all cold, but what’s to do?
Fred had given R and old sleeping bag and a big sheet of plastic, in case it rains, but it hadn’t yet. The package said something about a painter’s drop cloth. He didn’t relish the thought of huddling under the sheet in a storm.
R had found a flat spot along the top of a little ridge above the lake. The trees here were thicker than down in the Cedar Breaks, and that’s where he set up with his sleeping bag, piece of plastic, and the suitcase he had brought. R tried to keep up appearances as much as he could, washing his socks and underwear out every morning down at the lake. His suitcase held his extra suit – wool, Italian, very expensive. Each day here, though, he wore some tan trousers and a dress shirt. He had two extra shirts but he cold tell they were going to get terribly worn pretty soon. He wished he had some more appropriate clothes – more suitable for living in the breaks. His suitcase also contained four fat green cylinders of money, big bills, wrapped in a rubber band. He had given two others (the smaller of the ones he carried) to Fred and Ethyl saying, “Here, take all I’ve got on me,” while keeping the rest hidden away tucked up inside the suitcase.
There used to be some sort of park along the lake. It must have been a big deal years ago – there were a handful of old run-down cabins lining a stretch of leaf-covered asphalt. R thought about breaking into one and sleeping there, but he was worried that he’d be found out – the first place to look – and the one cabin that he had stuck his head into through a torn screen had such an awful smell of old death he couldn’t bear to pry open the door. There were still people on the other side of the lake; he could hear the chugging diesel motors at night as they pulled giant camping trailers in and out. When the light was right he could spot old retired folks sitting in colorful folding chairs along the water. By their posture he guessed they had poles and lines in the water. R wondered if they ever caught anything.
It hadn’t taken very many days for R to fall into a rough uncomfortable routine. Without anyone to talk to, the days were already starting to smear. It was late afternoon and R was sitting at an old picnic table in a large Cedar Brake above the old cabins. There was only one seat board left – the other side was bare rusty pipe with flecks of corroded bolts that used to hold the wood. The top was missing the middle board too – but it was the least rotted of all the picnic tables left.
R bent over to flick a spot of dried mud off his leather loafer when the bullet whizzed by. It passed so close to the back of his neck he thought he could feel the heat radiating off the slug as it flew by passing through the back part of his shirt collar but missing his flesh altogether. Then there was the echoing report of the shot and the smack-crack as the bullet careened through some cedar limbs.
R threw himself to the ground and was up in a flash dashing through the thick maze of cedars as fast as he could. Another shot threw chunks of wood through the air. R caught a sudden smell of fresh shattered cedar; it brought back an involuntary memory of hiding in his uncles’ suit closet as a kid, smelling the fresh cedar and old wool.
R had seen his share of gunfire but it wasn’t anything like this. He was used to handguns in crowded city streets – the survivor was always the first to shoot, the whole thing over in seconds, the most ruthless and quick would be the one that survived. Everything was so close. R was always the first to fire.
This was different. R was being hunted with a high-powered rifle and as he ran he’d glace back with every twist and turn. He could see nothing. His mind raced with thoughts of camouflage and ex-military snipers, trained and paid – specialists in this kind of work.