Click here to read part one.
A surge of nervous energy rose up through her legs. Her right knee and heel started bouncing, and she looked twice more in both directions, wanting to continue her peaceful run but knowing she should get out of the woods and possibly tell someone about this. She at least needed to have a photo of it. So she pulled her cell phone out of the case on her left arm and peeled off one glove to snap a photo then replaced the phone. She was closer to the path leading north, towards the maintenance building, opposite of where she entered the trail. But that would also take her behind a row of houses whose backyards are adjacent to the trail. Maybe someone from one of those houses dug this, maybe they’re buring a pet. As soon as she formed this thought she dismissed it. Who digs a grave for a beloved pet then leaves it empty? Why would they do it here, away from their home? Is that even legal?
Irritated with herself for these pointless questions and beginning to panic about the moments she had wasted just standing still, deliberating, she turned back and ran out of the woods much faster than she had run in. The sandy, snowy path felt less welcoming than it had just minutes ago, and with every footfall she worried she was about to step into a hole concealed by snow and twist her ankle. The cold air was truly cold now, no longer refreshing. The sweat between her shoulderblades was now causing her to shivver, and her upper body felt stiff. She rounded the corner and went slightly uphill into the area that runs parallel to the houses. Music still off, eyeing the chainlink property lines, listening for dogs or horses or, now, human voices. She tried to remember more about the foot prints from earlier.
When she finally emerged from the trees and crossed the dormant lawn to the park, she looked for vehicles she might recognize at the maintenance building. None, just one truck that was always parked out back, probably never driven. She looked for anyone at the park. It was such a relief to be out in the open, but it would be a much greater relief to see a friendly face, someone who knows her. She liked knowing that her car was easy to recognize in the parking lot and that she had told her husband when and where she was going to run that day. But at that moment, there was noone around. The cold weather had kept all the regulars at home. The bathroom buildings were locked that morning, so maybe that meant the maintenance guys were off today.
What are you even thinking? What are you gonna do if you find someone, ask them to come look at the hole you found in the woods? Ridiculous. Just go home. It’s fine. She jogged briskly to the sidewalk and got uphill to the main road as quickly as possible, feeling antsy and scattered.
By the time she reached her bright yellow, easy to recognize car, she was equal parts relieved to be safe and also frustrated to have cut her fun short, probably for nothing. She grabbed her water bottle from the ground, unlocked the driver door, slid inside, and hit the door lock out of habit. Partly to ease her nerves, she sent her sister the photo of the mystery hole along with a lighthearted caption that belied her anxiousness about it all. She put the key in the ignition without turning it, got comfortable, and was beginning to relax. While she was twisted to her right clicking her seatbelt, someone knocked rapidly on her driver’s side window.
She sucked air in a wheezy gasp and whipped around so fast it hurt her throat. Her right leg got that first jolt of energy again and involuntarily slammed on the brake pedal, accomplishing nothing.
“I think you dropped this!’ An elderly Native American man was leaning down to her eye level, smiling, holding up a glove that was definitely hers. Dangling it a little. She must have dropped it when she got her phone out to take the photo.
She was frozen somewhere between the not yet drained away panic about getting out of the woods and the deeply ingrained impulse to be polite and trusting. She was supposed to appreciate the gesture, right? Open her door and accomodate his helpfulness?
“How long are ya runnin today?” Still smiling broadly, his shoulders blocking all the light from the window, he seemed to know her and was asking an innocuous question, but she did not reconize him. Noone from this park would approach her car and knock on the window like that, either. She had always felt safe here.
“Thank you, can you leave it there? I’ll get it later!” She smiled and tried to pretend like she was on the phone so he would leave but not be offended. Still frozen between the two mindsets but quickly gaining the realization that she should absolutely not, for any reason, open that door.
His smile dropped from his face entirely, as if he had been wearing it like a mask, but he held eye contact. A flat, impatient grimace on his unshaven face. “It’s cold. I’m just trying to help.” His voice was heavy and clunky now, no longer friendly. He suddenly looked a lot less elderly, too, and she checked to make sure her door was, in fact, locked.
Where had he come from? Had she not noticed his vehicle in the parking lot? And if she did drop her glove back in the woods, he must have been there when she found the hole, right? And ran to keep up with her? Why would he not have called after her then? No. No, surely she dropped it nearby. Maybe he just found it a moment ago and walked up to her right away. Maybe he hadn’t followed her all the way from the trails. These thoughts occurred in her brain almost simultaneously, layer upon layer of confusion, and she was shivvering again.
She maintained eye contact too but said nothing. Her heartbeat was too fast. She finally started her car and slowly turned forward, hands on ten and two, body rigid. Willing herself to breathe normally. In for two, out for three. It was almost a full minute before he stood up, dropped her glove on the blacktop, and walked away. She glimpsed him a tiny bit in her periphery. Several inches taller than six feet, broad shoulders, white hair at least to his shoulders but mostly covered by a brown stocking cap. Dressed in several winter layers including a long plaid shirt that hung low beneath his coat, a Carhartt jacket, and lace up hiking boots, muddy.
She took a deep breath before putting her car in reverse to exit the parking lot. But now she had to decide where to go. Does she go home, where she will be alone with her imagination? Or does she drive to the maintenance building, or maybe find the patrolman who sits at the bank down the block?
A. Go home and bake something. Shake it off. Text your sister again, it’s all so funny. Also get your glove, because this is your favorite pair.
B. Go see if anyone is at the maintenance building and knows about either the hole or that guy walking. Also see if you can find his vehicle.
C. Find the police at the bank! Tell them everything that has happened.