It was the first day in over a week that was warm enough to run outdoors. She drove to the local park and headed immediately to the woods downhill and behind it. The trails had been recently widened by the city’s bulldozers, and she couldn’t wait to run free. Far from the treadmill.
After navigating away from the slippery concrete, she found the opening across a little wooden bridge, near where the frisbee golfers play in good weather. The ground was crusted with snow and patches of ice. The sun shone abundantly from the topaz sky, and though the wind was aggressive as it brought in slightly warmer temperatures, the oaks and pine trees provided enough shelter to run comfortably. She wound easily through the trails, enjoying the crunch of frozen mud and packed dry leaves, dodging low hanging twigs and watching for dogs and horses, the only known dangers here.
She moved slowly, a glutton for the surprising ozone in the middle of winter. Cold and fresh and invigorating, the January air filled first her nostrils then her lungs then her entirie body. Gradually, her numb feet found their pulse again and matched her heartbeat. Everything was warm and steady and right. She even felt a trickle of sweat between her shoulder blades.
After a few gentle miles she began to notice more and more criss crossing footprints and walking paths in the snow. They were mostly adult sized and went in zig zags back and forth across the ten foot wide trail, and they were fully pressed from heel to toe, probably boots, prints like a hiker would make, not the front-of-foot only prints a runner might leave. Dog paws sometimes. No horse hoof prints today. She hopped over a trio of snow angels that had melted into the mud. Red dirt angels in the middle of some woods in Oklahoma. How perfect, she thought.
Ahead, along Henney road and not quite to that parking lot, she turned down a particularly beautful lateral path that connects the two main trails. In summertime this area is always fragrant with jasmine. You have to jump over long strands of poison ivy and duck beneath low handing cedar branches to pass. It is narrower and less maintained than the rest of the woods, but more beautiful to her for these reasons. As excited as she had been to see the widening project by the city, she treausred these untouched parts.
She turned right then right again. The trees closed in and silenced the wind. She paused the music in her ears to enjoy the muffled nothingness and judged only the metronome rhythm of her foot strike. How do people ever learn to breath in for two and out for three? That doesn’t even make sense. Breathe in blessings, breathe out peace, that’s better.
Then she saw it. A deep shadow just ahead, a hole? Is that a hole? She stopped abruptly to investigate.
It appeared to be a hand dug, rectangular hole in the ground, about five feet long and a foot or so wide. Though curious, she could not bring herself to step into it and just guessed it was a foot deep or slightly more. The edges were uneven, choppy, not razor straight like you would expect from a bulldozer. And anyway there was no other evidence of bulldozer work nearby. A little bit of snow was in the top end of the vacant spot (for some reason she had trouble calling it a hole even in her mind) but she could not tell whether it had fallen on the earth there or tumbled into it. Why does it matter? You’re being ridiculous. You listen to too many murder mysteries.
Still, without meaning to, she stopped breathing, peered furtively into the woods, and listened to everything all over again, taking inventory. But she sensed nothing else out of the ordinary. Then she had a choice to make:
A. Continue her trail run and forget about the mystery excavation
B. Exit the woods immediately and call for help