This past summer I began writing a short story, that soon became chapters, with the goal of someday becoming a real book. My inspiration and creative time was away from technology, or even paper to jot down my ideas and thoughts. It was ME time. I loved the quiet of early morning workouts where I encountered everything from deer, to stray dogs, to old men in pick ups. Through these experiences, a story started taking shape in my head, and then in part on my laptop. Though a little lengthy for this blog, the following is an excerpt from the pages as this story begins taking shape. Let me know what you think!
A warm country hug to all,
The old, red Chevy’s engine coughed and spit out nasty fumes as it fought its way to the top of the steep hill. As the vehicle passed her, the driver, a grizzled old man wearing a grimy baseball cap and a toothless smile, waved in greeting, the truck veering toward Kate as his eyes looked her way. She began to wave back, but had to stop her forward movement when the swerving truck came too close for comfort. Realizing he was heading for the girl, the old man clutched the wheel and steered hard to the right, returning abruptly to his lane. The driver then gunned the sputtering engine to make it up the hill. With the antiquated truck disappearing in a cloud of gray smoke over the rise of the hill, Kate wondered about the man in the pick-up. He regularly passed her on her daily treks through the hilly village where she lived in the eastern mountains of Pennsylvania.
It wasn’t the first time their paths had crossed. She recalled the first time he had approached her in his truck the summer before. She had been working out, putting in a few miles during a gentle rain storm.
“You better get out of the rain”, the old man shouted to her over the engine’s noise. Kate squinted to look at the man through the drizzle. “ You know sugar melts when it gets wet!”
Grinning at the memory, which had seriously made her day, she tried to refocus on her workout, placing one foot in front of the other.
In a straight line, always now in a straight line.
Since penning her first Haiku in elementary school, Kate had always been a writer. She had an almost overwhelming love for the printed word, lately in the form of mysteries, and novels full of suspense and intrigue. The idea of writing what you know, however, left Kate staring at blank pages where this genre was concerned. What she knew was sports, and as a contributing writer for FemSport, Kate Fine was in her element. This didn’t stop her though, from theorizing about the old man in the rusty-red, nearly out of control truck.
Kate laughed to herself as her imagination took over.
Maybe he lived in a shack somewhere, surviving on homegrown food, and driving the bucket of bolts to sell his extra produce at market.
Maybe he was wealthy, but couldn’t part with a truck he loved since he first learned to drive.
Or maybe he was just someone’s grandpa, living his life, and was kind and waved to strangers.
“Ok Kate”, she said out loud, “back to business.”
Since having knee surgery the year before, Kate was passionate about her daily 3 miles. An ACL replacement and the resulting chronic pain limited her to walking and jogging. In straight lines no less. Kate grimaced at the thought. The surgeon hadn’t seen the glistening tears in her eyes as he pronounced that she could no longer participate in the sports she loved. And was damn good at!
Angered boiled inside her and she picked up speed, soon cresting the hill where the pick-up had disappeared from sight.
A three sport scholar athlete in high school, Kate didn’t know the meaning of the word quit, and had vowed to stay active, no matter what the doctor said. These mountainous workouts were what she looked forward to each morning, to raise her spirits, and think through her next article for FemSport Magazine. She was currently working on a piece about concussions in athletes. Having survived a few herself, she would be able to truly relate to the story she wanted to tell.
The morning air was becoming heavy with humidity as the sun rose above the pines lining the road. Interval training used to mean jogging and sprinting, but now was a walk/jog combo thanks to bad knees. Regardless, the exertion caused rivulets of sweat to trace the outline of her furrowed brow, running down high cheekbones, and dripping from full lips, as she dipped her head to avoid the glare of the sun. Her lanky 5’ 10” frame made her stride long, appearing to glide over the hot asphalt.
Step by step the first mile passed. Her routine usually cleared her head for the work of the day ahead. Today, in that respect, was no different, at least it had been until she found herself playing dodge ball with a red pick up. Kate smiled to herself. As the thought of the old man in the truck crossed her mind again, she spied the same vehicle parked in the driveway of a rundown ranch house set far back from the pavement her feet had been pounding.
The small house looked worn and weary, with vines creeping up the front siding of the structure. Greenery climbed the chimney on the right side of the house onto the tan roof, sprawling like fingers across the shingles, seeming to hold the flaking roof in place. The man who had nearly run her off the road sat in a single chair on the front porch, watching her intently as she passed. Feeling a bit uneasy, or maybe just a little self conscious, Kate averted her eyes to focus on the next hill on her journey. Forgetting the old man, her breathing increased its frequency, becoming a steady rhythm with the pound of her feet.
Despite shade from the nearby pines, sweat continued to trickle down her neck, soaking into the long mane of dark brown hair that reached half way down her back. Wispy, nearly blond ends from the numerous layers the stylist had snipped into her long layers escaped in the breeze that formed from her steady pace. Shimmering in the sunlight, Kate’s tresses showed the effects of sun and salt, from time spent worshipping the sun at the beach.
Olive skin spoke of Mediterranean ancestry from her father’s side of the family. Her mom, with blue eyes, and blond hair, had Irish skin that freckled more than anything. Kate resembled her mom only in the broad and ready grin that made her face light up when she flashed a smile.
Climbing the second hill, well into her second mile, caused her to grimace more than smile. At the top of the incline the terrain quickly leveled off, allowing Kate to catch her breath. She knew she shouldn’t be pushing so hard. Later the pain in her knees would make her regret the intensity with which she had hit the road. Slowing to a brisk walk, Kate turned off the pine flanked road she had been following, onto another, smaller, pine flanked road. Most of the roads she ran on seemed to have the word PINE in them, and she could never remember which was which.
A poor sense of direction made her wish, at times, there was a GPS for runners who were directionally challenged. She’d be the first in line to get one! Laughing aloud at her stray thoughts, Kate didn’t hear the sound of a car motor coming up slowly behind her. Construction on a nearby home had drowned out the sound of the engine until it was right next to her.
Without glancing behind her, Kate once again broke into a jog, refocusing her attention on her gait and running form. Peripheral vision alerted her to movement, and as she glanced back to the right, she saw the old man and his red pick-up coming up behind her.
This was so weird, Kate thought. Wasn’t he just sitting on his porch like 10 minutes ago?! The road she was now running on was in a private community. There was no outlet, and unless you had business in the area, or were running like she was, being there became more than a little suspicious. Definitely WEIRD!
Raising her arm to wave as he moved to once again pass her, Kate felt more than saw the truck slow beside her. The old man’s window was down this time, and he pulled even with her, keeping pace with her long stride.
“Get in”, he said.
Kate wasn’t sure she had really heard what she thought she had heard. Did he seriously just tell me to get in his truck? Looking forward again, feeling somewhat confused and definitely scared, she lengthened her stride as she began going up another incline.
“Damn all these hills”, she muttered, but pushed hard to outdistance the aging truck, pretending she had not heard his request. Or was it an order?
Unable to keep her slower pace on the hill, the truck engine gunned, and took off uphill, disappearing around a bend in the road. As it left her line of vision, Kate audibly told herself not to panic.
“What do I doooooo?” She had actually whined out loud. What if he’s at the end of the road when I come around the curve, she thought, nearly panicked.
Options whirled though her head. She stupidly didn’t carry her cell phone, despite her dad’s request that she do so when she was out alone. It had been the rule since she was 16 and had first started driving alone at night. At 24, she knew better than to be out without it.
“Focus Kate”, she said to herself.
The house she had passed under construction was visible through a thin part of the woods that grew to the edge of the road. With doors and windows open, she could hear the workers laughing and singing to the radio between zip sounds from an electronic hammer inside. She could go there and ask to borrow a cell phone to call for a ride, or ask one of them to give her a ride?
I’m worried about stranger danger and want to go ask other strangers for help? A panicky, strangled laugh rose in her throat.
Dad isn’t home, Topher never gets up before 11, and certainly not to answer the phone. Her brother worked nights and didn’t acknowledge the ringing of his phone before 11 AM. Kate couldn’t blame him for that.
THINK, THINK, THINK!
The sound of another truck invaded her thoughts. One of the local trash companies was picking up recycling in the neighborhood. As it came along side of her, Kate made a judgment call to jog along beside the large truck. Smelly, but temporarily safe. At the crossroad Kate glanced left and saw the old man standing about an 1/8 of a mile up on the side of the road. What the heck was he even doing? The trash truck was turning right, and Kate followed it, heading back downhill towards the old man’s house. The truck soon outdistanced her, although the smell of rotten food and soiled diapers lingered in the air, causing her to gasp and gag as she went full throttle down the steep incline. Less than a mile from home. She could make it, couldn’t she?
There were two ways she could reach home. Kate opted for the route she had come, knowing she would pass barking dogs, people, and homes, unfortunately including HIS house. The other route would not take her past the old man’s rickety house, but had long stretches of nothing but cornfields. Spending last night watching Vanished and the new show Criminally Insane had her mind churning with horrible outcomes, increasing both her fear and her adrenalin rush.
Kate worked hard not to lose it when the sound of the rusty pickup met her ears once again. Glancing back, she saw the truck turn onto the alternate route she had not taken. Her body was obscured by tree branches and bushes at the edge of the road, just past his house, and she hoped he hadn’t seen her.
Was he looking for her on the roads?
Close to panicking completely, Kate turned her back to the vision of the truck, and ignoring the pain in her knees, ran at top speed down the first hill she had climbed, where the veering truck had nearly knocked her right off the road.
The sound of barking dogs rose off to her left, and would usually put a scare in her. She had been bitten in the calf once by a German Shepherd when she was running after graduating from college. The police were called, she needed a tetanus shot, and the whole ordeal left her a little afraid of dogs she had loved her entire life. It amazed Kate how these thoughts could come in split seconds when she was literally running for her life. She wondered too if your life really flashes before our eyes when you are faced with death. She wasn’t about to find that out today.
Lolling tongues, dripping fur, and the smiling faces only Golden Retrievers could have greeted her near a beautifully landscaped country house. Kate was never so happy to see wet, smelly dogs in her life! They greeted her joyously, placing muddy paws on her shirt, and slobbering her with wet dog kisses.
“Go home!” Kate’s command sent her two heroes racing off across the field from which they had come. Go home! Kate reminded herself, and took off running again in the direction of safety.
Reaching the main road, which was always busy with traffic driving a bit too fast, Kate slowed her pace and felt relief in the form of civilization. Her relief was short lived, however, when the red pick-up she had been trying so hard to outrun came at her from the opposite direction. Kate’s heart thudded. As the truck approached her once again, she had the foresight to step into the yard of the house she was passing. The truck kept a steady pace, passing her without stopping this time. The old man waved, and continued on his way.
Dumbfounded, Kate bolted for home. The country cottage she rented, not even 2 miles from the old man’s home, never looked as good as it did at that moment.
“Thank you Lord!” Kate sent her prayer heavenward as she entered the cottage, and locked the door behind her.
To be continued?!