Beyond the Shadows

IMG_0769By Lucy Ahl

September 1989

Grant was experiencing the quiet solitude of the hiking trails off the Oregon Caves National Monument when the predatory urge hit him, rising up in his gut and making him break out in a cold sweat.   He had been a slave to this beastly appetite ever since childhood and the more he tried to ignore it the more intense and powerful it became. Since he never knew when it would hit him, his backpack was equipped with a variety of means. He was like a boy scout, always prepared.

The fog was beginning to roll in and it gave the appearance of a mystic rain forest. As he walked a little further up the trail, he could smell the pungent odor of a barbeque.  His stomach growled.  He heard faint voices echoing below the trail.  Creeping over to a large Myrtle wood tree, he pressed his body close to the trunk and peered around it.  He saw a young couple sitting across from each other at a small wooden table engaged in conversation. Unable to make out what they were talking about, he decided to bide his time in case anyone else was with them.  Wanting to catch them off guard, he waited for them to finish eating before grabbing his horn rimmed glasses out of his vest pocket and walking out of the trees, fumbling with his binoculars, acting lost.

Tripping down the embankment, the surprised couple watched as Grant got closer. Getting up from the table, the couple walked over to where Grant stopped just prior to their camp perimeter.

“Sorry to intrude. I think I’m lost.”

Licking his lips, Grant smiled showing no teeth. He pulled out his bandana wiping the sweat off his brow.

“I’ve been walking around for a while and going in circles.  I can’t find the trail.”

Grant nodded towards their hibachi. “My nose guided me here.”

The couple followed his gaze as he glanced up at the tree tops,

“Bird watching. Gets me lost every time. Think I’d learn my lesson and bring a compass.” Staring at the silent couple, he folded the bandana into a square, and pushed it back into his vest pocket with two fingers. “Can you direct me?”

“Depends. Where’re you headed?” said the man as he put his arm around the woman.

“Back to the parking lot, I suppose.”

“The trails up here can be difficult to follow. That’s been our experience anyway.  Better to show you than tell you.” The man stuck out his hand towards Grant, “Names David” Pointing towards the woman, “My wife Beth.” Grant shook both their hands.

“Let me grab my pack.”

Walking over to their tent, David bent down, opened the screen and went inside. He grabbed his backpack and decided to take his gun. Outside he could hear Grant and Beth making small talk.

“I go to Oregon State. Just out here taking pictures of birds. Nothing too exciting.”

“Me too, that’s where I met David. What’s your major?”

“Not sure yet, but leaning towards zoology or something along those lines.” Grant was good at making up stories. What’d he care? They’d both be dead within the hour.

“Hey Beth, can you come here for a minute”

“’cuse me”

As Beth went inside the tent, Grant thought it was the perfect time to dispose of them together, but in his mind, his dark passenger wanted more of challenge.  How easy it would be to just stab them right now, but what if he missed one or both of them?

Grant heard whispering so he moved closer to eavesdrop.

“Did you see his eyes? Shifty. What do you think I should do?”

“You told him you’d show him the way out. Just take him to the top and point. I’ll start packing so we can get the hell out of here.  I’m creeped out.”

“I put the gun in my pack.”

“Want me to go too?”

“No, no. If I’m not back in 30, hike out and call for help.”

“Shit, forget it, don’t go, just draw ‘em a map.”

David looked at Beth and shook his head, “If he was gonna do anything, he could do it right here, right now.  It’ll be fine, if he tries anything, I’ll just shoot ‘em”

Grant could hear every word. “Everything all right in there?” He backed away from the tent and when David and Beth emerged, he was facing the forest.

“Sorry, just discussing how long it will take to get you to the trail, Beth’s pretty anxious to get going.”

“Look, if it’s a problem, just draw me a map, I’m sure I can figure it out myself.”

“Nah, I know a short cut, shouldn’t take us long to get there. Need some water?”

David reached into the cooler and pulled out two bottles of water, throwing one to Grant.

“You ready? Let’s head up this way”

The fog had thickened and left dew on the leaves.  Every few steps, the men slipped and as the leaves were churned up, the musky scent of the dirt filled their nostrils. They passed a few gray, granite boulder outcroppings.

“Mind if I check these out?”

As Grant walked around the large rocks, he noticed an opening between two of them.  Taking out his flashlight, he peered inside.

The perfect place to hide a body or two.”  Looking over at David, he could tell by the man’s fidgeting he was anxious to get going.  He was shifting his feet from side to side, looking up towards the top of the small incline, and checking his watch.  The fog was getting thicker making the area seem gray and gloomy.

“I think it’s right up here, hard to tell with the fog.”  Coming to the top of the hill, both a little breathless from the climb, the well-used trail, though covered with wet leaves, was clearly visible.

“Just follow this trail, it comes out at the parking lot, take you 30 minutes or so.”

“Thanks much, man.  Appreciate the help.  I’ve read too many stories ‘bout people gettin lost in these here woods and not a trace of them to be found.  For a while there I thought I was going be one of them statistics.” Grant shook David’s hand.

“Well, good luck to ya.”

Putting two fingers up to his forehead as if saluting David, Grant clicked his tongue, “You saved my life. I owe you one. See ya around.”

David watched as Grant shuffled his feet along the leaves on the trail. Turning around to see where David was, Grant waved at him and shouted, “Bye.” When David thought Grant was at a safe distance from him, he turned to head back to camp.

Leaving the trail, Grant headed back towards the boulders, ducking behind trees as he went so he wouldn’t be seen. His dark passenger was getting antsy. The voices in his head kept shouting “hurry, hurry, hurry.”  Crouching down behind the largest of the three rocks, Grant pulled his pant leg up and pulled the 7” survivor blade out from its leather holster he had strapped to his ankle.  He waited.  He could hear his heart beating and his breathing became rapid.  The excitement building within him.  And then, there he was, David, whistling and shuffling his feet in the leaves, as if he hadn’t a care in the world.  Grant would never forget the look of surprise on his face as he jumped out at David. His eyes got as big as saucers. His mouth opened so wide, Grant thought he heard it crack.  Falling to the ground on his back, unable to reach his gun, David lay there helpless.  Straddling his chest, Grant placed the knife just under David’s left ear.

“Please don’t” was the only plea he could muster.  But all it did was fuel the beast.  Grant could hear his own blood pulsing in his ears and the voices chanting in his head, “Do it, do it” over and over again. Grant knew what he had to do in order to shut them up.  With the slightest bit of pressure, Grant guided the knife into David’s neck, slicing from left to right. Immediately, Grant could feel the warm liquid of David’s blood on his hand.  The excitement Grant felt as he watch David struggle to breath, to talk, was almost too much for him to bare.  Like a child experiencing his first Christmas, he watched in awe as David moved his mouth to speak and only sounds of gurgling could be heard.  The metallic smell of blood filled Grant’s nostrils.  Within seconds, David lost consciousness and within a minute, he was dead. A sense of euphoric relief flooded through him.  It was so intense, Grant felt lightheaded.  His penis became erect.  Reaching for his backpack, he unzipped the front pocket and took out a condom.  Unbuttoning his pants, he pulled out his member, unrolled the condom the full length of his penis, and began to jerk off.  He came within seconds.  His heart rate and breathing gradually slowed. Sliding off David’s limp body, he rested against the boulders with his eyes closed. Worried someone might walk by and see him, he carefully pulled the condom off and placed it in a plastic bag.  Dipping his finger into the blood on David’s chest, he wrote the number 89 on the bag and the letter “D”.  Carefully placing the bag on the ground, he rolled David’s body near the opening of the cave. The dead weight made it difficult to maneuver but with a little effort, he completed the task of hiding it.  The mulched leaves where David had fallen were covered with blood.  Using his hands, he rearranged the dirt and leaves so if anyone came by, they wouldn’t notice the blood, at least not right away. He wiped the knife blade clean with his bandanna and then placed the plastic bag with the used condom in his pack. He was proud of his trophy.  When he got home, he would place it with the others he had collected throughout the years. He poured the bottle of water David had given him on his hands to try and get rid of the blood stains, to no avail.

Looking at his watch, Grant couldn’t waste any more time getting back to Beth at the camp site.  Before placing David’s backpack in the cave with his body, Grant removed the gun shoving it in his waist band, and began running back towards their camp.  As he approached the camp, he paused behind a tree, wanting to be sure Beth was still there.

Seeing she was busy packing up the campsite, he ran down the hill towards her yelling her name.

“Where’s David?”

Gasping for breath, Grant tried to tell her David had had an accident.

“What?” “Where is he?”

“He fell. Not sure how … but his screams … I need your help … hurry.” Grant could tell she was in a quandary.  Remembering their conversation in the tent, he could see she was hesitant.  Grabbing her upper arm, coaxing her, “come on, he needs our help.” Beth pulled away from him, “I should call 911.”

“No time for that. Hurry, he needs you.”

Grant noticed Beth was staring at his hands. Without moving his head, he lifted his eyebrows and rolled his eyes up to see her expression. The color had drained from her face.  Her rosy cheeks were gone.  Her eyes had the look of disbelief. He could see her lips quivering.  Her hands were shaking violently.  Her breathing was shallow. Yes, he recognized that look. Fear. He could smell it too. She was paralyzed as he stared down at her. What was that pounding? Her heart or his? A smile crossed his lips.

“Come now Beth, don’t make this any harder than it has to be.  Let’s take a walk shall we?” As Grant reached for her arm, Beth bolted towards the forest screaming for David.

“Perfect” Grant thought, “She wants to play hard to get?”  Grant trotted behind Beth, not wanting to lose site of her, yet not wanting to catch her too quickly.  He enjoyed the hunt.  He was going to savor her death.  The smells of the forest and the heavy fog rolling in between the tree trunks heightened his senses. It was getting colder. “Beth, I promise I’ll make it quick, you won’t feel a thing, not like David did”. He started to laugh. “You should have seen the look on his face.  It was priceless.”

Walking faster now, he could hear Beth running further away from him.  He could see only a dark silhouette of her body through the fog.  He knew he could overtake her but he was enjoying himself. “Come out, come out, where ever you are.” His words echoing through the forest.  It was only a matter of time. She would get tired and try to hide.  Up ahead, Grant heard splashing.  “She found the creek” he thought.  As he got closer he would smell the stagnant water.  He could hear Beth swimming towards the other side of the shore. Straining his eyes, he could make out her white arms as they came up from the water.

“Shit” He knew he had no choice but to dive in. He would not let Beth get away.  The dark passenger began to rise as his anger cramped his stomach. Beth wasn’t cooperating and being on the verge of losing control would not benefit her in anyway. He refused to allow her to win.  Letting her live was not an option.  Diving into the creek, he felt the shock of the cold water rush over his body. As he came up for air, he smelled the mossy stench of the dead vegetation that rose up from the bottom as he moved his arms forward and back.  Strands of limp reeds clung to his arms. Looking across the water, he saw Beth struggling to get out of the creek, the water weighing heavy on her legs.  She disappeared into the tall, brown reeds.

Grant reached the shore line minutes behind Beth.  As he crawled out of the water, his clothes clung to his body, the cold air smacked him in the face and he began to shiver. “Got to keep moving, can’t let her get away.” Walking into the reeds, he stopped.  Moving his head from side to side, he tried to pick up any rustling sounds. The fog was heavier on this side of the creek. The crickets and frogs silenced their conversations. Listening, he took another step and stopped.  Nothing but the sound of his own heavy breathing and pounding heart.  Bending from the waist, he put his hands on his knees trying to slow down his breathing.  He could feel her watching him. She was near. It was only a matter of time before he found her and dragged her sorry ass back to the boulders to join her husband. His thoughts of her torture and eventual death, warmed his shivering body. And then he heard it. Snap. It didn’t matter if it was a tree branch or a dried up old reed, the sound drew him to Beth’s hiding place.

* * * * * * * *

Grant awoke with a start.  Brushing his hair away from his face, he felt the cool wetness on his forehead. His pajamas were soaked. Raising himself up on his elbows, he noticed all the bed covers were in a ball on the floor.  The room was cold. Looking over to his right, the other side of the bed was empty.

“Honey?”

Silence.

“She must’ve gone out for a run”

Getting out of bed, Grant stretched.  Picking up the bedcovers, several dried up brown grass reeds fell out onto the hardwood floor.

“What the …”

Noticing the red stains on his hands, he ran to the doorway of the bedroom  screaming his wife’s name …. “Beeeeetttthhh”

The End

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