Welcome to Tuesday Tales!!
I’m leaving Buck’s story for a while. I’m kinda stuck and need to figure out where it’s going. I have this story on the back burner and decided to pull it to the front and take a look. It doesn’t have a title yet, but I bet you’ll be able to guess the working title by the end.
Jaiden laced her key through her running shoelace and tied a double knot. It was pouring, but she needed to hit the trails and clear her head. Taking a loop around the nature preserve would remind her of her goal after studying the requirements of establishing an ecological reserve.
She tucked her ponytail through her hat, zipped her weatherproof jacket to her collar bone, and grabbed the door handle. One last deep breath as she prepared to face the pelting drops.
Climbing out of the car and slamming the door, she decided on the clockwise route. It would take her up the root-crossed hill instead of down. In theory, that direction would be less treacherous. If she fell, she wouldn’t somersault all the way down.
After the first curve into the trees, the path narrowed. The maple and oak branches curved over the path and blocked some of the rain. Ferns and other undergrowth lined the foot trail.
Even after only a few yards of running, the stress was melting off her shoulders or maybe the rain was washing it away. Either way, half an hour spinning on a gym bike wouldn’t have provided this much relief.
Her thoughts wandered as her eyes tripped over the roots ahead of her. It was easy for them to chase through a problem—namely how she could convince the state to block the sale of the Willow Hill Camp and annex it to the forest preserve adjoining it.
All she could hear was her own breathing and the swish of her legs against the undergrowth.
Then a branch snapped in the woods to her left. She slowed, scanning the trees for the animal. Even though the park was close to town, she’d stumbled across deer on this trail. She didn’t want a deer to be startled and charge after her. Being impaled by antlers, no matter how small, was not on her bucket list. She’d prefer to outrun a bear, however irrational and misplaced it that fear was.
No deer bounded through the scrubby brush. Jaiden unzipped her pocket and extracted her pepper spray. Rumors said larger mammals roamed the woods and not all of them wore hunter orange. People claimed cougars, wolves, and bear hunted out here.
Truth in those speculations wouldn’t surprise her. The Department of Natural Resources had tracked, captured, and relocated bear from the suburbs several times. It paid to be prepared out here.
Jaiden poised the pepper spray in her hand and continued along the trail. Her ears were on extra alert for more crunching branches or the sound of a large animal trampling through the brush.
The trail slipped between two birch trees, then made a sharp turn along a ravine. At the bottom of the hill, a creek burbled. Jaiden parted the trees, then watched the trail for washouts.
One moment she was running effortlessly, the next she was flying through the air. Her face hit the ground first and her spinal vertebrae compacted like an accordian at the abrupt stop. Her feet flipped over her head and somehow she came to rest on her back with her feet pointing in the direction she had been running. Her lungs gasped for the oxygen that had been smacked out of her and mud soaked into her calf-high socks and running shorts.
Every time. Every trail run, she took a digger. This one had to be one of the more spectatular though. She couldn’t remember a somersault and landing with quite that much flare.
After a quick inventory to make sure nothing was broken, she raised her hand to wipe the mud off her cheek, but the caking of dirt clinging to her palms wouldn’t improve her appearance.
“Are you okay?” a male voice said above her.
Every sense flipped to high alert. Warning sirens flared inside her head. Who was out here? There hadn’t been any other cars at the trailhead. Her breath came so sharply she coughed. Her brain scrambled for self-defense strategies. Choking and flat on her back wasn’t one of them. Where was her pepper spray?
She cracked one eye open, hoping dirt wouldn’t tumble into it. A blurry, lime-green figure loomed above her.
“Umm.”Her silent inventory completed with nothing broken or sprained, she inched to sit up. Her whole left side would be a mish-mash of purples and blues by the time she got home, but that didn’t worry her as much as getting home. Nor as much as finding her pepper spray, just in case. “Yeah. I think so.”
A swipe of each eye with the cuff of her jacket cleared away the loose dirt; no doubt leaving her with a superhero mask of smears. It was okay; she should use the fortitude as she examined the stranger on the path in front of her.
Huge. Like bigfoot, huge. His shoulders resembled those of a linebacker and his boots required a whole cow’s worth of leather. His face was shaded by a curved baseball cap, so she couldn’t see if he had a stalkerish look. She walked her fingers through the mud, searching for her pepper spray. It had flown out of her grasp when she tripped and could be anywhere in a twenty foot radius. With the thick clusters of poison oak around this section of the trail, she’d never find it in time to ward off an attack. She’d be one of those bodies other joggers found along the path.
Thankfully, that was one creature that hadn’t been sighted in these woods. She wouldn’t be able to run here knowing the trail was used as a murder victim dump.
“That was quite a tumble. I didn’t catch it on my camera though.” He held up a handheld video camera swathed in clear plastic. The camera could have been exceptionally miniature, but the man’s hand made it appear even smaller. The security strap around his knuckles barely clipped together.
“That’s too bad.” Jaiden started to lever herself to her feet and the man extended his free hand. She took it, not wanting to be rude. “I’m sure it would have won a prize on one of those home video shows.”
When she had regained her feet, she did a quick brush of the mud soaked into her shorts and socks and checked her jacket for tears. None, thank goodness. She’d ruined too many pair of running pants on this trail, but it didn’t keep her from running it once a week. “I didn’t think anyone else was out here.”
The man shrugged and shook the rain off his jacket. “Not really the best time to be out. Lots of large animals on the run.”
Yeah, she was looking at one. “I thought they were hunkered down in the thick woods somewhere.”
“Maybe in children’s movies.” The man shrugged his shoulders and rain cascaded off them.
Jaiden sent one last look skittering across the ferns for her pepper spray. After this she’d keep the strap around her wrist. “Umm… thanks.” She waved to the man, preparing to head back the way she came. No way was she taking on the whole eight-mile trail with a potential creeper in the woods. She didn’t like cutting her run short, but being safe was more important.
As she turned down the path, she stumbled on a root, but caught herself. Scowling at the ground, she was pretty sure that was the same root that precipitated her earlier tumble.
“Are you sure you’re okay?” the man asked.
Jaiden nodded and headed down the path. She didn’t spare a look behind her until the path curved. The man wasn’t visible. She slowed her pace. The last aborted faceplant had down something to her ankle. Sharp fire shot up to her knee with every step. It was going to be a long two miles back.
The man had appeared out of nowhere and must have disappeared back into it. Her slower pace allowed her to scan the woods a bit more thoroughly. It wasn’t the first time she’d seen someone strange on the trail. Usually there were hikers or backpackers that had been on the trail for a few days. This man didn’t appear to have been out here for that long nor did she notice any gear besides his camera.
If he was a creeper, she’d best stay alert in case he followed her back to the parking lot. What if he cut through the woods and was waiting at her car? Could she escape? Not without her pepper spray and not with this bum ankle. She couldn’t wait to get home to prop her foot on a pillow and drape an ice pack over it.
She had a mile left to come up with a game plan. He was big, so he probably wasn’t fast. Could she make it to the nearest house… which was another mile down the road. Not likely. A large stick? It could double as a cane. She slowed her hop-stepping to scan the edges of the path for a baseball bat-like branch.
Out of the corner of her eye. She saw a possibility mixed in amongst the undergrowth. She stopped and ventured off the trail to grab it. A good two inches in diameter and freshly broken, it wouldn’t shatter from rot if she had to wield it as a club. A flutter of leaves about fifty hundred yards away startled her. Jaiden hefted the stick and prepared to knock whatever emerged from the bush out of the park.
She expected the bigfoot-sized man. Or a bear. Or a bobcat. Or even something benign like a doe and fawn. Or a squirrel.
What she saw was … Bigfoot?
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