Blood on His Hands

First four paragraphs of each chapter


Mike lay there in the dark listening to the drone of the distant traffic. He could hear the almost imperceptible sound of the ceiling fan as its blades swung through the air. Occasionally one of the boys whimpered or turned in their bed. He could sense dawn approaching. The pale moon shone in through the Venetian blinds on the window, illuminating the room in stripes across the wall behind him, leaving the corners in dark shadow. Bonnie had left the stove lamp on as a nightlight and it glowed through from the kitchen, down the hall to the bedrooms.

He turned, pushing his face into the cushions, trying to block out the light. He had not slept but in fits all night. There was not much room to turn on the sofa and the small Indian blanket he had draped over his frame had slipped off on several occasions, leaving him to waken shivering in the dark.

As he lay there, his mind racing, discouraging sleep, he heard the house creak and groan as the wind whipped by outside. He could still feel that place on his cheek where Bonnie’s hand had surprised him yesterday evening. He knew that their relationship was discordant of late but had been caught unawares by her irrational reaction, especially on her birthday. What had she expected? He was no longer sure of that answer.

By the time the alarm on his cellular phone beeped at him, four A.M., he was already stirring. His body was used to the routine by now. Sitting up he ran his hands over his face. Groaning he picked at the crust of sleep in the corner of his eye and stretched his arms high, with a yawn. He was still tired. Kicking aside a couple of balloons that had come to rest on the living room floor he made his way into the kitchenette. After setting the coffee maker to brew he used the shower in the boys bathroom so as not the disturb Bonnie anymore than he needed too. Most of his clothes were hanging in the hall closet and after dressing he slipped quietly into the bedroom and gently kissed Bonnie as she lay asleep. It would be a week before he saw her next and he could hardly bear to leave her this way. Next, peeking into the boy’s room he gazed silently at Seth and Caleb in their bunk. All quiet, the way it was supposed to be. He turned away leaving the door ajar. 


 She felt him kiss her gently on the head as he always did when leaving on a Monday morning, whispering “love you.”

It had not just been about the negligee, she knew that. This wasn’t good enough anymore. As she lay curled up on her side of the bed, listening to him drive away she thought about last night, replaying the unfortunate circumstances in her mind.

She wanted him around the house during the week. The boys needed their dad around more; there was a growing list of honey-do’s accumulating for him to complete on the weekends. It wasn’t that she was incapable of performing most of the tasks on the list (in fact her dad had been sure that she and her sister, Isabelle, could do as much as most boys when it came to cars, tools, etc.) but with little children underfoot it had become increasingly difficult to manage the time for the simplest task, especially now that both boys were running around. It was different before when they were crawling; she could confine them to a playpen. Now, whether she was hanging out the wash on the line or crawling underneath the sink fixing the leaky U-joint, there were always two little boys in tow, wanting to help Mommy.

She curled up and pulled the covers tighter around her shoulders. I need him to help out more with the household chores, instead of sitting on the sofa drinking beer with the television blasting when he gets home on the weekends. I need some attention. If he was more of a husband than he is a father perhaps he’d pay more attention to my needs. He’s been such a doofus lately.

She felt guilty being disappointed that Mike was out of town so much, especially today. I really would have liked him take me out dancing and drinking tonight, he knows how important birthdays are to me. His dang old job keeps him gone way too much. 


Memories invaded Mike’s thoughts as he drove off. His life had been a hard one until the day he had met Bonnie. Somehow she had found a way to convince him all would be right. Laying there on the gurney, with his broken ribs strapped up, at Logan Medical Center in Guthrie, was when he first saw that pretty little blonde nurse’s aide as she helped herself into his life. From that day on Bonnie Taylor had been a part of his life. Her tenderness and love helped him heal and forget all the bad memories that had infiltrated his mind daily up until that point in his life. He learned to let go and had put behind him the day when the wild bronco they were breaking in had tossed Dad off, flinging him like a burlap sack, back arched, to fly high out of the saddle and land with a reverberating thump in the dirt, dust rising up from the ground to settle in a fine mist on his still body. Dad’s neck snapped when he hit, leaving him instantly lifeless. Mom didn’t have it in her to carry on, he remembered, and she died not long after. Life threw me a curve when Dad died but I knew it would be alright again once I met Bonnie.

After his Mom’s funeral her cousin, Beulah Thompson, over in Tahlequah, had taken him in, but provided no more than a bed, a daily meal and the television he continued getting lost in rather than study for final exams. As a teenager, he had withdrawn; masking the pain by sitting home watching endless hours as the screen flickered by, mirroring his life in black and white. He ignored calls from friends from school and retreated into his own world. He turned his grief inside and refused counseling, wouldn’t even see the priest.

He dropped out weeks from graduation. His heart was not in school anymore. He wanted to conquer what his Dad had not. With typical hard-headedness, he entered into local rodeos, and ended up bulldogging all over Oklahoma learning the ropes from cowboys on the circuit. He made friends with a group of local youths, unemployed like him most of the time and just out of school. From Boley to Meeker, Claremore, Muskogee they traveled around rodeoing, getting drunk or engaging in fisticuffs. Made enough money between them to get by, or ended up sleeping in the back of a truck or in the barn with the horses. He and his team even made the show up in Checotah a couple of times.



Ian sat in his anonymous, blue, rust speckled Chevy Suburban parked at the curb outside Bricktown Brewery in the Oklahoma City downtown streets. The driver’s window was rolled down, as he sat observing the crowds. He was parked illegally but was not worried about being rousted by the police. As a private investigator he had built up a relationship with the boys in blue and they looked the other way when they saw his vehicle.  Figured he was on the job. It didn’t hurt that a couple of photos he had provided in divorce court had helped the Chief out of a jam a few months back. 

He had been watching the raven haired beauty with the hour glass figure stand at the top of the steps outside of the club. She lit up a cigarette and leaned over the gunmetal railing looking up occasionally as if waiting for someone. The smoke drifted away, around the green awning, until the bouncer approached her. She flicked the stub into the street, its red embers glowing as it arced out toward Spaghetti Junction, the restaurant directly opposite. Then he saw the blonde. Red high heels and dress with hair cascading down her back as she crossed the street. The dark haired girl turned at the sound of a wolf-whistle, a wry smile on her face when she realized it was only the blonde giving her attention instead of perhaps the next soon to be boyfriend. This was who she was waiting for evidently. He could hear snippets of their conversation, as the blonde was as loud as her dress. Sisters, he thought; similar build and body type.

“Hey you, it’s about time,” the girl on the steps yelled.

“Didn’t Susie and Sharon make it yet?” asked the blonde as she climbed the steps.

 “Yes they’re here. It’s you that’s late. They’re inside holding down a space at the bar.”

Linking arms they sashayed back through the main doors. He followed.


Sitting at his regular spot at the end of the bar, Ian watched three or four margaritas go down and saw the girls were swaying in their seats ready to dance. With a wink he gave the bartender the thumbs up. 

When he bought him a Glenlivet on ice, he asked, “What you think Bobby?”

“The blonde’s pretty hot, and her sisters not bad either.  Me, I’d take the little red head though. How ‘bout you?”

“Don’t know yet; let me watch them a little while longer.”

 Pinkie was belting out the next song as her black clad male band members rocked the house. Potential suitors sought out the four girls, and, one by one, they hit the dance floor and were escorted back to their seats; the mating ritual had begun however the men were not ready at this juncture in the evening to commit to one dance partner yet.

“I got my ass grabbed by a couple of guys, especially that cute young cowboy over there,” said Susie, nodding toward, and winking, at a slender young stud wearing a Stetson and a leather vest. He smiled back, tipping his hat. 


Damn that that ‘wait a day or two’ rule; I want to call him now. A little surprised at the ferocity of her thoughts, Bonnie stopped to consider that she was still married to Mike.

 She lay in bed listening to the sound of the running shower as Izzie got ready for work. Her head was still spinning, effects of last night’s fun, as she waited for her sister to emerge from the bathroom. Izzie, in bra and panties, put her head around the corner as she toweled off her hair. 

She grinned at her sister. “Well, did you have a happy birthday Sis?”

“From what I can remember I did,” she said smiling back. She instantly lowered her voice and covered her eyes as if to darken the room a tad. “The old noggin’s still letting me know I abused myself some though.”  


Once Millie Jo had left, Bonnie went back to check on Caleb and Seth. It was too quite in the trailer for two boys. Not in the bedroom, where are you guys? What mischief are you up to now? 

Sneaking up around the corner she caught them in the bathroom. She had to stifle a laugh in order that they not hear her as both boys stood with their pants down around their ankles. Seth was giving Caleb a lesson of how to stand on his tiptoes and pee into the toilet. Caleb was barely able to climb up on the pot to do his business yet, let alone to be tall enough to pee in the bowl. She had to stop them when Seth’s stream got away from him spraying urine all over the towels hanging next to the toilet.

“Alright you two,” she said.

The pair jumped a mile, as if caught in some heinous act. Of course this meant that Seth turned in full stream and she had to jump to avoid getting hosed down. 

“Nice try kiddo,” she said to Seth, “better luck next time. And you Mr. Man,” to Caleb, “your too small yet so don’t let me catch you trying that for a while.” 

“But Daddy let’s us when were playing outside,” Seth said, laughing.


Mike had been working a rig in Pittsburg County all week, until this morning. The full crew, Beau the crew chief, Eddie, Baxter and himself had left the motel in Hartshorne this morning, and headed out early to the job site. He pulled his cap down over his brow and closed his eyes trying to get a few more minutes of sleep. They had gotten in late last night after putting away a few beers watching the girls dance at the titty bar last night.

Beau filled up the white Ford F-150’s gas tank while Eddie ran into the 7-11 for coffee and donuts and emerged with a large brown paper sack, and two Styrofoam cups. Eddie handed Baxter a steaming cup of black coffee and kept the other. The sack with donuts was passed back and forth. Beau drove as the others sat nursing the hot liquid, sipping occasionally, trying to shake the cobwebs from this morning’s hangover.

When they arrived at the job site, Beau parked on a patch of flat red dirt and they all piled out of the truck prepared to labor at the designated area set up to continue drilling as they had yesterday. The “dog-house”, the small building storing their charts and tools, was to the right of the drilling rig. Inside were four lockers and a bench. Pulling on the dark blue work pants and shirts bearing their name and the company’s logo, Western Wells, they sat pushing their feet into steel-toed work boots. Grabbing red hard-hats from the shelf they donned them in preparation for work.

Mike shrugged on his work jacket and gloves preparing to boost up to the drilling platform on the rig some thirty feet or so overhead. As the derrick man he was required to be up on the rigger’s platform, the monkey board, for the duration of the shift. The rig was piggybacked on the back of a huge oversized red cab that tows the mast around from site to site, making it look similar to a Simon Snorkel fire truck, the mast extending thirty-five feet or so above the rigger’s platform.  


 “Damn it.”

Mike snapped the cell phone shut and tossed it back into the empty cup holder on the truck’s dash.

“Where the hell is she? Perhaps she’s over at her Moms,” he muttered to himself. “Why is her cell turned off?”

Because the crew was headed home early he wanted to reach Bonnie before he got into the city, needed time to make plans. As they approached Oklahoma City he tried again to reach Bonnie on the cell, snapping the phone shut with ferocity. He shook his head. She sure can yak up a storm whenever her Mom or Izzie calls.  She’d not answered all day and it was almost three already. He pushed back his Dallas Cowboys ball cap, letting a curl of auburn hair roll over his forehead. It was not like his wife to avoid a phone call…  

…Ian drove his Suburban back out to Bonnie’s trailer. Today was the first time he had been over to her place. They had installed boundaries in their relationship early on and had been discrete enough to never be seen at her house until now. They had already made a couple of earlier trips loading up her Forrester and his Suburban with her clothes, kitchen items and general knickknacks, and had driven it back into the city to put everything in his apartment. Boxing up the Dell and its components, Bonnie had him take it out to his truck. They had left her car over at his apartment. One last load today before Ed came by with the truck to help haul the larger furniture in the morning…

…Fact is Mike hoped he could get Bonnie to have her Mom watch the boys tonight so perhaps the two of them could spend a little extra time together. He felt that familiar stirring in his groin and grinned thinking about her body and the way it still excited him. He envisioned her tousled blonde hair, the warm smell of her neck and the way her breasts swelled under his hands when they made love. It had been too long. Bonnie had recently suggested they remain celibate during their counseling, to help rebuild their friendship again. He was growing tired of that. He loved her and needed her. Yep the kids need to be out of the house tonight. This could be a chance to make up for lost time…

...When Ian came back in, he caught Bonnie bending over, head burrowed in the refrigerator as she prepared to pour a large glass of iced tea from the pitcher. Closing the front door quietly he leaned and grabbed her waist, surprising her. She squealed, spilling the tea.

“I’ve been going crazy watching your cute arse in those Daisy Dukes all day. I don’t think I can go a moment more without seeing it out of those shorts.”  


Something flashed in Mike’s brain. A red glare appeared in his eyes as he glowered. How dare some asshole think he can come in here and rob me. Reaching into the glove compartment he palmed a couple of number six shot shells, left over from last November’s hunt in Wichita. Reaching behind him he pulled the Remington 1100 twelve gauge shotgun from the gun rack behind his head, opened the chamber and slid in both cartridges. Someone must be in the house who knew I was out of town. Someone that knew Bonnie would not be around today either. Well they’re going to have to deal with me now.

Stepping out of the truck he carefully crossed to the vehicle moving in a slow crouch like stanch. Using the truck for cover he peered through its windows. The doors in the rear of the Suburban were closed, but through the sides he could see what looked like his computer sitting in a box. Alongside it were a microwave and other kitchen appliances; his toaster and blender. Creeping slowly around the big Chevy he snuck over to the trailer. Climbing the front steps he peeked carefully through the window next to the front door. He was able to see that much of the living room was in disarray, furniture moved around, the television and stereo stacked next to the kitchen table. Strains of George Strait emanated from a back room, ‘It Just Comes Natural’.

Years ago he had set a trapdoor in the floor of the trailer, back in the bedroom. He used it whenever he needed to gain access to the underside for minor repairs or to insulate the pipes from the cold winds that drove through here come winter. Today the trapdoor would provide the element of surprise for him. Edging his way around, he unclipped and peeled back a corner of the skirting, allowing access to underneath the trailer.

He slide in on his belly, head first, reaching behind to pull the shotgun in with him. Hunkering down low he slowly dragged himself forward, stopping to wipe spider webs from his face every couple of feet. At the far end of the trailer a slight glow from the bedroom shone through the trapdoor entrance. He thought it strange that the light showed as they usually kept a small rug over it to prevent a draft. The rug must have been moved; perhaps the intruder had tripped over it or kicked it aside as he was loading up his television and whatever other electronic equipment he planned to steal. The Suburban was plenty big enough to handle all the new stereo equipment that Bonnie had picked up at Best Buy in Oklahoma City last month. 


I-40 ran like a long, winding black type-writer ribbon, tethering the flat ground of Oklahoma to the Texas panhandle. Mike drove as a zombie with darkness encroaching and stopped briefly as the Interstate approached Hydro. Pulling over to the side of the road across the bridge he flung the Remington out into the marshy waters of the Canadian River and drove off not waiting to watch as the gun slowly sunk down into the swampy waters. In a daze he drove, a myriad of thoughts cascading through his brain from anger to remorse, self-pity, hopelessness and anxiety. He wondered how he would ever be able to face family and friends, his boys! Would he ever even see them again, throw a football, wrestle with them? Thoughts repeatedly flooded through the irreparable hole burned somewhere deep in the cortex of his brain. And of course then the inevitable anger burned through him again and again, offset by waves of angst and total absolute helplessness.

By the time four hours had passed and he hit the lights of the restaurants, motels and gas stations that make up the strip of highway that runs through Amarillo, a steady, pulsating inevitability marked his destiny. 

Exiting onto the frontage road he checked his watch. It was around seven. Not too late to call Ed. He figured Seth and Caleb had probably been over at the grandparents since they had not been at the trailer. He might get a chance to talk to them so he pulled in and parked. In that instant, he missed his boys so badly and tried to imagine when he would see them again. He dialed Ed’s number on his cell phone.



Millie Jo wiped crumbs, remnants from dinner, from the heavy antique oak table. She straightened out the lace doilies that her great-grandmother had tatted a generation or so ago. She pushed the heavy chairs under the table all save for the one that had a booster chair sitting on it. She was proud of her kitchen. It was the focal point of her home. It was the family room, where all the meals were served, the coffee klatch, where all important decisions were rehearsed, rehashed and put into play.

It was around this table that Bonnie had introduced her new boyfriend to her family. Ian and Ed had bonded over coffee. One night after taking in a RedHawks game they had shared sporting knowledge; Ed teaching the foreigner the nuances of baseball, and Ian sharing his knowledge of cricket, until Ed could appreciate a wicked googly and Ian a knuckle ball.

Tonight it had seen the two boys, Seth and Caleb sit around it, eating fish sticks and macaroni and cheese. She wiped off the tray on the high chair moving it into the corner near the door that served as a garage entrance. The boys were staying over tonight. She recalled last Monday when Bonnie dropped in to visit, a couple of afternoons ago.

“I can’t believe how hot it’s been lately. Just driving over here today the road surface seems to shimmy like flood water. It’s like a mini mirage on the road. Mike hasn’t gotten around to replacing the Freon in the air conditioner and the heat in that trailer is sweltering. I had to drive over here to give the boys some relief from the heat,” She had chugged on a large glass of sweet tea, chinking the ice against her glass. “Mom, Ian and I have been talking, and well, it’s been long enough. I can’t go on hiding this from Mike. I want done with it. Ian is going to help me move out my stuff between now and next Thursday. That way it will all be done before Mike gets home and I’ll deal with him then.” 


The truck seemed to feel its way over the red dirt road. Although he had not returned home in the past twelve years Mike navigated each crook and gully as if he had been here just yesterday. A barbed wire fence still separated the ranch from the road, but when he came to the gate, it was off its hinges, rusting in the tall weeds. The branded wood sign that read Circle Y was swinging by its chain from one end of the frame work that he passed under. He drove slowly over the cattle grid, bumping and swaying.

The bank had never been able to sell the foreclosed land and it had sat, deteriorating slowly. With each gust of wind that blew across it, the dirt shifted, helping the ranch seem more desolate. Tumbleweeds danced, twirled and weaved in the wind, like straw ballerina’s finally sacrificing themselves on the barbed wire.

The house was silhouetted with the moon in back, but still he could see that the windows were boarded up. For a moment, in his mind’s eye, he saw his folks. Dad sitting out on the front stoop, in his rocking chair, corn cob pipe in his hand, and a hound dog or two at his feet; Mom, out in back, in her white linen apron, hanging freshly laundered sheets on the line, and himself as a toddler stumbling and bumbling along chasing horny toads and getting under her feet at every opportunity.

Shaking his head, to clear the memory, he drove forward, picking out the remains of the old barn just down a way. It was barely standing; just a skeleton of planks held together with rusty nails, chicken wire and cobwebs. A few old rusting tractor parts and tools still clung to the work bench and walls, a vice stood open, probably rusted solid. He pulled in and shut off the engine.


Bonnie was dead. I should have been. I’m in my truck heading west and she’s probably still laying in her our bed in the trailer. Doubt anyone would have been out there yet. He remembered to slow his speed down; keep a low profile. He kept the radio off, no blaring his favorite country tunes today. Trying to block the awful nightmarish pictures that his mind kept pushing into his head he concentrated on his boys, Caleb and Seth. They hadn’t been at the house, thank goodness. Bonnie would have wanted them out of the way when she was with her lover. Considering all he had seen, now that it had sunk in, he realized she had been moving out of the trailer; moving while he was out of town working. By Friday afternoon he would have come home to an empty trailer. The grandparents had probably been babysitting the boys the whole time Bonnie and this man were supposed to be helping her move out. Some errand she had been running.

Movie scenes flooded his memories as usual. Diane Lane in Unfaithful, cheating on her husband; he had never envisioned his wife, flagrante delicto, embraced by a stranger. Never would he have imagined her being with someone else. He slapped the steering wheel a couple of times gritting his teeth, his eyes filling with tears. She had convinced him to be celibate during the counseling sessions but now he saw that for what it was; just a set up so that she could be with a new man. He felt like a fool.

All he had seen was the curly dark hair on her lover’s lower legs and toes, and a dark mop of tousled hair at the head of the bed covered in blood. He struggled to keep an even keel. The stranger that I just killed, left lying under my wife’s body, who was he? He had to keep his mind off of the carnage that was left of Bonnie’s body. It was almost like he had seen it all in slow motion as it happened, an out of body experience. Had he really pulled the trigger? He could not imagine himself ever doing that. His shoulders fell as he sighed, eyes drooping as the alcohol and aspirin continued to course through his blood stream. Pulling back up the on-ramp of I-40 he got the truck’s speed up to about seventy-five miles an hour, switched on the cruise control, and headed west through the panhandle to the mountains surrounding Albuquerque three hours away.              

He could feel the changes slowly taking place throughout his body. Sluggish, his mouth was parched, lips gummed together, dehydrated. He was starting to die. Under the circumstances, since this was self-induced, this should have been satisfying but he simply wasn’t ready to go now. Not right here, not today. He had to do something immediately if he was going to make it any further.


By late morning he was admitted to a third floor ward. After carefully strapping him onto a medical gurney a couple of blue scrub clad aides had wheeled him to the elevator and bought him up the elevator to room 312. Once there he received an entourage of visitors.

Initially there was Audrey, the girl from the intake window that they had rolled him past when he entered the hospital. She was a mousey little thing, her brown hair tied back in a pony tail, wearing standard office uniform: black skirt and a long sleeved top. The aquamarine blouse gave a little color to her pale skin tones. Sitting at the bedside with her paperwork bobbling on her knees she procured his information.

“Michael James Renton, Route 1 Guthrie OK. I have insurance with United Healthcare, through my employer, Western Wells,”

Giving as minimal information as possible he provided the cell phone number as a contact, seeing as how the phone was out his the truck and therefore stood no chance of the hospital being able to contact anyone directly.  


I’ll continue to keep a low profile as much as possible. Stay off the main thoroughfares; see if I can find a back road into Phoenix. Heading west on I-40 toward Flagstaff, in the northern mountains of Arizona, he stopped in Gallup just past the New Mexico border. Billboards along the highway indicated Earl’s Diner was about the closest restaurant. He pulled off onto Route 66, into Earl’s parking lot. Greasy hamburger smells drifting from the kitchen overpowered his need for anonymity as he pushed the doors open. Sitting in the bathroom stall he removed the plastic needle from his arm. Along with a cheeseburger, fries and a Dr. Pepper to go, he grabbed a free map from the stand.

The map showed that the next town he would reach was Holbrook, and if he turned off on Hwy 377 and headed south he would again be hidden off the main highways, at least until Payson. Eventually this would bring him into Phoenix through Mesa, unobserved, as long as he watched his speed going through the small towns. He would be driving through Tonto National Forest, and the last thing he wanted to do was catch the attention of a local small town cop with nothing better to do than pull over a truck with out of state plates for a speeding violation. He pulled in to a gas station just down the street from Earl’s and topped up.

In the late afternoon, heading down Hwy 87, getting closer to Mesa, his cell phone rang, surprising him. He had gotten used to the sound of the tires on the road, to the loneliness of the isolated drive. There had been few cars over the last few miles and he had enjoyed driving through the northern Arizona forests over the Mogollon Ridge. The outside world had hardly been a thought and this intrusion from the ringing phone was unexpected and shrill. After gathering his thought he contemplated, albeit briefly, letting the phone continue to ring. He could see from the readout that it was from the 405 area code, an Oklahoma number. It looked vaguely familiar. Satisfied that it was not the police, his foreman or the Taylor’s, he answered. It was Jean Hampton. Of course, Dr. Singh left a message on her voice mail.  When Jean had found out that Mike had left the hospital against medical advice she kept calling periodically. The telephone reception had not been available while he had been driving through the mountains so this was the first time that Jean had been able to get through. 

“Where are you now and are you safe?” Jean wanted to know.  


 Ed’s internal clock woke him at six. Old habits die hard. Sitting up slowly, he looked back over his shoulder at his sleeping his wife, and thought better of waking her. His slippers slapped a rhythm down the hallway to the bathroom where he dribbled the little urine his sixty eight year old prostrate would allow.

He had slept restlessly all night. There was a feeling in the pit of his stomach that something just didn’t feel right. Hope my intuition is wrong. Heading for the coffee pot he dumped yesterday’s filter, added a couple of scoopfuls of fresh grounds, water, and pushed the ON button. Enough to fill my Dunkin Donut mug and get me through until I get to Bonnie’s; she’ll have some brewing no doubt.The coffee pot percolated, making its little ‘putt putt’ sounds.

He shuffled back down the hall to the bathroom and climbed into the shower. The warm water splashed his face. He touched the soap over his flattop; Millie Jo always kissed the top of his head, smelling him; she always says cleanliness is next to godliness. Drying off he wrapped the fluffy white towel around his protruding gut and crossed into the bedroom.

It’ll be warm out today. He selected a wife-beater with a pair of dungarees. Sitting on the corner of the bed he pulled on white athletic socks and a pair of fresh boxers. Leaning over he kissed her cheek gently. The kids will be up and waking her soon enough, better let her sleep. The bedroom door where Seth and Caleb slept was ajar. He poked his head in to check on them. Both sound asleep.

He backed out quietly and finished dressing in the living room. He had laid out his black work boots by the back door after polishing them last night. Twelve years in the Marine Corp had left an indelible impression on him and he still liked the look of a well shined boot. He had lost that look for a while over in ‘Nam but upon his return Stateside in ‘68 he had been assigned for his last couple of years of service at the Presidio as a Drill Instructor and had gotten himself, and a lot of cadets, back into the habit again. 


As the paramedics were leaving the first officers arrived on the scene; two deputies from Logan County. Entering the trailer one approached Ed; the other tentatively tiptoed following the bloody footprints down the hall. He was back out quickly, hand over his mouth making gulping sounds and was heard retching outside. Satisfied that there was nothing they could do to assist Bonnie, they led him to the squad car while they secured the crime scene. Sitting in the backseat with the door open he talked with the next officer to arrive detective, Inspector Spencer. Although the sirens were silent now the still flashing red lights reflected off the kitchen windows.

“That’s my daughter in there you know.” Tears ran down his face. “Let me give you Mike’s cell number, he is Bonnie’s husband. You‘ll need to call him.”

He gave Spencer Mike’s cell phone number. When they got no answer he told them he kept it switched off at work during the day.

“Try the office at Western Well, that’s who he works for.”

Spencer radioed the police dispatcher so she would pass the information on and have Mike called. Spencer stood outside looking at the trailer contemplatively. He liked to let the facts stew over in his head as he learned them. A tall African American, grey hair receding on his balding pate and sporting a little grizzled moustache, Spencer stood letting the evening drizzle settle quietly on the shoulders of his navy top coat, hands folded behind his back, waiting for the pieces to fall into place. Looking at the bushes to his right he saw a head poke it’s way out between the branches. Crouching he said, “Mr. Taylor, is this their dog?”


In the hospital Ian was sitting up and conversing coherently with a lady from the Victims Advocates office. An Oklahoma City police team had waited with him until a Logan County detective was able to stop in that evening with a series of questions as to the events that had transpired. Ed had passed them in the hall as he arrived at hospital to take Ian some clothes, a t-shirt, shorts and flip-flops from his wardrobe, for him to come home in.

He wore a pale blue paper hospital gown and his right ear and scalp were swaddled with bandages. His shoulder had a gauge pad taped on it. Angry red welts peppered his right forearm and bicep where the doctor had dug out shotgun pellets and it was secured in a sling. He was still pretty well numbed up with a morphine drip still in place.  

They had Ian secured in a cot and in his own room by time Ed showed up to find him a little piqued and showing signs of stress and trauma. The doctor was monitoring his blood pressure, and ensuring he was comfortable until his shoulder wound could be examined again.

Ed knocked and peered around the door. 

“Hey Bud, how you feeling?”


Once in Phoenix, not knowing the area at all, Mike looked for the signs on the Interstate that would indicate a nearby hospital. Looping from the 202 over on to Interstate 17 North he saw the familiar white H again and a directional arrow that led to a nearby hospital, the Samaritan Medical Center. He wondered if he could get hold of the boys over at Ed’s. He called Ed again.

“It’s him,” he heard Ed whisper. “Listen Mike, the boys are eating right now. We need to talk son.” 

“Why, what’s up Ed?”

“Don’t give me that! I’ve been to the trailer.”

His heart felt like it stopped. 

“The police have been here all day, you’re lucky that they just left. They’re looking for you. You want to tell me what happened here boy?!” 


Gonna make Vegas. Fuck Oklahoma and Jean Hampton. I’ve made it through this and survived. Got to keep rolling.Instead of heading south through Glendale in an effort to hit I-10 and start his return journey to Oklahoma, as he had just promised the doctors, Mike took the Sun City exit on to Hwy 60 and headed due west. Stopping for gas when entering Wickenburg about an hour later he continued on steadfast, never wavering.  He picked up Hwy 93 just the other side of town. The route, crossing some of the most uninhabited desolate desert and mountain ranges was just fine; no one to see him or record a visual on his presence. With his second found freedom he had time to concentrate on his situation instead of focusing on weaving a tall tale for some doctor. He looked back in sorrow at what his life had become and why. She really had me wrapped around her little finger. Now I know why she had just appeared distracted so often, taken the kids out to the movies or Quail Creek Mall, an excuse to get away from me. I did everything she wanted done, including putting up a chainlike fence. She got everything she wanted. Why not, I loved her.  If I could just have it back, if I could just do it over.

Meeting up briefly with I-40 just outside Kingman an hour later he crossed the Nevada border intent on reaching Vegas by dusk. The realization of the enormity of his problems grew with every mile. The decision to live or die was in his hands. He fluctuated between the ideas constantly. The alternative to “pulling the trigger”, as it were, and killing himself, was to find a way to do it without physically having to stick the gun muzzle in his mouth, or slicing his wrists in some lonely motel bathroom.

He recalled a National Geographic Adventure magazine—his in-laws had given him a subscription for Christmas a couple of years ago—that had peaked his interest in hiking on one of the great trails of America. He had always wanted to travel to someplace with mountains and forests, not the flatlands of Oklahoma and Kansas. One in particular that seemed to call his name was the 2170 miles of the Appalachian Trail, Georgia to Maine. He had often voiced to everyone his inner desires to escape to the great wilderness that America offered. Now the Appalachian Trail seemed to be the epitome of escapism, survival living. Once in Vegas he could, what, catch a bus out of town, and head for Georgia? He could disappear into the unknown and deal with the visions that his mind’s eye kept throwing at him. Everything he had read talked about the healing nature of hiking, the time it gave for processing your own psychosis. It might give him the opportunity to just walk away from it all. Perhaps there, in the quiet comfort of aloneness, I’ll find the way to deal with my death, walking until too exhausted to continue, dehydration, starvation or perhaps getting bitten by a rattlesnake. All could lead to me dying on the side of the trail; suicide without having to actually actively participate. He was scared, tired and ready to give up. The trail would make that decision for him.

Upon reaching Las Vegas, he drove around the outskirts of the strip, and passing the Greyhound bus station.  Yeah, that would be the way to travel. Not being under the watchful eye of anyone. Folks on the bus were usually poor in spirit, or loners, escaping from someplace or something. He fit the mold. A bus leaving tonight, for Atlanta, would take him in the direction he felt himself drawn. 


On Friday morning Izzie took the boys out, trying to keep them away from family affairs for now. She let in Investigator Spencer, who was just about to ring the doorbell, as she left. He bought Ian’s wallet. Ed was sitting in the kitchen drinking coffee.

“When we went through the evidence we found Mr. Walker’s wallet still in his pants pocket. There’s nothing there that we need for further evidence so I thought he might like it back.”

“I will be picking him up the hospital shortly. We appreciate the gesture, though I imagine you copied the contents anyway,” he said.

Spencer shrugged his shoulders and raised his eyebrows in a gesture of agreement and apology.

“You know how those boys are in the lab. The point is, with the nature of his wounds, and your alibi, it sure eliminates you both from being a suspect. I thought you would want to know that Mike has gone from more than just a person of interest at this point. A clerk at the 7-11 down the street remembers Mike filling up with gas around four thirty yesterday afternoon; and driving off toward the Interstate. Gives us pretty much an eye witness to his being around at the time the coroner says the body, sorry I mean Bonnie, died. Sounds like a chance he walked in on the two of them, perhaps fired the shots that killed Bonnie and wounded Ian. You still sure Mike wouldn’t have his?”


WhenEd came too Saturday morning, still in his chair, he found his wife kneeling at his feet, her arms wrapped tightly around him, her head in his lap, weeping. They sat gently rocking with the movement of the chair, not speaking. After a time she stood.

“We better eat breakfast; we’ll need to keep our strength up. There’ll be visitors today.”

He looked at his wife, amazed at her calmness despite all the tragedy around them. His admiration for her strong pioneer spirit shone through on his face. He loved her deeply.

Nodding in agreement he followed her into the kitchen and got busy brewing a pot of coffee while she pulled out the bacon and eggs from the refrigerator and tended to them at the stove. Ian came in from outside while they were standing in the kitchen. He was in shorts and a t-shirt, soaked with perspiration. His dark hair dripped sweat.

“Can’t let old habits fade,” he said. “I needed to run.”


A few cars parked around the back in the empty lot. Just a small crowd on a rainy Monday morning. People drizzled in slowly, around ten o’clock, gathering in the narthex at St. Mary’s Episcopal Church. Millie Jo and Ian, somberly dressed in black, welcomed the mourners, hugging them as they stopped to say goodbye to Bonnie.

Inside a harpist was playing a selection of Handel’s Water Music. Millie Jo took Ian’s arm as they walked down through the nave. Sitting before the chancel, they only took up the first three rows; a small forlorn group. Seth and Caleb, all dressed up for the occasion, stared at the events going on around them with little to no understanding. Seth sat with Aunt Izzie and Caleb ended up on Grandma’s lap. Sucking his thumb he gazed wide-eyed in wonderment at the large glistening gold cross that hung high on the wall behind the altar.

The priest emerged in alb and white chasuble, as Bonnie’s ashes, in their urn, were carried in covered with a small purple cloth. Millie Jo had chosen a Rite I service and so the priest began the liturgy in the prayer book with an anthem comprised of quotations from Scripture and they all stood to raise their voices in praise. The priest gave a eulogy on behalf of the family members who had chosen to not memorialize their beloved Bonnie personally. They were all too much in shock and tongue-tied. She praised the life the deceased had led, following her words with the collects from Isaiah and a reading from John 11, “I am the resurrection and the life”. After a brief homily prayers were offered up for the deceased and the bereaved; the Eucharist was celebrated.

With the harpist accompaniment the family stood and formed a short line to receive communion. Ian sat with Seth and Caleb as they all looked on while the celebrant administered the wine and wafers, and they all stood afterwards, heads bowed mumbling some semblance of the Lord’s Prayer as they recalled it from times past. 


The Greyhound bus pulled out of Las Vegas. Heading due north on I-15 they turned east a couple of hours after crossing into Utah, toward Denver. Stopping for a thirty minute break upon reaching Salina most of the passengers got off to stretch their legs, and make use of the vending machines and bathrooms.

Mike stayed on the bus trying as best as he could to avoid his portly neighbor. Looking out of the window he tried to deal with his emotions that ran rampant through his mind. Try as he might the stark images of the blood, the shattered bones, her body smashed all over their bed, crept through his brain. He blinked back tears and shook his head but still they would not leave. Bonnie’s last gurgling, gasping breath echoed through his head.

Now that he had the time to actually relax, to sleep, after all the harrowing days of concentrating on controlling his own destiny so many times, he was unable to rest. His mind forced him to concentrate on damage control. He did not want to be alone with his thoughts; it was too painful. Got to push Bonnie to the back of his consciousness and let his mind forge ahead. Seth and Caleb will need me. How will they ever forgive me or understand what I did? Could an attorney help? I can’t do twelve years in jail. This wasn’t pre-meditated, I just stumbled in; it was an accident. Would a jury understand a crime of passion such as this? It just seemed to happen. I would never have done this; surely they would have to see that. Twelve years in jail, more. Hell, the boys will be ready to graduate from high school by then. Whom I kidding? I’ll never really be allowed to be part of their lives. At least they were with Ed and Millie Jo, but that old biddy will poison their minds; she never liked me from the get go. The money will have to do, it’s all I have. I’ll make arrangements to mail it to them when I reach Atlanta. It should help set up a trust fund or college money for them.

As these thoughts cascaded through his mind Colorado flew by: Grand Junction, Rifle, Vail, beautiful green countryside and wonderful houses. His eyes were full of tears and his tousled mind did not allow him to really see America as it rolled past. 


Mike wandered the streets of Gainesville as dusk fell, looking for the right place to stay for the night, finally deciding upon the Hampton Inn. It was up an embankment away from the main flow of traffic. After paying cash for the room and heading up to the second floor to deposit his heavy pack in the suite, he walked back across the street to a nearby mall he had passed earlier. Although looking a little worse from wear after the bus trip he wandered into a hairstylists; one of the generic kind that exist in every mall in every city in America. The lone stylist was sweeping the floors, bored, waiting to close up. Customers were scarce this time of the evening. 

“Hey, sorry, it looks like you are getting ready to close up shop. I was wondering if you’d have time to give me a quick shave and hair cut.” 

Carrie, the stylist, seemed unfazed by his grubbiness. Perhaps the chance to make him look close to human again was enough of a challenge. She was a wisp of a girl, wearing a nylon barber’s smock over denim cut-off’s and Keds. She was short, not quite five feet with frosted hair. 

“Sure,” she said, “let’s shampoo you too.

While he lay there, head hanging in the sink with Carrie’s hand supporting him, she asked, “You just get into town?”


Glancing at the red digits of the clock Mike saw it was just a little before six. Carrie was gone. The Miller cans scattered on the floor were proof that she had not been a hallucination. Rubbing his eyes he sat up. Throwing the covers back he crossed over into the small bathroom and quickly showered, washing away the final remnants of her presence. Dressing in jeans and t-shirt he shrugged into his denim jacket, and balanced the backpack upright on the bed as he stooped to slip into it, right arm then left. Standing up he adjusted it a little so it sat comfortably on his shoulders. With an air of newly found confidence he stepped out into the corridor, whistling gently, taking the stairs down into the hotel lobby.

He lowered the backpack to the floor against one of the four dining tables scattered around the breakfast area. Walking over to the cashier’s desk, he handed in his key, and asked the assistant at the counter if he would mind calling for a taxi. He handed him the envelope addressed to Ed Taylor.

“Will you put this with the out going mail for me please?”

“Of course sir, they usually pick up around eleven.”

“Great, I appreciate that as I am leaving as soon as that cab you called gets here."


Ian was busy packing all his belongings in his small pack and hip pouch while Ed was fumbling around in the kitchen brewing the first pot of coffee for the day. As they got ready to head out the door Ed wrote a note to Millie Jo letting her know he’d be back in an hour or so and left it next to the coffee pot.

Ed looked up as Ian tossed him the keys to the Suburban. 

“Ed, here catch,” he said. “I figured that now you have the boys to cart around you’re going to need more than that old truck. Just hang on to the Suburban. I already prepared the documents and mailed them off to my attorney, wrapping up my affairs. I gave him a quit claim deed and signed the truck over to you. I figured when it came down to this I would be leaving anyway.”

“I was wondering what you were going to do with the old girl. Thanks, it will come in handy once these rascals start playing soccer. You got them both really interested. Now I’ll be able to haul the whole team around.”

Heading down into the city Ed drove down Lake Hefner Parkway, and cut over on North West Fiftieth droving out south on Meridian Road leading right into the airport complex. 


Debarking from the plane Ian headed over to wait with the other passengers at the luggage carousel. His was one of the first bags off. Lucky break. Must be a good omen. Being familiar with Las Vegas he knew that the Greyhound bus station was close to downtown, the Fremont district. Walking outside into the heat wave of a Nevada morning he hailed a cab.

“Golden Gate Hotel, please. I hear the breakfasts there are pretty good, and that it’s perfect for checking out the Fremont Experience. Thought I’d look in on the old casinos before heading up town,” he said carefully starting to lay tracks, building the evidence trail, just in case.

“You heard right about that breakfast,” the cabbie agreed. “Blueberry pancakes the size of your plate.”

By the size of this fat slob blueberry pancakes must be his favorite, probably smothered in whipped cream and running with maple syrup. Anyway breakfast was a necessity to fuel up his day if he was to keep up with all he needed to do. Of course it didn’t hurt that the Golden Gate was catty corner to the Greyhound bus terminal, within striking distance of discovering his quarry’s trail


Wednesday morning took Mike unawares. No need to dilly-dally since I’m awake. With a couple of practice rolls the tent was back into the bag; only about ten minutes before he felt like an old hand at this camping stuff. He double checked to be sure that all the tent pegs were pulled up and in the bag. So far so good. The discovery that the stove did not come equipped with fuel he put down as a rookie error. Looking at the guide book he figured the nearest store, or town, was about twenty miles away. He could purchase a fuel cylinder when he got there. Looks like it’s gonna be a couple of days before I get any hot food. Hope I can find some berries or something along the way or I’ll be tired of oatmeal before long.

Sitting on a stump, eating the cold stodgy oats, he looked out over the trail to the shelter where the Scouts had slept last night. There was no movement from their quarters yet. A campfire was still sending up a wispy smoke signal. The air smelled damp and smoky and the earth he had laid on gave off a peat laden, loamy scent. He enjoyed the moment. Even the cold oats didn’t seem so bad. At least he had food.

Shaking his head with the conundrum his thoughts caused, he scooted himself into the pack with an effort, adjusting the weight on his shoulders. The next few miles were some of the more even ones on the trail, a pleasant plod. When it wound downhill to Gooch Shelter, he stopped and ate a second bowl of the cold porridge, using up most of his water supply on the gruel. That’s what Oliver Twist would have called it, gruel. Please sir, can I have some more! Soldiering on placing one foot in front of the other, letting his legs get accustomed to the pace he tried to remember all the songs from Oliver, his favorite musical, but got stuck on Food, Glorious Food which didn’t help his immediate situation too much. What I’d give for hot sausage and mustard about now.

His Camelback was sucked dry by this time and he had to start on the reserve bottle of water. The ‘Wingfoot’ was proving to be a godsend. After reading it he knew that couple of miles further on from Gooch Shelter, there was a water source. He continued on; more of a lumber than a plod by now. Slowly he followed the little white blazes marked on trees. They were signs set up so that hikers would know they were still on the Appalachian Trail. Eventually he came to a side trail marked with a blue blaze, indicating there was water a little ways ahead to the right. Heading down it he forded a small stream, Justus Creek. Quickly drinking the remaining water in the bottle that he had been saving, he now submerged his empty bottle into the small spring, using it to fill both of his containers. Extracting the iodine and purifying tablets he dosed the liquid as the instructions suggested. Half an hour later he had clear water, still cold from the spring.


Ian’s internal alarm went off at four am. He rubbed the gum from his eyes and looked at the clock. Time to move, his brain registered. Better get going. 

He stretched until his shoulder hurt, reminding him to check the dressing. Looking in the mirror, the infection and inflammation seemed under control. He pulled on his shirt and slacks, topping them off with the slate colored windbreaker. Sitting on the bed, he picked up the phone and called down to the front desk, pulling on his sneakers as he spoke. Ordering a taxi he said he’d be right down. After strapping on his hip pouch, he shouldered his bag, and headed downstairs. There was a bounce to his step, he felt rested. The cab was already at the curb. Although his flight was not scheduled to leave for an hour or so he was tired of waiting. At least at the airport he would feel that he was closer to moving forward.

After checking his pack at the Delta terminal he picked up the current copy of Backpacker magazine at the newsagent, needing something other than the usual in-flight periodicals to read. Interestingly there was a brief article on the Appalachian Trail that he read somewhere over Oklahoma while sipping on a ginger ale. It mentioned that a number of former AT hikers in the Atlanta area had formed a shuttle service to run would-be hikers out to Amicalola Falls. It provided an e-mail and website to contact them through. Ripping out the page with the website information he folded it up into his inside jacket pocket, leaving the magazine in the rack on the back of the chair in front for some other passenger to peruse. A plan was forming in his mind.  He sat back, put on the headphones—somewhat awkwardly as only one side could be used efficiently as his ear was still bandaged—and chilled out to some cool jazz until the descent into Hartsfield-Jackson began.

Once on the ground in Atlanta, having retrieved his bag, he hailed a shuttle to the Airport Marriott. Safely ensconced in the Lobby Bar, with a Glenfiddich neat in one hand, he accessed his BlackBerry looking for the website for the AT Shuttle service and dispatched an e-mail. He wrote he was staying at the Atlanta Airport Marriott and needed a ride as early as possible the following morning. Ready to relax for the evening he helped himself to the complimentary sushi bar. Hungry, he filled up on spicy yellowtail rolls and maguro. Watching the reflection from the bar mirror he waited until the reservation clerk was free of customers. Walking through the lobby he booked a room for the night. A quick word withthe concierge, with a twenty dollar tip, saw fresh gauge pads and surgical tape sent up to his room.


The shelter at Blood Mountain was the highest point of the Appalachian Trail in Georgia, some 4,450 feet above sea-level. The stone shelter had been erected in the 1930’s, it’s name earned from the bloody skirmishes between the Creek and Cherokee Indians over 400 years ago. Mike rested here to fix his morning oatmeal. Finding bramble bushes close by allowed him a few wild berries to flavor the bland cereal. Washing out his mug with the bottled water he realized that he would have to stock up again soon.

He left the shelter heading toward the rocky trail that descended steeply down the ravine. Pausing briefly at the Neels Gap junction he prepared to cross the road when a White County Sheriff’s cruiser slowly driving past caused him to take a deep breath before continuing. It had been a few days since his last touch with the law and he had not expected to bump into one of them out here in the middle of the remote forest of northern Georgia. When the car drove on without so much as a glance in his direction he gave a big sigh of relief and sullied forth.

He found a small store and hostel, where ten dollars bought a night of relative comfort. As he was pretty grizzled after a few days on the trail the chance of a hot shower and a bunk was more than he could pass up. The smell that emanated from him, not having bathed for the last four days, was pretty rank, so although it was not even noon yet he decided that he was due a little rest and relaxation. Wandering into the store he paid the proprietor his fee for the stay and glanced around. It was a backpacking supply store more than anything else but it also carried an abundance of frozen microwavable pizzas and sandwiches and the such-like, along with trail mix and a selection of dried and fresh fruits.

The bunkhouse was outside and down a series of five or six steps to the left where the store and the hostel formed a bridge. The trail actually passed through the building. He walked across the trail from building to building, past the bathrooms and a laundry room. Having not changed clothes or washed since he started out he could see a high luxury day ahead. When you have very little just gaining a little feels like a huge accomplishment. 


As he turned back under the building that the trail intercepted, through the eerie morning fog, Mike was momentarily transported back in time to Jamaica Inn of 1860. The granite entrance way reminded him of duMaurier’s Cornish tavern; he listened expecting the beat of horse’s hooves on the cobbles and, peering up, anticipated Charles Laughton’s portentous gaze, from the upstairs window. The feeling only lasted a moment for when he reached the far side of the building he was right back in the forest.

He was the first one out walking this morning. Every step was met with a spider’s web incessantly brushing across his face as he barged along today’s virgin trail, the fine gossamer thread spun across the trail from bush to bush every few yards. Spider webs bought back to many recent memories; the ones he was trying to forget. Marching on he tried to clear his thoughts, focusing on the trail, pushing on as hard as he dared.

The next couple of miles were vertically challenging. He had to halt often. His body felt like it was breaking down. Every muscle ached like it was on fire. His heart beat hard in his chest with the effort it took to climb. Once to the top of Bull Gap, he rested. Taking a quick moment he fired up the Coleman, boiling water for a batch of oatmeal. The trail ahead promised another upward swing for the next four miles to the summit at Cowrock Mountain. Need to watch my water intake.  Don’t want to cramp up.  Frugal use of water to clean the pot but it had to be done. No better way of attracting bears than smelling like porridge, ask Goldilocks.

Knowing that he needed to conserve energy for the next few miles he ended up doing the one thing every hiker does when faced with such an endeavor; placing one foot in front of the other and repeat until you get there. The steady pace worked better than all the frequent stops and starts; it’s too hard to get going again after stopping completely. Digging into untapped reserves of strength, he strode forward. 


Ian’s climb began as the sun crested on the mountains to the east. The ascent up Eastern Ridge to the top of the falls was too precipitous to run. He had to settle for a good steady plod that left him with a fine sheen of sweat on his brow, and a soaked shirt. The initial nine mile stretch, to the summit of Springer, was his indoctrination to the days ahead.

He sat alongside other day climbers near the bronze plaque that commemorated the start of the AT, and rested, drinking heavily from his water supply. He would have to err on the side of caution here he realized, as he had not brought supplies for filtering the spring water. If he drank too much of his meager supply early on he would soon be dehydrated. He was worried.

It was already warm out and only mid-morning. A couple that was also staying at the Lodge recognized him from when he checked in and ambled over to chat. They introduced themselves as John and Elise, from Wisconsin. They all admired the view from their eagle perch atop the mountain. Making mention that he was heading out on a northerly route rather than stay in the Lodge again, he suggested he was considering going back down to the lodge having badly miscalculated his water supply already. Start over later than he really wanted to. John and Elise exchanged a quick glance, and she nodded.

She said, “Listen we have plenty of water. We’re both carrying extra bottles. Please take a couple. It would seem such a shame for you to get off schedule.”


Before leaving the next day Mike headed back up to the gushing water to refill the bottle and Camelback. Back at the shelter he released the pack from the bear ropes and fished out the purifier tablets. He had to wait thirty minutes for the chemicals to take effect before he could prepare his morning ration of oatmeal.

He watched squirrels play tag through the branches of the tall oaks while he ate his breakfast. He pulled the diary down and read with interest the comments that people had written. There was an entry from Jo describing her night here last Monday. 

He wrote, 

For my boys. I love you so much. It hurts everyday to not be with you but Daddy is wrestling with his conscious and for now, until I can get back, this is how it has to be. Don’t ever let go of the thought that I will always love you. 

His reticence to move had as much to do with the general peacefulness that he felt at this particular forest refuge as it did his lingering reluctance to face the decisions he had promised to make today. Once he reached Helen could he really live up to the promises him he had cried out to the Almighty during his epiphany last night? His mind was still in flux. He found himself trudging slowly not in any rush to fulfill his possible destiny with the law. As he thought of Seth and Caleb he brushed back a tear or two; he was in self pity mode again but out here in the forest no one cared. He was alone.



Ian was up and moving before the sun rose. He had slept but fitfully. Nightmares of that night, of Bonnie’s gurgling breath through the hole in her neck, until the second blast mercifully silenced everything, had kept him awake. He was gasping for air as if drowning and he was a little disoriented as to his surroundings. He sat up and hit his head on the bunk above. Looking around he could make out the figures of the older couple in the far side bunks. He had crashed so heavily with the help of his prescription that he had not heard them turn in last night. 

Getting up quietly he headed for the bathroom. Peering into the mirror he was taken aback at the five-day scrub on his face that darkened his jowls; his beard grew in fast. Grabbing his pack he headed out. He sat on the wall outside the laundry upstairs to eat breakfast, a couple of bananas and an apple which he consumed on the spot, washing them down with a bottle of orange juice. Filling up his container with water he moved off at a fast trot. He soon found his pace curtailed by the shear enormity of the task. Once summiting Cowrock Mountain he sucked down the Gatorade, and ate the last couple of Snickers that the couple had given him back at Springer. 

Having taken a good look at the map back at Neels Gap, he figured that he could make it another ten miles. It was hilly but nothing quite as tough as the five miles he had just accomplished. At the ten mile point was Enota Resort, another supply store and hostel where he could replenish his food supply. His goal was to advance far enough along the route to reach refueling stops and still catch with his prey by the third day. At Enota he could rest up and refuel. 

About five miles further on he too found the gusher at Low Gap Shelter and soaked his shirt in the icy cold water, washing the salty grime from his face. Pulling the shirt back on wet to help keep his body at a cooler temperature, he took off at a fast pace. Reaching Red Clay Gap he found the small trail that led down the mountain ridge to Enota Resort. He walked slowly along the mile down to the campgrounds. He was no longer at the peak of fitness that he had reached over the last several months of marathon training. His glutes were now severely overworked and cramping.


Mike had less than two miles to make up his mind. Head into Helen and surrender to the local authorities or walk across the road at Unicoi Gap and continue on up the trail to North Carolina. Still struggling internally with the thought he turned the corner and looked down. The trail switch-backed down to the road for about half a mile where an occasional glimpse of red or blue could be seen through the trees as a car zipped past. It was time. Hanging his head with a big sigh, he sat, leaning against a large overhang and rummaged through his pack.  He removed the Spork, water bladder, and a bag of oats and placed them, along with the stove and mug, into the smaller pack attachment. He palmed his drivers license and slid his wallet into the tennis shoes still inside the larger pack. I won’t need the reminders of my past life but some form of ID might still help my flight. Standing up he heaved the larger pack into the undergrowth, pulling the smaller pack onto his shoulders and headed for the sty at Unicoi Gap. Looking down at his hands as he walked he slid the gold band from his left hand and sent it after the pack.


 Upon reaching the trailhead where it crossed the road he decided not to hitchhike toward Helen and surrender to the police; he had a life to live. The less his face was seen in these parts the better and so he crossed the road and continued up the trail. Five miles or so north he came to a spring at Tray Mountain Road and filled up his water bottles. He would have to risk drinking unpurified water as his supply was dwindling and he had no idea now when the next opportunity would come up to buy water; he had left his purifying tablets back on the trail with his former life.

It came about eight miles ahead where, after struggling up Kelly Knob, he found Dicks Creek Gap. Desperate for food, and hence energy for the remaining time on the trail, he decided a small resort was a better risk than a town of running into law enforcement and so he took a three mile jaunt down nearby Hwy 76 which led him to a small organic farm called the Blueberry Patch where he re-stocked on fresh water, trail mix, bananas and grapes. He sat out at the picnic table, resting up while looking at his trail guide and plotting the rest of his journey. Finding Franklin forty miles ahead over the border into North Carolina, he decided to hike that within the next couple of days and once there find away to get back to Atlanta. He would be anonymous enough by then to risk mixing back in the public, especially if he refrained from meeting hikers along the trail between here and Franklin.

Back on the trail his body was working as an automaton by this point; he had lost interest in the natural beauty around him. Pushing hard the next ten miles he came up on Bly Gap, the border between Georgia and North Carolina. There was no shelter and the site was empty of tents. The ground was soft and mossy. Using his pack as a pillow, he lay out under the stars, and slept soundly.

SPOILER ALERT: Reading past here will give the ending away



Ian left out early, without taking time for breakfast. He backtracked up the route to the Appalachian Trail through Red Clay Gap and climbed steadily for a couple of miles until he came to Blue Mountain Shelter. He grabbed a handful of trail mix and peeled a banana while sitting at the shelter’s table. A notebook was lying on the bench. Curiously he opened and read the notes from prior occupants of the shelter.


My boys, I hope you can forgive and understand as you become young men. Seth and Caleb I am so sorry to leave you.


The last note made the hair stand up on the back of his neck; direct evidence that Mike had been there recently. He wouldn’t be too far ahead.

As he strode forward a bear cub dropped as if from the sky, no more than three feet in front of him. It had been climbing in the branches of a mountain laurel that overhung the path. Landing with a thump the cub squealed in fright and surprise. He stood stock still; alert, every muscle in his body poised to run.




The next morningwith his back to the shelter, Mike sat out on the picnic table, finishing the remaining oatmeal and drinking about half his remaining water. There were ten more miles to go before Winding Stair Gap, and the chance to get off the trail and back into civilization. Most of the path was downhill from here and he set off a good clip.

Within four hours he was eagerly out roadside, thumb extended looking for a ride into Franklin. A passing pickup truck with three teens in the front, the girl riding in the middle, offered the bed of the truck and he jumped in; just another hiker getting off the trail.

Franklin sits in a valley. From the back of the truck he could see the town through the pine trees as they approached. They dropped him at the McDonalds. He relaxed outside on the red plastic bench with a couple of quarter-pounders with cheese, fries and an ice cold Dr. Pepper, as kids climbed in and out of the pit screaming, hiding under plastic balls of red, yellow, blue and green. Hailing a passing cab he barely had time to settle his weary frame into the back seat before being delivered to the nearby Comfort Inn. Exhaustedly he wandered over to the desk clerk and booked a room. Once safely ensconced behind closed doors he lay down. Sleep came with a rush.

Twelve hours later he emerged from a deep slumber, as if from a coma, wiping away sleep’s cobwebs. It was dark outside and all the lights were off. Glancing at the luminous dial of the alarm clock he realized it was midnight. He had slept deeply, unmoving. Like the dead.



After three days the corpse had sunk heavily into the ripened earth where the tall ferns and wild ginger grew. The body had survived for just moments after falling from the trail, arterial blood seeping from the open wounds gashed through the chest. Now it laid inert, bloated and swollen, legs spread akimbo. The eyes gazed blankly upward toward the mountain laurels that formed an evergreen canopy overhead.

An occasional bluebottle settled on the face, dancing in the mixture of fluids that were emanating from the nose, eyes and gaping mouth. The tongue, blue and distended, extended grotesquely. A field mouse gently ran over the hairy leg, sniffing decay in the air.

The bear returned with her mate, cubs in tow. With their tugging at the body, it didn’t take long for the flesh to split and the carcass to come apart like an overcooked turkey. The clothing ripped away as teeth and claws descended into the fray. As they pulled the body between them in a macabre game of tug-o-war, the limbs detached from the torso and the entrails spilled to the forest floor. Legs and arms were carried off into the dark dense rhododendron to be gnawed on, leaving the torso in place. The cubs grew bold and now that the parents were preoccupied grabbed an arm between them and ripped flesh from it in order to sate their need to imitate the adults. Gorging until they were full, they left, crashing through the bushes and ferns.

By the fifth day, a crow, balancing on the skull, dipped its beak into the hole leaking glutinous fluid that had once been an eyeball. Red ants swarmed on what was left, their pincers grazing for flaking and peeling skin to haul back to their underground nests.



Carl Calloway sat in his patrol car with his eleven year old daughter Althea. She was struggling to lace her hiking boots. April was still feeling its way into northern Georgia and there was a spring chill in the morning air. He watched the group of hikers rubbing their hands together and passing around Styrofoam cups of coffee. Their breath rose in front of them as they stamped their feet to keep warm, waiting impatiently. It was almost seven and everyone was expecting the hike organizer—and local club director—Joyce, to join them shortly. He knew she was down the street at the Chamber of Commerce, around the corner on Bruchen Strausse, processing the final paper work. He kept glancing in the mirror on the door hoping to see her coming.

The severe weather warnings that the local newscasters had broadcast yesterday evening had taken a toll on Georgia hikers; many of them appeared to have remained at home. The mostly out of town crowd was only about thirty people strong. They had stayed in Helen’s hotels last night, and were now huddled together in the morning chill. The volksmarchers were gathered in front of the Fuessen Biergarten, spilling over and milling into the gardens in back, which overlooked the banks of the Chatahoochee River. The river gurgled and chuckled as it flowed past.

Hiking boots, woolen socks and heavy shorts were the fashion of the day. He had only been in town for a few months and so was not sure which of the hikers were from Helen, although he recognized a couple of familiar faces. Each walker was supplied with a map that showed either a ten or twenty kilometer trail. While she tied her boots he glanced over the one Althea had lain on the seat between them. Both trails followed paths through the village, alongside the meandering Chatahoochee River, and across the rolling hills of northern Georgia’s Chatahoochee National Forest.

He had fallen in love with the peacefulness of the town of Helen when he applied for the vacant post of chief of police back in September. It was a beautiful little burg, fashioned straight out of the Austrian Alps. It was completely different to the Atlanta suburbs he had lived in and both he and Althea had settled in nicely, although he still worried about having to leave Vince back in the city with his ex-wife. The divorce had been hard on both kids



 “Helen Police Department.” Sergeant Timmons answered the phone.

“We discovered what looks like a human skeleton, or at least the remains of one, up at Unicoi Gap,” Vince said.

“Whoa, slow down a moment son. Let’s start again. Now what is your name?

‘This is Vince Calloway, the Chief’s son. I’m telling you I just found a body up at the Gap. You need to get my Dad out here right now.”



At first light the whole team came out to view and examine the human remains. Chief Callaway led the procession in his squad car with the Medical Examiner, Dr. Dana Dawes, following in her Jeep Cherokee. A couple of agents from the GBI were close behind in a black sedan with the photographer in tow. Bringing up the rear of the group were Officers Truro and Blanchette, sent to relieve Ledbury and Schmidt from the night watch. 

Dawes, an eminently known forensics anthropologist, was a graduate of the Forensic Anthropology Center at The University of Tennessee in Knoxville. Carl was glad to have her on the case. He had heard of reputation when he headed up the Atlanta Homicide Squad but had not actually met her until last night.

She parked on the gravel lot at the trailhead and eagerly bound out of her jeep, dressed for business in jeans, an off-white, oversized cowl neck sweater and hiking boots. The kit she always carried was in a small backpack she had clasped in front of her. Shoulder length gray hair and her angular features belied her age. At fifty-five she had been around the Georgia State system for many years; they didn’t come any better.

“Lead the way Chief,” she said.



The two elderly men stood together on the back porch. Not dressed in their traditional garb but in plaid shirts, work boots and dungarees. They would have been mistaken for common farm laborers by those not knowing them. The moist salt water breeze blew, disturbing Brother Tom’s hair. The older monk, one hand in his pocket, clenched a pipe stem between his yellowing teeth and nodded at the view in front of them.

The monastery was high on the hill overlooking the immense gardens and from their lofty perch the sound of the waves smashing on to the black sandy beaches at the bottom of the cliffs reached them as if they were standing on the beach themselves. Sixty feet above the cliffs at Mokuleia, next to the old barbeque pit fashioned from a propane tank, the monk the two Brothers were watching, allowed himself a few moments of tranquility standing listening to the sea as it hit again and again with ferocity on the beach and rocks below.

He reached up into the trees pulling the plump ripe oranges down and rolled them into the empty wheelbarrow. He had been tasked with gathering some of the fruit that the small body of monks that lived at the Benedictine Monastery of Hawaii lived on. Today it was the citrus, tomorrow perhaps the bread fruit, or even the honey from the hives over yonder. He had arisen four hours ago to meditate, pray and partake of the Eucharist. After breakfast he found his way to the cliff tops to begin his daily chores for the monastery, on the remote compound near Waialua where the monks of the oldest order of the Catholic Church lived a life of obedience, chastity and poverty and served the people in the neighboring communities with prayer and counseling.

The Holy Father, removing the pipe from his mouth, said “It seems like yesterday that he stumbled up the dirt road and you found him sprawled in a heap outside the main gates.”