Bright sunlight dancing off the water, chattering birds and golden warm air make the walk this morning near perfect. Sonja has taken the long route; a lazy day stretches before her and there is no need to rush. This is her absolute favorite place for a Sunday walk. Summer homes along the river bank give it a cozy feel; abundant flowers, fancy bird feeders, cheerful garden knickknacks and the charm of the small houses keep her happily occupied as she walks the mile or two that connects this hidden back road to the main highway.
A walker approaches in the distance, and Sonja feels a twinge of annoyance. It’s not her road, but still. As he gets closer she sees he has headphones on, allowing a quick nod to be sufficient, and the road is hers again.
The river brings peace and calm to her soul, a respite from the daily grind. She lets her mind wander as she walks, one thought leading to the next going nowhere in particular. The soft clump of her sneakers on the pavement provides familiar comfort.
If only she could make this last all week.
Then—a loud snap of a branch to her right startles her. Looking over, she expects to see a squirrel or a bird. No movement, and she continues on.
Another crackling of branches, the crunching of leaves and a rustling noise come from the right. Sonja begins to walk faster, imagining an animal, or maybe even someone hidden in the bushes. The rustling stops. Now she hears voices, and they are coming from down toward the river. She stops walking and listens. The first voice is rough and deep, with a hint of an accent.
“Hey, put it down here and cover it up. Make sure it’s covered good. No, not there, over this way.”
There is no response from whoever he is speaking to. Sonja hears a clang, like metal striking something, and then some curses from a different voice.
“It’s too heavy to push over there. Let’s just cover it here and leave it.” This one has a husky, cigarette-smoking voice.
“Nah, can’t do that. Gotta get it out of here. It’s gotta go with the rest, into the truck. Come on, don’t be a slug, help me out here.” She hears grunts and groans and lots of rustling. Curious, she creeps closer to the edge through a small space between some trees, where she can just catch a glimpse.
What she sees causes her to freeze.
Three big and burly men, pushing at a mound of something, she can’t see what. The men are too close together for her to see through them.
“Move!” She silently shouts to herself.
As if they had heard her, they step aside for a moment. Then she can see part of something big and long being rolled up.
She backs away. What on earth has she just seen? What are they trying to get rid of, way down by the river? She wants to get a better look, but fear has her wavering. Should she walk away or stay and look closer? Her sensible side says to get out of there now! But curiosity is a strong force. She gets even closer to the edge, holding on to a branch so she can get a better look.
Just past where the men are gathered she sees the back end of a small truck, parked along a dirt road that leads down toward the river bank. She had no idea the road even existed.
One of the men glances up her way. Fear seizes her. She jumps back and starts walking away, inwardly cursing herself for being so stupid. Now what? They saw her. She tries to regain her calm by breathing slowly, in and out. Walk, breath, calm down. But they saw her! Or at least one man saw her. She is now a witness to whatever they were doing. Oh she is so stupid! This was supposed to be a nice morning walk and now look at what she’s done.
Well, what had she done? Maybe nothing. But why are they down by the river rolling up whatever it was they were rolling? She tries to think of what could be in that tarp, besides the dead body she imagines. Maybe they are landscapers and they cut down a tree. But you don’t roll a tree into anything. So then what else?
Her head is spinning and she realizes she is walking faster and faster. The man’s face keeps appearing in her head. He saw her. He knows she knows. Knows what? She just wants to get home and lock the door behind her.
Okay, think this through. The men could be doing some harmless thing, no big deal, she just keeps walking home and all is well. Or, they are trying to clean up from a crime, they saw her and she is in BIG trouble. She thinks about the man with the headphones she saw walking by earlier. What if he is with them? Maybe he is there to see if there are any witnesses sticking their nose into their dirty business and his job is to “take care of them.” He could be hiding somewhere even now.
The sound of her sneakers hitting the pavement is all she hears. She wants to go even faster, but she is careful to keep a steady pace, so as not to attract attention. If the lookout guy is hovering around out of sight she doesn’t want him to know of her fear. Anyway, that’s how they do it in the movies.
Nothing to do now but walk and think, and keep her senses tuned into her surroundings. She hasn’t seen many cars pass by, and the houses have taken on a desolate look. Where could she go if she needed help? Run up and ring a doorbell and hope someone is home before they have a chance to grab her? Her mind is running freely, every bad situation playing out. Crazy thoughts all jammed together mixed with panic. She can almost see the body in the tarp, bloody and beaten. Then the hands of the murderers around her own neck…
Whoa! She has to stop this horrible thinking. Retrace what she really did see. Some men trying to move a bulky thing under a tarp and put it into a truck. She hears a car coming behind her and she panics all over again. There are very few cars on this road and she realizes she hasn’t seen one all morning. Who is this, then, barreling along? She can hear them going way too fast for this country road. She braces herself. What if they are driving by to shoot her? No one would see. She could be dead on the road for hours before anyone came by, or worse, lie dying in pain until someone finds her. She envisions a gruesome picture of herself writhing in agony, alone in the dirt, as she tries to stay conscious to cry for help….
Then the car passes and she hears no shots, feels no pain. The car is just a car. She can feel her nerves tingling, the stress inside twisting her up so she can barely see straight. She just needs to get some distance between her and this road and she’ll be okay. She forces herself to calm down, think straight and put things in perspective.
Breathing a little calmer now, she concentrates on simply walking. Just walk, turn off the brain and get out of here. Maybe change up her route for her next walk, leave this road alone for awhile. This line of thinking puts her in a better frame of mind and she almost starts to enjoy herself again. Until she hears the roar of a truck behind her.
A truck. The truck. The one carrying the loud, burly men, and more specifically the man who saw her and knows that she knows. Here it comes behind her and she cannot outrun it. A few seconds and it will be beside her and then she will have no way of escape. She waits for the cliché: her life passing before her eyes- but only sees the road and the shoulder at her feet.
Louder now, the truck is nearly upon her. She resists the urge to turn her head to look. She continues to walk, her steps not as firm but at least she is moving. The truck sounds so close, right behind her, just a foot or two. Her heart is beating wildly, she wants to scream. She screams inside instead.
Then, it is next to her. The noise is deafening, the rattling and clanging of metal and who-knows-what else. Sonja cringes inside, waits for a shot, but all she sees are pebbles spitting out from the road, hurled out by the tires as the truck speeds by.
What? Speeds by? She realizes the truck is passing her. Passing her! Not stopping to shoot her or grab her, just continuing on down the road! No one is looking out at her or even caring that she is on the road at all. It is simply heading forward, away from her.
For a minute she stops walking. Stops and breathes, happy to be alive and apparently staying that way for the time being. Happy to see the back end of the truck as it goes away from her.
She realizes she can read the name on the back of the truck. Harry’s Hauling. There are even pictures of things that Harry hauls, and besides old furniture and broken appliances, one of those things, wouldn’t you know, is a carpet. Harry’s hauls carpets and such! Which must have been what she saw and makes perfect sense. What a perfectly normal thing she saw, workmen hauling away a carpet, just like their truck says they do. Nothing to do with her, thank you very much. Sonja smiles to herself.
Until one thought spoils it.
Would Harry’s be working on a Sunday? Those people don’t generally work on Sundays.
Now her mind is busy again. Maybe these men stole Harry’s truck in order to cover up a murder and make it look like they were hauling a carpet. Just because they didn’t kill her here on the spot doesn’t mean they aren’t watching her with a plan to kill her later.
So where can she go? If she goes home, they could break in so easily and that would be the end of her. If she wanders around she is only prolonging the inevitable. Call a friend? But then she would be putting someone else in danger. She feels like a trapped animal now, nowhere to run. She feels like walking down into the river below, let it swallow her up. But no, this is all still speculation from her over-active imagination.
Giving up, Sonja decides to walk home and take her chances. Home still feels like the safest place to be. She bravely turns in that direction and begins the trip back.
Head down, she barely notices the vehicle making its way down the road in front of her. But she hears it stop and start and finally she recognizes the little blue and white truck as the mail truck.
Mail? Today? Sunday?
Then- it hits her.
It’s not Sunday! It’s Monday. She took today as a vacation day. She is so used to walking this route on Sundays that she has totally forgotten that she gave herself a long weekend. And now again it makes perfect sense for Harry’s Hauling to be out here working. On a Monday.
That settles it. Harry’s Hauling did not pick up anything more than a dirty carpet. She is determined now that she will enjoy her day off---even if it kills her .
I have had stories published in several magazines including Futures Mysterious Anthology and Woman's World. Also online at Tethered By Letters as a monthly feature. Writing is a fun outlet for me, releasing the tensions of my day job as a customer service rep.