The attack was unexpected. No one could have imagined that a peaceful walk through a pristine forest would turn into a nightmare, but now they were running for their lives. Gerald was bleeding from a head wound caused by bashing into a low-hanging branch and Jane’s shirt was ripped by an encounter with a blackberry patch. His feet were sore from running over boulders near a swollen surging stream. They weren’t survivalists equipped for adversity but college freshmen on a day trip.
The echo was loud when the first bullet slammed into the tree he was standing next to. If he hadn’t looked down just at that moment the round would have ripped through his skull. As it was, his hair got singed by the bullet’s heat and the smell was strong even though there was a breeze. Jane screamed when the next round of gunfire erupted, and they started running without any sense of direction. All they knew was that someone wished to harm them and sticking around to find out who or why wasn’t a good idea.
After about a mile they reached a logging road that offered safe footing but would leave them exposed. There hadn’t been a shot for a few minutes, so after a brief confab and sips from their one canteen they decided to risk using the road. Maybe they’d been near someone’s illegal pot farm Gerald stated as they worked their way downhill. Now that they were well away from it they might be safe. Jane disagreed. She was certain someone was still stalking them and would let them dangle for a bit before finishing them off.
Another few minutes of walking led to an expanse of rolling fields that were cultivated, so he thought civilization might be near. Hopefully, they could pay someone to take them back to the car they’d parked at the trailhead. If not, they could call someone at school to fetch them. When they rounded a bend and discovered a ramshackle wood shack he started to surge forward, but Jane grabbed his arm and held him back. There was a rusty pickup parked in a dirt driveway, but no one seemed to be around. No smoke from the galvanized chimney. No dog on the porch. No sounds. He felt like they’d been transported to the set of a horror movie.
While they hunkered down behind a bush and quietly debated whether to knock or keep walking, chugging diesel engine sounds came from the direction they had. Seconds later a big John Deere tractor skidded to a stop in front of the shack and a pot-bellied, full-bearded man in overalls climbed down from the driver seat. He pulled a handkerchief from his pocket, wiped his brow, then ambled in their direction.
“I know you’re there,” He shouted. “Come on out. I won’t hurt ya.”
Though reluctant, they stood and stepped into the road, wondering what would happen next. The man stopped about two feet away and gave each of them a piercing look. Nodding his head as if settling an internal conflict, he said “Heard you had a run in with Luke. Been telling him to quit shooting without warning. Had to help him bury a couple of folks last month. Glad you’re okay.”
His statement struck terror in their hearts. Before they could say anything, he continued. “You folks look like you could use a drink. Come sit on the porch and I’ll fetch a jug of what Luke cooks up where you were. You won’t tell the cops will ya?”
They cautiously accepted his invitation, still worried about being buried in a lonely grave. Once on the porch with jelly jars in their hands and fire in their guts, they relaxed as the man explained that the people he'd buried tried to steal a batch of liquor from Luke’s still. That incident made Luke trigger-happy and they were lucky that his eyes were getting bad and his aim was off. Gerald offered to pay for a ride but the man said he’d do it for free seeing as they’d suffered. It took a few minutes to crank up the old pickup but soon they were headed back to the trailhead. The old man let Jane sit up front while he and Gerald sat in the bed, bouncing around from every bump in the road. “Don’t come back” were his final words as he gave them a jug for the road. With their desire for communing with nature temporarily derailed, they looked forward to life in the dorm and would gladly heed those words of advice.