J. Allen Wolfrum is a fiction author and former Marine based in San Diego, California.

 

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Muddy Footprints ... A Short Story

Muddy Footprints ... A Short Story

Kyle walked down the Creek Canyon Loop trail with a jump in his step. The inspiration to take up birding as a hobby came from a documentary on the Travel Channel. The television show followed a beautiful brunette in the mid thirties traveling around the globe as she explained the various species of birds to the audience.

There was no possible avenue for his wife to complain about him taking up the hobby of birding. Environmentally conscious, check. Good exercise, check. Low cost, check. Not associated with coming home late and reeking of booze, check.

Kyle stopped for a moment to take in the scene. He was amazed at the silence, or least what he thought was silence. After a moment he realized that the forest was not silent, it was alive with the small sounds of birds, squirrels, and chipmunks.

He put the binoculars up to his eyes and the stresses of marriage, kids, and work faded away. His right arm ached from the weight and unfamiliar position of the binoculars. He held them to his face with his left hand for a moment, then let go and they hung from his neck by the strap. He smiled, it was his first genuine smile in years, the pain of that reality showed on his face. He was far too young to have gray hair and wrinkles around the corners of his eyes.

Kyle walked along the trail for another hundred yards, he saw a pair of muddy footprints leading down the ridge toward what he thought was a small creek. Earlier in the morning it had rained, making the footprints look fresh to Kyle. He had only been on the trail for fifteen minutes and in that short period of time he had seen no other signs of people. According to the shopkeeper where he bought his birding guide and binoculars, this was a popular trail for birding enthusiasts. There were supposedly several hidden trails that only the experienced birders in the area knew about. The locations were closely guarded secrets to maintain the habitat of the rare birds that were often seen on those trails.

Kyle wondered if the footprints were made from a fellow birder earlier in the morning. If they led to one of the hidden trails, he might get to a chance to see one of the rare birds. He cared much more about telling the story of seeing a rare bird than actually seeing the bird itself. Kyle took out his trail map and attempted to figure out where the footprints would take him. His best guess was that the footprints led down to a small creek and then out to a larger river.

He shoved the map back into the pocket of his brand new birding jacket and followed the footprints. He made it down to the creek bed with no problems. The trail was well worn and looked like it was used frequently, no chance of getting lost. He stopped for a moment to catch his breath and take in his surroundings. He looked up at the ridge-line and a small amount of regret crept into his mind. He quickly dismissed the thought and looked down at his watch. Still plenty of time to make it back for Emily’s soccer game.

The trail hugged the edge of the creek, never more than twenty feet away from the water. Kyle thought about dangling his feet in the water. He walked closer to the creek, reached down, and stuck his hand in the stream up to his wrist. The ice cold water shocked him and he pulled it out immediately. He dried his hand off on his pants and kept trudging along the trail, he figured another half mile at the most until he reached the main river.

The trail turned around a bend and the smell of wood-smoke hit Kyle’s nostrils. He stopped and looked to the sky, his first instinct was to think it was a forest fire. He saw a thin and light colored stream of smoke just ahead, his panic subsided for a moment before returning. Kyle thought to himself, is that smoke coming from a chimney? What the hell is a cabin doing this far back in the woods.

Curiosity pushed Kyle further down the trail toward the thin stream of smoke. He got close enough to see the cabin, then the fear pumped through his veins. He looked around and saw no movement. He stood still, a moment later he heard the giggle of a woman’s voice and the splashing of water. Kyle cleared his throat and in his deepest voice yelled, “is anybody there? I was just following the trail … didn’t mean to intrude.”

Kyle heard more giggle and water splashing. He thought maybe two voices but wasn’t sure.

A woman’s voice echoed through the woods. “No worries. Come on over. Just follow the trail you’ve been on. We’re about to have breakfast.”

Kyle hesitated before responding. He scanned the woods. “Umm … ok, I’m headed your way.” When Kyle got within thirty feet of the cabin, two women walked out from behind a cluster of rocks. Kyle froze.

“We’re about to have lunch, care to join us. We’re having fresh fruit and cheese with red wine. Or whiskey if you prefer.”

Kyle felt like her blue eyes were pulling him toward her like a tractor beam. He heard the faint sounds of reggae music coming from the cabin. For the second time in years, Kyle smiled.

-----

“Remember when you went birding a few weeks ago?” Kyle’s wife asked.

Kyle froze for an instant as the memories flooded back in his mind. He spilled milk from his spoon back into his cereal bowl. “Yeah.”

“Where was it that you went? You told me but I forgot.”

“Creek Canyon, about thirty minutes away out on I-94 ... Why?”

“There’s an article in the paper about those trails.”

Kyle put his spoon down in the bowl of cereal and looked at his wife.

She folded the paper down and looked at Kyle. “Gruesome story. They caught two serial killers about a mile and a half from the trails. Two women set up a camp out by the river and were luring men into their camp. Paper says they found five bodies buried in the hillside.”

Kyle wiped the sweat from his forehead and ate a spoonful of cereal. He swallowed, “sounds like a crazy story.”

Kyle's wife raised her eyebrows. "They're still looking for another suspect." She turned to the Home&Garden section of the paper and started an article about remodeling a Victorian house.

Kyle went back to eating his cereal in silence.

P.S.

As you noticed, I decided to shake things up and write a short story instead of the usual format. I'm going to give this a try for a couple of weeks and go from there.

In case you were wondering where the idea came from, I found a list of short story prompts on Reedsy.com and picked one. The prompt I chose was, "While on a stroll through the forest, you find strange footprints. Do you follow them?"

Also, Rich and Pam are doing great. With warm weather comes lizards sunning themselves on the back porch. Pam is all about it.

Signing off from the Catranch. -jerad

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