Her Mother's Keeper
Melanie smacked at her legs, battered and bloody as she stumbled to the creek. She was not dressed for the occasion; wearing only a thin cotton shirt, khaki shorts, and sandals. Hiking boots would have made more sense, and maybe a flashlight and compass for that matter. Hearing the water, a shiver ran through her as she approached, preparing herself to cross the black creek water as the tree branches lashed out at her face.
The moonlight bounced off the surface of the small creek, flashing as it rippled through the current which poured through the smooth rocks forming small tranquil pockets of water. Arriving at the stream, she stopped, breathing heavy visible breaths into the rigid nighttime air. She guessed that it was sometime after two in the morning, although it seemed as if she had been in the woods for hours.
While debating whether to cross the creek, she heard the wretched bark of a coyote on the other side, making her decision to say on her side of the creek all the easier. She rubbed her arms, continuing down the rugged path when she heard her name being calling in the distance, as the sounds leaves crushing and sticks snapping grew closer with every step. She turned and dashed further into the dark forest.
The night had been doomed from the start, the horrible date that had led to her jumping out of the car, somehow culminating with her freezing to death in the wilderness while being chased by coyotes in the wee hours of the morning. A Ralph Waldo Emerson quote from her English teacher’s classroom came to mind. Once you make a decision, the universe conspires to make it happen. Sounds about right, she thought.
The collection of large rocks in the clearing prompted her to make a decision. She couldn't keep going, it was time to take a stand. She looked around, putting her hand on the waist high boulder to find her balance in the dark. He was getting closer.
“Mel, what’s going on….. ” his voice echoed in the wilderness.
She listened to the footsteps, climbing the hill leading towards the rocks, as the path winded through the large trees before clearing. Melanie crouched between two large boulders, her chest heaving as she timed his approach. She peaked out from the rock, tightening her grip on the thick wooden stick in her shaking hand.
“Mel, this is crazy…..where are you?” He was walking backwards, scanning all directions as his voice was swallowed by the vast forest. Another step, then another…
The police arrived at the abandoned vehicle shortly after receiving a frantic call from an extremely terrified teenage girl. The dark road was illuminated by the sudden activity as three out of the county’s four squad cars were there with the ambulance. Flashlights flickered in the woods across the highway, in search of evidence from the struggle. The medics attended to the girl’s bruised face while the Sheriff asked her a few questions. She trembled, in too much shock to speak; her body was languid from the fateful events of the evening.
Melanie’s mother and stepfather arrived shortly afterwards. Her mother immediately rushing to her little girl’s aid as her stepfather was a bit more reserved, talking with the patrolmen and asking questions about the sequence of events that led to the ghastly outcome near the creek.
The sheriff, having never worked murder scene--as the small town with one post office and two grocery stores rarely made the news for anything other than its apple orchards or bed and breakfast houses nearby---gave his analysis of the situation.
“From the looks of things, they were parked and our lover boy here was trying to have his way with her. He roughed her up pretty good, she ran off and he gave chase. We found him in under the rock; she got him pretty good with that stick, hell of a mess. ”
Melanie’s stepfather nodded, taking in the sheriff’s assessment of the situation before walking over to the patrol car, where two young deputies were whispering, their pale faces glowing in the dark. He peeked over at his wife, her daughter staring at the ground as her mother clutched her tightly, swaying her back and forth as she spoke.
“Oh baby. I’m so sorry, I’m sorry baby, it’s okay, you’re safe now.”
Melanie sniffled, accepting her mother’s comforting as she sat at the edge of the ambulance. The EMT had checked her vital signs and she had been cleared with only a few scrapes and bruises to show for her brush with death, along with the emotional trauma she had suffered. Her mother wiped her cheeks with a towel, collecting dark streaks of mascara as she nervously hovered, apologizing repeatedly.
“I’m so sorry baby…”
Resting her head on her mother’s shoulder, Melanie watched her stepfather, the swirling lights dancing on his face as he walked vigilantly amongst the activity in the dark night. Her eyes followed him as he surveyed the scene, talking with authorities like a detective on television. With her mother still fawning over her, apologizing while squeezing out warm tears on her icy cheek, she waited. As he approached, their eyes met, and for an instant he froze, a shudder running through him as Melanie’s quick sneer sent an unmistakable message. You’re next.