Her long curly hair bounced out of the messy bun which previously held it as she ran. Lifting her legs as high as she could while still maintaining her speed. She thought of her Jujutsu classes, of knee strikes. Anything to keep her from tripping over the debris. He had given her directions to the parking area. She had followed signs through the woods to him. He was waiting in an open field. A tarp laid out with white dotted lines and room labels. In the square labeled kitchen there was food, the bedroom had a tent, there was even a porch with two lawn chairs. It was on the porch that he told her he had bought the land for them. It was small, landlocked, surrounded by dense woods, but it was theirs. They would have privacy, all the nearby cabins empty or too far away. But it would be a modernized cabin when he was done. A get away. He was going to build them something special. Something she would never forget, if the shock didn’t kill her first. She had never imagined this.
A large tree with low, thick branches came into focus. The other trees had branches too high up for her to grab. Hailey reached out and grabbed the first one she could. Swinging her legs up, she pulled herself onto the branch. Blindly climbing, she stopped as the branches thinned out. The sun was setting, the woods had been darkened by the trees, but soon the darkness of night would cover everything. Ducking low she scoured the woods behind her. He had been behind her for a while. Whistling as he followed her trail. She couldn’t see him, but she could hear him. The leaves swayed in the light wind, dancing to their own music. There were no indications that a 6-foot maniac was lumbering through the woods. Hailey turned to look over her left shoulder, twisting slightly the bark crinkled and cracked under her butt. Up ahead, a little further to the left than where she had come from was a small shack that looked like it belonged to hunters. From the porch light, Hailey could see stripes of neon orange. It seemed there were a number of hunting jackets hanging outside the shack.
Hailey looked out, following the path she had taken all the way up to the tree she had climbed. Her stomach dropped. She hadn’t thought she was so high. Her eyes traced the trail dirt; her breath held hostage in her chest. She excepted William to be whistling, stalking through the woods. He wasn’t. She squinted to the open field she had come from. The blue shape of the tarp was disappearing into the night. He must be cleaning up. Her shoulders and eyes relaxed a little. Whatever he was doing, he was doing it over there.
She felt her way down the tree. Feeling the way with tip of her woolen socks. Small bits of bark and baby twigs jabbing her as Hailey made her way to the ground. With her socks covered in forest debris – her hands raw, blood filling in the scratches – Hailey brushed her hands against her black puffy vest. Bright pink fuzz took over her peripherals as she pulled up her hood. Shit, she thought, her hands rushed up to the neck of her vest fumbling around. The metal cold to her touch, Hailey pulled at the zipper. “Qué vaina,” she muttered dropping the hood onto the ground.
The hunting cabin was up ahead to the left of the path. Following the path would be the easiest option. Shaking her scrunchy free from her long locks, Hailey bent forward gathering up her hair. Standing up straight she heard a whistle off behind her, still off the in distance, she wondered just how far. Hailey tied her hair as tightly as she could and took off further up the path. The low branches disappeared again offering very little protection. The moon rose offering a soft glow. Large twigs and chips of wood littered the way. The wind picked up traveling softly through the treetops. The whistling had stopped. Hailey wondered if William had found her hood. She should have throw it into the woods. Keep him off her scent or whatever hunters used to stalk their prey.
She eased her pace, carefully following the trail as best she could. She remembered the first time she had gone hunting with William. It hadn’t been a real hunting trip. But she wanted to see where he went, what he did. She found it inconceivable that he would lay in a dirty, soggy shack high in the trees waiting for a dumb animal to stroll into his line of fire. At 3:00 AM when the alarm blared into her ear canal and William had finally gotten her to sit up, she got out of bed. In his dimly lit bedroom she had dressed for the woods in her distressed jeans, thick woolen socks she strategically zipped above her brand new worn in brown ankle boots, with a waffle long sleeve shirt, topped with a fluffy vest – the same one she was wearing now. When she walked into the kitchen William had been pouring coffee into large metal-looking thermoses.
William poked her gently, nudging her back and forth. Opening her eyes she saw the clock on the dashboard read: 4:46. The drive had been at least an hour. Rolling herself out of his truck she felt hungover without the fun festivities of the night before.
“Baby,” she grumbled, slamming the truck door.
“Shhh,” William whispered. “The whole point of hunting is to shot the animals not scare them away.”
“Pendejo,” she muttered. Hailey made her way to the bed of the truck where William was unloading everything.
“We’re going to have a bit of hike, and then we’ll set up shop.”
Hailey face dropped. Her eyelids covered half her eyes, as her pupils fixated a look of death upon him. “You didn’t mention that part baby,” her tone as flat as her face.
“You’re the one who wanted to experience this with me. Was I supposed to appreciate the gesture and then tell you to forget it?”
“I just would have liked to know that it was going to be early, dark, cold, and a lot of work.” She watched as William began hauling out duffel bags and backpacks of various sizes from the bed of his truck. The veins in his neck flashing as he used his well defined muscles.
“It’s also going to be a lot of fun, at least what I call fun. Here, you can carry this,” he said handing her a square camo-colored cooler.
Shifting the bag onto her shoulder she heard the shaking of ice. “You didn’t tell me that we’re sleeping out here!”
“We’re not,” William said, his patience wearing thin.
“Then what is all this shit?”
“First aid, bug spray, guns and ammo, knives, maps, toiletries, zip ties, and beer. Basic supplies for a day in the woods.”
“A day,” she grumbled, “more like a week.” Flipping her long curly hair over her shoulder she sulked off to a nearby tree. Leaning against it she watched as she waited for him.
They had been walking for miles, at least eight of them. The light barely peeking through the trees. Damp leaves clung to Hailey’s boots, the cold of wet seeping into her socks. “How much longer,” she hissed.
Wordlessly William turned around pointing with his chin toward a small dilapidated tree house ahead. It looked to Hailey as though whoever started building it, had never finished. The closer they got to the shabby tree house Hailey’s hopes sank. “We’re not staying in that,” she said stopping dead in her tracks.
“We’re not staying anywhere,” William said stopping a few feet ahead. Turning around he continued, “we’re setting up shop up there, and waiting quietly, for game.”
Hailey opened her mouth to protest. Her voice caught as William turned around and continued on toward the cabin. Hot blood pulsed through her veins. She stomped snapping twigs and crunching leaves as she trailed behind him. She watched, her eyes laser focused on William’s every move as he lugged equipment and bags up and into the tree shack. It took him three trips. Hailey figured an expert hunter like William purported to be, could have done it in one. Her hands shoved deep into her vest pockets, Hailey fiddled with something thick, something plastic, the size of her thumb but powerful. The purpose of this outing was now two-fold. With the finish line in site, Hailey pushed off the tree and made her way to the ladder.
Settling against the wall opposite of William, Hailey’s eyes drank in every inch of him. His hat slightly rumpled on the top of his head. Forest green lined with thick, dark fur. His jacket the splotched with the same green and other woodsy colors. Laid flat out on his stomach, his elbows pointed outward, gun tucked into place resting against the window. The bottom of his boots dirty with a wet sheen on them. Hailey slipped the GPS tracker into one of the many bags she was snuggled against, the one that seemed to have the first aid kit. First mission accomplished, now for part two. Hopefully this didn’t take too long.
Her eyes had started dropping when she heard a commotion of twigs and branches, brush and leaves somewhere around them. Snapping awake Hailey looked around her. William’s body had moved slightly. His gaze locked into something at the tip of his gun. Slowly and almost silently, William prepared himself for a shot. Apparently, game had come along. His breath no longer audible as his arm tensed against the weapon, Hailey shouted, “Baby what was that?”
A crack sounded through the forest followed by the sound of scampering deer.
William’s head dropped. He sat straight back on to his knees. His gun laying by his side. He flexed his fingers. Hailey had been quiet since they were on the ground. He should have known better. Unloading the rifle, William began jamming things back into bags. Hailey bit back a smile.
“Did you get it?”
Without looking at her, William managed to pack up the entire cabin in what felt like moments.
“Let’s go,” he said. Disappearing down the ladder.
“I guess you didn’t get it. But why are we going? I thought we were hunting all day?”
Stopping abruptly William turned to face her. His red face in stark contrast to the greens of his attire. “I was hunting. You were fucking me. As you always seem to do when it’s not about you, Hailey. Obviously, this is not what you want to be doing. So we’re going. Unless you have any intelligent reason that we should stay I’d suggest you take a nap in the truck on the way home and give me time to calm down.”
“Oh, I’ll leave you be. Maybe even after we’ve gotten home,” she sneered, stomping off into the words.
William rolled his eyes as he watched her go. Running the equipment back to the truck, he returned to the spot he had left her. Looking at his watch she had a twenty minute head start, but had at least been heading somewhat toward the truck.
She had barely cooled off as she heard the sound of footsteps behind her. “How did you find me,” she said whipping around. William’s face decorated with worry met her.
“I tracked you,” he said walking closer to her, “you could get seriously lost in these woods if you’re not careful. Not to mention the bears and other animals around. Let’s get back to the truck. You can be mad at me in a place where I know you’re safe.”
He had tracked her once, and would do it again. At least this time she had taken the path he mapped out for her. William watched miniature Hailey in black, white, and gray making her way through the woods on the security system. Keeping as best she could to the path, she kept crouching down as the trees thinned out. With the press of a button his whistle filled the forest. He couldn’t hear it, the security system wasn’t that great. But the look of horror on Hailey’s face was enough for him. She had taken the bait of the low hanging branches. For weeks he had come out here, clearing all the lower hanging brush. Bundling it up as fire wood he brought it back to his town, sold it, donated it, even gifted it to his friend Deneen, not the only wood he had gifted her either. She had seen the cabin just as he had intended her to. Unlike the wild animals he had hunted over the years, Hailey had fallen victim to her fear. And soon enough, she would fall victim to him.
Hailey had fallen hard. Little pieces of sticks dug into the palms of her hands. Her phone had slid out of her vest pocket. At first the bright screen had taken her by surprise, he would find her faster from the light. Clamoring over the forest debris she reached for it. The distant sound of whistling growing closer. Her fingers cold and shaking, wouldn’t type out her pass code. Fumbling with her phone she dialed 911 twice before realizing there was no service. Tucking her phone into the pocket of her vest, Hailey looked out ahead. The path ended into a wall of trees, there seemed to be openings to the left and the right. The cabin should be off to the left. Hailey took off, running further down the path. The whistling grew closer. Listening as she pumped her legs, the sound was coming from the right. Wetness rolled down her cheeks. Sweat or tears, Hailey wasn’t sure and didn’t care. Ignoring the stitch in her side, she kept pumping, suddenly the trees opened around her.
Veering left, her feet slid, struggling to regain her balance, Hailey forged ahead. The whistling was behind her. Small flashes of light broke through the trees up ahead. It had to be the cabin, Hailey wished as she ran. Someone, a hunter maybe a few, would be there and they would help her. The path faded into a woods. Keeping her eyes on the dancing lights she pushed. With each step her body cried out. She refused. She wasn’t going to be massacred by some Italian/English white bread psycho hunter. Her mother’s voice looped through her mind, “Todo lo que ese hombre blanco te causará son problemas. Tienes suficientes problemas propios…” Between the trees and the lights her mother’s face loomed mocking her. Twigs grabbed at her hair. Branches scratched her. Anger coursed through her, pushing her forward. “It’ll all be over soon,” William’s voice chased behind her. The cabin came into focus. She could hear music and laughter from inside. “Help,” Hailey screamed running up the porch stairs, “help!” Tripping she tumbled forward into the door. Her hands searching for the knob. The cold metal slid against her skin as she twisted it opened. He was right, it would all be over soon.
William parked his truck and made his way into the night. A mile or so later he reached his tent. His first aid bag sitting in the corner. His phone, his tattered copy of “Of Mice and Men,” and his lit lantern waiting for him on top of his sleeping bag. The speakers, the cameras, everything he had spent weeks carefully setting up was gone. The footage unrecorded, pixelated into the ether, was still on replay in his mind. Hailey’s body falling forward. The sudden snap of the kill bar so fast he couldn’t see it. Only her body, flinging feet over head. Landing in a grotesque, unnatural position. Her toes pointed toward the ceiling. A puddle of blood pooling around her. Her body dancing as it twitched. Fighting the inevitable, until finally her nerves calmed and her body stilled. She had demanded honesty from him, but no matter how honest he was, she never believed him. She made it impossible for him to lie. He had willing shared his location with her, but he didn’t know she had a tracker in first aid bag. He hoped, that finally, in her last moments she remembered him telling her that he was building something for her, something unbelievable, unheard of, uniquely for her.
Now, it was just him, his tent, and the woods. Tomorrow morning he would wake up and call Hailey. She wouldn’t answer him, she never answered him after running off. She’d make him wait, worry, beg, until he would begin to think it was over. Just like all the other times, except this time he didn’t think she would be calling him. Tomorrow when Potter and Todd came out to join him for their weekend hunting trip, he would tell them. He would show them the ring and the now-empty champagne bottle. Why would she leave the ring behind if it wasn’t over for good?
William took his out layers off, snuggling into the sleeping bag in just his thermals. Staring up into the night sky dotted with stars above him through the window of his tent, William closed his eyes. A small smile pulled at the corners of his mouth.