January-February 1987By Carl R. Schmahl
The Rev. Carl R. Schmahl is Pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of King Ferry in King Ferry, New York, and writes fiction on the side.
If he had stayed on the highway after he abandoned the school teacher's car he might be somewhere warm and dry right now instead of wandering around lost in the middle of a forest. Ahead of him, the two gravelly ruts he had followed for most of the afternoon twisted downward through the folds of the hills in irregular stages as if reluctant to reach their destination. Under the trees on either side a steady fall of sleet mixed with rain rattled like shot on a sodden mat of last year's leaves. Water dripped from branches and ran along the ruts in slushy trickles, filling puddles edged with brittle crusts of new ice. High up, a piercing wind soughed through the naked treetops and sent low black clouds fleeing before it with expirations hopeless and resigned.
Midway along the final steep descent into a small bowl-like valley, Elvis Lee Freeman set one high-heeled cowboy boot in front of the other with the studied precision of a man who valued quality. He had purchased the boots of tanned diamondback rattlesnake skin with the last paycheck he earned at his most recent job - plus a little extra lifted from the till when the idiot supervisor's back was turned - and he imagined they gave him an air of bold self-assurance. In the seven or eight miles since he left the car where the school teacher's body was curled in the trunk like a discarded fetus, he had managed to keep them almost spotless, despite the puddles and rain.
He shook a spray of cold water from his lank brown hair and wondered where he was. It would be getting dark soon; unless he wanted to spend the night in the woods he would have to find a place to stay. Though he had slept out plenty of times before, he preferred a roof and four walls about him when the weather was this bad. A hot meal would be good, too; he had not eaten since breakfast when the school teacher picked him up.
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