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Stranger in the Forest

By , Elk Grove, CA


Change of plans. The mountains looked dreamy, and sure I was psyched to go hang out with him, because, as I'd rationalized in my sleep, he wasn't my client anymore. I wasn't even really a hitman. After the stomach churning, fumbling mess that was my first 'hit' which was just messing up a kid's leg, I resigned. I'd never do that again. So I was so set to hang out with the former member of Loren's now defunct duo, but Murphy's Law... It was out to get me. What can go wrong, will.

 

Here I am, getting ready to enjoy myself in the crummy hotel room, and I see. My earring is missing. Well, one of them. I wasn't planning on wearing them, because I didn't want to overdress.Yet, as fate would have it, they have strong sentimental values. After a speedy hotel breakfast (powdered eggs and ambiguous sausage), I'm in my car once again, driving back to Linda. Small towns aren't really my thing, being a loner. It's easier to camouflage in the city Starbucks than in the local cafe where everybody knows your name. Loren Page's hits are the only thing on the radio, I guess since they're going on permanent hiatus. Lucky for me, and my sanity, I found an old Fats Waller CD in the glove compartment.

 

When I pull up to the clearing next to the woods, about an hour from the hotel, I've gotten into the old jazz. 'All that meat, and no potatoes' must have been the Hotline Bling of it's time. I park, get out. I've said about ten silent prayers that I'll spot it really fast and drive back out quick. The road is generally empty, so I don't worry about being spotted. Anyway, they're looking for a man. The path I took was not conventional, trampling a few plants underfoot to escape. I start at the opening between two tall trees with a lack of foliage unusual for spring. No shiny hearts on the ground. Why me? I take a few steps deeper into the forest.

 

There's a sound that isn't from nature, but a car. I panic briefly. Should I go deeper into the woods? I decide last minute, hearing footsteps tread closer, to stay put. Act like I belong, like I live hear. The footsteps quiet and I paw through rare leaves on the ground. No earring. I whirl around.

 

A teenage boy who looks vaguely familiar is holding a stick over his head, shame smeared across his pallid face. "Hi." I say, softer than intended. I stand up and he drops the stick. I've got at least four inches on the kid. "Do I know you?" I implore. I can't stand awkward silence, and he isn't helping. "No." He says firmly, then walks it back,"Well. I don't know. Why are you here?" Always answer rude questions with rude questions. "Why are you here? Do you own the forest?"

 

He laughs in an attempt at deescalation. "I'm Carson, and, uh... I'm looking for clues. The person that attacked Loren Page, I saw them run here." Ignorance is bliss. I have to stifle my laughter at how outrageously comedic fate tries to be, holding the answers you want right in front of your nose. But I don't look like the textbook mustache twirling villain. I recognize the kid from the news. "I'm Emily. I'm looking for an earring." Honesty is the best policy. Plus the skinny kid doesn't seem ready to slam a citizen's arrest on me. His face flashes with recognion, making his brown eyebrows draw together. Like magnets, I think stupidly. My mind is no enigma.

 

Carson reaches into his pocket. Doesn't pull anything out. "I can help you look." He volunteers. This is just what I need, companionship that is blind to my criminal status. I don't trust him. "I'll find it on my own." I shoot back. I watch his face for a reaction. Blank. He pulls an empty hand out of his pocket. Then he gets on his knees and starts scattering leaves, kind of rubbing his hands in the dirt. "Whatever you're doing, it's not helping." I say, but it makes me smile.

 

He has no clue. Maybe I could use the help. "You look over here. I'll look further in, OK?" I nod in agreement. My eyes are pinned to the ground, waiting for my earring to materialize. But I can swear, I hear something jingle as it hits the ground. Probably a bird call. I don't spend much time in nature, as evidenced by my clever idea to wear a white shirt. I'll have to borrow some bleach when I get to his house. If I ever find this earring.






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