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I always ran the trail through the woods behind my house on early weekend mornings. A three-mile loop, the trail extended all the way down to the Tye River and back. It was a tough course, harder than the one at my school, with steep uphills and few downward slopes. Running it helped me stay on top of my game for cross-country meets and, at the same time, allowed me to clear my mind.
I slipped on my sneakers, pulled my hair back into a ponytail, and jogged out the back door. Soon I had entered the woods and was setting my pace. I paid attention to my breathing, inhaling through my nose, and exhaling through my mouth. I put one foot in front of the other like a metronome, always keeping a steady beat.
As I ran, the world of nature enveloped me. The leaves fell from the trees like flames, blown away from their perches by the brisk autumn breeze. Squirrels raced each other in the canopies above, while the elusive deer rustled in the brush just out of sight, present yet invisible to my eyes.
With this Buddha-like atmosphere to calm me, my body kept on moving while my mind wandered. Yet always I was listening to the sounds and observing everything I ran past. All was as it should have been until I rounded the turn that took me by the river. At this moment, an unknown power inside told me something was wrong. It had become abnormally quiet. I could swear I was being watched.
I hesitated, coming to a stop near a fallen tree. I looked all around, my eyes moving back and forth, straining to capture any picture of the forest that might not be quite right.
Without warning, a large bearded man in a muddy-colored camouflaged jacket rushedxs out of the background and came at me. He was holding a pistol in his hand, and had it pointed straight at my heart. “Hold still, missy,” he said in an authoritative, hungry voice.
I became petrified with fear. I felt like screaming, yet my tongue would not budge. I felt like crying, yet for some reason my tear ducts produced nothing. My brain became numb, fortifying itself, blocking emotion out.
I knew I had two choices; I could run or I could comply with his demands. Because he had a gun directed at my chest and the potential to kill me, I chose the latter.
I lifted my hands up above my head, signaling obedience. The man stepped steadily closer, his large, bulky boots scraping the dead leaves and dirt of the forest floor. His gun was still at the ready, his penetrating, pig-like eyes still watching my every move.
It was then that he lunged toward me, his weight knocking me down and sandwiching me between the cold hard ground and his hot, rancid-smelling body. He threw his gun into the trees so I could not grab it and started fumbling with my clothes, his grubby, yellowed fingernails clawing at my shirt.
I tried to free my hands from their prison at my sides, but failed. As an alternative, I headbutted him as hard as I could. I heard the cracking of his nose and all at once a river of crimson gushed down his sweaty, wrinkled skin and onto me. Realizing that I had broken his bone, he became stunned for a moment. Using this opportunity to my advantage, I wriggled out of his grasp.
I ran harder than I had ever run before, leaves tangled in my hair and the metallic taste of blood in my mouth leftover from the struggle, but I could hear footsteps behind me. Finally, I outpaced my pursuer, and I could make out the sound of the footsteps growing fainter and fainter, until I couldn’t hear them anymore. Despite the obvious fact that he had retreated, I kept up my pace until I was back home.
For some reason, I didn’t tell my parents what had happened. Instead, the next day, I took my German shepherd, Dexter, back to the place where I first saw the bearded man. It was a ways off the trail where I found the gun, with a customized engraving on the side with the name “Bobby Wellinsky.” I picked the pistol up, wiped off the dew, looked at it thoughtfully, and stuck it into my jacket pocket.
When I got home, I looked up the local address for Robert Wellinsky, and was glad to find there was only one name listed. Afterwards, I took a rifle from my dad’s hunting rack and waited. I would be paying Mr. Wellinsky a visit after nightfall.