The Hikers: Chapter 2


I grabbed Jessica’s hand, pulling her off
the trail and behind some bushes. She was so surprised she didn’t protest or
bat away my hand. I released my hold once I was certain we were hidden from
anybody who might come down the trail.

I had initially thought
the gunshot had come from above us on the mountain, but I now doubted that

We had mountains on all
sides of us. Their presence could have masqueraded the original direction of
the sound, and it didn’t help that I thought I could still hear an echo.

I decided to trust my
initial instinct and act as if it had come from up ahead but remain open to the
possibility it had come from another direction.

“It isn’t hunting
season,” Jessica said, her mouth right by my ear. The warmth of her breath sent
a shudder down my back that I was unable to repress. I tried to pretend like it
hadn’t happened as I studied the incline of the mountain. Even if it had been hunting
season, the car we’d parked beside had been a regular sedan. A shiny black
Chrysler with dark tinted windows. It was also clean as if it had been recently
washed. I had a difficult time seeing the owner of the car strapping a gutted
buck to the top.

“Might just be somebody
doing target shooting,” I whispered, but I doubted this would be a popular area
with shooters because it was too wooded.

“Then why drag me into
the bushes?” Her eyes were big, and she panted for breath. “You aren’t trying
to take advantage, are you?”

I noticed she was still
whispering, so she must have known how ridiculous the idea sounded.

“The gunshot came at a
perfect time.” I gave her a wry smile. “Chances are there’s no danger. Just
somebody doing some shooting. Let’s give it a few minutes and head back down if
there aren’t any more shots. We’ll come back for the view another time.”

“There isn’t going to be
another time.”

“Yeah, sure. We’ll give
it a few and then leave.”

Do you know how awkward
it is to be crouched in the brush right beside a woman who has just broken up
with you? So close that your bodies are touching and you can feel her breath on
the back of your hand?

It’s the very definition
of awkward.

I glanced at my watch
after only a few minutes had passed, and wished it had been an hour. I wanted
to just get up and go, particularly considering how we were both doing our best
to not make eye contact, but I wasn’t at all confident we were safe despite my
words to Jessica.

The black sedan made my
skin crawl the more I thought about it. I hadn’t thought to look at the license
plate, but I was beginning to wonder if maybe it was from out of state. If it
had been a large truck or SUV, I wouldn’t have been so worried.

But the black car was
all business, and the gunshot had been close. 

After a few minutes
passed, we made eye contact, but neither of us moved. I could tell she was just
as worried as me.

“How about we wait five,
ten more minutes and if we don’t see anything, we head back down? We can’t be
too careful.”

She nodded. “No funny
stuff while we wait.”

“How do you mean?”

“No more hand-holding or
affection of any kind. I mean to carry through with it this time.”

This time?

She’d never broken up with
me before. There was one night I could tell she had been bothered by something,
but she’d been fine the next time I’d seen her, so I hadn’t thought anything of

It sounded like she’d
been struggling with her decision for some time. It made me sad because I’d
thought things were going well.

But I wasn’t going to
tell her that, not now.

“I want to make sure we
both get down the mountain safely. After that, I’ll drop you off and you’ll
never see me again.”

She didn’t respond,
which I took to mean she agreed. Something about the expression on her face
gave away her confusion as if she were having second thoughts.

This decision had not
been easy for her. If I were to try, I might convince her to give it another
go. Perhaps that was why she’d wanted me to know why she was dumping me. If she
had this much uncertainty, I wasn’t about to tip the scale. It would be better
for us to both move on. But if it helped her get some closure, I was willing to
bite the bullet.

“Why—” I stopped what I was about to say when two men walked down the trail. They both wore suits.

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The Hikers: Chapter 2 was originally published on DAN DECKER

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