All kinds of people live in this neck of the woods. My county is a mix of farmland, city, rural, wood, mountains, and urban. Through the building of massive apartment complexes, there are still wooded areas that have families living in isolation.
A couple days ago, I was out hunting for picture opportunities or rocks or feathers, basically whatever nature I could humanely take with me, I was looking for it. I came across this deer trail in the woods and decided to follow it.
It was 3 in the afternoon and with heavy overhang from the tree tops, it should have been 7 in the evening. I managed to make a good distance into the woods by staying on the trail. Unfortunately, no deer. I was about to turn around and go back the way I came when I heard whooping and hollering bouncing off the tree trunks.
I pause and get off the trail. As painful as it was, I hide in a holly bush. I hold my breath when I realize how much noise I am making, but I still hear the panting of fear. I look beside of me and there is a woman about my age, dirty and scraped up. She looks at me with huge eyes. I put my finger to my lips. She nodded in understanding.
We sit there for a while well into the chill of the night. The hollering comes and goes before it finally dies down. We sit huddled together as the temperature drops. Everything on my hurts. I imagine it doesn't feel too great for her either. When its been quiet for a while, we decide to leave our hiding spot.
I stick my head out and look around. Everything is quiet. Too quiet. I wave her out. We get to our feet and brush off. She's wearing a plain, tattered dress. Her hair is long and sandy blonde. She looks like she's been out here for a while.
I pointed the direction I had come from and made a driving motion. She nodded and we started walking. We got back on the deer trail since it was the clearest path out. We walked in silence for a while. I took a chance and whispered, "Why are they looking for you?"
She stopped walking and looked at me sadly. "They think I'm a witch."
I wanted to laugh. Its 2019. Then I remember everything else going on and just nod. "What happened to make them think that?"
She starts walking again. "Someone died and they blame me for it. John ate something he shouldn't have and I was blamed when I was trying to help him. They think I'm a witch because he died in healer care."
"That's a backwards way of thinking. He went in sick so its your fault he's stupid?" I winced at what I said. I just insulted her people.
"It is and he was stupid." There was a bitter tone in her words. I knew they weren't aimed at me, but I feel I didn't help.
"I'm sure you did what you could." I stop walking when I hear a crunchy of heavy foot falls.
"... I heard talking over here, Steve... Probably just a deer..."
We dash off the trail and break into a run at the crashing behind us. "Just keep running! If they get me, you'll be OK. If they catch us both, they'll keep you." I turn to look behind me and see that she has stopped. I slow my speed and slam into a tree.
I lay on my back as I watch her face her pursuers. She waves her arms about as if in a dance and mumbles something I can't hear. She throws her arms up in the air and I feel the rumbling of the ground vibrate in an earthquake. I stand up and press my back against the tree I ran into. I was not missing this.
Woodland animals of every variety charge from behind me. Predator and prey are storming together toward the group of men. The woman is standing in the middle of it. She lowers her arms and turns to look at me. Disappointment covers her face. I put my finger to my lips and smile.
Men screaming catch our attention. Flashlights and torches litter the ground. No animals were harmed in the mauling of man. Deer antlers are decorated in tattered clothing or flesh of their victims. The heavy scent of iron clings to the air. I'm rather grateful for the trees and shrubbery.
I look back at the woman. She stands next to a bear and gives its head a rub. She looks up at me and waves, disappearing into the darkness with the bear.
I safely make it back to my car with a herd of deer as my escort. They stop just at the trees as I approach my car. I turn and wave at the dark trees. Its eerily quiet, but somehow it feels safer. I wonder what will become of her now.
34 years of life below the Mason Dixon line leads to a lot of stories of old and new.