Vote at the end of this episode! In the previous episode, Mark followed the stench from the Indian Cave through the woods to Tim’s remains covered in a swarm of flies. He was convinced a Pennsylvania black bear was responsible for his friend’s death. But on the way out of the woods he noticed something that caused him to doubt that. Readers voted he trips and catches a hint of someone passing into the woods.
I held onto that sharpened stick like the Pope himself commanded it. And I ran. Bears had made their way into town before. Usually they’d show up at night, turn over garbage cans. Homeowners would pound cooking pots or something to make noise to scare them off. The bears would waddle their way out of town again, stopping to lick the gravy from someone’s Sunday roast off their fur now and then. Sheriff would round up some hunters, head into the woods, and someone would come back Hero-for-a-Day with a bearskin rug for their floor. But in all the years of Rivertown, I never heard once of a local bear attack. And so I ran. About the time I neared the Indian Cave on my way out of the woods, my panic loosened enough that I remembered you don’t run from a bear. The realization came too late, though, and my foot already found a thick tree root to trip over. I landed behind a small hill. The shock of seeing Tim’s body, fear of a rampant bear, and now tripping on a root combined in this epiphany: I needed to calm down. I put my hands over my face, made myself take some deep, strong breaths. I knew I breathed quietly because now I could hear something poking around in the Indian Cave. Someone. I froze. The sounds I heard were slow and deliberate. I heard cardboard fluttering–our baseball card collection being thumbed through like you’d shuffle a pack of playing cards. We kept our cards in a shoebox with a rubber band. Someone in the cave was snapping and releasing the rubber band. My first thought was, “The sheriff! He came looking for Tim, too.” But it wasn’t the sheriff. I hadn’t told anyone where I was going. I never told him about the cave. I heard the soft thuds of about a hundred buckeyes– horse chestnuts, you probably call them– dropped on the soft dirt floor of the cave. Tim and I kept a pile in there for slingshot practice. They exploded brilliantly when they hit trees. Sunset can catch you quickly in the woods. In the ten minutes since I had fallen behind the hill, enough darkness settled that I couldn’t see more than fifty feet ahead of me. I was just getting ready to pull myself up, creep away when I saw a shadow step forth from the cave. It was a man, but darkness had taken hold by then and I couldn’t see his face. He walked deeper into the woods. Close to where I had just been. Close to where I had seen Tim. The wind blew my way and I caught the faintest whiff of campfire from that shadow. I had to get back to town. Sheriff needed to hear what was happening. Streetlights were coming on as I finally left the woods. The sheriff lived three blocks away. I should have headed there, but didn’t. Vote below on what will happen next or if reading in email click Take our Poll.