|Skinwalker (standard:travel stories, 5640 words) [1/5] show all parts|
|Author: Eutychus||Updated: Mar 28 2018||Views/Reads: 1131/819||Part vote: 0.00 (0 votes)|
|A retelling of Dante's Inferno set in present day.|
My first thought was to blame the folks who had programmed my Garmin GPS device. I was making great time on the way home from the conference on I-70 east of Columbus when I was suddenly routed off the interstate in favor of county highway 668 that wound north through the Appalachian foothills of Ohio. I gave the device the benefit of the doubt, presuming construction around Zanesville, but when it directed me off the county road and up Stony Hill Road, I began to question the wisdom of my choice of gift for Elsbeth the previous Christmas. Within the next mile, a number of things happened in rapid succession. The infernal machine informed me that I had reached the halfway point in my trip if I continued as directed and traveled at posted speed limits. Seriously doubting its concern for either my welfare or fuel economy I began tapping the screen trying to zoom the image out so I could get a sense of just what it was trying to accomplish with this seemingly pointless detour. Then a flash of yellow from the side of the road drew my attention away from the Garmin. I was seeing a retinal reflection off a set of feline eyes in a head that was much too large to belong to a house cat. When I saw the rest of the animal I thought leopard, which would only have made sense if I was near one of those exotic animal rescue facilities that had made it into the headlines in recent days. A bobcat or mountain lion was more likely. And then came the switchback. While I was still processing what I thought I had just seen, the road made a quick one-eighty back the way it had come and though I had plenty of time to react, my antilock brakes pumped in reaction to the wetness of the road until the tires were no longer on the road. I'm not sure what happened once the car left the pavement. As I think back on those few misplaced seconds, I don't recall losing consciousness, but because my next recollection is of standing at the low point of a hollow place in the landscape, I assumed that I must have at least blacked out long enough to have been thrown free of the car. And what about that? I had been in an '09 Jetta, now I wasn't, and there was no evidence nearby that an automobile had accompanied me down the slope. Given the density of the undergrowth, the addition of thirty-two hundred pounds of Volkswagen should have made a plain impression visible in the two-days-shy of full moonlight. I chose to ignore the inconsistency as my mind switched into survival mode. I had to get back up the hill and flag down some help. My cell phone was still in my pocket but to use it I would need to get out of this hole if I expected to get a useable signal. The slope that led back up to Stony Hill Road was far too steep to climb in the dark. I was sure that had I made the attempt I'd eventually be right back where I was standing with more damage than I had sustained my first time down. So I turned and headed into the densely packed trees (pin oaks if the gnarled branches were any indication) that stood between me and a gentler slope that moved upward out of this hole. As I made my way up one side of the ravine, I discovered that the incline was more extreme than it had appeared from my lower vantage point. The higher I made it up the hill the more steep it became. And the earth beneath me was packed so tight that I doubted a shovel would make much of a dent, meaning there was no give to speak of and the farther up I went the less sure the footing became. So I half-slid, half walked back down the slope. Once at the bottom I turned to look up at the rim of the ravine only to see bare earth that rose gently away from me. It had to be an optical illusion because I knew how steep the rise was. So through the woods again and up the opposite side. While there was more give to the soil, the same illusion was at work on this side of the narrow valley. And as the grade reached a 1:1 slope my feet began to dislodge the stones just below the surface so that it was almost like trying to walk up a mountain of loose gravel. As I came to realize the futility of this effort, I was reminded of an instance a number of years earlier when I had to repair a broken storm sewer line next to my house. Because it was part of a French drain system, the pipe was buried in gravel and to get to the broken pipe to effect repairs I had to shovel out not only the gravel that surrounded the Click here to read the rest of this story (559 more lines)
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