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Skinwalker (standard:travel stories, 5640 words) [1/5] show all parts
Author: EutychusUpdated: Mar 28 2018Views/Reads: 1259/926Part 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 

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 

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 

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