Usually, Cara paid no attention to the intruders congregated on the rickety porch of the general store to gossip, but this time she couldn’t resist a little eavesdropping.
“They found body parts in different places—lying right out on the ground, as though the killer wanted somebody to stumble over them.”
“How could an atrocity like that happen in such a peaceful place?”
Cara didn’t wait to hear more. Instead, she left them sitting in rocking chairs or leaning against the peeling gray paint of the railing, scaring each other. No use explaining to them the universality of violence. They cared nothing about ideas, she reflected, only about sensationalism, getting their hands on luxury items they didn’t deserve, and “having fun.” When the poor people they’d screwed over in the city threatened violence to them, they’d fled to the wilderness and committed violence to it.
The panorama on either side of the trail to her cabin having been destroyed, she stared at the ground so she wouldn’t have to see the housing developments spread over the nearby mountains like festering boils on a beautiful face.
When she reached her cabin, desperate for some remnant of her former idyllic surroundings, she strolled around to the other side and gazed at the peaceful river, the birches invisibly drawing water from it, and the weeping willow leaning over it like a woman bending to dip her green hair into the calm water.
The zoom of a motor and shrieks of delight violated the silence. She grasped her chest and felt her heart racing like the speedboat, barreling around the bend of the river, dragging a half-naked girl on water skis. Just the knowledge that the boat was emitting fumes made Cara’s sinuses burn, and the noise set off a violent headache. She seized a stick and hurled it at the boat, but she was too far away to hit it. When she yelled at the offenders, the noise of the motor drowned her out. I’ve worked so hard to reclaim this paradise, she thought, on the verge of tears, but I’m failing.
She ordered herself to calm down and meditate on what she’d achieved. Within the past year, she’d resolved a conflict with her mother, who hadn’t shared Cara’s passion for the wilderness. “Why don’t you invite some of the newcomers for dinner?” her mother had asked.
“Good idea,” Cara had replied. “Know where I can buy some over the counter poison?”
“Stop making sick jokes. You know these people had to come here to escape the crime in the city.”
Had to give the old girl credit. Her nagging had given Cara her idea for solving the newcomer problem, but Cara was glad she’d taken decisive action against the nagging, anyway.
Her biggest triumph of the past week, she reflected with satisfaction, was terminating a relationship with Sam, who had gotten too possessive. She had initially found his ape-like attitude and demeanor refreshing, regarding it as a return to man’s basic nature before corruption by civilization, but it had become suffocating, and besides, she’d found a better use for him.
It had been a bittersweet evening. She’d served bouillabaisse along with an excellent Chablis. The embers in the fireplace radiated warmth on that chilly late summer evening when she explained why they could not continue their relationship, the two of them sitting before the fire after dinner, sipping brandy, the fragrance of the bread she had baked lingering in the air. “As much as I love you, I have a greater love that requires me to sacrifice you,” she said.
Sam squinted as though trying to see inside her soul. “You’ve been stringing me along, and all the time you’re screwing someone else?”
She looked down at her folded hands and shook her head. He was crude, and his voice was so raspy. “It’s not a person. It’s my work—wilderness preservation.”
“Yeah, I’ll bet. He’ll pay for this. When I find him, I’ll tear his eyes out, and then I’ll cut your nose off.” He took another hefty swill of his after dinner brandy, coughed so frenziedly that his face turned a reddish purple, squeezed the glass in his hand so violently that it broke, and looked at her with such venom that she would have been frightened had she been the defenseless female he evidently took her for.
Sorry as she’d been to obliterate him, she couldn’t allow emotion to prevent her from accomplishing her task: clearing this paradise of all but wilderness, a wilderness where, along the shore, water gently licked the rocks. A wilderness where, in the underbrush, ghost-like creatures scurried along, visible only by a shudder of the underbrush. A wilderness where, in the woods, her feet sank softly into the rotted pine needles, the fat belly of mother earth—walking on her mother, poor dear Mother. She was so much easier to love now.
Cora entered the cabin and prepared a simple repast of trout she’d caught that morning and wild huckleberries. During the meal, a refreshing rain fell. It stopped after supper, and she took her copy of Walden, intending to meditate first, then reread it under her favorite tree, facing the, so far, undefiled mountain on the other side of the woods. The dirt path to the tree was slightly muddy so that the ground swelled a little to the tread, but the dirt didn’t rise above the sole of her shoe. Pine aroma filled the woods. When she got to the end of the path, she gazed at the white-tipped mountain, wild and remote, across the water. Closer to the ground, seagulls nested in gray crevices.
She tried to meditate on those wild birds but couldn’t concentrate. The relentless newcomers invaded her mind. The birds reminded her of a sight she had been repressing since morning—the newcomers perverting the food chain. Feeding birds! Feeding squirrels! Right below the sign she’d put up! Already the tiny creatures were becoming obese from excess food and insufficient exercise.
Why were these violence-avoiding, city-escapees still here as if they intended to stay despite the murder? Why weren’t they talking of retreating to the city when she’d overheard them that morning?
She sat there diverting her mind to the clouds overhead and tried again to meditate. Darkness fell. When the light of a full moon cut through the murky clouds, it drew her eyes along with it and illuminated the figure of a man about Sam’s height and weight. Sam? But that couldn’t be. A chill, like wind hitting wet skin, ran through her.
“There you are, you vicious bitch,” the man yelled. He tore towards her.
She cringed, but he charged by her, stopped, grabbed a dog that was chasing a rabbit, and attached a leash to its collar. Overcome with relief, Cara had to laugh. The confused look on the rabbit’s face in the moonlight when rescued was priceless. The rabbit had a better understanding of the natural order than the human did.
When she got a good look at the man’s face, she recognized him. He was one of the newcomers she had seen at the general store. At that moment, a perception that made her skin tingle coursed through her. It was as though the full moon illuminated the deepest recesses of her mind.
Of course, she thought. Why didn’t I realize that before? I’ve been too subtle. My task is far from finished if I am to achieve my goal. “Come back with me to my cabin for a drink,” she called, “and see the lovely view from there in the moonlight.”
The man approached, and she smiled. The strychnine was still next to the liquor, right where she’d need it, and the ax was still out in the woodpile where the moon would give light for her task. One dismembered body was not enough to run off the intruders. They couldn’t take a hint. No, one was not enough.
Edythe Wise has a Master of Arts degree in writing from Johns Hopkins University and is an associate editor of Potomac Riview. Her work has appeared in Mass Ave Review and Orchard Press Mysteries. She lives in Falls Church, VA, a suburb of Washington DC, where she worked as a lawyer before deciding to devote herself to writing.