“Where are we headed exactly?” Cassidy Bell asked.
I pointed east. The woods were overgrown, but these were the same trees I had played in when I was a boy. I knew where I was. At least I thought I did.
“Second Street should be just over there. Unless I’m wrong, then we end up in the Opal River.”
“Think maybe our friends in the pickup might be there?” she asked.
“Dunno. Maybe? Even if they are, with the sun coming up there should be more traffic around there. They won't try shooting at us again.”
“Can’t believe I left my phone at home today of all days. That’ll teach me.”
“You forget it?” I asked.
“Sorta. Kinda wanted a reason for us to talk more. Can’t do that with Rage Against the Machine thundering in my ears.”
I looked at her. A pale woman in a tight purple shirt and black workout pants, her red hair tied up in a ponytail with a ringlet or two escaping to spiral down in ringlets to frame her face. Her face was flush after our running from the two men with the truck and the guns. She was a knockout even flustered, maybe even more so because she was flustered.
She noticed me looking at hit me in the arm, “Com’on stud. You know I like you. Don’t see us getting married and having lots of little ones, but you are one of the only eligible bachelors in town that wouldn’t think a deer stand counted as an anniversary present.”
I had to laugh at that. Could not do much else. I have always had problems talking to women. Talking to anyone really. She had left her phone at home. I do not even have one. It is not that I do not dislike people. On the contrary, I love people. Made it my mission in life to help them. But I do not really do well talking to them. If only the world evolved writing before talking, I think I could dominate all conversation.
“I’m flattered,” I said, “but I don’t think....”
“You don’t wanna do the work place thing. I heard you talking before. Plus, I heard about you and Natalie’s history. Now what happened here?”
I looked around us. The damage in this part of the woods from a tornado not long ago only just started to be cleared out. Large pieces of timber were laying around, especially in a pile about waist high in front of us.
“They must still be pulling these logs out. How do you know about me and Natalie?”
She looked at me and snorted, “Evan, it was less than a year ago. In small town news that’s like a week.”
“You seem to have learned our gossipy Southern ways, Miss Bell,” I said.
“Oh, gossip isn’t just a local tradition, Mr. Banned. You folks are just nicer about it. There’s usually cake involved. Why’d they stack the logs like that?”
I looked. The logs lay separated by a foot or more and stacked on diagonals from each other. I stuck my foot into the ground and showed her more water seeping in the hole.
“Grounds real marshy here. Stacking them like that lets the logs get more sun and dry out. Lighter. Plus, less small places for the snakes to hide.”
Her fingers clamped onto my forearm. The nails dug into my flesh.
“Snakes?” she said.
“Yeah, snakes. And ow.”
Her nails loosened, but her grip did not.
“There’s snakes in those logs?”
“Probably not. Not the way those are stacked. Should be fine.”
“What’s the matter, Indiana Jones, don’t like snakes.”
She pulled on my arm and I faced her. The cute flustered blush of blood in her skin was gone and she was so white I could see the veins in her forehead.
“Evan, are there snakes out here right now?”
I tried to be reassuring, “It’s still cold in the year and early in the day, so most are probably hiding somewhere in a hole.”
“Evan,” she said, her nails digging into my arm again, “get me out of these fucking woods.”
I nodded. She let go of my arm and took a step forward, her eyes scanning the ground.
“Have there always been snakes here?” she asked.
“We’ve had our share.”
“Stop being cute, what kinds of poisonous snakes are in this area?”
She stopped and looked at me. I held up my hands and walked in front of her. I got in front not so much to reassure her I would get bit first, but so I would not have to see the look on her face when I told her the good news.
“All of them,” I said, “Mostly vipers like rattlesnakes and cottonmouths as well as the coral snake.”
She made a little squealing sound. I stopped and turned.
“But don’t worry,” I said, “I’ve been here all my life and never got bit once. There’s nothing to worry about.”
And that’s when I stepped in the hole.