Saturday, September 12, 2009

“A True Encounter” (A Tribute to Edna St. Vincent Millay)

A True Encounter

Beebe and Alice stared at the thick woods across the street from the deck on which they sat. They looked down at their water bottles, as they mulled over Alice’s last comments about the missing women.

“Why haven’t the police released any information? It doesn’t make sense that none of this has been in the papers.”

Beebe nodded in agreement. All the women were talking about the disappearances. It was the single most discussed subject at luncheons, workouts, and coffees. What was happening to the women? Alice knew of one friend who had gone to the movies and never returned. Beebe knew of a friend who was last seen at Starbucks. They had not heard from her in two months. Her husband was in shock and hardly able to speak. Stories such as these were not unusual. Everyone seemed to have known someone or heard of someone who was missing.

“There must be a killer out there like Ted Bundy, and the police are trying to keep it hushed up so there won’t be a panic,” laughed Beebe.

“Are you kidding?” said Alice,” I am totally terrified. And you are living across from these woods. I don’t want you walking by yourself anymore.”

Alice had a maternal manner with Beebe. Her friend was recently divorced and enjoying her newly acquired life of freedom. In Alice’s opinion, she did little to heed her warning voices that should have moderated her behavior. Alice knew that despite the disappearances, Beebe was still walking the hill across from her house, alone, twice a day. The hill was bordered by a green belt, overgrown with thick alders, blackberries and cedars. Alice knew that one day, the bodies of these women would turn up, and it would more than likely be in the brambles of a hillside just like the one across from Beebe’s house.

Alice continued, “Bundy hid the body parts of those poor girls in the woods all over this area. You really need to be more careful.”

“God, Alice. Bundy is dead. His victims were found out on Highway 18. Lakemont Boulevard is like the Indianapolis Speedway. Nothing could happen on this road without hundreds of people watching.”

“That’s not true. Bundy would ensnare those girls from crowded hotel lobbies, fraternity houses at the U, and right out of their own locked bedrooms. People were around in nearly every instance, and no one saw a thing. You have to promise me that you will be more careful.”

“Alice, you are creeping me out. This is not about Ted Bundy. I don’t know why so many women seem to be missing, and why the police haven’t sent out a warning, but they would if it wasn’t safe for us to walk in our own neighborhoods.”

They sat in silence for a few moments while they sipped their water and looked cautiously at the green belt. Beebe finally acquiesced.

“All right. I promise. I won’t walk alone.”

Alice was relieved. Most women from Redmond to Issaquah and Bellevue had made the similar promises to themselves. They walked in groups. They avoided isolated hallways at the mall, and they went to public bathrooms in pairs. Their husbands were concerned and urged their wives to stay in at night. It was simply too risky to be out with the possible threat of a mass murderer on the loose.

Beebe continued. “I don’t mean to sound argumentative Alice, but no one has found a body. Perhaps it’s not a case of mass murder.”

“Then what‘s your theory? Where are those women? How about Linda? Remember, she’s the tall blond from the Pro Club. She was seen playing tennis last night, and yet, no one ever saw her leave the club. Where is she? Her husband is beside himself!”

“I don’t know. If I did, I would contact the police. I said I will be careful and not walk alone. Could we drop this? I am really beginning to freak out.”

Alice picked up the two water bottles and walked inside from the deck. Beebe gave her a big hug goodbye and thanked her for caring enough to be concerned for her safety. Beebe lived alone with her son and was happy that someone would care if she indeed went missing. She watched Alice from the window to make sure that she was safely in her car. She knew that her friend would call to tell her when she arrived home in Redmond.

The sun was lower in the sky now. The two friends had sat on Beebe’s porch for much of the afternoon, pondering the whereabouts of the missing women. Now the light had turned golden and warm. These were the last few days of summer, and the late afternoon air had a twinge of fall crispness. It would not be long before the rains would come. With daylight savings time soon to be over and days shorter, meant it would be dark by 3:30 in the afternoon. Beebe hated the darkness. She loved summer and walking her hill each night after dinner in the light. She loved to be outside, even if the boulevard was filled with traffic. When she played Van Morrison on her IPod while walking, she was oblivious to the traffic noises. There was so much more to see on a walk outdoors than on a treadmill at the gym. She would pause in the late summer to puck an occasional blackberry, or put a dandelion behind her ear. She was good at spotting four leaf clovers, and the hillside seemed to be filled with them this year.

Beebe’s thoughts of the upcoming rainy season and the lure of the golden light of sunset, seduced her. She put on her sneakers and left her son a note at the foot of the stairs where he would be sure to see that she would be out for an hour and a half. He would know that she would be back by dinner time to cook him a cheese burger. She put on her pink baseball cap, her pink fleece, and checked the mirror to make sure her blond hair was securely in a ponytail. The last items she grabbed were her IPod, her silver bell key ring, and more bottled water. She was ready. Remembering Alice’s warning, she headed down the hill at a quick clip.

Fireweed blooming at the tip of its stalk accentuated the afternoon beauty. Winter would be coming soon. Beebe broke off the last of the fragile purple blossoms from a tall plant near the sidewalk and placed it behind her ear. She smiled. As the sun lowered in the sky, the dusty pink afterglow washed across the hillside.

As Beebe passed the Starbucks and grocery store and started down the steepest most isolated portion of the hill to her goal, the bridge at the freeway two miles below, she noticed that the woods seemed darker than usual. Blackberry bushes provided a thick barrier between the sidewalk and the Cedar trees. The shadows, now long, were blue and purple and reached across the sidewalk. Van Morrison played in her ears, but Beebe did not notice that she was being watched from within the cold dark shadows.

When she passed the first steel guard rail, she removed the IPod earphone and took a long sip from her bottle. The sky was streaked with red, and the sun had already dipped below the hill and out of view. She stopped and turned toward the woods. She could sense something. It was following her. Her first instinct was that it was a predator. Perhaps a black bear. Bears were known to meander across Lakemont Boulevard, stopping traffic as drivers slowed to watch the beautiful large animals munch on berries. It always amazed Beebe that wildlife could be so plentiful in a populated suburban community. She was not afraid of bears. They would usually walk away unless surprised, and Beebe had her jingling bell on her key ring to warn any animal of her approach.

Cougar were different. Beebe knew that if she were to stare a cougar down, trying to look as large as possible, the cougar would win. At 5’1” tall, she could imagine the cat laughing hysterically in a cougar growl before he made her his meal. But Beebe did not sense fear. There were no hairs standing on the back of her neck. No, this was not an animal predator. Whatever it was, it was seductive.

Beebe did hear the voice in her head issue a warning, a warning not to look at the darkness of the shadows. But the pull of her curiosity caused her to step off the sidewalk toward the blackberry bushes. The red heat of the sky magnified the warmth of her jacket and hat, and as she looked down at her pink fleece arms, she felt a flush over her body. The flush spread throughout her torso, and she sensed a strong desire to look into the shadows of the cedars that stretched tall and deep behind the bushes and wildflowers. She could feel herself drawn into the woods and without realizing it, she stepped through the fireweed and up to a small opening in the blackberries.

He was standing beyond the bushes, under a cedar staring at her, smiling. His hair was dark and he wore a black t-shirt and black slacks. His eyes were as black as his shirt, and she thought she heard him whisper her name.

“Do you remember me?” he cooed. “I have been watching you for a long time.”

Beebe paused and listened, mesmerized by his precise diction. How did he know her, she wondered? Did she know him? Strangely, she was not afraid.

“I have wanted you even when you had no idea who I was. When you were with others, I waited. I am here for you now. Come to me.”

All of Beebe’s senses told her to run, to scream for help, fling herself into the traffic driving up the boulevard hill. Drivers would stop. They would find the stranger trying to seduce her. He would be arrested and the disappearances of the women would end. But she was incapable of moving down and away from the shadows. She stood paused, frozen in time, curious as to how this handsome man knew her name.

“You are so sexy,” he continued. “So sweet, so good. Come to me. I am here only a few steps away.”

Beebe’s voice could barley be heard. “Who are you? Do we know each other? Come out of the shadows.”

“I am your fantasy, your dream. Let me hold you and feel you. You will enjoy my touch. Come to me.”

Beebe felt her soul screaming, “Wolf!” She heard her brain call to the cars speeding by, “Wolf!” She saw in her mind, the drivers screeching to a halt, jumping out from behind the steering wheels with pitch forks and shovels, her neighbors coming to her aid. “Wolf, Wolf,” she screamed with her heart to all of the women who had been on this hillside, trying to rouse everyone with her cry.

“I am waiting for you. You must be the one to come to me,” said dark stranger, smiling and staring directly into Beebe’s brown eyes.

She felt her feet move without her control, and against her better judgment, she stepped through the clearing into the blackberries. She had let her cry be known, and this would be her release. She disappeared into the cold dark shadows of the evening.

Bill found the note from his mother. He waited for her to return to cook his dinner. He waited hours longer than the note had mentioned. When Alice called before bed to say that she had arrived safely home in Redmond, Bill answered the phone, distraught. His mother had not returned from her walk. He was alone. His mother was gone. One more woman, one more disappearance, vanished without a trace, gone from a family, no body to recover, a mystery unsolved and never reported by newspapers or police.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Big Red

The groom enters, and Secretariat, ungelded,

pounds the cement beneath the sawdust.

As nostrils flare, and head thrashes,

and a large dark eye surveys the intruder.

Unwrapped red and white peppermints,

held in open hand, seduce him,

as does the rotation of the brush on his flank.

The trainer enters and slides the bit

between his teeth.

Guided through the breaking mist of the track,

the rider, seated with thick double reins in hand,

flicks the crop on hind quarters.

With flattened ears and horse head lowered,

he stretches, his left leg extended.

His lungs expand in the cool morning air.

When stride is attained, and his four hoofs breezing,

he dreams of the day when racing is done.

Longing for green lush pastures

in Kentucky, Secretariat yearns for

the sun warm on his back

and a chestnut mare by his side.