Richard wanted to kill someone. It wasn’t his usual state of being, but at the present, it was undoubtedly for the best that he stomp into the wilderness and get some space between him and the rest of humanity.
A squirrel scampered across his path, halted, raised itself on its hind legs, and stared as if considering the possibility between a snack and sudden death.
Richard clenched his hands in his pockets, crunched a snack bar in one and gripped his phone in the other. He pounded forward.
The squirrel high tailed it to the nearest tree and clawed its way to the top.
Richard, who normally enjoyed wildlife, grunted and smacked a branch out of his way.
The branch smacked him right back.
The squirrel, chattering from a high limb and holding a couple of notes longer than usual, warned the entire animal kingdom what kind of man approached.
“To heck with it.” His calf muscles burning and his lungs screaming, Richard aimed for a bench set on the edge of the wooded path. As he neared the resting spot, his joints thanking him profusely for the privilege of living through another day, Richard stopped short. A new sound broke through the air. He peered up.
The treetops, devoid of chattering squirrels and cawing birds, had nothing to add to the faint call or whine that Richard was sure he had heard. An injured dog?
It was a woman’s voice. A woman in pain, by the sound of it. The term “damsel in distress” crossed Richard’s mind. He swatted it away with the autumn insects.
Heaving his robust frame, a little larger in the tummy than he would like, though he had to admit his legs looked great in shorts, Richard lumbered back the way he had come.
Yep. There she sat, crouched like a kid on the playground when the other girls got mean, holding her ankle and…swearing like a sailor?
Richard scratched his head and glanced up. Really? Retirement had been nothing it was cracked up to be. He traveled for the first six months, took up volunteer work for the next six months, and recently got into a tangle with an idiot from his church who insisted that predestination was part of their faith system and would not allow any new members to join unless they had paid-up life insurance policies.
The woman—somewhere in her late forties—stopped rocking, and thankfully, stopped swearing. With a sudden intake of breath, she lurched to her feet, yelped, and hopped on one foot until she smacked into an oak tree, which managed to hold her in a partially upright position.
Richard snorted and practically pulled out his hair as he ran his fingers over the top of his head. So like something his first wife would’ve done. Stubborn as the day was long.
The woman glared at him. “So glad you’re enjoying my plight.”
“Hey, I would’ve helped you up…” Richard looked around. “You want me to call for… assistance?”
Despite an October breeze rustling through the trees, sweat beaded on the woman’s brow. “Sure. My phone is dead as a doornail.”
Richard’s ears twitched. He pulled his phone from his sweatpants pocket and punched the keypad to life.
The woman lifted her hand. “Hey, stop. Really. It’s not that bad. My car is only a mile or so back. I can make it. I hate to have paramedics come all the way out here. I’d feel like a fool. Besides, they might have someone in real need somewhere else.”
Richard stepped forward and shrugged. “You can use my arm if you want to hop that far.” He tilted his head, peering at her, and offered his elbow.
She shoved off the tree, balancing on her good foot, and listed like a sinking ship. “Thanks. My name’s Sigrid.” She huffed at his quizzical expression and gripped his elbow. “From a Scandinavian author…my parents were literary fools. I forgave them long ago.” She limped at his side. “Like an idiot, I decided to get in shape and start jogging, and look what happens!”
Richard nodded. Her hand felt firm but strangely familiar on his arm. He always went for women in trouble. Soft heart his friends said. Soft mind his mother told him. Good ol’ mom. Richard chuckled.
“Am I still amusing you?”
Sigrid’s tone carried an edge, but when he glanced at her, there was a light in her eye and a smile hovering on her lips.
“No, mam. Sorry. I was just remembering something my mom told me long ago.”
“Care to share? I love a good quote.”
“Well, my mom liked history. Made me something of an eccentric among my peers since I would quote obscure historical facts while throwing together financial plans for my clients. Anyway, she loved to remind me that those who don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”
Sigrid nodded and stopped, catching her breath. “Just a sec. I’m not trained for the hop-Olympics quite yet.” She leaned more heavily on Richard’s arm.
Richard pointed to a hefty tree trunk lying near the path. “Here, let’s stop a minute.”
Sigrid plopped down on the log and wrapped her fingers around her ankle, wincing. “Dang, but I am such a klutz. My daughters ordered me out of the kitchen because they say I’ll break dinner instead of make dinner.”
Richard snorted. Then, as the mental image washed over him, he laughed outright. It felt so good to laugh again. He peered at her left hand. No ring. “Your husband doesn’t help with the cooking?”
Sigrid hooted. “Well, that was subtle!” She lifted her ring-less hand. “Divorced seven years.” Then, using air quotes, she smirked. “We’re friends.” With a shrug, she shoved the topic aside. “Two college-age girls and a married son. Their dad sees them when he wants. I keep busy with work and—” She rolled her eyes, “Keeping in wonderful shape.”
Confession time? Richard wondered why he felt like he should order a drink from the bar. “Divorced ten years. Retired one year. Two grown sons who live overseas. Do lots of charity work and slowly losing my mind to boredom.”
“Hah! You sound like my ex. Always doing other people a good turn but never satisfied with himself.”
Oh, brother. Richard figured he’d cut this short. “I’m an introvert, Aries, non-denominational Christian, and sleep without a pillow.”
Clapping her hands over her mouth, Sigrid nearly exploded in laughter.
Four birds escaped with their lives from the leafy foliage.
Sigrid stood and beckoned Richard with a sly glance. “Come on, Mr. Aries, you gotta walk me to my car so I can get home in time for dinner and tell my girls that I’ve had the best jog of my life.”
Richard rose and offered his arm. “But what about being doomed to repeat history?”
Sigrid grinned. “Ah. But as my mom used to say, ‘Live and learn.’”
A young squirrel, probably still in adolescence, froze directly in Richard’s path. It rose with a hopeful expectation in its eyes.
“Aw, heck.” Richard pulled the broken candy bar from his pocket, peeled off the wrapping, and slung it at the quadruped.
Duly grateful, the squirrel grabbed the treat and sped away.
Richard slipped the sticky wrapping into his pocket, stuck out his arm, felt the weight her of hand, and strolled back to civilization.
Books by A. K. Frailey
Historical Fiction & Science Fiction Blend Novels
OldEarth ARAM Encounter https://amzn.to/2KLhlsN
OldEarth Ishtar Encounter https://amzn.to/2OAkDQF
OldEarth Neb Encounter https://amzn.to/3iGqGlQ
OldEarth Georgios Encounter https://amzn.to/3v7w8oI
OldEarth Melchior Encounter (In Production)
Science Fiction Novels
Last of Her Kind http://amzn.to/2y1HJvg
Newearth: Justine Awakens http://amzn.to/2pq0vWN
It Might Have Been—And Other Short Stories https://amzn.to/2XXdDDz
Encounter Science Fiction Short Stories & Novella https://amzn.to/3dq6q5l
My Road Goes Ever On—Spiritual Being, Human Journey https://amzn.to/2KvF3Ll
The Road Goes Ever On—A Christian Journey Through The Lord of the Rings https://amzn.to/3rtAy6S
The Adventures of Tally-Ho http://amzn.to/2sLfcI5
Hope’s Embrace & Other Poems https://amzn.to/3cn22X8