The Bones Under the Oak

Ann Cro

It was late November and Keith Highsmith was returning home for Thanksgiving. He had hoped to leave the college earlier in the week, but a late scheduled exam and a term paper due before the holiday had caused him to delay his departure until the last minute. Anxious to shorten the distance between the college in North Carolina and his home in east Tennessee, Keith had decided for a route through the mountains rather than the longer interstate route. His car, a second-hand Nissan that had endured rough handling and much neglect at Keith’s hands, was never completely reliable. And, unfortunately, on this particular day, it decided to avenge itself. The problem started as the car began the steep climb over the mountains. The engine began to overheat and eventually even Keith, who had the accelerator pushed to the floor and was singing lustily along with the CD player, could not help but notice the smoke creeping out from under the hood. He pulled off to the side of the road and sat still for a moment, wondering what to do. Reluctantly he got out from behind the steering wheel and went around to the front of the car. Pulling out a bandanna from his rear pocket, he carefully raised the hood and then stood back as the white steam escaped with a hiss into the cool mountain air. Keith was no mechanic and he gazed around him in dismay, hoping that someone would pass by and offer him a hand. But it was late in the day and the mountain road was deserted.

Little rustlings from the woods told him that he was not completely alone. He looked around nervously, but saw nothing. The trees with their dead dry leaves were still and there was an earth smell that spoke of the cycle of death and decay common to old forests. Keith pulled his jacket close around him and tried to decide what to do. He extracted his cell phone from his jacket pocket but, as he feared, there was no reception here in the mountains. He put the phone away again and looked around helplessly. A shadowy something moved across the road and Keith hastily returned to the car and slammed the door. He stared hard at the place where he had seen movement but whatever he had seen was gone now. He looked at his wrist watch—almost 3:30 p.m. and night came early in the mountains at this time of year. He wondered once again if anyone would pass by but, remembering how deserted the road had been when he traveled it, he realized that he could not rely on such a thing happening. No, he must leave the car and go for help. A little ways back he had passed a small house. He would walk there and hope that they had a telephone or that they could give him a lift into the nearest town where there was a mechanic.

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