Monday, July 22, 2024

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Short Story: The Road Not Taken

The Road Not Taken
A Short Story By: Katherine Elizabeth MacIntyre
Publish Permission By Say Grace Publishing LLC 

Chapter 1

The day started early and I wasn’t ready to crawl out of the warmth of my cosey bed. I was still half asleep, which was my favorite part of the morning. You have the option of drifting off back to sleep or waking to embrace the day. On this particular morning, I would have chosen the comfort of my bed, verses the harsh glare of the overhead bedroom light and the coldness of the concrete floor against my bare feet.

The truth was, I was really looking forward to the 2 ½ hour trip to Bend, I just hated waking in the mornings so quickly. I would had preferred turning on the TV while hidden under my soft cotton blankets, allowing the day to find me slowly. With my eyes still closed, my mind would focus on the stock market projections, the bombings in Syria or the political ramblings of some politician on the news. My mind would have systematically filtered the days news as I gradually awoken to greet the day.

Our trip to Bend was a pleasure trip, which was code for “shopping and eating out”.  As I showered, I couldn’t help but think of the Outlet Stores that awaited me. A true bargain junkie, the thought of discounted pricing provided me with an adrenaline boost, which I definitely needed this morning. I was up and moving, but it was still a struggle to stay awake. Donna was late as usual. If our departure time was 7:00 a.m., I knew to plan on 7:30  or even 8:00. Donna was a procrastinator, which meant she could never decide what to wear, how to style her hair or what to pack for the trip.  If she needed to wash her car, she’d leave it until the morning of our trip.  An organized, structured life was foreign to Donna. Mayhem and chaos ruled her days.  Disorganization was her negative trait, but it was also what made her fun to to hang out with. 

Chapter 2

Years back I adopted a rescue dog. I wasn’t looking to adopt, but there was this adorable, sick puppy with the saddest eyes I had ever seen begging for help. The entire litter of puppies had died of distemper. This little fellow was living on borrowed time and he desperately needed help. So begrudgingly, I adopted him, driving him directly to our Veterinarian for medical care. Seven days later and $450.00 poorer, I finally brought our new puppy home. Six years later, Cargo was a deeply loved and treasured member of our family.

Opening the back door of Donna‘s SUV, Cargo hopped up on to the back seat, ready for adventure. Cargo loved to travel. He was always the first one in and the last one out. In the six years since Cargo was adopted, he had only been left behind on two occasions.

 “Did you bring water?” Donna asked as I crawled in to the front seat and closed the car door. “I did, plus chocolate and potato chips” I replied. “And there’s some fruit, too”, I added as an after thought.  There was an apple and banana underneath all the bags of cookies, candy bars and potato chips.

 “Good, because I left the water on the counter” Donna said. “I set them down to find my keys, then after finding my keys, I forgot about the water”. Both Donna and I were multi-task challenged these days. Be it stress, age, menopause or the accumulation of all three, I carried a note pad to jot down the things I needed to remember. I had accepted my faith.  Without my glasses, I did not see. Without my note pad, I had no memory.  It was just a sad fact of aging.

As Donna backed the car out of the driveway, I suddenly felt energized and ready to roll. The morning was warm and sunny, which meant the afternoon would be hot. But that was okay, because we’d be tucked safely away within the four walls of the air conditioned mall. By the time we finished shopping, the hottest part of the day would be over, leaving a cool, pleasant evening trip home.Chapter 3

The stretch of highway to Bend was long and straight. You would think traveling on straight highway would be safe, but just the opposite was true. People would literally fall asleep while driving from sheer boredom. And in the winter, the ice and snow made traveling the highway treacherous. This stretch of pavement was the favorite path for semi-trucks, which in the winter months, was bad news for everyone.

Donna and I refused to travel to Bend in the winter. Why risk faith? Luckily for us, it was summer and the weather couldn’t have been more perfect. The tree lined highway blocked the glaring rays of the sun, which only on rare occasion would strike the windshield. With the windows slightly rolled down, the morning breeze was cool and refreshing. The traffic was light and we were humming along to 80’ tunes on the radio.

Cargo was staring out the side window, watching the trees roll by. At that moment, I was so glad that I forced myself to crawl out of bed and get dressed. I was really enjoying the day. I made a mental note to myself, not to be such a stuck in the mud. Had I stayed home, look what I would have missed.

“Did you know the kids were moving to California?” Donna asked.

Surprised, I replied “no”.  Donna’s eldest daughter and husband moved frequently for one reason or another. They would seem to settle in comfortably to their new environment, only to pack up their things and move again.

“Why are they moving this time?” I inquired.

“Mark got a new job and I guess it pays more”, Donna replied. “At least the grand kids will be closer to me. I would love to visit them. It’s been a year since we were all together. I guess they bought a really nice house just outside of town”.

At that moment in our conversation, an inpatient driver roared passed us on the highway. Glancing at the speedometer, Donna was traveling 60 mph, so we were moving at a fair clip. The car that passed us was a four door sedan. It was a bright blue color. I remember thinking it was such a bright blue, that the car looked cheap. Why this memory has stuck with me, I don’t know. But I can still see the car racing past us, the driver with both hands firmly on the wheel. He looked early 40‘s and had a short neat hair cut and wore very dark sunglasses that wrapped around his face.

“I have to potty” Donna declared. “Look for a side road and we’ll pull over”.

One thing for sure, there were lots of side roads. It was amazing how many people lived on this stretch of highway, which was miles from a town. I had always wanted to see who owned the mail boxes lined up neatly along the highway. Every couple of miles, there were eight to ten boxes attached to a post. What kind of houses did these people live in? Mobile homes? Log homes? Or maybe there were upscale communities that unless you ventured down the dirt roads, you would never know they existed.

 “Here’s a forest service road”, Donna said as she pulled the car slowly off the highway. Not far down the red, dusty road, we found a small area to pull over and park. Not that anyone would be passing us on this road anytime soon.  Unless of course, they were looking for a potty spot. Just to be safe, Donna pulled as far off the road as she could.

The sounds and smells of the forest were wonderful. The sun rays pierced through the trees, warming the cool morning. The pine trees were tall and glorious that surrounded us. The ground was covered by green foliage, already in full bloom. In the distance you could hear the birds chirping and a light breeze whistling between the trees.

Even though this area was close to the highway, it felt isolated. The kind of spot someone would probably dump a dead body. I always assumed deep in the forest, there were countless corpses of people who had gone missing. What better place to dispose of a body then in the thick tree lined forest, where your only witnesses would be the animal inhabitants.

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