Perched on a high branch of your favorite tree, you watch his dark town car pull up slowly, its paint faded in spots, from too much sun or the salty, sandy roads of one too many Minnesota winters. The window rolls down smoothly, his breath escaping into a white plume of frigid air as he looks at you through glasses that movie stars wear, the ones that say, Hey, here I am, pay attention.
“Excuse me,” he says, staring more intently now that he has your attention, and you think perhaps if you are quiet, he will go away. After all, it’s the violet hour, and you are alone in the woods, the patch of trees bordered on all sides by dead ends – the parking lot of your apartment complex, railroad tracks, and Lion’s Park.
He smiles briefly. “Did you hear me?” he says, and he seems familiar. A teacher maybe. Or, the cashier at Tom Thumb.
“Come here for a second,” he says, “I have something to ask you,” and at that moment you know: He’s the man from the flier, the man driving around the neighborhood, inviting kids to take a look inside his car.
Thankfully, you are prepared for this. You’ve watched MASH with your father, and Wild Kingdom, and you’ve heard your father’s stories of his time in the foxhole. You know how to act under fire. You know how to hide. And though you are at least seven feet up in the tree, too far for even your father to reach you, you also know that if you jump now, before he gets out of his car, you can make it.
Jump and run, you tell yourself, jump and run. And as you throw your heavy boots in front of you into the deep snow, up the steep side of the ditch and back onto the pavement, you glance back long enough to see his eyes narrow. His engine revs and tires screech as he turns into the parking lot behind you. Lungs burning from the frozen air, you’re certain now that this is the moment you were told about: this is a race you cannot lose.
On a good day, when you’re not tired, home is still eight minutes away, but you have no choice. Up the steep cement steps, through the security door, up two more flights, through a fire door, and down the long hallway with red carpet, past the apartment where you babysat once and the apartment with a new puppy.
On the five-minute run down the hallway, you look back once or twice, certain he will find a way in, and when you finally burst through the front door, you’re in tears.
“Well, that was fast,” says your mother, surprised to see you so soon. “What’s wrong?”
You can’t get the words out, so you stand there in tears, unraveling your scarf, kicking off your boots, because you feel embarrassed, childish but different, now that you’ve been chased.
K.A. Culbertson’s work has appeared in Night Train, Flashquake, Pearl, the Philadelphia City Paper, and the Rose Metal Press anthology Brevity and Echoes. She is the recipient of the First Person Arts Festival memoir competition and the Duprey Award in Short Fiction. She holds an MFA from Emerson College and currently lives and writes just outside Philadelphia.
Art: Popular Mechanics by Christopher Woods who is a writer and photographer who lives in Chappell Hill, Texas. His photographs can be seen in his Galleries:
His photography prompt book for writers, FROM VISION TO TEXT, is forthcoming from PROPERTIUS PRESS. His novella, HEARTS IN THE DARK, was recently published by RUNNING WILD PRESS. His poetry chapbook, WHAT COMES, WHAT GOES, was just published by KELSAY BOOKS (kelsaybooks.com).