The woman who walked out of the woods had been in hiding for four hours. Her name was Lexie. She was hitchhiking home to Richmond, Virginia, from the college she attended. Most of the people she had gotten rides from were nice. Then she met Cephus.

            He had picked her up on the edge of town about twenty miles back. At first he seemed okay, although a little odd. She had explained to him that her mother was very ill and her father was unable to send money for a bus ticket or drive to her college to bring her home. Cephus had a goofy grin that somehow filled her with unease.

            Cephus drove an old rattletrap pick-up truck that smoked. The windows were broken, and the muffler was gone. Lexie did not care. Any ride was better than walking. Cephus had agreed to take her to the next town twenty-five miles away. She sat back in the uncomfortable seat and tried to enjoy the ride.

            Then, with the radio blaring a twanging country song, Cephus grabbed her shoulder, hard. She twisted from his grasp and tried to laugh it off. Cephus no longer had the goofy smile. He looked menacing. He reached for her breast. She slapped his hand away.

            “You owe me for giving you a ride!” he snarled.

            “No, I don’t,” she replied. “You freely assented to my riding with you when you stopped for me.”                                                  

             “But I need something in return.”              

            “Not from me, you don’t. Stop the truck and I’ll get out.” Cephus pulled over.  Lexie opened the door and started to jump out, but Cephus grabbed her long hair.

            “Ow!” Lexie cried. “Let go of my hair!” She managed somehow to get his hand out of her hair. She slid from the vehicle and made a dash for the woods. She could hear the sounds  of Cephus’ footsteps as he chased her.

            “You’d better come out,” he yelled. “There’s hunters in these woods. They might think you’re a deer and shoot you.” Lexie did not care. She continued to run into the shadows. She hid in the brush while Cephus ran around shouting and searching. It was a hot day, and he finally gave up, or at least she thought he had. She could no longer hear the blare of his radio. She was afraid he had only turned the radio off and was still lurking somewhere.

            Cautiously, Lexie emerged from her hiding place. There was no sign of Cephus. She began to walk through the woods as parallel to the highway as she could get. As long as she could see the road she could not become lost. When Lexie left the woods and began to walk beside the interstate, she was famished, thirsty and tired. Her clothing was ripped in places from twigs and branches she had caught them on. There was moderate traffic, but no one stopped when she put her thumb out. Several cars passed her by with a long blare of a horn.

            Lexie knew she was a sight. She had managed to smooth her hair somewhat with her hand, but she could not hide the scratches on her face and neck. She cursed Cephus. It was his fault she was in this predicament. She would give anything almost for a cold drink and a sandwich. There was nothing but trees along this stretch of road.

            After Lexie had walked a couple of miles, she heard a vehicle slowing behind her. She turned and saw a late model sedan stopped on the shoulder of the highway. She walked back to the car. A handsome, well-dressed man sat behind the wheel smiling at her.

            “Need a ride?” he asked. Thankfully, Lexie opened the passenger door and entered the car.

            “Do you have any water?” she gasped.

            “I sure do,” he answered. He reached over the front seat and retrieved a cold bottle of water from a cooler. Lexie guzzled it and asked for more. He gave her another bottle.

            “Where are you headed?” he inquired, as he pulled back onto the highway.

            “Richmond,” she replied, exulting in the air conditioner going full blast. She began to relax.

            “What happened to you?” the man asked, glancing at her torn clothing and scratches.

            “I was mistreated and chased,” she replied bitterly. “A man named Cephus chased me through the woods and threatened me.” The man smiled.

            “Did he drive an old, beat-up pickup truck and have white hair?”

            “Yes, he did. I need to call the police when I get to the next town. That man is a menace.”

            “Well, Cephus is my brother. I can’t believe he let a prize like you slip away.” He grabbed her left knee and squeezed. She let out a yelp and tried to get away from his hand. He squeezed tighter.

            “He let you get away, but I won’t,” he assured her. Lexie had had enough. Two monsters in one day! She could not believe it, but it was true. She stretched her left leg out and pushed hard on the brake. The sedan skidded across the road. Neither of them wore a seat belt. Cyrus was thrown into the steering wheel, and Lexie held on to the dash to keep from slamming into the window. The car came to an abrupt stop.

            Lexie was out of the car and running. A gun shot made her run even faster. Oh no, he is going to kill me! she thought. She reached the safety of the woods just as another shot rang out. She tried to make herself invisible by hiding in the brush. Cyrus found her almost immediately, causing her to bolt from her hiding place. He laughed maniacally when he saw her. He could have shot her then, but it seemed he wanted to play the game longer. She ran screaming into the darker recesses of the woods.

            Cyrus chose to creep quietly, perhaps in hopes of flushing her out again. However, she seemed to have disappeared. He looked in all directions as he walked, his gun at the ready. No Lexie.

            “Come out, come out, wherever you are,” he coaxed. There were signs in the grass that she had passed that way. Cyrus was an excellent hunter. Mostly he hunted raccoons and possums for the family pot. His family would eat almost anything he caught. But the human he was hunting was strictly for him. He had something besides food on his mind.

            He couldn’t remember when he had seen such a luscious female, even if she was a bit disheveled and scratched. He would not give up easily. After he claimed her he planned to chide Cephus for allowing her to escape. In desperation Lexie climbed a heavily leafed tree a hundred feet away. She prayed Cyrus wouldn’t see where she had passed. She could see better here and could tell if he approached.

            Lexie tried to calm her thundering heart. She watched the ground below and listened for Cyrus’ footfall. She silently berated herself for getting into such a predicament. But her worry about her mother overrode any qualms she had. She wondered if her mother was okay. She had to get there, and she would as soon as she could ditch this maniac.

            She saw Cyrus appear in the clearing. She shivered. Then she sneezed. Cyrus looked up and saw her red blouse through the leaves.

            “Aha!” he shouted and started shuffling toward her.

            “I’ve got you now!” he chortled. When he was ten feet away from the tree he tripped on a root and fell face-first into a large animal trap. It made a clunking sound as it snapped around his head. The gun flew out of his hand. Cyrus screamed. He writhed on the ground trying to open the trap but could not. Lexi watched in horror as rivulets of blood spurted from his head. She watched him die. When he was finally still, she cautiously descended the tree and approached his prone body. She nudged him with her foot. He did not move. Certain he was dead, she felt in his trouser pockets and retrieved his car keys and wallet. The wallet had over two hundred dollars, more than enough to buy gas. Lexie left the scene and finally made her way out of the forest. She found Cyrus’ car where he had left it, got in and drove away. There was nothing now to stop her from going to Richmond, nothing at all.


Image credit:Alex Azabache

Dorthy LaVern McCarthy, pen name, LaVern Spencer McCarthy, has published six books of poetry and four books of short stories. Her stories have appeared in The Writers and Readers Magazine, An Anthology of Short Stories, edited by Jilly Snowden; Agape Review; Meadowlark Reader; and From The Shadows, an anthology edited by Amanda Steel and others. She has won over five hundred state awards and thirty-eight national awards for her poetry.