Billy stood behind an old oak tree relieving himself in the forest. The cool, dry air of the passing cold front had been a welcomed change from the hot, humid day. The campfire was just within Billy’s view. He watched Lauran sit there by the fire. She had bleached blond hair that hung in tight wet curls with droplets of water that fell from their tips. Lauran had gotten caught in the storm that Billy had avoided by hovering in his tent.
After the storm passed over, Billy was able to recover his campfire. Lauran appeared out of the woods thirty minutes later. Her hollow gray eyes penetrated Billy’s heart with sadness when he looked into them.
Billy muttered to himself about lousy timing and attempted to hurry up his business with the tree. He was not sure where Lauran had been, but he knew she needed help and could not stay alone out in the woods. His small two-man tent might feel a bit too personal, but he would have to convince her he would keep her safe. The campsite was only a half a mile from the road. He would take her to authorities in the morning so she could get checked out and call a loved one.
Billy finished and walked back to his campsite. “I’m sorry, ” he said. “I was not expecting company and had a few beers before you arrived.”
“Oh,” responded Lauran. “are you upset about something?”
“What? No, it’s not like that.” Billy pulled up a log he intended to burn later and sat across from Lauran at the fire. “Why would you think that?”
Lauran shrugged, “I don’t know. Jerry used to drink when he was mad. Unfortunately, he’d just get angrier.”
Billy pointed at Lauran with a stick he had just picked up. “Who’s Jerry? ”
“He was my boyfriend.”
“Does he always take you hiking dressed like that?”
“What’s wrong with the way I’m dressed?”
“Most people don’t wear a sundress to hike in.” Jerry tossed the stick back on to the muddy ground.
Lauran looked down, picked up a stick and drew an arrow on the ground as she spoke. “Well, I needed to get away from him in a hurry. Jerry doesn’t mean to be angry. He’s had a hard life. Jerry grew up without a father, and his mother’s boyfriends would beat him. She kicked Billy out on his seventeenth birthday. He’s a hard worker, but it’s tough to hold a job when you never even finished high school. I guess all his hardship made him a hard man.”
Billy sat quietly and listened. He was concerned Jerry might be nearby. “Is he looking for you?”
Lauran shook her head. “Not anymore. I was finally able to escape.”
“Then why are you in the woods?”
Lauran shrugged, “I’m just trying to figure out where I’m supposed to go now.”
Billy nodded his head. He noticed her playing with a silver heart-shaped locket. Lauran looked up from her twiddling fingers and said, “Jerry gave me this locket. He worked two months to save up the money. What makes a man love someone so deeply and hold on to so much hate?”
Billy picked up a nearby twig, looked up at Lauran and shrugged, “I don’t know. Maybe he couldn’t let go of his pain. You know, forgive his mom or those boyfriends.”
“But he became just like those men.”
Billy nodded, “That’s how hate usually works. It grows inside until it twists you into the very people you despised. I hope Jerry can get some help before he hurts somebody.”
Lauran let go of the locket, and a tear trickled down her cheek. “He already hurt me, but I’ve forgiven him. Besides, I won’t have to worry about him anymore.”
Billy asked, “Does he live nearby?”
Lauran shook her head, “Oh no, he’s at least fifty miles away.”
“How did you end up here then?”
“Jerry brought me up here.” Lauran was about to continue to story, and Billy held up his hand.
“Excuse me. I’m afraid I need to get rid of some more beer.”
Lauran gave a slight smile and looked away. Billy got up and felt a bit awkward as he rushed to the tree. His bladder was not in a joking or social mood. As he finished watering the tree he looked around its trunk to look at his beautiful but sad new friend. To his surprise, she had disappeared. Billy quickly zipped up and rushed back to the campfire.
He looked down and noticed three equally spaced arrows leading out of his campsite. Billy picked up his flashlight and began to walk where the arrows were pointing, but stopped. What if this is a trap? Billy considered the fact that Jerry could still be with her, but why would they lead him away from his campsite? He was just as vulnerable by the campfire.
Billy grabbed his taclight and hunting knife and left the camp. There were no footprints on the trail. Billy backtracked and walked the perimeter of his temporary shelter, but the only tracks he could find were his own. Intent on solving this mystery he prepared to follow the arrows once more. Billy checked his right pocket to confirm his cellphone was there. Pulling it out he found the signal a solid four bars, just as it had been earlier in the evening.
The trek through the woods was treacherous even with the flashlight. Ruts, roots, and mud made for slippery walking. Fifty yards from his tent something caught his heel and Billy went sprawling into the mud. He picked the taclight off the ground and wiped the dirt away from it. Looking back, Billy instinctively jerked his leg away from the pale human hand sticking stiffly out of the mud. He backpedaled on his hands and feet ten more feet before stopping to catch his breath. Billy reached in and pulled out his phone. He called authorities for help.
Rangers and the state police arrived thirty minutes later. They found Billy leaning up against a tree. He was muddy and pale, but he did not leave the body. A ranger took a shovel and began to expose the corpse slowly. As the mud started to clear strands of bleach blond hair began to stick up in small places out of the mud. Billy watched as the ranger reached down and pulled up a silver heart-shaped locket.
A nearby state policewoman grabbed Billy as his knees buckled.
“Are you going to make it?” she asked.
Billy forced himself to stand up. “Yeah,” he said in a shaky voice. “I think the guy inside that locket killed her. His name is Jerry.”
The ranger walked over, “How do you know?”
Billy pointed towards the body, “That’s what she told me.”
The ranger looked over his shoulder at the corpse and back at Billy. “I doubt it. She’s been dead at least a couple of weeks.”
The policewoman gently took Billy by the shoulder. “Why don’t we get you out of here. I think you’ve been through enough.”
Billy wiggled free of the officer’s grip. “Just promise me you’ll follow-up on that locket.”
“Don’t worry, we’re going to follow every lead.” the officer responded.
Billy nodded, and the two of them started the half a mile trek to the road.