The Midnight Trip
by Janie Hofmann
Lars fell backward, the man on top of him. He screamed and pushed the man off, rolled onto his stomach and clawed a camera size stone out of the forest floor. He scrambled to his feet, jumped on the man and pummeled the stone into cheeks, temples and forehead. There was bloody pulp, bones peeking out of messy flesh when Lars collapsed.
Coming to, he saw the bear trap dug into the man’s left ankle. A carpet of brown nettles and blood clung to his hands and he vomited, the muscles in chest and belly continuing to flex after he stopped. Lars feared for the experiments. The superiors had trusted him to supervise the project until the very end. He could not afford to go down for manslaughter.
The guy had surprised him — but who would listen to that excuse. Lars had managed to get the bear trap off the leg. Poor bastard must have gone off trail and stepped right into it, the poachers were always active in the Spring. The man must have broken the chain and dragged himself back onto the trail. By then Lars had been hiking for an hour and he rounded an outcrop of stone, crashing into blood soaked arms.
Lars sucked the water, grimaced as the murky liquid slid down his throat. Shaking, he stood, lowered his eyes at the body. A canopy of cedar and pine hid the sky. Lars had never even buried a dead animal, let alone kill someone. He was surprised that death was so placid.
He pried off the bear trap, dragged the man for fifteen minutes through the forest where he reached the stream, but after drinking realized the earth was too mushy to dig a proper hole and the stream too shallow to wash the body away. Lars fought back hysterics, the body was too heavy to move anymore.
This is enough, Lars thought. I want this over.... right now. Damn her anyway, Lars cursed his wife. She suspects I felt up that ditz who washes the petri dishes, that’s why she didn’t come.
Twigs crackled and he was relieved at the distraction, but saw nothing. Again, the forest creaked and Lars held his breath, unsure of what he would do but knowing he could not afford to have anyone else become part of this. He thought he saw the outline of a person bobbing through the trees. Maybe a hiker had gone off the path and turned back when the ground became marshy.
Lars knew it was pointless to run. He could not see, and the scent of blood was all over him. He would say he had been lost, found the man and gotten bloody trying to revive him. Lars squared his shoulders, ready to face bloodhounds and badge. His lip quivered as angry yellow rays darted from the forest towards the stream, blinding him as coarse voices and growling rang through his head. He cried, slobbering, and fell on his back.
A small, firm hand gripped his forearm. “Come out of it,” she said.
He sat upright, the blanket falling to his hairy waist. Torso and hair soaking, he swallowed hard, turned sideways to glare at his wife, the neon numbers of the digital clock beside her shining 12:01 am.
“So, where the hell were you? Sure took your time,” Lars snapped.
His wife turned slightly, reached for her cigarettes, lit a smoke and did not offer Lars one.
Exhaling, she licked her lower lip, reclined and stared at the ceiling. “Did you not ever think that when I take that elixir from the lab that I have my own dream and can’t always come to rescue you in yours? You’re a big boy now, Lars.”
“To hell with you, woman...” Lars leaned back and snatched her cigarette. “The purpose of drinking this stuff is to have two people in the same dream. I’ve got a lot riding on these experiments.”
“Well, I wanted my own trip for a change. What do you need me for anyway?”
“You know you never flip out like I do when you trip,” Lars was sheepish. “It’s so real to me. Do you have any idea what I went through? I did something I couldn’t take back, you know what that feels like?”
Lars ignored her flat response. She continued: “I was close by, you were alright.”
“Then why didn’t you....”
“Like I said, Lars,” she took her cigarette back. “I was doing my own trip. I tried to get you twice. I almost made it, but kept getting called back. I wasn’t free until midnight.”
Lars rolled his eyes, his head against the headboard. “So, dear wife, what were you doing in your dream until midnight that was so important? No, let me guess. You were Cinderella enjoying a handsome prince and at the stroke of midnight, it all turned into a pumpkin. Am I right?”
Copyright © 2007 by Janie Hofmann