Finding Vanessa (Part 3)
Updated: Mar 23, 2020
I woke up suspended off the ground in a small dark room with that ever so familiar feeling of not knowing where the hell I was. The walls were covered in shelves packed with cleaning supplies, paper products, and canned goods. When I tried to sit up, the world shook and swung under me, and it took a few tries before I realized that I was being held up by a braided rope hammock.
“You awake?” asked a voice to my right. I turned and saw the gas station clerk from earlier, Jerry, sitting on a milk crate and smiling.
I tried to sit up but a pain shot through my leg like electricity and I fell back onto the hammock.
“Where am I? What happened? Did… did you paint my nails?”
I looked at the red nail polish on my right hand, then at Jerry.
“You like it?”
“Ok, that’s fair. You’re more of a fire truck than a cherry red anyway, but I thought I’d take a chance.”
I looked at the source of the pain-my leg-and saw that it had been wrapped tightly in a makeshift duct tape cast that wrapped right around my pants leg. That’s when it all came back to me, a bizarre memory that wouldn’t have been out of place in a David Lynch fever dream.
I reached out, grabbed Jerry by the collar of his shirt, and yanked him close to me.
“I need to talk to the sheriff. Now.”
The man in the bear costume stayed there on the other side of the clearing, spinning his arms and legs in a bizarre dance like a PCP-jacked teenager at the disco, occasionally looking my way as if to make sure that I was still watching. I slowly started to back up, putting one foot behind the other, carefully adding to the distance between us. I didn’t know the score, but I sure as hell didn’t want to push my luck. Once I got back to my car I could call the sheriff and have him bring all his deputies and an extra large straight jacket, but that plan required that I first get back to my car.
I had my eyes locked on the bear man, so I saw exactly when the arrow whipped right through him.
It came from somewhere in the forest behind him, entered his bear suit from the back, just below the armpit, and passed straight through the other side towards me. I didn’t have either the time or the reflexes to dodge. The next thing I knew, I had been struck.
I hit the ground and the man in the bear costume grabbed his wound and danced his way back into the woods. The arrow had lodged itself deep in my left leg a few inches above the knee, with the light wooden shaft protruding straight out. It was the single most painful thing I had ever experienced, and sheer adrenaline is probably the only reason I wasn’t going right into shock.
Two men donned head to toe in camouflage and carrying hunting bows stepped into the clearing at the same spot where the bear man had emerged. They both had shades of green smeared all over their faces like war paint. The fat one was cussing and yelling when he emerged.
I screamed, partially to get their attention and partially because I just couldn’t help it.
“Aw shit,” yelled the skinny one, “Did we get you?”
He dropped his bow and ran over to me while the fat one put his own on a sling over his shoulder and slowly walked over to join us.
“Who the fuck are you?” asked the fat one.
The skinny one pulled an eight-inch knife out of its sheath on his belt and sliced open my pants leg around where the arrow had lodged. I took a look and wished I hadn’t.
“You shot me!” I yelled. It was about the only thing I could muster the strength to say besides the lengthy paragraph of expletives I couldn’t hold in if I tried.
The skinny one looked at me defensively, “Well hell dude. We weren’t expecting no people but us to be out here.”
“Bear’s gonna get away now, boy.” Complained the fat one. “You think you can walk?”
I didn’t answer right away. The shaft of the arrow was shaking with my pulse, and I knew it was embedded into my femur. The fat man knelt down for a closer look and whistled.
“Yep. That’s in there alright.”
I closed my eyes and tried to focus on anything but the pain. Every breath, every heartbeat, every micromovement radiated through the arrow like an antenna into the wound and down the nerve in my leg. My eyes shot open and I let out a scream.
The fat one had reached out and grabbed the arrow at the base. With his other hand, he grabbed the top and snapped the shaft off. I collapsed onto my back and stared up at the sky, hoping that the pain would just knock me out already.
“There,” said the hunter. “Now we don’t gotta worry about it snaggin on every little thing. Ned, help me get him to the four wheeler.”
The other one, Ned, pulled me to my feet and together we went back into the woods. I kept an arm over both of their shoulders, basically hanging on and letting my bad leg drag the whole way. Not too far into the forest there was a small trail that we followed for close to half a mile before we reached the four wheelers. I don’t remember the ride back to their truck, but I remember them smacking me on the face when we got there to make sure I was still alive.
“Ya’ll get him?” asked the fat woman sitting in the driver's seat of the white extended cab truck stained brown from countless layers of dried mud.
The fat man got off the four wheeler and answered, “Naw, he got away.”
“I clipped him though,” bragged Ned as he jumped down from the four wheeler. “Left a blood trail. We may still be able to get him.”
“You shut up, boy! We ain’t goin nowhere tonight. Gotta get home before the sun goes down.”
The woman looked at me and smiled a big, toothless smile, her bright red cheeks standing out against her pale skin like she had already had a few drinks too many. “Oh, you got something though?”
The fat one grabbed me by the hair and yanked me off the four wheeler, throwing me to the ground, I let out another scream.
“What the fuck is wrong with you?! Are you crazy? That thing out there isn’t a bear, it’s a person! And you assholes shot me! I need to get to a hospital for Christ’s sake!”
The fat man looked at the woman and said, “Yeah, Ned got this one by accident.”
“Well that ain’t a total loss then,” she said back. “Why’s he still alive?”
“They’re easier to move when they’re alive. And they taste better if they’re scared when you put ‘em down.”
Ned let out a whoop and jumped on top of me, pushing my face into ground and yanking at my pockets. He managed to dig out my phone, wallet, and keys before I finally got a handful of dirt and smacked it into his eyes. He fell off of me and I jumped to my feet, running towards the safety of the forest when-
“Now I wouldn’t be too keen on running back out there if I were you.”
I put my hands in the air and slowly turned around to face the fat one pointing a .45 at me from what I would consider point-blank range. Close enough that I could recognize it as a Dan Wesson Specialist. These guys were bowhunting for sport, but smart enough to bring along something heavier just in case. Smarter than me, that’s for sure.
“Why not?” I asked, “I doubt there’s anything out there as bad as right here.”
“Well that’s where you’re wrong.”
“OOOOOOhhh,” cooed the woman from inside the truck, “Shoot him! Shoot him!”
“Shut up woman! I ain’t gonna shoot him just cause you said so.”
“Hey now,” I said softly. Suddenly, the pain in my leg didn’t seem so bad. “Let’s talk about this for a second. You don’