The Real Enemy
She was at the wildlife preserve to take pictures, despite the gloomy light. It had rained for hours overnight, and dark clouds still filled the sky that morning. She hadn’t been out in a week, and she really needed to move.
Birdsong filled the trees but as usual, she couldn’t see the little bastards. They hid in the thick spring foliage, taunting her. She grinned in the general direction of one loudly chirping bird. “Yes, I hear you. How about showing yourself?”
They never did though, and when she got too close, they flew farther away.
Disillusioned, she returned to the car, where a female bluebird attacked the driver’s side mirror. She took pictures, hoping at least one would be good. Given the crappy light, it was doubtful, but she was ever hopeful.
Engine noise drew her attention, and she turned. A red pickup was coming down the bumpy dirt road toward the small dirt parking lot. A man was behind the wheel. Shit, he’ll scare the bird away. She liked being alone.
He stopped behind her vehicle. “Taking pics of that crazy bird?”
She laughed. “Silly, how they think their reflection is an enemy.” She hadn’t talked to another person since her last visit to the grocery store, and that had only been to the cashier. Normally she’d consider him intrusive—the bird had flown into the trees—but she was starved for human contact.
“Cardinals do that, too,” he said, glancing around.
He wore a battered cowboy hat and hadn’t shaved in a few days. “I don’t like being here when the hunters are out.”
She’d been so focused on the bluebird, she hadn’t heard the gunfire. She heard it now. “What are they hunting?”
She’d seen a female turkey when she’d driven in half an hour ago. No wonder it had been skittish.
Without thinking, she’d moved closer to the truck. It was what one did when talking to someone, even a stranger. She got to within three feet of him and stopped. “Oh! I shouldn’t be so close.” Even as she said the words, she reversed course. Because of the pandemic, a minimum of six feet was recommended between people.
“Worried about the virus, eh?” His eyes twinkled, and his smile was charming. “That’s not what’s going to kill you.”
She didn’t understand what he meant until he climbed out of the truck, a serrated knife in his right hand, and strolled almost casually toward her.
She scrambled back to her car and remembered there was a fence beyond that. Her keys were clipped to the camera strap, which was looped around her neck. She’d never reach them in time. Trees blocked her exit to the right. She was trapped.
She screamed as loudly as she could, her blood running cold with terror.
The bluebird, perched on a branch close to the car, was startled. It flew, darting between her and the killer, heading for deeper woods. She followed it with her eyes, envying its wings.