CHAPTER TWO – THE PATH:
Our lives are finite, limited things, but the path that appeared in front of Nate continued on forever. He stood in fascination, gazing down its curved length. The path wandered to the left and then swept back to the right again until out of sight.
No one would be able to see him there in the corn. His brow furrowed and he scratched his head in wonder. That had been part of the appeal of this hike in the first place. No one could see him or could have known he was there. Never in his life had he been granted a luxury to be nowhere, unseen and unnoticed. Isolated from the billions of men and women who swarm over the surface of this planet.
He had always been a child of the city — the great metropolis, Chicago. Born from urbanite parents who were themselves the offspring of immigrants from one of the great cities of Europe. There were no farmers in his family tree. No country gentlemen cast their genes into the pool of his ancestors. His recent acquisition of this sprawling farm in the rolling heartland had left him overwhelmed and out of his element.
Even before the first installment of the lottery winnings arrived, he knew that the first thing he intended buying was land. Somewhere deep down inside himself, his very being longed for stability and security of land ownership.
This had nothing to do with real estate values, tax deferments or any such financial considerations. This was about being in touch with something solid – something that had permanence and could bring meaning to his existence.
City life had bestowed a blithe obduracy upon everyone he knew including himself. It was to the point that all aspects of living held a vague blandness. There were no colors left in his world, only a miasma of smoky shades of dull brown and gray. His life had become a living embodiment of olive drab. Nothing shocked him anymore or touched off the spark of life necessary to maintain human existence.
From the time Nate quit college halfway through his sophomore year and took a job in a grocery store, his life seemed to stall. At age thirty-two, everything was planned out for him with no surprises.
First, he had started out stocking shelves. He gradually ascended up the chain of command and earned a promotion to Night Crew Supervisor. Recently, he was promoted to the post of Head of the Produce Department. But still, he was trapped in a meaningless job and a do-nothing lifestyle.
As a result, his marriage suffered teetered on the brink of self-destruction. Night after night, he dragged home to find his wife, Zelda, waiting for him. They would alternately argue about trivial things or cling in desperation to each other. They did not understand what had become of the closeness they once had shared.
At first, she had believed in him.
“Someday,” he would promise, gazing into her quiet brown eyes. “I’m going to turn it all around — to make it happen for us, somehow. You just hang in there with me ‘til then, honey. I’m going to be something… something big…”
Zelda’s gaze would soften and her eyes would become dewy as a glimmer of trust would appear. She would smile as if to say, it doesn’t matter, my dear if you do these things or not because I love you. I may not always have confidence in the things you say, but I will always love you.
At least, that was how it had been early on. As time went on and after so many speeches or promises, the degeneration of their relationship continued, he had been noticing it took longer for that glimmer to appear in her eyes. The look of trust had devolved into something more akin to patient commiseration or even reproach, depending on her mood.
God! How he hated THAT LOOK!
Some nights, in his dreams he would turn to Zelda for something and she would fix him with THAT LOOK. He’d wake up in a cold sweat and he’d turn to her. Invariably, she would be lying with her back to him, snoring lightly. Her dark hair a nest on the pillow beside him. He would wrap his arms around her and pull her close. Ignoring her soft moans of protest as she continued to sleep, he’d bury his face in her back and pray that things would be normal once again. That he would wake in the morning to a world of bright colors. Would somehow find a way to put his life back on track before he lost the love of this beautiful woman.
He felt deep down inside that he’d already lost her respect. The idea of waking in the morning and seeing pity in those eyes was a concept he didn’t even want to consider. Not if he were going to get any sleep at all. So he would close his eyes and pray.
Eventually, his prayers would bleed over into dreams. THAT LOOK stalked him relentlessly until the morning alarm would rescue him. Bleary-eyed, exhausted and defeated, he would trudge off into his gray world once again.
Something crackled in the corn a few feet to his left, breaking his train of thought. He whipped around to look – nothing was there. Suddenly, he was struck by the knowledge that no one knew he was out there in the cornfield, all alone. An unsettling sense of dread crept over him.
He glanced around, feeling as though someone or something was watching him. His gramma used to say someone was “walking on her grave.” It was certainly as silent as the grave out there. It was mid-September and summer had settled in for the duration. The days were sluggish, over-confident and unmindful of the fact that autumn lay just around the corner and would soon move in to send it packing like some fat old uncle who had overstayed his welcome.
The sun beat down out of a china-blue sky, baking the ground and making the light-brown leaves of the corn curl at the tips. What breeze there was could not penetrate the rows of corn, but skimmed overhead brushing the tassels. The leaves whispered a soft, scraping sound as they whisked together. In his disquieted state, the whispering mocked him in small voices — exchanging sinister plans below his range of hearing.
He stopped and peered into the corn, holding his breath and straining his ears to pick out the slightest sound. But all he could hear was his hammering heart and the plants rustling.
Shaking it off, he forced a laugh. He spoke aloud to ease his nerves. “You’ve just got a case of the willies. Truth is, it is safer out here than walking down any street in Chicago!”
Chicago! Not only were they safer from crime here, but safe from the malaise that had swept into their lives, smothering the fires of their existence.
Here, we get the chance to start all over! Nate thought to himself. The lottery winnings had been a windfall, not only financially but spiritually. At last, they would have the wherewithal to achieve their dreams. It was like being set free from a terrible prison. Confinement of a heart without dreams was more oppressive than the vaulted walls of any concrete and steel institution.
But now we’ve bought our own land of dreams.
Here was a brilliant world of colors. In the early morning dew, sparkling yellow, violet, pink, lavender and white flowers were sprinkled about the entire countryside by a bright-eyed Mother Nature. Deep greens, dappled with sunlight in the late afternoon spread like plush tapestry across their front lawn. Bright, blue skies turned azure in the evenings. And finally, as the sun slipped past the horizon, it drew curtains of golden reds and oranges along behind it.
So abundant were the colors and the air so clear in this rural utopia, it sometimes hurt his eyes. But no matter. When the brightness did overwhelm him, he would close his eyes, lean back and drink in the freshness of the air. This acted like a magical balm upon his spirit.
This setting was going to do more for their morale and their marriage than anything else his seven-odd million dollars would buy.
It was when he bought this place that he really hit his jackpot.
Dzhankah didn’t know this one — this Meat was new, but Dzhankah would follow. Follow and observe…Stalking was his specialty.
His nostrils burned with the scent of him. It was heavenly sweet and tantalizing. The fat, succulent flesh basted with a fine coating of sweat. And underlying it all was the enticing, heady aroma of adrenaline which coaxed and urged him to throw caution to the wind. Pounce, rend and tear the tasty morsels from the bone.
Afterward, oh what a joy to lie amidst the corn rows licking the sticky, cloying blood from his face and claws. Gnawing contently on a bone, pushing it far into his mouth so that his strong molars could crack and splinter it. The pulpy red marrow exposed, ripe for sucking…
But no! Not yet. His instincts checked his actions.
Survival was patience and caution; not by being impulsive. The time to determine opportunity had not yet come. There would be a time for feasting of that he was quite sure.
Drool escaped his lips, strands dripped slowly from the tips of his protruding canines and ran down along his chin to the edge of a leaf where it stretched into a sparkling string.
He leaned forward, straining with the effort to control his hunting lust…