"Hiking Through the Shawnee"

© 2000
J. Mitch Hopper

It is a future world. The Shawnee forest covers most of mid and southern Illinois and John is enjoying his annual hike. This story contains scenes of graphic violence. Here is just a taste!
John knew the way. He didn’t exactly have a trail nor did he remember the specifics of each acre, yet he was so familiar with the general contour and layout, he was seldom unsure of where he was. Sooner or later, he would cross a stream or follow a familiar bluff. They were all the road maps he needed.

Midmorning found him standing on another ridge overlooking a meadow a mile or two away. His vantage point three hundred feet above granted him a marvelous view. A herd of deer grazed in the open on the clover and sweet grass. John dropped prone and brought out his field glasses. They were beautiful. The biological mutations were quickly being bred into the stock. It wouldn’t be too many more generations before the unusual coloring became the normal attribute of the herd. Man had faired poorly, but the lower creatures were adapting to the bio-catastrophe amazingly well.

He gazed on the magnified scene, taking in four or five at a time. As he watched, several in the herd looked up at the same time, yet not at him. Suddenly, they bolted from the meadow and disappeared into the deep woods. John scanned all around the area they had run from. It was too far to hear anything but he could see birds startled out of the trees on the opposite side of the meadow. Suddenly, a girl ran into the clearing. She was dressed in jeans and a light jacket and was running as fast as she could. John jumped to his feet and nearly tripped on the underbrush as he tried to keep her in view. She made it to the opposite side of the clearing and disappeared into the woods below him, at the bottom of the ridge. John stowed his glasses and began to make his way down.

He stopped after five or six minutes to catch his breath and get his bearings. He was still on the ridge but from this vantage point in the dense woods, it was impossible to tell how close to the meadow at the bottom he was. One thing was sure though, he was making so much noise that there wasn’t a peep from any of the animal population. For the first time in days, the forest was deadly quiet and the quiet drew attention to itself.

The echoes seemed to come first, followed by a loud crashing roar and every bird in the forest took flight. John dropped to the ground and listened carefully. The sharp report and the following thunder seemed to have originated from ahead and to the right. It was impossible to locate precisely. From a long way off ahead of him, he could hear the sounds of something charging through the undergrowth, breaking sticks and stumbling. The sound was coming in his direction. Just a brief flash, barely a glimmer, John saw the girl running a thousand yards in front of him but she quickly became invisible again. A second sharp staccato thunder rolled from the woods ahead of him. It seemed to be closer since the echoes were disproportionately less intense. When they stopped, he could no longer hear the girl’s clumsy flight.

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