The Woodsman

Jerry parked the 1979 Dodge D50, painted yellow, at the end of a sandy embankment leading to the water’s edge of the Pensacola Bay. An outcrop of trees and brush provided privacy of the surrounding area.
He stepped out into the golden glow of the morning sun, the December air still crisp, at least by Florida standards. The smell of rotting leaves and wet earth saturated the air. Several twigs snapped under the weight of his boots. He popped the hatch for the camper top, grabbed his tackle box, fishing rod, and walked toward the surf.
Another truck had parked nearby, but he didn’t see anyone. The wind blew cold air across his face. He inhaled, crisp, fresh air. It felt good to be outside.
Someone had pinned warning posters about the Woodsman on several trees. The flyers informed the public to be safe while in wooded areas. The Woodsman had killed four people in the last two weeks, shooting each victim in the head with a .357 handgun. He tore one down, folded it and placed the flyer in his back pocket.
Walking along the shoreline, he came to a bend and made his way further inland, the woods always nearby, which felt eerily ominous.
After several twists and turns he ended up along an estuary. The area was very secluded and out of sight of prying eyes.
Water flowed over algae-covered rocks as he made his way further down. About a half mile into the trek, he thought of turning back, but decided to push ahead. A few yards further, he saw a gentleman with a mop of graying hair sitting on top of a five-gallon bucket, a fishing pole in his hands. Jerry pegged him as the driver of the truck parked near his. There didn’t seem to be any other people out this way. Just him and the stranger.
The man gave him a long stare, with dark eyes. The guy seemed cold and calculated … maybe even a little dangerous. He shirked the idea.
“Having any luck?” Jerry finally asked. Maybe the question would be an icebreaker. When opportunity opens a window, sometimes fate steps in. maybe he’d found a new fishing buddy.
The man stood so Jerry could look inside the bucket. Several fish splashed in a small pool of saltwater.
“I’m Jerry.”
The man’s face seemed to soften, if only a little. Or maybe Jerry only saw what he wanted to see. He didn’t know one way or the other.
“Mike.”
“How long you been out here?”
Mike reeled in the line. The hook was bare of bait. He reached into a small tin can filled with dirt and pulled out a night crawler. He skewered the slender invertebrate onto the hook, the worm wriggling. Then he cast the line into the water. “Maybe two hours.”
“You’re not worried about the Woodsman?”
Mike lifted his sweatshirt. Sunlight reflected off a silver pistol.
Jerry’s chest tightened. Goosebumps formed on his forearms. What if this man drew his gun and shot him. Would anyone even find his body out in this desolate area? The outside elements would wreak havoc to his body. Maggots eating his dead flesh. Animals picking at his carcass. Birds pecking out his eyeballs. He shuddered at the nightmarish images flashing in is mind.
Mike lowered his shirt, covering the handgun. “If he comes this way, the hunt for the Woodsman will be over.”
The tension he’d felt a moment ago was now replaced with a feeling of euphoria. Jerry wondered if this sensation was a normal response when fear subsided. The uncertainty that you could die, but managed to escape deaths grip. He didn’t know.
Jerry opened the tackle box and withdrew a .357, and aimed the barrel at Mike’s head.
Mike’s eyes widened as he fumbled to draw his own gun from under his shirt.
The loud bang of a gun being fired echoed. A cloud of smoke rose from the end of the barrel. The acrid scent of gunpowder hung in the air. Blood, brain matter, and bone sprayed across the landscape.
Jerry picked up the five-gallon bucket and tossed the fish into the estuary. Then he dumped the can with the worms onto its side. As he made his way back to his truck, he thought about Mike’s last statement, If he comes this way, the hunt for the Woodsman will be over.
“No Mike. The hunt is still on.”

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