Avery drove down the highway, his arm out the window and bouncing at the mercy of a seventy-five mile an hour wind. He’d survived the onslaught of twelve-hour days and long work-weekends that gathered until April 15th, when they disappeared as darkness does before the dawn. After the deadline, his office turned into a ghost town. Many of the CPAs took vacation, and Avery was no different. Halfway between Richmond and the North Carolina border, all he could think about was the next few days of drinking, eating, and relaxing at his friend Rick's house. The dashboard clock ticked closer to midnight, and a classic Nineties rock tune strained the speakers.
He ripped his gaze from the hypnotic flash of the white stripes in the center of the road when a single light appeared, as if from a faraway distance, and quickly grew brighter. At first he thought it might be a plane, then a helicopter as it moved closer. And then the light fell from its perch and dropped down into the trees a few miles ahead. The sound of his tires hitting the rumble strips, matching the rushing of his heart, caused him to veer back on the road. Wide-eyed, he looked all around, expecting another car to smash into him, but he was alone.
He turned off the radio and flicked his eyes at the clock again. He decelerated but the 'happy vacation' cold six-pack and wine bottle on the passenger seat caught his attention. He hit the gas. Half a mile passed, Avery fidgeting the whole way. He looked at the clock again. "Ah, screw it," he said.
Avery pulled over at his best guess of where the aircraft fell. He turned his hazards on and pulled out his cell as a truck barreled past. He put the phone down. How come no one else has stopped? he thought to himself. Someone had to have seen it.
He stepped out of his Benz and walked toward the edge of the grass. The full moon lit up a good portion of the periphery of the forest, enough to see thick, hanging branches flush with leaves, but any deeper and all he could see was darkness. No light from a potential fire. Then it dawned on him that he hadn't heard a sound, either. He imagined the embarrassment of calling nine-one-one and having a cop come out and find nothing. "Been drinking, sir?" Damn it. I must be certain first. I know I saw something.
He returned to his car and pulled out a multi-tool specialty knife and a flashlight from his glove compartment. He had gotten great use out of the knife, one of the best birthday presents he had ever been given. He turned around and aimed for the trees, his car beeping twice as he locked it.
Branches, leaves, and twigs whipped at his lower legs. The crunch beneath his feet reminded him briefly of playing in numerous childhood tree houses. He looked back at his flashing hazards every ten seconds to keep a sense of direction, until the forest swallowed them up. He made a concerted effort not to veer off track, and took mental notes of specific root shapes to use as markers for his return. Just as fear began to spark terrible thoughts of getting lost, a light appeared ahead of him.
There we go! I knew I saw something, he thought.
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