The Fall of Frank Mathews — Short Story

This probably needs another edit, but it’s an older story, so why not.

The Fall of Frank Mathews

I never did like hiking, much less in the dense woods of Pennsylvania.

It was Friday morning, and instead of sleeping off a hangover, I found myself sitting behind the wheel of my, our, Jeep Cherokee. It wasn’t the way I’d have chosen to spend the final day of our honeymoon, but I knew from experience that sometimes you had to sacrifice for happiness. I popped a few aspirin and winced as the rear door slammed shut.

“You know, honey,” I said as my new wife slid into the passenger seat. “I hear they are turning on the hot tub this afternoon up at the lodge, maybe we can-“

“Don’t even think about it, Frank.”

“But-“

“You promised we would go hiking, and we,” she leaned over and gripped my face in one of her soft, baby-smooth hands. “Are going hiking.” She planted a quick kiss on my lips and then settled back into her seat.

I sighed and turned on the ignition. We were instantly assaulted by the sound of country music, and for a moment I was confused. “Holy hell… how drunk were we last night?”

Kathy groaned and covered her ears. “Please kill it, please.”

I jabbed the power button and said, “Dead, you’re safe now.”

“My hero,” Kathy said with an exaggerated shiver.

“I always knew you were a closet country fan,” I said as I backed the jeep out of the parking spot in front of our log cabin and turned onto the gravel road leading out to the highway.

“No, I’m just a Jack Daniel’s fan.”

“Yeah, I could tell. I need to get you drunk more often, brings out the catholic school girl in you.”

She laughed and said, “I don’t think they taught that in school.”

“But the way you bent, and that thing with your legs, I-”

“Stooooop, pay attention to the road.”

To my pleasure I saw that she was blushing, but figured enough was enough for the time being. We settled into a brief, comfortable silence as I navigated the narrow two-lane highway that led from our lodge up into the forested mountains. My hand rested on her bare thigh, squeezing every now and again while she smiled and watched out the window.

After a few minutes I said, “When we get home we’ll need to start looking for a condo.”

“Hmmm… maybe,” Her hand found mine and rested there, squeezing lightly. “I kind of like your apartment, for now. It’s cozy.”

My apartment, a loft above a hookah shop on the west side of Chicago, was anything but cozy to me. It was a large studio with various partitions, a bar, and a pool table. A bachelor’s pad from the floorboards to the rafters.

“Well hey, that’s fine with me,” I said. “I could always cancel the sale on my parent’s place ya know.”

“Nah, it’s way too big. Besides, I think the people that bought it are Gestapo or something. They’d break your legs if you backed out now,” she laughed.

“Maybe, though they didn’t look very German.”

“You’re going to need to turn right up here, at that stop sign.”

I rolled to a stop at the battered, faded sign. The road we were on continued to the left for a few hundred feet before vanishing around a corner. To our right was a dirt road. I turned onto it, the jeep bouncing in ruts and holes that no one was responsible for fixing. We were silent; me because I was afraid of opening my mouth to speak lest I bite my tongue off, and Kathy because she was switching to her hiking boots, alerting me that the time was nigh.

After a few hundred yards or so of the rough terrain, putting it lightly, we crested a hill. Before us rose a solid mass of trees and underbrush, seemingly impenetrable. The dirt road ended a few feet in front of a massive oak tree, its limbs low enough to scrape against the hood of our jeep.

“This is it,” Kathy said. She leaned over me and pointed out of the driver’s side window, indicating a path that led into the forest and no doubt up along the side of the mountain.

“You sure you don’t want to stay here and play a rerun of last night’s episode, dear,” I asked hopefully.

Still leaning over me, her hands dangerously close to my crotch and her t-shirt stretched tautly over her full breasts, Kathy gave me that smile that first set my heart pounding a mere six months ago. “Well, Mr. Mathews, something that I’ve never told you,” she said, her voice low and husky. “Is that it’s always been a fantasy of mine to make wild, uninhibited love in the woods-“

“There are woods right here.”

“After a long, hard hike through all those big, tall trees.”

“Now you’re just trying to emasculate me,” I said.

She just grinned, sat up, and opened her door. “Come on, lover boy, let’s go.”

I got out of the jeep and walked around to the cargo area to grab the pack I’d put in there before we left. Inside was a cold lunch of vegetables, fruit, and sandwiches along with a thermos of wine and other necessities. Kathy got out the bag she’d packed, containing water, first aid, flashlights, and additional equipment that one might need when wandering up the side of a mountain.

“We ready?” I asked while slinging the pack with our food onto my back. Kathy did likewise, though her pack also had straps that she locked into place across her chest.

“Ready!” She said. She grinned, I groaned, and together we passed from the semi-open area of the dirt road into the closed-in spaces of the monolithic trees.

Almost immediately the path angled upward and the air became heavier. Twigs crunched under my boots, birds flitting about in the trees, and the limbs rattled overhead as they were stirred to action by a wind that I could not feel. The one and only benefit to the uphill trek so far was the fact that Kathy was walking in front of me.
It was an hour later when Kathy suddenly stopped, just after we’d traversed a particularly steep incline. My relief was palpable when I heard her unlock the clasp on her chest and saw the bag slide from her back to the ground. I reached her and saw for myself what had made her stop.

Before us was a break in the trees, an immediate halt as a matter of fact, for not ten feet away was a cliff. Beyond the bare, stony edge lay a lush valley, beginning where the jagged rocks of the bluff bottom ended. So close together did the forest grow down there that no ground could be seen, nothing to ruin the unbroken sea of dark green foliage. It stretched for what must have been miles before dropping off into the distance.

“Beautiful,” I said. I found that I was breathless; not with exertion, but with wonder. Growing up in the city had never afforded views like this one. Not even the numerous forest preserves in the suburbs, all of which I’d visited regularly, could compete.

“It’s only trees, don’t cry on me,” Kathy said, laughing. “Why don’t we eat here?”
Without any argument on my part I shrugged out of my pack and removed our lunch, complete with a black and white checkered table cloth that I spread on the ground for us to sit on.

We didn’t speak as we ate, for words could do nothing but detract from the beauty that we found surrounding us. Before I was half-way through my sandwich, and with the taste of strawberries on her lips, Kathy reminded me of her words down by the Jeep. We made love then, at first gentle, as on our wedding night, but before long we were lost in the forest, nothing more than two beasts trapped by nature.

Sometime later, minutes or hours I wasn’t sure, we lay there, panting and spent. Our limbs were intertwined so that the only way to tell our flesh apart was the degree of hairiness that could be seen. I made a soft sound in my throat as Kathy moved, as little as necessary, to slip back into her panties and t-shirt. I managed to somehow pull my shorts on without getting up and gathered her back into my arms.

The warmth of the sun, coupled with our recent activities, had my eyes sliding shut. I felt my wife press closer, her soft breath on my bare arm.

“I could so take a nap right now,” she said quietly.

I cracked an eye and saw that hers were already closed. “Mmmm… me too. We didn’t bring your pills though.”

She sighed but didn’t move. “It’s just a nap; I’ll be fine, hon.”

“You sure?” My voice, low and groggy-sounding, seemed to come from far off. I tried to stay awake to catch her answer, but her fear of sleeping without medication slipped from my mind as did any conscious thought.

I awoke to Kathy screaming. Confused and half-asleep, I sat up. She lay beside me, her hands balled into fists against her temples. Her mouth was open and a wailing sound emanated from her throat, chilling my blood. She’d told me about her night terrors, but I had never before seen one for she always took medication before bed.

I sat up and reached for her arms. My vision cleared completely and I saw that her hands were wrapped around clumps of her blonde hair, some already torn from the roots. I touched her and it was as though a jolt of electricity surged through her. She sat up and shot one arm forward, her small bony fist catching me above my eye and causing sparks to flare to life.

“Kathy, honey, wake up, it’s me, it’s Frank!” I shouted, grabbing her hands. She fell onto her bottom and kicked out at me with both legs. Like a wild animal she fought, shaking and bucking. I was afraid of hurting her so I let go, intent on wrapping my arms around her entire body, no matter her quick sharp feet.

The moment she was free, before I could grab her, she back-peddled off the table cloth. She still screamed as she turned onto her hands and knees and crawled away from me. I leaned forward and grabbed at one of her ankles, but she kicked at the first hint of my fingers on her flesh. I watched in growing horror as her toes dug into the soil and her body lifted.

I screamed her name and pushed myself forward, half jumping and crawling to reach her. My hand was inches from her bare, slim leg when she ran off the side of the cliff. My mind froze for an instant, my limbs unable to respond, eyes locked onto the spot my wife had just been.

“No no no no, Kathy!” I dove for the edge of the bluff, my chest skidding on dirt and rocks, hands gripping the ledge. Franticly I searched, and saw her almost immediately. She lay motionless at the bottom, her body bloody and torn. I screamed her name again. It echoed back at me, including with it a sob I didn’t remember loosing. At the sound of her name she moved, slightly. I heard her call out my name and relief flooded through my body. I knew that she was alive.

“Hold on, Kathy, I’m going to get help! Hold on!” I thought I heard her answer, but I was already moving. We had a satellite phone in our jeep. With it I would be able to phone 911 and get the help that Kathy needed so desperately.

I was a quarter of the way down the hill when my foot snagged on a root. My ankle twisted, followed by an odd snapping sound. Before I could grab onto something, or even fall completely to the ground, I was tumbling head over heels down the side of the mountain. I closed my eyes and covered my head as best I could with my arms as I rolled, feeling my body leave the ground several times and hang in the air before slamming back down over and over.

After what seemed a lifetime I came to a stop. I was lying in a pile of decomposing leaves, my body cut and bloodied by rocks and branches I’d run over. Looking around, I saw that I was no longer on the path. It didn’t matter; down was down.

I gritted my teeth as I gained my feet, and found that I couldn’t put any weight on my left ankle. I tried moving it, and thought I heard bones grinding together. I would just have to deal with the pain. With brutal determination I hopped down the mountain, staying as close as possible to the trees for support.

Finally, I saw the dirt road through the vegetation, and the top of our jeep.

To my dismay I found that I’d managed to come out on a short ridge above the road, with at least a twenty-foot drop to the ground below, where the road was. I could walk around, but that would cost precious time that Kathy didn’t have. It didn’t look that far to the ground, and from what I could see it was littered with branches that would break my fall.

My mind made up, I took a deep breath and pushed off of the ledge and into space. I felt weightless for a brief moment, before gravity shoved me back down to Earth. I landed on my back, all the air exploding from my lungs in a single, garbled cry.

I started to get up, but something felt odd.

I looked down, and to my bewilderment I saw the bloody end of a branch poking up through a ragged hole in my abdomen. Blood slowly pooled at the base of the piece of wood and ran down my side, mingling with sweat and dirt.

“Shiiiiiiiit,” I said softly. I sat up, slowly, feeling the limb rubbing against my insides. The bright world around me began to grow black. I was still for a moment and it passed, but I could still see the darkness, lingering at the edges of my vision. I worked up to my hands and knees, sluggishly, and began crawling towards my jeep. Looking over my shoulder I could see what appeared to be a misshapen tree growing from my back, its needles painted red and green.

I reached one of the doors. Just as I was about to stretch up toward the handle I remembered that the keys were in Kathy’s pack, back up the mountain. I groaned, the coppery taste of blood in my mouth. I was still; the only sound that of my life dripping onto the packed dirt. It sounded odd though. I could see it landing in large, dark red drops, but the sound it made seemed to come from far off. A clomping sound.

No, that’s not right, I thought dimly. My confused mind tried to place the sound, before I remembered where I was and one of the main reasons we had come to the guest ranch. Horses, I was hearing horses’ hooves on pavement. I knew that at any moment a group of horsemen on a trail ride would appear. I started crawling again, this time toward the main road. It was slow going, with every ounce of strength I possessed poured into putting one hand in front of the other, one leg after another.

To my astonishment, a team of horses appeared on the road beyond the trees, halting at the stop sign for a moment. I knew I’d lost too much blood and was seeing things when the horses turned left and continued along the paved highway, pulling behind them an old-looking black carriage, complete with an orange triangle attached to its back.

I pushed myself up as best I could and waved my arm in the air, the limb caked in dirt and blood. My voice croaked, loud to my own ears, but barely more than a whisper. The buggy didn’t stop, didn’t even pause. I fell back to the ground, an act which seemed to take an exorbitant amount of time.

My eyes fell shut and behind them I saw my wife’s body. She was sitting up at the bottom of the short ravine, brushing dust and blood off of her bare legs. Her voice called to me once more, but not in that low, pain-filled scream I’d imagined before. Now she beckoned to me, that impish smile on her face, the one that I’d fallen in love with. My lips turned up at the corners and I began to descend the incline that didn’t seem so steep any longer, to join Kathy there at the bottom.

“It’s a good thing that guy didn’t have a rearview mirror,” I mumbled to my wife, just before the slow moving currents of my consciousness pulled me along and into the darkness.

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