He sensed fate had brought them together for a reason. 1st Pl. Short Shots Feb'13
|Note: This story was an entry for the February, 2013 Short Shots Contest . To view the contest rules, click on Contest Rules: ▼
A Picture of Elegance
Steve Nicholson surveyed the vast wilderness which stood before him and inhaled deeply. God, it's good to be here. There was really nothing quite comparable to a hike in the Manistee/Huron National Forest of western Michigan, at least not in the mind of the twenty-six-year-old engineer. With all weekend to embrace the twenty-three mile loop created by merging the Manistee River Trail with the North County Trail, he could take his time and simply surround himself with Mother Nature. Equally important was the hope his surroundings would help clear his head in order for Steve to address what Lexi had done to him.
About four hours into his journey, the rumbling in Steve's stomach told him now was a good time to break for lunch, and his weary legs were echoing similar thoughts. As luck would have it, there appeared to be a clearing in the dense forest a couple hundred yards up ahead. As he got closer, he was relieved to see that the sunny clearing also had an enchanting little pond in it, which Steve guessed just might be the perfect location to remedy that which ailed him. The break-in period for the new pair of Timberland hiking boots he'd received from his parents for Christmas was more painful than he'd anticipated.
As he unbuckled and swung his supply-laden backpack to the ground, he did a double-take. Directly across the pond, only moments earlier, Steve could have sworn there were just a few large rocks strewn among the tall grass along the water's edge. Now, there sat a young woman upon one of the rocks, and she appeared to be sketching. Out here? In the middle of nowhere?
Steve studied the artist for several moments; she reminded him of someone but he couldn't place her. She had to have seen him as easily as he'd seen her, yet if she had, she was completely unfazed by his presence. Given what had just happened between he and Lexi, perhaps interacting with another female might be invaluable. Steve always felt things happened for a reason; he wasn't a believer in so-called 'chance' encounters. Consequently, Steve was curious as to why this young lady happened to choose the same area he had. After all, he'd journeyed to this park because his intention was to be alone with his problems, and he didn't need an audience.
Slowly making his way around half the perimeter of the pond, and purposely stepping on every branch he could to announce his arrival, he took a seat upon a strategically sound - yet functionally uncomfortable - large chunk of shale. He was about fifteen feet from her - close enough to talk, but far enough to not threaten her - and for a little while he simply stared at the lovely lady.
As Steve pondered just how this beauty - looking like an elegant goddess sent straight from heaven, in her beautiful white sun dress - could have possibly hiked this far into the forest dressed that way. He was about to speak to get her to turn and face him, but she suddenly looked up, as if she had anticipated him speaking. He was immediately drawn in by her incredible beauty and instantly thought her to be strikingly similar to the singer, Enya, when she was somewhere in her twenties. That's who she reminded me of. Steven's mother had always been a great fan of Enya, so he grew up with many of his days surrounded by the mesmerizing music of the Irish singer. He would often marvel at her enchanting, tantalizing beauty which graced the covers of her CD cases; even fantasizing about someday meeting her in a romantic setting much like this one.
Steve struggled to find the right words to convey his greeting to the young woman. "What...what are you doing out here?" he stammered, immediately mad at himself for not even thinking to open with something safe and simple like, "Hello."
"Doing what I do," she replied simply. "I draw."
Her smile - though faint - was still a huge upgrade over his memory of the irritated scowl Lexi had worn on her face as she was dumping him. Her callousness during the break-up was the primary motivation in prompting Steve's decision to visit his friend and confidant, the forest, which offered the inner peace he so craved after what happened. Prior to the night before last, Lexi was the woman he was going to marry, who was going to have his children, for God's sake. Meeting up with this angel could not have contrasted more vividly for the despondent hiker when compared to his last meeting with Lexi. Consequently, he simply had to know more.
"My name is Steve Nicholson, from Ann Arbor. And your name would be..."
She smiled, again briefly, but didn't say a word. At first, Steve feared that perhaps she was as unimpressed with his average looks - Lexi called him 'Mr. Plain' when she wanted to be nasty - as most women were. Somehow he didn't think that was the case here, though. He sensed this one might be above that sort of pettiness.
"You remind me so much of the singer, Enya. Has anyone ever told you that before?" He looked away as he finished the question; his face reddening after realizing he'd just uttered a classic pick-up line. "Okay, you are not under any obligation to give me your name, and I apologize if I've made you uncomfortable. Do you mind if I call you 'Enya' as opposed to simply, 'You?"
"Enya sounds fine."
Her manner gave Steve the distinct impression that she had work to do - with maybe a deadline or some other additional time constraint she was working under - and he was interfering with it. He walked a little closer to catch a glimpse of what she was devoting so much effort to on her sketch pad. Enya had sketched about three-quarters of the pond area in dark, heavy pencil; the only part yet to be completed was where he and Enya were sitting. He noted that in the lower right-hand corner of the sketch she had signed her work with an upper-case 'A' followed by an exaggerated dash.
Steve thought that if perhaps he left Enya to her work for a while, and came back a little later when it was more likely she'd be done, maybe she'd appreciate the 'space' given her and open up a little more after his return.
"Okay, obviously you're very busy, so I'll go stretch my legs for a little while and maybe we can talk a little later..."
She didn't respond to his words; he tried to take the optimistic view and hold on to the fact she didn't tell him 'No' either. As he walked away, he glanced back over his shoulder quickly a couple of times to make sure she hadn't disappeared, which reassured him - slightly.
He started to walk the same trail she had to have taken to arrive at the pond, however only a few hundred feet ahead, he had a clear view of some nearly impassible terrain she would have had to traverse to end up at the pond. No damned way could she get here from that trail.
As he hurried in a semi-jog back along the trail, the reflection of something shiny about twenty feet off the path and close to a decaying tree trunk caught Steve's eye. He went over to investigate and discovered the reflection had come from the zipper of a canvas bag, fairly heavy, in the shape of a large rectangle. He unzipped the bag to examine the contents. It contained a whole array of black and white sketches - undoubtedly Enya's - so he took a seat on the tree trunk and began leafing through the drawings. Maybe he could find a complete signature on one of these...
There were many folks Steve had never seen before depicted in the drawings, but he soon noted a common thread: None of them were smiling, and all sketches were signed in the lower right-hand corner with a simple uppercase 'A' followed by a long dash. What a collection of unhappy campers. He did recognize some of them as celebrities, such as country singer Mindy McCready, pro footballer Junior Seau, and even Ernest Hemmingway. He flipped Hemingway's sketch over and discovered the date: 7-2-61, which immediately had Steve wondering how someone so young could have possibly been around more than fifty years earlier. This is totally insane! He quickly slid the drawings back into the canvas bag and sprinted quickly back to the pond.
Steve, while relieved to see Enya still sketching upon his return, couldn't hide his increasing suspicions about the artist's motives. With his confusion mounting and quickly morphing into anger, Steve yelled at her as he approached, "What in the name of God is going on with these..."
Steven's tirade was interrupted by the sound of a gunshot - very close by. The startled artist jumped a bit from her seat, and Steven could see she was visibly shaken.
"Probably some damn hunters who are too dumb to read the 'No Hunting' signs. I'd better go and find those clowns so they know there are people around..."
As Steven began to back away in the direction of the gunshot, he was surprised when Enya grabbed his wrist, and drew him close. In the first real display of emotion he'd witnessed from this woman, he could see tears streaming down her face. "You won't find any hunters, Steven."
Now it was his turn to be startled - and a little scared.
He grabbed Enya's sketch pad to see what she'd been working on. It was still the same angle of the pond she'd been working on earlier, but now it appeared complete. In the area which had been unfinished earlier, there now lay what looked to be the body of a man, face down, with the tall grass hiding the man's face. But Steve could see the lower torso clearly, and his eyes followed the man's jeans down to his own, brand new Timberland boots.
He again looked to Enya - who was still crying - for answers, and she solemnly motioned toward the grass a few feet behind Steven.
He turned around to see a man's body, face down, with a gun in his left hand, slowly taking shape in the tall grass. Steven now realized what was going on. The sketches he'd found - all suicide by gunshot. The shot he suspected had originated from hunters - actually came via his own gun. He looked at his hands in front of his face - hands which were becoming translucent - for he could now see the sobbing Enya, or whatever she really was - through them.
He reached out to touch Enya, but his hands now passed through her. He was now but a shadow - a spirit - a sketch.
* * * * * * * * * * * * *
"Over here, Will."
The large, mustachioed ranger joined his partner about fifteen feet from the victim's body. A small portable CD player, sitting among a number of Enya CD's, was still playing Enya's Angels. ▼
"Pretty clear the young man came here with only one idea in mind - just as his mother feared. Said his girlfriend dumped him and he took it real hard."
The senior park officer then picked up one of Enya's CD cases and studied the cover.
"Who'd ever kill himself in the company of such an elegant beauty?"
The other ranger also perused the CD cover and joked, "I don't know, Will. Maybe she's like the Angel of Death. She'd sure make suicide easier..."
"Don't talk such foolishness, Cal. There's no such thing..."
The men shrugged, and resumed their investigation, oblivious to the sound of a Number 3H Graphite sketch pencil snapping beneath the weight of a ranger's boot.