The Outlaw River Wilde

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For God's Sake Don't Run

Mitch touched his right shoulder. He tried to process how there was no cut, scrape, or even a scratch when his jersey was torn and had blood on it. He grappled with the sparrow’s arrow perch, and how it had disappeared. Mitch didn’t want to believe that an arrow had clipped his shoulder and then a few seconds later vanished. It made absolutely no sense, except it happened and he saw it. He wanted to tell Mabey but there probably wouldn’t be time with all the guests coming over for the barbecue get-together. Mitch ran a calloused hand down the handle of the rake and got back to the cleanup of the freshly mowed yard.

A movement to the right made Mitch stop raking. Old man Jasper was on his roof adjusting another space-age antenna. The man had a weather-beaten face and silvery hair that gave the indication of an advanced age. In contrast, his clear, alert eyes made pinpointing the number of birthdays a challenge. One of these days, Mitch wanted to ask Jasper just how old he was. His eccentric neighbor kept to himself. Most in town respected his desire for privacy—at least those who understood Outlaw River and her residents.

The small town, nestled in the Pacific Northwest’s Outlaw River Valley, hugged the banks of a wild and scenic river by the same name. The fast moving water crashed against the smoothly polished boulders and banks guarding the town.

The town’s residents happened to love visitors and the tourist-spent money, and when the tourist’s pockets were empty, the townspeople loved them even more as they left. In this river community of 1800—mostly farmers, ranchers, loggers, hunters, and commuters—nearly everyone knew their neighbors, many participated in the Fourth of July parade, most at least watched each year, and hardly anyone locked their doors at night.

Outlaw River folk cherished their privacy and most respected the simple fact that Jasper prized his alone time more than most. He had a habit of ducking inside if someone came down the dead-end street he shared with the Wildes and Jensons.

Mitch realized a while back that he and his significant other Mabey were exceptions. Jasper had grown to trust them. They didn’t hang out and never extended a dinner invite; both parties were comfortable with this arrangement. A few lengthy talks in the cul-de-sac over the years were the basis for their polite relationship. Even through Jasper’s cantankerous looks, and intermittently moody disposition, Mitch had grown fond of him.

Jasper gave an excited wave, so Mitch dropped his rake and hurried over. He welcomed the distraction; the fresh smelling grass was turning his stomach. Jasper’s ladder lay on the ground between the hedgerow and the house.

Mitch picked it up, and repositioned it. Jasper steadily lowered himself. At the bottom, he looked around the neighborhood while grabbing Mitch’s arm above the wrist. Jasper’s eyes were clearer than normal, if this was possible. Mitch would never share what popped into his mind initially—that the old guy had a damn firm grip for someone so advanced in age.

“Don’t pay attention to what you see, Wilde. Do not stare them in the eyes, and for God’s sake, don’t run. They won’t hurt you if you don’t stare right at ’em. Trust me on this, Mr. Photo Jock. Do not take their picture! My gut tells me if they catch you taking their photo, it won’t be good. I’ve developed a very keen sense in regard to these things ever since my rodeo days.”

“Rodeo days? Um, okay.” Mitch scanned his mental faculties trying to decide if he cared enough to ask for an explanation. He shifted his gaze across the street toward his front yard, knowing Mabey would be home soon and that his yard wouldn’t rake itself. Grass odor be damned; Mitch was a little surprised at himself as a question he would never ask popped into his head. How the fuck did that ladder fall?

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