Autumn Glory

Autumn Glory

Paul Hunter parked his car in the small roadside clearing, carefully backing in so he could easily pull back out onto the highway when this excursion to his favorite thinking spot was over. He smiled because there were no other cars parked anywhere around and so he knew he’d have the waterfall and pond to himself. He slid out of the car and retrieved a small knapsack and a nylon guitar case from the back seat. He closed the car doors, punched the remote, and heard the confirming beep of the car being locked and the alarm engaged. He looked up and down the empty highway then turned and walked to the obscured trailhead.

The path itself ran alongside a small stream that flowed down from the north to where it paralleled the highway for about a mile and then turned gracefully west. Paul followed the portion that was shaded by a band of paper birch trees, their white bark peeling and dropping to the ground. His dark brown sweater shielded him from the shaded chill of the cool October air. The path was nearly obscured by the gently falling yellow leaves scattered with red and orange ones from the occasional maple and oak trees. Paul walked slowly, stretching the normal twenty-minute walk to a comfortable half an hour, enjoying the peace and solitude. He held the guitar case by the strap as he swung it forwards and backwards in cadence with his steps all the while humming quietly as the sound of churning water grew louder. He soon stood upon an overlook where the stream tumbled down a fifteen-foot cliff into a large pond below.

Paul stood on the overlook for a few minutes watching the stream break apart into the millions of tiny droplets as it fell towards the pond. He then followed the path as it zigzagged down the slope, around a large oak and into a clearing next to the pond, which was faithfully maintained by a pair of beavers. As he entered the clearing he was surprised to see a woman standing next to the water’s edge.

“Excuse me,” he said, “I wasn’t expecting to see anybody else here to day.”

The woman turned upon hearing his voice and smiled at him before turning back to the pond. She possessed a common figure, was of average height, and wore her wavy black hair long, its tresses touching the black leather belt that encircled the top of her new denim jeans. Her white sweater complimented the long black hair and accentuated the soft whiteness of her face. Paul approached her slowly taking a stance a polite distance from the woman’s right side.

“I come here pretty often,” he said, “you know, to work on my songs.”

The woman turned and smiled at Paul. She had a very pleasant face, oval, with large dark eyes that he took to be a midnight blue. He found her eyes entreating and, at the same time, they seemed to be troubled.

“It’s very beautiful here,” he said.

“Yes, very beautiful.”

“Do you come here often?”

“No, this is my first time.”

“I come here to clear my head and then I read through my notebook looking for an idea to turn into a song. Sometimes I just sit and try to come up with more ideas.”

“It must be nice, having the time to enjoy all of this.”

“Oh look, there’s one of the beavers,” Paul said, as he pointed towards the far left side of the pond where a beaver climbed out onto the dam, apparently to capture a little sun.

“He’s very fat.”

“Yes, he is,” laughed Paul. “I think that’s what keeps him warm.”

Paul watched her as she studied the beaver grooming itself in the sun. Soon the mate crawled out of the water and joined in the grooming while the woman continued to watch with interest. Several minutes later the two rodents slid back into the water and disappeared from view.

“By the way, my name is Paul Hunter. May I ask your name?”

“Gloria. My name is Gloria Winters.”

“Say Gloria, are you hungry at all? I’ve got a half-bottle of Merlot, some cheese, and some nice bread. I like to spoil myself on these excursions and I have enough to share.”

“That sounds very nice.”

Paul sat the guitar case on the ground then removed the knapsack and sat it beside the case. He removed a small blue and white cloth that he carefully spread out and followed with the bread, cheese, a plastic wine glass, a paper cup, and the bottle of Merlot and laid them on the cloth. He removed a small waiter’s corkscrew from an outside pocket on the knapsack. He opened the wine bottle and poured half the wine into the glass and offered it to Gloria. She smiled, took the glass, and sipped the wine.

“It’s very good.”

“Thanks, sorry about the glass being plastic but I tend to break the real ones I try to pack.”

“No, it’s fine, very elegant.”

Paul laughed and knelt beside the cloth while Gloria sat cross-legged on the opposite side. He poured himself some wine into the paper cup, and then opened the cheese with the small knife blade on the corkscrew. He removed two small paper plates from the knapsack, cut the cheese into strips letting them fall onto the plates. He opened the bread and removed two slices that he placed on one of the plates and handed the plate with the bread and cheese to Gloria. While she took some cheese and folded it into one of the slices of bread he removed two more slices of bread from the bag and did the same. As he watched her eat and drink the wine he grew curious.

“When I parked up by the highway I didn’t see any other cars. How did you get out here?”

“My husband brought me.”

Paul looked at the fingers of her left hand as she held the wine glass. There was no wedding ring in sight. Already in the throes of imagining a possible romance with Gloria the revelation caused his heart to sink.

“Your husband? Where is he?”

“He left.”

“Left? Why?”

“Because he was done.”

“Done? Done with what?”

Gloria sat the bread and cheese on the plate then stood, still holding the wine glass in her left hand while Paul followed. As he stood Gloria raised her right arm and pointed towards the pond while Paul’s eyes turned outwards and downwards into the pond following the direction of Gloria’s pointed finger.

“Drowning me.”

Paul looked down into the pool beneath him to where Gloria Winters’ pale round face stared at him through large, unseeing, eyes, while her long black hair floated in the slight currents caused by the falling water. He quickly turned back to where Gloria slowly faded from view and the wine glass fell to the ground spilling one last small sip onto the forest litter.

Paul turned and looked down into the cold dead eyes. He stepped into the frigid pond and hooked his hands under Gloria’s shoulders. He turned her around and pulled her heavy body out of the water and into the sunlit clearing where he did his best to straighten her hair. He bent over and picked up the wine bottle, drank its remaining contents, and then laid the empty bottle next to the wine glass. He drained the remaining wine from the paper cup then rinsed it out in the pond and returned it to his knapsack.

Paul pulled his cell phone from his left pants pocket, opened it, called 911, and then explained to the dispatcher what he had found and gave her his location. He shook his head as he sat down on the ground to wait and consider how he was going to frame the story of his find.

This story was previously published in the July 2014 issue of Fresh Ink, the journal of the California Writers Club, Inland Empire Branch.

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