Off of the Interstate onto the country highway, heading north, the orange and yellow hills turned to brown as the miles went by and sun set. The small highway was traded for a smaller road. Few lights were on in the little village before an even smaller road led into the pitch black of a moonless night. All of it was lost in a tunnel vision of an endless trip. The familiar dashboard and windscreen were unchanged, the steering wheel a constant. The landscape was a blur. He’d seen it before.
The day had gone by in a blur for Arch. It wasn’t a good blur. Images of strife and argument filled his mind. An argument with Linda as he left for work. And then Paula met him at the door. He had screwed up the report. She had shown him how to do it. If he couldn’t figure it out, why didn’t he ask for help? Didn’t he realize how big the contract was, that loosing it would mean closing their doors for good? The day went downhill from there.
He called Linda at lunch, apologies on his lips, wanting to have an silver lining for the day.
Linda had other ideas.
How big were his responsibilities around the apartment? Not very, and yet he didn’t seem capable of holding up his end. He didn’t cook, clean, do the dishes or the laundry. He didn’t even make the bed and the repair work was handled by the landlord. What was left? And if he couldn’t pay the bills why didn’t he tell her before they threatened to turn off the utilities? He tried to tell her that he had the money, that he’d just forgotten to pay. It wasn’t his fault.
She hung up on him.
Fine. He’d go up north to his father’s camp. In fact, maybe he wouldn’t come back. He’d stay there and live like a real man.
He called Paula and told her we was taking the rest of the day off, but he’d try to have the new, cleaned up report for her when he got back Monday morning. He needed to get away from all of the distractions of the office to work on it.
“Fine, the client meeting is this afternoon, so just leave me to face the wolves alone,” Paula said. “Arch, the man who has never seen a problem so big he couldn’t run away from it. I hope you find a problem so big up there that you can’t run away. May they never find your body.”
“Thanks, I hope you have a good weekend too,” Arch said. “Oh, happy Halloween. I’m assuming you’re wearing your wicked witch costume.”
He then called Linda back and told her his plans.
“Good riddance,” she said. “I’m hoping your stupid woods will eat you alive and not even spit out the bones for a burial. I certainly don’t want to pay to put your good-for-nothing carcass in the ground.”
She hung up before he could formulate a good comeback.
It always seemed that way. Life would go along smoothly and, wham! Out of nowhere he would fall across a woman who’d chew him up, spit him out and leave him without waiting for a response.
His mind raced through teachers, bosses, and girlfriends, all who had conspired to destroy his life. Obviously they had all been jealous of him and had done everything in their power to keep him down. We’ll he’d teach them, he’d show them what he was made of.
He became angrier and angrier as he drove. Secretly he had always felt a cold contempt for the women around him. Now that he knew it was conspiracy he openly cursed them. Everything was their fault. They knew his true worth and didn’t want him to succeed.
As the line of dark trunks rushed by just outside of the car window he had another thought. Woman should be just like the woods, there only for his pleasure. The trees were resources he could use to build or burn. The animals could be hunted for food or for recreation. He could exploit the soil for its sand, gravel and minerals. He didn’t love the woods for its own sake, like the tree-huggers, but because he was always the master when he was there. He was “Man”, the top of the food chain. It was all created just for him. Wasn’t that what the Bible said? That nature and women were only created for men to use, for man’s pleasure?
Arch slammed on the breaks. His car skidded to a stop just inches from the tree lying across the road.
He got out. The tree wasn’t very big, he thought he might be able to muscle it out of the way enough to get by. After an hour he gave up. He was sweaty, scratched up, sore and dirty. More than anything, he was tired. He climbed back into the car. The camp shouldn’t be too far, if he could get past the tree he’d be there in just a few more minutes. As it was he had no idea where he’d go.
He got his phone out to call the police, but there was no signal. He’d have to drive back out to the village, perhaps even to town, an hour back.
The car wouldn’t start.
Arch noticed a light in the woods. Although the area was pretty desolate, there were cabins and hunting lodges around. He’d go over and see if anyone was around who could help him with the tree. Maybe they’d have a chainsaw or something.
The underbrush was heavier than he expected. But the light ahead was clear. It was just in front of him. He pushed through and kept going. The light was always just ahead. Until it wasn’t. The darkness closed in on Arch. He turned to head towards the car, but wasn’t sure of the direction. It was getting cold. The old sweat of his earlier exertion dug into his skin like icy needles. He started to shiver uncontrollably.
The light was back.
A ball of light floated just off of the ground in the middle of a small clearing. He walked towards it. The light shifted and took a form.
A woman was standing in the middle of the clearing, illuminated by an unseen light.
She was beautiful. The cold forgotten, Arch began to feel warm. His shivering changed to shakes of desire.
The woman beckoned and Arch followed. His hatred of all women was long forgotten. His curses aimed at everything female a distant memory. His mind emptied of everything except lust.
For a second reason came back and he tried to ask the woman if she could help him with the car, but the contempt came rushing back as soon as he took his mind off of pure sex. Yes, that’s the reason they exist, he thought. That is it. Like the trees and animals of the forest, they cause all of his problems, but they can be the source of pleasure.
The woman walked to a small rock face. A warm, homey light streamed out of an opening. He followed the woman into the opening, not noticing the wall close behind him. The light went out. He stood, shivering in the complete darkness. And then it began.
They found his car on an old logging road on Monday. The dogs were able to follow his trail for about a quarter of a mile, but then it ran out. The search was called off within a week.
When asked, the locals would only shake their heads and say nature needed to be respected, those who lacked the proper respect sooner or later found themselves in trouble.
Note – When you read the title you should hear Aretha Franklin singing “R-E-S-P-E-C-T”