It is funny how the memory can selectively remove things and pack them away for a time much, much later in life. These things get packed into a box and tucked away nicely in whatever place your mind has room. A closet... a deep dark well... a vault... whatever seems the most fitting. Once they are out of sight, they become nonexistent until that moment in time when the mind demands a recall. I suppose it varies from person to person just how many things get packed away, and how often the mind decides to unpack them again. For me, every now and then I find myself in the midst of some menial task, thoughts wandering willy nilly while focusing on whatever it is I am in the middle of, when all of a sudden... BAM! ... a long lost chapter in my life suddenly drives to the forefront of my mind.
Today, for no apparent reason, my mind decided it was time to recall something from a very long time ago...
Nearly thirty years ago, I found myself walking alone on the shoulder of a two lane road that was almost, but not quite a highway. It was an absolutely beautiful summer day. Blue skies, towering white cumulous clouds, and just enough heat to wish for a poolside seat where one could enjoy the scenery. I was in the area of eighteen years old when this story takes place. While I have physically filled out quite a bit since then, at the time I was a lanky kid... pretty much all muscle and bone. I stood five foot nine and weighed around a hundred fifty pounds. Despite not being a very sizeable young man, I was in good shape and knew how to take care of myself.
The road I found myself traveling wound a flat and curvy path of roughly a mile and a half, maybe two miles long. It was bookended on one end by a very bad neighborhood, and a busy street which led to another bad neighborhood at the other end. At almost exactly the halfway point of this road was the end of a runway to the airport in our city. A very tall, chain link fence kept people from tresspassing on airport property. It also kept people from getting run over by airplanes. On both sides of the road tall, marshy reeds crowded the gravel shoulder in both directions. With the bad neighborhood a fair distance behind me, I was nearing the point in the road where the airport could be seen off to my right.
As I walked, almost no cars passed me by. Maybe a car here, and a car there. Otherwise, nothing but me could be seen traveling the road. There were no buildings. There were no sidewalks. There were no trees or people. Just me, the road, and the reeds. I was enjoying my solitary walk when suddenly I could hear a car approaching from behind me... I could hear it slowing down... then it was right next to me... slowly keeping pace with me. I turned my head left to see what the hell this person wanted, and what I saw made my blood go all icy. It took a great deal of willpower to hide the fear I felt.
It was a beat up, blue four door car that kept pace with me. The make and model I cannot even be sure of... I didn't take time to notice that. What riveted my attention was the driver. Judging by the amount of space he took up in the drivers seat, it was obvious that he was a very large, and very solid human being. He did not have the appearance of having any body fat... very broad shoulders and thickly muscled arms gave the impression that this was an extremely powerful man. His face could be perfectly captured in a single word... vicious. He looked to be in his late twenties and had all of the appearance of a man freshly released from a penitentiary. For whatever reason, this person saw me walking by the roadside with nobody around to see, and he decided to pull up alongside me. There was such malice in his glare that it sent shivers down my spine. The car windows were down. No sound came from inside... no words were spoken in the moment that I looked in. I played it very cool... a gift that I was thankfully born with... and turned my head back to the road and continued walking as if nothing were amiss.
After twenty or thirty steps, the car began to pull away. Keeping my cool, I continued walking. As the car got farther away, my sense of unease suddenly worsened. Roughly a quarter of a mile up the road the brake lights went on. Up ahead, on the left, was a deserted service road that dead ended at the site of an empty utility building that was waiting to be demolished. Trees surrounded the service road, making it hard to even notice. The viscious looking man in the blue car was turning onto the service road!
Without hesitation, the very moment that his line of sight was broken, I turned and dove into the reeds. Having the presence of mind to not leave any discernable trace of entry, I quickly made sure that the reeds still stood up straight, before ducking down and running deeper into them. Luckily, the reeds were very tall... several inches taller than me. I ran carefully into the reeds until I found a spot that I was able to safely duck out of sight. I found a spot maybe thirty yards from the road... one with a vantage that allowed me to see through to the road, yet remain unseen. Peering through gaps in the reeds, I was able to see where the car had turned. Standing stock still, I watched and waited.
After about ten... maybe fifteen minutes... my legs began to shake. I was standing in brackish, mucky water that reached halfway to my knees. My shoes were completely submerged. In order to see the road in a way that gauranteed I could not be seen, I was forced to stand in an awkward way with my knees bent. Just when I thought 'fuckit... I'm just gonna sit down' I saw the front end of the car poke out of the trees. He was waiting. I could almost see him looking my direction to see just where the hell I had gotten off to. I am pretty sure that he had been waiting there out of sight... waiting for me to walk past. After a minute or two, he slowly pulled out and turned his car my direction.
Slowly, he began driving towards me.
I started to feel panicky. I knew that there would be no way that he could know where I was, but worse case scenerios will inevitably play out in your mind during such moments of duress. As the car slowly drew nearer to my hiding spot, I began to wonder if I had concealed my entrance well enough. Did the reeds look natural? Did they look slightly different? Would he stop to investigate and notice my trail just inside the reeds? Was this going to be like the countless slasher films I had grown up watching? As the car got close enough for me to actually see the driver, I could see him looking intently at the reeds on both sides of the road. He was driving at a virtual crawl. For gods sake, why was there absolutely no traffic I wondered. Usually there were at least SOME cars... sometimes ALOT of cars. That day there were nearly none.
When the car drew even with my hiding spot I felt the world slip into slow motion. I saw his face clearly as he looked into the reeds that concealed me. I swear to you now that it felt as if the reeds had suddenly become invisible... insubstantial... and I was fully exposed. This of course was not true. Despite looking directly into the reeds where I was hiding, he kept driving by at that terrifyingly slow pace... all the while looking first this way, then the other way. I watched him drive slowly away until his car eventually was lost to my sight.
Despite the shaking in my legs... and the nearly agonizing cramping from standing in that bent and awkward position... I never moved a muscle. There I stood, nearly knee deep in marshy water, hidden in the reeds during the middle of the day. I was at least a fifteen to twenty minute walk in either direction away from any sort of reprieve. There was nobody to help me if this psychopath happened upon me on the road again. Did he have a gun in that car? A knife? A tire iron? Looking at the size of the guy... would that have even mattered one way or another? I mentioned that I was in great shape and that I could take care of myself. I was also very real about my chances of survival against a MUCH larger man who looked as if he had a savage streak that had already been punished long term in the penal system. It would be safe to say I was pretty much shitting myself as I hid there in the reeds that day.
I remained exactly where I was... motionless as a statue... for at least another ten minutes. Just when I thought that I could not stand there any longer, I saw his car slowly approaching once again. Not moving an inch, I crouched there watching. When he passed me by, his head was still scanning the reeds on both sides of the road. He continued to creep along until finally passing the service road that he had previously hidden upon. Not much further down the road I saw his car pick up speed and finally drive away. Still, I could not muster the courage to simply walk back to the road and continue my solitary journey. Rather, I began to pick my through the reeds in the direction that I had come from in the first place. I had been on my way to visit friends in an old neighborhood where I once lived. It no longer seemed like something I wanted to do... I just wanted to be safe at home for some reason.
After what seemed like an eternity, I managed to make it back home. It was really a commando style trip back to my house, filled with paranoid visions of each and every car containing a psychotic former inmate looking for a fresh victim. But in time... I found my way safe and sound.
It really is funny to me... the fact that I had not even thought about this little event in several decades. I truly had forgotten about it. This event was a perfect example of how survival instincts can kick in at the drop of a hat. No matter where you are, if the situation demands it... your survival senses WILL take over.
Thank you for reading! -John Alexander