A COMPLACENT RENDEZVOUS by Birke Duncan
This story first appeared in Signs of Life magazine in 2014. It led directly to the short movie, Runaway Imagination directed by Kevin Veatch. The seven-minute featurette is available on YouTube.
The sun dipped behind the Olympic Mountains. I had ignored my mother’s warnings to stay out of the forest after dark on Bainbridge Island, in Washington State. That’s because I knew the trails so well that I never used a flashlight. One could gaze up, through fir branches and mist, to constellations shining down. You never truly “walk in darkness” on a hike after sunset. Starlight is all around you.
My march took me along the flat, two-lane asphalt street to the single-lane dirt road that led uphill. This was before the woods’ christening as the Grand Forest of Bainbridge. I veered left onto a winding trail, hemmed in by dense, green salal bushes. It was wide enough for one walker.
A familiar series of metallic pings echoed from the broken branch of a Douglas fir. A brown squirrel, with an orange belly, issued a warning call to members of his dray. He probably identified a suspicious human, plodding into their territory.
I continued on a typical, uneventful walk in the gloaming. The crisp air invigorated my pace, up and down several hills. Narrow trails intersected with old logging roads, which remained wide enough for a pick-up truck. I came over a crest, and into a gully.
That’s when I beheld an uncanny figure, between mossy alders, nettles, and salal. A silver-jacketed person stood in the centre of the abandoned logging route. He had two black objects on his shoulders, like the straps of a backpack.
Who was this?
People you meet in the forest are usually walking or jogging, not standing still. It was too dark to hunt mushrooms. I listened for the knocking of a redheaded woodpecker, an animal which someone would stop to watch. Squirrels offered no warning pings. Silence prevailed. Furthermore, the light had dimmed so much that sightseeing seemed out of the question. I couldn’t think of any reason for the stranger’s presence.
I said a tentative, “Hello?”
The pair of black objects slid down the arms of the silver jacket. Had he removed his pack? Was this a challenge to a fistfight? Was he a drug courier awaiting his connection?
Foolishly, I trudged forward, hypnotized by curiosity.
And then the figure split in half, like an iron maiden on a hinge. I knew then what I had seen.
It was a couple of teenagers. The boy wore the silver jacket, and baseball cap, but had had his back to me. I glanced down and noticed that the slim, brunette girl wore black gloves. That’s what had been on the boy’s shoulders. The couple must have been kissing, which would explain why they hadn’t reacted to my footsteps.
I said, “Hi.”
They both said, “Hello.”
I kept walking, and turned a corner, which took me uphill, though not out of earshot.
I overheard the girlfriend say to the boyfriend, “Maybe this isn’t such a good place.”
Somehow, she missed the stars.