On a morning in the last weeks of summer when fall began to conquer Earth, the sun rose ever so slowly above the horizon, and the wind rustled the leaves in the treetops and made the branches gently sway from side to side in the breeze. Some leaves fell on the grass below, disconnected from the roots of life, left to wither away and die alone. Those that had suffered the same fate simply blew around near the ground, falling helplessly but with grace nonetheless. The grass moved with the leaves, giving in to the silent breeze, the morning dew that coated it evaporating into the air. The scene was like crack for poets and painters and outdoorsmen and those who enjoy the gentle touch of Mother Nature.
To those who pay attention to the calendar, it was the first day of September. But nature does not go by a clock or a calendar, for time is but a human concept, a way to measure the movements of nature and prepare for its typical changes. To the grass and the trees and the leaves blowing about, the sun was rising above the horizon after a night of unforgiving rain. The birth of daylight was simply the continuation of an endless and repetitive routine, and at that moment, it was the only thing that mattered to the elements of nature.
Some liked to spend their mornings in the park. It was a nice break from the urban prison that surrounded the freedom of the outdoors, a little patch of fresh air and peace in a city trashed by pollution and hurry. People jogged and bicycled all along the dirt trails forged throughout the park. The trees and the ways of nature in the park were too familiar to those who frequented it, as though the park were another home for them. Likewise, there were always one or two homeless people sleeping in the park on any given night, for cold as the night may be among the trees, the sense of protection and comfort was all too good to pass up. The joggers seldom bothered the homeless, the homeless seldom bothered the joggers, and Mother Nature seldom bothered either.
And as the sun rose above the horizon to welcome September, a single line of tire tracks cut down the middle of one of the dirt trails. The serenity and silence of nature’s realm were interrupted by the buzz of a bicycle speeding down the trail, like a bee flying between flowers. The bicyclist pedaled as hard as he possibly could, barely taking time to slow down and enjoy his surroundings, for time and timeliness meant everything to him. He had only been gone for about twenty minutes, according to his watch—about halfway through his ride.
He was rather good at bicycling down the park’s many trails, and it had been his preferred morning exercise for years. He cared about money almost as much as he cared about time, for he had a lot, perhaps too much, of both. The trails were all too familiar to him, the terrain holding no surprises unless perhaps a storm should strike down a tree or two. No major surprises were in store for him that morning except that the ground was slightly damper and the leaves were a little bit browner. Few big rocks were present on the trail, the trees offered a blanket of protection from the blinding, squelching sunlight, and on occasion, he would pass by a black-tailed deer frolicking among the trees. That’s the way he liked it.
There was an old tree stump that he marked as the halfway point of his morning rides. It belonged to a Monterey cypress before it gave into a storm and fell a few years ago. The stump was slanted upward, just perfect for leaning against, and a little bit of moss layered the very top of it. He would often sit there for just long enough to catch his breath and hydrate, but he often just enjoyed the surroundings, the birds chirping, the trees swaying in the wind. And on that morning, he did just that—careful not to dampen his clothes as he leaned back on the rain-stricken stump, of course—before mounting on his bike once again and making his way back to the trailhead.
He wasn’t too far away from the trailhead—perhaps only three or four minutes—when he pushed down on the pedal with his foot and it refused to turn. The bicycle pedals revolved fluidly and flawlessly throughout the ride, and he bought it only the week before, so why would it break down? Whatever the reason, he pushed down on the pedal again and squeezed the hand brakes as hard as he could.
“Shit!” he yelled as gravity got the best of him. He fell as effortlessly as a leaf falling to the ground in the wind, his shoulder colliding with the ground, his bicycle landing on top of him.
He sat on the ground, the mud staining his clothes, the breeze blowing past his face like a paintbrush moving across a canvas. The trailhead was about ten minutes away by foot, but the sharp pain in his shoulder compelled him to simply sit in the mud and stare at his broken bicycle. He saw mud caked onto the chain and groaned as he rubbed his face with his dirty hands, the intense pain in his shoulder turning his groans into anguished screams. Perhaps someone will come along and help, he thought as he looked around the area, hoping to see a figure coming toward him or hear some rustling in the woods. He sighed and otherwise sat curled into a ball on the side of the dirt trail, turning his head from side to side every now and then, holding onto his shoulder with the opposite hand.
Not ten minutes passed before he heard footsteps coming from the direction of the trailhead. He turned his head and smiled as a young man wearing a black tracksuit emerged from around the bend, sprinting down the trail, kicking up dirt with each step. The young man looked at him and slammed the brakes on his legs, stopping dead in his tracks, his eyes wide as he looked down at him.
“You need any help?” the young man asked, pulling his earbuds out and stuffing them in his pocket.
The injured man could feel the young man’s eyes searching for something, his stare piercing his soul, having a look around as though he was an open house. But he nodded his head and explained, “My bike is broken. I think I dislocated my shoulder.”
The young man knelt in front of the man, reaching his hands toward him. “May I?” the young man asked. The injured man nodded and removed his hand from his shoulder as the young man pulled the injured man’s neckline over his shoulder, revealing a giant purple bruise, almost as dark as amethyst and with a small hill-like bump in the middle.
“Can you put it back?” the injured man asked.
The young man shook his head. “Looks to me like you broke it. We should get you to a hospital.”
Great, the injured man thought. Tons of hospitals in the city and none of them are any good. He sighed and said, “Well, if we’re going to move forward, I’d rather do it on a first-name basis. I’m Will.”
“I’m Dart.” The young man smiled as he covered Will’s shoulder with the shirt.
“Dart? Like the bar game?”
Nodding his head, Dart replied, with a tinge of annoyance in his voice, “Yes, like the bar game. It turns out my parents like to party; what can I say?”
Dart stood up and reached his hand out to Will. Will’s hand—chapped, scraped, and covered in dirt—met Dart’s, and he picked himself up and met Dart’s eyes. Dart had something in his eyes, an island of happiness slowly drowning in a sea of regret, like a weird smoothie that one cannot help but taste. The look in his eyes was coupled with a smile stricken with pity, lips without teeth, definitely forced. Alas, Will’s need for help was more important than his distrust of strangers, and he could fend for himself anyway.
Dart led Will off the trail and among the trees. The ground became rougher and rockier, and the openness of the park became crowded with trees. Will looked behind him, his eyes widening. The dirt trail was gone, blanketed by layers of wilderness, and he looked up, the sky only occasionally peeking through the cracks in the leaves. There was no one around except him and Dart, and the trees echoed that.
“Where are we going?” Will asked.
“We’re taking a shortcut.” Dart was focused in front of him and walked in a straight line, almost mindlessly and robot-like.
“What about the bike?”
“We’ll get it later.”
“That bike cost me five hundred dollars.”
“I said we’ll get it later.” There was a pang of frustration in his voice, as though Will were inconveniencing him. Dart sighed, a slight smile coming about his face. “Did you hear about those murders in the Headlands? Police found the bodies stabbed underneath some redwoods. I think one of them was bludgeoned too.”
Will stopped walking, a bead of sweat running down his face. “I really think we should head back to the trail.”
Dart laughed, his hand retreating to his pocket. “Don’t be ridiculous. You’re going to a hospital, remember?”
“I’d really rather go back to the trail. I promise I can manage on my own.”
Dart spun around, rage striking his expression. “I said don’t be ridiculous!” he yelled, the trees absorbing his words. He withdrew something from his pocket, a blade about as big as his hand, and lunged toward Will, the blade raised in the air. In the blink of an eye, the blade pierced Will’s skin, tearing through his body, the blade’s serrated edge ripping open one of his lungs.
Will screamed, his voice broken and gargling, the taste of blood filling his mouth. He fell to the ground and looked up at the treetops of the Monterey cypresses he loved so much, his vision becoming lighter and blurrier. He could no longer see or hear Dart, but only some rustling nearby, and after a few agonizing moments, he saw Dart standing over him and bringing a heavy rock down on his face. Will flinched as the rock came closer, his eyes closing, a quick breath of woodland air entering his nose. It was not long before Dart was the only living and breathing person standing among those trees.
Dart retrieved the blade and dragged the corpse across the ground, propping it against a tree. The head, smashed-in and covered with fresh, strawberry-red blood, hung downward as though it were looking at the stab wound. He sprinkled some leaves on the corpse, and the trees helped him with that. Dart made his way back to the trail, the broken bicycle becoming visible not long after, the corpse probably already starting to rot away underneath the tree. On the trail and in the parking lot, he wore a toothy smile and greeted passersby, the gruesome murder utterly absent from his mind. Perhaps he would disappear into the Marin Headlands or make his way down to the Monterey Peninsula.
The trees and the leaves and the creatures who live among them were not concerned with time. They move with the wind and the weather and remain unbothered, silently awaiting all that was yet to come. By then, the sun was entirely above the horizon, and people outside the park were waking up and drinking their morning coffee, some of them already on their way to work, others coming home from a long night. Society had welcomed September on a gorgeous day after such a stormy night. On occasion, when the wind separated the leaves and let the clear blue sky slightly come into view, the sun shone down on the park and illuminated the remains of an innocent bicyclist.
Hayden Sidun is a high school student whose short fiction has appeared in The Dillydoun Review, Adelaide Literary Magazine, Literary Yard, Button Eye Review, The Chamber Magazine, and Potato Soup Journal. Outside of school and work and when not writing, he is involved in local politics and often finds himself sorting through his thoughts and surfing the Internet in the middle of the night. He lives in the San Francisco Bay Area, of which he is a proud native.