Suspense and Mystery!
Jack trudged up the mountain trail. His wife Rebecca walked briskly ahead of him. He stopped for the third time, trembling on wobbly legs while bracing himself against a tree. His voice strained and barely audible, he said to Rebecca.
“Wait, I need to rest. How much longer?” His legs gave way as he slumped to the ground next to a boulder.
Rebecca, who was in great physical shape, turned around to look at her husband. The sight of him in such a pitiful condition disgusted her, especially after what happened between the two of them. He reminded her of their failed marriage, of his infidelity and betrayal but after visiting a shrink ordered by the courts, they both agreed to give their marriage another try.
“Get up Jack” Her voice held no emotion in it. “We need to reach our campsite before dark.”
He glanced in her direction still breathing heavily. “You know I can’t stand camping. Let’s turn back and find something else to do. Come on what do you say?”
Rebecca stared blankly at her husband. She had given him so much over the years.
“Yes, but it’s part of the agreement we made with Dr. Reynolds. Spend time together, discuss what happened and move on, right? Yes, she thought to herself, that was the agreement but was she ready to move on? She wasn’t sure.
He held his hand up as if he were a bank robber caught in a hold-up.
“Fine, fine. You win.” His voice filled with anger and sarcasm. He readjusted his backpack and hoisted it onto his shoulders where it landed evenly between his shoulder blades.
Rebecca watched him, admiring his physical strength and good looks.
“After you.” He said holding out his hand as if he were a true gentleman. Rebecca scoffed. She knew better.
They continued their trek along the mountain path. With only two miles to go Rebecca turned to her thoughts to Jack and their marriage. She couldn’t help but feel resentful. After all, he cheated on her with a young girl who worked in his office. He said it was a fling with the usual excuse, “It didn’t mean a thing followed by a hearty I love you.” But she wasn’t convinced. There had been others.
She didn’t understand why he did this to her? Didn’t he know how much he hurt her? How could he betray their marriage and her trust? Rebecca felt confused yet she was willing to give him another chance. They both agreed to work on their relationship together but somehow, she knew it wasn’t going to work out. She thought Jack knew it too.
When they reached their campsite high in the Sierra Nevada’s Rebecca was overjoyed. An outdoor person all her life, she marveled at the beauty of their surroundings. Jack, on the other hand, didn’t like the same things she did. His idea of a good time was reading the stock market and playing golf. She hated golf.
Together, she and Jack went about setting up camp. First their tent, then they arranged the kitchen which wasn’t much work. They had a simple single gas burner, a pot, and some dehydrated Beef Stroganoff they planned to cook for dinner.
During dinner, Rebecca waited for the right time to discuss their situation but Jack spoke idly of other subjects rather than the topic at hand until Rebecca became so angry, she asked him point-blank.
“Jack,” she said setting her dinner plate next to her on the ground. “What is it that girl has that I don’t. Am I really so unattractive to you?” She held his gaze. Rebecca wasn’t going to let this go.
Jack squirmed in the folding chair he sat in next to the fire. He stared into the flames finding solace in their flickering dance rather than with his wife.
“Becca”, his tone almost sounded apologetic. “I told you she meant nothing to me. It’s not that she’s better than you. It’s more like the thrill of the conquest.”
With raised eyebrows, Rebecca replied,” So you sleep with other women for sport?” She stood up and walked away from the fire. Rebecca knew she was a smart woman. A CEO at her company, a great athlete, she had everything she needed in life except one thing. Love. She glanced at her husband who sat like a stone mesmerized by the fire. She knew his thoughts were a million miles away. An undeniable sense of defeat overwhelmed her.
Rebecca yawned. Tired after a long day of hiking and emotionally drained after being in the company of her husband, she prepared for bed. She thought of Dr. Reynolds. He will be disappointed in both of them but it didn’t matter. Rebecca knew what she had to do and it was final.
“I’m going to bed.” She announced over her shoulder and walked to her tent. Jack didn’t answer.
She climbed inside the tent and scooted herself deep down into her sleeping bag where she abruptly fell asleep. The next morning Rebecca woke with a jolt. She felt a knot burrowing itself into the center of her stomach as if something was wrong. She looked for Jack who had laid beside her for thirteen years. She glanced at his sleeping bag. It remained neatly made but stiff and cold from the frost during the night. Jack never slept there!
Rebecca struggled out of her sleeping bag and ran outside into the cool morning air. Still not fully awake she rubbed her eyes as if forcing them to focus and take in her surroundings. She noticed an eerie stillness in the air. Not even a bird or the wind rustled within the leaves of the trees.
Once she was able to focus clearly, she gasped aloud at what she saw around her. The firepit smoldered from last night’s fire but the camp itself was in ruins. Their chairs, the contents of their backpacks lay strewn around all over the ground with no sign of Jack anywhere.
Panic set in. “Jack! Jack!” Rebecca yelled over and over again desperately calling for her husband. “Jack where are you??”
Rebecca ran around the perimeter of their campsite until she reached their car. On the adjacent side facing away from the camp she saw something she had never seen in her life. It made her want to vomit.
There, next to the passenger’s side lay a pool of blood leading away from the car; a visible blood trail that disappeared into the forest.
“Jack!!” she screamed. “Answer me!”
Rebecca began to cry but quickly pulled herself together. Her mind raced with all sorts of scenarios but one thought constantly played in her mind. She had to find Jack. She looked around hoping to see someone who could help but no one appeared. She was alone, scared, and vulnerable just as she had been most of her life. She hid it well but never did she expect a situation such as this one.
Her mind reeled with confusion and fear. I have to find him she thought. What if someone hurt him? What if the same person was watching her now? The only memories of the night before were dinner, their conversation, and when she went to bed. Jack remained by the fire. Why didn’t he wake her up if there was a problem?
Rebecca stared at the blood trail leading off into the forest. Finally, she decided there was only one thing to do if she wanted to find out what happened to Jack. The blood trail would lead her to an answer and she was going to follow it no matter where or what it lead to.
Rebecca forced her wobbly legs to carry her. She went to the car, pulled out the first aid kit, a bottle of water, her purple bandana, a flashlight, a granola bar, and shoved them into her day pack. Then she found a fallen branch from one of the pines, it was just her height which she planned to use as a walking stick or a club; whichever came first.
The sunlight shone onto the ground turning the bloodstains to a crimson red. Staring into the forest, she took a deep breath and walked towards the tree line while following the blood trail on the ground. She wasn’t sure what she might find but the blood surely lead to the truth of where Jack was.
Rebecca crept towards the trees. As she entered further into the forest the blood became less noticeable. The forest lay shrouded in Pines and Junipers. Large boulders dotted the land in every direction.
She soon found a well-worn path directly in line with the trail of blood. Did he come this way? She wondered. Her heart pounded wildly while gripping the fallen branch with all her strength.
Rebecca continued on the path; her senses became hyperactive making her jump at every sound. She never felt so alone and so scared as she did at that moment. She almost laughed out loud. Here she was, a woman who never lost control suddenly turned into the size and strength of a frightened mouse. This was new territory for her. A territory of fear and uncertainty much like her recent problems with Jack.
Suddenly, something fluttered in the tree above her head. She looked up into the tall pine and saw a large barn owl staring back at her.
“Silly bird.” She muttered out loud. Why would I let such a beautiful creature scare me? Her thoughts turned to Jack again.
“Jack! Jack!” she screamed into the silent forest. No answer.
Startled, the owl opened its wings and took flight. Rebecca decided to follow it. She didn’t understand her reasoning but something told her the owl would lead her somewhere.
After another mile or so she saw a quaint cabin nestled on the edge of the river. Smoke rose from the chimney. Rebecca noticed many flowerpots near the front door which suggested a woman lived there. Relieved to have found someone who might help her she hurried its wooden door and knocked.
Soft footsteps from inside the cabin approached. When the door opened, Rebecca stood face to face with an attractive middle-aged woman dressed in jeans and a blue plaid shirt. Her light brown hair worn long was braided on the side and hung just past her shoulder.
The woman stared at Rebecca.
“Can I help you?” The woman was cautious. She never received visitors out here unless they came by car. The town was over thirty miles away. How did this woman get here?
Rebecca, seeing the woman’s concern quickly explained her husband was missing. When she told the woman about her campsite being ruined and the blood trail the woman took a step back. Tears began to flow as Rebecca pleaded with her for help at least to drive her into town so she can start a search party. She had to find her husband.
The woman’s face softened. She gently put an arm around Rebecca’s shoulders and invited her inside.
“What is your name, dear?” she inquired.
“Becca, no, Rebecca Jameson. She replied, still slightly confused.
The woman led her to the kitchen table. “Rebecca my name is Anne. I can’t take you into town until the morning but you’re welcome to spend the night here.” She smiled at Rebecca while filling the tea kettle with water from the kitchen sink.
“Would you like a cup of tea? It might settle your nerves.”
Rebecca’s face contorted with pain. She broke out in sobs of relief. Anne was going to help her, she knew it. Her worry over Jack subsided momentarily as she allowed Anne to comfort her and take care of her as any mother figure would do.
In between sobs she pleaded, “Please. Help me find Jack. He’s done terrible things in the past but I love him so. It’s not like him to disappear and the blood! Oh my god, what will I do?” she buried her face in her hands.
Anne hugged her. She told Rebecca first thing in the morning they would take a ride into town and speak to the local sheriff. Anne showed Rebecca where she could shower and sleep for the night. She made sure to leave a fresh change of clothes for her on the bed in the guest room.
After Rebecca showered, Anne knocked on the door to Rebecca’s room. “Is there anything else I can get you, Rebecca?”
Rebecca sat on the edge of the bed nervously clasping her hands together in her lap. “No, thank you, Anne. You’re very kind.”
Anne smiled and wondered about this strange woman and her story. Where did she come from? There wasn’t a homestead for miles around. The only possible answer was the national park which butted against her property.
“Tomorrow we’ll leave directly after breakfast. Get some sleep and I’ll see you in the morning.”
Anne closed the door leaving Rebecca alone with her thoughts. Visions of her life with Jack flashed through her mind. Rebecca shuddered underneath the covers. Although the night was still, she heard an owl not far away. It must be hunting she thought. She wondered if it was the same owl she saw in the forest earlier during the day. Her eyes lids became so heavy she soon fell fast asleep. She slept but not without dreaming of Jack.
The next morning after a light breakfast, the two women climbed into Anne’s Chevy pick-up and started for town. Rebecca stared straight ahead never offering one word of the conversation. Anne decided it was up to her to discover more about who this woman was and why she wandered in the forest alone.
“Sanderson is just a few more miles. I’ll take you to the sheriff’s office. Sheriff Taylor is a great person. If anyone can find your husband he can.” She smiled in Rebecca’s direction who sat in the passenger’s seat.
Rebecca didn’t look at her or return her smile. Instead, she nervously looked down at her hands. Rebecca gripped them tightly to keep them from shaking.
“Thank you, Anne.” She said.
The drive into town didn’t take as long as Anne originally thought. She pulled the truck up to the sheriff’s office and parked.
“Honey,” She said while fumbling with her purse. “You stay here. I’ll go get the sheriff. I know him personally. I won’t be long.” Anne flashed Rebecca a reassuring smile.
Anne slid out of the truck and hurried to the door of the sheriff’s office. She hoped he wasn’t on call. She had a strange feeling about this woman. Something didn’t add up to her story. She desperately needs to talk to Sheriff Taylor.
As she rounded the corner to his office, she found him with his feet propped up on his desk sipping a newly poured cup of coffee. One of twelve she assumed. Ben Taylor drank too much coffee. No wonder he had kidney stones.
“Ben!” she exclaimed upon entering the office.
Sheriff Taylor jumped at the sound of her voice nearly spilling the coffee down the front of his shirt. Without looking up, he recognized her voice immediately. They had known each other since high school.
He grabbed a tissue from the Kleenex box on his desk and wiped his shirt.
“Anne,” he said enthusiastically. “What brings you here so early on this fine morning?”
Anne smiled, secretly acknowledging how handsome and well preserved he was for a man his age. Not that sixty was old but he did look slightly different since his days as their high school running back.
“Oh, you know me. Just in the neighborhood. Thought I’d stop by.”
Sheriff Taylor set his coffee cup on his desk and stood up to face her. With a hand resting on each hip, he looked at her in a humorous accusing way and said, “Come on Anne, you never just stop by. What going on?”
Anne’s smile changed to a furrowed look of worry. She stepped towards him.
“Ben, yesterday a woman showed up at my door claiming her husband disappeared while they were camping out at Lion’s Bluff. The scene she described has me worried. It’s not normal Ben. She talked about blood and her entire camp had been thrashed and destroyed. Can you go up there and check it out?”
Exhausted, Anne sunk into the nearest chair.
“Where is she?”
“She’s outside waiting in the truck.”
“Okay, I’ll have a talk with her. I’ll need some information so I can do a background check on her and her husband.”
“Thank you, Ben.” She reached up and touched his arm. “This girl needs help.”
“Don’t worry, Anne. You did the right thing in bringing her here.”
Together they walked out to the truck where they found Rebecca seated inside. When she saw them, Rebecca jumped out, eager to speak with Sheriff Taylor. The Sheriff respectfully removed his hat upon meeting her.
“Sheriff Taylor? Please, I need your help!” Rebecca’s eyes were wide with fright. “We have to find my husband.”
“Yes ma’am, and that’s what we’re going to do but I need some information from you first before I can start a search party.”
He produced a small notebook from his shirt pocket along with a pencil. Rebecca placed her hand on her forehead in an effort to stay calm.
“My name is Rebecca Jameson. My husband is Jackson Jameson.”
“And where exactly were you camping when this happened?” Sheriff Taylor asked while jotting down her information.
“We were just below Lion’s Bluff.”
“Oh yes,” recognizing the name. “I know the place.” He popped the notebook closed and stuffed it back into his shirt pocket along with the pencil. He smiled politely at the two women.
By this time Anne was about ready to jump out of her skin. His calm demeanor in emergency situations always bothered her.
“Ladies, I’m going to check up on a few things before we start the search.” He repositioned his cowboy hat on top of his head and placed a hand on Anne’s shoulder.
“Anne why don’t you two find something to do and meet me here in an hour.”
She looked at Ben inquisitively. “Sure Ben, if you think that’s best.”
“But what about Jack? Rebecca demanded. “We can’t just stand around and go window shopping while he’s out there alone and possibly hurt?”
“We’ll do something, Ma’am. I assure you.”
Sheriff Taylor started to walk away then turned around, held up his finger at Anne, and said in a stern voice.
“One hour Anne.”
Anne, feeling overwhelmed and distraught, watched him hurry away. She stood on the sidewalk watching him until he disappeared from sight. Then she turned towards Rebecca who she thought stood next to her but when she turned around, Rebecca was gone.
“Rebecca?” Anne shaded her eyes with her hand and looked up and down the busy street for signs of the young woman but she was nowhere to be found. She darted across the street after she caught a glimpse of a woman who resembled her. She stood gazing into the window of a clothing store.
“Rebecca? What are you doing here? We’re supposed to wait in front of the precinct for Sheriff Taylor.”
Rebecca turned around. Her face wore a child-like expression. She appeared not to have a care in the world.
“Hi Anne, I thought it would be fun to do a little shopping while I’m here.” She replied with a dazed expression.
“Shopping?” Anne asked with surprise. “What about Jack? Don’t you want to find him?”
Rebecca swung her head around and gave Anne a sinister look. “Not really Anne, I don’t think he’ll be back anytime soon.”
Bewildered and confused, Anne watched Rebecca, who acted like a different person, walk into the dress shop to try on some of their clothes. This wasn’t the same woman who appeared at her door just 24 hours ago. She was so frightened and scared. The woman in the dress shop had no remorse for her missing husband. According to Anne, it looked as if she didn’t care.
An hour passed when Anne called Rebecca out of the shop and told her they needed to go back to the precinct. Sheriff Taylor wants to speak with her. Secretly, Anne wanted to speak with the Sheriff herself. Something wasn’t right with Rebecca and she wanted to know why.
Reluctantly, Rebecca left the store. They walked about a half-block back to the precinct where they found Sheriff Taylor waiting for them. Rebecca sat down on a bench in front of the building while Anne spoke with Ben.
“Anne, where have you been? I’ve waited here for over 20 minutes?”
“We went shopping.” She looked into his eyes. They were full of concern and annoyance.
“Shopping? He exclaimed; his voice grew angry. “The woman’s husband is missing, she said there was a pool of blood leading into the woods and she wants to go shopping?”
“Ben, please calm down. Something is different about Rebecca.” She leaned closer to him so Rebecca wouldn’t hear. “Yesterday, when she appeared at the cabin, she looked so scared but now, it’s as if she doesn’t remember anything and when I mentioned her husband, Jack? She wasn’t concerned at all about where he was. In fact, she said she didn’t think he was coming back anytime soon. Ben, I’m worried. There’s more to this story but I don’t know what it is.”
Ben sighed. He held a piece of paper in his hand Anne hadn’t noticed before. “Anne there is more to the story. That’s why I was so desperate for you to get here.” He looked in Rebecca’s direction then at Anne. “We have a problem.”
At that moment another officer approached them. “Sheriff Taylor, should I take her inside now?”
“What?” asked Anne. “What’s happening?”
Ben rested a reassuring hand across Anne’s back
“Sure Bill. Take her into the lobby. I’ll be there in a minute.”
The officer walked up to Rebecca and spoke kindly to her urging her to accompany him inside which she did obligingly.
“Ben Taylor, I insist you tell me what’s going on,” Anne demanded angrily.
“Come on Anne, sit down with me.” He walked with her to the bench and sat down.
“Anne, Rebecca has had some real trouble. The story she told you about her husband, the camp being destroyed, and the blood? It wasn’t true.”
Anne’s mouth dropped open in surprise. “What do you mean, Ben? How couldn’t it be true? I saw her. She was a mess! I’ve never seen someone so frightened.”
Ben lowered his head before continuing. “I ran a background check on both her and her husband. I also went to Lion’s bluff where she said they camped.”
“And what did you find?”
“Well, her car was there. She definitely camped there but there wasn’t any blood and the campsite was in perfect order.” He hesitated briefly. “Anne, her husband Jack, he died two years ago.”
Anne was speechless.
“It appears that Rebecca has been in and out of mental hospitals following her husband’s death.”
“Oh my god, Ben, that can’t be.”
“I’m afraid it is. Her doctor is a man named Mathew Reynolds. I’ve called him. He’s on his way. Should be here within the hour.”
Ben stood up. “Now we wait. The doctor may be able to fill in the rest of the details. I’m sorry you had to go through this Anne but you did Rebecca a great service in bringing her here. She’s a danger to herself and possibly other people.”
Anne suddenly felt weak in the knees. “Ben, if you don’t mind, I’ll stay here for a while.”
“Sure thing, I’ll be inside if you need me.” He smiled warmly at her and patted her shoulder. “Don’t worry.” He said and walked away.
Anne sat in front of the precinct mulling over the recent events of the past 24 hours. She shuddered to think she invited Rebecca inside her home not knowing of her mental condition. She wanted to help. That’s what she’s always done. She helps people who are in trouble.
Anne realized she fell into one of her familiar patterns. She couldn’t rescue herself from the world and the wounds she acquired from the harshness of life but she never failed to try to rescue someone else to make up for her misgivings. This time, things went too far.
She thought of Ben. Her friend and her rock when she needed him. Thank goodness she went to him for help. Anne sat on the bench still lost in thought when she heard someone speak to her. She looked up and saw an elderly man dressed in a brown suit. He wore glasses and held various file folders in the crook of his arm.
He smiled kindly at her. “Excuse me, do you know where I might find Sheriff Taylor?”
“And who are you?” She asked.
“My name is Mathew Reynolds. I’m here to pick up Rebecca Jameson?”
Anne jumped up off the bench. “Dr. Reynolds, yes, I’ll take you right to him. Please follow me.”
Anne and Dr. Reynolds entered the precinct. She saw Rebecca speaking to one of the woman officers but didn’t make mention of it. Instead, she lead the doctor straight to Ben’s office where she found him scribbling away on a file.
“Ben? This is Dr. Reynolds.”
Sheriff Taylor stood up and held out his hand. “It’s a pleasure to meet you. Sir.”
“The pleasure is all mine Sheriff. “He said returning the handshake.
“Please sit down.” Anne motioned towards the empty chair in front of Ben’s desk.
Dr. Reynolds sat down and began his story. “I don’t need to go into the details of my patient’s history and I understand she hasn’t been charged with anything, correct?”
“Yes, Doctor, that’s correct. We’ll release her into your care but we do have questions concerning Miss Jameson. I ran a background check on her and her husband. Her husband died a few years ago and Miss Jameson? What happened to her?”
Dr. Reynolds sat up in his chair. “Look, I’m not permitted to breach patient-doctor confidentiality but in answer to your question, let’s say Mr. Jameson didn’t die of natural causes.”
Anne’s interest in the story perked up. She wanted to hear more.
“After his death, she was committed to a psychiatric hospital for acute Schizophrenia. She claimed he’s still alive and he visits here on a regular basis. During her hearing, instead of going to jail, we plead insanity and the court sentenced her to twenty years at Woodland Hospital Mental Institution. Unfortunately, she’s managed to escape a number of times.”
Ben tapped his pen on the desk and soaked in the information about Rebecca. Both Ben and Anne were silent for a few moments until Ben suddenly stood up to shake the doctor’s hand.
“Doctor, I appreciate your coming out here all this way but I’m glad you did for Miss Jameson’s sake.” He looked towards the lobby. “Bill! Get in here!”
Officer Bill appeared immediately in the doorway.
“Take Doctor Reynolds to retrieve Miss Jameson. They’re free to go.”
“Yes Sir, right away.”
A wave of relief washed over Anne. She sat down in one of the chairs not realizing until that moment how tired she was.
Dr. Reynolds reached his hand out to Ben. “Thank you, Sheriff. I need to get Miss Jameson back to Woodland as soon as possible. I appreciate your cooperation and help with this.”
“You’re very welcome, Doctor. Safe travels.” Ben returned the handshake. Doctor Reynolds smiled at Anne before leaving and promptly left the room.
Sheriff Taylor walked to the door and closed it. “It’s been a long day.”
“Long?” replied Anne. “I’m exhausted and so relieved Rebecca is on her way back to Woodland where she will get some help. That is if she doesn’t escape again.”
Anne was thoughtful for a few moments then she said, “So the doctor implied she killed her husband?”
Ben nodded wearily.
“He didn’t say why?”
“I don’t want to know why and I don’t suppose we ever will. Enough about that Anne. Say, why is it you only visit me when you’re in trouble?”
Anne was taken aback by his comment. “Who me? Why Ben Taylor, I’ve known you for so many years and you’re the Sheriff. Of course, I come to you if I need to.”
He looked at her teasingly. “I think we make a pretty good team, don’t you?”
“Well, I haven’t thought of it like that but yes, we do work well together.”
She stood up preparing to leave by throwing her purse over her shoulder.
“I’ve got to run. I suppose I’ll see you around sometime.” Their eyes met. She noticed a softness in his face she hadn’t seen before.
Smiling at her he said, “Sure Anne. Oh hey” he snapped his fingers as if remembering something. “Now that I think of it, I have a spousal abuse case I need to investigate. I sure could use your expertise. I’m due to meet the couple tomorrow around 3 pm. How about joining me?” He shot her a hopeful glance.
Anne felt flattered but was also taken by surprise. She readily agreed to go with him. She retired long ago as a Social Worker when she married her late husband. After many years had passed with no family or children, she felt alone most of the time. The idea of returning to her job was certainly appealing especially if it meant spending time with Ben.
“You’re on.” She smiled back at him. “I’ll see you here tomorrow.”
Ben nodded carefully not to show too much excitement.
“Great.” He said, “See you then.”
Anne walked out the door. Her heart fluttered all the way to her truck. Sometimes a crisis leads us to new beginnings and understanding things we thought were impossible to comprehend. That day, Anne discovered she still had a purpose in life and the chance of loving again hadn’t abandoned her either.