In The Woods
[This might be part of my upcoming #RiverNovel  . I'm wondering if the first 5 paragraphs are too dull, boring, slow, or if you easily stick with them to the action.]
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I take a place beside him on a fallen log. It's a crisp Fall day. I like being in the woods. The tree canopy is dense, but sun rays glow through my closed eyelids. The rays peek through the treetops, and light up spots on the ground. My eyes follow the dancing patterns. Just enough breeze passes to keep the spots from forming recognizable shapes. Just enough breeze rustles the treetops, but lets things lie quietly down here. Tension drains from my body, and I soak up the peace here. Memories drift through my mind of other times in other woods: hiking, swimming, snowshoeing.

I look as far as I can, and only see trees. We walked a ways in, so we might not be near any houses or barns. I see no indication of any break for a neighboring field. This is a dense forest that could use a thinning so the understory could get a chance to grow up.

The air is fresh, filtered by the carbon-rich leaves on the ground, and the photosynthesis above. I reach out to hold his hand. He tells me to sit quietly and be still. "They get curious and then come out to see what we are up to."

Strands of his hair sparkle as the sun rays dance on them. I reach out to touch them, then restrain my hand so I don't disturb him.

I wonder when we will eat the lunch I packed. I made fresh bread last night, and used it for the sandwiches. I used a little white flour with the whole wheat, afraid that the pure whole wheat bread might be a bit too dense for him. The combination was easier to knead, and made a fluffy loaf. I know that he likes the sharpest cheddar cheese, so I found some triple-X and sliced it the best I could without crumbling it too much. Tomato rings on mayonnaise on one slice of bread, lettuce on mustard on the other slice, and the cheese in the middle. Carrots and cucumbers sliced into sticks. Macintosh apples for desert. I'm hungry.

Skittering sounds bring me back to where we are. He sets his sights on a squirrel winding its way down a tree and "BOOM" it falls. The sound of the gunshot echoes. He continues to be still, posed for another shot, but all is quiet.

He retrieves the body, and hands it to me with a knife. Both fall. He picks up the horrid things and firmly places them on my lap. I tried to take them, but my hands wouldn't move. I balance everything on my lap while he does whatever he has to do to get ready to do the gutting. I smell what must be the odor of gunpowder and singed fur rising from the squirrel's warm body.

"You do it this time."

My eyes get big and my lungs stiffen. No air in or out. My arms freeze as I try to refuse and hand the squirrel and knife back to him. I focus on my feet being firmly planted on the ground, and think of my stomach being tied to them so it stays down. I wiggle to find a place on the log to sit so my butt holds my body upright.

"Silly girl." He reaches for the items that I want to hand over, but I refuse. I force my body to comply as I lay the squirrel on its back. I find the bottom of its sternum as my target for the end of my cut, just like he taught me at his workshop. I place the tip of the knife in the fur, a bit above where the tail meets the body. I think of the softness of my belly between my pelvic bone and sternum. I have to shut out such similarities in order to continue. Another deep breath. I press the tip of the knife into the flesh, just enough to cut through the skin, but not enough to pierce any organs. I hold the blade at an angle so the back of the knife slides along the belly fat, and the tip slices up the middle of the belly from the vent to the sternum. I pull the skin back to open the cavity, and an odor releases that I haven't smelled in years. It reminds me of the head cheese or beef tongue that my mother thinks are special treats. I use my fingertips to scoop out the internal organs. I toss these off to the side, and scrub my hands on my jeans.

My lungs close again as I hand the gutted squirrel to him. A small breath, and I need to empty my bladder. I excuse myself and stifle sobs, trying to disguise them as allergies. He doesn't seem to notice as he says, "This squirrel had plenty of fat, so you did a fine job of missing her gall bladder. If you had broken that, we couldn't have used the meat."
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Photo Credit: Squirrel On Tree by Jon Sullivan. Image in the Public Domain, no rights reserved. Modified by me.
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