“Sassy!” she shouted as she walked. “Come to mommy!” Panic grew with each step and Madeline changed directions again, this time in no particular direction at random. She had become more concerned about the dog than her location. She could hear the voice of her husband chastising her for thinking the dog could handle being off leash. That made her cries grow louder.
“Sa-ssy! Come on baby!” Her voice cracked and her eyes burned with the coming tears. “Come on boy! Let’s go home!” She stopped and listened. Silence. And apart from the light cast by the harvest moon in the gaps of a thick layer of clouds, it was now dark.
Madeline took a deep breath as she surveyed the dark forest around her.
You should have brought a flashlight Maddie, she thought. To her husband, she was Madeline. To her children, she was Mom. She called herself Maddie in the moments she had to get her own attention. Stephen had called her that when he was three drinks into his tippling for the evening and at first it annoyed her as much as his drinking. She wouldn’t have minded the nickname if he had used it when he was sober but he never did. It was only when he had lowered a few barriers that he decided to get overly friendly with her. Or anyone. After the divorce, she found herself calling herself Maddie more and more and she found she liked the name when it wasn’t coming out of her ex-husband.
Judging from where the moon was, she roughly knew the direction back to the house. Kind of. She walked for 5 minutes in what she thought was the right direction, all the while keeping an eye and an ear open for Sassy. Looking up at the moon again, she gauged she was walking in the right direction but shifted 15 degrees to the left when she should have turned right. She walked for another 10 minutes before deciding she was no less lost than when she started when she heard a rustling in the leaves to her left again.
“Sassy! Is that you?” she called. The rustling had stopped. Then it started and stopped again. Madeline walked towards where she thought the noise had come from. As she walked, she heard a crunch under her boots. She bent down and brushed back a thicket to reveal a large disemboweled deer rotting in the brush. The sight and the smell of the animal hit her at the same time and she immediately bent over, pinched her eyes closed and dry heaved. She opened her eyes, saw the deer’s rotting entrails in a path leading away from the body where something had made off with its recycled dinner and retched again. This time though, it wasn’t dry. She vomited most of her own dinner onto her boots. She immediately stumbled away from the deer, vomited again, and walked further away from the carcass and further into the woods. Once she was far enough away from the sight and the smell of the animal, Madeline took a roll of Wintergreen LifeSavers from her pocket and put the last two in her mouth.
But there’s no one out here to see the spark, she thought as she bit down on one, crunched it up and swallowed. She walked for another few minutes, then stopped again. At this point, two things were certain. That was the most disgusting thing she had ever seen. And she was very, very lost. She looked at the sky again but the moon had hidden behind clouds. She looked at the forest around her, searching for anything that looked like a trail. She found none. About ten feet from her, though, she saw what looked like a path of matted down leaves. She followed the path to a clearing. In the middle was a make-shift fire pit with a pile of large, burned-out branches. Surrounding the pit were five empty bottles of Mad Dog 20/20 and Boone’s Farm wine, with other, upright bottles in a circle around the pile, each with candles in the necks and melted wax holding them in place.
Madeline walked around the fire pit, kicking one of the empty bottles into the brush where it clinked against a rock. Feeling a pang of guilt, she walked over and bent down to grab the bottle and throw it back towards the pit when she noticed something. Underneath the rock were two books. She crouched down, lifted the rock and pulled them out. The clouds parted long enough to cast a ray of moonlight on the covers. The first was Magic Spells and the Occult. The second was Human Sacrifice and the Supernatural in African History. The first had a Barnes and Noble receipt marking a page about how to prepare for a séance. Madeline stared at them until clouds engulfed the light again. Instinctively, she raised her gaze up at the forest around her, shifting her glance from one direction to another like a child frantically checking the perimeter for grown-ups. Silence and darkness surrounded her. Her hands trembled as she slowly crouched down and returned the books to their place beneath the rock. She stood again and wiped her hands together. Walking back in the direction she had come, she looked over her shoulder at the clearing several times. As she looked back one more time, her foot caught on the head of the deer she had found moments before and she fell face-first into the corpse. She screamed as her open mouth planted into the animal’s torn-apart stomach.
Hearing her scream, Sassy came charging out of the thick trees and ran into Madeline. The puppy began licking her face out of love, then out of hunger as it tasted the raw, rotting offal. Overjoyed to see the puppy, Madeline pulled Sassy to her as she got up and held the puppy tight, kissing her over and over. Madeline rose and put Sassy on the ground. Getting the dog’s leash from her back pocket, she clipped around Sassy’s neck.
“Never going to make that mistake again, my friend,” she said. Relieved that she had found the dog, Madeline’s repose was short-lived. She still had no idea how to get home.