MTO Pat Kubec

Ride horses long enough and you learn to trust them, so when Lord Byron, raised his head and snorted, Pat reined him to a stop. The bridle trail clutched the banks of the Rocky River but occasionally veered into the thickly wooded areas where sunlight could barely slice through the canopy. Pat leaned forward and put her cheek to her horse’s neck. His ears flicked back and forth, and his lips curled. Signs of fear.

Though it was a mile away, the interstate buzz was a constant companion. And bees, too. The cottonwoods shed their knuckled twigs and tongue-shaped leaves, but most trees were splattered crimson, orange, or yellow. Satisfied by the silence, Pat bade her mount to ride on, deeper into the woods.

Far off the trail, Pat thought she saw something–a cream-colored break in the foliage that didn’t look right at all. A life spent looking into nature’s face made any blemishes stand out. At first, she thought it was naked bodies, some leaning against trees, some lying on the forest floor. But that couldn’t be…

Lord Byron sensed her unease and reared and shook his head. He didn’t want to approach. Pat’s thoughts went to Balaam and his prophetic donkey who saw destruction ahead and refused to walk into it. But what if they were folks who needed help? —if they’d been robbed? She got closer and her mouth went dry; her blood thumped in her ears. They weren’t talking or crying or even moving. Her stomach turned when she saw a leg wedged in the V of a tree.

“Hello? You okay?” Bile pushed at the back of her throat. They weren’t moving; of course they weren’t okay.

But Pat was an accomplished equestrian. She’d ridden for twenty-six years and knew these trails as intimately as the evening stubble on her husband’s cheeks. In an instant, she could turn and have Lord Byron in a full gallop. Presently, he side-stepped a pick axe laying in the trail, and an empty bottle of cheap gin. The tree a little farther down had been blistered, likely by that pick axe.

“Hello…?” Pat called out again.

A low moaning sound pulled her attention to a rotting tree trunk. She dismounted, her heart now officially galloping faster than she’d ever done on any horse at any time. She crept on silent feet, cringing that Lord Byron’s hooves could not be muted. Into and out of the tree’s gaping throat, bees dived and pitched. Something was lodged within…Pat gasped in horror at the tiny toes covered in bees. A baby foot. She squinted at the pinkish skin. A plastic doll had been wedged into the bees’ nest, head first.

The other “women” were also mannequins, all lacking heads. A fire pit full of charred, round things still smoked, and a tuft of long, flaxen hair was caught on the cooking grate. Yes, it was burning plastic she smelled.

Beside her, Lord Byron yanked his head, pulling Pat’s hand with it. He’d stepped into a hole she’d barely missed. He whinnied and struggled to get his front hooves out. The hole was a couple of feet deep, just enough to trip someone, and it had been concealed by a thin mesh of chicken wire and sticks and leaves.

“I see you found our little paradise.” The voice belonged to a man who stepped out from behind a thick birch tree. He held a drawstring bag that bulged with something. His queasy smile reminded her of an artless, blundering boy about to ask her to dance. Lord Byron’s escalating efforts to get free of the hole said he, too, sensed danger here.

“I called 9-1-1,” Pat blurted.

“What, for your horse? He’ll be fine.” And the man threw his hands up, got up into Lord Byron’s face and shouted. With a shriek of his own, Lord Byron jumped from the hole and was gone, crashing through the bush, his panicked flight breaking young trees and cracking downed sticks.

Pat and the stranger were alone.

He dropped his sack and spread it open. “Well, now, let’s see which of these I want you to wear.” He pulled out a cotton pajama set, the woolen kind with feet that zips up the middle. Like kids wore. It was pink and was printed with little white lambs. “And this one’s for me.” His was the same, except blue. “Everything’s ready for the sleepover. My name’s Edwin. What’s yours?”

Credit: Wolfgang Amri

True: Pat has been riding horses in the Metroparks for twenty-five years. While the woods can be a peaceful, solitary place where I feel close to God, many horror writers choose them as a setting because of how cut-off one feels from everything, including help. Stories abound–truth and fiction–of people who met an untimely end in the depths of this or that woody place. Think about that next time you take a stroll on one of the local trails…

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4 thoughts on “MTO Pat Kubec

  1. Anonymous

    I am so excited that I finally got my story. I too felt like I was closer to God on trail. I did a lot of my prayer time down there. I also was aware of everything around me as I rode alone most of the time. I really miss my time riding but everything happens for a reason. Maybe someday I will be fortunate enough to ride again. Thanks for the story. I have been enjoying all of them. Hope to see you again some day.

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