He was running uphill, out of breath, wheezing. The tall trees, foliage, and early morning frost, caught him off guard. He decided to walk the rest of the way uphill and then run down once he reached the top. He kept moving. Unscrewed the lid on his canteen and took liberal sips of cold water. He checked his chronograph watch. It was 7:23 am. To his left he heard rivers and waterfalls and the flushing sound of an endless stream.
Behind him, Kurt saw the shadowy image of a man in black jogging apparel put his head down and move to the side of the trail. Out of the direct line of sight.
Unsettled, he kept walking, then jogging, then running at full sprint. The shadow runner began chasing him.
Kurt lasted a half mile.
Kurt slouched over and gripped his knees as though he was about to puke.
The trail was empty. No one was around. Up ahead he saw a couple deer near an abandoned wooden bridge. Both deer turned their heads, saw him, and took off running. The sound of the nearby waterfalls calmed him down. Kurt caught his breath. He made his descent down the mountain, taking a hunting knife out of his pack.
Back at the cottage in the mountains, Josie was drinking a cup of coffee with another man, also in running gear. The man was dressed in a black tracksuit, with black running shoes. The man was drinking a glass of water. Kurt knew the man was Palter.
“Good morning,” Kurt said in a surprised tone to Josie and Palter.
“Good morning,” Josie remarked. “I thought he was having a heart attack.”
“I bet I looked like I was having one,” Palter laughed. Then he mocked himself and grabbed at his chest, “My chest hurts. Ow! Ow! Oh shit, there’s goes my ticker!”
“Let us know if you need an ambulance. Is there anything else I can do for you?”
“It’s a testament of character when you let a stranger in and give him some water.” Palter stood up.
“I didn’t catch your name.”
They shook hands.
“Kurt, I hope I’m not putting you out in any way, but would you be able to give me a ride back to my cabin?”
“No problem at all.”
“Thank you for the water, sweetheart. I’ll be sure to bring some water with me the next time I go running,” Palter said to Josie.
Kurt drove Palter in a rented Jeep to his cabin ten miles down the freeway. Palter stayed quiet. Kurt turned on the radio. It was an AM country station playing a Townes Van Zandt song. The trees filed past as he monitored what Palter was doing. It was a clear, late morning drive through the mountains.
“Get off at the next exit.”
“What’s going on, Palter?”
“Make a right when you get to the first stop sign.”
Kurt pulled the Jeep off at the exit and made a right.
“Slow down. Turn at the next driveway with the yellow mailbox,” Palter continued.
Kurt turned down the long driveway.
The lot was isolated on a lake with a white van parked next to the wooden cabin.
“Looks quaint,” Kurt quipped.
“Follow me, please.”
Kurt and Palter got out of the Jeep.
“Mr. Rykard believes in the importance of being able to say goodbye to those you once knew. Even to his employees,” Palter continued.
They stopped walking in front of the van.
“Are you ready to say goodbye?” Palter asked.
Palter opened the van doors and inside a cage were two large red coolers.
“You know who’s in there, Mr. Vine?”
“You knew her well.”
The section above is an excerpt from “The Dollmaker’s Grin” by Dan MacRae, published in Zizobotchi Papers: volume 2, fall, 2017.
Zizobotchi Papers is a literary journal dedicated to the novella. Think double feature of long form fiction, with a paperback spine instead of a marquee. Purchase copies of volume 2 here, preview it below: