The woods were thin and sparse, the trees now dead, with their leaves all but decaying beneath his feet. Their signature crunch sounded below with each passing step as he sprinted on. His heart was beating faster, his pace was slowing as fatigue settled in, and his mind raced as he tried desperately to think of another way of escape. His clothes were ragged and dirty. He had been on the run for some time. He looked over his shoulder and saw them, men in all-black suits with their eyes covered by sunglasses. They eventually came within range of him and began firing their brandished pistols in his direction. So far, their shots had missed their mark. How long would it be before they would eventually land?
He continued his sprint. Bullets continued to miss, giving him hope. His legs slowly turned to jelly as he pushed through the forest. On and on, he ran. Eventually, he saw a clearing beyond, a meadow with tall grasses that hadn’t been bedded by wildlife or hunters. That could be his window, his saving grace, a place he could hide. He made a break for it. He wasn’t one for long-distance running, but when one’s life was on the line, the body was capable of amazing things. As he finally reached the edge of the woods, he heard shouting behind him.
“He’s trying to get away! Stop him! Now!” a voice yelled.
“We’ll cut him off up ahead!” another yelled, that voice more distant.
Out of the woods, he came, the wind suddenly picking up as there was nothing around him to shield himself from it. As he approached what he felt was the middle of the prairie, he heard another shot ring out, only this time, he dropped to the ground.
His breathing became labored, and his body began to shake violently as adrenaline coursed through his veins. Then he lied still, letting his breathing slow and relax. He wasn’t hit, just purely exhausted. Perhaps if he stayed here, his pursuers would miss him altogether. After an eternity of waiting, steps began approaching, the tall, brittle grass snapping under their weight.
“Did you see any blood? If you hit him, then we’d be able to track him, but since there isn’t any, I doubt you did,” a voice said.
“I’m telling you, I hit him! He dropped the second I fired,” another voice relented.
“If he gets away, the General will have you court-martialed, and you’ll probably be sent back to the production line,” the first quipped.
“If he does, then I deserve it. This guy can’t get away, not after what he did.”
“Yeah. The thought of it makes me absolutely sick.”
The words were drenched with hatred and disgust. In their minds, the person they were after was truly beyond hope. They had to find their perpetrator.
The men continued to approach, their steps growing louder and louder. His pulse pounded in his ears; the slightest noise he made could jeopardize his life. One walked right by and stopped just a couple of feet in front of him. The pursuer seemed to have missed him altogether! He was a burly man, his dirty blonde hair slicked back and out of his face, his suit black and fitted. He was clean-shaven, and sunglasses hid his assumed lifeless eyes. He gave his surroundings a cursory look, revealing a small red pin with green letters on his lapel. He then turned and motioned for his partner to keep moving forward, proceeding out of sight.
The man on the ground gave a vast, quiet sigh of relief. He decided to lie and wait a bit longer to ensure he could escape cleanly. As he did so, he attempted to retrace his steps to determine his crime. What did he do to have warranted such a chase?
The brisk morning was broken by the warm dawn, with the sun shining through the bedroom window. The minimally decorated room contained a bed, nightstand, and dresser. This was a bachelor’s room. He had just come off working a night shift and had taken the time to reorient himself back to a typical day and night schedule. As he rose out of bed, he smacked his tongue against the roof of his mouth, now dry and cracked from a night of hard sleeping. He slowly stood and stretched before starting his morning routine, grabbing a worn-out robe from its usual spot, a hook on the back of his door, and throwing it on as he walked out of the bedroom.
The rest of the apartment was also of the same decor style. He was a simple man, just making it like everyone else. As he walked out of the bedroom, he threw his usual dark roast into the coffee maker and got it rolling. Today’s going to be a good day. He opened his cupboard in his kitchen to see what was available for breakfast.
He disappointedly leaned into the cabinet, his head sinking to the floor. Nothing to eat but old bread and plain oats. That won’t do. His stomach growled for something better, something more fruitful. He turned and looked at the clock that was hanging just above his kitchen window:
“Seven oh three….” he muttered to himself.
He just remembered that the local grocery store had just opened up. His mood brightened as he realized he could run down and grab some grub to satisfy this hunger. Besides, he had just gotten paid not two days before. He should reward himself for a hard week’s work.
He changed into something a little more presentable: blue jeans, tennis shoes, a shirt, and a hoodie hopped into his white, rusted Rooibok and headed towards the business district. A short drive, unencumbered by traffic or weather, and he was there. As he approached the entrance, he looked fondly at the old building.
He walked inside, revealing the smells of freshly baked bread and pastries, the cool sterile meat department, and the sweet and tangy of their various produce filled his nostrils. He walked further into the store to reveal rows and rows of canned and boxed goods—all different brands and logos on them, divided by category into these aisles for simplicity and efficiency. Eventually, aisle eight appeared before him, and the sight of boxes and boxes of cereal and coffee sent a warm sensation to his soul.
He walked down the aisle, approached his usual coffee, a light roast from a local company, and then looked to grab his usual cereal. But something caught his eye, a red box, nearly waist level; the logo had green letters on it with images of fruited cereal in a bowl on the front. He picked it up and took a look at it. He noticed the white rabbit prominent in the logo design and a big “G” in the upper corner.
After looking at this and studying the box art, he threw it into his basket, along with a few other items he felt he didn’t need. That’s the problem with shopping hungry.
He got to the cash registers, and the sound of beeps and conversation imbued the atmosphere. He entered register number five, with a middle-aged woman in what appeared to be in her late sixties behind the counter.
Her demeanor was pleasant, her hair slightly unkempt but her uniform clean. Her apron contained her name tag with “Karen” in white letters.
“How are you today, sir? Did you find everything OK?” she asked pleasantly
“I did, thanks. Felt like a good breakfast was in order.”
She chuckled at the comment as he emptied his basket onto her conveyor belt, which had items like bacon, eggs, pancake mix, coffee, and other supporting foods and condiments.
“I suppose so! Any occasion?”
“Not really; I came in here hungry and probably bought some things I shouldn’t have,” he said with a laugh as he placed the basket at the end of the empty register behind them.
A bagger arrived at the end of their register, wearing a similar uniform with the name “Ken” on his apron.
“Is plastic OK for you?”
“That’s just fine, thanks.”
She smiled synonymously with him until she grabbed the last item on her preceding belt, a box of cereal primarily red with green letters. A rabbit and fruity cereal on the front. Her face said it all: shock.
At first, he didn’t notice it. He saw the total, pulled out his card, and readied himself to swipe it in the reader. She sent the box down the line but didn’t say a word. She only stared at him. The bagger also seemed to be in some bewilderment as he held the box.
He finally noticed their behavior and began to question the whole situation.
“Is everything OK?”
“Can…can I see an ID please, sir?” she asked with a stutter. Fear seemed to have replaced her previously pleasant tone.
“Uh, sure?” he said as he pulled out his wallet to show his driver's license.
“Err, John Doe, huh?”
She struggled to find his birth date on the card, but when she did, she mumbled it, seemingly careful not to say it aloud.
“Is there a problem, ma’am?” he asked once more.
“Nnn…no,” she said sharply, her eyes darting towards the floor. “Nineteen dollars, fifty-four cents, please.”
Before grabbing the receipt, he swiped his card and awaited the ‘approved’ sign.
The bagger leaned against the end of the conveyor belt and stared at the customer with disgust.
“Well, thank you guys, have a good day,” he said as he exited, worried about the whole interaction. He couldn’t help but feel like the entire store got quieter as he began to leave the building.
He pulled his car up to his usual spot and parked it. He stopped and grabbed his bags of groceries, but before he got out, he spotted a vehicle parked on the opposite side of the street. Its black paint scheme and tinted windows gave him the government vehicle type of vibe, and he didn’t remember seeing any of the neighbors with this car but then thought nothing more of it. He walked into his apartment with his groceries in hand.
He cooked off his meal and was mightily satisfied. Nothing ever triumphed over good eggs, pancakes, and a hot coffee to help cure hunger pains. After watching the morning news, he decided to get up and pick up his mess. He put everything away and then noticed that he forgot to put the cereal away. He looked at the box again, then decided to have a bowl. He poured it, then went to grab the milk. As he turned around again to add the milk, he looked out his kitchen window.
The car still hadn’t moved.
It made him a little uneasy, and rightfully so, for when he was about to pour the milk, four men got out of the vehicle and began to approach his apartment. At first, he wasn’t too concerned; perhaps they were detectives looking to solve a case or something. But then they all pulled out handguns. He knew he was in trouble.
He bolted for his rear exit out of his bedroom and ran toward the woods in the far southeast of town. The men ran in pursuit, yelling and eventually shooting as they did so.
He finally remembered what he did wrong, what caused this whole ordeal in the first place. He knew he had to make amends; maybe he could throw it away or something before they noticed. He stood up out of the grass and started to walk when there was a sudden engagement of a gun’s action behind him.
He was found.
He turned around to see a mustached man in a sharp suit with a red beret on his head. The man was older; lines had worn into his face as if he’d seen many nasty things. He had the look of a man who had also performed a lot of terrible things. He had his forty-four magnum pointed right at his head.
“John Doe. Thought you could get away, didn’t you?”
“Listen to me. I didn’t know, OK? I didn’t know….” John begged the man.
“Shut up. You disgust me. I’ve spent my life putting away people like you,” the man responded. Spit flying from gritted teeth.
John raised his hands, then dropped to his knees and sobbed.
“I didn’t even eat any of it. I didn’t take a single bite!” he screamed.
“That’s what they all say, John. I’ve heard it all before. I used to say, ‘save it for the judge,’ but I’ll refrain from that one this time.”
He sobbed some more. He pleaded for his life.
“I’m begging you, please. I swear I won’t do it again! PLEASE!”
“It’s on the box, son. You had to know,” he said as he put more bullets into his forty-four magnum before flinging the cylinder back into action.
“Know what? I don’t know what you’re talking about!” John yelled once more.
The older man pointed his gun at John’s head.
“Trix are for kids.”