Free EBook

I have really enjoyed writing on this website for close to two years. During that time I have also written three books. In celebration of my third book, “Humor Deeper Than A Holler” being released on March 9th, I am giving away the ebook of my first book, “Country Boy” by Lucius McCray. This giveaway is on Amazon exclusively and runs from now through Wednesday, March 6th.

I wanted to be sure I posted this here as I have written many Lucius flash fiction stories on here. The Anthology books are written with the same humor, the stories are fuller, and hopefully better edited. If you are able, please click the link below and get a free copy by Wednesday, March 6th.

Thanks,

Gary McPherson a.k.a. Lucius McCray

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Country Boy

Lucius McCray is a character I developed in my short stories that I shared here and on my blog on many occasions. Since that time I have taken him on as a pen name and Lucius has written one short anthology called “Country Boy” and his new book is coming out March 9th. I wanted to share part of his dog, Wobbly’s story. Please enjoy this clip from the audiobook.

Pick up your copy of “Country Boy” by Lucius McCray The audiobook is available from audible: https://www.audible.com/pd/B07GC82SPK… It is also available on iTunes and other audiobook vendors. You can buy the ebook, or read it for free on Kindle Unlimited: https://www.amazon.com/Country-Boy-Lu… Paperbacks are available in many bookstores or check out an independent bookstore near you via Indie Bound https://www.indiebound.org/book/97817..

Story Time with Lucius

I have not written any stories up here recently. I just released my newest humorous anthology “Humor Deeper Than a Holler.” It’s available for pre-order on Amazon and other bookstores. I’m also editing the next novel in the Berserker series that will come out in May.

That information aside, I have decided to tell my short stories on videos and let Lucius do the narration. He is starting with his own stories, and this week’s story is about his run in at a local supermarket. Click on the link, relax for about five minutes and so, and have yourself a few laughs.

Alone and Accused

Charles’ red eyes glared up at the wall clock, and two am stared back at his bloodshot eyes. He could feel the black bags beneath his eyes resting against his cheeks. Charles had been up for two days and had yet to find an answer. His wife, Joan had understood when he told her he had to work late again. Their trust and love for one another had seen them through difficult times. Joan had even put a couch in his home office, so he had a place to nap on his late nights.

Unfortunately, his boss, Larry, was not so understanding. Although Charles had been working on another project, Larry placed the blame for the current system outage squarely on Charles’ shoulders. Charles did lead the effort to set up the online banking systems, but that was three years earlier.

In truth, it was the new team Larry had put in place that had caused the current headache. The total experience of the five new developers may have added to up three years. None of the men and women had ever worked on a critical system before, and yet Larry claimed they were up to the task. The three-day outage had proven they were not.

Larry knew he was in trouble, but he was a shrewd manager. Rather than admit he had made a mistake in hiring his new team, Larry directly placed the blame at Charles’s feet and claimed his original design had failed. However, Larry gave up on his new group of young hotshots after they were unable to resolve the problem in the first twenty-four hours. Instead, he went to the man he claimed had caused the issue to find the problem. Charles had been up for almost two nights deciphering the new team’s code that had crashed the system and cost the bank hundreds of customers.

Charles’ body demanded sleep and desperation filled his mind. He wanted to quit, or get up and go to bed. The black sky outside his office window looked as bleak as his current situation felt.

“So what if I’m fired,” Charles growled in the empty room, “Larry’s team still won’t have this fixed, and he’ll be out the door behind me.”

Charles pushed his chair back, and a picture caught his attention. His two sons sat laughing with their heads barely visible above a leaf pile. Charles’ head drooped. He knew he could not let his family down no matter how unfair or onerous his current predicament might appear. Still, he needed a break.

He got up to make his way from his home office to the kitchen. The balls of his feet were the only part of his body to touch the floor as he stealthily navigated through his house. Charles had lost count of the number of mugs of coffee he had gone through over the last two days. Balancing the full mug, he silently walked back to his office with his warm cup of much-needed caffeine.

Sitting down, Charles looked up and saw what he had searched for the last two days. A bug in the program that would send the banking system into an infinite loop, but only when there was a fraction that tried to divide by zero. Charles typed with newfound excitement. A short test and two hours later the system was running again.

Charles shot off an email to Larry to tell him everything was working. Four-thirty in the morning glared up at him from the computer screen. He stretched and smiled. At least he could finally get some rest. To Charles’ surprise, Larry responded immediately. He was expected to be in the office for a meeting with the senior managers at eight in the morning. Charles dropped his head between his legs and fought the scream that was urging its way out of his throat.

The boardroom was filled with managers of managers. By Charles’ count, there were at least ten senior and executive people in the room. Larry sat to the right of the head of the table. The only empty chair was next to him. The empty seat was not meant as a sign of leadership or deference, today it was a sign of accusal before a tribunal. Nobody seemed to notice, or care about the unkempt appearance of Charles.

His bottom had barely touched the black leather seat when Larry spoke up, “Please tell us what you found.”

“I know you all are busy,” Charles began, “So I will make this brief. There was a mathematical error that locked up the system.”

A stern looking woman leaned forward and stared harshly at Charles, “Why didn’t you catch this before? I would have thought the two years that you had to build this system would have been adequate time to test for this sort of issue.”

Charles worked to hide the knowing smirk he could feel growing inside him. He clasped his hands together on the top of the table and responded, “Indeed, I would have, if I had made the error. Unfortunately, it appears to be something the new team put in place after I moved off the project.”

Larry’s voice rose two octaves, “What do you mean? You didn’t tell me that in your email.”

Charles response was calm and even, “I didn’t know you were looking to assign blame. I was only telling you what caused the problem.”

Chairs began to groan, creak, and rattle as the managers squirmed in anticipation. The meeting was not going where they anticipated, and like school children forming a circle around two adversaries, they leaned in to watch the drama.

Larry’s fingers began to drum on the table, “I don’t understand, I was quite clear that I wanted to know what caused this issue.”

Charles allowed a faint smile to pass across his lips as he nodded. Then he replied, “You did, and what I described is what caused the problem.”

Larry crossed his arms, “Okay then, how do you know it wasn’t your code, or maybe it was John who helped you write the program?”

“Because Manju did an excellent job of commenting his code. His name, date, and change number are all in print next to the offending code. My comments are now under his.” Charles leaned back and let his arms relax on the chair.

The stern lady leaned back in and glared at Larry, “I thought you said Charles was the problem. How many other issues have you blamed on him that aren’t his?”

Charles looked over at Larry with his eyes stretched wide. “Other problems?”

Larry ignored Charles and looked back at the woman, “Lisa, I can promise you that if I had known.”

Lisa cut him off, “It sounds to me like you did know.” She turned her attention to Charles, “How many hours did you have to work on this?”

Charles’ eyelids felt heavy, but the joy and terror of the moment kept him focused, “I’ve been on this for two days and two nights. Since the problem was not something we had seen previously, I had to walk through all of the program line-by-line until I could find the issue.”

Lisa’s eyes softened, “You look exhausted. Take the rest of the week off.”

Charles dipped his head, and then responded, “What about my current project?”

Lisa gave Larry an icy stare and then softened her look as she turned back to Charles, “I’m sure Larry can take care of things the rest of the week. After all, he took you away from your project to fix this fiasco.”

Charles smiled and said, “Thank you.”

Lisa looked around the boardroom, the other men and women nodded in agreement with her. She turned back to Charles, “Why don’t you go home before you find yourself asleep in here.”

“Thank you, thank you all.”

Larry began to stand with Charles.

“Not you,” Lisa said in a harsh tone.

Larry’s butt hit his chair with a thud. Charles was a half a step from the doorway when Lisa said his name. He froze and turned his attention back to her.

“When you come back next week you’ll be reporting to me until I decide where I want to promote you.”

Charles did not try to hide his happiness at the news. He stood there transfixed, nodding his head. Lisa gave Charles a dismissive wave of her hand. At that command, Charles was out the door.

Joan gave Charles a kiss on his cheek as his head snuggled into his warm pillow. His nightmare was over. He closed his eyes and urgently sought the sweet dreams that awaited him.

Escaping the Darkness

“Say it!”

Philip’s fist impacted Henry’s diaphragm with such veracity that it lifted his feet off the ground and the chair he was tied to threaten to fall to the floor. At first, Henry struggled for his breath, but then he decided to let the darkness overtake his vision. His mind recalled a time he and Philip had been best friends.

The sun beat down on their lanky teenage bodies as they dragged their boogie boards across the sand to their waiting beach towels. Lewis stood there with his arms crossed waiting on the pair. His angry look told Henry there would be trouble. Lewis was a six-foot bully he and Philip had managed to avoid most of their childhood, but today Lewis had decided it was time to cross paths.

“Hey, Lewis, what’s up?” asked Henry.

Without a word, Lewis kicked sand over the boys’ towels. Philip bent over to pick his towel up and Lewis shoved him head first into the ground. Before he could stop himself, Henry had Lewis in a headlock. He quickly twisted his body and Lewis lost his balance and fell into the sand with Henry on top. Henry squeeze and Lewis gasped, his arms flailed against the sand.

A group of teens seemed to appear out of nowhere to gawk at the drama. Henry regained his senses and let go of Lewis’ neck. “I’m sorry, are you okay?” asked Henry.

Lewis gasped, coughed, and tried to regain his breath. “I was just kidding with you, man.”

Philip’s shadow cast across the two boys as he stood behind Henry. “No, you weren’t. You knocked me down on purpose. We weren’t doing anything, just enjoying some waves. Why can’t you leave people alone?”

Henry stood and offered Lewis his hand, “I’m sorry,” Henry said again.

Lewis slapped away his hand. “Whatever, man. Just stay away from me.”

A chorus of whispers from the crowd passed across the Pacific breeze as Lewis went skulking off.

A wave seemed to appear out of nowhere and envelope the group. Henry coughed and sputtered. The California sun disappeared and the dark, dank interrogation room in the midst of the reeducation camp came rushing back around him. The familiar smell of mold, urine, and decay filled Henry’s nostrils. The acrid smell of an old cigar wafted across the air and Henry could make out Lewis’ shadow in the dark corner.

“You can’t escape me that easily,” said Lewis.

Henry coughed and attempted to pull his arms up, but they were tied tightly to the legs of the chair. He doubled over and spit out as much acrid liquid as he could. A deep breath of foul air filled his lungs and he sat back upright. He looked over to Philip who glared at him and then flung the empty metal bucket used as a chamber pot to the ground.

“What happened to you?” asked Henry. “We used to be best friends.”

The sting of Philips open palm across Henry’s cheek lit the room in a momentary flash of white light. “Shut up, hater. You fooled me for so many years. Claiming to love and forgive. Do you remember that day you beat up Lewis, and for what? He was only joking with us. I bought into your lies, your religion. I believed all your garbage, but it’s all a lie. You marginalize anyone you disagree with. Well, now it’s your turn buddy. I’ll beat you until you admit you were wrong.”

A wave of darkness weighed heavily on Henry’s heart, and he shook his head. “When, when did I ever do any of those things?”

Henry’s scalp lit up with a hundred stings as Philip grabbed Henry’s hair and yanked his head back. The violent connection of Philip’s fist split Henry’s lip, and he felt it fall away from the front of his tooth. A shiver went through Henry’s body as he felt a portion of his lip laying against his chin.

“Liar,” screamed Philip. “If one is guilty, all are guilty. You will pay for your sins.”

Tears began to stream down Henry’s face and he sputtered past his torn lip, “Philip, I still love you, Jesus still loves you. I won’t ever change my mind, but you can give up your hate.”

A familiar cackle came from the dark corner where Lewis stood. “Haven’t you heard, Henry? We hate, hate, and that’s the best kind of hatred. We’re in the right here, give it up tough guy.”

A sharp pain lit up the top of Henry’s head, the room turned white, and then went black.

A strong hand rocked Henry’s shoulder back and forth. Henry wanted to keep his eyes shut. He said a quick prayer for his nightmare would be over.

A stranger’s voice whispered in his ear, “Henry Glendale, you need to wake up.”

Henry slowly rolled on to his back and opened his eyes. The pain that had filled his body for the past week seemed to be gone. His dark, wet cell glowed in a faint white light. Standing above Henry was an intimidating brown-skinned man. His black eyes twinkled, and his hair flowed to his broad shoulders. His biceps and chest appeared to challenge the silky looking black muscle shirt he wore. The stranger’s black slacks stretched around his muscular thighs until the pant’s seams looked as though they might give way. Henry was sure that his death would be long and painful.

“Get up,” said the stranger quietly, “it’s time to leave.”

“Who are you?” Henry whispered.

“I’m Pedro, get up, we must leave now.” Pedro’s voice sounded urgent.

Henry flopped his arm over his eyes, “Just kill me here. I can’t take another verbal and physical beating. Just be done with it.”

Pedro kicked Henry’s legs. Instead of pain, Henry felt nothing more than a nudge. He reached down and then looked. His jeans were no longer covered in blood or torn. The bruises on his arms had disappeared. Henry’s fingertips gently touched his lip, only to find it whole.

Henry looked at Pedro confused, “I don’t understand. What’s going on? Leave where?”

Pedro put his hand down, and Henry grabbed hold of it. Pedro lifted Henry’s body into the air and he gently landed on his feet. Pedro answered, “We’re leaving the prison, now.”

Henry shook his head, “Are you crazy? What sort of trickery are you trying to pull? Is Philip setting me up to shoot me for escaping? We’ll never get out of here.”

Pedro let a muffled chuckle escape his lips, and then put a strong hand on Henry’s shoulder, “Trust me, my friend. I have some experience with walking out of prisons.”

Henry thought for a moment. Shot or beaten, his nightmare would soon be over. To his surprise, every door they approached inside the prison block stood opened, and he and Pedro passed several guards who seemed not to notice them. As they approached the main gate it opened of its own accord. Henry was sure the end was upon him and he waited for the crack of a rifle shot.

He and Pedro passed through the gate. A middle eastern man stepped out of the shadows of the camp’s guard tower. He was no taller than Henry’s five-foot-nine-inch frame. His beard passed just below his neck and his dark hair fell in waves past his shoulders. His black eyes seemed to flicker with flames and his leathered brown skin bathed the trio in bright light.

The stranger’s expression quickly became a broad smile, and before Henry could say a word the man wrapped his arms around Henry. Love, peace, and joy all flowed into his very soul. Henry whispered, “Is it really, you? Are you, Yeshua?”

Yeshua released Henry, “Well done, faithful servant. You have held on to your faith.”

“I’m really, free?” stammered Henry.

“You are freer than you can possibly imagine, but you will understand soon enough. Just give yourself time.” Then Yeshua laughed and was joined by Pedro.

“I don’t understand,” Henry admitted.

Pedro answered, “Time. There is no more time where we are standing. Today is tomorrow, yesterday, and this moment. You are free of time.”

A whistle blew behind them, and sirens blared. Spotlights began to sweep the compound and guards rushed towards the worn brick building he just left. Yeshua spoke, “I believe they are finding what’s left of the old you.”

Henry was embarrassed to ask, but his curiosity was getting the better of him, “I don’t mean to sound ungrateful, but why did I have to suffer like that? I was on my knees every night in my jail cell. I cried out with my heart to you for years before the world became so angry and dark. Why did I need to suffer?”

Yeshua nodded, “It’s a fair question, and you deserve an answer. Watch my son, and listen.”

Two guards dragged out Henry’s old, broken body and dropped it unceremoniously in the dust. Lewis walked over and kicked the husk of broken and bloodied flesh. “I hate you. Your death doesn’t change a thing between us. I will always hate you.” Lewis looked over to Philip, “Take this trash to the crematorium.”

Philip nodded and Lewis stomped away. Philip began to whisper, but Henry could hear every word. “I’m sorry, I am so sorry. I was wrong. Oh God, can I ever been forgiven?” Philip picked up Henry’s limp body in a fireman’s carry and trudged towards the decaying bodies piled up by the crematorium.

Henry turned to the two men. “What happened to Philip?” He jumped at the tap on his shoulder. Henry turned and found Philip standing behind him.

“Not my best moments,” said Philip.

Henry looked back at the camp, and then to Philip, “I don’t understand.”

Yeshua laughed, “Remember what Peter said. You are no longer bound by time. Philip gave his life to me and later died by Lewis’ hand. Lewis went into a fit of rage at the conversion of his most trusted man and wanted to make sure he made an example of him.”

Philip smiled and then put his arm around Henry, “What do you say, bro? Should we go catch some righteous waves for old times sake?”

Henry looked at Yeshua, “Are there beaches in heaven?”

Yeshua laughed, “Epic waves. Come and see what my unmolested creation looks like.”


Join Me for Short Story by Lucius McCray, and then Ask Me Anything

When I joined success inspirer over a year ago, I was writing short stories almost every day as I worked on my first novel. Part of those stories was developed from a fictional author I created named Lucius McCray. Lucius even published a book of anecdotal stories called, “Country Boy” last year.

At the end of March, Lucius has another book coming out called “Humor Deeper Than A Holler.” Today on my Twitch channel I will be reading one of Lucius’ original short stories he wrote on my website in 2017. Please join me on Twitch for fun, laughter, and an opportunity to ask me anything tonight at 7 pm Eastern Time.

The Berserker Livestream

Alicia’s Angel

The sun strained to break through the sheer, dingy yellow closed curtains in Alicia’s bedroom. How she hated their drab color and lack of privacy. Her mother had insisted on that style so Alicia would avoid shutting out the daylight when the curtains were closed to guard against the sun’s heat. The thought of her mother sent a fresh flood of tears down her brown cheeks. Alicia buried her head into her pillow and screamed until she felt her lungs burning.

Why had her mother left? She had done everything she could to keep her mother with her. She prayed and pleaded to God. Alicia had held her mother’s hand as the chemotherapy brought wave after wave of nausea across her mother’s stomach and she expelled things neither mother nor daughter wanted to ponder. Night after night, and day after day Alicia had given her heart to her mother, and her God.

Yet, the aggressive stomach cancer stole away Alicia’s mother. The doctors offered no answers other than, “Sorry.” For all of her prayers, and all of the prayers her friends and family claimed to have given, the stomach cancer inside her mother’s body had won. Alicia stared up at the ceiling and scowled, “I thought you were all powerful, but you’re nothing more than a fantasy.” She buried her head into her pillow and wept until it was soaked.

Her aunt and uncle had taken her into their home since her mother’s death. Alicia had requested they take her to her childhood home to mourn, and they were happy to oblige. The couple seemed to know exactly what Alicia needed and left her alone in the empty family house. They promised to return whenever Alicia was ready to be picked up.

Bereft of any more tears, Alicia sat in silence and stared at the muted sunlight filtering through the curtain. She took a long, deep breath. The air around her around her begin to turn cold. It was like an icy touch, and yet it felt so familiar. Soon, the cold enveloped her body, but she did not feel afraid. Her loneliness disappeared, and for a moment she swore she could feel her mother’s arms around her. Alicia closed her eyes and whispered, “Is that you, Mom?”

Not a word was spoken. It seemed as if all sound had disappeared. Alicia felt like she was in a dream, and yet still wide awake in her old room. Alicia had no idea how long she sat there. The freezing air seemed to slowly warm up, and soon she felt empty again. Alicia opened her eyes and looked around the room. She was alone once more, but she no longer felt alone. A sigh escaped her lips and she whispered, “Thanks, Mom.”

Alicia looked up once more at the ceiling, “I’m still mad at you. Why did she have to suffer? Why did you take her away? You know I needed her.” She tossed the bedroom pillow from her hands and it hit against the wall with a soft thud and fell to the floor. Alicia forced herself up and headed down the familiar, empty hallway of their small two bedroom house to the kitchen for some water.

A knock at the door made her jump. “Who can that be?” she asked herself as she put down her empty glass.

Alicia was not in the mood for any visitors and ignored the knock. A second knock seemed to reverberate around the house and Alica nearly knocked over the glass as her hand jerked. She headed to the front door, partly out of fear, and partly out of anger. Alicia swung open the front door. A tan man with black hair and eyes stood over her. She estimated him to be well over six feet tall. Even in his black suit his large biceps and well-developed chest were easily seen underneath the straining silk fabric.

The stranger smiled. He had the whitest, straightest teeth Alicia had ever seen in her life. He stuck out his hand, “I’m Pedro, and I have a message from the Lord.”

Alicia rolled her eyes and answered curtly, “I’m not interested.” She attempted to slam the door, but it would not budge. She grabbed it with both hands, determined to send it crashing into the doorjamb with all her might. Instead, it held as fast as the wall it hung from. The sudden rush of fear was soon replaced by anger and annoyance at the unwelcomed drama.

“Go away!”

Pedro did not flinch.

Alicia slammed the side of her fist against the door. “Why? Why is this happening?”

Pedro’s voice seemed to calm her rage inside her heart, “Because it happens to all of you.”

Alicia buried her head into her hands and started to cry. She felt Pedro’s large arms wrap around her body, but she did not feel afraid. Peace and warmth seemed to surround them as if she was wrapped in a mother bird’s wings. Alicia’s mind knew she should try to break free of the stranger’s embrace, but her broken heart reassured her she was safe.

Pedro released Alicia and stepped inside the house. Alicia turned to say something and the door gently swung shut of its own accord. Pedro sat down in her mother’s worn recliner and pointed to the couch. Alicia wanted to protest, she wanted to run in terror, but she needed to know who this stranger was that caused her such fear and love at the same time.

Pedro began before she had a chance to fully sit down. “I came here with a message. Your father wants you to know that he is watching over you.”

At the sound of “Father,” Alicia slapped the back of the couch. “I have no father, my dad left me when I was a baby.”

“Not that father, child, your real Father.”

Pedro’s dark eyes felt as though they could penetrate right through her. “Who are you?”

Pedro’s laugh seemed to brighten the room, “I told you, a messenger from God.”

Alicia had seen too much to dismiss him as a nutcase. Still, she was not sure she could trust him. “Who was that in my room?”

Pedro’s face relaxed, love filled his eyes and he reached over and took her hand. Electricity gently flowed up her arm. “You know who that was. She wanted to say goodbye.”

Alicia pulled her hand away and crossed her arms. “Why did she have to die? Why did she have to suffer.”

Pedro shrugged and pointed towards the ceiling.

Alicia blurted out, “What kind of message is that?”  

“I’m not here to talk about your mother, I’m here to talk about you. I know you feel alone, He knows you feel alone. Don’t believe the lie that death is a part of life, it was never supposed to be this way. Let yourself be sad. Let yourself be angry if it helps you, but don’t let your grief take you over. God is listening and wants to comfort you.”

Alicia stood and began to pace. She turned and flailed her arms as she spoke, “What about my mother? Is she with, Him? Is she safe, happy, is she glad God tore her away from her daughter?”

Pedro leaned forward, rested his elbows on his knees and looked down at the floor. “Where your mother is,” he sat up and looked her in the eye, “Time is different there. You two are apart now, but you’re together where she is. Time is not linear as it is here.”

Alicia sighed and dropped down on the couch. Her fist punched the cushion next to her. “Well, time is “linear” here, whatever that means. I need my mother.”

Pedro stood and peered down at Alicia. “Your aunt and uncle will care for you, but you must not blame them for your mother’s death.”

Alicia stood and looked up into Pedro’s dark eyes. “That’s silly, I would never blame them for mom’s death.”

Pedro nodded, “Yes, but you’re directing your anger towards them. They’re hurting too, don’t forget that.”

Alicia closed her eyes and buried her head into Pedro’s strong chest and wrapped her arms around him. The smell of roses and lilies filled her nostrils. She felt his strong arms wrap around her once more. “I wish you could stay.”

“The Father’s spirit is with you, in your heart, but I will not be far away.”

Alicia breathed in Pedro’s pleasant fragrance once more. “Do you promise?”

Nobody answered, and Alicia opened her eyes. She found herself standing alone in the middle of the family room clutching her mother’s favorite pillow. Alicia dropped the pillow and flung open the front door. Up the dusty road at the top of the hill, the silhouette of a large man slowly walked towards its crest. Tears began to form in Alicia’s eyes, it had all been an illusion. Perhaps she was losing her mind.

As if the distant stranger heard her, he turned around and waved. A familiar voice traveled across the gentle breeze, “I’m not far away.”

Alicia wiped the tear trailing down her cheek. She walked back into the house and called her aunt to come and pick her up.

If you like this story, please check out my books and other works here on my Amazon profile.

One Angry Mother

Cyrus’ labored breath and light headiness told him he needed to stop running. The sounds of brush breaking behind him had silenced, but he knew she was back there. He had been a fool to try and approach her children, but he was only trying to take their picture.

The youngsters played in the forest, tackling each other, and running amok amid the underbrush and litter of the forest floor. Their bodies would sometimes crash into the green ferns, bushes, and saplings. Cries of pain and delight echoed about the woods as the two played without fears or cares of any sort.

Cyrus had known it was dangerous. After all, what parent would want a stranger approaching their children with a camera as they romped through the thicket? To him, it had been worth the risk. The two siblings had not even noticed him hidden behind the trunk of an old poplar tree with his head and long lens peeping out around its edge. Cyrus smiled to himself as his camera silently captured dozens of actions shots.

This moment was exactly what Cyrus had dreamed of when he made his way into the woods that morning. According to Cyrus’ GPS, he had only had to hike a little more than a mile before he stumbled upon his prey. The early summer always brought out the families before the Carolina weather heated up even the Appalachian Mountain range. Cyrus knew his photos would be the talk of his tight-knit group on the internet.

He smiled as he thought of Jordon. The smug leader of their purveyors of pictures. Although Cyrus found Jordon self-absorbed and entirely too self-important, he was proficient at finding the right customers for the photographs he, and the other merry band of photographers managed to take. Each person knew the risk associated with the type of pictures they attempted to capture, but the payout was normally worth the effort.

Cyrus listened intently. Only the sound of the breeze blowing gently through the newly leafed trees could be heard. Occasionally, birdsong would gently ride along the waves of the wind. He knew he could not stay where he was. Surely, the children’s mother would wander his direction at some point. He wished he had heard when she broke off the chase, but his heart had been pounding too loudly in his ears for him to hear much of anything.

Pulling up his phone’s GPS, Cyrus tried to determine where he had run. A broad smile spread over his face. As if by instinct, he had managed to arc his way back towards the trailhead where his car was parked. Although he had two small creeks to traverse, it was less than two miles back to the safety of his vehicle. Cyrus prayed that the angry mom was content to take her children and lead them away from his vicinity. Still, there were no guarantees.

The first half mile had been surprisingly easy. The forest’s canopy was so thick that little grew on the forest floor. Although the leaf-strewn ground was still slick from the latest spring storm, walking was not difficult. As Cyrus approached the first creek and was relieved to find the stream barely a trickle. He surmised he must be near the wellspring that fed the water out of the ground and down the mountain. With a simple hop, Cyrus continued his quest for the parking lot.

Most of his trek back had been down a gently sloping hill, but now the ground began to level off. Here the larger trees were spaced further apart. Small bushes, ferns, and rocks poked up out of the ground and lay hidden beneath the forest debris. Cyrus tripped twice in his first fifty yards. He cursed his own clumsiness and slowed to a more deliberate pace.

Cyrus stopped and sighed at the sight in front of him. The second creek was swollen to the very edge of its banks. Sparse rocks barely peeked out above the water’s surface and created a hazardous crossing for only the most confident of hikers. Cyrus sighed, and dropped the camera backpack he had all but forgotten was carrying.

A grin crept across his face once more. There was no need to keep his camera ready as he had found his quarry for the day. Slipping the camera inside the bag, Cyrus once more tossed his light burden on his back and carefully traversed his slick, rocky bridge. Despite his best efforts, he could feel the creek’s water wafting against his hiking boots and his socks turning wet with each passing moment. Cyrus was not worried, however. Soon, he would arrive at his car, and he could drive barefoot if need be.

With a final leap, he landed on the other side with the snap of several twigs. The sound of a large baby rattle caused him to catch his breath. Cyrus stood as still as a post. His eyes darted back and forth. Off to his left, he spied an eastern diamondback coiled to strike. Cyrus stood still and prayed for the serpent to be on his way. The sweat rolling down Cyrus’ brow began to soak into his collar before the snake finally decided it was safe to slither back into the forest.

Cyrus carefully continued towards his car. Each slow step only followed a careful survey of the ground ahead. The pace was arduous, but he made steady progress. Cyrus pumped his fist in the air and let out a yell of triumph as the path near the trailhead came into view. Once he reached the well-worn hiking trail Cyrus quickened his pace. He stopped short at the poster board at the trail’s entrance. A somber ranger stood between him and his car.

The ranger did not say a word but pointed towards Cyrus’ vehicle. There on his car’s hood stood the mother bear that had chased him through the woods. Her two familiar cubs attempted to climb on the Chevy Malibu, leaving their deep claw marks down the sides of his car. The large black bear clawed and scraped the Chevy’s front windshield, determined to find her way inside. The damage to the vehicles trim and weatherproofing was obvious even from fifty yards away.

The ranger stepped closer to Cyrus and whispered, “Is that your car?”

Cyrus let out a muffled sigh and nodded.

The ranger quietly continued, “I have backup coming. We’ll try to chase the family back into the forest. I hope you have roadside service.”

Cyrus dropped his head and shook it.

The ranger put an understanding hand on Cyrus’ shoulder and said, “I’m sorry. I can give you a ride into town. It might be easier to get a hotel and wait for your car to be towed there after we are sure the area is secure. I have a cousin who owns a body shop. He should be able to get you fixed up.”

Cyrus nodded.

The ranger and Cyrus backed up a few yards into the trail’s entrance to keep a safer distance. The ranger noticed Cyrus’ backpack, “How long did you hike today?”

Cyrus shrugged, “I haven’t had time to look. I was taking some wildlife pictures of those two cubs when their momma started chasing me.”

The ranger tried to stifle his smile, “Looks like she found you.”