The path stayed flat for a short while, the pine trees closing in, then inclined sharply. Lowell bent forward at the waist, shifting his weight. The bright, bouncing circle of light generated by his flashlight mesmerized him as he fell into the steady rhythm of the climb, his breathing growing more labored as he processed the clean, sharp air that tasted so differently from the stale office air of his cubicle back home—a cubicle that waited patiently for his return, even now, ready as always to swallow more of his time, his attention, his life.
Lowell’s mind cleared. He listened to the gravel crunch, the wind in the trees. The path flattened for twenty yards and rose again, even more sharply than before. He began to sweat despite the chilly air. He liked the feeling. The sweat.
A pair of glittering eyes appeared in the middle of the path, caught fully in the beam of his flashlight. Lowell halted, straightening as his head swung back in surprise.
The eyes belonged to a raccoon, the biggest he’d ever seen in his life. The size of a small dog, the beast puffed out its fur and chittered at him, clawing at the ground as if preparing to charge.