view mirror he saw in the truck bed the bound body of the groundhog he had captured at the man's broken down car on the old county road. When Lester suddenly stopped the truck, a bucket of slop fell over. The lid came off, spilling the contents. Looking through the window in the back of the cab, he thought, Damn, someone is going to go hungry for a few days.
He got out of the truck and with the headlights on, he walked to a piece of AstroTurf and pulled out the stakes. He rolled it back, and then shoved aside the manhole cover and the sheet of plywood. A stench rose up from the hole.
“Hey groundhog, I think you're ready to be set free," he yelled into the hole. “I have your replacement."
There was complete silence. I hope this one hasn't died on me, he thought.
Before he could react, Julie bounded out of the hole, knocking him to the ground.
Her hair was dirty, stringy, knotted and hung to her waist. There were brown and gray circles around her sunken eyes that gleamed with madness. Her skin was ashen and pus dripped from sores that covered her body. She was wearing only a soiled pair of pink panties.
Lester pulled his gun from its holster and aimed it at her.
She bared her teeth and emitted a hissing sound, then turned and ran into the woods.
Being locked in the closet for months when I was a child did nothing like that to me, he thought.
Under a full moon, Lester stopped his truck a few yards from a piece of AstroTurf. With the headlights shining, he got out and went to the back of the truck and lifted out a black bucket and carried it to the edge of the fake grass and sat it down. He removed the spikes and rolled back the AstroTurf.
The underbrush in the nearby trees behind him rustled. He whirled about. Seeing nothing he thought, Ben's death has me jumpy. He pushed aside the manhole cover, and then the sheet of plywood. He leaned over and looked into the darkness at the bottom of the hole.
“Yoo-hoo, groundhog, I've brought you food and water," he said.
From deep within the hole came a guttural moan, then a growl. The mind is a beautiful thing to break, Lester thought, with a chuckle. Being in that closet only made mine stronger.
Again, the underbrush rustled. He stood up and pulled his gun from the holster. “Okay, groundhog, come on out and meet your maker."
Two hands grasped his ankles from behind and yanked hard. Lester fell face down in the dirt. The gun beneath him went off, sending a bullet into his side. As he rolled over onto his back, a man wearing only a ragged parka jumped on his chest. Drool dripped from the man's long matted beard.
Lester struck at the man's face, but the man dodged Lester's fists. The man bit into Lester's arm, tearing away skin and muscle.
“Damn you, groundhog," Lester said. It was then he noticed six other groundhog's standing around him. He had no time to react as they leapt on him, tearing away his clothes, ripping his hair from his head, and biting into his skin. It was Julie who pushed her long dirty fingernails into his eyes, instantly blinding him.
He was still breathing, barely, when they pushed him into the hole. His leg broke as it hit the bottom rung on the ladder.
The groundhogs returned to the woods.
* * *
Hanging on the barbed wire fence that surrounds the woods are signs that read: Enter At Your Own Peril.