The Gnarly Bandit Heads East

CampfireThe Bandit rubbed his hands over the fire, slowly working the feeling back into his long, gnarly digits. Nearly two months removed from the Zumbro hundred miler and they were still stiff and numb. But a warm fire and many draughts off his bottle of Hair o’ the Dog had made progress. He flexed each finger in turn, listening to the sound of each knuckle as it crackled like someone breaking a handful of kindling into smaller bits. He counted as he went along …6, 7, 8. Pausing there, pondering, a nervous facial tic suddenly caused his eye to twitch spasmodically.

“Eight,” he croaked. That number chapped his hide, as it was the regrettable total of folks he had allowed to survive the Gnarly Bandit series in 2013. The most ever… by a long shot. It rubbed him the wrong way, like a handful of sand caught in one’s under-britches.

“Never agin’…,” he muttered, and through the pain, the hint of a shit eatin’ grin raised the corner of his wiry mustache. Then the gnarly one cackled, the satisfied hoot of a man that knew that he had already assumed the upper hand in this year’s incarnation of the Gnarly.

Ingenious, it had been. Lull the varmints in with hours of pleasant, temperate running. Then, roll the elements upon ‘em, like a giant boulder careening down a skinny gulch with no place to escape. He had had to pull in a few favors from ol’ Mother Nature to pull that one off. Interestingly, she had insisted that for her to conjure up what he was asking for, he had to drag his ol’ bag o’ bones atop Ant Hill and yell out when she was to release the icy, relentless torrent. Better reception up there, she had said with a sly smile. He suspected otherwise, but was in no position to bargain, so once again he endured the woman’s peculiar sense of humor. The dousing had taken its toll, of course, but had been well worth it – for only a smattering of them crazy, runnin’ fools had emerged from Zumbro Bottoms thinkin’ they could still outsmart the Bandit.

He removed his hat, pulling a wrinkled piece of sweat-stained paper out of the brim. Leaning in toward the firelight, he read the names he had scrawled in his semi-legible chicken scratch. John Maas, the elder statesman of the group – almost as old as the Bandit himself, and perhaps as wily. Veronique Boucher, that intrepid gal from across the border. Should’ve known cold, icy bluster wouldn’t stop a denizen of the Great White North. Jeremy Lindquist and Jordan Schmidt, the two young guns. The Bandit grunted at his horse, “Why you’re older ‘n the both of ’em put together!” The old bay whinnied a curse in his general direction and returned his attention to gnawing the dry grass, the exchange already forgotten.

“Their times a-comin’,” he thought.

He scratched his beard as he pondered his next move, knocking bits of old cornbread loose to fall upon the dirt. He watched with mild interest as a field mouse appeared from beneath the log on which he sat. It scurried over, downing one of the wayward crumbs in a single gulp. A peculiar look crossed over its furry visage, before it turned a light shade of green, then keeled over backwards with all four paws sticking straight up in the air – setting a new number front and center in the old man’s head.

The Gnarly Bandit poured his coffee pot over the fire and threw a leg up over his horse, prodding him into a gallop toward the southeast. Heading toward the Kettle Moraine…

“Four,” he thought. Four runners left. Four races to go. It was time to get back to work.

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