HAVING DRIVEN two miles on Cedar Grove Road in east central Georgia, Atlanta physician Michael H. Smith turns right onto the graveled surface of Kingston. Near the tiny rural community of Buckhead, this unimproved dirt road cuts through two of Georgia’s most prized hunting tracts.
With his aged dog Lady as his companion, the white-haired internist pulls his 1974 Volkswagen Karmann Ghia off the road and comes to a stop on the grassy shoulder. Despite looking abandoned parked in the waist-high fescue, he’s confident his orange convertible will be safe while he goes jogging. Having left it there numerous times when visiting his in-laws, who live on nearby Lake Oconee, he knows traffic at this intersection is virtually nonexistent on a Sunday.
Lady, a Beagle/Lab mix, is a meek and gentle dog, traits uniquely similar to her owner. And while she cherishes riding in Dr. Smith’s Karmann Ghia, what she likes even more is jumping out of it when the ride is over. Therefore, when Dr. Smith motions to get out of his car, Lady attempts to leap out the passenger-side window. Sadly, due to her advancing age and poor health, she cannot. Determined, she climbs out the window only to fall to the ground, her fragile legs collapsing beneath her body when she lands. Watching his sixteen-year-old dog struggle to right herself is an agonizing sight. Prepped for today’s event, the seasoned caregiver retrieves his black leather doctor’s bag from his car and attends his beloved pet.
“No more heroics, Lady,” he consoles. ”Your vitality will always be remembered.”
On this chance October morning, a dense vapor blanketed the landscape.
The fog-like environment has reduced the visibility to near zero. Though rooted in suburbia, the enigmatic physician finds the soggy ghost-like conditions exhilarating. “Today I’ll exercise mind and body,” he envisions.
Minutes into his run, Dr. Smith looks over his shoulder to acknowledge Lady’s body lying roadside. Resigned to her fate, he yells reverently, “You’re not forgotten,” but does not stop.
Listening to music playing on a portable CD player strapped to his waist, it doesn’t take long for the gaunt exercise enthusiast to fancy himself a world-class runner. Energized by the bassdriven lyrics of a ‘70’s hit single blasting through his earphones, he’s certain he’s reached the athletic plateau known as the zone.
Ahead of him lies a steep incline. Due to the effort required to negotiate it, he’s labeled it Cardiac Hill. It’s his nod to Atlanta’s famed ‘Heart Attack Hill’ from the city’s annual Peachtree Road Race. At its crest he can stop and enjoy a panoramic view of Lake Oconee and some of its three hundred miles of shoreline. Created by Georgia Power’s Wallace Dam, the lake forms the western border separating Greene County and Morgan County. The pain in his legs is lessened by the release of his body’s endorphins, and the fifty-five-year-old sprints the final yards to the top.
At the summit, vibrant eyes labored furiously against the backdrop of the man-made lake.
There, following a measured recovery, a loud explosion rocks the hilltop with the ferocity of a meteorite. The thunderous sound comes from a gunshot fired at point-blank range. The force of the blast is enough to lift Dr. Smith’s body and expunge his lifeless corpse back to earth. The violent act torches the countryside like the squall of an angry hurricane. The adjoining woodlands are electrified by the force of this calculated blast administered mere feet away. As if in sync, the moist air becomes ice-cold and the grey sky turns a solemn black.