by Santa Shaara
She wanted to climb the trail by herself, but something happened she never expected.
|A Writer's Cramp story: 24 hours/ 1,000 or fewer words
Write a STORY or POEM about getting lost while hiking in the mountains.
The mountain rose high above me, its sides dotted with pines and scrub. Patches of rocks and boulders covered the right side. Toward the left, lay cliffs and insurmountable terrain. Ahead, a faint trail beckoned, one that wound clear around the mountain.
I took off my hot pink cotton/polyester jacket and tied it around my waist, drank a long sip of water, and murmured, “I can do this.”
The path meandered, weaving around huge tree trunks and pines that almost touched the sky. My hiking boots, sturdy and well-worn, broke open the fine-powdered compost of the forest floor. Each step spread the clean-fresh odor of fallen pine needles, rotting pinecones, and redwood bark. I was smiling for the first time in months. When a squirrel chattered at me and a blue jay squawked, I laughed, releasing all the pressures of the city. Tension slid down and off my back and shoulders -- like rainwater dripping off windows.
Bird song filled the air. The chittering and chattering of crickets sent me heavier into an atmosphere of calm. I soon began to whistle as I swung my arms, falling into the easy stride of an experienced hiker.
An hour later a fly irritatingly kept trying to dance on my face. I swatted him and released a couple of insults concerning his species, but not even that fazed me. Light-hearted with joy, I sang, “Oh, what a beautiful day,” in between bites of granola bar and swallows of cool canteen water.
I never noticed the sky clouding over or the way the breeze had started to turn chilly. All the views were too breathtaking to be aware of such unpleasantness – the greenness of the tree lichen and the ferns all around me, the wildflowers in clusters of deep crimson and purple, and that broad expanse of forest down below, visible whenever I glanced over the edge of the trail.
I stopped for lunch when my stomach began growling louder than the hoarseness of my voice. The granola bar hadn’t held me long. I guess I should have eaten breakfast.
I found a half-decayed tree trunk. I sat on the bug-free side, the side where the wood was still hard and strong enough to support my rear end. I lifted off my backpack, spread out my legs, and removed a sandwich and soda. The cola was slightly warm, but the scratchy nature of its fizz felt good on my throat. The cheese and avocado on rye was met with an equal measure of eagerness. I rotated bites of it with the carrot and celery sticks I’d brought. Still hungry from all my walking, I ate my dessert, a shiny red apple, and tossed the core into the bushes, hoping a raccoon or opossum might later discover the treat.
Only after I’d suitably satisfied my tired legs and growling stomach did my eyes lift up to catch the dark gray clouds passing over the sun. I shivered, unhooked my jacket, slipped it on, and zipped it tight. Sighing, my eyes glanced up the path at the remaining climb, then checked the herd of clouds moving in so rapidly. They looked angry – cold and dark.
A shiver ran up my spine. Maybe it would be wiser to head down the mountain and save the rest of my hike for another day. Just as I was debating the issue, a spot of moisture hit my nose. That settled it.
I stood up and teetered on a leg turned numb. I shook it. In response, the unpleasant tingling of pins and needles hit me. For several minutes I couldn’t put my full weight on the foot. Soon the single drop of rain had turned into a steady drip. I set off, heading back down the trail.
I wasn’t singing then, nor whistling. My throat’s scratchiness had turned into a solid ache. All of a sudden, my body was shivery. My head hurt. My brow felt hotter than my mother’s heating pad, yet I had no choice but to keep on going.
The path grew slimy with wet. I took slower steps, treading more carefully, worried I might slip and fall. My heart thumped loudly. The danger of the slope's precariousness sent creepy-crawlies up and down my spine.
I knew what I was doing, though. I would have been fine if the rain hadn’t dislodged a boulder somewhere up above me. The huge rock rumbled as it sped down the mountain. I jumped out of its path, but the dirt all around me had turned to mud. My feet lost traction. My rump soon followed the boulder, heading downward -- my pair of jeans, with me inside them, became an unsteerable sled.
Trees whizzed by. Water, rocks, and fallen branches accompanied me. Luckily the accumulation slowed my speed, but it was a miracle I wasn’t killed -- a miracle I hadn’t run into one of those sky high pines. Even so, the ride placed me deep in the forest, down in an area so dark and blanketed from the sky I had no sense of direction.
Thunder boomed. Rain poured. I was soaked but had fallen under a canopy of trees. I felt warm -- hot even. I huddled against a fir. Eventually I fell asleep.
In the morning, stiff and sore from both the climb and the fall, I began to walk, searching desperately for the lost trail. No bird song cheered me that morning. Even the squirrels had more sense than to be out on a drizzly day. I walked with a hanging head, my hacking coughs the only sound in the forest.
Thank God for the Rescue Squad that found me later. They carried me out on a stretcher. I spent the next days in a hospital attached to an antibiotic drip.
The mountain still calls to me. I haven’t lost my yearning to reach the top, but I'm resigned. Next time I’ll take a cell phone and a climbing partner, just in case.