Three teens ride in woods near their home in a very rural area. Things go wrong.
|To the reviewer: This was a contest entry (did not win). Had to be exactly 50 paragraphs, no dialogue allowed, must use 1st and last "supplied " paragraphs. Let me know what you think...Thanks RJS
Prologue: There was no coverage, not even one bar, the battery was dead anyway. It was still daytime, but there was an overcast and the sky had a perfectly even dullness, so there was no way to tell what time of day it was, much less which direction was north or south or anything else for that matter. A two-lane blacktop road snaked up into the distance and disappeared into some trees, or a forest, if you wanted to get technical about it. It also snaked down toward some lumpy hills and disappeared there as well. What sounded like a two-stroke chainsaw could be heard in the distance, but it was impossible to tell whether it was up in the forest or down in the lumpy hills. This had been happening more often lately. Two different ways to go, with a dead battery and no bars, and nobody left to blame.
Eleven hours earlier, the sun was shining brightly as Penny left her uncle’s El Dorado in the Walmart parking. Paul walked over to the car and placed a knapsack in the back on the floor; his cell phone tumbled out of his jacket into the car; he didn’t notice. Paul mounted his bike and both off road motorcycles raced toward the forest which stretched north with different scenery and sometimes an abandoned cabin or two.
Brad had mounted his cell phone on the handlebars and used a mapping application to get them to their usual starting point about five miles north. Jenny rode today with Brad’s friend Paul. Penny was neither boy’s girlfriend; the three students of Grant’s Pass High just liked being together on an adventure. Once they had stayed overnight at a camp site deep in the woods because the sun had set before they could turn back toward civilization. Needless to say, their parents were not pleased at all.
Penny had tucked her cell phone in her back pocket before she mounted Paul’s bike. As they reached the turnoff to the dirt track which led into the evergreen forest, the phone vibrated and she tapped Paul on the shoulder; they glided to a stop in a small cloud of dust. Acting upset by the intrusion, Penny made a couple of curt responses to questions the caller was asking. Brad and Paul half listened, but mainly ignored the one party conversation which was, apparently, not to Penny’s liking.
Soon enough she touched the red button on the screen, turned off the phone and tucked it back where it was. The boys said nothing as she looked from one to the other for a comment. Brad smirked, pulled his helmet back over his face and kicked the Yamaha into first gear, revved the engine and popped the clutch into a slight tire spin and wheelie. Paul eased out the clutch and followed Brad staying forty yards behind the other bike to avoid the dust cloud.
Soon, both bikers had to slow down to navigate the bends and turns through the rain carved arroyos which twisted through these mature pine forests. They had already downshifted to second gear in order to negotiate the quickly changing down and up sloping terrain. The trees varied in size from saplings to hundred foot monsters, three to four feet in diameter.
When they came to a clearing, the result of logging companies clear cutting the vegetation, the going got a bit more tricky. Tree stumps rose above the ground at various heights and if one weren’t careful, he might snag a pedal or scrub a tire. Flat tires out in the woods were never a good happening in the woods, both bikes made it through the obstacle course.
Once they passed the clearing, Brad stopped to consult his cell phone screen and noticed that they were no longer heading due north, but more to the north east. Their favorite routes were heading basically north. Without telling the others, why, Brad zoomed off to the northwest to find their usual exit trail from the clearing.
Paul, recognizing his friend’s maneuver, turned his front wheel to the left and followed Brad’s lead. After several minutes they found their trail and stopped for a breather and a drink of cool water. Penny dismounted, opened a saddle bag on Paul’s bike and passed a plastic bottle of water to the boys and took one for herself.
After discussing the beautiful sunny and cool weather, they remounted the bikes and headed up their trail as it sloped up from the clearing. The going was slow, but at the top of this hill the terrain flattened out and the trees spread apart making it easier to see the trail as it meandered up to their right. When they reached the top, they paused again and decided to look for a different path to explore. Last time they had found an abandoned trapper’s cabin. A bear had torn the doors off and had pillaged the inside.
Penny always worried about meeting a bear, but Paul assured her that bears and other critters were afraid of the noisy two stroke exhausts of their bikes. She worried anyway; Penny had read the stories of coyotes and wolves tracking people in the woods. Why would a noisy machine always keep them away? She knew that all animals had different reactions to humans.
Penny held Paul a little tighter around the waist as they moved along the path. They had just passed an opening to their left when Brad slammed on the brakes. Penny thought he had seen a rattle snake as his bike’s rear wheel lifted slightly off the ground as he skidded to a halt. Brad immediately maneuvered his bike into an awkward k-turn and accelerated back toward Penny and Brad.
Paul and Penny looked confused until Brad stopped and smiled through his faceplate, grabbed the chin of his helmet and tilted it back. He asked if they had seen the opening, then without waiting to hear their answer, Brad released his clutch and slowly accelerated back the way they had come. Penny dismounted to allow Paul to perform Brad’s maneuver and then she climbed back aboard. They followed Brad who was already up the new path.
Brad proceeded slowly at first and then picked up speed as the terrain leveled out and the trees opened up to allow it. Paul followed at a safe distance for about a mile or so before he noticed a wall of trees up ahead. Brad saw them, too and had slowed his speed by downshifting. He sat and waited for the other two and played with GPS screen to enlarge the view.
When Paul and Penny stopped at the same stand of trees, they noticed that there was quite a bit of scrub between the trees with no obvious trails cut through. Brad looked at his GPS; it was blank. He tapped the screen lightly and a map appeared briefly as an ocean of green, then went blank again. They would need that GPS to find their way back to civilization.
Brad tapped it once more and noticed that his battery was showing only half of a charge. It was full when they left. Suddenly, the map came on again and stayed on. Brad shrugged and motioned to Paul and Penny to follow as he skirted the tree line going west following the GPS. After a few minutes a new path opened to the right; Brad stopped for a second to see if Paul was with him and satisfied that his friend was following, he moved into the new path.
There was grass covering the path, but there were distinct grooves cut by previous motorcycles visible beneath the grass; Brad figured it was reasonably safe to continue. Penny and Paul followed without hesitating, but stayed twenty yards behind the leader as tall white pines lined the road as far as one could see ahead. The only difference was that the blue sky had turned into a gray solid overcast with downward puffs of darker gray. If it were winter and a bit colder, Brad would have expected snow. However, there was little wind and the trail seemed very clear ahead.
The grass of the trail gave way to dark clay which stuck to Brad’s tires as he moved along at a good pace. Paul noticed the clay spitting off Brad’s tires and eased off the speed, extending the distance between the bikes. An hour and a half had passed since they left the first clear cut area. The trail they followed did not continue straight north as in the beginning. Now, it curved to the right and then right again completing a one hundred and eighty degree turn only to double back in a long arcing curve.
As they moved along the trail, two of the largest crows Paul had ever seen, flashed across the trail between them and disappeared into the forest. After another mile, the trail began to twist through two rock strewn gullies which took a while for both bikes to navigate before they climbed up and out into another stand of evergreens. The explorers stopped to discuss turning back when Brad noticed that Paul’s rear tire appeared low on air.
When they examined the tire, there was thin gash, probably from one of the rocks in the gorge. A little bit of spit on the slash confirmed an air leak. Penny sighed, realizing that Brad’s bike couldn’t carry three. It was time for a difficult decision. Only two could ride safely on the remaining bike, someone had to stay behind or they could just call for help and await a rescue.
Brad checked his phone, it was 30% charged and no bars. Paul couldn’t find his and figured it fell out somewhere on the trail. Penny, slipped her phone out of her hip pocket and turned it on; she had one bar and tried to call her mother. The screen showed the call in progress, then no service. She tried a text and the same thing happened. They were in a dead spot and any call for help was impossible.
One of them would have to remain out here while the other two rode back to town and return with a new tire. Both boys offered to be the one; the boys argued that, because Penny was a girl, one of them should remain. Penny bristled at the discussion and let each one have an earful. They decided to draw lots from a nearby forest floor, Penny picked up three twigs and broke two to the same length and left the third one longer. Brad chose first and got a shorter twig; Paul followed with longer one.
Penny felt bad about leaving anyone out there and she said so, but mounted Brad’s bike. They left three bottles of water and several protein bars. The plan was to get back to town, find Penny’s older brother who was also a biker and bring back a new tire. When Penny looked at Paul, he put on his bravest face and smiled and told them to stop wasting time and get going.
Brad, with Penny holding on tightly, drove as fast and as safely as he could back along the path. The scenery looked familiar as they proceeded. Brad had mentally noted landmarks, a dried creek bed, a fallen white pine, a section of woods obviously the victim of a blow down. He realized that this area must have had some interesting weather. He hoped it would continue to stay moderate, but the air was getting cooler.
They were probably at a higher altitude and their new route may be more weather dangerous than he thought. They stopped to rest and get their bearings. Brad checked the GPS; it was acting out again. His cell phone was now down to 20% and the map on the screen showed a whole lot of green surrounding them. They decided to press on. Two large crows cawed as they orbited high above against the gray overcast. They were chasing a Red Tail Hawk which struggled to gain altitude and shed his pesky pursuers.
Just as Brad made the first sharp curve, he heard something ping really loud and the engine revved high. He twisted the right hand grip backward and the two stroke calmed down. Brad realized that he had just snapped the drive chain in two. The bike was done; it was time to get on their feet. Taking the water that was left and leaving anything they didn’t need, like helmets, with the bike they started walking down the trail, each one hoping that it take them back directly to their usual turnoff.
As far as they could tell the GPS showed no road close to them; there only hope was to follow the trail and look for a familiar landmark, then navigate eventually back to civilization. The only problem at the moment was that they were in unfamiliar territory. And, with the overcast, they had no idea of the direction except for the GPS and neither of them trusted what it said. Brad, tapped the phone once more and it died, refusing all his pleas to come back on. The battery was dead.
Penny’s phone had no signal and when Brad asked to open her map application, she confessed that she had opted to not have one. She knew now that she was stupid. But, just in case she was wrong, she decided to check her disable program section on the phone. She pulled out the phone and looked at the screen; it was shattered and the phone would not operate.
Brad was crestfallen as he realized that he might have taken one of the turns too fast and now he remembered Penny’s scream as she grabbed him as she almost fell off the bike. She must have smashed the phone trying to hang on. His phone was dead and Penny’s was smashed; they couldn’t even trade batteries. The phones were different makes.
Like two desperate fugitives Brad and Penny walked as quickly as possible down the path. They were getting tired and stopped again to rest. From the high ground, they could see a huge swath of treetops stretching to their right. Behind them the topography sloped upward at a pretty steep angle and it was thick forest. There only hope was to follow the trail, but it wasn’t getting any earlier in the day. Brad figured they had only four hours of daylight left. And their water was running low.
They both looked out from the high perch, all they could see were more lumpy hills until Penny’s sharp eyes spied a section black through the gap formed by two hills, a highway? They headed straight downhill in that direction through the woods and came upon a deer path which was going in their general direction. The deer path wove through the scrub and larger pines toward the open ground.
Suddenly elated, they were moving in the direction of what looked like a highway just beyond several of those rolling hills. After first two hills, each time they descended into a valley formed by the next set, they expected the road to be just over the following ridge, only to be disappointed. Their elation faded as they sat, discouraged and weary.
Brad’s wrist watch said 4:30; this was Fall and the sun would be setting by 6:00 PM. and Paul was probably wondering what was happening. That’s when Penny remembered bears and coyotes and wolves. The thought made her shudder visibly; Brad noticed and wrapped his arm around her shoulders to encourage her and then he helped her to her feet again.
They reached the last hilltop and were actually surprised that just below a two-lane blacktop road snaked up into the distance and disappeared into some trees, or a forest, if you wanted to get technical about it. It also snaked down toward some more lumpy hills and disappeared there as well. They were just deciding to continue, when Penny heard a distant noise.
Brad and Penny both stayed very still until the sound reached them again; it was a two-stroke chain saw off in the distance. Each time it stopped, Penny’s ears throbbed a she concentrated on picking up the noise again. Brad had the same problem until the chain saw screamed into action again; this time it seemed to be closer, but in which direction?
Brad could see the tops of lumpy treeless hills way off to his left and the terrain was full of trees to the right. The chainsaw next time sounded like it was coming from the forest behind them. There had to someone running the chainsaw; that someone may have a truck or a car. How long would they be cutting?
Brad and Penny had to choose a direction to find a ride back to town. Penny mentioned to Brad that she noticed that this year, Senior Year, she had to make more serious decisions about her life; Brad agreed; this had been happening more often lately. She wondered how Paul was doing; they had to get back there before dark, if they could still find the place.
They listened intently and decided to try the road to their right, gambling that there lumber jack was somewhere up the road. The chain saw had been quiet for five minutes as they walked. The road downhill was okay, but the uphill was torture. They had walked about two miles and there was no sign of a break in the trees on either side of the road and the sky was turning a darker gray. The sun was moving toward sunset and the chain saw had stopped.
Brad had to admit that they may have gone in the wrong direction. There was a downed tree trunk at the side of the road; he sat and Penny joined at him. She was very tired, but she worried about Paul all alone out the wilderness. She wondered if they would ever find him again. Brad reminded her that they had to survive the trip first to get back out there.
Their desire to explore was at a low point just as a pair of the biggest crows they had ever seen, swooped in from the left and landed in the middle of the road and pecked at the blacktop. Brad thought of his class on birds; the crows were eating gravel to help their digestion. The birds stayed for a few minutes ignoring Brad and Penny and then, as quickly as they arrived, the crows rose on the slight breeze coming down the road from the right and soared up above the trees.
The crows continued in that direction. Brad and Penny were both jealous that these birds could just fly up high enough to see which direction to go. Brad talked Penny into following the crows and they began walking down the seemingly unending road with its trees on both sides. Knowing that they should always walk toward traffic, they kept the single, seemingly endless yellow lane stripe on their right.
Several times Brad had to wait for Penny; she was a cheerleader, but even though he was on the track team, his endurance was lagging, too. He had paper road maps at home, but since he started with the GPS, there was little need for those paper maps, nonetheless, he tried to visualize the map of the surrounding area. He was drawing a blank about roads north of town in the mountains.
Where were they? It was getting to dusk as the sun was setting behind the overcast; the night creatures were stirring in the woods and twice he had to walk faster to outrun swarms of mosquitoes. Penny had just caught up with him, when they heard the cough of an internal engine which sounded like it hadn’t been tuned for years. In the dusk behind them about a quarter of a mile away, an old pickup truck coughed and sputtered as it came around a curve.
As the truck got closer, the white bearded man noticed them and his brakes squealed as he brought the truck to a stop. After wondered out loud what these dumb kids were doing on the least traveled road in the State, he generously offered them a ride in the back with the cord of wood and his chainsaw. Brad and Penny gratefully climbed on top of the woodpile and laughed as they noticed the old dirty, oil stained Stihl chainsaw lying alongside the stack of wood. Its chain popped off the chain bar; no wonder the sound had stopped.
Blue smoke puffed out of the tailpipe as the old man stepped on the gas and Brad and Penny gasped as the breeze wafted the smoke toward the front of the truck. A squawking noise echoed through the cab of the truck. They smiled as they realized that this beat up old clunker was the most beautiful vehicle that each had ever seen. But, the surprise which followed was even bigger than finding that highway in the wilderness.
When they reached the north end of town, darkness had already fallen and there were several emergency vehicles in the Walmart parking lot. In the middle of the lot, a State Police helicopter sat on the ground; its propeller spun around faster and faster as it gathered lift off speed. Brad and Penny watched as the helicopter rose slightly off the ground and rotated ninety degrees, hovered for several seconds and blowing the hats off several spectators as it gained altitude leaned nose down and flew up the highway about a hundred feet above Brad and Penny in the back of the truck.
The old man turned into the parking lot; Brad and Penny were just happy to see civilization again and were surprised when he pulled up alongside the State Trooper cruiser. The old man pointed his thumb to the back of the truck and the Trooper scrambled out of the vehicle and, smiling, approached Brad and Penny and brought them through the crowd over to Paul who was sitting in the back of an ambulance.
Apparently, Penny’s mother had called her uncle when she couldn’t get in touch with her. Penny’s uncle was a Sheriff’s Deputy and mobilized the State Police after a student pilot spotted three kids on motorcycles going into the Powell Watershed, a restricted area. When the police helicopter spotted the one stranded boy, they landed close by and retrieved both Paul and the wounded bike.
The helicopter, which just left, was going back to base after they got a CB message from Clarence Hollings who reported he had retrieved two teens matching the description of the missing ones and was bringing them in. The crowd in the parking lot was massive. The whole town was there. After all, three of their young citizens were in danger. Now they were safe; the crowd applauded as the three wanderers were reunited. The crowd dispersed and drove away into the growing darkness with a happy ending tale to tell. It turns out that, Clarence Hollings was a retired Sheriff’s Deputy who lived off the land northeast of the city near the Powell Watershed.
With a deputy’s help, Brad and Penny had waded their way through the crowd, and back to the El Dorado; the ambulance sat nearby with Paul inside. A large a crow flew through the light of the street lamps directly over their heads and landed on the hood and then looked at them. They stood some distance away and watched the crow watching them. Another crow flew directly overhead and landed beside it. The first crow squawked and then both flew away. They watched the crows disappear, looked at each other, and then all three eventually got in the El Dorado and drove home.
Paul looked at his phone; it had five bars and a full battery.