The Trail (February 2015)

The moon is impossible to see above me. Trees barricade nearly every move I make, and I grow disoriented each time I weave through their towering trunks. Somehow I’m even more lost than before. I’m scared to death.

Everything had started off so well; once the tents were pitched, we had all gathered around the warmth of the fire some of the others built. While they launched into rapid conversation, I just watched the flames dance about the logs, and let the crackling noises they made fill my ears. The only thing that stole my attention away was a hot dog, freshly toasted, tossed my way by Elijah.

Not too long after the sky was filled with hundreds of twinkling stars, the chatter cut to near silence as everyone scampered off to bed. I joined Elijah’s tent, and he left plenty of room for me beside him. Practically the moment he slipped into his sleeping bag, he conked out like a light. I was prepared to do the same.

I heard a noise coming from outside the tent. Leaning ever-so-carefully closer to the opening flap, I listened for whatever had alerted me to start up again. The heavy, dull thuds that shook the ground paralyzed me in my spot. Whatever was outside had to be big – much bigger than Uncle Ted, and he was the largest thing I could think of.

As fear skittered up and down my back, I looked over to Elijah sleeping peacefully and I shook my terror off. My jaw set. No intruder was going to harm my family.

My bravado didn’t last long.

I bounded out of the tent, ready to take on whatever threat loomed in the darkness. My head whipped from one direction to the next in search of my foe and … he wasn’t too hard to spot. The bear scratching up the bark of a tree in a desperate attempt to reach the food stored in its higher branches was nearly enough to make me wet myself. Had he turned around and seen me, I’m certain I would’ve.

Without thinking, I bolted off at the sight of him, my legs carrying me into the woods while my brain panicked.

       A bear!?

I had only ever seen one of the stuffed variety, but the living and breathing ones were not cuddly or harmless. As much as I wanted to protect my family, if I stuck around and the bear was that determined for a snack, I would’ve easily been his next meal.

That brings us back around to right now. Me wandering through the woods aimlessly. Following the trail back to camp doesn’t sound too hard, but the possibility that the bear may still be there is all too real. I want to stop and rest – it would probably be much easier to wait for the sun to return – but everywhere I go I know that I’m not alone. The moment I try to lie down, I hear the crunching of leaves and pine needles, and the mustiness of the forest is so foreign and unnerving to me that I can’t close my eyes.

I pant as I continue along the path that I found traced in the dirt. It’s faint in the darkness but I hope that it will lead me to somewhere with people. A few birds take off from their perches, the sudden flapping of their wings startling me as I cry out. I yell at them a few times for good measure.

Calming from my sudden outburst, I whimper and think back to Elijah. He had left the flap open for me if I had to relieve myself out in the woods – I could never zip up the thing even if I tried – so could the bear have reached in and grabbed him? The image unsettles me enough to where I feel sick enough to vomit.

Just when all hope is lost, several people carrying flashlights rush in my direction, but then pass me. I follow after them, hoping that maybe they knew that a bear had crossed into our campsite.

As luck would have it, that is exactly what happens. I return to the campsite to find the shredded remains of our food supply, scattered all over the ground. The bear must have gotten too it after all, but when I search for him this time, I come up with nothing.

Distracted as I wonder where the bear may have vanished to, the strangers I chased after approach my family for a word with them. Everyone is outside of their tents in their pajamas, holding their arms over their chests. It must be cold for them out here.

Elijah finds me hovering at my place and runs over to me in an instant. Before I could get a good look at the tears in his eyes, he scoops me off the ground and squeezes me close to him. I’m sure he is wondering where I’ve been – I must have worried him. No words need to tell me that, nor are any needed for him to know how relieved I am to have made it back. I merely follow after him as we head off back to sleep.

 

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