“I feel like a cold old toad.” Kerry rubbed her
hands together, as she cautiously eased her head out from under the edge of the
tarp and regarded the sky. It
was still overcast, but somewhere the sun had risen, and the path was now
revealed in it’s rocky and narrow shape, between the
two canyon walls on either side.
She had peeled out of her rain slicker, but
everything she had on was damp and she felt waterlogged and uncomfortable, glad
at least she’d gotten an hour or two of sleep out of it.
Nearby, Sally and Tracey were putting down what wood
they’d scrounged and saved, starting a fire to warm up some water at least for
the teabags they’d brought along.
Todd, Rich and Dave had taken a walk up the path to check it for storm
brought obstacles, and the rest of the gang was working on packing up things so
they could move on.
The biggest problem was going to be their now three
injured members. JP had
resumed her hastily made crutches, and Janet was gamely limping around on her
cut leg, but Petey was unable to stand, much less
walk and even rolling over was painful for him.
Marcia was kneeling next to him, examining his
back. Don and Dar were
lashing together the tarp poles to make a litter. They had, at least, not gotten eaten by a
mountain lion during the rest of the very long night.
Kerry went over to the longest of the coolers and
pried the lid up, revealing some of their salted fish. She removed one of them and closed the
top, putting the fish on it and retrieving the metal plate they’d used as a
There was rain in a bucket nearby, and she used it
to dunk the fish, cleaning off the salt coating as best she could using a piece of wood with a flat edge to manipulate it
before lifting it up to let it drain then putting it back on the metal.
Not really the best tool, but she took out her small
folding knife and started cutting the fish up into pieces, to make it easier to
cook. She could hear them striking
sparks for the fire nearby, and she was glad, at least, that she’d had one of
her protein bars, found in the bottom of her daybag
to start with shared with Dar for half of one of her last remaining packets or
Amy came over to her and put down a big double
handful of dried berries. “I had
these.” She said. “Thought we should share.”
Kerry regarded them. “Sure, why not?” She agreed.
“Give some flavor to this stuff.”
found this.” Sally detoured over
and plunked down an open can of mushrooms.
Mushrooms, berries and fish. “I think I’m starting to feel like a
bear.” Kerry remarked. “Which is better than an old cold toad, anyway.”
“Never mind. Just talking to myself.” Kerry finished
her cutting and moved the piece of metal over to where they’d piled rocks
together and lit a fire between them. She balanced the metal on top and
retrieved a bit of metal tent prop and started moving it around.
Sally was shoving a metal water pot between two of
the stones. “We’re earning our camping badges today, huh?”
Kerry eyed her in somewhat puzzled silence.
“C’mon Kerry. Don’t tell me you weren’t a girl
scout.” Sally stood up and dusted
her hands off, with a chuckle.
“I wasn’t a girl scout.” Kerry said, apologetically.
“I don’t think Dar was either.”
“Was what?” Dar was just sliding her pocket knife
away as she came closer to investigate what was going on.
“A girl scout.”
Both of Dar’s dark eyebrows shot up. “No.” She answered, with a brief laugh. “You know I got my camping skills the
She went over and felt the bedroll they’d crouched
on all night, finding it unpleasantly cold and clammy to the touch. “Yuk.” She
picked it up and started wringing it out bit by bit
with powerful twists of her hands.
Kerry continued her stirring. “Dar grew up on a
couple of Navy bases.” She explained to Sally. “Probably weren’t many troops in
“Ah.” Sally nodded. “And you?”
“I grew up between backwoods Michigan and Washington
DC.” Kerry smiled a little. “I’m sure there were girls
scouts in the area, but they weren’t on my parents radar for me.”
“Oh. So you had family in the government?”
“My father, and now my mother, in fact, were and are
Senators.” Kerry confirmed. “When
my father passed on, my mother took his seat, and now I think she’s going to
run for reelection.”
“Huh.” Sally removed the tea bags from the plastic casing
they’d put them in. “Was that weird?”
Kerry stirred and considered. “Didn’t seem weird at
the time, but probably it was.” She admitted. “Its
like anything else I guess, it’s what you get used to.”
“True. My folks were serious hippies.” Sally said.
“That’s how I ended up from Colorado.
My dad’s a health store manager and mom’s an astrologer.” She chuckled
at Kerry’s slightly wide eyed reaction. “All I got from that was the vegetarian
deal, and like you said, its just what you get used
to. I never ate anything but vegan until I went to school.”
Kerry chuckled in response. “Dar’s folks are,
respectively, retired Navy special forces and an artist.” She said. “A pagan
artist, matter of fact.”
“Thaat must be a story.”
Kerry poured the drained mushrooms into the fish and listened to it
sizzle. “ But they’re awesome people. I guess they
were so used to being different, that my and Dar’s relationship didn’t even
faze them a bit. They were all in.”
“I know it.” Kerry judged if the canned
mushrooms were warmed
through, then she went back and got the berries, coming over to add them to the
pan. She turned the pieces of
fish a few more times, then moved the piece of metal off the stone. “Come and
Dar sidled over and inspected the impromptu fish
hash. She eyed Kerry dubiously.
“C’mon.” Kerry scooped some up onto one of the
cracked plates and moved aside, as the rest of the gang came over to take
some. She took a forkful, then
offered one to Dar. “it’s not bad.”
Dar gingerly accepted the taste, and chewed it, then
made a low grunting noise and picked up her own fork. “it’s not.” She swallowed the
mouthful. “I like the berries.”
“This is good.” Amy agreed. “Its
just like what we like to eat out in the wild. No fake stuff.” She had her pack
already at her feet and her hair tied up in a bun at the top of her head. She
was wearing the odd looking foot gear again and she idly kicked a small rock
with one of her toes.
“Those for climbing?” Sally had taken a seat on a
cooler and was stolidly chewing on her fish.
“They are. They have really grippy
soles.” Amy turned one over for
inspection. “And they conform to your foot. Only downside is, they’re better
for climbing than hiking.”
Marcia came over to them. “Hey you know.” She
lowered her voice. “That kid’s got a real problem with his back. There’s a lump
there the size of a baseball.”
“Ow.” Sally grimaced. “Probably cracked something in
“Probably. But he’s in a lot of pain.” Marcia
said. “I did that to my elbow
once.” She held up one arm, and pointed to her joint. “They had to operate to
relieve the pressure. Was no fun at all.” She looked at her husband, who had
wandered over. “How are you doing, honey?”
“Doing all right.” Don touched the side of his head,
where the lump had been and where now he had scabs. “Got a tough skull.” He picked up a plate and took some of the
fish. “Hope we can make some good time today. Not looking forward to another
night like that.”
“Nobody is.” Sally sighed. “Hey Rich! Get some
It was slow getting started. Between the water logged material and
sorting out carrying things it was almost noon before they got moving along the
path, in ones and twos in the damp and slightly musty air.
The pace itself was slow, because of the injured and
the need to carry supplies. Rich
and Dar were in the lead, with Todd and Kerry right behind them, and Don and
Marcia just a few steps back.
So far the clouds had remained dormant, and the
winds just blew fitfully against them as they walked along a narrow path
between canyon walls, past the cave they’d found the night before, and into
spaces where the walls were sculpted and scoured, and looked like sculpture.
They were quiet, and their steps scraped softly
against the sandy ground. Dar
shifted the duffel on her back, feeling the dampness still in it, and looked up
at the walls.
Pretty, but there was too much worry and discomfort
to really enjoy them. Even Kerry
had left her camera in it’s bag, and she was walking
along, eyes on the ground.
Dar reached up to touch a bit of the wall she was
going past, the sandstone surprisingly smooth against her fingertips, and felt
a moment of somewhat irrational loss, that the trip had turned out so
badly. She felt worse for
Kerry than for herself and set her thoughts to what could possibly be done
The path curved between two rock formations and then
bent around to the right, along a rock strewn path that was starting to trend a
little downward. Dar could see
markings up on the left hand wall and she pointed her walking stick at them.
Rich looked up.
“Hard to say.” He said. “Some of the stuff is real, and some of the
stuff… I think they put some stuff up for the tourists, you know?”
“This is one of the trails they use in the summer a
lot.” Rich evaded the implicit criticism. “So they start with a climb down the
canyon wall and then they end up on the river, there, where we came out, and
they pick up a raft there.”
“Huh.” Dar gently booted a stone out of the
path. “I guess by the time you get
down here you’re looking forward to riding a while.”
Rich agreed. “Mostly they
camp one night up by the shack, have a nice que, then get on a paddle style
raft to go the last few days. It’s a fun hike. I’ve done something like it.”
Dar imagined doing it, and had to suppress a smile.
“To be honest, I think I have to come down on my dad’s side and say I’d rather
stick to boats and underwater gigs.”
She admitted. “I won’t lie. I’d rather be diving right now.”
She imagined being on their boat, coming up from a
dive and throwing her fins onto the deck, feeling the warmth of the sun as she
sat down and unfastened the gear strapped to her back and sighed a little.
“Guess it’s what you’re used to.” Rich said, with an
amiable shrug. “That always seemed so.. I don’t know. Technical I guess. For this you just need
your feet, and maybe a stick.” He cleared his throat a little. “Okay, we go
down to the left hand side now. See the marker?”
Dar did, in fact see the curved arrow scratched into
the rock ahead at a crossroads of the path. “Where does the other side go?”
Dave had caught up to them and was now peering past.
“Oh.. that’s where we are?” He nodded. “Yeah, that
other branch goes to a dead end in the path, I think, and a nice overlook.”
Calls from behind them made them all pause, and look
back. “What’s up?” Dar called over
to Sally, who was just at the curve in the path.
“They’re changing bearers.” Sally yelled forward. “Ten minute break.”
“Hey, then lets
go see the overlook.” Dave suggested. “Might as well?” He gestured to the other
path. “Its not far.”
“Good idea.” Sally agreed. “Maybe Kerry can get some
pictures.” She waved forward Amy and Todd, who came striding forward to join
them. “We’re going to see the
overlook down there.”
“Why not?” Todd agreed. “Let them figure it out back
there. That kid’s crying like a baby.” He shouldered past Dave and
started towards the right hand side.
The group of them proceeded on down the trail, as
Kerry caught up and tucked her fingertips into one of Dar’s back pockets.
“Might as well.” Dar said. “Feel bad for Pete
Kerry had gotten her camera out and it was now
hanging around her neck while she used both her stick and a hand on the rock
wall to help climb. She looked down
at the rain washed ground and paused, picking up a small stone and putting it
in her pocket. “Well, hopefully helps on its way back to us.”
The right hand path was rocky, and a little steep,
but they made it up to a boulder at the peak of the slope and then Todd stopped
Dar was right behind him and she looked past his
muscular frame, and she jerked a little as a puff of wind blew against her face
bringing the smell of death with it. “What… “ She
eased past Todd and stepped over some fallen rocks as the rest of the group
scrambled after her.
There was a bundle of debris near the edge of the
drop off, and as Dar reached it a cloud of flies dispersed, and she dodged in
reflex. She poked at the bundle and
it spread a little, exposing a bone.
“Oh shit.” Todd was kneeling near a rock nearby and
now he stood up and pointed. Rolled
up against the stone was a roundish object cracked in two.
They all sort of froze in place. Then Kerry went over to where Dar was
standing and stared wide eyed at the scene, as Todd backed away from the skull
and uncertainly stood nearby. Shock
was obvious on every face, and for a long moment there was only stunned
silence, and the buzzing of the flies.
“Okay.” Dar finally said. “Someone please go get one
of the crew.” She very gently moved a bit of torn cloth with the tip of her
climbing stick. “Because I think this is Josh.” The tip rested on a colorful
bit of fabric stained in blood.
“Oh my god.” Sally turned and raced back up the
path, as Rich, and Dave and Amy slowly moved down towards them and they
gathered together in a clump a few feet away from the remains. Only barely
recognizable as a human figure, the flies were busy buzzing around what was
A pair of tattered shorts. A half chewed boot. The skull with scraps of hair still
“Oh Dar.” Kerry murmured. “So that pack..
“Yes.” Dar said somberly.
Tracey came leaping over the boulder with Sally and
Don at her heels and she came skidding to a halt in the gravel staring at the
remains. “Oh fuck no.” She came
around and dropped to her bare knees uncaring, reaching out to grab the piece
of cloth, the company patch still stained by visible hanging off it. “Oh fuck.”
Todd had come over to Dar’s side and now he folded
his arms across his chest, his usual jackass attitude suppressed. “Damn.” He
muttered. “You figure it was that cat?”
“Figure it was something that was hungry.” Dar
replied quietly. “Like they
reminded us, it’s the wild out here.”
Todd exhaled. “This just went down bad.” He put his arm around Amy, who had
walked slowly over, her hand covering her mouth. “We got lucky last night.”
Dar had to silently agree. “We need a new plan.” She
stated. “No more making it up as we
“Yeah.” Both Todd and Kerry answered in concert. “No more leaving it to someone else
either.” Kerry added. “We need to get out of here.”
They sat in a close huddle, Janet with her cut leg extended
out awkwardly as she held the patch, and a half shredded wallet in her hands.
“So, I think it bears stating, though most everyone
here realizes, that we need to shelter in some place that’s protected at the
end of the day.” Dar was standing
at the edge of the circle. “We
don’t know what attacked Josh. But if it attacked him, it could attack us.”
“Yeah.” Janet slowly agreed. “Never heard of that
“I have.” Tracey said. “We just don’t hear much about that on
“It’s true.” Rich was seated on the ground, his arms
wrapped around his knees. “The
hikes I’ve taken, we knew. About mountain lions, and coyotes, and all that. The
guides usually had guns.”
“We don’t do guns. The management is not a fan.”
Janet said. “It’s a political thing.” She turned the patch over in her fingers.
“But really, on the river there’s no point.”
“So what are we going to do with him?” Tracey asked.
“What’s left of him?”
There was an awkward silence. “We can’t bury him.
They’ll just dig it back up and eat the rest” Todd stated. “Surprised we didn’t
find any vultures here.”
Kerry was seated on a rock, leaning her forearms on
her knees. “We can cremate what’s
left.” She suggested. “With the
pack and everything.”
Don nodded. “That’s a good idea.” He said. “Not just
“Any wood we use for that,
we could use to cook with.” Todd said. “Does it pay to waste it?”
There was another minute of awkward silence. “Yes, it does.” Dar was the one who
finally answered. “Because it’s worth it to me even if I have to spend the
whole night finding more wood to know I paid respect to someone who died in my
Todd shrugged. Everyone else looked relieved, and
Kerry reached back to circle her arm around Dar’s leg and give it a squeeze.
“So let’s get moving on that.” Dar concluded. “Find
some wood, get it done, move on to some place we can shelter safely.”
“Let’s go.” Janet slowly struggled to her feet. “I think I saw a
bristlecone in that last crevice.
We can use that.”
Everyone was glad to escape the horror that the
overlook had become. But waiting for
the path to clear Kerry walked over to the edge of the space and looked out
over the dusty valley the other path descended into. There was not much to be seen, just off
gray walls and rocks and at the bottom, in the corner, a small lake whose surface
was faintly rippled by the wind.
She could imagine Josh standing there, looking out,
possibly choosing this spot to rest in. She took a breath and released it.
Then she turned and made her way back past the sad remains of the bright,
friendly kid she’d talked with and joined Dar at the top of the path. “This sucks.”
“This sucks.” Dar agreed. “I’m damn sorry for
him. Poor kid.”
“I hope it was fast. I hope he didn’t even realize it happened.” She
stared back at the fly ridden pile. “I hope he was just looking at something
pretty, and then it was over, and his soul went up to God.”
Dar put her arms around her and rested her chin on
Kerry’s head, giving her a silent hug.
“That he wasn’t scared and looking into that
animal’s eyes when it hit him.” Kerry concluded. “He was so young.”
Dar hugged her again.
Kerry remained silent for a moment, then she looked
up. “Do you really believe in God, Dar?” She studied the light crystal clarity
of her partner’s eyes, as Dar considered the question somberly. “You said once, that you believed in
“I don’t know exactly what I believe.” Dar finally
answered, as they heard the others returning bringing the wood. “But I hope
he’s in a good place, if there is a place. He was a good kid.” She met Kerry’s
eyes. “And I hope he never knew what
The air was damp, and a little cool,
following them down the path as they moved in a silent straggle away from the
small rock plateau they had left behind.
Kerry was convinced she could still smell the
acridness of it, and hear the crack and slight pop as the bones were consumed
by fire and she felt more than a little sick over it. She walked along at Dar’s heels, her
eyes on the path, one hand tucked into the shoulder strap of the bags she was
No one was talking. Just behind her they were
carrying the stretcher that Petey was lying on, his
intakes of breath audible when they jarred him and JP and Janet were helping
each other along in grim silence.
The sun was starting to head to the edge of
the canyon, sliding out from behind the clouds briefly and then disappearing
sending faint and fitful spears of light down to splash across the path and
The path was narrow, but as they got a bit
further down into the canyon it spread out and Kerry moved up to walk next to
Dar, turning her head to look up at her partner’s sombre
profile as she came up next to her. “Hey.”
“Hey.” Dar answered readily.
Kerry adjusted her shoulder strap a little
and remained silent, just content to watch their hiking boots move in paired
rhythm along the dusty ground and wonder how much longer they would need to
walk before they would find some place to stop.
Or would they even?
She looked ahead down the path, which wound
downward and then bent to the left under an arched overhang between the two
canyon walls. It was dusty and shade after shade of ochre and coral, only
occasional wispy shrubs and grasses edging the path.
At the bottom of the trek, she could see a
color change though. The ground was
changing from dusty to damp and she could see greenery as they reached the
bottom of the canyon and there was water, slowly seeping into the rocks but
still standing from the rain of the night before.
Dar glanced behind them and then looked
forward. “Hold up folks!” She called ahead. “Let’s take a break.”
The bearers put down their burdens and sat
down, as the group all gathered along the path, some looking up at the
sky. Sally pushed the toe of her
boot into a patch of mud and looked back the way they’d come. “Not much cover
anywhere near here.”
“No.” Janet admitted. “A few slot canyons
ahead though. There’s one to the right hand side, maybe two hours up.”
Dave nodded. “I saw that on the map.”
Kerry walked over to where Marcia and Don
were sitting on one of the big coolers.
“How are you guys doing?”
She took a seat on the edge of the box.
“Not bad.” Marcia said. “Don and I do a lot
of hiking at home, so this isn’t too hard on us. I can’t really concentrate though, after
what happened to that poor boy.”
She kept her voice low. “I just feel so bad.”
“Mm.” Don agreed. “I just don’t understand,
myself. If they knew about these animals, to let him go alone.”
That question had also occurred to Kerry.
“Well.” She studied the damp ground. “This is their first trip this year. Maybe
they didn’t know. Maybe it’s new?”
Don pursed his lips thoughtfully. He ha a lined
and craggy face, with deeply tanned skin.
“Could be.” He said. “I
thought it would be nice, you know? To be on the first trip but I think I was
wrong.” He dusted his hands off. “Learned my lesson.”
“Oh c’mon honey. You couldn’t have known this
whole thing would go like it did.” Marcia rolled her eyes. “Lets
just keep our minds on what we’re doing and we’ll come out fine.”
Kerry smiled at her. Then she glanced to her left where
Petey was lying on his side. “Hang in there.”
He opened one eye and peered at her. “Jesus Christ this hurts.” He moaned. “I
feel like my whole body’s on fire.”
Marcia got up and came over. “Do you want
some water, hon?” She knelt by his side. “Let’s see if we can get you some.”
Dar wandered to the front of the group, where
Todd and Amy were seated on a rock, staring off into the distance with bored
expressions. “You think we’ll
find some place to hole up?” She asked, in a casual tone.
Todd shrugged. “If not we can throw that kid
to the lion. Buy us some time.” He
thumped his heels against the rock.
“Really?” Dar eyed him.
He shrugged again. “Survival. You want to
have it eat you instead?”
rather we all make it.” Dar remarked dryly. “I don't really want to end up as a
footnote on a movie of the week.”
Todd stared at her, then he laughed.
Dar moved past him and down the path,
examining the rock wall and running her thumb over the surface of it as she
slowly looked around at the narrow crevice they were moving through. Open to the sky, but enclosed, and she
missed the ability to see any distance.
Like a maze. She imagined what it must look like from
above, these narrow channels in the canyon Like a maze, and that would make
them rats in one, and she wished they were out of it and out of this and on
their way home.
She looked up as the sun emerged for a
moment, and bathed her in it, a comforting touch of warmth on her shoulders and
she relaxed into it, turning one hand over and watching the light pick up the
faint dusting of
crystal on her skin from the surface of the stone.
A scuff of boots against the rock made her
look to her left, and she wasn’t really surprised to find Kerry there. Her partner joined her in the puddle of
sun and leaned her back against the rock, folding her arms over her chest and
crossing her ankles.
They looked at each other and Dar smiled a
little, because she knew they were thinking the same thing, at the same time,
for the same reason and the brief wrinkle of Kerry’s nose acknowledge
that. She reached casually over and
brushed Kerry’s hair from her eyes and felt her lips nibble gently at the skin
on her palm as it passed.
waterbed.” Kerry commented.
“I’d take an air mattress at this point. Or
the futon in that RV.” Dar agreed readily. “Or actually just some privacy.” She
added, after a little pause.
Dar could hear the crew stirring behind them, and
starting to take up their burdens again. Sally and Rich were trading off
backpacks, and the rest stood up and got ready to move on. “Time to hike.”
They both sighed, and Kerry glanced at the
ground, a faint tinge of blood coloring her cheeks which deepened a little when
Dar reached over and tickled her nose. “Long day.”
“With no sleep.” Dar turned and leaned next to Kerry
against the wall and they stood in the sunlight together until it faded out
behind the clouds and a gust of wind replaced it, carrying the scent of mud and
stone and the rest of the party caught up to them.
Then they started off along the path that dipped down
and the rasp of their steps went from a dry scrape to a wet sounding thumping
and as they came around the bend in the path, they heard a rumble far off. With a glance upward, Dar increased her
pace a little, as she stepped over a crack in the path that had a trickle of
water draining down into it.
An hour steady hiking later, and it seemed as though
they were going to keep walking the path until dark. Walls were rising on either side of them
and presenting no real shelter to speak of and the wind was getting more
fitful, and gustier as the clouds kept gathering overhead.
Dar was looking around for any possible protection
with Don at her side, when they heard a yell from behind that brought them all
to a halt.
Tracey came trotting forward. “Todd saw something.”
“That can mean pretty much anything.” Don’s brows
They went back along the trail until they came to
where the rest of the group was clustered, and Todd was pointing over their
heads to one of the walls. “What is it?” Dar said.
“Waterfall, there.” Todd said. “Maybe a cave or something at the base.”
He added. “There’s a side canyon there, up this split.” He looked past the gap
in the path leading off to the left. Just a space between two folds in the
canyon, with discolored ground leading out and down where water had recently
Dar studied the wall. “Lets
go find out.” She said. “Let these folks rest.” She turned and started up the new path
and Todd, Rich and Dave hustled after her, with Kerry at their heels. Don rejoined Marcia back where the tired
team was settling down and huddling close as the light began to fade.
Janet sat down on a cooler, with JP next to her,
giving up all pretense of leadership with an expression of almost guilty
The slot canyon was narrow, and shadowed, the light
only penetrating at the tops due to the depth. It was a little hot and stuffy,
and the ground was bare of any sign of life.
After three or four twists, though, Dar felt a puff of
fresher air and then the path opened up a bit into a larger gap where the sound
of the water was suddenly vivid.
They came out into yet another canyon, teardrop shaped, with a closed
end where the waterfall was gushing out and running downward into the ground at
the far end.
There was no cave. But as Dar climbed up around the base of
the wall where the water was still cascading, she could see some large rocks in
a cluster and an overhang of stone that could be some kind of shelter. “We can
put the supplies here, and then that only leaves that area open.”
Todd was looking at the meager, but present overhang
of rock and nodded. “Sucks.” He said. “But we’re not going to find better.” He
turned around. “I’ll go get the rest of them.”
Rich and Dave started towards the base of the cliff.
“Think I see some brush there.” Rich called over his shoulder. “Get a fire
Kerry joined Dar near the wall. “At least we’re up on
a slope here.” She said. “So if it rains it’ll drain downward and we won’t be
sitting in water all night.” She unslung the bags on her back and set them
down, stretching her body out and twisting from side to side.
“True.” Dar examined the tumble of rocks. Then she
looked up at the wall. “Guess this all came from up there.” She inspected the
overhang and gave one of the stones an experimental shove, but it seemed
solidly anchored in the debris and not inclined to move.
Rich called out and they turned to see him and Dave
coming back dragging what looked like an entire dead bristlecone pine tree
behind them. “Look what we
found.” He produced a brief
smile. “There’s three of them at
least, back in the corner there.”
Which meant they would have fuel to keep a fire
going. “Good job.” Dar said. “Lets put a
fire ring together.” She suggested to Kerry. “Over there?” She pointed to a
rough half circle on one side of the tumble of debris and they went over to it,
booting the rocks center out to the edge.
The ground was sandy rather than rocky, and Dar paused
for a moment, and then she unstrapped the duffel she was carrying and set it to
one side, near the back wall before she rejoined Kerry in sorting out the firepit.
They gathered some head sized stones and put them into
position, as the sound of the rest of the group arriving echoed behind
them. Rich was just outside the
shelter, breaking up the tree, and he called greetings to them, the words
sounding over the cracking sound as he worked.
Don ducked past the overhang. “Well it’s no fancy
cabin.” He said. “But it’s a hell of a lot better than nothing.” He backed out of the way and motioned
behind him. “C’mon in, kids. It is what it is.”
The stretcher bearers carefully maneuvered inside and
set Petey down.
“Better than last night.” Tracey acknowledged, as she shook her hands
out, looking exhausted. “And at least, we’ve got something around us.”
Petey eased himself up to one elbow and
looked around. “Yeah.” He
exhaled. “Warmer too. I was so
cold.” He licked his lips. “I hope
there’s some tea left. i sure could use it.” He
leaned forward a little. “Or even hot water really.”
“We can manage something.” Kerry regarded the cooler
of fish. “I think I’m going to be
ready for a cheeseburger when we get back to the RV, Dardar.
“ She remarked. “Or maybe a pop tart.”
“Moooo Me tooooo.” Dar predictably responded. She picked up one of the plastic buckets. “I’ll get some water.” She walked down
the slight slope to the side canyon the waterfall was falling into and went
over to where its volume splashed down to the rocky ground.
She could feel the mist as she got closer, and she
licked her lips, tasting dust and minerals on the liquid as she stuck the bucket
under it and let it collect, the spray randomly dampening her arms.
Just down slope, she spotted the crew managing to set
up their camping loo, the poles that held up the tattered and almost ragged
tarp around it bent and crooked.
One of the crew looked up at Dar and shrugged his shoulders a little and
she gave him a thumbs up for at least trying.
The previous night, they’d just all walked out into
the rain and did what they had to do and Dar had felt a distinct envy for the
men who’d had a definite advantage.
Even Petey, who couldn’t walk, was able to do
the needful since the driving rain just washed everything away.
Gross. Dar regarded the waterfall with a brief
grimace. “Did I really once think I wanted to do this kind of thing?” She asked
the rock wall, shaking her head a little.
“What the hell, Dar? Live in foxholes and Zodiacs?”
She had though. She remembered thinking of a future of
that and being excited. Being in the rough, and liking it, earning the respect
of her mostly male friends and the kids she’d grown up with and she could see
some of the party, even Todd and Amy, had a liking for it as well.
Sally had said, a few nights back when this had all
been so hypothetical, that it was great to be self
sufficient and be able to keep yourself alive in the wild.
“No, I don’t think so.” Dar addressed the almost
filled bucket. “This is not fun.”
They would be able, she hoped, to get more rest
tonight. Her eyes felt sandy and
sore, and though the hike hadn’t been very strenuous the lack of sleep was
wearing on her and she was looking forward to being able to sit in relative
comfort, preferably dry, tonight.
The bucket was full, and she started back down the
slope, walking through the stream draining off from the waterfall and then back
up to where they were making camp, where Rich was still breaking up branches
but had his head craned to listen to what was going on.
Dar could hear cries of pain. “What happened?” She asked Rich as she
reached where he was standing.
“Pete.” Rich said, briefly. “I think someone hit his
back or something.”
“You stupid piece of shit!”
Tracey’s voice echoed suddenly, in a rawly angry
tone. “I’m going to kick your ass!”
“Oh boy.” Dar sighed. “Just what we needed.” She
started for the shelter, and Rich came right after her, holding a large branch
in one hand.
The scene was unfortunately dramatic as Dar came
around the side of the rock wall and skidded to a halt, the bucket of water
splashing a little around her boots.
Pete was on the ground, writhing in pain and crying
out. Tracey was standing over him,
arms outstretched, face red with anger.
Todd was standing with his hands lifted, palms
outward, a smirk on his face.
Dar moved sideways to where Kerry was standing, hands
on hips. ‘What happened?”
“That asshole kicked Pete in the back.” Kerry
pronounced crisply. “Before you ask, for absolutely no good reason.”
“He’s just a fucking baby.” Todd said. “I got tired of
Dar shifted her head just a little, tilting it as she
stared at him. “So you figured kicking him would make that stop? You are
stupider than I gave you credit for.”
She started walking towards him. “C’mere and
let me kick you in the nuts. See if that helps your attitude.”
Kerry hesitated, caught between wanting to comfort
Pete and wanting to back up her partner who actually did not really need much
“You can’t touch me.” Todd scoffed.
Dar’s eyes twinkled, not with amusement. “Want to bet
on that?” She came to a halt about a body length from him, and shifted her
center of balance up over the balls of her feet, her knees unlocking and taking on
a slight bend.
“Ah, screw you all.” Todd backed off, and stomped out
of the shelter, shaking his head.
Amy hurried to keep up with him, turning to look at Dar as she passed,
but remaining silent.
Dar relaxed, and sighed as Kerry came past her and
gave her a pat on the back. “I feel
ya, hon. But honestly do we need more hurting people
in this bunch?”
“Mmph.” Dar grumbled,
following her partner over to where Tracey was now kneeling next to the rough
litter and they both joined the young woman as she gently eased the sweatshirt
Pete was wearing up and exposed his back. “Oh crap.”
There was a lump on his spine, about the size of a
baseball and bruising now extended on either side halfway across the small of
his back. “Oh. That piece of shit.”
Tracey uttered. “I’m going to go smack him.” She started to get up but Kerry
gently grabbed her arm. “Let me
“He’s not worth it. Stay with your friend.” Kerry
Tracey stared at her. “You were going to let her mix
it.” She pointed at Dar. “I can
kick him just as fast and probably faster”
Kerry regarded her seriously. “Are you a black belt in
“No.” Tracey admitted.
“Dar is. So chill and lets see if we can help poor Petey
out here.” Kerry put her hand on his hip. “Wow, that’s so swollen.”
Dar was now kneeling next to her. “Probably why it
hurts so much. Pressure.” She said, as Don came over to look over her
“Wow.” Don repeated. “I was a medic, back in the day. We might need to drain that.” He very
gently touched the skin above the bulge, getting howl from Petey.
“Easy, son. Try to relax,
heh?” He got closer and removed his
glasses from his vest pocket and put them on. “Don’t suppose we have any first
aid stuff left have we?”
check.” Tracey got up and went over to the now stacked supplies, opening a
plastic box and rooting inside it as the rest of the group slowly dispersed,
starting to set up the camp as best they could.
Kerry gave Pete a gentle scratch between his
shoulders. “So sorry you have to suffer like this, Pete. Its not fair.”
Pete was now half rolled on his stomach, his head
resting on one arm. He looked back at her and smiled a little, tears visible in
the lashes of his eyes. “I’ve never gotten hurt like this.” He admitted. “I
mean, you know, sprained my ankle stuff like that but nothing like this.”
“I dislocated my shoulder once, and have had cracked
ribs.” Kerry scooted over a little to give Don space. “Of the two, the shoulder was
worse.” She offered him one of the
water sacks, which had a sip spout. “
Willing to be distracted, Pete focused on her. “How
did it happen?”
“A building was collapsing on top of me.” Kerry said.
“I was trying to visit my sister who was giving birth at the time while
avoiding seeing my parents and something blew up.”
Petey blinked at her. “For real?”
Kerry nodded. “For real. Dar had to put it back in
place. My shoulder I mean. We were
trying to get out ahead of a huge fire and not moving wasn’t an option.”
Don turned his head and looked at her, both eyebrows
“But it really hurt.” Kerry concluded. “Still moves a
“What about the ribs?” Petey
asked, peeking back at her.
Kerry’s face scrunched up a little. “You know, I’m not
actually sure I can tell you about that. It might still be classified.” She
glanced at Dar. “Is it?”
“Mm.” Dar wrinkled her nose. “You can tell them you
slipped and fell into the corner of a raised floor.” She said. “I wouldn’t mention where.”
“Or about the rats.”
“Now I’m dying to know.” Petey
admitted. “But thanks for
Tracey came back with a plastic kit, and put it down
next to Don. “Whatever we have is in there.” She said. “Did you say you were in
an explosion?” She added to Kerry.
“Did I hear that?”
Dar got up and went over to the firepit,
helping Rich to arrange the broken pieces of pine for the campfire. Dave came up and started helping, both
men watching her from the corner of their eyes. It was funny, a little. “That lump looks bad.” She finally spoke
“Yeah, poor kid.” Dave agreed.
“You really were going to kick him?” Rich finally gave
voice to the question they both obviously wanted to ask her. “I mean, he’s a
Dar considered that, as she continued to break the
smaller branches. “Well.” She
finally said. “Kerry’s right. We don’t need any more injuries.” She said. “We
might need him at some point.”
She looked up to find both of them staring at her with
wide, round eyes, and it made her chuckle audibly. “I would have if he got me mad enough
and hadn’t backed down.” She admitted. “I have an asshole triggered temper.”
She picked up a large, thick main branch and braced her hands on it then
brought her knee up sharply and snapped it in two.
She put the two pieces down on the back side of the
fire and dusted her hands off, somewhat amused at their expressions. “Not all
nerds live in their mom’s basements spending all their time playing video
games.” She remarked wryly.
Rich gave her a thumbs up. “Rock on.” He returned to
getting the fire started, kneeling down and shoving a handful of dried pine
needles into the center of the fire, then striking a match to set them on fire.
“Tonight will be a better night.”
“Lets hope so.” Dave agreed.
“But wow I’m getting sick of fish.”
Dar was seated against the back wall of the little
shelter, relatively content with her grilled fish and portion of canned peaches
dug up from the box of leftover supplies they had hurriedly grabbed. Kerry was curled up on the ground next to
her, with her head in Dar’s lap.
Across from them the fire was sedately burning, the
occasional spark popping up into the air, and to one side of the fire they had
moved Petey to, and with Don seated next to him.
The older man had Dar’s pocketknife in his hand, and
he was carefully holding the blade in the fire, applying heat in the attempt to
Everyone was pretty silent. Todd and Amy were in the far corner,
watching with noncommittal expressions.
Tracey was sitting next to Pete, holding his hand.
Dar kept feeling her eyes wanting to close, and she
shifted her head a little bit against the folded shirt placed against the rock
to provide some small amount of comfort.
Kerry was already dozing. Dar could feel her steady, even
breathing under the arm she had draped over her, their fingers tangled together
loosely. She really wanted to join
her, but she was also curious about what Don was going to do to help Pete.
No one could agree if it was a good idea or not. Pete was in the desperate place where he
was almost past caring, just wanting something, somehow to relieve the constant
pain he was in made worse by Todd’s asshatery. Don was the closest thing they had to
someone who knew what they were doing.
“Okay.” Don said, having heated the blade up to his
satisfaction, and now was watching it cool down. “So, I’im
just going to make the smallest cut possible, to let all that pressure out.”
Pete nodded briefly. “Okay.”
Don swiveled around on the small rock he was seated on
and then carefully got down onto the ground next to the litter. Marcia was sitting nearby, holding the
packet of small antiseptic wipes they had found in the first aid kit and a roll
It was an almost surreal scene. The light of the one lantern and the
fire painting everything and everyone in gold and tarnished silver, the outline
of Don against the rock, hand extended holding the knife, and surrounding them
the rest of the group watching in silence.
Dar felt a shiver go down her spine and she blinked a
few times, tightening her grip on Kerry’s fingers. She watched as Don leaned over Petey’s back, and Tracey winced in reflex seeing the point
of the knife press against his skin.
Don pressed forward, and Petey
gasped as the blade pierced his skin. The sound was loud and Dar jerked a
little, but then she heard a slight popping sound and she heard Tracey whisper
a curse and her own body tensed as Don’s hand twisted a little to widen the
hole he’d made.
Dar looked away, not wanting to see the blood, feeling
a distinct sense of nausea.
“Okay, son, it’s finished.” Don said. “Marcy, give me
“I’ve got it.” His wife leaned across and pressed a
large wad of the fabric against Pete’s back. “Oh my.”
Tracey peered over. “Wow.” She watched as Don pulled
the gauze back to reveal a mixture of blood and pus that was ochre tinted and
profuse. “That’s gross.” She returned her attention to Petey’s
face. “There’s all kinds of stuff
Petey let out a long held shuddering
His head fell against his arm and his fist relaxed, fingers spreading out along
the pallet. “Boy oh boy.”
Don applied the gauze again, and shifted, and pressed,
very gently. “How does that feel?”
“Better.” Petey said. “Oh my
god better.” His voice was weak with relief. “Thank you.”
Marcia patted Don’s arm. “Good job, honey.”
“Okay.” Don replaced the gauze with some of the
antiseptic wipes, and carefully cleaned the area. “Here’s the problem. This kinda thing, it keeps filling up if you don’t put a drain
in it and we don’t have any drains unless someone has some surgical tubing in
their gear.” He looked around at the group. “No, huh?”
Definitely not something they would have packed. Dar
thought, regretfully, as she shook her head no. “Nothing in that kit?”
“It’s just for scrapes.” Janet spoke up. “We lost the big one. We had all kinds
of stuff in there but this is just the basics.”
Amy got up and went over to their backpacks and knelt
“What are you doing?” Todd asked.
“I have some tubing as part of my water system.” Amy
said, standing up and walking over to where Don was. “I don’t know if this is
what you need but…” She handed him something.
“Hey! You need that!” Todd stood up and scrambled over but not
before Don had taken the item and examined it. “Give me that old man!”
Amy got in his way. “Todd, leave it alone.” She said.
“C’mon. It’s mine to give if I want to.”
She frowned at him. “Stop being a jerk.”
Dar felt her eyes open a bit wider, as she wondered
for a moment if she was going to have to get up and get involved. She relaxed then, though as Dave, Rich,
Tracey, Sally, and Janet all got up and got behind Amy and it was a moment.
“Okay fine.” Todd rolled his eyes and went back to his
spot, thumping down and extending his legs out across the sandy floor. “When you dehydrate don’t come asking
“No problem.” Dar spoke up. “The rest of us will share
with her.” She felt a squeeze on
her hand and looked down to find Kerry looking up at her through half open
“That’ll do I think, young lady.” Don was examining
the bit of rubber. “Let me clean it up, and see what we can make of it. Thank
Amy smiled briefly and went over to the other side of
the fire and sat down to feed it some twigs, while the rest of them dispersed
and went back to what they had been doing.
“Mmph.” Kerry wriggled a
little bit closer and closed her eyes again. “The Grand Canyon trip to hell
where men are men and women are also men.”
Dar chuckled softly.
“And some men are weasels.” Kerry concluded.
At last, Dar relaxed, the gaps in the rocks blocked by
boxes, and the fire, giving as much of a sense of safety as she reasoned they
were going to get. She let her eyes
close and felt an almost immediate sense of dislocation as the sounds took on a
It didn’t even seem like it was going to rain.
The next thing Dar knew it was morning, and there was
a faint pink light catching the edges of their shelter. She was half on her back, slid down with
her head pillowed on one of their day bags with Kerry pressing up next to her
in relative comfort.
She blinked a few times, surprised she’d slept through
the night and as she looked around the little campsite it seemed the rest had
done so as well.
It was quiet, and across from her she could see the
faint glow from the banked fire that had burned down and the air held a damp
chill. She could hear wind
whistling through the stone walls, and far off, the waterfall hitting the
ground across the valley.
Kerry stirred and rolled over, hiking herself up on her
elbows as she regarded their surroundings. “Morning.”
“Morning.” Dar agreed. “That wasn’t awful.”
“Wasn’t awful.” Kerry sat up and twisted her body back
and forth. “Want to take a walk?” She lifted up one of their daybags and looked at Dar in question. “Be the first at the
Dar nodded and gave her a thumbs up.
They both stood up, trying hard to be quiet, and
walked around the rest of the sleeping camp to step over the cooler, and emerge
into the canyon. The sun
wasn’t yet visible, but the sky was painted in golds and corals, and the effect
on the stark landscape made them both stop and just look.
“Wow.” Kerry took in a breath of the cool air.
They continued walking, crossing the center and
turning up towards the water, the pressure of its passing having carved out a
little channel overnight.
There were birds overhead, and Dar glanced up at them
as they drew close to the pool near the wall and she felt the spray carried
with the wind dampen her face.
“What a difference a morning makes.” She commented, holding up one hand
to catch the water.
Kerry smiled, and put the daybag
down, going over and putting her own hands under the flow and testing it’s temperature.
“That’s not actually too bad.” She stripped out of her jacket and put it
on the rock then studied the water. “Its less than yesterday.”
“No rain last night.” Dar had also removed her
jacket. “I think I feel like a
shower.” She decided.
Kerry quickly looked around. “Um.” She glanced back to
find her partner removing her shoes. “You know, hon…” She started to say, then stopped,
deciding on a slight shrug instead.
“You know what? Me too.”
Dar grinned, and pulled her shirt off, then her pants,
then she removed a tube of the biodegradable soap they’d brought and stepped
under the water. It was cool, and
made her inhale sharply, but she squeezed a bit of the soap out and scrubbed
her skin with a sense of pleasure.
Though she’d spent most of the previous day damp it
felt good to get clean, and a moment later it felt even better as Kerry joined
her and took the tube from her hand.
She smiled as their bodies pressed against each other and she reached
around to scrub Kerry’s back as her partner did the same for her.
It was too cold to really completely enjoy, but the
contrast of the chill of the water and the warmth of the skin touching provided
a moment of intense sensation and she took the opportunity to kiss Kerry, as
the water pounded down on them.
It was like a massage, a little, and Dar surrendered
herself to the experience, as Kerry’s hand dropped lightly to her thigh and the
chill was driven back by sensual heat.
A little dangerous, and a little wild, and they both
started laughing as they parted and didn’t want to. “Someone’s going to catch
us.” Kerry said.
“Wanna risk it?”
“Know what I figure, Dardar?”
“You figure in the near future some scandalous picture
of us is going to be posted on the internet?”
Kerry chuckled. “Well, it could have been worse.”
Dar ran her fingers through her hair to start it drying.
“Too many birds around.” She admitted. “We’ll be out of here and in our
campervan soon enough.”
“Mm.” Kerry could appreciate the new light as they
walked back across the canyon. It
painted the rock, and with the mostly clear skies the scenery had become at
least for the moment a little charming again.
There was a steady breeze blowing against them, and the
air was drier than it had been and Kerry had to wonder if maybe their luck was
The rest of the party was emerging from the shelter as
they approached it, heading over to the waterfall, one of them carrying the pot
dangling from one hand. “Pretty bad
when I wish we had oatmeal.”
Dar smiled. “I’d take a sticky bun at this point.”
“Early birds.” Rich commented, spotting them. “How’s
“Cold.” Kerry confirmed, with a somewhat cheeky
grin. “Bring your own heat with
you.” They met up in the middle of
the flat path. “Nice morning.”
“Lot nicer than yesterday.” Dave agreed
fervently. “We should make good
time today. Pete’s standing up!’
“Yeah?” Dar said. “That’s good to hear.”
“Yeah. Don did a great job.” Rich said. “I’m glad he’s
Kerry and Dar eased past and headed for the shelter,
pausing as they reached the entrance and heard someone coming in the opposite
Kerry took a step back and got out of the way,
glancing down at the ground as she spotted a shadow on it. ‘What the…” She
crouched to get a better look at it.
“Easy.” Tracey was saying, as she helped Pete limp
gingerly along. “Don’t go too fast.”
“I won’t no fear.” Pete said. “Just glad to be
vertical.” He gave Dar a brief, wan
grin. “Hey, thanks for standing up
for me last night.” He said. “I really appreciated that, after that bozo kicked
me.” He glanced behind them at the shelter. “Customer or no, boy I could have
Dar said, as she edged out of the way to let him pass, and watched him
as he did, then turned to look at Kerry who was standing at her side with a
somewhat urgent expression. “What’s up?”
Kerry pointed down between her boots.
Dar leaned over and then she knelt, putting her
fingertips down on the ground.
“Hm.” Distinct there was an animals footprint, larger by half than the one she’d seen
from the bobcat. In the dew damp sand it was clear and distinct, right up to the indentations
from flexed claws.
“Holy crap.” Kerry said, in a low tone. “Dar it was right here.” She looked
around and then back at her partner. “Wasn’t it?”
Dar stood up and dusted off her hands. She glanced over her shoulder at the group,
some wandering across the sand while waiting their turn at the toilet. “I think those are fresh so It was.” She
scuffed the print out with the toe of her boot. “But it’s gone, and no one got
eaten. No sense in freaking everyone out.”
Kerry took a breath to protest, then she paused and
thought about it. “Yeah.” She
finally said. “I’m really glad we found shelter. That being out here, for who
knows how long creeps me out.”
“Me too.” Dar put her hand on Kerry’s back and guided
her inside. “Lets get packed up. Hope we get as lucky
“Hope we find a taco stand.”
They were through the canyon and heading up the
mountain trail hours past noon before the weather started to turn and clouds
were gathering, bringing a cold mist down and obscuring the top part of the
Kerry paused and put one boot up on a nearby rock,
retying her laces as Rich and Dave went on ahead to see what they could
find. Dar leaned against the wall
next to her, listening to the thunder rumbling in the distance. “Not good.”
“Not good.” Kerry agreed. “But we made some progress today.” She
shaded her eyes and looked back the way they’d come, across the canyon a long ways back where the waterfall had been. “Did they say around this mountain and
down and then we’ll be at a ranger station?”
“They did.” Dar agreed.
Just down the path, Tracey and Pete were standing,
Pete with both hands on a gnarled stick Don had salvaged from the remains of
the pine tree they’d burned for fuel.
He was still in pain, and he was sweating through it, but he’d managed
to move along with them as best he could.
Relief for the crew, who now just had the supplies,
dwindling, to worry about carrying.
But on the other hand, they were now climbing up hill and everyone was
getting pretty tired.
Water containers were being passed around, filled that
morning at the falls, and Dar took a moment to uncap her water bottle and take
a swallow from it, grimacing a little from the faint taste of iodine they’d
used to kill anything in it.
They’d passed on lunch, and she was hungry. She knew she had one package of crackers
left in her backpack but she resisted getting it out, feeling a bit self-conscious
about chewing on them while everyone was watching.
Then something occurred to her, and she swung the pack
around and fished the somewhat battered crackers out, opening it up and handing
over one to Kerry. “Here.”
Kerry eyed her. “How in the hell did you know I was
just thinking about that?”
“Been a long time since breakfast.” Dar crunched
contentedly on her own cracker. “I don’t want you keeling over before we can
Kerry stuck her tongue out, covered in crumbly peanut
butter. Then she paused to swallow,
and wash down the mouthful with water. “I’m not looking forward to more of the
fish tonight.” She admitted ruefully.
“It’s getting pretty funky.”
“Salty.” Dar agreed. “Kind of dried and chewy.”
“I can soak it I guess. Maybe make a soup again but we
don’t have anything else to put in it.”
Dar pondered that. “Too bad we didn’t catch that
They were both silent for a few moments, standing
there in the mist. “Mm.” Kerry sighed. “Now I really want lamb
chops. Damn you Dar.”
Dar offered another cracker in mute apology.
“We better get moving.” Janet had come up behind them.
“We don’t want to get caught on this path in the rain. Runoff comes down it see?” She pointed
at the ground with the stick she was using. “I don’t even know if there’s some place
to take shelter but we better find something out of the water route.”
Dar tightened down the pack on her back and started up
the path, leaning forward a little and using her hiking pole as she climbed and
listening for Kerry’s steps after her, and the chance of Rich and Dave
returning from ahead.
The mist was giving her skin a clammy feel, and she
licked her lips as she put her hand on the rock wall to keep her steps steady.
She knew behind them was the crew, and behind the
crew, bringing up the rear was Todd and Amy. Everyone had ignored Todd the entire day
but he apparently didn’t care, and Amy stayed at his side as the group moved
gamely up the path.
Dar heard rocks tumbling down ahead of her and she
paused and braced herself as the fog came down and blocked the long view. “Rich?”
She called out.
“Yeah we’re here!” Rich answered. “Not much to see!”
continued up and came around a slight bend of rock to a more even part of the
path and saw Rich and Dave ahead of her, looking through an overhead arch that
covered the path. It was too thin
though, to provide any real shelter and they moved past it.
The walls were again on either side, and the rock
strewn path provided uneasy footing. “Careful!” Dar said. “Lot of pebbles.”
Kerry slid a foot just as she said that, and quickly
caught her balance with a hand on the wall. “Whoa.” She got her pole ahead of her and got
closer to Dar and they caught up to Dave and Rich a moment later. The two men were speaking in low
tones, and they turned to greet them.
“There’s a few more arches.” Dave said. “I’ve seen this
hike on the internet. It’s supposed to be like a two day’er
– from the ranger station so if we can get through this part, it goes down
again and maybe by sundown tomorrow we can get some help.
“That sounds fantastic.” Kerry said. “If the weather
doesn’t kill us again.”
Rich made a face. “Yeah.” They started forward and
walked along under the rock overhangs, all mostly thin and without any promise
of shelter. The walls were also
straight up, with no shelves they could even duck under and of course the thunder
was getting closer.
Dar started to look at the walls, trying to find any
shelter as she felt the first isolated drops of rain, along with a rising of
the wind that was gusting through the canyon.
The path started up again and they all leaned forward,
now relatively far ahead of the main group though they could hear the voices
back behind them.
There was no wood around, Kerry noticed. No trees or
even shrubs, and she realized the rain was going to probably make building a
Now she was sorry they hadn’t stopped for lunch. “This is going to be a mess.”
“This is going to be a mess.” Rich agreed. “But maybe.. hey, yeah.” He pointed ahead of them as they came
around a bend. “There! Look!”
It was another arch, but this one was wide, and on
either side had a deep undercut that they reached just as the rain started
coming down harder. Rich dropped
his bags down and started back up along the path, waving at Janet as she
struggled up the rise. “Hey! We found a spot!”
“Moron. You just walked long enough.” Todd had made
his way up to the front and now pushed past Janet . “At
least it’s big enough to be away from you and the rest of the pussies.” He went
over to the far side of the path and motioned Amy with him.
“Assholes R Us.” Janet muttered under her breath, as
they all worked to get the supplies under cover before the rain really
started. The fog came all the way
down and they were stumbling around in the mist, as two of the crew and Sally
climbed up further, braving the weather to see if they could find some wood.
Dar was kneeling next to their duffel and she looked
up when she heard a yell of alarm, to see something relatively small scurrying
towards her at a high rate of speed.
“What the hell!” Janet got up and almost fell as it
went between her legs and jumped over one of the boxes,
careening towards the other side of the arch. “Hey! Hey!”
The animal raced towards them and in utter reflex, Dar
reached out and grabbed at it, feeling soft fur and muscle under her
fingertips. It turned and fought
her grip, and she saw large teeth go for her hand and she was frozen for a
moment, not sure whether to hold on or not.
“Dar!” Kerry bounded over to her. “It’s going to bite
Dar got it around the neck and held it up as the rest
of the group came over. “It’s a rabbit.” She said, grabbing the hind legs of
the animal who was panting in fear, eyes round wide in a terrified expression,
as Kerry arrived lifting her walking stick in defense of her partner. “Take it easy, slugger.”
“Oh.” Kerry relaxed her stance, then reached over and
touched a fingertip to the rabbit’s ear, which twitched violently. “Aww. I wasn’t
sure what it was. Poor little bunny.”
Dar looked at the rabbit, then at her beloved. “Weren’t
you the one who was just wanting lamb chops?” She asked, in a quizzical tone.
“Psht. Dar.” Kerry touched
the rabbit again, this time with more confidence. “We can’t eat this thing. We
don’t even have any wood to cook the dried fish.”
“Rabbit’s good.” Dave remarked. “But more important,
if it was coming from up there must be some kind of grasses and stuff for it to
eat, and we can burn that.”
Dar sniffed reflectively and peered at the animal, who
had calmed a little, and was now eyeing her back with a twitch of its nose. Its long ears drooped and she felt one
brush her hand with a feeling of damp velvet and she gave it a little scratch
on the bottom of its jaw with her thumb.
without warning she lowered her hands and released it, giving it a toss down
the path and watching it recover itself and race off just as a protest lifted
from her companions. “G’wan, bunny.”
“Why’d you do that?” Rich said. “We’re all hungry! We’d
have figured it out!”
“Go catch it yourself then.” Dar stood and dusted her
Rich took her at her word and trotted off through the
rain, in the direction the rabbit had scuttled, pausing to pick up several
stones on his way. After a minute Dave followed him.
Kerry regarded her partner. “Why did you do that?” She
asked, as they started to lay down a much folded tarp and blocked out an area
right on the edge of the overhang.
‘Why did I do that.” Dar repeated, as she moved down
the path in the mist, collecting rocks and bringing them back over to put them
down to make a small wall. “Because
I knew you would freak if I broke its neck.” She said, as she knelt to arrange the
stones. “And I really didn’t want to do that.”
“Aww.” Kerry leaned over and gave her a kiss on the
shoulder. “You’re such a sweetie.”
“And because butchering it and letting that blood
smell get out is probably not a good idea.” Dar added, under her breath. “Know what
Kerry laid down the edge of the tarp for Dar to put
her rocks on. “Hadn’t thought of that.” She admitted. “Kind of like not going
diving that time of the month?”
Dar paused and looked at her. “Kinda.”
She said. “Or with open cuts as if jumping in salt water wasn’t enough to keep
you from doing that.”
“Mm.” Kerry looked past the arch, where rain was now
dampening the ground. “Good point.”
Dar came around and under the overhang. The arch started along the ground about
ten feet and though low, it was definite shelter. She sat down on the ground to save her
head from smacking into it, and rubbed her fingertips together, still feeling the
struggle of the rabbit’s body in her grip.
Why, really, had she released it? It wasn’t as if she hadn’t actually
eaten rabbit in the field, back in the day. That and frogs and once, a big
lizard. It hadn’t been tasty, but
she wasn’t a cook and neither were the guys she’d camped with and after that
they’d brought MRE’s stolen from base with them.
She licked her lips and grinned, remembering the
canned chicken with hot sauce on crackers and PBJ in packets and wished she had
some right now.
“What’s so funny?” Kerry regarded their little corner
and grunted in approval.
“Nothing.” Dar stretched her legs out and glanced to
her right, where they were getting Pete settled next to her, with Don and
Marcia on the other side. “How’s
“Hurts.” Pete said. “But still better than it was.” He
was on his side, brushing pebbles away and moving small stones from under the ragged
sleeping bag Tracey had put down under him. “Hey.” He looked up at Dar. “Glad you
let the bunny go.”
“Me too.” Tracey was sitting cross legged on the other
side of him. “I’d rather be hungry. Honest.” She admitted. “Those guys are just wankers.”
Kerry sat quietly, waiting to see what the results of
the wood hunting was going to be. “They
aren’t really.” She said. “They’re mostly nice guys. I just think the whole
situation here is making people kind of crazy.”
“Kind of?” Pete gave her a wry look. “Those guys are
getting hangry.” He said. “Seen customers get that way, you know? We have times
we stop and times we need to keep going and they get all aggro
because they’re hangry. You’re smart to have brought those crackers.”
“Hangry.” Kerry repeated the word.
“That’s why Janet always is running around passing
trays.” Tracey nodded. “Speaking of, let me see if we’ve got anything left in
the supplies. I thought I saw maybe some rice crackers.” She got up and went to
the pile of boxes, notably smaller than it had been.
A relief to the crew, Kerry was sure, but everyone
looked tired, and the rain was getting heavier. She was hoping for some rice
crackers herself but a minute later Sally and the two crewmen returned, with large
armfuls of what looked a lot like sagebrush.
“We managed to find this..
did you guys see that rabbit? We surprised her out of her burrow.”
“We saw it.” Kerry agreed. “Dar grabbed it but she let it go.”
“Great, because it has babies back there.” Sally was
setting down her burden. “I’m going to go back and get more, there’s a whole
patch up about five minutes from here.” She looked around. “Anyone want to
The two crew put their bundles down and pushed their
raincoat hoods back, as JP stood up and limped forward, and both she and Sally disappeared
back into the mist, along with Tracey, who looked back over her shoulder at Dar
Dar and Kerry looked at each other. Without comment, Kerry lifted one
of Dar’s hands up and brought it to her lips, kissing the knuckles of it. Then she pulled their duffel over and
started rooting around in it.
Dar folded her arms as she listened to the rain
increase, and the thunder rumble now more closely overhead. “One more day.” She
said, watching the center of the path start to gather a little water in
it. “One more day.”
in Part 7