“I will see you tomorrow.” Samantha said to her roommate Jack as she grabbed her loaded green frame pack. She bounced towards the door of the small apartment and pulled her blonde ponytail through the back of her pale blue ball cap.
“Have fun and remember safety first,” Jack replied in his good natured way, “Don’t forget to try your cell phone when you get up there so you can get a hold of me if you need anything.” He smiled under a mop of dark brown curls, green eyes twinkling and walked over to give her a hug.
“Don’t worry Jack!” She rolled her eyes and hugged him back, then slid the cell phone into her orange Columbia jacket pocket.
Samantha had a deadline for a column she was writing, but felt a well-deserved break would clear her head. A rigorous hike, then camping out was sure to cure her writer’s block. Growing up in Aspen, she had tremendous experience with survival training and had snow-caved overnight by herself in high school. Camping on her own was not unusual for her.
She threw the pack in the back of her black Toyota 4-Runner and started the hour and a half trip into the snow-capped mountains. As she drove higher in elevation, the road narrowed. After a series of hair pin turns it ended altogether.
Samantha pulled over next to a grove of Aspens. It was just like she remembered. The evergreen forest rose up all around her. The pine fragrance was overwhelming. It had just rained and the trees were still laden with raindrops.
“I love it up here!” she exclaimed. Throwing the bulging pack over her shoulders, she started up the trail.
Overhead a flock of whiskey jacks flew by. She heard the chirping of a squirrel upset that she hiked so close to its territory. It was early evening and the shadows were growing longer.
After hiking on the trail for a while Samantha thought that out of the corner of her eyes something streaked by. She immediately went on the defensive knowing that mountain lions abounded in this forest. For the next 15 minutes she was on edge as she hiked. Without seeing anything else out of the ordinary, she continued up the trail.
Soon the path got brighter indicating that she was close to her destination. The trees thinned out and Samantha found herself on the edge of a beautiful mountain lake. It was fed by the glaciers farther up on the mountain pass. “Perfect.” she said to herself. She took a deep breath of the fresh mountain air and dropped the heavy pack to the ground.
Samantha unstrapped the tent from the pack and assembled it quickly. She knew that it was getting late and she saw thunder clouds gathering in the distance. She scouted around for kindling to start a fire.
There it was again! The golden streak caught her attention. This time it ran out into the open. It was a mutt. Probably some type of Labrador retriever mix. It was really dirty and wasn’t wearing a collar so she assumed it was a stray.
“Here boy!” Samantha coaxed. The mutt came closer but shied away from her outstretched hand.
She gave up with the dog and continued with the search for dry wood. After amassing a pile she lit the leaves and twigs. The fire first sputtered and then roared. Samantha smiled and felt the golden warmth of the fire on her smiling face.
She filtered some water from the icy lake and boiled it over the fire to add to her dehydrated dinner and tea. While she looked up at the impending storm she felt watched. The hair on the back of her neck stood up. “Here boy!” she called out again. In the darkness, Samantha heard rustling in the underbrush and snapping of twigs but there was no sign of the dog.
Lightning streaked across the sky followed by a low rumble. A few rain drops fell.
She gathered up her pack and entered the tent as the sky opened up. It was quite a storm. Samantha opened up the flap to peak out and saw her fire extinguished and smoldering.
She snuggled down into her sleeping bag and was almost asleep when she heard something outside her tent. Grabbing a flashlight from her backpack, she decided to investigate. Could it be the stray had come back looking for crumbs? She was aware of bears and had cleaned up carefully after eating.
Samantha pulled on her jacket and hiking boots, ducked out of the tent and stood up. It was still lightly raining. As she started walking away from the tent she felt someone grab her from behind.
“Ah!” Samantha gasped.
“Hey pretty girl. Let’s have some fun!” the man whispered roughly in her ear.
“No!” She screamed. Samantha kicked, clawed, and finally twisted away from him, but slipped in the mud and fell. He pounced on top of her. She could smell the alcohol on his breath and the stink of someone who hadn’t bathed in a while. He tried to flip her over. She desperately tried to feel around for a weapon and found a rock, turned towards him and smacked him in the head.
“Stay away from me!” she screamed.
“You bitch!!” he cried.
She got up and ran, but had lost her flashlight in the attack. The moonless night made it hard for her to navigate the rough terrain.
Again he caught up to her grabbed her by her hair and threw her to the ground. Samantha fell head first against a boulder. She felt searing pain and the warmth of blood as it trickled out of the wound. Now she felt helpless against him. Trembling, she slowly turned her head and saw him above her laughing.
“No, no, no!” she moaned.
He was a fair skinned, six foot tall man who wore a black hooded sweatshirt over layers of old clothing. His dark oily hair was slicked to his head.
She gave up the fight and started to cry. The attacker bent over, reaching out to touch her face with a grimy finger when out of nowhere the stray jumped through the air and took him down.
Without looking back Samantha forced herself to get up and run. She was woozy and her legs wobbled but she desperately tried to orient herself to find the trail.
She could hear the dog wrestling with the vagrant.
When she could no longer keep running, she slowed her pace. Remembering her cell phone, Samantha pulled it out of the zipper pocket and dialed. No signal. Her head throbbed and when she reached up to wipe the blood out of her eye, she felt the gaping wound. She remembered her wallet was still in the backpack.
She could see her truck just where she left it. Luckily she kept a spare key under the carriage. She bent over and felt around for the metal case. Samantha heard the sound of footsteps running down the path behind her. She found it and frantically pulled the key out dropping the container on the ground.
Her heart banged away in panic as she fumbled with the key. She tried to slide it into the lock, but it was difficult because she was shaking. She finally slid it in and opened the truck door slamming it behind her.
Just as the man got to the truck and tried to open the door, Samantha hit the door locks.
She turned on the engine and threw the truck into reverse. Then she jammed it into drive and careened away, but was careful to keep the truck on the road.
Samantha navigated the first hair pin turn when her attacker ran right out in front of the truck. He had cut through the forest to catch up with her and must have expected her to stop or swerve off into the embankment. She screamed as she hit him head on. He rolled off the hood and she continued down the road. In her rear view mirror she saw him get back on his feet and limp off into the forest.
She was shaking and sobbing as she gripped the steering wheel. Shock had set in and Samantha drove all the way back to her apartment in autopilot. She dragged herself out of the truck and could hear her heart beating in her ears as she slowly climbed the stairs. As she opened the door to the apartment, Jack called out from his bedroom, “Sam? You’re home early. What happened?” When he saw her he gasped and ran towards her.
“I got my story,” she said as she collapsed into his arms and passed out.
Picture by S. Lindau