With a deadline for a column looming, Samantha had writer’s block.
“See you tomorrow.” she said to her roommate Jack. Grabbing her loaded framepack, she pulled her blonde ponytail through the back of her ball cap.
“Have fun and be careful.” Jack tossed her cell phone to her.
“Don’t worry!” She slipped the phone into her jacket pocket and left the apartment.
She threw her pack in the back of her black Toyota and started the hour-long trip into the mountains. As she drove higher in elevation, the road narrowed. After a series of hairpin turns it ended altogether.
Samantha pulled over next to a grove of Aspens. She closed her eyes and inhaled the fresh pine fragrance.
Throwing the bulging pack over her shoulders, she started up the trail. Shadows crept across the path.
Halfway to her destination, something streaked through the understory. Knowing that mountain lions stalked this area, she continued on edge.
After a steep incline, she found herself overlooking a placid mountain lake fed by the glaciers farther up the mountain pass.
She unstrapped the tent and she assembled it in the fading light. Thunderclouds gathered in the distance.
As she scouted around for kindling, an animal broke out into the open. Samantha breathed a sigh of relief. It was a mutt.
“Here boy!” It came closer, but shied away from her outstretched hand.
She gave up with the dog and continued to search for dry wood. After amassing a pile, she lit the leaves and twigs. At first the fire sputtered, then it crackled, warming her cold fingers.
After filtering water from the icy lake, she boiled it over the fire. Then she poured it into her dehydrated dinner and made green tea. As lightning flashed in the distance, she swung around and scanned her surroundings now engulfed in darkness. Samantha heard rustling in the underbrush, but there was no sign of the dog.
Lightning flickered 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. Samantha peeked out and saw her fire extinguished and smoldering.
She snuggled down into her sleeping bag and was almost asleep when a twig snapped. Samantha pulled on her jacket and hiking boots and turned on her flashlight. She ducked out of the tent and stood up in the swirling drizzle.
While walking away from the tent, she heard something behind her. She spun on her heels and the beacon from her flashlight showed pine branches swaying in the breeze.
The wind picked up and began to howl. She headed towards the lake.
Then she heard the crunching of rocks on the path. She never had time to turn around.
Samantha screamed as she was thrown to the ground.
“Hey pretty girl. Let’s have some fun!” the man whispered in her ear.
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 stench of an unbathed body.
He struggled to flip her over.
She felt around for a weapon. Her fingers clawed the ground, breaking nails and ripping her flesh. She found a rock, spun around and smacked him in the head.
She struggled to her feet. While navigating the rugged terrain in pitch darkness, she stumbled back towards the trail.
He grabbed her ponytail and pitched her to the ground again.
Samantha hit her head against a boulder. She felt searing pain and the warmth of blood as it trickled down her forehead. Trembling, she turned towards her attacker. A fair-skinned man with blood-shot eyes laughed with a mouth full of rotting teeth.
“No!” she moaned. Tears slid down Samantha’s cheeks.
He reached out and touched her face with a grimy finger.
“Be a good little girl.” The man straddled her, when out of nowhere the mutt jumped through the air and knocked him over.
Without looking back, Samantha forced herself to get up and run. She heard the vagrant scream and the dog growl behind her. Woozy and with wobbly legs, she plowed ahead and found the trail.
She ran as far as she could and then slowed. While shivering, she pulled her cell phone out of her zipper pocket and dialed. No signal.
Her head throbbed. She reached up and felt the gaping wound. My wallet and keys are still in the backpack.
After what felt like hours, she made out the familiar lines of her truck. She kept a spare key under the carriage. While feeling around for the metal case, she heard the sound of footsteps on the path.
She found it and pulled out the key.
Her heart banged away while fumbling with the lock. She finally slid it in, opened the truck door, and slammed it. Samantha hit the door locks just as the vagrant tried the door.
His face was inches from hers through the glass.
She turned on the engine, jammed the truck into drive, and careened away.
Samantha began the first hairpin turn. With blurry eyes, she struggled to keep the car on the road.
As she approached the straight-away, the vagrant ran out in front of her. She screamed and hit him head on. He rolled off the hood. In her rear view mirror, she saw him get back on his feet and limp off into the forest.
Samantha shook while driving back to her apartment. She dragged herself out of the truck and climbed the stairs with the rhythm of her heart clanging in her ears. She knocked on the door.
Jack answered and said, “Sam! What happened?”
“I got my story.” She collapsed into his arms and passed out.
In the post Striking Gold - A Photo Essay, I mentioned that I’d experiencing deja-vu. I wrote The Shattering before knowing a place like it existed. Talk about shivers!
Do you like to camp?
Photos by S. Lindau