A Day In The Woods

By Margo Warner

woods

 

A slight but unmistakable glint of light caught his eye. He rolled over in his sleeping bag to see if Martha was awake. Her sleeping bag was flat, as if she had made a bed so it would be warm when she returned.  Perhaps she’d risen early in order to find a handy “bathroom bush” nearby.

Dan unzipped his bag, stood up, and pushed open the tent flap. The sun was rising behind the mountains, and he could hear the stuttered call of birds, happy to be alive and in flight.  He looked around.  Martha was gone.  Maybe she had hiked down the deer trail to wash up at the lake.  Brr.  A slight breeze was lifting.  Dan slipped into his sandals, grabbed his sweatshirt and headed toward the lake.

The water was incandescent. Streaks of morning light shone up through its glassy surface. Dan scanned along the shoreline—broken branches, the sound of water lapping, birds flitting across the brightening sky.  No Martha.

He began to worry.  Against habit, he shouted Martha’s name. “Martha. Martha, are you here? Yell if you are.” He paused to listen. Silence, and the eerie feeling that he was alone in this vast wilderness. He saw a large branch at the edge of the woods behind him, picked it up, and placed it conspicuously at the place where he had stood—a marker, so he would know where he had first begun to walk. Then, if he didn’t find her, he would discover the branch, and walk in the opposite direction.  

Thirty minutes later, Dan turned back and discovered his branch at the shore. He paused for a moment, and then decided to return to the campsite before continuing his search in the opposite direction. As he climbed the trail upward through the woods and was finally within view of the campsite, he stopped, suddenly, and could feel his heart pounding. He knew this feeling: it was panic. Either he was lost, or everything he had once possessed was gone:  the tent, camp chairs, sleeping bags, and his hiking boots. He ran the last few yards to the site. The ashes from the evening’s campfire had cooled. This was their campsite. He looked around, terrified. His backpack had vanished, too, and with it, his drinking water, bear spray, map, wallet and car keys.

He heard a sound above him and looked up into the trees. The suspended bear bag, once heavy with food, now flopped back and forth in the wind.

 

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