I am going to post a chapter of my new short story (which is yet untitled), if you like it I'll send you a chapter/week. I am also looking for a few beta-readers for my Sci-fi/post apocalyptic collection "The Knot at the End of the Rope". You can sign up at https://www.linesbyleon.com
. I hope you enjoy!
“As Yet Untitled”
CHAPTER 1: The Ridge
The hand-written note on the dashboard read: Not abandoned. This was a nice courtesy to others, but unnecessary since the car was parked in the parking lot at the head of a popular hiking trail, called "The Ridge". My curiosity piqued, I studied the vehicle, looking for what I don't know. It was a little dusty, probably from the dirt road, not the kind of dust that accumulates after several rains and drying winds, which we had recently. Two, three days ago? I wasn't sure but it had to be at least two. I reluctantly put off my hike to avoid any rain. I usually don't mind hiking in inclement weather, it keeps the other hikers away, but "The Ridge" is notorious for looking like a muddy river on days like that.
There was no camping along the trail. A fairly difficult out and back, once you get past the first section, which, if the trail sign was to be taken as gospel, was a half-day hike, about six hours. I've done it in three. I've come close to that a few times, but that day was my crowning glory. Now, in my 60's, I usually finish it in four. Not to bag. Not to bag…(I have no idea where I picked up that saying).
Since I wasn't here as an investigator, I checked my backpack: water, jerky, M&M's, half a baked potato, and my first aid kit. And my knife. I saw only one other car, the couple had started just as I had pulled in, so that gave them a twenty-minute head start. Not that it was a race or anything, I just liked to know these things. I'm sure to catch up to them. OK, it's kinda a race.
After kneeling to tighten my laces, I did a few stretches (getting older sucks) and started up the path. The first section was wider and hard-packed. Most people go to the first lookout, take a few pictures, and head back. It is a stunning view. The trees stretched upward, providing a decent amount of shade, while letting in magnificent shafts of light, which gave the forest a surreal quality.
It only took half an hour to get there. I was expecting that I might see the couple making out on the bench, and I was pleased that I was wrong. Leaning on the rail, I took a drink of water and started to chew on the jerky. No matter how many times I come up here, I'm always blown away by the view, the valley, the mountains rising along the river, and the sea of green forest as far as the eye can see.
After the lookout, the trail begins to rise steadily. A bit narrower, a few more rocks and roots to put you off balance, but I've grown to know where each and every one of them are. There is one rock, right in the middle of the path, that is so smooth and black from all the shoes stepping on it, that it is almost as reflective as a mirror. At about 11:00 am, depending on the time of year, it seems to glow. I have been on this trail a lot.
As the left side of the trail begins to drop away, the right side gets steeper. Most hikers hug the right side (going up). I kind of like the feeling of being on the edge. It surprised me to learn that no one had ever died on this trail. Lots of injuries, though. I have a scar to prove it.
The hikers in front of me must be moving at a good pace. I thought that I would have been able to hear voices, the sound carries well in this valley. I pick up my speed a bit, despite the heat, and the fact that I'm breathing a bit harder than normal. Another sip of water and a few bites of potato gives me a bit more energy.
I'm lost in my thoughts. Looking at my watch, I see that I've been hiking for an hour and a half, so that means I'm pretty close to the end, maybe even closer. I feel that I'm exceeding my normal pace. A little competition will do that. I stop and listen. I'm not sure, but maybe there are voices…
After another twenty minutes, I definitely hear voices, and they're getting closer. Rounding the corner, I see a woman and a man coming toward me. Knowing the narrowness of the path and the steep bank I call out, "What side do you want to pass on?"
"We'll take the inside, " the woman replies, "Chickenshit here gets a little dizzy!"
He slaps her on the shoulder and says, "I tripped on that root and nearly fell over! Excuse me for being cautious."
"Been there, done that and I have the scar to prove it!" I laugh and they join in. "Have a good one," I say as they pass me.
"You too," he says back. In a few minutes I'm alone again. I completely forgot to ask them about the car, I think to myself. I forgot about it too. They probably would have mentioned it, wouldn't they have, if they had seen something?
Finally, I arrived at the trail end. There was a stone and concrete wall with a metal railing that would have been quite the task to build. There were still remnants of the old wooden posts sticking up through the ground which had to be replaced after the avalanche, twenty-five years ago. I sat for a moment, had a drink, and looked around. From here, a person had three choices: go back, go down (straight down), or up (straight up). I got up and walked to the metal railing.
I turned and looked up at the sheer rock face. A free climber could scale it, but I have never seen any attempts. With my hand brushing along the rail, I followed it to where it met up with the mountain. My hand was quite dusty, so I brushed my hands together and then wiped them on my shorts. Not wanting to leave the rest unwiped, I began to run my hand along the top, then stopped. I had to look closely, but there was a boot print in the dust on top of the rail. A jumper? Peering down, I had a feeling of vertigo, which surprised me, since I've been here before. If someone had jumped or fallen, there was no way of survival or discovery. I looked over the edge, there was a bit of a ridge about two feet below the wall.
I backed up a bit to see if I could tell how far it went along the rock face. It seemed to curve around a vertical shaft of rock. There was a narrow crack above, paralleling the ridge. A brave soul could inch along, with fingers twisted into the gap, but to where?
I looked at my watch: 3:43. Plenty of time to get back before dusk. My curiosity fought with my sensibility. I've done some climbing before, but always supported. I looked around and spotted a long branch laying by the path. Grabbing it, I returned to the wall. I poked down to the ridge to see how stable it was. It was about an inch wide to start, then narrowed as it approached the corner. I used the branch to flick some of the loose material away and watched it the tiny rocks fall to the valley below.
Except for one.