Part Nine –
I don’t think it was the darkness that scared me the most. It was most likely the unknown thing that was hunting me through the woods. I walked as fast as I could along the trail, but with only the headlamp for light and the occasional beam of moon light that shown through the tree canopy overhead, it was still slow going.
Branches broke in the underbrush up on the hill to my left. What ever it was that was out there, it was getting closer and I was still a long way from the trail head and civilization.
The sled bounced along the uneven terrain, but Chris stayed tied to the poles. If I tried to go any faster, he might fall out and then we would be a sitting duck on the trail as I tried to get his lifeless body back in the sled.
The crashing in the underbrush came closer. It was maybe a hundred feet away. A loud growl echoed down the trail sending a shiver through my body. My breathing became shallow as I stopped moving to listen to the forest. It was close. Its guttural breathing and scraping of claws were easily heard over its stomping through the woods.
It had to be a bear. There was nothing else big enough in this forest to make such a racket. Unless it was Bigfoot coming to call on me. Maybe he would help me carry Chris to the trail head? My mind was working a mile a minute, thinking of things that shouldn’t be so I wouldn’t run in fright, leaving Chris to his fate. I hadn’t worked so hard to save him, only to leave him to be eaten by a bear.
“Alright, Jarrod.” I called to the image of my dead brother to help me think clearly. “I’m not equipped to fight a bear.”
“You don’t have to.” Jarrod’s voice was distant but clear. “You just need to scare it.”
I huffed. “How?”
“Remember when we ere kids, and dad took us on a camping trip out by the coast? That night when we were sleeping in our tent, we woke to the sound of a bear sniffing around the camp fire.”
I remembered. The dim glow from the coals cast a shadow across the tent that was larger than the bear itself. “I remember how I was so scared I wanted to cry.”
Jarrod’s voice chuckled. “Do you remember how dad got rid of the bear?”
How could I forget? “He ran from the tent in his long-johns yelling and waving his arms. He even picked up a stick and started beating on a frying pan.”
The memory made me smile.
“Don’t be a cry baby, Shelby.”
Jarrod’s voice faded into the night, leaving me alone again with the bear coming closer. Snapping back to reality, I set Chris and the sled down carefully and picked up the first stick I could find by the side of the trail and began beating it against a stocky tree trunk. Its deep sound echoed through the forest along side my voice as I yelled. “You’re not going to get me today bear. Not today.”
Eyes shown in the darkness up the hill from me. It wasn’t moving, but I could still hear its deep breathing. I rapped on the tree trunk again and screamed as loud as I could. Words seemed to fail me, but my voice didn’t. The bear hesitated, stepping forward then back, unsure of what to do.
I kept on my wild dance and screaming, unaware that the animal was leaving, bewildered by my ranting. In the distance I heard my voice being called again. Jarrod must have come back to talk sense into me. “
“Jarrod, we did it.” I called back to my brother, but he didn’t answer. Something was different about the forest. He wasn’t answering.
name was called again, this time closer. I spun around on the trail to watch
where the voice was coming from, expecting to see Jarrod walking toward me. It
wasn’t him. Lights bounced in the distance, coming toward us in the dark.
Three, maybe four lights illuminating the trail in front of unseen feet.
“Who’s there?” I called out, shading my eyes from the oncoming light.
It was a man’s voice. He was nearly to me. I could almost make out the shape of
I shook my head, beginning to realize that there were people on the trail looking for me. “Yes.”
The man came to my side. He had a warm smile on his face. He explained that when a lost soul takes their first hike on the Midnight Trail, a small group of the hiking community wait at the trail head to welcome them home when they emerge from the forest.
I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. Tears streamed down my cheeks as a warm blanket was wrapped around my shoulders. I listened in a daze as the man who identified himself as Greg continued with his story. “When you didn’t show up at the trail head by nightfall, we called 911 and came looking for you.”
I walked out of the forest that night with a new sense of self. I wasn’t afraid anymore. Afraid of the unknown. Afraid of losing someone, and for some reason I was able to finally forgive myself for Jarrod’s accident. He wasn’t truly gone. I knew that now. He would forever live on the Midnight Trail.
Thank you for joining Shelby and I on this journey of forgiveness. I hope you come back again in the future for another story.