The Sound of The Setting Sun

The old man took a deep breath of the evening air. The sun had not quite set but the woods were beginning to come alive with night sounds. He sat near a small fire and looked out over the lake. He had driven up here, to the trailhead, and then hiked in 7 miles to this spot that he knew so well. He also knew it would be deserted; late October was not high tourist season in the North Woods. Not even hunters would hike in this far.

He was exhausted from the hike, but content and the only thing missing was Sam…he would have liked to have his dog here with him…especially now, but in the end he decided it would be best to leave him with Patti, she loved the dog and would know what to do. He was lucky to have Patti come into his life, at 23 years old it was strange that they got on so well, but she had taken a liking to him after he’d come in to pay his rent and made a point of checking on him almost every day. Even when she wasn’t working she would text him a funny picture or video the way young people like to do.

What really cinched it was the time he talked her into taking him skiing. It wasn’t that he couldn’t drive himself, he certainly could, but he knew if something happened his daughters would swoop in and take away his skis, his car, his freedom. For some reason, they thought he was hard of hearing…a misapprehension he used to his advantage. So he knew he needed to watch his step. They meant well, but their attempts to “protect” him meant losing his independence. Even Sam was a risk…he’d overheard one daughter saying something about a “rescue”. So what he needed was a wingman and Patti was up for the job. It took some talking, but after assuring her that he would stay on the green hills and throwing in gas money, lunch and dinner, and setting her up with a private ski lesson she agreed.

Everything went fine although he’d fibbed about the green hills, but as he explained some people can ski well into their 70s and even 80s. Once they arrived and Patti saw the large number of seniors on skis, she relaxed and went off for her lesson leaving him to do what he liked best; enjoying the peace and quiet of the snow covered trails and the occassional rush of doing something a little risky. Patti had refused to take any of his money even though her ski rentals and lesson had cost her a pretty penny. They had taken his car and he’d let her drive down but on the way home he drove…he wanted her to see he was fine driving alone, and in any event his daughters had insisted he upgrade his car to the lastest safety features which didn’t hurt any. During that three hour drive he’d come to regard her almost as a daughter…she had shared a lot with him and he began to understand that she was a special type of person. He loved his daughters beyond all measure but he understood that they had thier lives to live and so he felt fortunate to have someone like Patti in his life.

“Daddy, I don’t think you should be living alone”. That was Gracie, his youngest and the one he called Princess. She more than anyone knew that he would never be able to stand losing his own place. He kissed her on the cheek and promised her he would think about it. They both knew he was lying and Gracie wouldn’t push the issue but her older sister was another story. She had been checking out “nice places” and kept sending him brochures which he promised her he would read. “Would I get to keep my car?” “Now daddy…”. It all came to a head the day he fell, both girls freaked out a little and both came to town to take him to his doctor. He had to give permission but they came into the exam room with him. Finally, to get out of there, he’d agreed that he must have gotten a little light headed. They went home and the girls had the opinion from his own doctor that he should probably “be around people”. He explained about Patti looking in on him, but they objected saying “and what happens when she gets a new job?”

The irony of the situation was that he had actually tripped over Sam; no spring chicken himself, Sam was half blind and had taken to being underfoot all the time. If he had admitted that though, they may have taken Sam away. His sister called him; she never called with happy news. All she had to say was “how do you think your daughters would feel if they found you laying on the floor dead?” Thanks Phyllis. He said she was absolutely right and he would do something about it straight away. “Thank God I was able to talk some sense into you” she said before announcing that she had to go watch her favorite TV show.

Something his daughters did not know about was the followup call he’d gotten from his doctor’s office. His steadliy declining kidney function was reaching a critical stage. Telling his daughters would mean he had seen his last day of skiing, his last walk in the woods alone, his last drive to the ocean to watch the waves crash on the shore while he sipped beers from his cooler. He HAD confided in Patti, told her he wanted one last trip to the North Country, and she had given him a tent that she never used. His daughters wouldn’t like it and they would feel betrayed, well maybe Gracie would understand after awhile…she was her father’s daughter. Patti wouldn’t like it either, but she would immediately understand and that is why she was watching Sam.

He took the three notes, one for each daughter and one for Patti, put them in plastic bags and pinned them to the tent wall. They would find the car first so there was a note in the car pointing out his camping site. He told all three girls he loved them and asked Patti to take care of Sam, although he already knew she would. And then he thought about his late wife for a few minutes…would she understand? Of course she would; she knew who she married.

He watched as the sky turned orange, then red, then purple. He watched as the stars appeared and found Polaris, Orion and Ursa Major. There was no moon and that made him a little sad but he was able to make out Venus and Mars. He had carried in a can of beer and left it to chill in a nearby stream. He got up and grabbed the beer…it was perfect. He sat back down just outside the tent entrance, pulled the bottle from his pocket and without hesitation swallowed it’s contents, washing it down with the ice cold beer. Then he sat back and breathed the pine air and he could smell the Balsam and he could smell the Tamarack and he could smell the Jack Pine. He could hear a fish striking at a mosquito and his daughters crying in their cribs and he heard his wife saying she was waiting for him.

© Glenn R Keller 2020, All Rights Reserved

First Contact

Image by Carina Hofmeister from Pixabay

He came to and looked around. He could make out a canopy of trees to either side, clear sky above and his ears were beginning to process the sounds around him. He heard rushing water and then some birds debating something that birds debate about. He realized where he was, at the middle of a rock slide, laying on his back, staring at the sky.

He was afraid to try and move…what if he couldn’t? What if he had broken a limb or worse? He wiggled everything. Check. Didn’t seem to be any blood. Check. He gingerly rolled his neck. Check. This was stupid he was either broken or he wasn’t. He jumped to his feet, and besides a sense of disorientation, he was fine. Then he looked around.

The slide had been massive; trees were down all around him in a swath that looked about 150 yards wide. He could see the rubble pile a long way down and that’s when his brain kicked in. In a panic he looked uphill. It was mostly clear to the top but there were a few trees and rocks above him that looked unstable. He seemed to be on a good spot but he couldn’t stay there as one of those trees or rocks could come down at anytime. So he started navigating carefully to his left facing uphill, keeping an eye on things. The footing was tricky…he had been extremely lucky to land where he had for he was learning just how unstable the slide zone was. But, after slipping along for about 15 minutes he was sitting on the uphill side of a large tree and felt sufficiently safe to fish a bottle of water from his pack. That’s when he heard her.

Crap. He’d been so wrapped up in getting himself to a safe spot that it hadn’t occurred to him that other hikers could be caught up as well. It was an out and back trail up to the top of the Mesa and he’d not seen more than a couple of other hikers. They’d been on the way down and unless they’d gone really slow they were surely clear of the zone. Whoever this was must have been on the way up. He yelled out “where are you?”. It seemed like forever before a voice came back “I’m trapped”. Definitely a woman. But where was she? Up? Down? On a positive note, since he was off to the side he only had to find her elevation and then he knew she’d be straight ahead. He needed to think. Duh. His cell phone. He fished it out and amazingly there was a signal, just one bar, but enough for texting. “He yelled again “are you hurt bad?”. “No, but I can’t walk.”

He had to move fast, hurt bad or not she could go into shock and it wasn’t that long until sunset when the temperature would plummet. He had a jacket but did she? Normally he would have her keep calling and he’d use his ears to triangulate her position, but wandering around playing hot/cold in the middle of a rock slide wasn’t going to happen. “Does your phone work?” A minute or so later “yes”. Thank god, “okay, I’m gonna yell out my number one digit at a time and then you text me. I have a plan”.

It took forever and now the sky was starting to darken. He was so tense that he busted out laughing when he got her confirmation text “I used a squirrel for your contact pic”. Well, at least she wasn’t panicking. She was sharp too, she’d figured out his plan, and before he could reply her next message came with a pin drop of her location. He entered the coordinates and now he had her “looks like ur downhill. On my way but I have 2 b careful. B dark, when I get close I’ll flip on flashlight, u yell when u see it”. Her message came back “Kk, I’ll just chill here and think about Aquaman, do u look like him”? Geez she was salty “save ur battery”.

There was a moon that night and the slide actually worked in their favor clearing a lighted path down the hardest part of the climb. He’d at first thought they should just wait until it got light, then he’d call 911 as soon as they got down far enough for a good signal. However he wasn’t a doctor and her leg looked pretty bad so he told her he’d rather not wait. Luckily she was pretty small so he was able to handle her piggyback but after 30 minutes it was getting tough.

She was keeping his mind off it by peppering him with questions and telling him her life story all the way down the hill. At one point he thought she was taking a breather but then she asked “what did you use for my picture”? He was confused, “what”? “My contact picture, what did you use, it’s not like you had a picture of me handy”? “I didn’t create a conta…”. “You mean a gorgeous woman gives you her number and you don’t save it as a contact?” He sighed, ” I didn’t know if…” “oh I see you didn’t know if I was pretty enough”, she huffed. “No! I didn’t know if you were hurt, that was my main concern”. She snorted “makes perfect sense. Why take up room on your phone for a chick that could kick off. Probably got a couple other Amys in there anyway, why confuse things. What do they look like”? His head was spinning “what does who look like”? “Your other girlfriends named Amy, come on keep up.” He started to protest but she was on him again, “fine you can delete those later, if you did make a contact whose picture would you choose”? Damn she was relentless “Lois Lane”…”oh that makes sense, which one? Be careful here”. He thought for a minute, “Amy Adams”. She laughed “touché!, well I can live with that”. Satisfied, she went back to telling him about a drunk beach vacation with her best friends.

It took another 20 minutes to get down to where the EMTs were waiting. “She’s got a compound fracture in her leg it looks like” one of the EMTs told him quietly off to the side. “What did you give her?” “What do you mean?” “For the pain, she should be screaming in agony”. He shook his head. The EMT whistled “that’s one tough lady”. She was loaded in the ambulance now and he went over to say goodbye. “What do you mean?” she rasped out, the pain finally getting to her. “You’re not coming with me? Oh I get it, it’s Amy”. He laughed, “There is no Amy”. “Then ride with me.  And gimme your phone”

© Glenn R Keller 2020, All Rights Reserved