Author Debbie Macomber on “Three Things I Learned From My Mom”

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Chapter 25 ~ Doing It Our Way

Chapter 25 ~ Brad Races Against Time to Find Matt

Five minutes later, Brad came out of his cabin, he wore a gray zipper hoodie, lightweight waterproof hiking shoes and dark lightweight stretch pants with zippers at the knees to convert the pants to shorts. He carried a backpack in his right hand. He stopped by his pickup truck, opened the tailgate, and climbed in the truck bed. He slid a key into a lock on a large metal chest that was fixed against the cab. He took the lock off the hinge and opened the metal chest. Brad followed a simple principle he learned from a friend in 82nd Airborne. His friend called it the survival triangle. He knew if the weather turned bad, you could die in three hours, you could survive three days without water, and if you were lucky enough to have good weather and water you could survive three weeks without food.
He set his backpack down and picked his extension service cell phone out of the chest. He turned it on and checked the weather forecast for Big Elk State Park with the U.S. Government Weather Service. The first thing he saw was a red alert highlighted on the website. A cold front was pushing down from the northwest and was expected to hit Big Elk around five the next afternoon. The temperature was going to drop from 70 degrees F to 53 degrees F. The temperature drop didn’t bother Brad as much as the forecast for violent thunder storms and torrential rains causing flash flooding in mountain areas.
Brad moved a few items around in the chest and took a personal locator beacon known as a PLB. When activated, the PLB could signal a satellite even if there was no cell phone service. Brad picked out a space blanket, a first aid kit, a large, machete-like knife he strapped to his belt, water proof matches, a signal mirror, nylon braided line, high protein energy bars, and three liter water bottles.
Brad strapped the backpack shut and slung it over his shoulders. He closed the metal chest and placed the lock back on it. He jumped down from the rear of the cab and lifted tail gate back into place. He turned toward Grace’s cabin, and waved. He started jogging west around the lake following the path where earlier he and Matt ran.
Grace was standing in the doorway, she returned Brad’s wave. She didn’t say anything. She watched Brad jog until he slowed to a walk when he reached the edge of the lake and the forest. He stopped and faced the lake. He closed his eyes and quieted his mind shutting out all sounds. Grace wanted to scream at Brad to do something. She forced herself to push her anxiety away. She watched and waited.
What seemed an eternity to Grace was no more than two minutes. Brad opened his eyes and ran parallel to the lake until he reached the trailhead a hundred and fifty yards ahead. When Brad reached the trailhead, he noticed the sign warning of mountain lions and black bears. He looked at the ground for some sign Matt had come this way. There were several footprints in the ground. He didn’t pay any attention to Matt’s running shoes and the prints they’d leave. The footprints were not help. He ducked under the metal pole and turned back toward the cabin where Grace still stood, arms folded across her chest watching.
Brad stepped back three paces and looked toward the cabin. Again, he closed his eyes for a moment, then opened them. He walked to the metal pole guarding the trail, bent over and saw a tiny piece of cloth, from a white t-shirt clinging to a metal barb on the pole. The same color t-shirt Matt was wearing when Grace and he left for the coffee shop. He pulled the small piece of cloth off the barb and tucked it in his pocket. He glanced at the sign again, Indian Trail. He turned and headed up the trail.
Brad kept a steady jogging pace. His eyes constantly searching for more evidence of Matt. The trail continued to wind and climb until Brad came to a fork in the path and a sign pointing one way to Strong Summit and the other to the continuation of Indian trail. He walked a dozen feet toward Strong Summit, turned around and returned to the sign. He walked further up Indian Trail. Ten feet up the trail, he stopped and picked up a small branch, it was snapped in two holding together by the strands of its bark. He held the small branch in his hands and stared up Indian Trail. He dropped the branch and began to jog up the trail.
Brad scrambled up a rocky slope looking more like an orangutan than a human. When he got to the top of the slope, he again broke into a jog. He stopped suddenly when he saw a deer carcass off to his right. Most of the deer was consumed. He knew it was a relatively fresh kill otherwise smaller animals would have cleaned the carcass and left only the bones. He stopped and studied the ground. He found the path the mountain lion dragged the deer across the trail. Brad thought it was unusual for the mountain lion to drop his prey where he found it instead of taking it to his lair. He wondered if the mountain lion’s attention was drawn elsewhere.

Chapter 24 ~ Doing it our Way

Chapter 24 ~ Brad Decides to Search for Matt

Brad and Grace stood in front of the rustic log building. a sign post in front read, Ranger Station. An olive colored four wheel drive was parked on the side of the building. A symbol on the side read, “US Forestry Service. Brad assumed the four-wheel drive belonged to the Ranger. He walked up to the door and didn’t bother knocking He twisted the nob and walked in. Grace followed, a half-step behind him.
Brad noticed a long counter with a desk behind it. On top of the counter was a map of Big Elk State Park covered with a glass top. A series of photographs of wildlife in the park hung on the station walls. There were photos of mountain lions, coyotes, feral pigs, black bears, eagles, red tale hawks, and a variety of poisonous snakes. Off to their right stood a large rack filled with brochures and maps.
Brad called, “Hello?”
A moment later, a door behind the desk opened. A thin man, a head shorter than Brad, dressed in khaki colored pants and shirt, wearing a khaki colored ball cap stepped out. On the right front pocket of his shirt was a name plate, Todd Stone. On the left side of his shirt in cursive were the words US Forestry Ranger.
“Can I help you,” said the Ranger.
Grace spoke up, ” Matt is missing. He’s my son. You’ve got to help. I’m afraid something terrible has happened to him.”
The ranger looked at Brad and Grace. He said, “You’re Matt’s parents?”
Grace said, “I’m his mother, Brad’s a friend. We went to town for coffee. We invited Matt. He wanted to stay home. He wasn’t in the cabin when we returned. It’s not like him to disobey me. Brad thinks he went hiking. He warned me ahead of time. Brad, I should have listened to you.” Grace felt her stomach tying a knot tight enough to strangle an elephant.
Brad didn’t say anything, he eyes stayed on the ranger.
“How long has he been gone?” the ranger asked Grace.
“I don’t know. I don’t know when he left. We were gone about two and half hours,” Grace blurted.
The Ranger gave Grace a half smile, “Two and a half hours isn’t much time, Ma’am. It’s not unusual for folks to be gone on hikes for six hours or more. I can’t count the number of parents who’ve come in here worrying about their teenagers who went off hiking. We’ve never lost one.”
“He’s not a teenager. He’s eleven years old,” said Grace with an edge to her voice.
Brad eyes could have burned a hole in the ranger’s skull. The ranger averted Brad’s gaze and looked directly at Grace, and said, “Could he have gone swimming? I don’t want to think something happened to him in the lake, but you never know. We have to think of all possibilities.”
“We all swam this morning. Matt is an accomplished swimmer. He would never have a problem in the water. We checked with Jane and Larry in the cabin next to mine. They came with us. They didn’t see Matt either. Can you do something, anything? Can you call a helicopter search, call for a search party, use search dogs. Do something, please,” Grace pleaded.
The ranger shrugged, gestured with his hands and give her his best hangdog expression and said, “Ma’am, I’m sorry. I can’t help you right now. I’d like to, but it’s against regulations to start a search unless someone is missing for at least 12 hours. I’m required to follow policy. I understand your anxiety. I’d feel the same way if it were my son, but I can’t help you until the morning. Do you have any idea which trail he may have taken? We have four trailheads. All of them are closed right now, but it’s really easy to slip under the bar and hike the trail. Lots of folks do it.” The ranger gestured to the four trails on the map that lie on the counter.
Brad knew the ranger’s gestures were as empty as his words. He tugged on Grace’s arm and said, “Grace, let’s go. We’re not going to get anything done here.”
Brad turned to go, stopped and turned back to the ranger, “We’ll be back at dawn if Matt hasn’t returned.” Brad turned away and headed for the door. Grace followed Brad into the daylight.
As soon as the door closed behind them, Grace placed her hand on Brad’s arm, “Brad, what are we going to do? I don’t want to wait until morning.”
Brad turned around. He put both of his hands on Grace’s shoulders and looked into her eyes, “I am not waiting. I’m going after him. I want you to stay here in case Matt shows up. If he doesn’t show up and I haven’t come back, go to the Ranger station at dawn and refuse to leave until they put out a search team. Take a piece of Matt’s clothes for them to give to the search dogs. I also want you to call the Sheriff’s office.”
“Do you think you’ll find him before dark, Brad?” Grace’s eyes were filled with tears.
“The only thing I’ll promise you Grace is that I won’t come back until I find Matt or you call me and tell me Matt returned safely. Please don’t leave the cabin area. I don’t want to worry about two people. I’ll text you the cell number to my extension cell phone. It’s the one I’m going to use. If you can’t reach me, I’m out of cell service. I think I’ll be okay. I’ll text you number before I leave.”
Grace put her arms around Brad, and said, “Please, Brad. Please find Matt. I can’t lose him.”
A minute later, Brad stepped back and placed a hand on each of Grace’s upper arms, and looked into her brown eyes, and said, “Grace, it’s time for strength. Together we can deal with whatever we have to face. Don’t allow yourself to think about what ifs, they’ll only take you down a road that is counterproductive to helping Matt. Let’s only think about what we can do right now. What I can do is to use my training to search for Matt. You can check with all the other people who are staying here. Maybe they saw Matt. If you get any information, text it to me. Don’t get into a fight with the ranger or anyone else. We have one concern only, to find Matt.”
Grace looked into Brad’s eyes, “I’ll be strong. Thank you, Brad.”
Brad, nodded, smiled, and said, “I’m making a quick stop in my cabin. I have to change. There are a few things in my truck I’ll want to take along and then I’ll be gone.”
Brad turned and ran toward his cabin. Grace stood there watching him and wondered what she would have done without him helping her. Grace closed her eyes and repeated prayers she learned as a child. Each prayer ended with a petition for Matt’s safe return.

Chapter 24 ~ Doing It Our Way

Chapter 24 ~ I’ll Be Strong

Brad and Grace stood in front of the rustic, log building in front of them. a sign post n front said, Ranger Station. An olive colored four wheel drive was parked on the side of the building. A symbol on the side read, “US Forestry Service. Brad assumed the four-wheel drive belonged to the Ranger. He walked up to the door and didn’t bother knocking He twisted the nob and walked in. Grace followed, a half-step behind.
Brad noticed a long counter with a desk behind it. On top of the counter was a map of Big Elk State Park covered with a glass top. A series of photographs of wildlife in the park hung on the station walls. There were photos of mountain lions, coyotes, feral pigs, black bears, eagles, red tale hawks, and a variety of poisonous snakes. Off to their right stood a large rack filled with brochures and maps.
Brad called, “Hello?”
A door behind the desk opened. A thin man, a head shorter than Brad, dressed in khaki colored pants and shirts, wearing a khaki colored ball cap stepped out. On the right front pocket of his shirt was a name plate that read, Todd Stone. On the left side of his shirt in cursive were the words US Forestry Ranger. “Can I help you,” said the Ranger.
Grace spoke up, ” Matt is missing. He’s my son. You’ve got to help. I’m afraid something terrible has happened to him.”
The Ranger looked at both Brad and Grace. He said, “You’re Matt’s parents?”
Grace said, “I’m his mother, Brad’s a friend. We went to town for coffee. We invited Matt. He wanted to stay home. Brad thinks he went hiking.”
“How long has he been gone?” said the Ranger.
“I don’t know. I don’t know when he left. We were gone about two and half hours.”
The Ranger gave half a smile, “Two and a half hours isn’t much time, Ma’am. It’s not unusual for folks to be gone on hikes for six hours or more. I can’t count the number of moms who’ve come in here worrying about their teenagers who went off hiking. We’ve never lost one.”
“He’s not a teenager. He’s eleven years old,” said Grace with an edge to her voice.
Brad eyes could have burned a hole in the ranger’s skull. The ranger averted Brad’s gaze and looked directly at Grace, and said, “Could he have gone swimming? I don’t want to think something happened to him in the lake, but you never know. We have to think of all possibilities.”
“We all swam this morning. Matt is an accomplished swimmer. He would never have a problem in the water. We checked with Jane and Larry in the cabin next to mine. They came with us. They didn’t see Matt either. Can you do something, anything? Can you call a helicopter search, call for a search party, use search dogs. Do something, please,” Grace pleaded.
The ranger shrugged, gestured with his hands and give her his best hangdog expression and said, “Ma’am, I’m sorry. I can’t help you. It’s against regulations to start a search unless someone is missing for at least 12 hours. I’m required to follow policy. I understand your anxiety. I’d feel the same way if it were my son, but I can’t help you until the morning. Do you have any idea which trail he may have taken? We have four trailheads. All of them are closed right now, but it’s really easy to slip under the bar and hike the trail. Lots of folks do it.” The ranger gestures to the four trails on the map that lie on the counter.
Brad knew the ranger’s gestures were as empty as his words. He tugged on Grace’s arm and said, “Grace, let’s go. We’re not going to get anything done here. We’ll be back at dawn if Matt hasn’t returned.” Brad turned away from the ranger and headed for the door. Grace followed Brad out the door.
As soon as the door closed behind them, Grace placed her hand on Brad’s arm, “Brad, what are we going to do? I don’t want to wait until morning.”
Brad turned around. He put both of his hands on Grace’s shoulders and looked into her eyes, “I am not waiting. I’m going after him. I want you to stay here in case Matt shows up. If he doesn’t show up and I haven’t come back, go to the Ranger station at dawn and refuse to leave until they put out a search team. Take a piece of Matt’s clothes for them to give to the search dogs. I also want you to call the Sheriff’s office.”
“Do you think you’ll find him before dark, Brad?” Grace’s eyes were filled with tears.
“The only thing I’ll promise you Grace is that I won’t come back until I find Matt or you call me and tell me Matt returned safely. Please don’t leave the cabin area. I don’t want to worry about two people. I’ll give you cell number to my extension cell phone. If you can’t reach me, I’m out of cell service. I think I’ll be okay. I’ll text you number before I leave.”
Grace put her arms around Bard, and said, “Please, Brad. Please find Matt. I can’t lose him.”
Brad stepped back and placed a hand on each of her upper arms, and looked into her brown eyes, and said, “Grace, it’s time for strength. Together we can deal with whatever we have to face. Don’t allow yourself to think about what ifs, they’ll only take you down a road that is counterproductive to helping Matt. Let’s only think about what we can do right now. What I can do is to use my training to search for Matt. You can check with all the other people who are staying here. Maybe they saw Matt. If you get any information, text it to me. Don’t get into a fight with the ranger or anyone else. We have one concern only, to find Matt.”
Grace looked into Brad’s eyes, “I’ll be strong. Thank you, Brad.”
Brad, nodded, smiled, and said, “I’m making a quick stop in my cabin. I have to change. There are a few things in my truck I’ll want to take along and then I’ll be gone.”
Brad turned and ran toward his cabin. Grace stood there watching him and wondered what she would have done without him helping her. Grace closed her eyes and repeated prayers she learned as a child. Each prayer ended with a petition for Matt’s safe return.

Chapter 23 ~ Doing It Our Way

Chapter 23 ~ Matt Confronts His Fears

Matt sat on the narrow ledge, his back pressed tight against a smooth rock wall with the colors of a beautiful sunset, red, purple, pink, and yellow etched over millions of years into its hardened surface. He was facing west and watched the sun slowly dip closer and closer to the horizon. A lone red tail hawk soared high above in the distance searching for a rabbit, squirrel, or gopher who dared venture out while there was still daylight.
Matt scooted closer to the edge. He placed his right palm flat on the ledge surface close to edge and braced himself. He leaned over far enough to peer over the edge and involuntarily shivered when he saw how close he came to falling to his death. Only a single brush growing impossibly out of a small crack in the side of a stoney edifice was all that had kept him from a fall to a sure death over five hundred feet below. He didn’t even know how he grabbed hold of the brush as he tumbled down. He turned and looked up toward where he had seen the mountain lion staring twenty feet above him. The mountain lion was gone. Matt wondered if the mountain lion was lying quietly waiting for him to fall asleep. His eyes searched for a way to climb out, but he could not see any. He looked to his right and saw the ledge narrow and gradually disappear. He looked to his left and saw the ledge continue and curve around a corner.
Panic shot through Matt’s body. He felt tears starting to form in his eyes. He fought them. He said, “Dad would tell me to be strong. Dad would tell me not to quit. Dad would tell me to use my brain, God gave it to me for a reason. He repeated these words over and over and fell into a deep sleep. It was well after midnight when Matt awoke. He was shivering. He sat up and pulled his knees close to his chest. He couldn’t stop his teeth from chattering. He thought of his mother and he thought of Brad. He wondered what they were doing. He didn’t think they were sleeping. He knew his mom wouldn’t sleep. And, Brad, he was in the 82nd airborne like his dad, he wouldn’t quit looking for him until he found him. Brad was just like his dad, you could count on him.
Matt looked up into the clear mountain sky. He spotted the Big Dipper, the Little Dipper, and Hercules. His dad taught him how to pick these constellations out of the summer night sky. Seeing the constellations gave Matt a boost of courage. Somehow, he knew he’d survive. He knew it deep down someplace where his dad told him courage lives in all people.
Matt closed his eyes and he soon drifted off into a deep sleep. The sound of a helicopter roused Matt from sleep. He rubbed his eyes and saw it circling off to the southwest. He stood up and began to frantically wave his arms. Matt kept waving his arms at the circling helicopter. As he did, the helicopter kept circling moving slightly further to the west away from him until it flew away.
Matt felt thirsty. He looked in his backpack and searched for the second bottle of water. It wasn’t there, he must have lost it on his fall. He knew he couldn’t stay here. If he did it was sure death. He carefully stood up. He splayed his arms out against the side of the mountain wall. The ledge was no more than three feet wide. He forced himself not to look down. He braced his back against the wall and began to slowly slide his foot to the left. He first moved his left leg, then his right leg. His steps were slow and sure. Matt knew one mistake might be his last.
Matt moved slowly along the ledge. He froze when a red tailed hawk landed ten feet away. It spread out its wings puffed its feathers and shrieked at Matt. Matt edged backwards. The hawk began to weave back and forth and hissed as it came toward Matt. Matt wanted to press himself into the stone wall and disappear. Instead, he stood as still as he could, shut his eyes, and began to count slowly. When he reached fifty, he opened his eyes. The red tailed hawk was no longer on the ledge. He scanned the sky with his eyes and way off he caught the sight of a hawk circling high above a grassy meadow. Suddenly, the hawk plunged toward the earth in rapid descent. Matt used the opportunity to edge his way back toward the place where he saw the hawk.
When Matt was at the place where the hawk landed, he heard the screeching of baby chicks. He lifted his head and scanned the side of the wall and saw ten feet above him a nest and the heads of three baby chicks peeping out. Now he knew why the hawk was so aggressive. He turned his attention back back to the ledge and continued to work his way along the stone wall. The side of the wall gradually turned and he could no longer see where he had spent the night. Matt moved along the wall for another twenty yards until the ledge seemed to disappear into the mountain forming a nearly perpendicular angle it.
Matt’s mouth dropped open. He dared look down and here the drop was as far, but rocks jutted out along the side of the mountain and Matt wondered if it were possible to climb down. He sat down on the ledge to rest and think.

Chapter 22 ~ Doing It Our Way

Chapter 22 ~ Grace Discovers Matt Is Missing

Brad pulled his pickup truck in front of Grace’s cabin. He turned to her and said, “Grace, I really had a great time this morning. Thanks for having coffee with me.”
Grace extended her hand toward Brad, “I did as well, Brad. Now, I’m going in and find out what Matt’s been up to. He’ll say, ‘Nothing much, Mom. You know. I hung around.'”
Brad laughed and said, “Matt’s sounds a lot like me when I was his age. I’m going to change and if you don’t mind, I’ll stop by and walk over to the fireplace with you and Matt. I’ll bet Larry already has it fired up and is making a great lunch.”
“I don’t mind at all. Give me five minutes to freshen up,” Grace said. She opened the door. Stepped out of the pickup truck, grave Brad a smile, closed the door, turned and walked toward the cabin. She heard the pickup drive off the short distance to Brad’s cabin. It was only when she was at the cabin door she dared to turn back towards Brad’s cabin and watch him. Grace watched he get out of the pickup. He closed the door and raised his arms over his head and stretched. She thought he was happy and peaceful. When Brad turned toward his cabin, Grace quickly turned away and opened her cabin door. She stepped inside, she didn’t see Matt, She called, “Matt?”
Thirty seconds later, Grace swung the cabin door open and raced towards Brad’s cabin. She opened the door to the cabin, Brad was stripped down to his boxers. He looked startled to see her. Then, he sensed something was wrong, he grabbed hold of his dirty jeans and said, “Grace, what’s wrong?”
“It’s Matt. He’s not in the cabin. It’s not like him. I should have never left him alone,” said Grace. Her brown eyes wore all the marks of a coming super storm.
Brad slipped on jeans. He sat on the edge of his cot, and pulled his boots on. “We stayed a bit longer than we expected. Matt may have taken a walk around the lake. Do you have your cell? Call him,” he said.
“Why didn’t I think of that? That’s the first thing I should have tried. My cell is in my handbag. I left it in the cabin,” said Grace as she turned toward the door.
“I’ll go with you, Grace,” said Brad following her out the door, hitching up his pants, holding his boots in his right hand, and running in stocking feet behind Grace.
Grace ran to the cabin, jump up the two steps and went through the door. Her handbag was on the floor by her cot, right where she dropped it when she called for Matt.
She picked up her handbag and began to dig through it for her cell.
Brad said, “Matt left his phone on his cot.” Brad walked over to pick it up. He turned and took a step toward Grace handed it to her.
“I just know something terrible happened to him. I just know it, Brad. We’ve got to look for him,” Grace said with a sense of urgency.
Brad took hold of Grace’s hand, “Panicking is the wrong thing. We can only help him if we are calm. Remember how Matt said he wanted to go for a hike? Boys are boys and the lure of the hike may have gotten the best of him.”
“You think so, Brad? I couldn’t bear to lose Matt after losing Mike.”
“Let’s think positive. We’ll talk to Jane and Larry and see if they saw Matt. If they haven’t, we’ll go to the park ranger and get help. We’ll find Matt, don’t worry,” said Brad.
Grace felt reassured. There was something in Brad’s voice that settled her and eased the deepest fears within her.
“Give me a moment to slip my boots on and we’ll head to Jane and Larry’s cabin,” said Brad.
Grace walked over to Matt’s cot. She looked underneath it. She looked behind it. She said, “Brad, I think you’re right about Matt taking a hike. His backpack isn’t here. Do you have any idea where he might have gone?”
Brad pulled his last boot on and slipped his jeans down over the boot. He stood up and motioned toward the door. Grace followed Brad’s arm and walked out of the cabin. Brad was right behind her. He said, “When we went running this morning, I saw four trailheads. All four were temporarily closed because of the frequent sightings of black bears and mountain lions.”
“Oh God, no!” said Grace and turned around to look at Brad. Her eyes were filled with tears.
Brad gently placed his right hand on Grace’s arm and turned her toward Jane and Larry’s cabin. He said, “Animals generally stay away from humans, unless they think the human is a threat. It’s hard to predict how an animal will respond. I think Matt may be in more danger from poison oak and poison ivy than a bear or mountain lion.”
“You really think so,” said Grace.
“I do, Grace,” said Brad, knocking on the door to Jane and Larry’s cabin.
The door opened, the fringe bikini clad Jane answered, “Oh Brad, I’m so happy you came by. I’m feeling better now, thanks to you. Larry went to town to get some steaks, do you want to come in. Oh, hello, Grace.”
Brad said, “We’re not here for lunch or a social call, Jane. Matt’s missing. Did you see him after we went to the coffee shop?”
“No, matter of fact we didn’t. When Larry came to pick me up in the canoe, we decided to lay out on the raft for a while and enjoy the sun. Why? You know boys, they have a mind of their own. He’ll come home when he smells the steaks cooking.”
Grace was about to say something, when Brad said, “Thanks anyway, but we’re headed to the Ranger station.”

Chapter 21 ~ Doing It Our Way

Chapter 21 ~ Matt Get’s Lost

Matt slung his backpack over his shoulders and opened the cabin door. He searched the campground for park rangers, He didn’t see anyone. He closed the door and headed for the trailhead. Entry to the trailhead was closed by a single metal pole gate stretching across the trail. A sign was posted to the right of the gate.

Indian Trail is Closed Until Further Notice
The Trail Is UNSAFE due to the frequent sightings
of black bears and mountain lions

Matt looked back and saw Larry paddling a canoe to the raft. Jane was frantically waving to Larry, urging him to hurry. Matt looked toward the Ranger station next to the registration house. He saw a jeep, but no Ranger. He swiftly ducked under the metal trailhead bar. He caught his shirt on a metal barb on the pole and heard it tear. He freed himself from the barb, and felt his shirt with his hand. There was a tear. He shrugged and headed up the trail.
Matt walked Twenty yards and the trail narrowed. He was swallowed up into a tall pine forest. The trail veered sharply to the right and a steep climb before turning into switchbacks. Matt stood in the middle of the first switchback and let his eyes follow the zig zagging trail up the side of the mountain. He followed the switchbacks until they ended and opened to a beautiful still deep blue lake. Matt, climbed on top of a large boulder near the edge of the lake and stared it. He’d never seen water so still. A small family of ducks were close by at the water’s edge. He heard a cacophony of frogs come to life. And, on the other side of the lake four elk were walking in single file away from the lake. Matt wished for a moment he could tell Brad and his mom about these things, but he knew, he’d be in big trouble.
Matt slid down off the boulder and followed the trail around the east end of the lake before turning back into a grove of aspen trees. He jumped when he heard rustling in the underbrush. He froze, not daring to move. When he saw a squirrel run out, Matt laughed and called to squirrel, “You won’t fool me next time.”
Matt kept his eyes on the trail looking for arrowheads, or other artifacts he might take back with him. He turned where the trail turned. He scrambled up over rocks when the trail took a short steep climb. At the top of another slope he spotted another sign. It was wooden. The words were gouged into the sign. It read:

Elevation 7,450 feet
Indian Trail – 4.1 miles to Indian Lake – >>>
<<< – Strong Summit – 12,300 feet, 5.4 miles

Matt regarded the sign, he’d never been to a mountain summit before. He calculated the distance, 10.8 miles counting the return trip. He’d have to climb nearly another 5,000 feet to reach the summit. The trail toward the summit looked like more hikers took it. It was well worn. The trail toward Indian lake was a simple narrow path that disappeared into a steep upgrade fifty yards further up the trail.
He took off his backpack, he reached into it to check the time on his iPhone. He couldn’t find it. He sighed when he remembered he left it on his cot. He was too excited when he left. He looked for the angle of the sun. It wasn’t overhead, so it was still morning. He thought of his mom and Brad. They were probably still at the coffee shop. He decided to continue up Indian Trail for a little while, then he’d turn back.
When Matt turned onto the steep upgrade, he heard the sound of an animal crying and a ferocious growling. He froze. He was sure it was a mountain lion attacking its prey. Was it a deer? A coyote? Or, some other animal the mountain lion killed, Matt wondered. He stood still and listened to the life and death struggle taking place.
He told himself he should have listened to his mom. He heard another sound of crashing through the brush. Matt panicked. He turned and ran through the brush away from the noise, His mind told him he could turn to the right and pick up the trail back to Big Elk. He ran down the slope, jumping over fallen trees. He tripped on a branch. He fell to his knees, bracing himself with his hands. He looked at his knees, both were skinned and bloody. He took off his t-shirt and wiped the blood and dirt of his skinned knees. He stuffed his t-shirt into his backpack, stood up, and continued to run down the side of the mountain.
Twenty minutes later, Matt stopped. He still hadn’t reached the trail. He looked up through the aspen trees to find the sun. He couldn’t see it. He set his backpack down, opened it, and took out a bottle of water. He drank half the bottle, put the top on and placed it back in his backpack. He glared at the lone orange and decided he’d wait to eat it.
Matt knew he’d been climbing further and further up the side of the mountain, so he figured if he couldn’t find the trail, he could walk down the side of the mountain and it would take him to the bottom right near the lake. He no longer ran, he walked on for two hours and he hadn’t crossed a trail or come to the bottom of the mountain. Twice he thought he saw places that looked familiar.
Matt knew by the shadows, it was afternoon. His thoughts were about how mad his mom was going to be. He knew he was in for it when he got back. He sat down, opened his backpack and pulled out his orange. He peeled it and ate it one section at time. He heard sounds in the thicket behind him. He reached into his backpack and pulled out the knife his dad gave him.
He set the knife down by his feet, closed up the backpack, put it on his shoulders, picked up the knife and began to walk. He gripped the knife tightly in his right hand. “Hello, hello, anybody?” he called time and again.
The only answer he received was his echo.
It wasn’t much longer before Matt yelped with joy, he was on the trail. He’d be back in time for dinner. He’d only have to say he was sorry and he was wrong and it wouldn’t happen again, he’d promise. Matt, stopped, set his backpack down, and opened it. He pulled out the half full bottle of water and drank the remainder. He put the empty bottle in his backpack and resumed walking.
Matt didn’t have a care in the world until he saw a mountain lion sixty yards ahead dragging a deer carcass across the trail. Matt froze. His eyes bulged. He’d never seen a wild, ferocious animal in the wild. He seen them in zoos. The mountain lion let go of the deer carcass, turned and stared, blood dripping from his teeth. It let out a deep low growl.
Matt knew he shouldn’t run, but that’s what he did. He couldn’t help himself. He bolted into the brush on the side of the trail and ran. He didn’t know if the mountain lion was chasing him, he wasn’t about to stop to find out. He thought he heard crashing sounds behind him.
Suddenly, Matt found himself falling over the edge of a precipice. He threw out his arms, hoping his hands could grab hold of something to stop his fall. His left hand found a bush and he grabbed hold. His descent stopped. He looked down toward his feet and saw they were hanging over the edge of a cliff. Matt twisted around and put both hands on the bush and pulled himself up to a small ledge, no more than two feet wide. Matt rolled onto the ledge and lied there, trying to catch his breath. He turned and looked above him and saw the mountain lion looking down at him.