For last year’s words belong to last year’s language And next year’s words await another voice. ~ T. S. Eliot
Chapter 27 ~ Will Brad Find Matt Before The Cold Front Arrives?
Brad studied the area around the mountain lion’s kill. He slowly walked in the concentric circles with the deer carcass being the center of the circles. He made each circle three feet further away than the last circle. It was almost as if he were an anthropologist looking for signs of a lost civilization. He was meticulous in his scouring the area for any clue that might lead him to Matt.
He took the large machete-like knife from its holster and began swishing at the thick underbrush. He worked hard, his shirt now soaked with perspiration. Brad continually wiped away sweat droplets from his brow with his forearm. He worked for an hour and had not seen a trace of Matt. He felt his blood sugar level hovering near the warning signal. He stopped his search and spotted a large cropping of rocks and made his way to it. He climbed on top of the cropping, opened his backpack, took out a protein energy bar and one of his water bottles. Brad closed his eyes, quieted his mind, said a prayerful thanks for the bar and water and that Matt would safely return.
Brad opened his eyes, and tore open the protein bar wrapper. The sun was now at an angle where it seemed almost parallel to the tree tops. Brad knew it wouldn’t be long before the sun dipped down behind the mountains and he would be surrounded in total darkness. As much as he wanted to continue his search, he knew that ignoring the natural ebb and flow of the day in the forest could end in disaster. Even though it was still sunny, Brad knew sun quickly set in the mountains. One moment it is blazing bright and the next it slips below the mountain peaks laughing at hikers who thought they knew the ways of the sun. Brad knew the ways of the sun, he became its friend in the rugged mountains of Afghanistan. He stilled his mind and thought now of searching for shelter, he knew he needed a good night’s sleep if he was to have any hope of finding Matt before the cold front hit.
Brad estimated the sun would set within forty-five minutes. He finished his protein bar, folded the wrapper and slipped the wrapper into his backpack. He flipped open the top of the water bottle, placed the tip of the bottle into his open mouth, and he squeezed the bottle. A thick stream of water quickly filled his mouth. Brad took enough liquid to hydrate his body, then capped the water bottle and slid it into his backpack. He stretched and slowly pivoted around. His mind repeatedly saying, ‘Where are you, Matt? Give me a sign.”
He made three-fourths of a complete turn when he stopped. He stooped to one knee and peered over the edge of the rock. He jumped off the rock, landing on both feet and walked ten yards away from the rock formation. He stopped and bent down and picked up three pieces of an orange peel not yet completely dried out. He placed the peels in his backpack, stood up and caught the dancing light of the last rays of the sun.
Brad walked back to the rock outcropping. He had fifteen minutes before it was pitch black. He quickly scavenged for kindling and some pieces of firewood. He used his machete to hack at dead branches of fallen trees. He scurried around grasping at dead grasses to act as starter fuel for the kindling. He placed the kindling on top of the dead grasses in a small circle, and put two larger pieces of dead wood on top of the kindling. He opened his backpack and pulled out his waterproof matches. He struck a match and lit the dead grass. He bent low over the flames from the dead grass and blew on it to provide oxygen to fuel its igniting of the kindling. The kindling began to glow red, then suddenly burst into flames engulfing the two larges pieces of firewood.
He raised himself tall on the rock outcropping, cupped his hands around his mouth and hollered, “Matt! Matt! Matt!”
There was no return call, only the echo of his voice. Brad squatted in front of the fire and placed his hands over the top of the fire. The heat from the fire felt good against the night’s chill. He wondered how Matt was handling the chill. Fortunately, the temperature wouldn’t go below freezing tonight. He expected it bottom out at relatively mild 60 degrees. Matt would get chilly, but hypothermia was not an issue, tonight. Once the cold front came through with the pouring rain and chilly temperatures, hypothermia became both Matt and his greatest enemy.
Brad reached into his backpack for his space blanket. He pulled it out and his extension cell phone caught his eye. He took a deep breath, he remembered he hadn’t text Grace his cell number. He type in her number from memory and hit send. Within seconds the message came back with the big red exclamation mark and message, message not delivered. Hit try again. He hit try again, and again the same message. He turned the phone off to save the battery and slid the phone into the backpack. Brad placed two more pieces of wood on the fire and lied down on top of the waterproof space blanket. He did not want his body to be chilled by the rocks. He placed his machete within arms reach. He closed his eyes and began to breath deeply. Within minutes he was sound asleep. A pair of large green eyes stared at him from thirty feet away.
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 19 ~ Two Gray Hairs and a Modest Bathing Suit
Grace stood in front of the bathroom mirror staring at the image. Her first thought was this is how my grandmother dressed to go swimming. She wore a modest one piece bathing dark blue bathing suit. She took a deep breath and looked at her auburn brown hair, She didn’t notice the deep richness of her hair, instead she saw only two hairs, both gray, just off the center of her forehead. She played with them, tucking them under, then restyling her hair. “Oh hell, I’m not going to pull them. If Brad doesn’t like them, too bad.”
She looked at her face. It was still there, all the cream in the world wasn’t going to make the tiny line next to her right eye disappear. She wore no makeup. Her eyes moved to her figure. She gave a small smile, and thought, I may be small but they’re real.
Why is Jane competing with me? She’s married. She’s taking her flirting too far. Why did she set me up with Brad, if this was her plan? Maybe that was it. They only way she could get to be with Brad and make a play for him was to use me as a pretext. No, Jane wouldn’t do that, would she? Grace started to feel faint. She sat on the toilet and began deep breathing. She knew she had to get herself under control.
Five minutes of deep breathing and Grace began to feel better. She stood up and faced the mirror. She stared at her reflection in the mirror and said, “You look, girl. This is who you are. If Brad doesn’t like who you are then too bad. You are not going to be something you’re not. You are who you are. Now go out there and ignore Jane. You were a lifeguard, give Jane and Brad and good thrashing.”
Grace suddenly felt a deep sense of peace come over her. She didn’t have to compete with anyone. And, she wouldn’t be caught dead in a fringe bikini. She laughed at her jealousy or was it envy toward Jane. She wasn’t quite sure. Jane was everything she wasn’t. Jane was self assured, outgoing, flirtatious, adventurous, and didn’t have a care in the world.
“You and Matt are all you got, girl. Toughen up, that’s what Mike would tell you if he were here. Oh God, I wish he was here with Matt and me,” Grace said out loud to no one.
Grace walked to the cabin door, opened it and looked toward the lake. Jane was still there. Now Jane was standing, facing toward the east with her arms outstretched welcoming the sun. Grace wondered how long Jane could hold that pose. She didn’t have to wait long.
She caught a glimpse of Brad and Matt sprinting toward the lake. Oh, oh, she thought, they’re going to dive right in and start swimming for the raft. No head start, not on my watch, she said to herself. Grace took off for the water, Brad and Matt were already ten yards in front of her.
When Brad and Matt were five yards from the water, Brad called out, “Race is on.”
Brad and Matt ran full speed into the water. Once they were waist deep they dove in and began swimming the fifty yards to the raft. Jane dropped her arms, pivoted and ran into the water. Grace was the last one in. She didn’t care. When the water touched her thighs, she dove and began swimming.
Grace’s body was perfectly parallel to the bottom of the lake and her strokes were long and powerful. She looked like a shark cutting through the water. She caught a quick glimpse of Jane thrashing through the water. Grace glided by Jane as if Jane were floating. She paid no attention to Brad and Matt. Grace knew Matt was a good swimmer. If it wasn’t for summer basketball league, he would have been on the swim team. The swim coach pleaded with her to change Matt’s mind.
Grace caught Brad and Matt ten yards from the raft, when she turned her head to breath, she caught a smile from Brad. She gave her last bit of effort, and touched the raft. She placed her hand on the raft and turned. Brad touched it, followed quickly by Matt. Jane was halfway across plodding along. Grace, Matt, and Brad climbed on the raft.
“Looks like I’ll be getting a free coffee, said Grace.
“Mom, Brad let you win. Didn’t you, Brad?” said Matt.
“Your mom beat me fair and square. She’s a very good swimmer. Did you swim competitively, Grace?” said Matt.
Before Grace could answer, Jane screamed from lake, “Brad, I think I have a cramp in my thigh. Help me. Please help me.” Jane was waving her hand frantically.
Before Grace could react, Brad was in the water. He was not playing around, he cut through water like a heated knife through a stick of butter. Grace realized Brad took it easy on Matt and her. She didn’t think Jane was in any trouble. She’d seen Jane swim laps in a pool. She wasn’t a great swimmer, but she wasn’t afraid of the water and knew how handle herself in case of trouble.
Grace watched the muscles on Brad’s back and shoulders gracefully rising and falling with each stroke. His kick was effortless. He quickly reached Jane. He swam behind her and slid his arms under Jane’s arms, reached across her chest and grabbed hold of her shoulders and began to swim the sidestroke toward the raft.
When he reached the raft, Brad placed his hand on the raft and said, “Jane, you’re safe. I’m going to let you go. Grab hold of Grace’s hand. She’ll help pull you onto the raft.”
Grace reached down and grabbed Jane’s hand. Jane gave her smile like a rattlesnake waiting to strike gives its prey. Grace gave Jane’s arm a good yank.
Jane yelped, “Owe, Grace. Watch it. That hurt.”
“I’m sorry, Jane. I didn’t realize my strength,” said Grace.
Jane rolled onto the raft, lifted herself to her knees, and turned her face into a grotesque look of pain as she struggled to get to her feet. Grace thought Jane was auditioning for a part in an upcoming movie. It was an Oscar worthy performance.
“How do you feel, Jane?” said Brad.
Jane put her arms around Brad’s neck and clung to him, she sobbed, “I was going to drown and you saved me. What can I ever do to repay you?”
Grace felt like sticking her finger down her throat. Instead, she watched the scene play out.
Brad plied Jane off of him and said, “Jane, you’re too weak to swim back to shore with us. I’ll have Larry take a canoe and come and get you. Grace and Matt and I will be in the coffee shop if you feel up to joining us.”
Grace said, “That’s a good idea Brad. Jane is worn out fighting her leg cramps. You need to relax or take a nap, Jane. You’re not a spring chicken anymore.”
If eyes were a licensed weapon, Jane would be charged with manslaughter one and Grace would be the victim.
Matt said, “The race is on to the shore.” He leaped off the raft and headed toward shore.
You never know how strong you are, until being strong is your only choice. ~ Bob Marley
Getting over a painful experience is much like crossing monkey bars. You have to let go at some point in order to move forward. – C. S. Lewis
by William Ernest Henley
Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.
In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.
Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds and shall find me unafraid.
It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate,
I am the captain of my soul.
Life Is Fine
by Langston Hughes
I went down to the river,
I set down on the bank.
I tried to think but couldn’t,
So I jumped in and sank.
I came up once and hollered!
I came up twice and cried!
If that water hadn’t a-been so cold
I might’ve sunk and died.
But it was Cold in that water! It was cold!
I took the elevator
Sixteen floors above the ground.
I thought about my baby
And thought I would jump down.
I stood there and I hollered!
I stood there and I cried!
If it hadn’t a-been so high
I might’ve jumped and died.
But it was High up there! It was high!
So since I’m still here livin’,
I guess I will live on.
I could’ve died for love–
But for livin’ I was born
Though you may hear me holler,
And you may see me cry–
I’ll be dogged, sweet baby,
If you gonna see me die.
Life is fine! Fine as wine! Life is fine!
The measure of who we are is what we do with what we have. – Vince Lombardi