New Fiction Wednesday! This week a short story about getting far, far away from it all.
Trees, Wind, Insects
I think I made good time today- at least twenty miles, which is no joke with the pack I’m carrying and the terrain I’m covering. I might have gone further, but when I found a shelter I decided to stop here for the night because I don’t know where the next one will be. I have to laugh - eight good hours of hiking and the AT maps are already useless. Where’s the next shelter? The maps do not say.
It puts me in mind of what the cabbie said when he let me off at the foot of Mount Springer this morning:
“You can say Route 95 runs from Georgia to Maine; you can say that the Appalachian Mountains run that distance because both of those things do run it, in solid, unbroken chains. But to say that the Appalachian Trail runs that way, that’s less certain.”
I asked him why he thought the trail didn’t really go all the way to Maine.
“The trail’s not one thing is all,” he said. “It’s scores of little trails, maybe hundreds, all broken up and tied together at places, but it’s more stepping stones than a bridge, and the space between those stones can be wide.” He added about six ‘i’s’ to wide, dragging the word out – ‘wiiiiide.’
I asked him if many folks were coming to the trail now and he said it was slow, which didn’t surprise me, the way things are.
Morning: Second Day
No other hikers stopped at my shelter last night, which was a surprise. I rested for about eleven hours, which seems like a long time. Then again, I’m probably better off. I’d worry they had the flu and they would worry that I did. H5N1 had killed conversation even more swiftly than it had killed people.
Evening, Second Day
Traces of people today, some litter, tracks of some solid hiking boots, probably brand new, stamped in the softening mud of the trail. Someone’s just ahead of me, I think. It was warmer, today. Spring is coming.
Morning, Third Day
My third day without news of any kind. I could switch on the radio, but for what? To hear the latest H5N1 death tolls? Or to hear if there had been any more follow-up attacks? D.C. was the last I heard. America is sick and her enemies know it. We look back at 2001, and think of it as the good old days.
God, it’s so peaceful out here. Trees, wind, insects.
Evening, Seventh Day
Just three days to get bored of the writing ritual? I guess it was more than boredom—writing was just turning over all the things I came to the trail to forget.
I am guessing there was another attack because I haven’t heard any planes overhead for days and days.
The maps are more useless than I had imagined. I am on the trail, I know, I must be—there’s been no other trail to take!--but I haven’t seen another person. Not one. Even the footprints are gone. There must have been a way off of the trail I’m following, and that mysterious person ahead of me took it.
I look back at my notes and see I mentioned it getting warmer. Well, that is certainly the case! I thought February in Georgia would be cool here in the mountains. It’s not. It was in the 80’s yesterday, and as to the mountains, the trail runs along flat and true, as if I have descended into some lowlands that, according to my useless maps, simply should not be here.
The insects are tremendous, both in number and in size.
Morning, Tenth Day
I haven’t seen a glimpse of civilization- just the trail, well defined and easy to follow, but the blazes have disappeared, I can’t recall the last one I saw.
No shelters either. No boot prints, litter, traffic sounds, airplanes. Last night I looked up at the stars, hoping to catch sight of a satellite winking as it passed along. No luck.
I feel lightheaded. Maybe I brought the flu here with me.
Morning, Fifteenth Day
Over 100 degrees today.
A fallen tree bigger around than a city bus blocked the trail today. I had to climb it—climb the trunk of a fallen tree! The ridges of the bark were so deep it was like scaling a ladder. When I dropped down to the other side I startled a pillbug bigger than my head. I don’t know which one of us was more frightened. I checked my field guide but found no match for the animal or the tree, although some poking around in the thick fern cover that grows in the shadows of these giant trees turned up many other examples of the giant pillbugs.
The days are getting shorter, by my measure. Twelve hours of daylight, eleven hours of darkness- that’s just 23 hours.
I must be sicker than I feel.
I have reached a sea. It is broad, shallow and warm. As I approached the slowly rippling shore, more pillbugs scattered at the tremors of my footsteps, fleeing into the water. The husk of some great scorpion-like creature lolled in the gentle surf – the cast-off carapace of a lobster nearly as long as I am tall. Dragonflies the size of eagles skim the surface.
I tasted the water and confirmed the salinity.
I walked the beach for several miles. I saw no sign of people anywhere. Nor did I see any birds, animals, or fish.
I followed my own footprints back to where I came out of the dense forest and onto the beach, but there is no trail, not even a game trail. My tracks say I stepped from a tightly woven wall of foliage onto the shore of an impossible ocean, haunted by gigantic insects and filled with man-sized scorpions, where the days are shorter and the air is so rich with oxygen that I feel lightheaded.
Not the world I know, but the one where the mountains were born.
Just trees, wind, insects.
I think I’m lost.