With nowhere else to go, I drove to the base of a mountain and started climbing. My shoes weren’t made for the steep rocks and I slipped more times than I’d like to admit. There were no other people around; after all it’s the middle of a Tuesday on a hot summer’s day. No one in their right mind would be hiking right now.
I give it up to poetic justice when I reach up to grab hold of the rock and feel a sting in the tip of my fingers. I yank my hand back to see blood trickling down the palm and onto the hot stone below.
“Well sh–” I stop short when a fresh wave of wind ruffles the trees and I hear a small animal jump out of sight in the bushes below. I turn back to the rocks and carefully climb to the edge where I can jump down to the earth and lean against a tree. I reach into my backpack and pull out my water bottle, which is half empty, and take a long gulp. Something brushes against my leg and I jump, only to look down and see a flower waving in the wind.
“Pull yourself together, Acuff,” I whisper, pulling my hand down my face to wipe off the sweat.
I sit down, leaning against the tree, and pluck the flower out of the dirt. Instinctively, I pull the first petal out and say, “He loves me.” I’m about to say “He loves me not” with the next petal before I stop, scoff, and say “He’s obsessed with me.”
Next petal. “He wants me.”
Next petal. “He won’t leave me alone.”
Next petal. “He scares me.”
Next petal. “He worships me.”
Next petal. “I wish he’d kill me.”
I drop the marred flower to the forest floor and shake my head. He can’t find me out here. He won’t find me. He’ll wait for me at my apartment until I go back.
Another gust of wind pushes my dark hair into my face and I groan, pulling it back into a bun. Feeling as rested as I need to be, I stand up and continue my climb up the mountain. It takes two hours before I reach the top and by the time I do I’m drenched in sweat, gasping for breath, bleeding in two more places, and cursing the damn shoes I decided to wear to work today.
But the view. The view makes it all worth it. Trees, tall, full and green, stretch on for as far as I can see. To the right weaves a large river and near it sits a clearing I’m sure is filled with dear and small forest creatures. The mountains I grew up to love surround me, towering above the city dozens of miles away. I look left when a flock of birds – probably a common grackle – leave the treetops and fly into the air. I grin, my spirit truly calming for the first time all week.
I sit down, staring out at the national park. I imagine the wildlife in its depths, fighting for survival. I picture myself among them, loosing the fight desperately. I stare longingly at the white tips of the mountains where the snow still survives in the high altitude. I strain my ears, imagining that I can hear the rushing of the water in the river.
The sun dips below the mountains in the distance. The shadows casted by the trees grow longer. I’m going to be heading back in the dark. Groaning, I push myself up and head back into the trees.
Someone turns up the volume of the forest playlist as I climb down the mountain. I’m overwhelmed by sounds of wind blowing, crickets chirping, birds singing, and plants rustling. Sweat gathers on the back of my neck again and I hold onto the indents of the rock as I lower myself down. Something bites my fingers again and the rock I place my feet on crumbles.
I shout and pull my hand out of the rock. My foot slips and my left hand isn’t strong enough to hold me against the rocks. My fingers give out and I fall. Wind whistles past my ear and my shoulder hits first, causing pain to pulse overwhelmingly through me. I roll down the rocks, feeling my elbows hit them hard with each turn. I stick out my feet to try and stop and reach out my hands for anything to grab onto to. I blink through the dust but I’m rolling too fast to see anything. Then my head slams into a rock and the world shuts off.