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Drama Friendship Suspense

The green Subaru crunched along the forest service road as the passengers admired the early morning scenery. The sunlight broke through the evergreens that the gravel road cut through, spotlighting the verdant understory.

“I really appreciate you helping me train. I couldn’t get my husband to agree to run with me. He’s just not very supportive,” said Sandra.

“Not a problem,” answered Katelyn. “If you wanted me to run the whole way with you, I couldn’t. But your idea of meeting along the path is brilliant. It’s been years since I have run more than just down to my mailbox.”

Sandra laughed, “The trailhead is just up here. See it?”

Katelyn pulled the car over at the trailhead and put it in park. “Six miles. That’s impressive. There is no way my body would go that far,” stated Katelyn.

“If you trained, I’m sure you could. From here, I’ll start running down the path. You drive down to the bottom, park, and you can start running the other way whenever you’re ready. Just go as far as you feel comfortable. We’ll meet somewhere along the way, then you’ll turn around with me, and we’ll finish together at the car,” restated Sandra.

“Sounds good to me. I’m excited. I’ve been wanting to start running again. This seems like a great way to get back on the horse. And it’s so beautiful out here in nature. It’s inspiring.” Katelyn smiled from the driver’s seat and asked, “You got everything you need?”

“Yep, got my cellphone and my bear spray. There's an extra can of spray for you in the glove compartment. Take it just in case,” smiled Sandra.

Katelyn raised her eyebrows and nervously said, “Okay, Thanks.”

“Hey, if you get to the fork in the trail before I do, stop there. It gets pretty hilly after that. I should be there shortly. Again, I really appreciate you.” Sandra blew a kiss, then turned and jogged to the trailhead.

Katelyn turned the car around and bumped down the curving road as she admired the view of Mount Hood across the fog-filled valley. The day was as perfect as a postcard. Blue sky, Mount Hood thrusting above the lush Hood River Valley, looking like it was covered with a white wool scarf. The temperature was crisp, the kind of crispness that reminded you that standing around was not the best idea, but inspired movement, like dancing, or in her case, running. Her heart was totally into the idea. As a younger woman, she remembered how she would run laps around Green Lake in Seattle. She’d run there on her favorite path around Woodland Park Zoo, down to the lake, and then back. A three to four-mile round trip, depending. This setting had a similar feel.

As she arrived at the parking area and looked at the trailhead, she started to realize the difference with a bit of nervousness as she reached into the glove compartment box. Bear spray. The animals at the zoo were behind fences. She was in the forest. Alone. The animals were wild. Unfenced. She got out of the car and started her stretching routine, then jumped as a raven’s caw broke the silence and echoed through the branches. Her fist tightened around her bear mace can, and she started to walk up the path.

Calm down. You aren’t going to see any wild animals here. And if I do, they are more afraid of me and will run away, she thought. She took a deep, calming breath. The air was refreshingly sweet and earthy, filled with the smell of the giant trees, bushes, and ferns. She could hear a trickle of water as a creek cut its way along the trail, making her smile. She started swinging her arms in circles, getting the blood flowing. She stopped to stretch her legs completely, bending at the waist and reaching for her toes. It truly is peaceful here. A chipmunk scurried across the path and halfway up a tree. He turned to look at her as she started to jog away. "Good Morning. Fine Sir."

The soft forest floor felt great on her knees as she jogged up the path. It cushioned and made a pleasing sound with every footfall. Much better than running on pavement. The effort was more than she remembered, but she pushed on stubbornly, her breathing getting harder and faster. I’m not used to running at elevation. She worked her arms more exaggeratedly as the flat-looking path tilted upward, much to her chagrin.

Her ears pricked up as she crested the hill, and she heard a large crack. Eyes wide, her heartbeat sped up with a burst of adrenaline, her senses ever sharper. She saw nothing but quickened her pace and took advantage of a little downhill assist. Her legs started to feel weak, but her mind ignored the protesting limbs, and she moved faster.

*CRACK!*

Goosebumps, not in a good way, covered her skin, and she came to a complete stop, raising her mace and aiming it like a cop and their .357. She looked around, over the path's edge, down toward a stream, and saw the culprit. A large antlered deer bolted up the opposite hillside, jumping downed trees as if they were toothpicks and over the top of the hill before she could count the spikes on the horns.

Katelyn laughed, her heart pounding. That was magical. She turned and continued, the adrenaline spigot still gushing, and opined, on second thought, I prefer my animals behind fences. She powered on, hoping to see Sarah jogging down the path anytime now!

Katelyn approached a sign along the trail and saw another path veering to the south. She had come to the fork. Wow, I beat Sarah to the fork! With a sense of pride filling her chest, she had reached the farthest point she was supposed to go. She looked around and listened for her friend's footsteps coming along the trail. She didn't hear her. She decided to sit. Her legs were pretty shaky. The old body just isn’t what it used to be. Sarah will be impressed. I just won’t tell her I was scared out of my mind.

Katelyn started to worry. Where in the world is that girl? It had been a good forty minutes, and Sarah should have been there by now. The fork was at least halfway. Concerned, Katelyn got up and started to walk up the path, continuing. Thoughts started flooding her brain. Maybe she fell and twisted her ankle? Maybe she was attacked by a cougar, wolf, or bear? Maybe that’s why that deer was running the other way. Katelyn started running up the path toward her friend. The whole time, she was thinking, why in the world would she be running towards a cougar? All she had was bear mace. Does Bear Mace work on cougars? I don’t think so. Otherwise, Sarah would be okay.

Katelyn was full-out panic-running up and down the hills, not feeling any pain, when she stopped and looked down. The skin prickled as the hair on the back of her arms stood straight up. Right across the trail, through a muddy puddle, her worst fear was confirmed. Bear tracks. Big ones. They were headed away from the path. Katelyn took off, running as fast as she could, continuing on the path.

She rounded a large rock, then came to the road. In a moment of terror, Katelyn realized this was where she had let her friend off. There was no sign of Sarah.

Panic-stricken, Katelyn turned around and took off, back down the trail as fast as her middle-aged legs, okay, forty-year-old legs would take. Cursing at the universe, daring any four-legged beast to come out and fight, she was on a mission that even Tom Cruise or Arnold Schwarzenegger would be proud of. What in the world am I going to do? I’ve got to get to the car. I’ve got to go to the police. Or, no, I have to go back up to the top to see if there are any signs of foul play. Oh my god! She screamed internally, footfalls pounding with urgency.

Reaching the car, she slammed it in gear and peeled out, leaving a gravel shower covering the ferns as she headed back up to the trailhead where she had left her friend. She determined that if she saw the bear, she’d ram it. Then she thought she couldn’t do that; she might run over Sarah at the same time. Where was her tire iron? She hoped it was still under her seat. She’d use it to beat off the attacking beast or some fool idea. As she reached for it blindly, she swerved around a corner and passed a truck that had to go wide. Looking at her rearview, she saw a hand wildly waving, and the vehicle’s taillights came on.

She threw on her brakes and skidded to a stop. Whipping around, she pulled up to the truck and saw Sarah limp over, one shoe on, one dangling from her hand, a sheepish grin on her face.

Katelyn jumped out of the car, ran over, and hugged Sarah. “You’re ok!” she panted.

“You’re all sweaty,” chuckled Sarah.

“What happened? I thought you were being eaten by a grizzly bear or…”

“Broke my shoe,” she chuckled again, raising the ripped shoe. “I didn’t get a hundred yards before my foot ripped right out of my shoe. I walked back to the road, but you had already driven off. Then I tried to call you, but I had no signal. So, I sat for about an hour and a half until this nice gentleman drove up and offered to give me a lift. That’s what I was doing when I saw you blast by. I’m sorry I scared you.”

Her mind had been in such a panic, her body fueled solely on adrenaline, that she lost control and started to shake uncontrollably. She sat down on the hood of her car, weak from the experience and the exercise, and started to laugh hysterically. “I just ran twelve miles! You’re driving me home, and you owe me a cocktail,” she said once she had collected her wits.

“Okay. Maybe we can try this again next weekend?” asked Sarah.

“Not until you get a new pair of shoes,” she said as she handed Sarah the keys, limped to the passenger side door, and plopped down with a groan. The leather seats had never felt so good.

February 02, 2024 16:52

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