“We should probably turn around and go home,” said my friend. Her tired eyes meet mine across the van seats.  Her normally blond hair is a greasy light brown.

My own hair is probably a greasy brown with plant parts in it. We both stink.  I want to keep on. “We’re at the bottom of a hill,” I said. “Turning around might be a little bit tough right now. A few mishaps can’t cancel our fun.”  

She groans and shifts herself in the van chair.

“Or what will be fun,” I said from my spot on the hard carpet of the van floor.  I give up pretending my body would like to sleep in a curvy chair that leans way back. I need to straighten out on the floor, hard as it is.

She sighs. ”I know we’ve been planning this trip since college ten years ago. I know we thought it would be great to get together again after we got our jobs and apartments and cars. A way to check in with each other about our college goals and if our dream lives came true. See if we there’s anybody we want to be serious about.”

“We have to agree that we did manage to find jobs we like with our degrees,” I said.

“Yes and we each have nice apartments with cozy beds, and plenty of food and local bars to go to where we meet friends and eat all kinds of good food with plenty to drink,” she said.

“Cara,” I said.

“Sandy,” she sounds irritable. “You’re the one who likes adventure. ‘Be more spontaneous’ you always say to me. ‘Get outside your little bubble world.’ Right now my little bubble world looks wonderful. It looked wonderful before we left. Maybe we should have met in a nice hotel somewhere. Restaurant with bar, clean surroundings, and predictable day of shopping. We could have talked over lunch or dinner!”

I said, “Well we talked about going somewhere different.  Not like our comfortable lives. Have an adventure! ‘Travel while you’re young - before you get tied down.’ That was my grandma’s advice.”

I agree with Cara on the inside but I want to stay true to our original college plan a little while longer.

“At least we don’t seem to be injured too badly. You’re still feeling OK aren’t you?” I asked.

“I’m fine.” Short answer from her.

“So we’re both OK. Our trip has taken a little detour…”

“Our trip has taken a BIG DETOUR!” she shouted. “We know we’re at the bottom of some hill which we were very lucky to slide down thanks to a lot of trees and bushes.  I wish you had hit that rodent looking thing!”

“When I saw it in the headlights, I was hoping to miss it. I didn’t mean to go off the road,” I said.

No answer.

“I’m sorry,” I said again. I don’t know how many times I’ve said it since our slow motion slide downhill that landed us at the bottom of wherever we are. We’re lucky to not roll over or have the engine catch fire. We‘re lucky we didn’t get hurt in the slide. Cell phones show us we’re out of the service area. Great.  Because it’s dark we have no idea how far we are from the top of the hill where the road is. Not that we don’t try to find out.

When the van stops we make sure each other‘s OK. Then we each try to push our van doors open. Despite the overhead lights that come on when the doors hit something woodsy, it’s too dark outside to see exactly what‘s holding the doors shut.

“Let’s try the sliding door,” said Cara. Automatically it glides open. She’s first out. We meet branches that crack away from our bodies as we push into them.

Barely enough room for us. “Let’s hold on to the van and walk to the end of it. Keep going, I’ll follow,” I said.

“Turn on your cell phone light,” said Cara. She is always the practical one. I would’ve felt my way to the end. We can see maybe two feet ahead with cell phone lights flashing into leafiness. It is very bushy.

“Slightly more room back here since we mowed things over,” she said. “How far from the top do you think we are?”

“I can’t guess. It’s too dark even with our cell phones,” I said. We stand at the back of the van for more than a few minutes. We move our lights around trying to see more than broken, bent over bushes. For the damage we made on the way down the bushes are still taller than us. The night is warm, crickets and cicadas doing all the talking.

Cara said, “Well we can follow the path we made with our van. To me that’s the best way to go. At least we know where we came from.”

 I agree.

“You first,” she said. “You’re the adventurous one.”

Maybe, I think but not feeling all that brave or adventurous. I’m shaking from the trip downhill. I don’t share any of this with my friend.

“Okay.” I said. Hope I sound stronger than I feel.” Shine your light in front of me. I have to put my phone in my pocket so I can use two hands.”

Cara does.  Not much to see but I try to step over the bush in front of me. No go. Too big. I try stepping on it. Springy and not too stable. “I could get to the end of this if I stand on the bush, bend over and grab its branches and pull while moving my feet slowly,” I said. “I hope we don’t have to do this the whole way.”

Finally at the end of that bush I turn around. The next one pushes at my back. I get out my phone to shine light for Cara to climb on the bush I just walked over.

“Be sure to grab the branches and not the leaves. Leaves come off too easily,” I said. She goes faster because I had crushed the bush down a bit.

She joins me.”Wow this could take a while,” she said. And she’s right. We slowly climb over one slightly smashed bush at a time. Then the next. We stop to rest after who knows how long. Time is hard to gauge in the dark. We don’t think to check our phones for the time.

My hands hurt from the sharp branches that stick into my skin while trying to get a good hold. The quiet of the woods surprises me. Only crickets and cicadas take turns droning.  No wild animals? Our own heavy breathing from the climb is the only other sound.  I look up expecting to see stars in the sky. Too dark. I shine my phone light up. Nothing but lots of leaves from trees.

Cara sighs. “Let’s keep going,” she said.

I begin the climb over the next bush but forget to put my phone in my pocket. One handed I grab a branch but lose my balance. My arms fly out and so does my phone. I don’t hear it land.

“Are you OK?” Cara asked.

“Yeah but I just dropped my phone,” I said panicky. Who wants to lose their phone? She moves her light around but we can’t see it. She sighs. She does that a lot I notice.

“We have to keep on Sandy,” she pleads. “We can worry about your phone later. Maybe when it’s daylight…”

I cry. Just break down and cry standing in place. It’s dark, we ran off the road, roll through thick woods downhill, we try to climb back up, I lose my phone and our trip is in ruins.

After a bit Cara said, “You’ll be OK. I’ll be OK. We’ll both be OK. We’ll get to the top.”

Her words partially convince me. No other choice. I pull myself together. “You’re right. We’ll be OK. We’ve been friends for a long time. We’ll get through.”

We keep at it one giant mashed bush at a time. We think we’re getting pretty far even though we pass the remaining phone back and forth to see what we’re doing. I step onto a bush but my foot slips. I quickly grab hold of one nearby.  I grab too hard and it gives. I’m holding a bush in my hand as I fall backwards, then sideways, then roll and crash and slide. I can barely hear Cara yelling. I skid to a stop into a tree trunk.

Stunned, I can’t see anything. I hear stomping and smashing and I see a little light.

“Sandy, Sandy, Sandy are you OK? Where are you? Talk to me,” Cara shouts. The insects nearby are quiet.

“I’m here,” I said weakly.  It takes a few minutes and some back and forth between us before Cara’s phone light is on me. She takes hold of my arm and pulls me up. “What happened?” she asked. I tell her as I check myself for broken body parts. My left shoulder hurts and I can feel the burn of scrapes. 

“Let’s see if we can get back to the van,” she said.

I’m for that. I want to lay down someplace that isn’t leafy and bushy.

Back at the van at last, resting as comfortably as we can after our escape attempt. We talk some more. Not about our lives up to this point but about the immediate situation we’re in. We’re tired, scraped up, thirsty and hungry. And grumpy.

“I’m tired of apologizing for my driving mistake. This is a trip we planned together.  You know you’re the one who usually takes care of the details. Where’s a flashlight? Where’s an extra snack or bottle of water Ms. Checklist?” I asked.

As my roommate she always made a checklist before we left for any event. She even made checklists before heading out to class. I never met anyone who was that specific about every detail of her life. Neither had anyone else in our circle of friends in the dorm. Someone else gave her the nickname Ms. Checklist. She said she didn’t care, but I knew it got to her sometimes. So I never called that. I got so I counted on her to worry about basic needs. I took pride in being the free spirit. Find what we need as we went along. I have to admit Cara prevented a few catastrophes.

But not this time.

“Well,” she said defensively,” I had a meeting that lasted longer than I thought it would. So I was late getting home. My stuff was right by the front door except the cooler of food and water. I wanted to have the coldest water possible for the trip. I had another work call while changing, saw I was late to meet you with the van out on the street and you know how busy that is and so I said to myself, Cara, be a free spirit. I grabbed my stuff and ran out the door. I probably left my checklist…”

“No,” I said. I could hardly believe it.

“Yes, Sandy Freespirit, I did and you see where we are now. If I had looked at my checklist and brought the cooler, we’d at least have cheesy crackers and cold water for dinner tonight.”

Can’t argue with that. Talking about food makes my stomach grumble.  I roll carefully onto my side to minimize the pain of an injured shoulder and try to go to sleep. Something hoots or howls continuously. I don’t know my animal sounds.

“Sandy?”  Cara said,” I can’t sleep.  Let’s talk. I’ll feel better if we do.”

 I said,” I don’t really want to talk about our predicament.”

“Me either,” she said. “Tell me about your job – you give me bits and pieces but I don’t really know if you feel your job is what you thought it would be.”

“It’s a better job than the one I got right out of school, it uses my skills…,”I said. We spend most of the rest of the night catching up. I think occasionally we drift off to sleep. At least I do until screaming animals in the trees startle me. It’s almost as if they’re fighting with each other. Whatever kind of animals they are they’re rumbling on the roof of our van. I’m pretty sure I smell a skunk too.

Cara’s awake and we start talking some more. Try to ignore the animal noises and hungry stomachs and the fear that comes after we realize we survived a driving accident. Then we survived a failed attempt to climb uphill in dark woods. I can’t think about tomorrow…

A loud banging on our van windshield wakes us both up, screaming louder than the animals on our roof.

“You OK?” some guy shouts. He’s wearing a uniform. We demand his I.D. He shows us one and we decide to trust him. Our rescuer looks pretty ordinary but he seems to know how to help us out. This part of the journey has a happy ending coming.


September 14, 2019 02:13

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