’TIL WE’RE THERE.
“You know I hate you for this.”
A wretched tree root. A stumble, one foot to the right, and I’d be hurtling down a cliff face the size of the grand canyon. The elephant weight nestling on my shoulders shifted and conspired with the tree root to finalize my destruction.
I sank quickly to my knees to save us both. The laughing echoes of a life giving stream raced away a mile below me.
“Now, stay with me. Follow my lead.”
Seven hours across the worst of these ridgebacks. Up and down. Up and down. Eons ago, the forest had conspired to wrap its anchoring vines around my ankles and seal my fate. The lower tree branches clawed at my burden, screaming at me to release it and leave it behind. A picture of the abandoned Gatorade, on the rustic cabin porch swing, forced its way into my mind as my throat screamed its protest.
“Nothing better to do, understand? Keep moving.”
Six eagles mocked me as they rode the thermals high above my pain. My heart complained strongly. The carbohydrates failed. Body fat failed. The Mars Bar failed. Glycogen failed. Oxygen endured like a wilted flower. Fire raced up and down my blood caked calves.
The memories played with my brain. Darla, Scottish dancing barefoot in the college fountain. Water pouring down. Arms raised to the heavens. Singing of Amazing Grace. Not giving a care what anyone else thought about her bedraggled appearance.
The first look. Her tentative steps toward me. And then jumping with abandon into my arms. A whirlwind romance. Adventure without limits. A cabin in the woods far away from anyone else. A cabin to discover God and love. A cabin now shrouded in horror.
“I didn’t even hear that bear.”
Five months off from work to hunt and fish and live off the land. A summer of magic. Serotonin levels spiked as I secured my load with vines and prepared to descend a sixty degree pitch on the overgrown trail. I needed to nap, but the streaks of red across my arm, captured my eyes again and again to spur me on.
My dopamine levels, responsible for motivation, dropped off the scale. Adrenaline had long gone. An image of a tall caramel latte formed against the trail. I almost stooped to pick it up. The four foot flat space extending out into space looked for a moment like a diving board calling me to take the quick way down. Fear reminded me that I never could jump off those boards.
“You were just picking berries. How could you know?”
Only a deeper power could pull me through.
Four words fell from my tongue. “Just this once, Lord.”
Three distinct beeps sounded from my wrist. I twisted my load and craned my neck. Yes, the sun was halfway into its dive behind the hills. Darkness would soon prove this trek to be worthless.
Two ridges to go.
“I can’t breathe.”
One hour of boot camp like torture ended on tarmac. The silence of that road put a spear through the last of my hope. I looked to the hills. Where was my help? I stumbled and fell.
Waking up to sunshine, wrapped in the whitest of white, is a heavenly experience. Having a trio of green masks peering down on you is not.
“So, you decided to join the land of the living after all?” The voice was rich. The chuckle was life giving. “You clean up good, son. You saved her life, boy. I don’t know what you had to do to get where you got to, but you done did good.”
The pat on the arm was easy. Like a feather. And then it was dark again.
Nightmares have a way of making mincemeat of all your favorite beliefs. So do grizzlies. It’s all good unless it’s all bad.
They told me that three suns scorched the heavens before I emerged from the pits. It feels like forever. With the mercy of angels, the nurses had set Darla’s bed next to mine. I had walked twenty –seven miles to reach that cabin with the girl of my dreams. I had carried her every step back.
Her head was covered in bandages, but one eye shone bright. While the bear had done its damage to body and soul it was clear that nothing had touched her heart. While she wasn’t dancing barefoot in fountains, by God’s grace, one day, she would.
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