Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: Write a Coming OF AGE short story (11/20/14)
TITLE: Jake's Long Walk
By Yvonne Blake
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“I know just the place to get the perfect tree.” Grandpa pushed a branch that hung over the path. “I saw it near the beaver pond.”
“A beaver pond?”
“Yes, their dam stretches for a hundred feet or more.”
Jake didn’t remember it, but it had been eight years since they last visited the farm. This year, his mom had insisted he experience a real old-fashioned Thanksgiving, like she remembered as a girl. While she and Grandma baked pies, Grandpa took Jake to find a Christmas tree.
“When I was a boy, my brother Tom and I used to get our trees. We’d look for one that was straight, with lots of branches and not too much sap.”
It was hard to imagine Grandpa as a young boy.
He talked on and on about their boyhood adventures – of their finding a porcupine, shooting turkeys, and camping in the middle of the winter when they nearly froze. Jake felt like he was going to freeze today. My toes are so cold, they’re going to fall off. It never got this cold in California.
“How much farther is it?”
“We’re almost there, Tom.”
His grandfather turned and looked in his face. “Oh, yes . . . Jake. You should have worn boots, whatever your name is.”
They trudged through fields, crossed streams, and scrambled through thick brush. Every few minutes, Grandpa stopped and looked back the way they had come. He found a fallen branch to use as a walking stick. When they crested a hill, Grandpa sat down on a big rock. His cheeks were red, and he wheezed as he breathed.
It was a pretty view, but all Jake could see were trees in every direction – some evergreens, but mostly bare branches. “Where is the beaver pond?”
Grandpa stood up and looked around. “The land looks different, but things change. I’m sure it must be around here.” He grabbed his stick and held out his hand for Jake to help him up.
After another hour or so, Jake noticed that even though the sky had been overcast all day, it seemed to be a little darker. He couldn’t really tell which way the sun was setting.
Grandpa stopped again. He stared into the woods. “Tom, are we almost home? I’m getting tired.”
Jake’s heart gave a lurch. “Grandpa, it’s me - Jake.”
His grandfather stared at him with a stranger’s eyes and didn’t answer.
“Are you okay, Grandpa?”
The old man sat on a log and coughed. He rubbed his hand over his face, as if waking from a dream. In a small whimper, he said, “I don’t know where I am.” His pale eyes glistened with tears.
"Grandpa, it’s late. We need to go back.”
“I don’t know how to get back.” He looked up at Jake. “Will you take me home?”
Jake’s mind raced through stories he’d read about people being lost in the woods. His heart pounded. He was a kid from San Diego. What did he know about building a fire or finding shelter? He didn’t even know which way to find help. He checked his cell phone – 4:52 . . . and no signal. I can't even call 911.
Jake closed his eyes and breathed a prayer. Lord, help me. I don’t know what to do. He helped his grandfather up. “We can’t stay here. It’s getting dark and cold. Let’s try to backtrack the way we came.”
Grandpa put one hand on Jake’s shoulder, and they crunched back through the old dry leaves. Jake stopped. He thought he heard something. Yes! - a train whistle. That meant it was crossing a road. He turned in that direction.
The trees gave way to an open meadow. A large pine stood silhouetted against the indigo evening sky. Jake knew they would have to stop soon. He heard a twig snap, and a large buck stepped into the meadow. Grandpa coughed again. The deer turned its head and bolted away.
A gun shot cracked the evening stillness.
Jake jumped. A hunter! He ran into the meadow, waving his arms. “Mister, whoever you are, we’re lost. Help us!”
Something crashed through the underbrush toward them - an answer to prayer clothed in blaze orange.
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