Silent Witness Chapter 3Padraic cut a path toward the far side of the falls that offered a five mile view in every direction. He watched as she continued to follow the water. Probably headed toward Cedar cliff or Ben's Lair, he skirted the trail giving her a chance to get ahead of him.
“Be careful where you wander.”
The little girl that spoke those words to him so long ago came to the forefront of his memory. No way, there's no way, it's not possible she's the same child. He picked up his pace wanting to see her face again.
Even with a better look he couldn't be certain. What was it, ten years ago maybe more? Before his divorce, before he lost his residency at Dartmouth; he'd chosen a path of destruction that encompassed not only his marriage and career, but also his relationship with Christ. But you put me back on trail Lord, I'm not wandering.
That child served as one of the vessels, and the warning she offered, like all the others went unheeded.
He drew in a deep breath and tasted a sure sign of snow in the air. That dive, he hesitated at the memory, a near perfect pike position, just like the one the little girl preformed at Thirteen Falls, all those years ago. No, he dismissed the connection, that child was not deaf nor mute. Her message was clear and her eyes met his in a direct challenge, these two were not one and the same.
Padraic looked at the path she had cut. I would have never thought to come this way, if I hadn't seen her go, I'd have never found her. He maneuvered over the snow covered boulders and wiped the ice and grit onto his jeans. In his opinion, Caleb had nothing to worry about, her hiking skills nearly matched his own.
He smiled at her progress, he'd have to pick up his pace if he intended to settle in before she got there. He watched her long enough to be confident in her ability to get to Cedar Cliff without his constant surveillance.
Evening fell when he saw her breach the outskirts of Cedar Cliff. He had long since settled in a discrete crevice, discovered ages ago on one of his many plights out to this area. It was a good spot, where he could clearly see her without intruding on her refuge.
He watched as she established her campsite and removed her boots. Barefoot she walked to the edge of the cliff and dangled her feet in the water as it cascaded over the side. A light snow fell early in the afternoon leaving a few inches of powder to cover up an icy film on the rocks. She splashed her feet seemingly in cognizant to the temperature of the water. Her dog displayed more sense, and sought shelter a fair distance away from the falls. For a moment he thought he should reveal his presence, if she knew he was there maybe she'd be less likely to place herself in harm’s way.
She lifted her chin into the breeze and turned her profile in his direction. Her composure held firm as silent tears washed her sun scorched cheeks. She pushed away from the edge and beckoned for him to come sit beside her. Entranced he started to step forward, and caught himself as her dog obeyed the order and nudged his head under her hand. Stupid, he accosted himself, she's frightened enough without you adding to the mix.
She stayed in place and her attention toward the heavens as the stars blanketed the sky. Over an hour passed as she caressed the dog and settled into her sadness. Without warning she retreated to her tent with her faithful pet close beside her. He watched his breath condense and felt the sudden temperature drop. Good she needs to sleep, as do I. Padraic brushed the snow from his hair, retreated to his own campsite, and gave in to his own hunger and exhaustion. He finished his dinner, bedded down and closed his eyes, though his mind would not allow him to escape from her sadness.
Autumn leaves of every color showered around her as she danced whimsically around. He could not resist watching her. All too sudden a wind stirred the leaves and a frost glazed the area. She danced taking no notice of the abrupt change. Behold, protect, allow no harm to come to her, a solemn charge distracted him for a moment. He lifted his eyes from the scene and felt an impact steal the air from his lungs. The leaves were dead, brown and stiff as a force beyond his strength plummeted leaving her almost as lifeless as the debris that surrounded her. Her golden eyes met his as she gasped for a breath, a trickle of blood ran down her cheek.
Padraic forced himself to open his eyes and felt the vomit erupt in his throat as he pushed himself outside of his site. His muscles ached with a fatigue as he continued to heave at the memory of her bludgeoned body. He regained his composure certain he’d compromised his position. Blood never bothered him, he'd seen his fair share of it both during search and rescue operations and as a trauma surgeon. He wiped his mouth and sat down against the boulder near his site. A fresh wet snow christened his face as he tried to calm his heart rate and breathing.
Alright, he grabbed his moccasins and looked up at the midnight sky. His eyes adjusted and he was able to regain his bearings. He stood and brushed the snow from his jeans. I'll check on her, if she isn't deaf, then she certainly knows I'm here.
She wasn't in her tent, nor was her dog. He followed their tracks to the ledge, he glanced down and saw her sitting with her legs submerged in the basin below. Her hair lay loose blowing wildly in the blustery wind. She kicked the water, lifting her toes to a pristine point then lowering them back into the basin. She must be frigid. He shivered as the wind pushed his body strong enough to make him step backwards. She twisted her saturated hair into a quick knot and pulled her feet from the water, stood and stared at the pool.
Good, at least she had enough sense to explore the basin before diving. She knows she can't jump here. A flurry of snow rose up and forced him to turn from her position in order to regain his sight. When he saw her again she signed for her dog to stay and climbed the inside wall well above her original position. No she's not. He pushed his hair back and saw her imperturbable expression. Her body held in perfect line as she severed the night air. Her fingers touched the water and she disappeared sending only a gentle ripple to the surface.
Padraic scrambled to the edge lost his footing and crashed against the rocky path. He gripped the rocks and forced himself upright in time to see her re-emerge. If he had the stamina left in him to scream at her, he'd have to swallow the word he wanted to say. It's just as well she is deaf. He brushed himself off and reeled in his anger. She's trying to kill herself and leaving me here as the witness. She needs to know I'm here. He started in her direction.
He watched as she dried herself with an old army brown towel, the dog grabbed one end and started playing tug of war with her. She wrestled with him for a moment smiled, giggled and laughed. He stopped and listened. She laughed, it wasn't the guttural laugh of a deaf person. He maintained his position and listened. Her laugh turned to a cry, her body crumpled to the ground and her arms wrapped around the dog as he licked her face. For the longest time she cried, until her grip loosened and silence ensued. She lay silent and unmoving beside her pet. Did she fall asleep? He couldn't be sure.
She'll freeze to death if I leave her. He stepped forward and heard the low rumble of the dog’s throat.
“I'm not going to hurt her.” He signed to the dog and it came to him. He offered his hand in friendship and checked the collar. Ralphie was registered in New Hampshire. Padraic stroked the dogs head and returned his attention to the girl.
“We've got to do something boy, she'll freeze to death if we leave her here.” He spoke in a half whisper and led the dog to her side.
She felt like a limp rag doll as he lifted her into his arms and cradled her against his chest. From her breathing he determined she had passed out. Exhaustion, exposure, probably both, he followed the dog to her campsite. He slid her into her sleeping bag, but knew her feet needed attention. They were already in the early stage of frostbite. Crazy girl, he rummaged through her pack and found foot warmers and wool socks. At least she has the basics. He dressed her feet then cracked the warmers and placed them inside her sleeping bag against her socks.
“Austin,” she opened her eyes but from the distant stare, he knew she saw nothing.
“Sleep, it's your turn.” He lay her down again and wiped the tears from her cheeks with his thumbs.
She closed her eyes and placed her hand on his. “I've missed you.”
Bruises and battle scars peppered her frame, her body a detailed map of someone’s rage. He dared to push her hair aside and uncovered the faded imprint of someone’s fingers. Oh my God, he lifted his hand away, backed out of the tent and allowed the dog to settle beside her.
He expected to see impact bruising from the dives, but recreational diving did not cause these contusions. Wrestling with grizzlies, Caleb's description recaptured his attention as he tried to piece everything together.
Snowflakes christened his eyelashes as he looked toward the night sky. I am not the right choice. I can't help her. You know my temper. He drew in his breath and looked at her silhouette on the tent. This is Caleb's project, not mine. He chewed his chapped lip and brought himself back to his own site. Caleb will say the right things, he will help her, know what to do. I'll bring her to him, that's my role, I found her. He can fix her.
Arguing with himself and God never proved worthwhile, he wrestled himself in his sleeping bag and tried to rest, though his dreams were haunted by the thought of hands clenching her fragile neck.
Behold, a flagrant wind rustled his shelter and showered it with an accosting hail. “I will bring her back. Help me to guide her back safely. Provide her a cloak of comfort and protection Lord.” Protect her, allow no harm to come to her. “I will,” he answered aloud. “She is my responsibility, I will ensure her safety until we are back on trail.”
Barking in the distance stirred him as morning light poured through his campsite. He grabbed his socks and boots and tried to sort out dream from reality in the light of day. Every muscle in his body ached as he pushed himself out of his shelter half and stretched. Okay, time to get this over with. We need to talk.