Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: Friend (11/02/17)
- TITLE: Another Step
By Jack Taylor
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The younger one probed the front pocket of his backpack and drew out an Eatmore candy bar. A swarm of gnats moved in closer. “Farther than it looks,” he stated matter of factly.
“I’m feeling every step,” the older one agreed. He dipped his cap into the stream and dumped the coolness over his head and down his neck. A curious sparrow hopped along a branch nearby.
“I still remember the first time,” the younger one said. “You thought I’d never make it.”
The older one smiled as he adjusted his cap back onto his head. “The snowline was still down this far back then,” he said. “I thought I’d asked too much of you.”
“Now, you’re getting your own back. Are you sure you’re up for it?”
Backpacks were secured, walking poles gripped and hiking boots put back to work. The steps continued through the lengthening shadows of the afternoon and into the twilight hours. Packs were lowered and grumbling stomachs satisfied. Sleeping bags were unrolled and a fire kindled. Sticks were whittled and marshmallows secured over embers.
“Remember how your mom thought we were so crazy to bring jet-puffed marshmallows? She knew they’d be squished by the time we stuffed everything in and walked all this way.”
“And when we dragged out the clump of white goo and pried it apart she never said a thing.”
“I’m pretty sure she was smirking.”
“Remember how she wanted to keep walking when we stopped to look at those bears? She was sure we were stalling.”
“She knew us pretty good.”
“I didn’t believe she’d come with us when I told her we were going to walk these mountains to make a man out of you.”
“I’m not sure if she thought a twelve-year-old would never make it or if she wanted to be there to cheer for me when I did make it. All I know is that she made it easier to keep going.”
The Milky Way spread out like a brilliant carpet of Christmas lights and the Big and Little Dippers shone with extra energy. Owls hooted back and forth across a small ravine and the scurrying feet of rodents hurried to their hiding places. The last embers of the fire dulled and the density of darkness around them thickened.
“Old man Jenkins disappeared on a night just like this… right about this spot.”
“You think I’m falling for this again?”
“The hunters who found his bloody boots think it was the cougars that got him.”
“I stopped believing those stories the third or fourth time you brought me up here.”
“The rangers searched high and low without finding even a single bone. Some think he still skulks around these parts barefoot looking to steal the boots from sleeping hikers.”
A pair of coyotes barked at the moon cresting the mountain peaks.
“I suppose you’re going to tell me again that some nights you can still hear the coyotes howl as they pick up his scent.”
“No, that’s something your mom would have added. I kind of miss her extra on nights like this.”
“Do you remember how she would test us on all the animals to get our mind off the walk?”
“Yeah… cete of badgers; murder of crows; parade of elephants; band of gorillas; parliament of owls; muster of penguins.”
“Wow! You do remember.”
“Still can’t figure out why God would let her die of cancer. She was my best friend.”
“She was my best friend even more. We would have been married forty years tomorrow.”
“Is that why you keep bringing me up here every year at this time? To keep her memory alive?”
“It helps. I actually come up here with you every year because mom helped me see what a great friend you could be when we got you away from everything else. I keep bringing you up here every year because I want to keep this friendship fresh. I’m never sure which hike is going to be our last one.”
“Thanks, dad. Know I'm with you every step.”
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