My NaNoWriMo 24

I backtracked down the trail, back into the swamp and marsh, and sat on a large rock off to the side.  I removed my pack and let it rest on the ground next to me.  When Frank and Jordan caught up to where I was I briefly tried to explain what I had learned but it was so unbelievable I knew they would have to come face to face with the reality of our situation on their own so I sent them up the trail.  George, close on their heels, stopped to make sure I was okay and I just nodded and told him I’d catch up.

The three men came back down the trail together.  Their shoulders were slumped and their steps were slow, deliberate, with their heels dragging along in the dusty trail and kicking up little clouds as each boot made contact with the earth.  Their faces were ashen and grave, running the full gambit of emotions as they tried to wrap their heads around the truth.  We were dead.

One by one they dropped their packs and found a seat off the trail next to me.  Silence reigned for a very long time before I finally was able to get some words to come out.  It seemed the best thing to do was to admit it happened, to bring the truth of it out and share it because we needed to get passed that before we could move on to… well, to whatever we decided to do next.

“I was crossing a wet log, slipped, lost my balance and when my hands should have been bracing myself for the fall they were instead trying to grab the log I was falling off of and failing completely.”

“We,” stated Frank, his eyes staring across the trail into nothing, “were in our tent for the night, hiding from the rain and hail.  Lightning struck the tree next to our tent, shearing it nearly in half and sending an avalanche of giant limbs crushing down on top of us.”  His voice was detached.  He said the words but they were lacking any emotion.  “Wowee…”

George kept his gaze focused on his feet.  His hands were intertwined across his lap.  His shoulders were slumped forwards and his long beard was pinned between his chin and chest.  His whole appearance was dejected but his voice was solid, unwavering.  “I slipped on some ice, hail that had pooled together, while rounding a switchback and overcorrected while trying to regain my balance.  Instead of falling backwards onto my pack, I pitched forward and the weight of my pack pulled me sideways off the trail and down a chasm.  I’m not sure how far I fell, but it was far enough.”

We let the truth settle in.  It surrounded us.  It wrapped us in pain and comfort as only it can do.  And, eventually, we accepted it for what it was.

I slid off my rock, shouldered my pack, and waited for the others to join me.  The light was fading and we had miles to go before night fell.  Though the normal camping restrictions no longer applied to us, we at least needed to get to a spot that would be suitable.  Bubbs would serve for the night and the following day we would decide what to do next.

We retraced our steps back up the trail, and turned off at the Bridge to cross over the Kings River.  From there we followed the new trail, crossing a few smaller wooden bridges that spanned over the tendrils of Bubbs Creek.  When we found a spot suitable to set up our tents, we shrugged out of our packs again and went through the motions of setting up our camp.

It was Frank who noticed something we all should have noticed days before while pulling out what he and Jordan were going to have for dinner, “That’s weird…”

“What’s weird,” George and I both said in near unison.  We turned towards the father and son duo where they were rummaging through one of their bear canisters.  Frank had pulled a couple packets out of the black canister but his gaze was fully intent on what remained inside.

“We’ve got way too much food in here.  It’s like we haven’t been eating anything the last couple of days.”

Without further comment, George and I went to our own canisters to inspect them, and we too found that we hadn’t used any of our supplies recently.  I scratched the stubble under my chin as I looked at all of the food I was certain I had eaten over the last couple days.  It would dawn on me the next day that the stubble on my chin also hadn’t gotten any thicker or longer over that same period of time.

I thought back to the morning and the breakfast drink and granola bar and realized that I still had the granola bar in my pocket, uneaten, and though I had taken the drink packets out of the canister to mix them up, I’d never actually gotten around to doing it.  I thought back further to the previous night and remembered setting up the stove, place the pot on the stove to boil the water and pulling the food packet out of the canister, but once again, I never opened the packets or even fired up the stove.

“We’ve been going through the motions because we thought we needed to, but …”

“We haven’t actually been eating anything,” George finished my sentence.

I closed my bear canisters back up, moved them underneath a nearby tree and left them there.  George, Frank and Jordan followed suit with their own bear resistant storage devices.  When we packed up the following morning we didn’t return them to our packs.  There was no need.

We also discovered that we didn’t need to worry about pumping water anymore and the elements hadn’t been affecting us as we thought they had been.  Technically, we could have abandoned our backpacks entirely, but there was something comforting about keeping them with us.  Plus, we were still experiencing days and nights and while the clothes we chose to wear each day didn’t show any of the miles we covered, we still liked the option of changing up outfits each morning.

However, the outfits we had been wearing the day we all passed away we did pull out of the rotation.  Mine had been a red shirt, brown shorts, and a blue bandana wrapped around my neck.  George had worn a yellow shirt.  Frank’s had been blue and Jordan’s had been white.  They corresponded to the guardians, as we eventually grew to call them.

They brought us together so we wouldn’t be alone as we wandered through the Sierra.  They kept us from straying places we weren’t meant to go.  They were a reminder that there was something more going on, and while we didn’t fully understand what that was, it was still comforting to know.

Some of our unanswered questions we were able to come up with best guesses as time went on and some were never resolved.  We didn’t know how long we would wander through the mountains.  We didn’t know why we were restricted to the Sierra and couldn’t wander the entire world.  We didn’t know who the guardians were, why they had been sent to us, or what the significance was of our lack of ability to perceive them as anything other than shadows of our former selves.  But, those questions lost importance and power as the days passed and we grew more and more comfortable with our new situation.

We spent the days climbing elusive peaks and exploring the darkest parts of the forest.  We spent weeks backtracking rivers to find their sources.  We spent months exploring the boundaries of our new realm: north, east, south, west.  Each time we got too close the guardians reappeared and when we reached the edges they turned us around.  They few times we tried to test those edges, they continually stepped in front of us thwarting our forward progress.  When we tried to step through them it was like running into a wall and resulted in the only pain any of us felt ever again.

When the seasons turned we thought about trying to find suitable shelters to wait out the winter months but came to realize that we didn’t need to do that either.  We could feel the cold, but not as we had in life, and it wasn’t something that could harm us anymore.  We ended up plowing through snow drifts over our heads to experience getting lost in the sea of white.  We watched in awe as water froze within the giant trees, the added pressure of the expanded water and the sheer weight of the ice felled tree after tree more efficiently than any lumberjack could ever hope to duplicate.  All manner of wildlife, bird and beast, disappeared with the first snow and reappeared with the first thaw.  We witnessed bears rising after their long sleeps, birds tentatively testing out their voices in the cool spring air and fluttering from branch to branch chasing each other in the dance of life, we saw does chauffeuring around their yearlings, and bucks standing majestically nearby surveying their domain. 

Sometimes we found these scenes difficult to watch.  They reminded us of the life we no longer had and the loved ones we had left behind.  We wondered what they were doing, where their lives had taken them, and how they were fairing without us.  We longed to spare them any of the grief and pain our passing had caused.  We longed just to see them one last time and know that they were okay.  Those longings led to the first attempts we made at getting passed the guardians.  They were, of course, unsuccessful.

We travelled and trekked, ranged and ridge walked, climbed the highest peaks and spelunked into the lowest caves, walked, hiked, ran, wandered, crossed, journeyed, explored.  When we wanted solitude we went our own way with plans on where and when to meet up again.  When we wanted to stop and enjoy a particular spot for a few days we did, and when we wanted to move on we did that too.

The mountains were our domain.  The trees and animals were our companions.  We were family, brothers in a way, who could finish each other’s stories as if we had lived them ourselves because we knew them so well.  Trails were our freeways and highways.  It rained, it snowed, it was windy, it was hot, it was perfect.

As the seasons turned again and again we realized that we would never add anyone else to our family.  However our situation worked, it wouldn’t ever be more than the four of us.  Though, sometimes we thought we heard whispers on the wind, bits and pieces of conversations where we couldn’t quite make out the words, and we wondered if we had stumbled across some of the living, just a step away from our world.

Off and on we tried to follow those unheard voices in the hopes that we could pick up what they were talking about, hear something about the world we had left behind, but no matter how we tried to hear more or how many days we followed the sounds we never understood anything that reached our ears.  But, we knew we weren’t alone, whether we could make out the words or not.

And, if we could almost hear them, perhaps they could almost hear us too.  So, we took up the habit of following voices around and while we tried to make sense of what they said, we tried to talk back to them.  To let them know we were there with them.  For the most part, we gave up on that too because we had no way of knowing if our voices were carrying through like theirs were.

From time to time, though, when I hear voices passing me on a trail, or sharing my camp with me, I’ll bid those voices hello and welcome.  Maybe one day I will get through.  Maybe one day we’ll uncover all the truths about our situation.  Maybe one day we’ll be allowed to move on to something else.

Until then, if you find yourself hiking in the Sierra and you hear a voice carrying in the wind just beyond grasping what was said, take a moment to stop and listen.  It might just be me saying, “Have a good hike,” or “Welcome to my camp,” or “I hope you enjoy these mountains as much as I do.”  If you happen to hear me and feel like answering back I would truly appreciate it.

Don’t worry, though, I won’t be with you long.  There are still mountains to scale, river bottoms to explore, animals to observe, and life…  There is life everywhere to be witnessed and enjoyed.  So, I won’t single you out and haunt you.  I’ll just say hello and share my trail or camp and then be on my way.  Frank, Jordan, George and I wouldn’t want to scare you, we just hope you enjoy your time in the backcountry. 

Then again, after always feeling like the mountains were haunted, it is kind of fun knowing you may be part of the reason future packers get that same feeling.  Is that the wind you hear whistling through the trees or is that me singing?  Is that tingling on the back of your neck just the breeze running across your sweat, or is that George passing through you as he speeds on by?  Is that feeling you are being watched just the result of the vast emptiness of the Sierra surrounding you or is it Frank and Jordan sitting off the side of the trail watching the beautiful day unfold?

And they are all beautiful days, for us and for all the others.


Word Count: 2,331
Total Word Count: 52,814

Story progress:  Done.  So, what did you think?  I’d love any feedback you feel up to sharing.  Did I draw you into the mountains?  Could you see what they could see?  Did I develop the characters enough, or should I have spent more time on them and their backstories?  Were you okay with the unanswered questions or would you have liked to unravel the mystery a little bit more than I did?

I hope you enjoyed the read.  I thoroughly enjoyed writing it.  I’ve got a lot of editing to do on it now, of course, with all the verb tense confusion I’ve mentioned before, plus my resident Sierra expert (my dad) has informed me that some of the descriptions of places I haven’t been yet aren’t quite right and need a bit of tweaking, and I’m sure that in the next couple reviews and partial rewrites I’ll think of scenes to add/delete/improve upon.

Thanks for reading!

My NaNoWriMo 23

We packed up and hit the trail very early, and though the morning chill should have been on the bothersome side of things, the pace we set ensured we didn’t need to worry about it.  We were anxious to see where the path we were on was leading.

The trail dropped steadily, rocky at times, dry and dusty at others, and marshy and muddy the rest of the time, from Lower Paradise down to Mist Falls.  Frank and Jordan, who had never been to Mist Falls before stopped for a few minutes to enjoy the series of cascading waterfalls that sent spray sprawling across the landscape for hundreds of yards, covering everything and choking the air in tiny droplets of water.  George and I, who had both been to the falls countless times stopped too, to let them enjoy it and keep our group together, even though we were both antsy to be on our way. 

Continuing at about the same decline, the trail dropped away from Mist Falls, while mostly paralleling the Kings River, towards the intersection with Bubbs Creak and the Sphinx Creak Trail.  My head was a swivel, sweeping back and forth across the terrain trying to pick out anything out of the ordinary and not really too concerned with what my feet were doing.  I had been on the trail so much, they knew the way and they’d keep me on the path without having to pay attention.

As we came out of the forest onto the sheer rock face, the trail being marked by cairns only, that provided an expansive view of Kings Canyon, and marked about the halfway point between the falls and the Bubbs Creek bridge I saw what I thought was my red blur of a creature at the very edge of my vision, standing at the cusp of the tree line.  I called out for the others to stop and turned at the same time to try and get a better glimpse of it, but it was, of course, no longer there.

It had been my first sighting of the creature in nearly three days.

We spent about five minutes searching the other for any sign of the creature or any clue we could go off of, but none of us found anything.  “What does it mean?” Jordan asked as we prepared to start diving down the trail again.  He and his father both looked very apprehensive.  I didn’t blame them. 

“Let’s keep going,” I urged and when no one else said anything I turned and side stepped way my down the exposed rock face, rounded the cairn marking where the dirt trail sprang out of the rock, and followed it down to meet up with the river again.  Shouts behind me let me know that they too had most likely seen their own creatures, their own demons, stalkers, followers, guides, but I didn’t stop.  My body and mind could sense the end of the road, I could taste the cold beer I was going to buy from the store, I could feel the hot water washing the miles off my bruised and battered body at the showers, and I rushed towards those goals.

The clear image of red, brown and tan stepping off the trail in front of me and disappearing into the foliage on the river side of the trail did get me to slow my pace.  A quick glance over my shoulder found Frank and Jordan clustered together trying desperately to keep up with me and George close behind them, comfortably fulfilling the anchor role. 

“Did you see that?”  I called back to Frank, and indicated the spot where I had seen the humanoid shape cross in front of me with an extended arm and pointed finger.

Frank looked up at me and then followed my directional indication with a slight turn of his head.  He stopped dead in his tracks and his eyes went wide.  His own hand went up in mimicry of mine and pointed to nearly the same spot.  I turned quickly back to look down the trail but there was nothing there.

“What did you see?”  When there was no answer to my question and he didn’t seem like he was in a hurry to continue down the trail towards me I backtracked towards him.  Jordan had stopped when his father stopped and by the time I reached them George had joined them as well.  I repeated the question, “What did you see?”

“Blue,” Frank said, stuttering on the word a little bit.  “It was tall, and blue, and it walked like a human.  I saw it.  I saw it clearly, it wasn’t just a blurred color, it stepped across the path and disappeared on the other side.”

“Are you sure it was blue?”  I looked back down the trail but there wasn’t anything there.  I don’t know why I bothered looking; I knew it would be there.  “Are you sure it wasn’t red?  I saw the red one cross in front of us.”

George shook his head, “No, it was yellow.  I saw it cross the trail too.”

We all instinctively looked to Jordan, knowing what he was going to say, but needing him to say it all the same.  He shied from the attention, and was visibly pale, probably a combination of the breakneck pace I had set and from seeing the creature as more than just a blur for the first time.  Eventually he managed to get out the only word that really mattered anyway, “White.”

We had all seen it as our own distinct color.  All four couldn’t possibly have crossed in front of us without at least one of us seeing one of the others.  We all reached the same conclusion.  Whatever we were seeing, it was most likely one thing, and we each perceived it in our own way.  A shiver ran down my spine.  Frank grew a little weak in the knees and had to set down on the trunk of a downed tree that ran next to the trail.  Jordan stoically held his ground in the middle of the trail, but I could see him swaying back and forth a tiny bit.  George hung his head to hide his expression from the rest of us until he got himself under control and then he joined Frank on the log for a little breather.

“We should keep going,” I suggested.  I tried to keep the urgency out of my voice that I felt, but I failed miserably.

“Why?  Why should we do that?  We are obviously doing something wrong because we are seeing them again after two days of travelling without them,” Frank’s voice quivered. 

George said nothing.  Though he had composed himself outwardly, he was still struggling on the inside to come to terms with our new circumstances.  All those years of experience hiking through the backcountry hadn’t prepared him for anything like what we were dealing with and suddenly being shown how very little you knew about something you thought you were an expert in could shake a person to their very core.  That’s exactly what George was experiencing at that moment.

Jordan spoke up, much to all of our surprise I think, and spoke with real conviction and steal in his voice.  “We should keep going.”  When his dad started to talk again, Jordan just spoke right over the top of him.  “If we turn around we won’t know any more about what is going on than we did three days ago, except we aren’t supposed to go this way.  I want to know why we aren’t supposed to though.  If we keep going maybe we will see more than we have been able to see before. 

“If we keep going they will have to do something more drastic than just crossing our path to keep me from walking out of these woods.  I’m not going to be deterred by these antics and tactics anymore, like, not at all.  I’m tired of it.  I’m going on.”

He didn’t even wait to see if we agreed with him or not.  Frank watched his son take a full twenty steps down the trail before he sprang off the log and yelled “Wait!” at the retreating figure of Jordan disappearing through the foliage that lined the twisting trail.  George and I were just about ready to follow along too when we heard the voices of father and son carrying back to us.  We paused to let them have their moment together undisturbed and only started down the trail again when Frank called back to us to see if we were coming or not.

Normally, a rueful smile would have played across my lips as I adjusted the weight on my shoulders and then stepped lively to rejoin them, but I didn’t particularly feel like doing any type of smiling at the moment.  The four of us quickly reunited and I jumped into the lead again.

The closer we got to the finish of our descent at Bubbs Creak the more we saw of our creatures.  The flitted across our periphery, the stepped into the trail in front of us until to disappear just as quickly, and each time we saw them they were closer and clearer than they had been the time before.  Something seemed familiar about my red and brown and tan figure, with just a hint of blue but I couldn’t put my finger on what it was.  Each time I saw it the feeling that I was missing something important grew more and more intense.

There were no threatening gestures, no behavior to indicate that if we continued upon our current path they would stop us through some show of force or violence.  There was no feeling of imminent danger.  But, every single nerve in my body was on fire as I dropped down the rocky path and Bubbs Bridge came into view on my left for a moment before disappearing behind the trees and boulders the trail was wrapping around.  The pressure in my mind and muscles intensified with every step I took to the point where I almost stopped just from the fear that there was actually something wrong with me and if I continued forward my body might give out on me.

But, I didn’t, and it didn’t.

I stopped at the shortcut trail that dropped off the main route to intersect the smaller dirt path that led to the Bridge.  Standing in the middle of the bridge was my creature, staring me down.  Stout, resolute, unmoving, and for the first time I realized that not only was it humanoid in shape, it had the rest of the features of human too: Legs, arms, a head, hands, clothes… that’s where the colors were coming from.  The creature, an even more absurd description for it now that I could see it fully, had on a red shirt and brown shorts, the tan color was the exposed flesh and the hint of blue was a bandana worn around it’s neck.

I felt its eyes bore into me and I couldn’t keep myself from turning away.  I wasn’t planning on crossing that bridge anyway.  The end of the road was down the trail I was already on, a short two miles away, and I could be there in 30 minutes if I let myself go and gave my legs everything I had left.  I was intent upon doing just that.

I didn’t spare a second thought to why humans would be following us.  I didn’t stop to think about how odd it was that we were all seeing something different each time we caught a glimpse of them.  I didn’t ponder the meaning behind any of it.  All I had capacity for was making sure my feet were flying down the trail as quickly as they could carry me.

I bolted up the last uphill section of the trail that would lead to the area my family and I “lovingly” referred to as “the desert,” so named because of it was a hot, sandy trail that was a miserable way to end the hike up and back from Mist Falls, and was just about to step out of the shade of the last bit of trees when my creature stepped into my path.  I barely avoided colliding with it and came to a halt mere inches from it.

We were face to face.

I was face to face with a shadow of myself.  I couldn’t help but see it once I had forced into such close proximity with it.  The features were dulled and wavy, like a copy of a copy of a copy, but it was me.  It stared at me and I was trapped in its gaze, and then I saw what I needed to see reflected in those light blue eyes.

After passing the barefooted hiker, me on the way down from Muir Pass and him on the way up, I had been forced to either rock hop or find log bridges to cross the several swollen streams and rivulets that flooded the area.  I had been cold, tired and weak, and the rocks had been wet and slick from the days of rain and the splashing of the rising waters.  I had opted to use a log to cross one of them because the rocks had seemed too far apart to jump from one to the next.

I lost my balance crossing the log and fell sideways, my arms flailing for purchase and failing, into the icy cold torrent below.  I saw myself, reflected in the eyes of the shadow in front of me, reach out and touch the painful bruise on the left side of my head where I had struck one of the rocks I hadn’t wanted to chance using to cross the watery expanse.

“I went down.”  My shadow didn’t respond.

“I didn’t survive.”  My shadow didn’t respond.

“I’m not allowed to leave…”

I shook my head from left to right.


Word Count: 2,344
Total Word Count: 50,483

Story progress:  Show of hands, who saw that coming?  This has been so much fun to right.  Think there is one last segment to wrap it all up.  Glad to have participated in NaNoWriMo this year and get this story out of me.  Hopefully I can take some of the enthusiasm and passion for writing I’m feeling right now and work on a few of the other projects I’m in the middle of.  I truly hope you’ve enjoyed the story!

My NaNoWriMo 22

Our group got moving fairly early, before the sun had completely pulled free from the eastern wall, and we made surprisingly good time on our descent away from Rae Lakes.  Throughout the day George and I, as the two most experienced hikers, switched off between leading and anchoring, while Frank and Jordan happily, mostly, trudged along between us. 

While occupying the anchor role, as we neared the junction where we would turn west to follow Woods Creek towards Paradise Valley, it dawned on me that we hadn’t met any other people on the trail that day.  In fact, we hadn’t seen any other backpackers camped at Rae Lakes any of the previous nights either.  I knew I had already realized that the only people I had seen in the backcountry since the day after coming over Muir Pass were George, Frank and Jordan, but the Rae Lakes loop is a very popular trail and it was very odd, very troubling, that we still hadn’t encountered any other hikers. 

I made a mental note to ask my three companions if they had met anyone else on the trail the last couple days when we stopped next.  I didn’t know what it meant.  It very well could have been one of those little details that my mind loved to glom onto but really didn’t mean anything.  Then again, it could be a very important clue in figuring out just what exactly was going on.

After turning west at the junction at Woods Creek, we were making good time so we kept going.  The trail followed the creek as it lazily cut through the valley, twisting, turning, snaking its way through the tall grassy floor, and passed below Castle Domes.  At that point, we had a decision to make.  We either pressed on until we reached Upper Paradise or we could stop for the day.  If we stopped it almost guaranteed that we wouldn’t able to make it out the next day.  If we kept going it would make the day really long but it gave us a slim chance of being able to reach Cedar Grove the following day. 

George and I did our best to convince Frank and Jordan they had the energy and stamina to make it all the way to the Kings River at Upper Paradise if they could keep up the pace they’d hiked with all day up to that point.  However, the lack of any sighting of our various creature guides left them feeling less rushed and less worried.  Plus, their minds were not conditioned to hiking long miles day after day which meant they doubted their ability to make it the rest of the way in any sort of timely manner.  In the end, we gave in to their insistence to stop sooner rather than later, and we found a decent sight along Woods Creek just west of Castle Domes Meadow where the trail finally dipped back below tree level for a consistent stretch.

We set up camp, completed our nightly tasks and chores, and then settled down to enjoy a small fire just as the sun winked out.  I was leaned back in my chair, my feet resting against two rocks in the ring surrounding the pit.  George had pulled up of rock to use as a chair, and was sitting sideways to the fire, with his legs crossed, and his arms folded over them, hunched forward to collect and trap the warmth of the fire.  Frank had followed George’s example and had pulled a rock next to the fire as well, but his feet were flat on the ground in front of him and he was leaned forward into his knees.  Jordan had found a seat a little further back on a log that had been rolled into the camp to be used as a bench.  Though still part of the conversation he was mostly apart from the rest of us, his features lost in the flickering shadows of the small flames.

None of my new companions could remember having encountered any other backpackers on the trails in the previous couple days other than men seated around the fire with them.  We also confirmed that none of us had seen any sight of our “guides” that day while hiking down from Rae Lakes.  We all took a bit of encouragement from that.  George, Frank and Jordan had all seen them with great frequency when heading north previously.

Still, we were all on edge.  The whole situation had an over abundance of unanswered questions and mystery, to the point that any good feelings experienced because we had hiked unmolested that day were lost in the shadow of everything else still hanging over our heads.  Who or what were the creatures?  Why had they brought us together?  What was going on?

We called it a night early, letting the fire die down to glowing coals long before the heavens came to full life above us, and headed to our tents.  We were all from different walks of life back in the real world, and we all had different approaches to we spent our days in the backcountry, but our personalities meshed well enough that spending time together wouldn’t be a problem.  That being said, though Frank and Jordan may have be thankful for the extra company, George and I were more accustomed to hiking alone and were happy to part company and return to the solitude of our canvas sleeping quarters. 

Everything in moderation, achieving a balance of time working together towards our shared goals, and time for us to have alone for reflection and recuperation was important.  Frank and Jordan who weren’t as comfortable being in the backcountry to begin with probably wanted more time as a group than George and I were willing to provide, but they still had each other to rely on and relate to, so they would be fine.

The night passed quickly and without incident and the following morning we rose, ate, cleaned up, and hit the trail again.  The sky was still blessedly cloud free.  The temperature wasn’t too hot or too cold.  There were still no sightings or other evidence of being followed or guided by the creatures.  All things considered we were in good spirit.

The trail followed Woods Creek down, down, down, twisting and turn with the folds in the valley on its way to intersect the Kings River.  Just when you think you can maybe be hearing the crushing roar of the Kings and you see the new canyon coming in from the north, the trail breaks away from Woods Creek and raises in elevation again to wrap around the valley wall.  Then it forges forward into a mess of downed trees, swamp like conditions, and a mosquito haven.  When you start to think that you have to be heading the wrong direction you break free of the marsh, come around a rocky bend and the river appears, rolling and tumbling, on your left.  A wooden bridge crosses the Kings and you find yourself in Upper Paradise.

Numbered camp sites hint at the popularity of the place and the proximity to the real world.  Just a few miles down the trail and civilization awaits at Cedar Grove: a store, a restaurant, a lodge, showers, paved roads, and people.  But, we didn’t drop our packs in Upper Paradise; we still had miles to go.

And still there was no sign of our stalkers or anything that seemed out of the ordinary, except, of course, the lack of any other people.  My mind kept thrusting that little tidbit, that nugget of information, to the forefront of my thoughts every time we passed a spot on the trail where I’d passed people on previous trips.  Where was everyone?  I didn’t have any idea.

The trail grew dry and dusty as we dropped from Upper Paradise, through Middle, and then grew darker and colder as the forest multiplied and crowded around as we reached Lower Paradise.  At a low elevation, comparatively, it should have been warmer in Lower Paradise than at any other campsites I’d stayed at on my trip.  But, as I often found to be true, it was the coldest. 

A biting, nasty wind drove down the canyon pushing all the hot air away and bringing in its place the chilled air from the higher altitudes.  We collected together and discussed our options briefly and determined that trying to make it all the way down to Cedar Grove that day would be a bit tricky and while there were probably spots we could camp closer to our final destination, even though we weren’t supposed to camp south of Lower Paradise, we might as well stop where we were for the day.  I’m not entirely sure why none of us felt like pushing on a bit further, but we didn’t.  Perhaps we were reluctant to face the end too close to dark.  Perhaps we all sensed that some sort of explanation would present itself as we neared the end of the trail.  Whatever the case was, we were done for the day right where we were.

Before we’d even set up camp I pulled my jacket from my backpack and wrapped myself in its warmth.  It helped fight off the chill a bit, but not much.  Pants followed the jacket shortly thereafter, the first time I’d put them on all trip, and that helped a little more.  However, the wind still forced its icy grip through the seams and raked across all patches of exposed flesh.

George followed suit and then calmly went about getting his tent set up, no easy task in the gale force winds, and Frank and Jordan bundled up as well.  The two novices, however, were not calm.  They saw the wind as some sort of sign, like the bad weather they had experienced while they had been heading north.  I did my best to assure them it was always cold and windy in Lower Paradise and while they tried to appear relieved at my words they obviously didn’t trust them.

We went without a fire that night.  The temporary warmth we might receive from the dancing flames was not worth the risk of an ember getting picked up, embedded in some dry brush, fanned by the wind and turned into a raging wildfire.  Instead we huddled together in a circle, sharing our body heat to stay warm, to compare notes and stories from the day and then sought refuge in our sleeping bags. 

I didn’t sleep much that night, partially because it was too much time in the tent and my body wasn’t happy being on the ground for that long, partially because the howling wind kept me up, and partially because my mind was spinning just as fast as the branches of the pine trees were ripping back and forth above me.  There definitely was some sense that answers of some sort would be forthcoming on the morrow.  Was I ready for those answers?  Did I want to know what was going on?  What were we going to find out?  And what if we made it out and there was no explanation?  What then?  Find a ranger and have us all explain our various encounters and sightings?

They’ll think we went mad, temporary or otherwise, due to the harsh conditions and haunting quality of the Sierra.  We wouldn’t be taken seriously and over time we might begin to question our own sanity.  Maybe we should be questioning our own sanity.  Maybe we found each other because for some reason we needed to.  George and I need the extra bit of companionship and Frank and Jordan needed the extra bit of experience and leadership.  Whatever we had seen had just been our mind warping things to fit its own purpose and objectives.  It needed us to see those things to drive us together.

I didn’t actually believe that, though.  I knew what I had seen.  I knew that there was no reason my mind would have needed to create that creature.  There was no way it could have created those glowing eyes staring back at me in the reflected light of my flashlight.  Plus, there is no way our four individual minds could have created such similar apparitions on their own.  It just wasn’t possible.

Even if thinking we had all gone a bit backcountry crazy was the simple answer, the easy explanation for what had transpired, I couldn’t and wouldn’t believe it.  But what if no other answer materialized the next day?  What would my mind do with this experience over time?  Could I just push it aside and say it was some random occurrence that didn’t mean anything or would it eat away at me until all I could do was study and research and try to determine what we had been dealing with?  What was better or worse, to find out the truth of the matter or to spend the rest of my life either forgetting about it or wondering about it?

I didn’t have the answer to that question, and watching the stars sparkling above me as the shadows of the tree limbs whipping back and forth tore across the canvas sides of my tent didn’t inspire me to any great revelation before the wind died down and the first hints of day began to emanate from the east.  It started as a faint lightening of the sky, and then the stars began to wink out of existence one by one, and the horizon took on a warm glow.

That was close enough to day as far as I was concerned and I withdrew from my sleeping bag and went to work dismantling my tent and packing up my gear for the trek ahead.  George was right behind me and the father and son duo joined in shortly thereafter.  Whatever the day was going to hold, we were all eager to get to it.


Word Count: 2,335
Total Word Count: 48,139

Story progress: I’m on edge.  Are you on edge?  I’m crazy eager to find out what happens next, to see how the climax unfolds, to see if Anton and the rest of the gang find out what has been going on in the mountains.  This was the point I had seen the story progressing to over the last couple of posts, from here on in I have no idea where the words are going to take us.  (Yes, I know the “what,” but I don’t know how it is coming to come out for our backpacking companions.)  The next post could be the last.  But, even if it isn’t, the story is almost complete.  We have almost come to the end of this journey.

My NaNoWriMo 21

“So, you’ve had your own scary encounters too?” Frank asked incredulously.  “And yours was mostly red, Anton?  And George’s was mostly yellow?  And the two we saw were mostly blue and white…”    

The poor man looked like he was about to faint.  He and his son had been turned around and guided to Rae Lakes just like George.  First the weather had gotten worse and stalled their forward progress, and then they had started seeing things watching them from a distance.  Frank had been hounded by a blue blur and Jordan had been hounded by a white blur.  Neither father nor son had seen much more than an indefinable shape crossing their paths or standing at the edge of their periphery.

The few cursory attempts they had made to track down the creatures were met with failure.  That wasn’t too surprising considering their attempts had amounted to shining their flashlights in the direction they thought they had seen something and then sweeping thoroughly through the areas in the opposite direction as they hurriedly retreated. 

“How can there be four of these unknown things running around the forest?  Wowee, I just can’t wrap my head around it.”  Frank placed a hand on either side of his head as if he needed to do so to hold it in place and that would somehow provide clarity to the situation.  George and I said nothing in response, even after he dropped his hands and looked to each of us, his eyes blood shot from lack of sleep, one at a time, pleading for an answer.  We had no answer to give.

They were both tired, frazzled, and sore, from feeling harassed and harangued for the past few days.  Every attempt to turn north and resume their normal route met with a sighting of one of the creatures.  Every attempt to head either west or east and quickly exit the mountains met a similar fate.  It was only the last two days when they had done nothing but head south that they had any sort of respite.  But, they had kept a frantic pace, trying to distance themselves from the colored blurs and their inexperienced bodies were paying the price for their haste.

Jordan fell asleep, leaned against his pack, almost immediately after arriving at the camp and dozed all through his father’s explanations how they had come to show up at the shores of Rae Lakes.  Frank finally woke his son when we told him to get his tent set up before the sun went down and to get going on putting their dinner together.  There would be plenty of time for us all to chat later.

George and I followed our own advice and went to our own little slices of the campsite to throw together our own dinners and for the next hour we left ourselves to our own devices.  Silence ruled the lakes, only broken by the occasional squawking of a blue jay and the splashing of fish jumping for their evening meals.  As popular of a camping spot as Rae Lakes was, I also marveled at the number of fish that could be seen just before sun set each day jumping in the lake.  The tiny concentric circles ran into each other as they overlapped, and the whole lake came alive with movement.  At times, when the feeding was at its highest point, it looked like the sky had opened up and started to rain down with some intensity. 

I watched the show from my butterfly chair as I ate my ration of almond chicken.  It wasn’t the best of the rehydrated options on its own, but with some hot sauce stirred into it, it transformed into quite the tasty dish.  It is amazing how the addition, or subtraction, of one ingredient can completely change a meal from inedible to savory, or vice versa.

On the surface, I’m sure I painted a very tranquil scene: resting comfortably in my chair, enjoying a hot meal, and taking in the expansive scenery that sprawled from horizon to horizon in front of me.  Inside, however, my mind was awash in turmoil.  What did it mean that we had all been “encouraged” to head towards Rae Lakes?  Who were the creatures that were making sure we made it there?  Was there some clue we should have picked up on?  How we were supposed to act now that we were all together?  Were the four of us the end of it, or would more backpackers show up the following day?  Where was this going?

These questions tormented me, they fried every circuit in my head as I tried to dissect them and discover the secrets within, as I chased the possible answers around and around and around in my mind.  Vicious cycles, trying to answer one question led to the next question which led to a third question which went on and on until it came back around to the first question.  There were no answers, only unknowns. 

That lack of understanding, that inability to get a grip on the situation and formulate some sort of response, some sort of plan to carry forward and figure out what was going on, played at my fears.  Fearing something leads to anger, and anger leads to hatred.  I hated not knowing what to do.

One by one, starting with George, followed by Jordan and then Frank a few minutes later, the rest of our little cadre pulled up seats next to me.  For a time there was nothing but the beauty of the setting sun across the lake from us, disappearing into the west, casting shadows on some things and illuminating others in brilliant light, before everything began to fade into darkness.  The uppermost rim of the valley wall glowed in oranges and purples in final defiance of the oncoming night before those colors faded too and the world was left in shades of gray.

Jordan, surprisingly, was the first to say something.  It was the most I’d heard him talk so far, which wasn’t saying much considering he’d slept through the discussions earlier, and hadn’t done much more than mumble under his breath at our previous meeting a few nights before.  “There’s nothing to worry about, right?  I mean, it seems like we’ve been gathered here, but if it was for a bad reason why wouldn’t they have done what they were doing when we were on our own?  Bringing us together just, like, makes us stronger.  Strength in numbers, or something like that, right?”

We all agreed, and then a thought struck me and I gave voice to it, “What if that is the point?”  When that was met with looks of confusion all around I stumbled through the idea, trying to get out enough of the jumbled thoughts in my head for it to make some sense to the rest of the group.

“Jordan said ‘strength in numbers.’  Why would they intentionally bring us together?  It wouldn’t be just to cause us harm because we are stronger now as a unit than we would have been apart.  So, perhaps they brought us together to make as stronger, to make us something greater than just the sum of our individual talents.  Maybe we are supposed to come together and stay together from here on out.”

There were no arguments with that theory, but they did lead Frank to ask, “But, why?  Why would we need to group up and what do they know that we don’t?”

George added his own question to the mix, “Why are we being forced to head south?”

Jordan, not wanting to be left out of the question asking period threw out his own, “Who or what are these creatures anyway?”

I didn’t answer any of the voiced questions and none of them offered their own.  Something Jordan said had once again resonated within me: who.”  He asked “who” are the creatures.  I had up until that point assumed they were some sort of wild animal, but the fact that they were working in tandem to bring us together, as it appeared they had done, alluded to a higher intelligence, it alluded to them being “whos” instead of “whats.” 

“We need to try and capture one of them, or at least get close enough to one to make out what it truly is.”  My interjection was met with blank looks.  “Easier said than done,” I rounded the statement off with, bringing my hands up in the mock “I give up” gesture.

“How do you propose to do that?” Jordan scoffed.  Frank turned towards his son to scold him for being rude but changed his mind and turned back to me and raised his eyebrows.  How did I plan on doing that?

I looked to George for any support but he just shrugged his shoulders.  All of this was well and truly out of his realm of expertise.  Somehow they had all turned to me to be the leader of our newly formed group and were already demanding answers and solutions I wasn’t prepared to give them.

To appease them, I took a shot in the dark and just started talking, “Well, maybe now that we’ve come together will be able to figure out a way to trick them.  Maybe one of us could head north, slowly, on the trail while the rest of us head south first, and then turn around and quickly scamper cross-country to try and get ahead of the one that headed north to begin with.  If we can get ahead of that person, then maybe we’ll be closer to the creature when it shows up to convince you to turn around?” 

Even as the words came out of my mouth I knew there would be problems with it and Jordan was the first to point one of those problems out, “But, once the runners got into the lead, like, wouldn’t their own wardens appear and harass them before the one showed up for the guy on the trail?”

It was a fair question and I had no answer, so I shrugged my shoulders in response.

George then asked, “Getting the timing down for the guy hiking on the trail would be tricky so the others could overtake him at about the same time.  Plus we have no idea how far we’d need to go north before they started to show up again.”

Frank said nothing.  He seemed lost in a world of his own, staring into space.  The trip had devolved and unraveled mighty far from the expectations he had set for the bonding time with his son.  I felt sorry for him.  I felt sorry for Jordan too.  The memories of backpacking with my dad and brother were some of my most cherished memories.  I can’t even imagine how different my life would have turned out if I hadn’t experienced those adventures or if something like our current predicament had happened on my first trip out. 

Rain, lightning, having to hike extra miles because there was zero space left at the camp we were supposed to stay at?  Yes, all those did happen on my first hike with my dad.  Weird creatures and the uncanny feeling, which I was more and more certain of the more I thought about it, that we were being herded in one direction?  That’s a whole other level of bad.

“Anyone have any other ideas?”  I didn’t think they did, but asking was my way of showing that I had at least thought of one and shared it with the group.

Jordan looked away, reserved once more.  Frank did nothing.  George shook his head, but then tilted it to one side mid shake.  I could nearly see the light bulb going off over his head.

“Now that we are together, if we stay together, maybe they’ll let us move on?  It was like you said earlier, Anton, we are on this path and we just need to see where it goes, right?  Maybe we should pack up tomorrow and head towards the nearest exit.  If we head out together maybe they’ll let us go?”

Frank perked up immediately.  “Go?  As in go home?  Wowee.  Now that’s an idea I can get behind.” 

Jordan said nothing but it was obvious he would follow along with whatever his dad wanted to do.

I liked George’s idea immensely.  It got us up and moving, and being pro-active rather than reactionary, and it would test the restrictions that had been placed on our movements previously.  Would they let us head west, north, or east as long as we travelled as a unit?  It was a question I wanted to know the answer to.

“Sounds like a plan to me.”

We talked for awhile longer, the stars came out for their shift in the sky, the fish settled down in the lake, and a calm surrounded us and our little part of the world.  As men of action it was good to have something in the works to test out, something that got us going, something to do.  Sitting around and waiting for whatever would come next did not suit us at all. 

We debated for a bit on which direction to head.  Kearsage Pass and Onion Valley would be the quickest way out but it started out heading south so it might take awhile to see if the creatures were still actively watching us and shaping our behaviors.  Cedar Grove, on the western side of the Sierra, was the next quickest exit, and it started by backtracking the way we had all reach Rae Lakes and heading north before turning west, but it was further miles. 

In the end we decided to head towards Cedar Grove.  It was all downhill, basically, and though the miles were greater in number, they would be easier miles on Frank and Jordan than heading over both Glen and Kearsarge Passes.  Plus, we would be heading north to begin with and that might get our little stalkers to show themselves quickly and then we’d at least be able to presume that we were either supposed to wait it out at Rae Lakes for something to happen, more people to show up, or something like that, or we were supposed to head south as a unit.

But, we had to wait for the following day to know for sure what the outcome of our experiment was going to be.  As amped up on adrenaline as I was, and with my mind exploding with thought after thought, I figured it would be another restless night.  That wasn’t the case.  As soon as I slid into my sleeping bag I was out like a light and didn’t stir until the birds woke me the following morning.


Word Count: 2,464
Total Word Count: 45,804

Story progress: I can see the end!  That in itself is exciting.  The fact that this little exercise actually has succeeded in getting me to write something from start to finish is also exciting.  I have at least three half finished projects where I stalled out in the middle and never got motivated to return to them.  I’m motivated now though.  When I finsih this story I’ll hopefully be able to harness some of that energy and direct it towards some of my other work.  I hope so.  Starting to mull over potential names for this story…  any of my faithful readers have suggestions?  (I know that’s hard without knowing how the story ends, but if you’ve got something already, I’d love to hear it.)

My NaNoWriMo 20

The ascent turned out to be child’s play, really, especially when compared to some of my other off trail adventures earlier on the trip.  Dragon Lake was only a couple hundred feet above Rae Lakes and the slow steady incline up to it made the trek much easier than I was anticipating.  Once I reached it I pulled out my map just to verify that I had in fact found the lake I had thought I was heading to.  It was.  It wasn’t anything all that special.

I think the word “dragon” had just conjured up images and expectations in my mind of something extraordinary and even if the lake had been breathtakingly beautiful it still wouldn’t have met my pre-conceived notion of what I thought it should be.  As long as I could remember I had always been fascinated by books, stories, images, history, legends, and everything else related to dragons.  There was pretty much no way that any lake named after the beasts could have lived up to my expectations unless one rose from the depths, breathing fire, and flapping its weather wings to soar into the horizon across the unblemished sky.

Though the lake wasn’t anything exceptional, it was nestled up against the base of Black Mountain and Dragon Peak.  The mountain walls thrust out of the ground on the eastern, from northeast to southeast, edge of the water and quickly gained elevation with dizzying effect.  I tried to see if the lake had been named for the shape in the ridgeline or any of the larger rocks that happened to look like a dragon but nothing stood out at me.  Perhaps it had just been named for the ferociousness with which the canyon walls Looking up the canyon walls it was easy to determine that I would not have been able to find a path down them, especially with my pack on, had I chosen to try the cross country route over from Baxter Pass.  That definitely would have been a disaster.

So, had the creature been standing there to make sure I did turn around?  “I need to think of a better name for it than, ‘the creature.’”  I said it hoping to jump start a brain storming inspiration, but nothing brilliant came to mind.  I scanned the vast stretches of sheer, smooth, rock faces, punctuated by the odd jagged edge and long broken sections where chunks had come free and tumbled down.  I was looking for the odd splash of red hidden amongst the boulders, and yellow too, but didn’t truly expect to see it, and therefore wasn’t disappointed when I didn’t.

I turned my gaze north and looked down the valley I had climbed the previous day.  The name of the lake must have something to do with the view, which was quite good, because that was the only thing that made any sense.  It wasn’t the best view, the best panorama, or the most worthwhile of cross-country ventures, but it was enjoyable all the same.  I could understand why I had never realized that Dragon Lake was so close to Rae Lakes before and why none of the people I had hiked with before, who were more of authorities on everything Sierra related than I could ever hope to be, had mentioned that it was a good side hike off the lakes.  However, I was still glad I had done it.

I turned to look back at Dragon Lake once more and then wondered if I had just climbed up to it at the wrong time of day.  “Perhaps, in the afternoon, when the sun is moving into the west it hits the lake at just the right angle to turn it into a cauldron of burning yellow fire?”  I studied the lake and studied the path the sun would most likely take on its journey and came to the conclusion that it was definitely a possibility.  However, I wasn’t going to stick around and see if it happened or not and it was unlikely I would hike back up later that afternoon.  It would just have to get tagged back on my to-do list for a future trip.

I liked having things like that sitting in the back of my mind.  They worked as catalyses and drove me back into the Sierra year after year.  If I left things I wanted to come back to I made sure I found a way back to them eventually. 

The first hint of lunch time rumblings in my stomach got me moving in the direction of camp.  I took my time coming down from the lake, not because the terrain dictated it, but because I was enjoying the view, enjoying the activity of wandering through the mountain terrain, and because I was trying to postpone the conversations that George and I were bound to have upon my return.  Somehow, dealing with the weighty topics of the “what” and “why” of our creatures, our stalkers, our guides, didn’t seem quite as enjoyable as getting to bask in the glory of the Sierra.

Successfully back in camp, I searched through my bear canister to find my lunch fixings and then sat back in my butterfly chair to imbibe the nourishment my body needed while also imbibing the nourishment my soul and mind needed through the enjoyment of taking stock in where I was.  The Sierra is my recharging station, the fill up I needed to make it through another year of work and stress and life.   I had only gone a couple summers without visiting the mountains for a camping or backpacking trip in one form or another my entire life.  Those missed summers had ended up being the worst years for me.  Coincidence?  There’s no such thing.

I had finished my lunch a few minutes before, and was just continuing to relax in my chair, when George walked up from the lake and took a seat on the rock he had sat in earlier that morning.  As he was getting settled, he asked, “How was the lake?”

“Not bad,” I replied, “but not great either.  It wasn’t too difficult to get up to, the towering canyon walls are impressive, and the view down the valley was pretty, but it seemed like it was lacking something to be deserving of its name.  There was nothing that screamed “dragon” about it.  Though, I do think that it may just need to be seen at the right time of day to catch the light of the sun reflecting off its surface.  That’s a theory I’m toying with anyway.  How was your morning?”

“Uneventful.  I thought about packing up and heading over Glen but just never seemed to get around to and as the time passed my opportunity to make it up and over and to a good camp site on the other side passed too.”  George shrugged.  “I just couldn’t get myself motivated to leave, so instead I went on a walk over to the Ranger Station to see if they had heard anything about strange creatures in the area but there was no one there.”

“Of all the times I’ve camped here,” I chimed in, “I’ve never seen a ranger at that post.”

“Neither have I, but thought I’d give it the old college try anyway.  It would have been interesting to see if there had been any reports that matched up to what we’ve experienced.”  I nodded my head in agreement.

“From the Ranger Station I just meandered my way along the shoreline of the lake, stretching out my legs, and keeping an eye out for anything out of the ordinary.  I came back for some food a little while ago and when I had eaten I went back down to the water just to dip my feet in and wash away some of the miles.”

“That sound really good.”  I scratched a spot just under the trim of my right sock, where the mud and dust of the trail had caked over a scratch I’d picked up early on the trip.  I grimaced at the sight of my legs and decided that I would definitely take a sponge bath of sorts that afternoon if I couldn’t convince myself to completely jump in.  High elevation lakes are very cold and it takes some very persuasive arguing to be convinced that completely submerging in one is worthwhile. 

“I sat there for a bit,” George continued, “and then headed back here when I thought I heard you return.  So, yeah, not all that eventful of a morning.”  The veteran packer scratched his chin through his beard.  He had a far off look and a slight turn down of the right side of his lips that created the faintest of frowns.  It was easy to guess that the unknowns of our current situation were weighing heavily upon his thoughts.  I considered myself an experienced packer but there were still many things I had never seen or done before.  For something unknown and elusive to come across the path of a hiker like George, who has done it all and seen it all, could be quite troubling indeed.  However, that wasn’t what was truly troubling him at all.

“It bothers me that I didn’t hit the trail this morning.  I don’t like that I didn’t have any desire to leave.  That’s not like me…  I’ve never experienced that before up here.”

I frowned in response, there was nothing I could add to that or say, there was no bit of insight or explanation I could offer which would shed some light on what might have happened.  It was troubling enough to feel like we had somehow been herded to that spot.  If we needed to start wondering if our normal behaviors were going to start changing too that would take feeling uncomfortable to a whole new level.  Finally, after a few minutes of silence, I said, “Maybe your legs just needed a rest.”


We both knew that wasn’t the truth.

After another minute where neither of us said anything, he returned to the question he had asked in the middle of the night, “So what do we do now?”

That same question had been running through my mind all night, even as I had been trying to get lost in the book I’d read, and I hadn’t yet come up with any sort of good answer to it.  And, maybe, that was because there just wasn’t going to be a good answer.  “Maybe we aren’t supposed to do anything at all?”

“What do you mean?”

“I don’t really know.  It just seems like if we were guided down this path for some reason then we just need to hang on for the ride.  What we are supposed to do will reveal itself in good time, right?  I just don’t see us needing to waste a lot of effort on worrying about the “why” of it all.”

“We are on a path and we will follow it wherever it leads?”

“In a sense, yes.”

George was not happy about that.  He pursed his lips and turned away.  His jaw was clenched and I could see the gears turning in his head as he worked through the situation.  When he spoke his voice dropped an octave and there was more than a hint of steel in his words, “I don’t like that idea at all.”

Neither did I.  Part of why I loved the mountains, as we’ve already covered, is the freedom that they exemplified.  The thought that we were just like pieces on a game board being moved about at the whim of something else didn’t sit well with me.  But, how many moves had we both made on that board thinking we were making our own decisions already?  How could we possibly know that any future decisions we made weren’t also based on some guiding force we weren’t aware of?

“I’m with you,” I replied, “but even if we set out to specifically remove ourselves from the path that has been set for us, we have no way of knowing that we weren’t supposed to do exactly that anyway.  We don’t know what is behind this, the motives, the end game.  We don’t have enough information.  But, the creatures we’ve both seen are playing a part in it, right?  So, perhaps they are the clue.  If we can figure out what they are then maybe we’ll know what we’ve stumbled into here.”

George perked up.  Being active, doing something, trying to understand what was going on were all things that he could get behind.  “Do you have a plan on how we are going to figure out what they are?”

I shook my head in the negative, “Not yet.  I’m mostly just making this all up as I go along.”

We sat in silence for awhile then, each lost in our own thoughts, and the world moved on around us.  A few white, puffy, tendril shaped clouds floated across the sky and we flicked our eyes up to watch their progress while also scanning the horizons to see if they had any larger, less friendly, companions but the sky remained otherwise cloudless.  The sun was just beginning to disappear behind the Painted Lady when the sound of boots coming stomping through the underbrush caused both of us to turn in our seats and try and pinpoint the sound.

My jaw dropped.

“Wowee, fancy running into you again.  Anton, right?”

Frank and Jordan came around the little stand of trees and climbed up onto the plateau of our camp.  I couldn’t believe it.  They must have gotten really lost to end up at Rae Lakes.  Then something in the back of my mind clicked.  The only people I had seen since the morning after coming down Muir Pass, who had all been on separate trajectories, were gathered together in one spot.  There is no such thing as coincidence.

Frank and Jordan dropped their packs unceremoniously at the far edge of the camp and Jordan slumped down onto the ground to lean against his.  Frank crossed the camp to come and join George and me.  We rose to greet him and as he stuck out his hand to shake mine, he said, “You are not going to believe what happened to us.” 

Try me.


Word Count: 2,393
Total Word Count: 43,340

Story progress:  Nothing really to add at this point.  The story seems to be moving along fairly quicly at the moment.  I bet some of you were surprised to see Frank and Jordan show up again.  When I realized that’s where this was headed I know I was a little surprised, but having George suddenly show up completely changed things around for me.  Less than 7K words left to hit the 50K mark.  I think it will probably take a little bit more than that to wrap up the story with a nice little bow on top.