DAY SIXTY ONE
We both hated to leave the lake area, but we have to believe there will be more like it in our future.
The path ahead cuts through old growth forest. Tall firs on every side. And filled with silence. It gives us ample time to think. Not so much about what lies ahead, but rather about that which lies behind. At least that is all I am thinking about. Despite how often Lyle quizzes me about what I see in our future.
I see it. I just don’t want to talk about it, not now anyway.
But I know that won’t be the end of it. One thing would lead to another and another. And now is not the time.
DAY SIXTY TWO
I confess an uneasiness throughout the day. It was a very narrow path, I mean like walking a tight rope in places. No view has any depth but that which is ahead or behind. To our sides are nothing but trees. And that is the source of my uneasiness for I felt as if our every step was under surveillance from that quarter.
The birds were markedly quiet also, a fact that bothered Lyle even more.
That all changed after the trail took a climbing switchback, crossed a stream, and rose above the tree line. The weight of oppression fell off all of us at the same instant. And the sing song between Rufus and Clarissa continued loud and clear.
DAY SIXTY THREE
We have dropped down back into the tree line on this side of the ridge, and thankfully the uneasiness has not returned.
Our path has leveled off and is widening with every mile passed. Ahead we see a vast valley pushing the forest to the sidelines. Lyle wasted no time in launching his drone for a better view of what lies beyond the horizon. I put mine up, but just to keep an eye on our immediate location.
We halted when Lyle’s drone sent back visuals of a village at the end of the valley we are traversing.
Lyle maneuvered it through all the streets in sight, and nothing. Not a single soul.
Night came on, but no lights below.
DAY SIXTY FOUR
We reached the village by mid-morning. We’d seen it all already through the cameras on our drones. There was nothing left to discover on the outside of the buildings. Each of us was burning to know if there were something or someone inside of any of them.
Lyle took point this time and I covered. All the homes in the outskirts on this side were empty.
We’d been moving at a good clip, but once we hit the Main Street area we bogged down.
There was so much to check. We still have not encountered a soul. And our search for foodstuffs proved a little more rewarding.
Only completed half our search because an alert required a rotating watch.
DAY SIXTY FIVE
An alarm went off upon entering the public auditorium.
Rufus and Clarissa followed suit. Lyle was able to calm them and I located the alarm and shut it off.
Then we waited to see if anyone would respond to it. After ten minutes when no one came to see who had tripped the alarm, Lyle and I began to debate whether or not it was a warning to us to avoid the area; or an alert to them that they may avoid us.
I opt for the latter scenario, but Lyle is almost equally sure of the first.
The hall and its environs are well appointed, and will likely give up many a treasure to us and our persistence. Later.
DAY SIXTY SIX
Lyle and myself seem to be the only living and breathing humans in this village. And there are no dead ones lying around, with the exception of the denizens of the local cemetery. A cursory check there revealed that there have been no additions for almost three years.
Has the village been abandoned since then? And did they run away from or run away to something?
I couldn’t help but remember the throngs of people coming into the city when I was trying to get out. Surely they were not of their number. The timing would not be correct. Perhaps they have gone ahead of us, in the direction of our calling. We both certainly cling to that distinct possibility.
DAY SIXTY SEVEN
We have now completely examined all of the village’s buildings. We indeed are all alone.
We have packed all that we deem useful, leaving much that is too bulky or unwieldy.
I proposed that we spend one more night before taking to the trail again. My proposal was agreed to.
The wind kicked up as the sun went down. It felt good to be indoors. And with a fire in a fireplace.
We turned in after supper, but kept to the floor. Lyle can’t sleep on anything else, and I don’t want to get used to not roughing it.
We decided to suspend our times on watch. Not a good decision as it turns out. For the night went bump.
DAY SIXTY EIGHT
I rushed out the front door and Lyle followed. Nothing was there that either of us could see. Lyle flashed his light this way and that and still nothing.
I began to think that it was just a chance occurrence, like a tree limb falling or something. The wind was still running fresh. The only sound outside was its mournful moan rising and falling with its intensity. But here again definitely not human.
We decided to head back in.
And there it was on the door – scrawled in large letters – GO BACK THE WAY YOU CAME.
Startling, but we shrugged it off quickly after Lyle opined that it was pure intimidation – all bark, no bite.
I stood the first watch.
DAY SIXTY NINE
The rest of the night was uneventful. With the dawn the wind died down. Since Lyle stood the last watch I let him sleep in.
I checked around outside. Nothing. Though the message was still on the door.
I brought in some wood to restock the fire and made some breakfast.
Then we prepared to set out as planned. After the briefest of discussions in which we again confirmed to one another our agreement to keep to the plan and continue on into the mountains, we shuffled the dirt from our shoes and hit the trail.
After the next valley and the following ridge, since nothing came to view, we knew we would again be camping out under the stars.
Lyle reported this morning that someone was outside our camp last night. He is sure that it was not a wild animal.
There was nothing to see nor was there a sound. But Lyle says the presence was unmistakable.
In the light of day we both checked the surroundings for any signs or tracks, etc. we found none. So, we broke camp and took up our path.
Just around the next bend we found the path blocked by some hewn tree branches. And a message scratched in the dirt, ARE YOU.
It was easy to go around, so we continued on. Puzzled about the words, but unfazed. The tone no longer seemed to be threatening.
No one answered.
DAY SEVENTY ONE
There had been no messages the rest of the day. Lyle thinks we have passed whatever territory the presence was warding us away from.
We spent another calm night in the open. And today made good headway towards our destination.
In fact, we could see the mountain peak quite clearly. This set me wondering were we to stop just this short of the tree line or go up to the summit.
Lyle spoke right up and declared we just need to get onto the other side, whether that was over the top or around one side or other, it didn’t matter.
With that sentiment I am content. But I confess I long to see the view from the very top.
DAY SEVENTY TWO
We were blind to all the obstacles. We hadn’t seen the canyon nor the river coursing at the bottom of it. All was hidden from our view before the most recent ridge we traversed. What wasn’t there one minute, broke into our consciousness the next.
We hadn’t sent up our drones lately, now we launched one in each direction to scout a way across.
It’s a wild, fast-moving river. Too deep to ford and not a bridge in sight. The mountain peak from its lofty height laughed at our frustration.
Looking behind us, we had a clear view of the village, and of a bridge on another road leading out from it. If only it crosses the same river.
DAY SEVENTY THREE
Lyle decided not to return the way we came. Instead he opted to shadow the river until we picked up another trail headed back in the direction of the village. He sent his drone down country in the hope that it could confirm that the bridge in view will serve our purpose.
It was a pleasant walk. But silent. I know I was thinking about whether or not we would be visited by our nemesis. I don’t know if it was a concern that troubled Lyle. His drone reached the limit of its range without answering the question uppermost in our thoughts.
We reached the village in the waning light, but made sure to cross the bridge before settling in.
DAY SEVENTY FOUR
Lyle was no where in sight when I awoke this morning. He had the last watch. All was peaceful at the hand over, no hint of any problem. So I had no immediate reaction, thinking that he was simply out of sight by necessity. And not far off.
I went for a quick walk about. Still no Lyle, but all peaceful.
That is, until I went back into our tent. Rufus and Clarissa were raising an unholy ruckus.
They calmed the minute they saw me.
I then noticed that both drones were gone from their places. I was thinking that he wanted to check out the village but needed to cross the bridge and get closer. I decided to follow.
DAY SEVENTY FIVE
Came back to the camp very late. Only to find Enough gone.
My fear has come true. I’m kicking myself for my little foray yesterday morning. I should have left a note about my intentions. Though it did not seem plausible at the time that I could be absent more than an hour or so.
I needed to check out the area further away from the village on this side of the river. We should have run into that widow and her son long before now. I wonder if she has gone on over the mountain.
I spotted two cabins from one of the drones. It was at its limit. One looked inhabited, so I had to check it out.
Nothing. And I could not go on, knowing that Enough was alone and perhaps concerned for me.
Obviously he was, and he went to find me.
And no note from him either. We’ll have to talk about that.
He should have waited. That’s what I’m going to do.
DAY SEVENTY SIX
A restless night. Seems I was awake every hour on the hour. And actually got up a couple times, having thought I heard Enough just outside.
It was all my imagination. Each time.
Both Rufus and Clarissa greeted the new day like it were any other. No apparent concern on their part. But not so for me.
The sun shines bright and cheery, another factor that jars my feelings.
I can no longer wait. Enough should have returned by now.
I must begin looking towards the village across the river. It seems the most obvious place.
I will cross the bridge and send up both drones.
DAY SEVENTY SEVEN
I did not have to look any further. There were strange signs everywhere. Some I knew could only be possible if Enough had been present.
As to what it all means, I am in the dark.
Minute patches of scorched earth littered the landscape just outside the village. Yet it still appears deserted, no sign of anyone alive or dead.
I pressed on with the drones only to find greater scenes of destruction. But no sign of Enough.
I will have to go in myself.
DAY SEVENTY EIGHT
It has been a few days since I’ve been able to record my thoughts and my actions. When I left to search for Lyle, I fell down in the matter of my regular routine.
I was kept busy, too busy to do anything else other than look for Lyle. It didn’t help that he did not go in the direction I thought. I learned that later.
Meanwhile I went into the village we’d been warned out of. It was still deserted. No one had moved back in since our departure. The unwelcome sign was still posted on that door.
But what should have been a quick afternoon jaunt turned into a forced stay. Thankfully Lyle came and released me. Selah.
DAY SEVENTY NINE
Back on track. After a night of rest and careful packing (we’ve made some hard decisions as to what to take and what to leave behind), we’ve pointed our noses towards the summit again. We intend to go over the top, unless unforeseen circumstances force us to go around.
At least we’ve come to one mutual decision. The last few days have been filled up with situations that called for solo decisions, so we had forsaken our practice of conferring one with the other before jumping.
We stay on the path that shadows the gorge that once stood between us and our goal. I think it prettier from this side. It grows cooler the higher we go. The birds shiver.
Drizzle fills the air and dampens everything. And farther away the mountain whitens beneath its crystalline form.
Already Lyle thinks we must alter our route and seek out the pass around instead of assaulting the summit. I point out that conditions may improve well before we come to the point where we have to choose.
Lyle takes my notion well enough, but just nods and doesn’t say a word. Ever since I got back from the village I feel he has been wary of looking my way. Dare I say he fears me?
He’s not unfriendly or anything like that. Rather it’s a coolness that is opening like the gorge running parallel beside us.
Or is it just my imagination?
DAY EIGHTY ONE
Icicles on the tent this morning. The freezing level has dropped. And we have no way of knowing for how long. Thankfully there is no snow on the ground, just ice where any water had collected.
All were glad to see the sun later, especially Rufus and Clarissa. My guess is that all the ice will be gone before long. So we decided to wait and give it a chance.
Lyle let me wander about without constant supervision, or what seemed to me to be strict scrutiny.
Finally, our patience was rewarded, a check of the path showed it again passable.
It is now looking the better part of wisdom to take the pass as the summit above remains white.
DAY EIGHTY TWO
Steady climbing today. The notch the path is aimed at is in clear view.
We had an alert from Rufus. Something was nearby just out of sight. Lyle checked and did find some tracks. He thinks they’re from a bear. But they were headed away from us. My opinion anyway.
We’re both agreed that we’ll need to secure our foodstuffs over night. And set a watch. And launch a drone.
The last was my idea. But Lyle says it can’t and won’t be his. I guess if I feel that strong about it it’ll have to be mine.
After giving it some more thought I decide not to.
Another night of watchfulness. Yet so good to rest all our aches.
DAY EIGHTY THREE
A momentous day. And not just because we made excellent progress.
We made it to the top of of the pass, and that shortly after noon. To celebrate we set up camp early. Only to have a young bearded man charge through, upsetting everything and struggling against our attempts to calm his panic.
Lyle says he came from the direction we’re headed.
After he finally surrendered to us, he only sat there, apprehension on his face. At last he realized we meant him no harm and settled down. Then he tried to convince us to follow him by telling us he had been fleeing from a bear.
We stayed put. On closer questioning Lyle learned he believes likes we do.
DAY EIGHTY FOUR
It was a day sitting atop a mountain debating our next move. Hence we made no progress today.
Lyle and I took turns interrogating our young man with a beard.
When I wasn’t asking questions I took the opportunity to see what was on the other side of the mountain. More villages flowing down into a plain and another city with a desert beyond. I thought if only I could climb to the top of the peak, I could see what lay beyond that waste.
I know that arid land is our destination. Lyle knows it too. And so does our new companion. Though why he was headed away from it is why we are questioning him now.
DAY EIGHTY FIVE
Stan seems very knowledgeable about the path ahead and the hamlets and farmsteads dotting the landscape.
He is very pleasant and helpful around camp. Though his advice appears sound, I feel we should at least check them out before passing by. Both Enough and I feel that all should have the opportunity. Sending the drones should hurry the process along.
Besides with another mouth to feed we will need all we can carry.
I don’t think that Stan has much with him.
We descended the other side of the mountain. The trail is as handy as the one upon which we ascended.
Lyle and I are satisfied with the answers to the questions put to our new companion. In the main, Stan (for that is the name he goes by) was headed away from the destination because he was looking for us. He felt it best to secure what he was looking for by seeking our company first.
And he explains that his only motive is that we be hastened on our way. To that end he has informed us that all these small villages in sight have been abandoned, and advises that we go directly to the city on the plain.
DAY EIGHTY SIX
We arrived at one of the most beautiful spots today. Stan led us off the main path, following a mountain stream to a secluded dell, marked off from the surrounding forest by towering canyon walls.
At the last, the stream fed into a vast lake reflecting the bluest sky and the enclosing cliffs.
He pointed out a clearing on a bank above the lower end of the lake as the best place to set up our camp.
Hiking the perimeter to that clearing was an up and down affair, and at times our goal vanished from sight.
At long last we attained it, our guide warning us off of several dead ends.
Though it was yet early, we set camp.
DAY EIGHTY SEVEN
I set Rufus and Clarissa free today. Ever since we arrived at this spot they have raised a racket. Rufus threw himself repeatedly at the bars of his cage. I was fearful that he would do himself an injury.
I felt my action was the best course for all concerned. Enough had no thoughts about it either way. He’s caring but not much where animals are the topic. And there were times when I caught Stan looking at them that sent chills through me. I don’t know if I could trust him if he were starving.
By the end of the day we had accomplished little. Small things kept cropping up, keeping us from our plans – because – well, they became necessary to complete first in order get around to our plan.
It was past midday when we were finally ready.
That is when Stan discovered the blackberries. Bushes and bushes of them.
I immediately asked if there were any bear sign about. The answer came back in the negative, so we set about picking.
We had our fill of berries by supper time. Quite spoiled it for anything else really.
We prepared to settle in for another night.
Stan had collected a huge store of wood for a fire. Its tang filled the night air.
DAY EIGHTY EIGHT
Unseasonably warm today. It felt good to these old bones. Lyle welcomed the change also. Neither of us wanted to budge from camp all morning long.
Lyle finally went fishing. I decided to put my drone up and take a look around.
Both of us came away empty-handed. He wanted to keep at it until he caught a fish. But I countered with the fact that we appear to be further away than we intended. None of the villages that we wanted to check were in view.
This alarmed Lyle. Then I alarmed him more when I added that we will have to return the way we came as the drone showed no other egress.
We shall leave tomorrow.
DAY EIGHTY NINE
Before we arose, Stan went out to check on my conclusion based on the drone survey. He confirmed its findings.
Therefore when ready we set out for the trailhead. The way was dark still and would be until the sun crested the cliff side. It seems Stan could not hike at our pace and was constantly running forward, then back to us.
We were midway on our trek when he returned from a similar foray with the report that the way ahead was impassable. Lyle launched his drone to check the extent of the problem.
A cliff wall section is down. My companions declined to swim around. Instead, Stan recommended we try the lake’s other side. We return to camp.
ON TO MONTH FOUR