I turned with such speed, I almost fell over. I felt fear stab me in the middle of my stomach. “Did you come back to finish me off? Bet you are surprised to see me still alive!” Without looking at him directly in the eye, I turned back around and started walking toward the edge of the clearing.
“Naw. I’ve been watching you all along. Did you like my handy work with the rocks?”
“I didn’t pay any attention. What rocks?” I didn’t look, but I could tell he was gaining on me. I tried to step up my pace, but again I found myself in loose rocks. About that time Jake went flying past me, tail wagging, having a grand time. He never looked back. He was out of sight in a few seconds. “Well, Jake is having a great time.”
“You aren’t?” Michael was right behind me.
I stopped and turned around, looking him square in the eyes. “What kind of game are you playing with me, Michael? You enjoy watching people trying to find their way? What kind of sick bastard are you, anyway?”
“Well, if you feel that way, maybe I should just leave you to yourself. Find your own way back!”
“I thought you left me out here to do that, anyway. If that’s not the case, then just take me back to town. I need to get home.”
“Why? I thought you liked it out here in the middle of nowhere.” Michael reached for me, but I jerked away, out of his reach. Only this time I did lose my balance and stumbled backward. I slid down the side of the ridge a few feet on my butt, my pack protecting my back. I was grabbing for anything I could grab to stop my fall. I could feel my fingernails breaking and tearing. Finally, I stopped up against a large bolder about half my size. I had scrapes and scratches all over my hands and arms. I just laid there for a few minutes trying to catch my breath.
I finally looked around and saw that I was alone again. No sign of Michael or Jake. I slowed my breathing so that I could hear better. Again, there was just the sound of the wind in the pines and the creek below me. I looked up toward the top of the ridge and, to my surprise, I had covered more area than I thought. I was a good twenty feet from where I had been standing. I finally got my feet under me and stood. “That was graceful! What else can you do for entertainment?” Looking over the top of the bolder, I couldn’t see the bottom of the gulch. I decided I needed to keep moving parallel to the top of the ridge while looking for a better way to the bottom.
I had no way of knowing how long I had been hiking as the tall pines were blocking out most of the sun. I thought I was moving northeast, but being honest with myself I really had no clue. I kept trying to make as much noise as I could, talking and singing so I wouldn’t surprise any bears. “No bear in its right mind would be walking around here.” I laughed to myself.
I found a little clearing and decided to stop and take a rest. I had water, but was really wishing I had something to eat. “Don’t think about food. It will only make you hungrier.” I took several small drinks, trying to conserve what water I did have. Before I knew what was happening, I felt tears running down my cheeks. “Crap! Don’t start crying! What good will that do?” But the tears came. I felt broken. Defeated. I was in no man’s land, not knowing where in the hell I was or where I was going. As far as I knew, the man I thought was a decent guy was some kind of lunatic. I rubbed my checks with my dirty hands and wiped my nose on my jacket sleeve. I was a mess. I rubbed my hand through my nasty chopped up hair. Anger flooded through me.