One more excerpt from Song of the Lost. James and Katherine have been wondering the forest for a couple of days. Though they’ve each been alone the entire time, they weren’t that far apart when they started. And when they both stumble upon the same watering hole they meet for the first time. And this meeting tells much about who they are.
At first, he was just excited to see an actual flowing stream. He could drink without lying on his belly like a reptile. Then he saw her. About a hundred yards away sitting on a rock.
“Hey! Over here!” He waved his arms trying to get her attention.
She didn’t react. She couldn’t hear him. He had to get closer.
He scrambled over the rocks, leaping back and forth across the stream to find the best path. He looked up toward the falls and didn’t notice the loose rock. He went down hard, hitting his elbow on the rocks and banging his forehead. He had to lie in the stream for a moment while the pain in his arm and head subsided. He pushed himself up and started again toward the woman on the rock. She was gone.
He was about ten yards from the falls and yelled again, hoping she was still nearby. Nothing. He jumped to the side of the creek and went up near the falls.
He walked around a large hemlock and behind the falls. He saw her out of the corner of his eye.
She grabbed him by the arm and spun him around, then flung him against the tree. His head snapped back and hit the trunk with a dull thud and almost immediately, the world began to darken. He fell face forward onto the soft blanket of forest floor and just before everything went completely black, he saw her draw back her leg. His eyes closed just as her blue sneaker crashed into his stomach.
Katherine turned around quickly, ready to fend off what sure to be an attack by Jar. When he wasn’t there, she crept around the tree and back toward the rocks, but saw no one. She looked back at Lloyd lying in a heap at the base of the hemlock. He moaned. Katherine took a step closer and when he started to roll over, she ran to him and pulled his arm back behind him and planted her knee in the small of his back.
“Don’t try anything or I’ll break your arm,” she said. She searched his pockets but found nothing but some loose change.
“You’re hurting me,” James said.
“That’s right. Where’s Jar?”
She pulled hard on his arm and ground her knee in his back. “Don’t screw with me. Tell me where he is or it’s going to get worse.”
“Stop, please stop. You’re breaking my arm. I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
There was a whine in his voice that Katherine wouldn’t have expected from Lloyd. She took her other hand and pulled James’ head by his hair until she could see his face.
“Oh, no,” she said. She let up her grip a little and eased off his back. “Who are you?”
“Lost from where?” She let go of his arm and rolled him over on his back.
“What’d you kick me for?”
“What’s your name?”
“Right. And I’m Aretha Franklin.” She put a knee in his stomach. “Look, I don’t care who you are. You just leave me alone, got it?” She gave him a shove and rolled him back over. By the time he managed to sit up, she was down the bank and quickly walking away.
“Please,” he said.
She kept walking. James tried to get up but he was still woozy and when he finally got to his feet and took a step, he fell again.
Katherine stopped and turned around.
James was up on one elbow, his eyes fluttering like he was about to pass out again. “Please help me,” he said. He fell back and lay staring up at the trees.
Katherine stood watching him for a few seconds, his chest heaving as he struggled to breathe. She walked back and stood over him.
“What’s your real name?” she asked.
When he looked at her his body. “Really,” he said in between breaths. “It’s James Brown.”
“What are you doing out here James Brown?”
“I was with my office group. A retreat.” He sat up a little, resting on his elbows. When he moved to pull himself up into a full seated position, Katherine extended her hand. James hesitated to take it.
“It’s ok,” she said.
He felt the warmth of her fingers close around his hand. He knew she wasn’t going to kick him again.
“I went for a walk a couple of nights ago and fell off an overlook.”
“Near here?” she asked.
James shook his head. “No.”
“Well if you just got lost a couple of nights ago you couldn’t be that far away. Which way is the camp?”
James looked at her and started to speak, but the words didn’t come out.
“Are you ok?” she asked.
“I’m not sure. My head hurts.”
Katherine knelt down beside him. “I’m really sorry I kicked you. I was assaulted. Really scary guy. Actually, two of them. I thought you were one of them and I just reacted,” she said. “Let me check your head.”
He bent over and she first saw the scabbed-over bump from his fall onto the rocks. “When did this happen?”
“When I fell off the overlook, I guess. I don’t remember.”
About an inch to the left of the older knot was a new, still-swelling bump. She touched it gently.
He pulled away.
“I’m really sorry.”
He turned to face her. “How far are we from a trail?”
“It’s not that easy.”
“Because of Jerry?” he asked.
“The guy who assaulted you.”
“His name is Jar?”
Katherine continued. “I don’t know where we are. I don’t know which direction to go to find the trail. And besides, there’s a high probability that we would run into those guys.”
“Do you have any food?” James asked.
“How long has it been since you’ve eaten?”
“A couple of days, I guess.”
“There’s plenty to eat out here,” she said as she looked across the forest. “Feeling better?”
“I think so,” he said.
She hopped to her feet and helped pull him up. He stood a little slouched and as a result was about an inch shorter than she was. He managed a smile.
“We need to get moving. If those guys are looking for me, they’ll likely look at all the stream. Kind of a natural gathering place.”
“What if the people from my group are looking for me? Maybe we should wait here for them.”
“Look, James. If you want to wait here, that’s fine. Chances are those guys would leave you alone if they found you. Since they’ve already assaulted me, I don’t think they’d apologize if they found me. I’ve got a plan to get out of here. It’ll take a few days, but I guarantee you I’m getting out. If you want to come along, you’re welcome. Or stay here. But decide right now.”
James looked at the falls, then the never-ending woods all around, then back at Katherine, who despite her worn and rough appearance, seemed to be a caring person. He brushed his hands on his pants.
“Let’s go,” he said.
copyright 2020, joseph e bird
photo copyright 2015, joseph e bird