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Joseph E Bird

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not exactly a meet cute

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.

“Hello?”

Nothing.

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?”

“What?”

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?”

“I’m lost.”

“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?”

“James.”

“James who?”

“James Brown.”

“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.

“Who?”

“The guy who assaulted you.”

“Jar.”

“His name is Jar?”

“Ex-marine.”

James nodded.

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

tight

if you see these dudes walking down the street, you’d pay no attention. berklee bois doing a cover of ace of aces by the feerless flyers. tight, bois, very tight. youtube comments are pretty good.

shelton college review

coffee and a pen. that’s all you need. the laptop takes the place of the pen. the shelton college review hasn’t met in many months. i may be the only one slinging ink, as larry might say. so here i sit, old time country music playing on the sound system as i try to find the words that go together and tell the story that wants to be told. it’s a lonely game, this writing thing. you’ve got to walk this lonesome valley. you’ve got to walk it by yourself.

katherine

One more chapter from my novel, Song of the Lost. I’ve been reworking the book to tell a more satisfying story, but its essence is how people change when they go through trying times. James and Katherine don’t know each other (yet) and each finds themselves lost deep in the Appalachian forests. The experience will change them forever.

Katherine is hiking solo. Some of my friends are not aware that solo hiking is fairly common. Most solo hikers have a great experience and no problems at all. But that’s not to say that you shouldn’t be aware of creeps and weirdos. Bad things do occasionally happen on the trail, just as they happen in big cities and small towns.

If you need to catch up…

Chapters 1 and 2 are here.

Chapters 3 and 4 are here.

Chapter 5 is here.

And here is Chapter 6.


Katherine

Jar.  Jarhead.  Former Marine.  Smelled of three days without a shower and cheap whiskey.

And his buddy.  Floyd.  No, it was Lloyd.  The quiet one.  Polite.

But it’s Jar she’ll always remember.

She had run into the two of them on the trail earlier.  She knew from the moment she met them something wasn’t right. They weren’t carrying packs as they came out of the woods on a side trail. Lloyd had seemed alright, even he was a little skittish, but Jar was different. He had a look about him. He stared a little too hard when he spoke to her.

“We got a camp back that way,” he had sad as he nodded over his shoulder, never taking his eyes off her.  “You out here by yourself?”

“Meeting friends.”  A lie.  “And I’m late.”

As they talked she reached behind her and unzipped the pocket that held her pepper spray.

“Friends.”  He smiled as he nodded.

“Yeah.  We come out here most weekends.”

“Let’s go, Jar.”  Then Lloyd gave her a practiced, friendly smile that was meant to put her at ease. “Enjoy the rest of your day, ma’am.”

After that she had picked up her pace, stopping now and then and going off the trail to see if they might be following.  She never saw them again. But as a precaution she had taken her folding pocket knife from her pack and put it in her pocket.

Then another memory.  He had taken it from her.

Late last night. She had a fire going and was sitting on a rock going over the weekly account summaries on her tablet. She told her father that her time in the forest was her way of getting away from the business, but that was just another lie. She had officially been President of Loudendale Communications for five years, but it had only been about ten months since her father had stepped down as Chairman of the Board, and even as he relinquished his duties, he still cast a large shadow.  So she never left the office behind.  And as she reviewed the status reports, she had all but forgotten about Jar and Lloyd.

And then there he was. Standing on the other side of the campfire, bottle to his side, staring, grinning.  She let out a muffled scream.

“Relax. I just stopped by to say hello to my new neighbor.”

“How long have you been here?”  The thought that she hadn’t heard him approach unnerved her.  Almost as much as the fact that he was standing there now.

He held out the bottle.  “Share a drink with me?”

“I want you to go.”  She put down her tablet and felt the knife in her pocket. Her pack was about ten yards away beside her sleeping bag.  She had elected to sleep in the open and not pitch her tent.

He walked around the campfire and before she realized what he was doing he was standing between her and her pack.

“Where’s your friends?”

“Look, I don’t mean to be cold, but you really need to leave.”

“Come on, just one drink.” He took another step toward her and wobbled a bit.

“That’s close enough, Jarhead.”  She pulled the knife from her pocket and opened the blade.

“Special Ops, baby.  I tracked the bad guys in the mountains of Afghanistan.”  He took a drink from the bottle.  “Just like I tracked you.”

“Go back to your camp to whatever you and Lloyd have going on here. You don’t need any trouble, Jar.”

“Call me by name. Warren.”

“Go.”

“Come on, baby.  Let’s party.”  He stepped closer.

She stood and pointed the knife toward him.

“Put that down before you get hurt.”  He took another step and was within arm’s length. “We’re going to do this.”

Katherine raised the knife in front of her and across her body to the left, then lunged forward and slashed down in a wide arc that would have cut Jar from his right shoulder, across his chest, and down his left forearm – had she made contact.  Her momentum caused her to lose her balance and she fell slightly toward him just as he was reaching for her right hand.  He twisted it backward and she had no choice but to let the knife fall to the ground.  He turned her around so that her back was toward him and he held her in a choke hold with both arms.  She tried to kick backwards, then tried to stomp his toes, but his legs were straddled and again she did nothing but stir the air. 

“Come on, honey, I’m just wanting to be sociable and you’re trying to hurt me.”  He kissed the side of her face and his beard scraped across her smooth skin.  “Let’s just have a little fun.”  She smelled the whiskey on his breath.  And something on his clothes, a chemical smell.  As he spoke, she felt his hot breath on her face.

His hand slid down the front of her knit shirt and any thought she had of talking her way out of the situation left in a cold shiver.  She grabbed at his arm and tried to use his higher center of gravity to her advantage.  She pulled hard as she bent her knees and tried to flip him over her back.

“Whoa, baby,” he said.  “You’re not big enough to try that move.”  He picked her up and carried her to her sleeping bag.  The ease with which he lifted her terrified her.  She was still facing away from him and in one move, he spun her toward him and dropped her onto the sleeping bag.  Her back landed on a rock underneath and she let out a cry.  He fell on top of her, pinning her arms and legs with the sheer weight of his body.  He dripped sweat on her face as he tugged at her clothes, making noises that were a gross mix of laughing, grunting, and belching.  She felt one of his coarse, hard-edged hands tugging at the buttons on her shorts.

Her face first flushed hot, then ice cold.  She knew she was going into shock.  Her right hand reached out and found a rock and without thinking, smashed it into the side of his head.

“Son-of-a-bitch!”  He stopped pulling at her clothes and held the side of his head.  Katherine pushed him to one side just enough to slide out from under him.  She scrambled to her feet but before she could take a step he grabbed her left leg and started to pull her back down.  She kicked him hard in the face with her right foot.  She hadn’t thought to kick with the sole of her foot and instead, her toes took the brunt of the impact.  She ignored the pain as Jar rocked back slightly, Katherine saw her knife just a few feet from her sleeping bag.  She grabbed it and while he was starting to get to his feet, she swung the knife hard, this time making contact as it cut through his shirt and sliced his shoulder.  She took another swing but this time missed, and he grabbed her leg and pulled her to him and backhanded her across her face.  She fell sideways and dropped the knife.  As he was moving toward her, she kicked him square in his face, this time with her heel, as hard as she could.  His eyes had been menacing, but to Katherine, they now seemed demonic.  If her fear before was rape, she now feared for her life.  She scrambled to her feet and sprinted into the dark woods.           

Branches scraped her legs as she ran and she tripped several times but managed to keep her balance.  Behind her she could hear twigs snapping and heavy breathing as he pursued.  Her eyes began adjusting to the low light levels and she could make out shapes.  She bound over and around rocks and shrubs and trees.  She heard Jar cry out and then heard a thud as he hit the ground.  She kept running.

After ten minutes she no longer heard sounds behind her.  She stopped to listen but the only sound she heard was her own heavy breathing and the pounding of her heart.  She knew she couldn’t stop.  She had been fooled by him before.  Even drunk, he might be able to track her.  She kept going, but slowed to a fast walk, stopping every few minutes to listen.

After an hour she had slowed considerably as the rush of adrenalin subsided.  Terror gave way to more rational thought as she realized she had survived the attack, only to consider that she was likely lost deep in the forest, without her GPS, without a map or compass, and more importantly, without any food or water.  The moon was bright in the sky but the forest shielded her view from the stars.  Any celestial navigation would have to wait until morning. 

And then the crack of branches, the rustle of leaves. Maybe an animal. Probably a deer.  But maybe Jar. She took off again, running in the dark.  But she was tired and her body was not responding as before.  She didn’t see the rock outcropping and her toe caught the edge of the sandstone and when her head hit the sandstone, the world went completely dark.

All of that was just hours ago. And now, as the sun rose, she was still in the forest.


copyright 2020, joseph e bird
photo copyright 2020, joseph e bird, dolly sods, west virginia

james

This is from my novel, Song of the Lost. I’ve been reworking the book to tell a more satisfying story, but its essence is how people change when they go through trying times. James and Katherine don’t know each other (yet) and each finds themselves lost deep in the Appalachian forests. The experience will change them forever.

Today’s short chapter hints at James’ background. I may do the same with Katherine later today or tomorrow. After that, I’ll move on to other things. I’ll let you know when the re-work is finished and the entire novel is available. I’ve purposely kept the first half dozen chapters short so if you want to start with the first two chapters, click here. The next two chapters are here.

And this is the fifth chapter.


James

It was the cold that awakened him a couple hours later and though he was shivering and his body ached, his head was clear.  He sat up and looked around.  Nothing was familiar, but he remembered everything.  He had wanted some time to himself and had walked to Lindy Point. He had broken group protocol.  Never hike alone.  But it hadn’t really been a hike.  Just a short ten-minute walk.  And then he fell.  How, exactly, was still fuzzy.  But he had fallen.  And how far he had fallen wasn’t clear.  And he remembered walking afterward.  Walking in the night.

As the sun was just beginning to turn the black sky to grey, he knew that it would be at least another hour before anyone thought that he might be missing.  They’d gather for breakfast in the dining hall.  They probably wouldn’t notice first thing, but as time passed someone would realize that he wasn’t there.  They would likely assume that he was sleeping in, skipping breakfast.  And it wouldn’t be until the first team-building exercise at eight o’clock that they would send someone to the the bunk room for him. After a quick look around the camp they would start to get concerned.  Eventually they would start searching in earnest.  He had to get back before that happened.  He wasn’t the new guy anymore, but he wasn’t that far removed.  Not the way to make a good impression.

He stood up.  He was missing a sneaker.  He had probably lost it in the fall.  Or falls.  There was a recollection of falling twice.  Or maybe it came off after he had started walking.

He had worn a jacket, a windbreaker.  It was early fall and summer had lingered.  The days were still warm, but the group had been warned about the cold nights in the mountains. Even so, it was only cool when he had slipped out of the bunk room for his walk to Lindy Point. The windbreaker was all he had needed. But that was gone now, too. It was cool but he thought he would warm up once he got moving again.

But to where?  He had fallen, so logic said he had to go back up the mountain. If he could get to the ridge, he would likely hit a trail that would lead him back to camp.  Might even make it back before breakfast.

He looked up the hill.  Almost vertical.  No way.  He’d have to find another path.  He’d follow the hillside, traversing upward as he could until he could move more directly up the hill. But which direction?  One way would take him closer, the other farther away.  East?  West?  Why not north or south?  He hadn’t even looked at a map since he left Charleston. Who looked at maps anyway?  He knew the sun rose in the east and set in the west and so the lightening sky at the top of mountain meant he would eventually be hiking toward the east.  For what that was worth.  And if the sun was rising to his left as he hiked the side of the hill that meant he was heading north.  Maybe northeast as he tried to angle upward.

He had been walking for about a half hour when he saw another rock face about a hundred yards ahead.  Maybe the base of Lindy Point.  He fought his way through a dense thicket to the base of the cliff.  He looked up, then touched the face of the rock.  There were no rock protrusions or footholds that he could use to climb. 

There was hardly a ledge at the base of the cliff, then another steep drop.  He walked slowly, making his way along the cliff, examining each foothold before fully committing.  The face of the cliff changed as he inched along and he began to see trees growing in crevices that he might be able to use to climb.  He kept moving, his optimism growing, and when he reached a point where he was ready to try, he looked up.

Though sunlight had started to lift the darkness, he still couldn’t see everything he needed to.  He wasn’t sure there were enough handholds to make the climb.  And if he started, he would have to go all the way.  He knew he couldn’t risk another fall.

He studied the rock for another ten minutes.  As his vision improved, he realized he couldn’t climb it.  And even more disheartening, he could see that there were no railings at the top, no sign that this particular rock had been made safe for hikers.  It wasn’t Lindy Point.

He realized he was in trouble.  He leaned back against the cliff and slid to the ground.  He stared straight ahead as the mist of the morning floated in and around the forest trees, the filtered sunlight painting a beautifully terrifying picture of the world in which he was lost.

There had to be a way out.  He’d keep moving northward, inching his way up the mountain. He’d find his way. Or worst case, his co-workers would find him. He started to get back up when he heard a pop in the distance. Very faint.  But he knew the sound of a gunshot. Knew that it was a rifle.  Knew that it was a 30-06 Winchester.  But he didn’t really know that.  He was no expert on firearms.  In fact, he hadn’t touched a gun in fifteen years and never would again.  The 30-06 was his father’s gun.


copyright 2020, joseph e bird
photo copyright 2017, joseph e bird

just a little more

I will not post the entire novel in serial fashion, but want to put out a few more chapters. Today’s chapters are a little more of the main characters trying to figure out what the heck happened and what they’re going to do next. Tomorrow will be a little backstory. Were you a fan of the television show Lost? It started with the plane crash and the characters trying to survive. Then you began to learn their backstory. Then you learned who they really were. Then they changed. And then…well, it all went too crazy. No smoke monsters in my story.

If you missed the first two chapters, start here.

Here are chapters three and four.


James Brown

He awoke, at first thinking he was in bed at home. He was cold.  He looked to the right where his window should have been, glowing with light from the streetlight outside.  Not the streetlight. Moonlight, maybe.

Then he remembered.  He was camping.  Upward Bound.  Weekend retreat.

He was cold.  He reached for a blanket – but no, he was in a sleeping bag.  He felt around and found nothing.  He tried to sit up but pain in his back forced him back down.  He closed his eyes and soon he was asleep again.

A half hour passed before he regained consciousness, and this time, even though he had no illusions of dreaming, he had no sense of where he was or how he had gotten there.  He pulled himself into a sitting position, ignoring the pain and stiffness, and by the light of the moon he could see mountains, miles away. He was at the overlook.  But something wasn’t right. He was in a thicket on a narrow ledge. Definitely not the overlook.

He began to notice the aches. First was his knee. His jeans were ripped and there was a long ugly cut caked in dried blood.  A dull ache on the back of his head. His fingers throbbed. He looked at his right hand and saw more dried blood where his fingernails used to be.  His tried to hold up his left hand but pain shot through his elbow.

Although everything he saw, from the bright moon and the mountains to the trauma inflicted on his body, seemed real, he had no idea what had happened, or where he was, or why he was sitting on the side of a mountain. He fumbled for his cell phone in his jacket pocket and discovered he wasn’t wearing his jacket.

He stood and looked up at the sheer rock face looming twenty feet above him and knew he couldn’t go up.  He looked to either side and though there wasn’t a clear path, it seemed passable. 

Right or left. He had no idea. He turned to the right.  His first step was shaky and he steadied himself on the rock face.  He took two more steps and stopped.  With his next step, he would have to clear the underbrush with his foot.  He swept the vegetation, then waited to make sure his equilibrium was good. He reached for the rocks again but misjudged the distance and teetered to his right until his hand hit.  He took a deep breath.  He could wait.  He should wait. But he had to move.  He was alone on the side of a mountain and he couldn’t just sit.

He looked forward.  His path was clear.  One step.  Then another.  He was feeling a little better, his head a little clearer.  Another step through the brush, but this time, his foot failed to find firm ground.  Before he knew what was happening, he was rolling down the hill.  He tried to grab at branches and managed to snag a twig but thorns ripped his flesh.  As he rolled over rocks and briars, he felt himself going airborne – just long enough for a feeling of weightlessness to register – before he crashed back to the ground, smashing over a small tree as he did.  He stopped when he slammed into another tree a hundred yards down the hill.  After a few seconds he opened his eyes, his face in the forest floor.

After a few seconds, he got to his feet and began walking parallel to the contour of the hill, this time going to his left.  He could only see moonlight reflected off of leaves and the darkness of their shadows.  Tree trunks were a combination of black and gray vertical lines.  He walked without conscious thought, not even thinking of why he was tromping through the underbrush.  He just walked. 

An hour passed, and then he stopped.  His legs were weak and his skin felt cold and clammy.  He started to fall but staggered toward a tree and managed to remain upright.  When he felt his stomach starting to heave he took two deep breaths, hoping to stave off what he knew was inevitable.  It worked for a moment, and then it didn’t.  He staggered backwards and eased himself down to the forest floor, face toward the ground.  His heart was pounding.  He took another deep breath and closed his eyes.

Katherine Loudendale

It was a restless sleep and Katherine was glad to see the dawn creeping into the forest.  She was unsure how many times she awoke or how much sleep she actually got, but she knew it wasn’t nearly enough.  She stretched out over her bed of leaves and grimaced at the stiffness of her muscles and joints.  She tried to work out a kink in her back but it just got worse.  As she sat up, a sharp pain cut through her shoulder blades causing her to catch her breath as she went back down.  She took a moment to take another breath and slowly pushed herself up, powering through the pain.  She sat upright for a few minutes as she thought about her next move.

The sun was growing stronger and from the sunrise, she determined her compass directions.  She still had no memory of why she was away from her camp or how far from it she was.  She would hike up to the ridge and try to find it, but knew the state park would be in a general southwesterly direction.  She’d give herself an hour and then move toward the park, though really, depending on where she actually was, that choice wouldn’t guarantee that she would make it there. But it was her best chance. 

As she stood she noticed that a heavy dew had settled in the forest.  She looked around and found several fleshy leaves and rolled them together to form a funnel cup.  Then she spent twenty minutes going from leaf to leaf knocking the dew off and into her leaf cup until it was about half full.  She carefully raised it to her mouth and sipped it slowly.  It wasn’t enough to keep her hydrated but it felt good on her parched lips.  She knew she’d eventually come across a stream and that she’d have to drink.  She also knew it would likely make her sick.  As for food, she could easily survive for a few days on nothing but nuts, berries, and roots.  Surely by then she’d have made her way out.

Her one hour limit turned into two and though she had found a ridge, she saw no sign of her camp, no trail, or anything that indicated that anyone had ever been through the forest.  She checked the angle of the rising sun but the higher the sun rose, the harder it was to get her bearings. If she was off even a little, she would easily miss the park.  Or just hike through its forest without even knowing it.

She began walking back down the ridge and after an hour, she came across a clear-running stream.  She knelt along its banks, scooped up a handful of water and smelled.  Nothing.  A good sign.  She took a small sip.  No taste.  Another small sip.  She knew that she couldn’t expect to smell or taste bacteria, but it was all she had.  She took several handfuls and drank until her thirst was satisfied.  Then she leaned back against a tree and closed her eyes and listened to the stream flowing over the rocks.  She was asleep in minutes.

Then a gunshot. 

A long war whoop.

She recognized the voice. 

Jar. 


copyright 2020, joseph e bird
photo copyright 2015, joseph e bird

if this seems familiar

A couple of years ago I wrote Song of the Lost, the story of James and Katherine and how their lives change after they are lost deep in the Appalachian forest. For a number of reasons I’ve never been satisfied with the story. The premise, how lives change when fired in the crucible, is solid. But the story itself has never been what it should be. I’m determined to make it better. With that said, here are first two chapters of the revision. Comments and critiques are welcome.


James Brown

The trail was lit brightly by the moon and he knew the first overlook was just ahead and he wondered how magnificent it might be, bathed in that reflected light of the sun from a million miles away. So he followed the trail a little farther until the valley below opened up as a dark gray canvas of shapes and shadows, and a pale horizontal light coloring the horizon. He stepped closer to the side, onto the dark gray rocks that formed the edge of the mountain. He looked for a place to sit, to spend a few minutes by himself, to take it all in, to let the cool night air wash over him. A large, flat boulder was two steps away.

He moved forward, then stepped beside the boulder where he would turn and lower himself onto the flat rock. But what he was sure was solid ground was only darkness, and his foot found no purchase and continued downward. He fell to the side and hit the rock with his elbow as his leg slid down the crevice. He reached for something to stop his momentum but his fingers found only the face of the rock. His fingernails scraped along the sandstone until they hit a crack and for a moment, his slide down the boulder stopped. Then the nail of his middle finger tore off on the face of the rock and he fell over the edge.

Katherine Loudendale

She pushed herself up off the rock into a sitting position. Her head ached and she touched her forehead and felt the swelling knot. Moonlight filtered through the trees and she could see the shapes and silhouettes of the forest. She recognized nothing.

Her body ached when she moved and her throat was dry. She instinctively reached for the straps of her backpack, but there were no straps. She looked around, patting the rock in the darkness. She forced herself to her feet, and looked beyond the flat rock on which she was standing. No sign of anything. No backpack. No water. Nothing. And that’s when she noticed her feet. No shoes. She could feel an injury of some kind on her left foot. A stinging pain. She sat back down and peeled off her sock. It was damp. Blood. Across the top of her foot, a long cut.

She took a deep breath. It would come back to her. She just needed a minute to get her bearings. She looked at her wrist to check the time, but her GPS watch was gone, too.

That she would be in the forest made sense. Just another of her backpacking weekends. That she was alone wasn’t a surprise. She liked hiking solo, despite her father’s misgivings about going out by herself.

It’s a fine line between calculated risk and just plain reckless, he had said.

But when? She couldn’t remember the last time she had spoken to him. She couldn’t remember what day it was. If she was in the forest, it had to be Saturday. Or maybe Friday. If it had been a particularly stressful week she would sometimes take off early, leaving Astor in charge of the office. For that matter, it could be Thursday.

But in the middle of the forest with no gear? No. That wouldn’t happen.

Everything she would ever need was in her pack. Water. Rations. First aid kit. Knife. Matches. Hand-held GPS to back-up her new trekking watch. Pepper spray. Something about the pepper spray. She rubbed the thumb and forefinger of her right hand together, then she held them to her nose. The smell was strong and distinct. She had used the pepper spray.

Maybe a bear. That would make sense. Maybe she had set up camp. A bear wandered in. She used her pepper spray to try to ward him off. But that didn’t explain why she was sitting on a rock in the middle of the woods. Whatever the reason, she knew her camp would be close by. It made sense. She could find it easily by hiking in ever-widening circles.

She put her bloody sock back on and started walking toward the edge of the darkness that defined her field of vision. She turned to her right and began to walk the imaginary circle in her mind. It didn’t take long for her to see that she was on a slope, the side of the mountain. Her campsite of choice was always a high point, preferably on a ridgeline. She started hiking up the hill. But the woods were thick and she didn’t see the thicket of briars until they were cutting her legs and thorns were piercing her feet. It took her what seemed like half an hour to pull the branches off her shirt and out of her hair and still there were fresh cuts on her legs, arms, and even her face. Once clear of the thicket she knew she had to wait for daylight.

It was a relatively warm night and survival wasn’t going to be an issue and she would only be a little uncomfortable. In the morning she would be able to get her bearings, maybe even hike to the top of ridge and quickly determine where she was. How she got there was still a mystery.

She hiked down from the briars hoping to find a change in the topography, an ancient slip where the land leveled out a bit and leaves collected on the forest floor. But after a couple of minutes she decided to sacrifice a little comfort for the need to retrace her steps the next day. She found a relatively clear area and pushed aside enough debris to give her a smooth play to lie.  She gathered leaves in higher pile for her head and hoped she wouldn’t need more to serve as a blanket. As experienced as she was in the forest, she didn’t like the idea of covering herself with decaying litter and the critters that come with it. Bad enough that she would be on top of them. When she was satisfied with her bedding, she lay down, one foot atop the other, her arms across her chest. She stared into the darkness, the leaves of the trees moving in shadow above her. Sleep would come slowly.


copyright 2020, joseph e bird
photo copyright 2018, joseph e bird

dreams of the past

The photo is a basement shoebox relic.  It’s old.  It’s bent and cracked. No Photoshop effects, here. Just a snapshot.

The subjects are familiar faces, but the photo was taken probably more than sixty years ago, before I really knew them. Maybe before I was born. Even in the older women there is youth I never saw in later years. From left to right, my Aunt Shirley; my grandmother Bettie Pearl, who I knew as Mom; my great-grandmother Tida, who we called Tidy; and my mother, Gloria, who looks to be with child.

The place, I believe, is my great-grandmother’s kitchen. If I had to guess, I would say it was breakfast.  There’s the coffee pot and toaster.  But I can’t imagine them gathering so early just for breakfast. Maybe lunch, which they called dinner.  Dinner would have included fried potatoes and tomatoes from the garden. Supper was the evening meal.  There would have been men in the picture by then.

There’s tension evident in the photograph.  Not a one could manage a smile, which is very unusual for my mother and Aunt Shirley, especially in front of a camera.  There’s a weariness, too.  Maybe they had been working.  Maybe canning tomatoes or beans.

They were all different.

My mother was the free spirit, enjoying every moment.

My aunt was sophistication personified, full of grace and elegance.

My grandmother, hardworking and kind, ready to share with everyone.

My great-grandmother, the strong, independent woman living by herself.

Maybe that was the source of the tension. Around the table love and respect, yet each one not quite understanding the other.  One dreams of this, another of that. And dreams, what are they for, anyway? another may think.  And Tidy, who has already seen enough heartbreak for all of them, keeps it to herself.

I’ll never know. They’re all gone now.  Not that any of them would give me a straight answer anyway.

I think that’ s the wonder of old photographs.  They tell a story, but never the entire story. A moment frozen in time that forces us to think about those who have gone on, to see if we can fill in the blanks. It forces us to remember them as they were, beyond the smiles and laughter. It forces us to remember who they really were.

56 Miles in Andes, NY

I’d like to share a story one of my New York running friends wrote. Sadly, it’s all too true, but Ari tells it with strength and grace and a perspective that is shaped by those long, lonely miles on the road.

The photo above is mine from the West Virginia highlands, which is not that different from upstate New York. Click on the link below and you’ll see what I mean.

https://ariruns.wordpress.com/2020/05/05/56-miles-in-andes-ny/

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