By: Brenden Jung
“I know I saw it ove-“
“Or maybe it was over the- “
William shuffles through the wet dense wood, looking for the bright white blaze that he promised himself he wouldn’t lose again.
“I’ll just retrace my steps. Yeah that should do it. That did the trick the last time.”
He looks around at his unfamiliar surroundings, seeing nothing but towering rows of pines. He can hear the distant chirp of birds, smell the freshness of the air, feel the cool snap of wind slipping beneath his jacket to tickle his belly and chest. He feels the moistness of the ground beneath his boots. After all, it was that feeling of sinking into the earth that snapped him back to reality.
As he looks around, he can’t help but feel disappointed in himself for losing his way again.
After some deliberation, he walks south.
“That stone, I know that stone! I put my pack on that stone!”
Excitedly, he walks to the large boulder, hoping to see the white blaze from the stone’s position on the ground. He looks left, then right, and sees nothing but trees upon trees stretching across the dense landscape.
Disappointed, he walks on.
The more he walks, the more his mind wanders. So much so that his body operates as a separate function from the mind. His body focuses on the brush and terrain, expertly avoiding tree branches, roots, and rocks on the mildly treacherous trail. His mind occupies itself with the thoughts of science-fiction: zombies, nuclear fallout, wars to end mankind, the good stuff.
His body fails, sending him tumbling over a large moss-covered rock lodged in the ground. His senses return, and he feels himself falling towards the damp earth. His palms strike the ground, absorbing a majority of the force, but not enough to prevent his face from colliding with the cool earth. Warm liquid wells in his nose.
He gets up, peels the pine needles from his cheek, and holds out his hands to observe the damage. Nothing serious, just some pebbles, dirt, and thin scratches painted across his palms. Gravity does its work and coaxes the blood from his nose to fall to his feet. He puts his 60 Liter pack down and grabs a tissue from the poop kit. He holds it to his nose, looks up at the sky, and squeezes his thumb and pointer finger to forcibly close his nostrils. Above, he sees an endless canopy of tree branches stretching to embrace with other neighboring branches. The leaves filter the light, only allowing small streams of sun to penetrate and fall upon the forest floor.
William tests to see if blood is still falling by releasing the tissue and lowering his head; the blood has stopped. He’s fine.
He hurls his heavy pack towards his body, catches it on his back and continues searching for the bright white blazes. This time he suppresses his imagination, concentrating on his surroundings.
He arrives at a clearing, no doubt a tent site. On a nearby pine tree he sees a weathered sign that reads “Fisherman’s Trail” with an arrow underneath pointing west. He takes out his map and locates the trail; it just about runs parallel and then converges with the AT.
“If I follow this for about three miles, I should run into some white blazes,” he mutters to himself.
Relieved, he puts the map in his back pocket and starts on the trail. Feeling safe and back on track, he allows his mind to wander, leaving his body to maneuver its surroundings.
He couldn’t help but think about Kelly. Kelly had a smooth round face, a light complexion, dark green eyes, and a smile that took up the entirety of her lower face. She was tall and lanky with red hair and polka dot freckles. Her teeth were white, whiter than fresh snow, whiter than the white blazes he was searching for now.
The night that it happened was when he decided to leave, to escape the life which caged him for 34 years. He didn’t blame her, but he resented Steven. He felt so betrayed, like he wasn’t good enough.
It was their anniversary, he had driven over to Kelly’s apartment on the corner of Lafayette and Grand. He had originally told her they wouldn’t be able to go out to celebrate because he was stuck at work with a client, but none of that was true, he just wanted to surprise her. She had been upset, but he knew that what he had planned would make up for it.
He sat in the parked car for a long while. He was anxious and sweating profusely. He had flowers in his left hand–wild orchids, her favorite–his car keys in his right, and a small black velvet box in his blazer pocket. He tapped lightly to make sure he hadn’t misplaced it: it was there. After a few moments, he opened up the door of his silver Toyota and crawled out. He locked the door and started down the path. He felt so unbalanced, his legs buckle with each step. He felt the dampness in the crevices of his knees and the heat rushing over him; he wished he hadn’t worn his wool-blend suit.
He approached the red door, took a deep breath, and knocked.
He waited a few moments; he was about to knock again but remembered that she’d given him a key. He thought it was strange; he never had to use it before; she had always answered. Through shaky hands, he located the key and unlocked the door. He stepped inside and called out, “Kelly! Sweetie! I have news!” He was excited and nervous all at the same time.
He listened, but there was no response.
He called out again, “Kell?”
He walked towards the kitchen on the opposite end of the apartment, “Kell?”
He walked around the living room and down the hall, but there was no sign of her.
He headed towards the staircase leading downstairs.
As he descended the steps he heard grunts, oddly deep grunts; noises he’d never heard Kelly make—noises he’d never heard any woman make. He crept slowly towards the bedroom door which was slightly ajar. Through the crack he saw them. He saw Steven, his dearest friend since grad school, thrusting violently; shaking the bed frame with his every movement. Under Steven’s large naked body, he caught a glimpse of Kelly’s curly, strawberry red hair…
“Quit it!” he says to himself.
He’s back in his body.
When he looks up, he sees the white blaze painted on the tree signaling that he’s on his desired route: the Appalachian Trail.
He’s overtaken with joy. He’s made it back on the trail again.
After letting out a triumphant “Yeah!”, he allows his pack fall to the earth. From the side pockets he extracts a journal, pen, and granola bar. He opens up the small leather-bound book and writes the date at the top of the page, 7/12/2002, exactly two months since his first entry.
Can’t stop thinking about her today. I’ve been so distracted that I
walked nearly 3 miles off trail. No worries, back on the AT now.
Glad to be here in the mountains, away from the noise of the city,
away from life. I think this is good for me. I needed an escape from
that prison. I’m about 1,850 miles in. I recon another few months till
completion. Note to self, buy more granola bars/med kit at next town.
After putting his journal back in its designated pocket, he opens the granola bar, and takes a bite. He looks around to see where he is, looking for a landmark in case he gets misplaced again. He sees nothing. There’s not much in the woods of New Hampshire, at least not much to differentiate one part of the trail from the other. It all looks exactly the same, which is why it’s easier to let the mind and body wander.
After some time, he gets up and flings his pack up to catch it on his back, tightens the straps, and continues on the path, wandering.