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trickled down Jess’ nose. Her
sodden boots plodded along, squooshing the mud with each step.
her face raised in lament to the sky. The hood of her rain poncho slipped off.
The empty forest around her offered no answer, just a steady rain. Then, far
above the treetops, she glimpsed a bolt of lightning streaking toward a nearby
mountain and heard an answering boom of thunder. She cringed and scuttled
faster down the trail.
whispered its urgency through the leaves, and the raindrops began to fall, Jess
had been hiking through the thunderstorm with no place to stop and dry off. No
place to get warm. No offer of coffee or a dryer where she could heat up her clingy
socks. She walked alone on the Appalachian Trail.
she didn’t want to give birth after all, Jess could not turn back. Well, she
could turn back, but she would find only more of the same — woods and rain and
an endless trail.
was all Andi’s idea. As Jess trudged through the forest in the unrelenting
rain, she blamed her best friend and hiking companion, Andi, who had pushed the
hike as a great way to lose weight. And, when Jess’ teenagers took off for the
summer leaving a big gap where the role of mother used to be, she thought a
hike with Andi might fill that space. Andi, who, with her long legs, strode
ahead, maybe miles away by now, claiming she had to hurry to the nearest
shelter to keep the tent dry. Andi had tucked Jess’ poncho around her pack
before presenting her back for Jess to return the favor.
“Only about three miles farther.”
minutes, an hour if she stopped to window shop. Here, in the mountains, it
could last days as she climbed up peaks and descended into valleys. Oh, who was
she kidding? She would never walk three miles in the city. She would get in her
car and drive.
spiky greenery of a large fir tree. She could take cover under the tree, be a
little bit sheltered. Even as she considered taking refuge, she stumbled past
the tree, walking, walking.
trapped. No exit ramps in sight. She could only continue to walk.
slippery stones that had been placed to form stairs. At the top, the wind gusts
grew stronger and tried to push her back down. She hurried on along the ridge.
Her walking poles dug into the mud that edged the rocks along the path.
and rain and lightning. Rhododendron bushes lined the trail below, but the only
plant that dared to peek through the crevices on this crag was a lone sycamore
tree. If Jess could escape this bare slope, the trees ahead would provide an
arching umbrella across the trail. As she started to descend with the trail,
her boot slid across a slick stone, and she toppled backward in slow motion.
She wheeled her arms, trying to right herself, but could not stop the plunge
until her backpack hit the ground, and she landed – thump – on top of it.
was supposed to be a diet plan, not a death sentence, she thought, lying on her back like a turtle
on its shell, her arms and legs sprawled helplessly at her side. I may drown. The downpour pummeled her
full in the face, but she lacked the
energy to sit up, free herself from the 30-pound pack, heft it onto her back,
and start the hike again.
arm from her pack and turned onto her side, away from the sky. For just a
moment, she allowed herself to rest, curled into the fetal position beside her
pack. A tingle began in her spine, and, in the moment she pondered why—everything
Paulita Kincer is the author of three novels, The Summer of France, I See London I See France, and Trail Mix. She has an M.A. in journalism from American University and has written for The Baltimore Sun, The St. Petersburg Times, The Tampa Tribune, and The Columbus Dispatch. She currently teaches college English and lives in Columbus, Ohio, with her husband and three children.