To Hell and Back by Adam James Bagnall - HTML preview
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The sizzling of bacon Peter's cheerful whistle stirred Joseph from his slumber. Eggs, bacon, fried tomato and coffee to start their first full day hiking through the rugged terrain.
After breakfast, they packed up their camp and started out. The crunching of their feet on the ground was the only sound as they headed towards their destination: an old Indian settlement abandoned hundreds of years ago. Only two people knew about it. Him and his dad.
His dad had showed it to him a few months before he died.
Now only one person knew about it.
After dinner last night, Joseph had mentioned the site. Peter readily agreed about the prospect of investigating it the next day.
“Sounds great we'll go check it out tomorrow,” Peter was excited.
They still had about an hour's hiking left and the icy silence was killing him. The monotonous drumming of their feet drilled into his brain like a hammer.
“We should take some photos,” he prompted, hoping his enthusiasm didn't sound too forced.
“Hey, neat idea!” Peter embraced the idea immediately.
Suddenly a deep throated roar greeted their ears and they turned in unison towards the sound. A huge Cougar, rare in these parts was mere metres away.
“Run!” Peter hollered.
Joseph didn't have to be told twice. He headed for thicker terrain hoping to evade his would be attacker, but he was surprised he didn't hear the heavy pounding of the carnivorous cat close by.
“Wait, it’s not chasing us.” He glanced to his right, then his left and was stunned at the sight that greeted him.
There was just rocks, trees, and shrubs, no Peter.
Without thinking, he rushed back to where they had been, but no sign of him.
His heart was pounding faster now.
Adrenalin surged through his body like a rushing river as he desperately tried to retrace his steps.
They were talking.
The cougar came rushing at them without a moment’s hesitation, snarling, drooling at the corner of its huge mouth.
Joseph didn't have time to look behind him while he was running; he just assumed Peter was right behind him.
A piece of clothing grabbed his attention nearby. Joseph ran to it and grabbed it. Instantly he recognised it as a shred of Peter's shirt. That was not a good sign, and as usual, the worst-case scenario flashed in his mind. The cougar had gotten his Peter and shook him like a rag doll, breaking every bone in his body, before devouring him with razor sharp teeth.
Peter was gone.
He was all alone.
Tears flowed down his dirty face and he made no attempt to stop them.
He angrily threw a rock into the trees and nearly jumped out of his skin when Peter’s surprised cry sounded out. Jumping up he rushed towards the sound and embraced his step son who had come hurrying towards him.
“You're OK!” Joseph was surprised by the level of emotion in his voice.
“Hey it takes more than a cougar to stop this guy” he boasted and with a mixture of relief and exhaustion Joseph laughed until more tears rolled down his cheeks, but these were tears of joy.
“But how ?” Joseph queried as they sat down for lunch later, their brief encounter still at the forefront of their thoughts.
He had to know. They had continued on, and they were both deathly silent as the situation they had witnessed unfolded in their minds. Each thought the other had been taken by the large cat, of which there would be no escape.
“We simply ran in opposite directions,” Peter replied as he poured water over his reddened face. “My shirt must have gotten caught on a bush” he explained pointing to the rag Joseph held in his hands.
The simplicity of it all made them both sigh.
“Perhaps it saw us run in different directions and became confused,” Joseph thought aloud, looking into the distance.
“It was a good tactic,” Peter offered, and they both chuckled.
“It could have been a whole lot worse though,” Peter added, and Joseph nodded, deep in thought.
He cared for Peter a lot more than he could ever imagine.
He had only known him a short time, andthey had never really connected, never had a warm, fuzzy father son moment like the one you see in the movies. It was all small talk and a nod to each other as they passed each other in the morning, Joseph getting ready for school, and Peter brushing past, on his way to work. They had very little in common; Joseph was the sporty, outdoorsy type, and Peter was more of an at home in front of a DVD kind of guy. The closest he had come to enjoying the outdoors was watching a nature documentary on the discovery channel, but despite this he was prepared to tackle the outdoors, and Joseph had to admire his effort.
Joseph and Peter rose in unison to pack up their lunch before heading off, the sun high in the sky, beating down on their foreheads.
Shortly after their brief stop, Joseph found it. He knew what he was looking for but it had been so long since he and his... well it had been a long time.
Partly covered by grass and bushes was a small cave, about six feet by four feet in diameter.
“Here it is,” he proclaimed like a small child showing off a new toy. He was very proud to show it off and he beamed a wide smile on his face.
Peter parted the grass and gasped in astonishment.
“My God, it's amazing” Peter enthused as they entered cautiously.
The cave was built into a hill. The walls were decorated with intricate designs and sketches. Stick figures with thin pointy spears, large beasts the like which Joseph had never seen before and tee pee shelters adorned each side of the cave, a pictorial diary of a long lost people just waiting to be shared with the world.
The luminous flash of Peter's digital camera startled him and he hit his head on the roof of the low-lying cave.
“Sorry” Peter murmured awkwardly as Joseph rubbed his head.
Joseph nodded his head to signal that it was OK. He knew from experience it was too dark to take photos without a flash.
The last time he was here, he had taken about twenty photos but when he viewed them on his laptop found that most of them were dark and you couldn't make out much of the cave.
They spent about an hour in the dank cave and were glad to get back out into the fresh air despite the astonishing scenes that had greeted them.
A brief shower prevented any further progress towards the old Indian settlement and Joseph cursed his rotten luck. He had been desperately hoping to get there as soon as possible, but with the steep slope ahead his instincts told him it was too risky.
They sought shelter in the cave and decided to build a small fire to keep warm.
Unfortunately the wood outside was wet so it took quite a while to get a good fire going, but they were both glad they had made the effort. They both relished the warmth and protection the flames provided and it put them at ease. Sitting in silence, each was engrossed in his own thoughts.
Joseph drifted off to a time long ago. Hundreds, perhaps thousands of years before.
A time of chieftains and elders and tribal dances, he envisioned the tribes sitting in this very spot telling stories to their children or painting on the walls, even doing as they were, sitting around a fire listening to the orchestra that mother nature provided, free of charge.
The rain had stopped so Peter was putting out the fire as Joseph got up and stretched his legs.
He felt oddly at peace with himself as they exited the eerie cave, out into the bright sunshine. It was as if some ancient spell had healed him and released him of all his insecurities and worries.
“Watch your step” Peter warned as they dodged rocks and trees. Joseph nodded in agreement, the going was slow and steep, and the surface was still damp.
“This next bit will amaze you,” Joseph enthused a while later as the ground flattened out.
“Dad and I found it a couple of years ago and no one else knows about it.”
“I can't wait” Peter replied as they brushed through some small trees into a large open area that was overrun with trees and grass.
Peter looked at what lay before him and dropped to his knees in utter bewilderment.