Dark Woods : [a short story]

Hiking

The trail sloped downward, winding back and forth as we rambled down the hillside, tangles of colorful wildflowers and tall grasses swishing as we passed. I could hear my husband’s feet pounding on the dirt behind me. “This is where the water crossing is,” he announced.

Okay, we’re here! This is what you prepared for, I thought encouragingly. Just change into your water shoes, like we planned. A splintered, wooden sign read La Garita Wilderness Rio Grande National Forest. I pulled out my iPhone and snapped a few pictures to upload to Instagram later, when I could get a signal again. I heaved off my backpack and grabbed my brand new Keen sandals out of the side mesh pockets. See, I’m so prepared, I thought proudly. I carefully balanced myself, one foot at a time, as I changed out of my hiking boots and arch-supportive socks, trying not to lose my balance or get anything muddy.

The river didn’t look very deep. It would probably only go up to my calves—easy enough. I took a few steps. Wow, okay, that’s freezing. The cold water seared my skin. It’s all good, just a few more steps. I stepped quickly, trying to hurry to the other side, and suddenly, I stepped into a small ditch, losing my balance and scraping my ankle against a sharp rock. Ow, pain. Okay, freezing. It feels like I’m getting stabbed. Hurry up; just get out! I leapt the last part, out of the water and onto the soggy bank, splashing mud onto my shoes and legs. My feet throbbed from the shock of the cold water. I slogged up the bank and sat on a large boulder where the trail was dry. I glanced down at my leg and quickly looked away. Omigod, there’s blood. Suddenly my mind raced with mental images of microscopic parasites and bacteria swirling in the water, which were probably now flowing freely into my bloodstream. We were about to enter the woods. I could die of infection out there.

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