From Mountain Cabin Mystery
By Max Elliot Anderson
The three lost hikers continued hurrying in the direction they were certain the others had gone. At first the descending pathway made their going a little easier. But soon it changed until they were into the most difficult climb of the hike so far.
“This can’t be right,” Al complained. “Some of those older people could never make it up here.” A little farther along, the path turned into a narrow shelf with sheer rock on one side and what looked to be an endless drop-off on the other.
They continued inching their way upward until Scott groaned, “That’s it. We’re turning back. We already broke the first rule when you get lost. Remember?”
“Yeah, and I got that one right on the test,” Benji complained.
“Well I didn’t,” Al said. “What were you supposed to do next?”
“You’re supposed to stay put, right where you are. At least then you have a better chance of being found.”
“We can’t be that far off track. Let’s just go back where we came from,” Al suggested.
“What was that?” Benji asked in a half whisper. “I heard a growl.”
“It’s probably my stomach,” Al joked. “I’m already getting hungry again.”
“Be quiet,” Scott whispered. “I heard it too. It’s coming from behind us.”
Suddenly a big, ferocious-looking bear emerged from the fog. He was walking on the path and coming right toward them. The menacing bear had dark brown fur. He stopped in the middle of the trail and stood up on his hind legs. Even though he wasn’t close yet, the boys could see that this bear was bigger than any one of them.
As he sniffed the cold mountain air, blasts of white steam bellowed out of the bear’s nostrils. He seemed to look in the direction where the boys stood. As he did that he opened his jaws to reveal long, sharp, yellow teeth. But it’s what he did next that made the already frightened boys wish they’d never come up on that mountain.
The bear began to growl as if he hadn’t had his bear breakfast yet. Then he dropped back down on all fours and began lumbering up the path again.
“I didn’t think they were supposed to be up at this level,” Scott questioned.
“Try telling that to the bear,” Al muttered through clenched teeth.
Benji pulled biscuits out of his pockets and threw them down the path toward the bear.
“You aren’t supposed to have food on you either. I forgot about that.” he confessed.
“This is just great. You guys stop to take a stupid picture, and now look at us. We need to move it. Those things are faster on four legs than we are on two.”
“Especially with our packs,” Benji complained.
“Whatever you do, don’t run, and do not look that bear in the eye.”
“Who’s looking?” Al said.
“All right then, let’s start walking, nice and easy.”
They began to ease their way on up the path. But as they moved, the bear kept right on coming. That big, four-legged eating machine walked right past the biscuits Benji had tossed. He continued climbing directly toward the boys. Quickly, Scott looked around for an escape route. Then he saw it. “Guys,” he whispered, not even moving his lips. “See that narrow place over my right shoulder where those two big rocks come together?”
“Yes,” they whispered back.
“It looks big enough for us to squeeze through, but too narrow for fatso back there. I know you aren’t supposed to run, but it’s so close. I think we can make it before he gets to us. Are you guys up for trying?
“Uh huh,” they whispered with their eyes stuck wide open.
“We’ve only got one shot at it. When I yell, you’d better be right behind me ‘cause I won’t be looking back.”
The bear was only about twenty-five feet away now. In seconds he would be right on top of them.
“LET’S MOVE IT!” Scott screamed. In one fluid motion the boys were pushing their way between the rocks.
“I hope you’re right about that monster being too big,” Al cried. Scott was the first one through. Even with his backpack he still made it. Al was next, with Benji bringing up the rear. Just before he came to the opening, Benji slipped on a wet rock, and hit his knee, real hard.
“Ow,” he howled. That gave the bear the seconds it needed to catch up.
“Ben, don’t even look behind you. Just get up, right now, and come through here. Fast!”
“Hurry, Ben, hurry!” Al warned. Benji did what they told him and immediately he was pushing his way through the narrow opening. “Help me, I think I’m stuck.”
“Get out of your backpack,” Scott ordered.
“I’m trying, I’m trying!” Benji kicked his feet wildly, desperately trying to break free.
Al grabbed one strap while Scott gripped the other. Together they yanked them from Benji’s shoulders just as the bear reached through the opening and swiped with one paw. His long sharp claws instantly cut the back of the bag to shreds. Al and Scott took Benji by the shoulders, and threw him into the air. He landed behind them in a heap.
He turned back just in time to watch with the others as the bear opened its mouth, showed his full set of sharp, yellow teeth, and roared so loudly it almost made the ground shake. At the same time he used his powerful claws to pull the contents of Benji’s bag to the other side of the opening.
“My Mom is really going to be mad. That backpack cost a lot of money.”
“It could have been you on the other side of the rocks with the bear,” Scott reminded him.
“Now what are we going to do? All our extra food was in that bag, even some you guys didn’t know about.”
“You’d be bear breath right now if we hadn’t pulled you loose,” Al said.
“I hate to say I warned you, but don’t you guys remember talking about the kind of food we were supposed to bring? It was just for an emergency like this. And you, Benji, why didn’t you just paint a target on your backpack. You were practically a walking fast food restaurant out here. I can’t believe you did that.”
“I know. I’m sorry.”
“Sorry doesn’t cut it right now. We are in serious trouble, guys.”
“One thing’s good,” Al noted. “At least the bear can’t come through there and get us.”
“Yes, but we can’t go back that way either, now can we?”
“Empty out your pack. Let’s see what we have between us for food and water.”
They dumped the contents of their backpacks onto the ground. “From what I see, we have enough trail mix to cover breakfast, lunch, and dinner, three times over,” Al groaned.
“I’m not even going to tell you guys what was in my bag.”
The boys could hear the bear destroying the contents of Benji’s backpack on the other side of the narrow rock passageway.
“Well, we have plenty of water. That’s something we really have to be careful about so we don’t get all dried out. At least if we find more up here, it’ll be coming from melted snow.”
“So it should be clean?” Benji asked.
“Sort of. But we’re going to have to keep going. Right now, nobody knows where we are.”
“The bear does.”
“Al, do you ever stop? Let’s just go.”
“Hey Benji, was that a black bear or a grizzly?”
“Who cares?” Benji answered.
“Well you were the closest one to him.”
“Don’t remind me.”
Scott noticed right away that this path wasn’t like the one they had been on before. It didn’t show the same amount of wear. There were no footprints. Grass, weeds, and a few wildflowers grew in all the spaces between the rocks. “Looks like nobody has walked on this trail for a long, long time.”
“I think you’re right,” Benji agreed.
They continued walking for the next couple of hours. Since Benji didn’t have his heavy load any longer, he quickly moved to the front of the line. The climbers, Huff and Puff, struggled trying to keep up with him.
“Hey, Ben, slow up. We need to stop and catch our breath.” The boys sat beside the trail for a few minutes.
“It feels so good to get this thing off my back,” Al groaned as he let his pack hit the ground.
“Let’s go ahead and eat something while we’re here,” Scott suggested.
“Humm,” Al said. “Let me see. What shall I eat? Trail mix? Trail mix? Or… trail mix? I know, I think I’ll have some trail mix, thanks to my good friend Benjamin.”
“Come on you guys. I’m really sorry.”
“Why in the world do you think we bothered to take all those classes and the test that almost killed you? It was for something exactly like where we are right now.”
“Lay off him, Scott. He feels bad enough already.”
“That’s not the point. Not the point at all. We might not get out of this place. Have you thought about that?”
“Yeah I have. It reminds me of that story from church about the shepherd and his sheep. Do you remember it?”
“You’re the story teller. How ‘bout you tell us.”
“Well, this guy had a hundred sheep. But when he brought them home for the night and stood there counting, one was missing. He could have said, ‘Oh well, I have ninety-nine others, what’s the big deal about one little lost sheep? I can get more.’
“I remember that story,” Benji spoke up, “He left all the rest and went out to find the lost sheep. That was one of my favorite picture…the one where the shepherd came back carrying the lost lamb on his shoulders. My mom had it laminated for me. I use it for a bookmark.” He took a deep breath and sighed, “I miss my mom.”
Just then, a small sparrow landed on a branch above Scott’s head, so close he could almost reach up and pet it. The little bird sang out like a choir of angels at that moment. The boys listened to him until he finished. Then, as quickly as the little bird arrived, he flew away again.
“You guys are right. I’m sorry. It’s just that I feel sort of responsible for all of us. But one thing’s for sure; God knows where we are, even if no one else does. He’s watching us right now, and He’ll take care of us. You wait and see.”
That made everyone feel a lot better. They finished their rest break, packed up the trail mix, and stood up to leave.
“Anyone want some dried apricots for desert?” Benji asked.
Scott looked at him with surprise, “Where did you hide those?”
“I don’t even want to know,” Al said.
Again they hiked deeper into uncertain territory. Thoughts of the bear, even though they’d survived a serious attack, began to fade from their thinking and conversation.
“I’m feeling pretty good now,” Scott announced confidently. “I think the worst is behind us. All we need to do is follow this path. It has to come out someplace. Hey, Al, you still have that ball of string you were supposed to carry?”
“Got it right here.” He pulled out a roll of white kite string.
“We should mark our path. That way people might see which way we went. We can make arrows out of sticks on the ground to show the direction we walked.”
“That’s a great idea,” Benji said as he took a knife out of his pocket. “I’ll be in charge of string cutting.”
“And I’ll tie them on bushes every few feet,” Al said.
“While you guys do that, I’ll take care of the direction arrows.”
Having jobs to do helped take their minds off the trouble they were in, and it made the time go faster. That really wasn’t such a good thing, though, because it meant, sooner or later, it would be getting dark.
On, and on they trudged, not knowing what lay just around the next twist or turn. Then Al stopped, “Wait a minute, I think I hear something.”
“That isn’t funny Al,” Scott warned.
“No, I mean it. Listen.”
“Tell me it isn’t another bear, you guys. I don’t have a backpack to give him.” “Sounds like water to me,” Scott said. “Just over that ridge I think.”
They moved quickly toward the sound. But just as they thought it would be right around the next boulder or fallen tree, nothing.
“The sound must be bouncing off the cliffs around here,” Al explained. “That river could be miles from here.”
For another hour or so they kept walking and tying string onto bushes. The water sound faded too. Then all of a sudden Scott stopped dead still.
“You guys aren’t going to like this.” Al poked his head around Scott’s right shoulder while Benji peeked around his left side. What they saw would have made the bravest man sick. There, not more than ten feet ahead of them, a piece of white string flapped in the breeze.
“Hey, will you look at that,” Benji said. “Somebody else is lost out here too.”
Scott and Al slowly turned to look at Benji.
“No. Those are our strings. We’ve been walking around in one big circle for the last hour!” Scott groaned.
“Now what?” Al asked.
“You tell me.”
“The sound, we forgot to follow the sound. The path must take another turn someplace. We should follow our own strings, and arrows, and look for a cutoff.”
That’s what they did. Sure enough, there was a place where the path gave them two choices. The overgrown brush had hidden it from their view the first time.
“It was a fork in the path that got us into this mess in the first place,” Al complained.
“You got a better suggestion?”
“All right then.”
The boys pushed their way through the brush and continued walking. It’s going to get dark pretty soon. Isn’t it?” Benji asked.
“Very good, Ben,” Al mocked.
“You mean we’re going to have to spend the night out here…alone?”
“No. We’ll stop at the first hotel we see, Ben,” Scott teased. “And I doubt we’ll be alone. There’s all kinds of stuff living out here that would be more than happy to keep us company.”
The sound of rushing water now rumbled like constant thunder.
“We’re getting closer,” Al said.
The path began to open up slightly, and it was mostly dirt now. The boys approached two giant rocks, which stood like immovable sentries, guarding something just beyond. They walked between them, pushing the branches from tall saplings out of their way. As the boys emerged from the last remaining brush barrier, no one was prepared for what awaited them.
“What in the world is that?” Al cried out.
“It’s a suspension bridge. You’ve seen them.”
“You mean the kind that don’t have any legs?” Benji asked.
When they reached the bridge, the boys agreed that no one had crossed it in a long, long time. A large X had been tied across the entrance with heavy rope. Attached at the middle they found a metal sign, but the letters were all faded. Some of the paint had peeled away.
“A skull and cross bones. That’s supposed to be bad, isn’t it?”
“Cut it out Benji.”
“Well it is, and that’s what’s painted on the sign.”
Scott wiped his hand across the sign’s surface to reveal the word “DANGER” in big red letters. He grabbed one of the cable handrails and shook it. Fragments from the wooden cross-pieces broke loose and fell to the gorge below. That’s when they looked down to see how deep it was.
Al whistled, “Man, that looks like the Grand Canyon.”
“What are we going to do, Scott?” Benji asked in a whimper.
Copyright © 2008 Education World