Chapter 2

In Chapter 2 Marge is tracked into the wilderness by not one, but two lurking creatures. Will she find inspiration or just plain danger?

How long had it been since Marge had driven these roads? 

An unexpected giddiness filled her chest. Once upon a time, this had been quite normal for her. She had explored every back road near her small town, and eventually knew them all by heart. It was what helped clear her mind from the stress and worry of everyday life. She hoped that now it could accomplish the same task it once had. 

The sunlight peeking through the trees cast shadows on her windshield as she navigated her small SUV around a particularly nasty pothole, and her mind once again went to Adam and Irene. She couldn’t ignore the pangs of guilt. She didn’t want to worry them. Her son had his flaws, to be certain, but she knew deep down that he loved her. 

Despite the fact that he wasn’t acting like it lately. 

And Irene…that was the hardest. She was so much more than just a neighbor by now. She was the ray of sunshine in Marge’s otherwise cloudy season. The type of friend everyone wished they could have. It felt somehow selfish just to leave her behind. 

Marge sighed. She could tell both of them that she was technically cleared to drive by the doctor. That she just needed to find her way again. Her passion. But would they really understand? 

The gravel road began to climb up, and she was grateful to have four wheel drive. As she reached the crest of the small hill, the road split into two different directions. She veered to the right without hesitation, a smile lighting her lips. It was just up ahead. 

It’s strange how the mind works, she mused. Ever since the stroke, she struggled to get the thoughts in her head out properly, yet she remembered the details of a road that she hadn’t driven in decades with stark clarity. The pines felt taller than they had previously, and their thick, green canopy stretched above her car. But otherwise, it was exactly how she recalled it. 

She kept climbing, gaining elevation with each passing mile. Not too much further. She rounded the corner, and the trees suddenly dispersed. A wildfire many years ago had ravaged this portion of the forest, creating a clearing made up of mostly manzanita and other brush. The burned remnants of pine trees still jutted out like tall skeletons, a reminder of what had once been here. But just beyond them…

The jagged peaks of her favorite mountains filled the skyline. She was close enough that she could easily make out the individual rock formations along the sides as the sun bathed them in morning light. 

“Hello, my old…friends,” she murmured, peace filling her heart. 

She pulled her car to the side of the road, where it was wider, and put it into park. Reaching for her light backpack and her trekking poles, she stepped out and let herself take in the view completely. The peaks were mostly bare this time of year. The heat of summer had melted the majority of the snow, apart from the glaciers. Most of these mountains were still active volcanoes, and the steep slopes were always a reminder of the power they held just beneath the surface.

It was her favorite hidden gem. Not even many of the locals knew about this place, and she hoped it stayed that way. She glanced around at the burned area, noting how much the brush had overtaken the ground since she had last been here. The scarred remains of tree trunks remained, but life was returning at their feet.  

In fact, the last few weeks felt exactly like this burned out area. Just as fire had devastated this section of land, leaving nothing but ash and death, the stroke had wreaked havoc upon her own life, leaving her feeling like a shell of her former self. In the midst of the flames, it was easy to panic, unable to see past the smoke and trauma. 

However, if the fire hadn’t burned through this area, one would never have been able to see the mountains towering above her now, and the inspiration for so many of her paintings would never have been found. She smiled. Now that the smoke was settling in the chaos of her own life, Marge could finally see the mountains of hope, and her heart was ready for the next step. 

Locking her car, though there wasn’t much of value in it anyway, she began slowly walking down the gravel road. Roughly a quarter of a mile down the road, she found the other piece she was looking for: the faint traces of an old, abandoned road that had once been used for logging. Large boulders kept any vehicles from traveling it anymore, but she still used it as a trail of sorts. 

She began down the path, letting the poles help keep her balanced. It wasn’t too far until she was past the burn area and back in the thick forest of ponderosa. The scent of the tall pines around her was therapeutic, shimmering dew still visible on the ground. The path stretched out before her, and she suddenly flashed upon a memory of Adam running down this very path. He couldn’t have been more than six, if she remembered correctly. She could picture his curly brown hair bouncing as he ran, his laughter filling the forest. Back then, he was wild and unrestricted. 

Somehow, that spirit of freedom and reckless abandon had been replaced by a battle-weary soldier who simply trudged through life with no real purpose. He no longer found joy in the little things, like nature and wildlife. It only made her more determined to remind him what living really was. It was adventure. Taking chances. Making mistakes. Getting hurt. 

She had traveled nearly half a mile by now, and she stood still for a long moment, closing her eyes. Birds chirped in the distance, squabbling over something unknown. A gentle breeze in the tops of the trees caused them to rustle. And just beyond any of those sounds, she heard what she had been searching for. 

The faint roar of water in the distance. 

She smiled and opened her eyes. It was close. Veering from the old road, she began foraging her path through the trees. The sound of the water grew louder, until she finally stepped through the brush and saw it. 

A tall waterfall, roughly fifty feet high, cascaded down over rocks and moss into a roaring river. The fresh mountain stream turned a brilliant aquamarine in the sunlight as it raged before her, twisting a path through the trees. Despite the fury of the water, she immediately felt tranquility engulf her heart. Mist from the downpour blew against her, and she shivered from its cold touch. 

She didn’t know the name of the waterfall, if it even had one. There was no trail to get to it, and she had never seen another living soul here before. 

Marge stepped closer to the water, watching the patterns it created as it wove around and through the rocks. 

She remembered the sight of Adam’s tiny hands reaching into the water. 

“It’s so cold!” he had squealed. “Why is that?” 

“Because it’s melted snow from the mountains,” she’d replied with a laugh. “Snow is cold, so the water’s cold.” 

“How do the fish survive in it?” 

“They’re just used to it, I suppose.” 

The unrelenting questions and observations had filled that entire afternoon, but she never felt overwhelmed by them. She loved his curiosity and knew it would shape his future. She suddenly glanced at the sky. The sun had crossed over quite a ways, the shadows now shifted completely around her. 

I need to paint this, she thought. There was plenty of daylight left, and she felt that old, familiar urge to grab her watercolors while the inspiration was still fresh. 

She began the ascent back to the gravel road, where her car was parked. Only…it wasn’t alone anymore. She paused. There was another parked directly behind it. Perplexed, she walked closer, wondering if it was a ranger in the area. 

A few steps more, and she suddenly recognized the second car. 

Irene stood there, arms crossed as she leaned against her vehicle, a knowing smile on her lips. “Going to abandon me, I see?” 

Marge shook her head. “No, I–”

Irene waved her hand. “Yes, yes, I know. I read your note, after all. I’m just surprised you think I’d let you do this on your own.” 

“I thought I had to do it alone.” Marge smiled. “But…it would be nice to have some company, I think.” 

“Well, I’m glad you think so, because I wasn’t going to let you feel otherwise!” Irene laughed. Marge just shook her head. 

“Thank you,” she said, pulling Irene into a hug. “For everything.” 

“What are friends for?” 

A loud crash behind her made them both jump, their laughter immediately cut off as they both whirled around. The branches of a particularly tall ponderosa were still shaking, and something big was moving through them.

Stay subscribed for Chapter 3 when Marge & Irene face off with the lurking creature!

by Spencer Hill

September 19th, 2022