“Come on, get up, get up. It’s already nine O’clock,” Isaac nagged while standing by the bed.
“I told you last night, I wanna sleep in today,” Ava shrieked.
“And you wanna be an explorer with this sleepy head of yours? What kinda adventurist are you waking up this late? Can you imagine what would have happened if Amerigo Vespucci who discovered the New World was a lazy ass fella who over slept the night before he set out to discover America? “
“We’re not going there to discover anything today; we’re going to enjoy our day on the lake and chill out; now leave me alone.” Ava said while hiding her head under the pillow.
“You can’t sleep until noon. C’mon, Ava, it’s a long way to get there and we need to prepare.”
“For your information sir, unlike some people, I wake up at five everyday to go to work,” Her muffled voice came from under the comforter.
“Now you have the audacity to throw my golden years in my face? How dare you?”
“Give me one more hour.”
“I’m not gonna drive more than three hundred miles to get there just to spend a few hours by the lake. Sun sets at five so we don’t have much of a daylight to waste. Get up, get up please.”
“Instead of badgering me, go make my damn cappuccino,”
“Okay, but you’d better wake up and smell the coffee soon.”
“Here it comes another obsolete expression from a lame immigrant.”
“First of all, wake up and smell the coffee is a wholesome saying in American culture and I use it anytime I see fit. Secondly, I think you’re jealous of my proficiency in American pub culture and language, that’s what I think.”
“The idiom Wake up and smell the coffee is primarily an American expression and was in colloquial use in the 1960s. This vintage expression weas used before I was born, would you let it go?
“Did you just search it on Google?” Isaac asked.
“Just don’t forget to use my special espresso ground and not your own watered- down coffee,” Ava ordered.
“To be honest with you, I don’t think you have the material to be a full-fledge explorer,” he said.
And after his wife stuck her head under the blanket, Isaac finally walked out of the bedroom to fulfill her request.
In a about twenty minutes, Ava walked downstairs and removed her favorite coffee drink from the espresso machine and kissed her husband.
“Good morning my love.”
“Good morning lovely.” He kissed his wife back.
“So, what’s on the menu today?” she asked.
“Cajon style Jambalaya with shrimp. We don’t have much time though. I cook the lunch and you go get the flasks from the garage.”
In a matter of minutes, Isaac filled a flask with hot steamy Jambalaya and Ava made the hot tea and poured in another flask and packed a few of her homemade brownies and some fruits. They both helped load the inflatable kayak in the car.
“Are all the essential items packed, my dear?” Isaac asked.
“Yes, the waterproof pouch for the key and phones, selfie stick, bathing suits, sunglasses, and two life jackets,” she reported.
“After I pet my two step cats, we’re ready to hit the road,” he said.
It was almost ten o’clock when they left the house.
“Why did you pack our bathing suits?” Isaac asked while driving.
“You never know, I may take a dip.”
“In October, have you forgotten where we live?”
“No, I’m very much aware of our GPS coordinates and the chilliness of our environment but unlike you, my wimpy hubby who was born in a sand dune in the heart of the Middle East and frightened by the cold, I’m proud of my German heritage that gives me the courage and stamina to survive harsh climates. Remember I’m the one who takes a polar dip every January the first in freezing cold water of the lake.”
“There’re a few issues regarding your flawed statement that need to be addressed. First of all, you don’t take the polar dip all by yourself, we do, it’s team effort. Remember I’m the one who’s records your heroic act by holding the phone with one hand and sipping on my freshly brewed hot black tea by the other. You know what they say, if no one sees you dip in the freezing cold water, it means it didn’t happen, I deserve as much credit for the dip as you do. Furthermore, I don’t want to burst your American bubble but I must inform you my love that chilliness is not a word in dictionary.”
“Yes, it is.”
“No, it’s not. Search it on Google, if you don’t believe me. I bet you this word does not exist in English lexicon. You were born right on the buckle of the bible belt USA and I’m the one who’s correcting your English. I think you should be ashamed of your broken English.”
“I just looked it up. The word chilliness does exist in the English dictionary but may not be widely used.”
“Yeah, it’s probably popular in high schools,” he smirked.
“Why do you have to use the word lexicon? Why don’t you use the word dictionary like everyone else in this country, this is what I like to know?” Ava goaded her husband.
“Is this word too upscale for your life style my dear?”
“I just don’t understand why you of all people always use fancy words; like the other day you said natatorium instead of swimming pool?”
“Simply because natatorium is more than swimming pool my love. It’s a building that contains a swimming pool but it usually contains a spa, a diving well or a sauna; so, I was rendering my proper English. You must pay attention to nuances my dear.”
“Oh, hell, I forgot to pack our water shoes. I left them in the yard to dry last time we used them and forgot to put them back in the car; boo,” she said.
“Well, you won’t need them to swim in this weather today but to get in and out of the kayak, we better wear something. Too late now, we’ve already driven more than fifty miles.”
“Don’t we have anything else to wear in the water?” she asked.
“As a matter of fact, we do. We have our foam clogs in the car, they’ll work. This SUV is fully equipped to accommodate explorers like ourselves; we’re prepared for any unexpected situation that may arise. From ropes with pullies and hooks to multitools camping gear, from granola bars to fire starter, from emergency first aid kit to binocular; from hunting knife to water filtration system. You name it, we’ve got it. Long Live Amazon.com,” Isaac proudly announced.
It was almost three when they finally arrived at their destination. At this hour, the park was not as crowded. They saw only a few cars parked and a small number of visitors strolling by the lake. They found a parking spot right by the boat launch ramp on the lake. The couple exited the car in awe witnessing the panoramic view of the lake by the luscious green mountain in background.
“Let’s have lunch,” Ava said.
“But we haven’t burned any calories yet, how could we gain a bunch more with a clear conscience?” The husband argued.
“I don’t want to be an explorer; I want to enjoy the Cajon style Jambalaya…” The wife griped.
“We have not earned enough credits today to deserve nourishment, my love. Let’s not forget our mission statement on this journey, to be tough, to be brave and to explore. We’re not here to augment the size of our asses by gorging on Jambalaya.”
As Isaac was making his point, Ava was going shrub to shrub picking blackberries and blueberries.
“Are you sure, they’re real berries you’re eating?” Isaac asked.
“They don’t taste bad,”
“Don’t you think real berries are a little out of season now?”
“What options do I have? You don’t feed me. What kind of explorers are we anyways? How could we explore on growling stomach? I demand some snacks otherwise I refuse to explore.”
“Alright, you have a point my love; genuine explorers are ill-advised to embark on any journey on empty stomach. Since you overslept today and as a result, we arrived late at the embarkation port, let’s have some granola bars with hot tea and skip the lunch. After we accomplish our mission, we’ll celebrate and enjoy the Jambalaya for dinner. Do you accept this settlement offer?”
Ava poured hot tea for both and they had some homemade granola bars while sitting on a huge rock right on the water, mesmerized by the majestic view of the dark green mountain casting shadow on the lake.
“Why this lake called Rattlesnake?” Isaac asked.
She Googled the name on her phone.
“We don’t have a good connection here, I guess tall trees are blocking the signals,” she said.
A few minutes later, when they walked farther onto the paved area, she tried again to go online.
“Rattlesnake Lake got its name from a Seattle pioneer when the rattle of seed pods on the nearby prairie frightened a road surveyor into thinking he was being attacked by a rattler. The surveyor didn't realize that there were no poisonous snakes in Western Washington.”
“I bet the settlers spread this rumor to discourage newcomers to show up and live next door to them. I don’t blame them, look how beautiful this area is. I’ve heard right in the middle of this lake a hundred years ago there was a town that was destroyed by flooding? The remnants of the houses are still buried at the bottom of this lake,” he said.
“Maybe, the same visitors who were tricked by the settlers, turned on the water on them to retaliate. Obviously, this little lake has a lot of spooky stories behind it. Who know? Maybe the ghosts of the drowned settlers are wandering in the woods…” Ava commented with a smile on her face.
“Yeah, I’m sure that’s the case. Maybe they’ll come out to haunt us and confiscate our Jambalaya,” Isaac chuckled.
The pale sun lurking behind the thick clouds barely had a chance to shine through yet it caused a dense fog to rise on the surface of the lake.
“The reflection of the mountain is gorgeous,” Ava said.
“Yes, it’s beautiful. It’s not a big lake, I say, let’s walk around it,” Isaac suggested.
“Why don’t we take a ride on the kayak instead? Ava asked.
“By the time we put air in it and get it on the lake, we wouldn’t have enough time to enjoy the ride and then when it gets darker, it would be more difficult to deflate the kayak, clean it up and pack it back in the car. I say let’s use the kayak another day. Since we got here late, let’s only do the hiking today.”
“Yeah, you’re right, we’ll do it another day,” she agreed.
He then put the tea cups in the car and locked it.
“Don’t you want to take a backpack with us?” Ava asked.
“I don’t think we need to. The trail is not that long.”
“It may be too cold to swim but it must be an amazing experience to ride the kayak at sunset on this lake,” she said.
“We will do that on our next trip. I promise.”
They began the hike. After walking a few hundred meters, they came across a map behind a framed display case; stopped to read the map.
“Let’s see, we’re here and the trails goes around the lake. The loop is more than five to six miles. It would take us two to three hours to complete the loop,” Isaac said.
“I don’t think this trail loops around the lake Isaac. You see, this paved side of the trails only goes all the way to the end but it doesn’t loop back. The colors of the trails are not the same on both sides of the lake; the gray in used for this side which is paved and green for the other. The other side is not a trail, it’s just the lakeshore by the woods. I say let’s walk to the end and see what’s going on there,” Ava said.
They walked the paved trail alongside of the lake by the steep drops and sharp cliffs. It was about four thirty when they reached the end.
“Let’s walk back the way we came, it’s getting dark,” Ava suggested.
“We can return to the car by going around the lake too, it should not take much longer that way,” Isaac reasoned.
“There is no trail on the other side though; we don’t know what’s on the other side. Are you sure we can walk back to the point where we started?”
“I think so; that would make our expedition adventurous, wouldn’t it? We will hike the rough rocky terrain but we’re resilient explorers wearing appropriate shoes. It wouldn’t take much longer to loop around versus walking back the way we came. Let’s take the road less traveled…” Isaac droned.
“But it’s getting too dark and it may rain.”
“C’mon, don’t fear the unknown and let’s demonstrate our true spirits as genuine...”
“Yeah, yeah, yeah, we’re fearless explorers, blah blah blah. Okay my love, I follow your lead. Remember I’m doing this because you want it not because I think it’s the right thing to do,” she said.
“You’re always like that, first you cast doubt on what I propose to do and then you admit it was fun, this won’t be any difference.”
“Blah, blah, blah…”
They descended about ten meters down the embankment covered with thick foliage and walked another half a mile on the rocky beach to reach the end of the lake. A wide stream of water was running into the lake from the watershed.
“Can you leap onto the rock in the middle of the water and take another leap to the other side of the stream?” Isaac asked.
“No. But I can wade through the stream if I take off my shoes and socks.”
“Alright, you cross the water your way, I do it mine.”
Isaac took a few steps back and then sprinted towards the stream and leaped onto the rock in the middle of the water. For a few moments he struggled to maintain his balance but before losing his footing, he took the second jump to get across the water. He’s shoes were all wet but he accomplished the task. He then took his phone out of his back pocket to capture the haunting beauty of so many old-growth stumps sticking out of the mud reminiscent of long cleared forest at the north side of the lake.
“This eerie scene reminds me of the Dali’s famous painting, Persistence of Memory,” Isaac said.
Ava was fumbling with her shoes to cross the stream.
“Yeah, it is a creepy scene, the stage is set for the ghosts, goons and zombies,” Ava said.
“This view is as stunningly beautiful as it is morbidly frightening. These old stumps stuck out of the ground make me feel like entering into a cemetery with all the dead sticking their heads out of their graves,” Isaac commented.
His wife had already crossed the water and waiting for her feet to get dry before she put her socks and shoes on.
“How did the water feel like, my dear?”
“Cold, cold” Ava responded.
“This is as close as you can get to swimming today. I told you the water is too cold, didn’t I?”
The eerie mélange of the rising steam above the lake and the falling darkness obstructed their vision to see afar. The two hikers quietly schlepped through the rocky terrain of the shore. Now they were tightly curbed between a dark green lake on one side and a dense forest on the other.
“How come it’s getting dark earlier than usual today?” he asked.
“The mountain is blocking the sunlight and it’s cloudy too. I say let’s go back to the paved trail. There’s no one here on this side, it’s not safe to be alone,” her voice rattled.
“Believe me, it takes longer for us to go back to the trail than to keep walking back on this side of the lake and finish the loop. Besides, if we go back, we both need to cross the same water stream,” he said.
“Are you sure, this route would take us back to the car?”
“Why wouldn’t it? Look to the other side, we walked the trail all the way to the end and now we’re walking back. I bet our car is right behind those trees and if we keep walking a half a mile, we can see it. We’ve already walked more than two thirds of the loop; we might as well finish the hike.”
“But we can’t see anything here. We don’t see what the hell we’re stepping on?”
“Yes, it’s a bumpy road but trust me, we’ll get there before you know it and we’ll celebrate our victory by gorging on the steamy hot cajon style Jambalaya with cold beer. This time I made the jambalaya with wild rice, and the Argentine red shrimps from the glacial coast of the Atlantic Ocean, the ones we bought from the fish market. Those hot and spicy Latinas are percolating in sautéed garlics, red peppers, cilantros and onions as we speak.” Isaac was trying to change the subject.
“I’m so hungry,” she said.
“Do you remember how many times I begged you to get up earlier this morning? We started our journey too late today. Next time we’ll come early morning and campout here for entire day so we can ride the kayak and have an aquatic experience as well.”
“I can’t see very much, Isaac.” She complained.
“Why don’t you have your glasses on?”
“I’m wear my contact lenses on weekends because you told me I look funny with glasses.”
“I meant funny in a good way. You look gorgeous with or without glasses. Come on, let’s walk hand in hand as we’re walking down the Champs- Elysees.”
Ava walked faster to reach him but right before she could get a chance to hold his hand, Isaac tripped on a rock and fell. He grabbed his ankle tight and screamed in pain.
“Are you okay?” she shouted.
“I... I don’t think so. It hurts so bad.”
“It’s my ankle.”
“Let me see.”
Ava bent over her husband and rubbed his right ankle.
“Ouch, don’t, don’t touch, it hurts, it’s sprained.”
“Okay, don’t move, we rest here for a few minutes. I told you this is not a trail.”
“Go ahead, rub it in my face,” he screamed in pain.
“What should we do now?” she cried.
“How many times we had this conversation? I told you not to criticize me when we’re in crisis. I’m injured and in pain and you the seize the opportunity to attack, god damnit, it hurts,” Isaac moaned.
“Okay my love, sorry. What do you suggest we do now?”
“I don’t know. Let’s stay here for the time being and think of a plan,” he said.
“We don’t have anything with us here, what can we do? We should either call 911 or go back to the car. Do you want me to go to the car and get the first aid kit?”
“That’s a bad idea. I don’t want you to go anywhere alone in this darkness. Didn’t you just say you couldn’t see anything? Besides; it takes a long time for you to go and come back, if you can get there safely.”
“We better call for help,” she suggested.
“My injury is not serious. I think I can limp long enough to get back to the car. You see, that’s our car parked by the first boat launch ramp. I told you we’re not that far...”
“Yeah, the car is on the other side of the lake. Don’t you see that our car is the only car there now? Do you see anybody there? All visitors have already left. The park closes at dusk and park rangers lock the gates. I’m going to call someone now before it’s too late.”
She grabbed her cellphone and dialed.
“Oh! Shit.” Her voice rattled.
“I have no signals here.”
“How is that possible; we’re not far away from North Bend. How could we not have reception here?” Isaac uttered words in pain.
“Don’t you see where we’re stuck in? We’re at the base of this towering mountain covered with tall trees. The only two possible areas we may get signal are either on top of this damn mountain or the middle of this damn lake, it’s your damn decision,” Ava shrieked.
“Try my phone, maybe we get lucky.”
She tried his cellphone, no luck.
“Before it gets too dark, we must get the hell out of here, let see if you can walk with a crutch. Let me go and find a tree branch for you.”
When she left him to find a stick, he tried to use his phone, he had no signal. He held his ankle tight to suppress the pain thinking of all the equipment and gadgets he purchased on Amazon that could help them in their desperate situation and none was at their disposal now. The car was in sight yet the rising steam blended with pain and cold darkness was blurring his vision. Her long absence worried him.
“Ava, Ava, can you hear me?” he shouted.
He didn’t hear any response.
“Ava.” He screamed louder and this time in agonizing pain.
For a long period of time all he heard was the rustling leaves on branches and hissing noise of the wind. He was growing desperate.
“Ava, where are you honey. Say something.”
There was no sign of his wife. He was now inundated with guilt, anxiety, fear and pain. He did not know what could be done to get out of this predicament.
After about ten more minutes, he heard a tug and a woosh in the forest intertwined with the rustling leaves.
Isaac struggled to stand on his feet but pain caused him to collapse on the rocks.
“Ava, Ava, honey where are you?”
The thought of searching for his wife in the pitch-black woods struck him as an impossible task.
He desperately whistled several times and shouted: “Help, help.”
The lake was now as dark as the sky above. To get signals on his phone, he decided to get in the water as far as he possibly could without getting his phone wet. So, he crawled like an alligator on the rocks causing himself severe pain. When his lower body was submerged in cold water, he held his phone high above his head with his fingertips and dialed 911. No signal. He moved a few meters further inside the lake with no success in calling for help.
Ava could not see anything in the forest. Her face was scratched by the brushes and tree branches and worst of all by the thorns sticking out of the blackberry bushes.
“Help,” she screamed while running.
Isaac heard his wife and dragged himself out of the water and towards her stifled voice in the forest.
“Ava, get out of the there. Run, run...”
A few minutes later she frantically ran out of the dark woods with a stick in her hand. Isaac was holding his ankle moaning in pain.
“Oh, thank God, you’re okay. What happened out there?”
“I don’t know, but I know we’re not alone here,”
“What do you mean by, we’re not alone?” Isaac asked.
“Was anyone out there?”
“I think so.”
“Did he say anything to you?”
“I ran as soon as I sensed someone was in the dark,”
“Are you sure about that? Maybe he was a visitor like us,” Isaac said.
“Who would be dumb enough to lurk in the dark forest at night? Besides, I think he was following me. We need to get out of here. Here, use this stick and try to stand up and let’s move.”
Isaac stood up leaning on his wife and holding the stick under his arm.
She helped him move on the rocky beach with the help of the flashlight of her phone.
“Don’t use the flashlight too much otherwise we’d run out of battery,” he said.
They came across a huge boulder blocking the shoreline and extended a few meters inside the lake.
“Damn, what do we do now? I might be able to walk around it on the dry side but it’s covered with thorny shrubs. I don’t think you can walk through them,” she shrieked.
“Let me think.”
Drops of rain started falling on their heads.
“What the hell should we do now?”
Ava’s words caused him more severe pain than he was already feeling as he knew perfectly well, he and only he was the one to blame for this misery.
“I’m so sorry honey but please, let’s find a way out of this situation first.”
“I can swim around it but what about you?”
“Maybe I can swim around it too with your help.”
“Yeah, we can somehow swim around the rock but what about our cellphones. They’ll get wet,” she said.
“We can’t afford losing our phones, we need them. I have an idea. Why don’t you take both phones and clime up the rock and leave them on the other side of the rock, then come back and help me swim around it?”
“Oh! I have a better idea. I can swim across the lake and get to the car. The straight line through the water is not even a half a mile to the boat launch ramp. Then I can get help.”
“I know you’re a good swimmer but it’s so dark and water is cold. Besides, how do you take the phone to call for help? You would ruin it in the water.”
“I don’t have to take the phone; I drive out of here to get help. Oh, shit; I can’t even do that.”
“The electronic car key would be ruined in the water too.”
“Hum, I guess we have no choice but to walk back to our car. But we must pass this rock first,” he said.
“We will, we don’t have a long way to go if we find a way to pass this obstacle,” she said.
“I have an idea. First you should find two long and slim branches. I might be able to build a device to cross the items to the side of the rock safely. But don’t go too far...”
“I don’t need to go far, there’re lots of long slim twigs behind us.”
She broke off two very long branches and brought them back to her husband.
“Now, what we do?”
“My shirt is wet. Take off your jacket, let’s see if this plan works.”
He placed both cellphones and the electronic car key inside the jacket’s pocket and zipped it closed. Then he tied the jacket sleeves one to the tip of each of the branches.
“Now. I hold one of the branches high against the boulder and you swing the other branch to the other side. When we get to the other side, we pull the other end and remove the jacket.”
After a few attempts, she managed to swing the other leg of the device across the boulder. Now the jacket was sitting on the tip of the tall upside-down V shape device on the top of the rock. One leg of the V was extended to their side and the other leg hanging down from the other side of the boulder.
“We’ll pull down our stuff when we get to the other side. Now help me swim around it.”
She helped him get into the cold water and they waded a few meters inside the lake. The water was too deep to walk, so they both started swimming. As soon as they reached to the end of the rock in the water, she looked back and noticed the V shape device was rattling.
“Oh my God, look, it’s moving.”
He looked back and sure enough the device was shaking as if someone was pulling it down.
“Someone on the other side of the rock is tugging on it to pull it down,” Isaac shrieked.
“Leave it alone, please,” the terrorized couple screamed in unison.
“You swim by yourself. Let me go and kill this son of bitch.”
“No, are you crazy?” he begged his wife.
“I don’t let this maniac terrorize us like that,” she furiously screamed.
She hurried out of the water to reach the other side of the rock. Isaac was crawling out.
“They’re gone,” she screamed.
“What do you mean they’re gone?’ he asked.
“Look, everything we had is gone now. The phones, the car key,” she yelled.
When he finally reached his wife, he saw Ava holding two long branches in the air. The dripping wet couple sat in the cold water in despair. Isaac collapsed on the rocky shore and she wept outload.
“I don’t believe this is happening to us,” she wept.
“He must have heard everything we talked about. He was waiting for us to give him everything. Now he has our car key and not far from our car,” Isaac said.
“What if he is not gone at all,” she whispered to her husband.
Isaac suddenly lowered his voice realizing the horror bound to happen to them if the stalker was sitting in the darkness and monitoring their moves.
“Listen, I don’t think he’s gone. I bet he’s lurking in the woods not far from us right now and watching to see what we do next,” she said with terror echoed in her voice.
“You’re right, he must be watching us and since he’s still here means we’re in bigger trouble than we thought, he’s not through with us,” Isaac said.
“What else does he want from us?” Ava wept.
“I have no clue what else he wants but we must take him down before he can get a chance to hurt us, that I know. We should be the ones who make the first move. We just cannot wait for his attack. Let’s move closer to the boulder, that way he wouldn’t be able to see us,” Isaac said.
They took refuge under the side of the rock in a ditch.
“Go find as many fist-size rocks as you can and pile them up right here next to us to throw at him if he gets close; and find a couple of sturdy sticks too,” Isaac said.
Ava swiftly collected the rocks and the sticks.
“Hey, whoever you’re, please leave us alone.” Isaac shouted.
They heard nothing in response.
“I’m talking to you, what do you want from us?” he shouted again.
Now it was pouring. The couple were soaked hiding in the ditch under the rock. The only way anyone could get close was to walk towards them on the rocky beach.
“I hope you understand now that there is no way we can walk back to the car in our situation,” Ava reasoned.
“You’re right but we cannot stay here either all night and throw ourselves at the mercy of this stalker.”
“Why don’t I go back to the car,” Ava whispered.
“How, he’ll come after you and then me, are you out of your mind? We must not separate”
“Listen to what I’m saying. I can swim to the car. To the boat launch ramp, it’s not even half a mile.”
“But it’s pitch black, how would you do that?”
“Don’t forget that I was in swimming team in college. I can swim there in less than fifteen minutes,” Ava assured her husband. “Don’t you worry, everything will be fine, we’ll get out of here safely,” she continued.
“But you cannot see anything in the water, this lake has a lot of old tree stump sticking out of the water everywhere, especially when you get close to the shore,”
“Do you have a better plan?” she asked.
“The car is locked,” Isaac said.
“I break the window and get what we need, put them in the water proof bag and swim back,” Ava said confidently.
“Can you swim in darkness?”
“Yes, we have no choice, you said it yourself. We cannot sit idle and let him do whatever he wants with us.”
“Well, if you get in the water, he won’t be able to see you leaving,” Isaac said.
“Besides, there is absolutely no way he can get to the car before I do, either by walking or swimming,” Ava said.
“Yes, that’s true but if he finds out that you’ve left, then I would be alone and injured here.”
“Hum, that’s true,”
“Take me with you?”
“What do you mean?”
“I may not be able to walk but I can surely swim. We better stay together. You’re right, if we swim quietly, he wouldn’t know.”
“Good idea. He wouldn’t suspect anything if we left calmly. I help you swim but we need to do it quietly,” Ava said.
“I’ll hang on to that broken tree trunk right there, it would be easier for you to lead me there,” Isaac said.
“We should get going now while it’s pouring,” Ava said.
They waded back in the water; Isaac grabbed on a floating stump and Ava pushed him farther into the lake and started swimming on the other side of the trunk. In about fifteen minutes, they reached the middle of the lake.
“It’s so damn cold,” Isaac was shivering.
“Do you think he can still see us?” Ava asked.
“I don’t think so; why would he want to take the risk and come after us?”
“What do you think he wanted from us?” Ava asked.
“I don’t know. Could you see his face?”
“No, I didn’t dare to look back.”
“Was he alone?”
“I think so.”
“I don’t believe we’re going through this, it’s a nightmare,” Isaac said.
“Just hang on to this trunk. Let me swim in the front now, maybe I can detect rocks and tree stumps before they hit you. Can you see the car from here?” Ava asked.
“It’s too dark, but it must be there unless he has taken it.”
The couple held the tree trunk and slowly swam towards the launch ramp. The torrential rain and gust of wind created waves swinging the couple off course.
“We’re getting close honey, just hang on. Do you still have a lot of pain?” Ava asked.
“Not now because my leg is hanging down in the water and it’s so cold. Now I’m thinking what to do when we get to the other side.”
“Is there any way we can remotely open the doors or turn on the engine without a key?” Ava asked.
“I don’t think so, at least not that I know of. This car can drive itself by radar and everything is automated, the hand brake, the windshield washers but I don’t think it has the keyless entry. The electronic key must be within one meter of the car to unlock the door and start the engine.”
“Is there any way we could contact anyone when we reach the car?” she asked.
“I don’t think so. I know this car came with a service called Toyota Remote Connect app that can unlock the car and start the engine but we must have the app installed on our phone to do that. We have no choice but to break into the car. We’ll figure something out.”
“Yeah, I can see the car now. We’re almost there,” she said.
When they reached the ramp, Ava helped Isaac out of the water. Their car was the only one there. She helped him walk to the bench nearby under a pagoda.
“You sit there and relax, I will break one of the windows and get whatever we need,” Ava said.
She left and, in a few minutes, she walked back with a bag in her hand and a flashlight. They changed into dry clothes. She placed the dry ice packs on the sprained ankle and wrapped it tightly. He took two pain killers.
“search the compartments, we should have a hiking stick in there too,” Isaac said.
The couple finally had their Jambalaya.
“What should we do now?” Ava asked.
“Sooner than later he will find out we’d left; then he would come after us,” he said.
“How long would it take him to hike back here?”
“He probably knows this area better than us; I don’t think it would take him more than one hour to reach us. Our best chance is to lose him in the darkness deep in the woods,” Isaac said.
At the instruction of her husband, Ava packed two backpacks with all the necessary equipment and tools he thought they would need on their hazardous journey through the forest. Both wore their rain coats.
“Ready to go?” Ava asked.
“Before we go, puncture both front tires with the knife,” Isaac asked her.
He then gave the knife to her and she went back to the car to do that.
“We’re ruining my brand-new SUV for this piece of shit,” she shrieked.
“Believe me, we’re much safer if the car is inoperable. Now, he has to come after us on foot. Let’s get going.”
“We have a long way to get to North Bend,” she said.
“Yeah, but only a few miles to the road and another five miles to get to the freeway.”
They walked towards the park exit.
“How do you feel now?” she asked.
“What if he comes after us?”
“We’re not as helpless as we were just a half hour ago on the other side of the lake, I guarantee you that. We can defend ourselves if this bastard shows up. Take the knife out of the backpack and put in your pocket. You must be mentally prepared to defend us if he reaches us. Remember that we’re in a life and death situation so we cannot afford to be compassionate, we must strike first and take him done otherwise only God knows what he would do to us,” He said.
“Don’t worry about that Isaac. I will be as ruthless and vindictive as hell. He ruined our trip, made me damage my own car and took my phone with thousands of photos. Don’t call me Ava tonight, call me Ramba.”
“What the hell is Ramba?”
“Ramba is the female Rambo.”
“Why are you making light of this dire situation Ava, I’m serious,” Isaac shrieked.
“I’m dead serious too,” she responded.
Ava marched ahead, stumping her feet like soldiers in the army with a flashlight in hand and loudly recited:
“I am woman, hear me roar
Cause I've heard it all before
And I've been down there on the floor
No one's ever gonna keep me down again
Oh yes I am wise
But it's wisdom born of pain
Yes, I've paid the price
But look how much I gained”
If I have to, I can do anything
I am strong (strong)
I am invincible (invincible)
I am woman”
Her limping husband followed her lead not knowing how to react to his wife’s sudden jolly mood in such a desperate situation.
“This forest is too dense, we cannot see if there is a house or not,” Ava said.
“Did you hear that?” Isaac asked.
“Yeah I did”
“Is that the guy following us?”
“I don’t think so; it could be an animal, a racoon perhaps,” Ava said.
“No, whatever it is, its walking heavy, it could be a bear,” Isaac said.
“A bear? Do you see it?” Ava asked.
“I think it’s a bear,”
He took out a flare gun out of his pocket. “We have three signal flares.”
“I didn’t know you had a flare gun with you. Why didn’t you shoot a flare before?”
“If I shot a flare, the first person to see it would be the maniac who was chasing you; then he would know we escaped and followed us to here,” Isaac reasoned.
“Stay calm and whatever you do, do not run,” Ava advised.
“Run? How the hell could I run; have you forgotten my injury?”
“Yeah, I’m sorry. Ok, don’t run but don’t shoot the flare gun until it’s very close to us and in an attack mode. The bear doesn’t charge unless it’s threatened.”
“Oh hell, it is a bear, now I can see, look it’s looking at us by that huge broken tree,” Isaac whispered.
They took a few quiet steps backward. Isaac had the gun in his hand.
“Walk back about ten meters and then get the rope out of the backpack and find a tall tree and throw the hook up in the branches; and do it without causing commotion. When the hook got stuck on a branch, tug on it to make sure it’s secure and then climb up. I’ll follow you.”
Ava turned back and gingerly walked farther behind Isaac and threw the hook up high into the tree. The hook got stuck onto a hefty branch of the tree and she struggled to clime the rope. After a few minutes she made it to the top.”
“Now, it’s your turn. Come on,” she whispered.
Isaac calmly retreated while holding the flare gun and monitoring the enemy. The bear however was not moving at all, it was just looking his way and didn’t seem to be interested in charging him. The non-hostile attitude of the bear gave him hope and courage to get out of this predicament safely. As he reached the rope, he stumbled and fell; his loud moaning changed his opponents’ attitude. The bear stretched its neck up in the air and roared, then it huffed a few times and snapped its jaws swatting the ground. The bear first took a few heavy steps and moved his head in all direction and then started running toward him.
“Climb up,” she screamed.
Isaac dropped his stick, put the flare gun in his pocket and grabbed the rope and frantically climbed the rope. When the bear reached the tree and tried to grab the rope’s end, he was up in the tree far beyond the enemy’s reach. He was in excruciating in pain when his wife grabbed his arm to help him secure his position on the branch. The bear was looking up in the tree as if it was saying you’re not out of the woods yet strangers.
Only a few meters up in the tree, the couple’s gaze was fixated on the black bear’s claws. They could feel its rage by the fume spewing out its mouth.
“Now it’s the time to use the gun,” Ava pleaded.
Isaac took out the flare gun and aimed at the bear’s face and pulled the trigger. The frenzy of the explosive sound and the intensity of fire scared the bear and convinced the enemy to flee scene.
The couple took a sigh of relief but they had no courage to get down the tree and out of their sanctuary for a long time.
“We better get down and go,” Isaac said.
“What if the bear is waiting for us?” she asked.
“We cannot stay here all night long besides I don’t think it would come back after the cruel treatment he received from us,” he reasoned.
“I’ll go down first and you follow,” Isaac said.
The couple continued their dangerous journey out of the woods. Ava clutched the knife in one hand and held a long stick in the other. Isaac was limping with the stick and holding the flare gun in the other.
It took them another couple of hours meandering through the dark and wet forest until they reached a county road where they luckily noticed a car approaching. The car stopped and the kind driver offered them a lift. Finally, they were safe in a warm and comfortable environment listening to the soft music.
“I live in this area; I’ll drop you off at the Police Department in North Bend,” The driver said.
“Thank you so much ma’am. You saved our lives tonight,” Isaac said.
“When we get to the police, please let me do the talking. If we say we broke into our own car and slashed our own tires, there is no way in hell, insurance would cover the damages, let’s put the blame on the assailant,” Ava advised her husband as they got closer to their destination.
“Okay honey, I will not say a word, I promise.”
“Do you trust me?” Ava asked.
“Of course; what kind of question is that?”
“Remember, you promised me not say a word regardless of what happens,” Ava reiterated.
When they arrived at the North Bend police department, it was almost midnight. Ava spelled out what they went through the entire night.
“You can stay here till morning and get a rental car to go back home. We’ll investigate and let you know,” the officer said.
“We must go back to our car to see what happened to it, the window is already broken, and our belongings inside the car are not safe, sheriff,” Isaac said.
Ava pinched her husband to keep him quiet. This move went unnoticed by the officer of law.
“That’s fine, you may get a ride with us to the park and wait to get your car fixed while we search the area tomorrow morning. I will send a couple deputies to go there early morning to search around the lake before we arrive. We will get to the bottom of this, we will catch the perpetrator. Sheriff assured the terrorized couple.
The next morning when the couple arrived at the boat launch ramp, sheriff and his deputy circled around the SUV. Ava helped her husband walk to the bench under the shed and walked back to the car.
“I thought you said the car was broken into and two tires were slashed. But your car is not damaged at all and there is no sign of a break in.” The confused sheriff hollered.
“Who told you the car was broken into?” Ava who was now standing next to sheriff asked.
“Your husband did ma’am.”
“Don’t listen to him; he’s making things up, too much drug to subside the pain caused him to imagine things.” She tried to erase what her husband told sheriff.
Isaac was shocked by hearing what the sheriff just said. Ava walked to him and pinched her husband with a dirty look on her face.
“Why you keep pinching me, this is your third time today?” Isaac asked.
“Didn’t you promise me not to say a word, no matter what?” Ava whispered to her husband.
When sheriff walked back to his car to respond to a radio call, the couple walked around their car and inspected everything. Surprisingly the car was not damaged in any way and nothing was missing. No sign of forced entry.
“What the hell is going on here?” Isaac asked his wife.
“Shush, keep your mouth shut otherwise we’ll get in a lot of trouble here,” Ava warned him again. “swear to God if you say a word, I kick your sprained ankle,” she continued in a threatening tone.
“Didn’t you break the window and slash the tires? “Isaac whispered.
“Keep your voice down, I beg of you. I’ll explain everything later, please be quiet and let me do the talking. One more thing my love; would you act crazy and talk Gibberish until I can get us out of this predicament?”
“But why Ava? What the hell is going on?” Isaac could not comprehend.
“Do as I say or we’ll be in trouble with the law. I told you honey; I’ll explain everything later.”
At this time a deputy showed up with a pink bundle in his hand.
“Sheriff, we found this hoodie jacket behind the boulder on the other side of the lake. There were a few items like a car key and two cellphones in one of the pockets,” the young deputy reported and gave the discovered items to his boss.
“Are these yours?” Sheriff asked.
Isaac was astounded seeing their stolen goods.
“Yes, these are ours,” he responded in excitement.
“I thought you said a stranger took this stuff last night as you were trying to cross these items over the boulder, I am perplexed,” sheriff said.
“Well, that’s was what we thought happened, we assumed the guy who was chasing me took these items, I think we were wrong,” Ava said.
“Are you sure you were chased by a stranger in the woods last night ma’am?” sheriff was inquisitive.
“Of course, I’m sure sheriff. Why would I make up such an outrageous story?” Ava defensively shouted.
“If there was a stranger chasing you, and he got a hold of your car key, why wouldn’t he take the car or at lease steal something from inside it?” the suspicious sheriff asked the couple.
“This is the cock and bull story my husband must have told you sheriff? As you can see, he’s all drugged up, the pain killers really messed him up; he was hallucinating the entire night, you can’t believe whatever he says,” Ava reasoned.
“Did you Sir see the stranger who chased your wife?” Sheriff asked Isaac.
“Not with my own two eyes, I saw him with my two horns sheriff. My horns are equipped with a night vision camera, I saw a blood thirsty vampire following my beloved wife,” Isaac was shaking his two index fingers held on his head like horns while sticking his tongue in and out hissing and roaring in the midst of a hysterical laughter.
“I think we better go. I need to take him to a hospital right away, he really needs medical attention.” Ava told sheriff while shaking her head.
“But we must document the incident and file a report ma’am,” sheriff said with conviction.
“Do you really love the paperwork that much sheriff?” Ava asked.
“But this is the protocol ma’am.”
“No need to file a report, no harm done. We’ve been through a lot in the past twelve hours, walking through the wilderness at night, being attacked by a bear and now you expect us to relive the nightmare?” Ava reasoned.
“But the story does not add up.” sheriff argued.
“Are you accusing us of anything sheriff? What have we done? Have we broken any law?” Ava argued.
“No.” sheriff pensively said.
“We’ve been through enough at your lake sheriff, we just want to go back to our lives and have some peace and quiet sir.”
“I am terribly sorry for what happened to you ma’am last night and am so glad everyone is okay, yes you may go and please come back and visit us,” sheriff defensively said.
“One day, a park visitor would confront an angry bear in with a deformed face, that would be the same bear we escaped from. Then maybe you would believe what happened to us last night. But now I need to take care of my husband,” Ava reasoned.
“Yes, of course. Here are your belongings and have a safe trip back home.” Sheriff said.
The couple received their belongings, Ava helped Isaac sit in the car, she sat in the driver’s seat and drove away.
“This is what I call an adventurous expedition,” Ava commented when they were on the freeway.
“Now, you better start talking and tell me everything. I mean it.” Isaac was shouting at his wife.
“Let me ask you a few questions before you fly off the handle,” Ava said in a soothing tone of voice.
“You? You ask me questions? How dare you? You better tell me what happened in the past 24 hours, and don’t leave out an iota. You must spell out every damn detail because I don’t get any of this.”
“Didn’t we have the most exotic experience of our lives my dear?” She asked.
“Yes, I never thought any of that would ever happen to us, my injury, the attacker, our dangerous swim in cold water at night, the escape through the forest, and the damn bear. I cannot believe we went through all these adventures in one night. Our last night was like an action-packed thriller movie I always like to watch on Netflix.”
“A thriller with a happy ending. That’s what counts my love, no harm was done to us, I mean except for your unfortunate sprained ankle…” Ava droned.
“That’s true too, we came out of this ordeal in one piece,” Isaac admitted.
“Was that not a fantastic tale to tell everyone for the rest of our lives?”
“Yes, the whole experience was so bizarre. I just don’t...,” Isaac said.
“We went through a harrowing experience and survived, that’s what matters,” Ava said.
“Yes, but what the hell all these questions have anything to do with what happened to us?”
“Please, don’t ruin the mystery with trivial questions,” Ava said with a smirk on her face.
“Did you have any involvement in what happened last night” Isaac was now in shock.
“How could I?” Ava’s casual approach to the entire ordeal was more self-incrimination than her denials.
“What did you do?”
“Shush my love,” She put her index finger on his lips.
“The stalker, the dangerous swim and our desperate hike in the forest, the bear, oh my God, the raging bear...Did you plan all that?”
“You really are hallucinating. Are you suggesting that I pushed you causing your ankle to sprain?”
“Not that. what about the attacker chasing you? Did you make that up?”
“O’ well, I was really scared…”
“But, no one was chasing you?”
“I thought a stalker would add a little excitement to your injury,” Ava admitted.
“what about the bear attack?” Isaac asked,
“What about it? You don’t think the bear attack was a set up too, do you?”
“I don’t know what to think anymore, after this stunt you pulled,” Isaac said.
“Do you really believe I would spend thousands of dollars to hire a black bear from the zoo, transport it to the forest at night and stage a vicious attack on us in wilderness just to add some dramatic audio-visual effects? Do you really believe I would dare spending that kind of money being married to a cheap man like you?” she chuckled.
“Well, that’s not what I’m saying and I’m not cheap, I’m careful with money.”
“Or maybe you don’t believe it was a real bear trying to maul us last night? You shot the poor animal in the face, didn’t you? Why did you shoot him in the face? That’s my question. Couldn’t you aim at his ass for example? How do you expect this poor animal to mate with jagged scars on his face? Your cruelty altered the bear’s future forever…” she droned.
“You really have such nerve trying to joke your way out of this.”
“You know of course, bears hold grudges and don’t forget people who harm them. After your irresponsible shooting spree last night, we may not be able to go back to this park ever again. Besides, the park and recreation department may ban us from entering all state parks due to your animal cruelty.” She was trying to ease the tension.
“Didn’t you break the window as I told you?”
“I didn’t need to.”
“How the hell did you get in the car without the key?”
Ava took a spare ignition key out of her pocket and gave it to her husband.
“The escape? Oh my God! You planned everything? Didn’t you?”
“The creation of a stalker in the dark forest was the figment of my imagination and that was the key to keep the whole scheme believable. Some elements of the story were planned but the rest was unfortunate turns of event, so, I improvised to make it work.”
“I’m speechless, how could you callously put us through all that?”
“If you’re looking for a thrill, you better be prepared to face the unintended consequences too baby…”
“But we could die, don’t you see that?”
“Technically yes, but we didn’t. What happened to your quest of wild spirit? Adventure and danger do hand in hand…”
“I don’t know what to say to you.”
“You don’t have to say anything now; you can thank me later.”
”But you played me like a Violin.”
“One day you would get a kick out of this,”
“You made up the whole story about the stalker, tricked me into believing we were robbed, and you convinced me to swim in the damn cold water under the rain at night while I was injured...”
“How else could I give you the most adventurous experience of your life? I didn’t plan to go that far but your unexpected injury nudged my imagination. I didn’t expect you to fall and sprain your ankle like a clumsy amateur but when you did; I had to improvise to prevent the entire plot to collapse. The bear attack was another twist I had not anticipated. Believe me, most of what happened to us was not arranged; I just went with the flow and switched into crisis management mode to pull us through.”
“You surely pushed us to the brink of death. I hand it to you, I’m very impressed,” Isaac said.
“And I’m impressed with your patience, discipline, critical thinking, and problem-solving characteristics in the time of crisis,” she complimented her husband.
“Well, thank you.”
“But when it came to physical dexterity and strength, you pooped my love and worse, you almost screwed up the whole production.”
“It was an accident, it could happen to anyone,” Isaac said.
“Can you imagine what would have happened if Amerigo Vespucci sprained his ankle the night before he set sail to discover the New World?”
“Now you’re throwing the Vespucci comment in my face. Oh, that bunches up my panties,” he said.
“Seriously, I know I put us in grave danger and took a lot of risks but to pull us through all that, I paid attention to nuances, stayed focused, worked out the details, and above all, I was innovative. Are these not genuine characteristics of explorers?”
“You’re diabolical. I’d never seen this side of you before, Hum, I like it,”
She turned on the music saved on the USB and turned up the volume.
Oh yes I am wise
But it's wisdom born of pain
Yes, I've paid the price
But look how much I gained”
If I have to, I can do anything
I am strong (strong)
I am invincible (invincible)
I am woman”
Isaac kissed his wife: “I love you.”