Dust puffs up with each fat drop’s impact on the ground. In an instant the moisture is gone. I smell the rain, or rather the dust made wet by the rain. It’s a clean, warm, life-giving smell. It smells like hope. I have to shield my eyes against the sun setting under the heavy clouds as I pick out the path ahead. The moment of respite is welcome, but I can’t stop for long. I’m chased and chasing. If I don’t make it up the mountain in time… I don’t even want to imagine what could happen. But behind me the General’s men are even now finding my trail and zeroing in on me. They won’t be gentle when they find me. Rhythmic thunder pulses in the distance.
Most people would call what I did stealing. Most people would also call it justified. I don’t think the General cares about “most people.” But I didn’t have anywhere else I could get to in time, so I had to go to him. He trusted me once. That’s all in the past now. My thieving made sure of that. I chose to disobey him. I chose to leave. I chose a different way.
I settle the pack onto my shoulders and push on up the hillside. I have knowledge on my side. The General’s men are new to this mountain and must go slowly. I’ve lived here since I can remember. Trees and stones were my first friends and lifelong companions. I greet them by name as I pass and thank them for guiding me home. I don’t even allow myself to wonder if the home is still there for me.
As the sun sets I make out the soldier’s lights in the forest below. They are fanned out in a typical formation groping forward slowly, but sure of their progress. It will take them the rest of the night to get to the top. I hope to be there in an hour.
Despite my familiarity, the trees can’t make my legs stronger or my lungs more able to draw in air. I’ve been hiking through the hot, high desert for over thirty hours with little water and no food. The meager drizzle stirred some life in me, but it can’t cover over such a multitude of sins.
Steps become stiff, wooden. I will my leg to move and then the other. My world constricts down to only my feet on the darkened path. One step and then another. Stopping would be final, fatal. I keep moving, an animated corpse. But eventually the ground starts to level. It takes my benumbed mind a few minutes to realize the import. I’ve reached the top. I am steps away from the cabin. I am steps away from her and soon she’ll be okay.
I break into a trot, using my newfound strength, when I reach the broad clearing around the cabin that had seen every major event in my life. I’ll be by her side in moments and moments after that she’ll start to recover. When I am maybe fifty yards from the front door I notice an odd, dark lump behind the cabin. Dread wells up inside me. That is the General’s helicopter.
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