By: Ann Christine Tabaka
Sally was bored, she thumbed her fingers as she sat at her computer desk staring out of the window, watching the newly emerged green leaves dance in the wind. She could not think of anything to write. She had been experiencing Writer’s Block for almost a month now. None of her recent work was getting published, and she needed to think of a new way to write. No matter what she started, it did not seem to pan out. She was really stuck this time. She tried new subject matters, doing endless research on historical people and events, she even tried a new style, but nothing was pulling together for her. Maybe it was time for her to quit writing for good. At seventy, she had already retired from her career in chemistry and was hoping that writing would be her new avocation. Maybe she just wasn’t cut out for this.
After sitting for over an hour, Sally finally got up to stretch her legs and move around. She was tired of wasting time, and might as well get some housework and laundry done. Sally shut down her computer and left the room. It was a lovely spring day, maybe she would take a walk through the nature center across the road when she finished her chores. Nature always cheered her up, and many times sparked her imagination. So, after tackling her To-Do List, Sally decided to drive the half-mile over to the nature center. The back roads were too narrow and dangerous to try to walk on. Sally parked the car and started off on one of the many trails.
The bright sun filtered through the lush green leaves was angled just right. It had a marbled effect that reminded Sally of a watercolor painting. After walking for about twenty minutes, she reached the top of the hill. She loved following the ‘Succession Trail’ that wound up the side of the hill in ‘switchback’ curves. Even though it was not a huge hill, it was getting harder for Sally to climb at her age with her arthritic joints. It hurt, but she always felt so good when she finally made it to the top, and could look down over the acres of dreamy forests and meadows that filled the nature center. She decided to lie down in the tall grass and watch the clouds overhead. She imagined all sorts of objects and beasts in the shapes that slowly floated by. She became sleepy as she watched each cloud morph from one shape into a new image. Some stretched out into thin whisps and eventually vanished; while others collided and formed larger beasts, pirate ships, and abstract shapes.
Sally became drowsy and started to drift off while lying in the warm evening sun. She awoke with a start as the chill of late evening touched her bare arms. It was getting dark enough that Sally was concerned about finding her way back down through the winding wooded path. She cursed herself for forgetting to charge her cell phone before she left home. The cell had a flashlight feature that could have helped her find her way back to the parking lot where her car was.
As it grew even darker, Sally started to panic. There was no hope for a full moon to help guide her that night. Touching each tree trunk, reading the bark like braille, she slowly inched down the trail. She started to sing softly, trying to calm her nerves. “This is going to take forever,” she said to herself in a huff. Just then, she heard a noise. Her blood chilled and she froze in her steps. Her heart pounded so loudly, she felt as if it might burst out of her chest. She tried to comfort herself, telling herself it was just a woodland animal, and nothing to be afraid of. She knew there were owls, racoons, and fox in the area. She was bigger than all of them, and smarter – she hoped. There had been rumors of a family of coyote in the vicinity, and of one stray bobcat, but she never saw either of those herself.
After a few minutes of standing perfectly still and barely breathing, Sally decided to start down the trail again, but this time she didn’t sing, not wanting to bring attention to her whereabouts. Sally heard a noise again, this time louder and closer. Just then a large barred owl swooped down right over her head. She ducked and fell to the ground. She went rolling down off the trail and into the woods. She was frightened, but also angry at herself for being afraid of an owl. Sally tried to get up, but realized she had hurt her ankle and her wrist when she tumbled. Again, she cursed herself, “Why on earth would an old lady go hiking alone in the woods so late in the evening?”
Disheveled, she stood up and tried to limp back down to find the path. She grumbled the entire way since she was in pain. Sally was only about half way down the switchback trail, and nowhere near the parking lot when she saw a light coming towards her. Her imagination started to run wild. Was it an escaped convict, a monster, or an extraterrestrial? She tried to control her fears and not cry. Then a male voice called out “Hello! Who is there? Can I help?” Sally wasn’t sure what to do. Pulling herself together, she finally decided it was better to reply than to remain in the woods alone, and in pain all night. She called out “Yes, I fell and I am injured. I can’t find my way back to my car in the dark.” Then he appeared in her view. He was a kind looking man of about her age. He had a large flashlight in one hand and his cell phone in the other.
He said “Hi, I am George. I am one of the grounds keepers here. I live in the Caretakers House by the entrance. I was getting ready to put up the chain to close off the parking lot for the night, when I saw a car still in the lot. I decided I better check things out in case someone was up to mischief.” Sally sighed a huge sigh of relief and introduced herself. She told George that she lived close by, and had come for a walk, but she fell asleep on the hill while watching the clouds. She had not meant to stay so late. George laughed and told her that he would assist her back to her car. She put her arm around his shoulder and leaned into him, while hobbling the rest of the way to the parking lot. George and his flashlight were a lifesaver to her.
At the parking lot, George asked Sally if she was okay to drive home. She said yes that it was her left ankle that was injured, and she only lived five minutes away. Sally thought twice about that, and hoped that she would not regret turning down George’s kind offer to have her come in to the Caretaker’s House until she felt more comfortable and less pain.
Once safe at home, Sally cleaned herself up from all the leaves and dirt that she had rolled into when she fell. She made herself a cup of hot tea and sat down at her computer. Her cat jumped up onto her lap and purred. She looked down at him and said, “Tristan, I think I have a story to write now. I am just not sure if I want to incorporate faeries, talking foxes, ghosts, or a handsome man as my rescuer.” Tristan looked up at her wisely and meowed. Sally replied “Yes, I agree. So, talking foxes it is!”
Ann Christine Tabaka was nominated for the 2017 Pushcart Prize in Poetry. Winner of Spillwords Press 2020 Publication of the Year, has been internationally published, and won poetry awards from numerous publications. Her bio is featured in the “Who’s Who of Emerging Writers 2020 & 2021,” published by Sweetycat Press. She is the author of 14 poetry books. She Christine lives in Delaware, USA. She loves gardening and cooking. Chris lives with her husband and four cats. Her most recent credits are: The Scribe; World of Myth; Literary Yard, CommuterLit; The Stray Branch; CafeLit; Breaking Rules Publishing; Piker Press, The Academy of the Heart and Mind; The Black Hair Press (Unravel Anthology, Apocalypse Anthology, Hate Anthology); The Siren’s Call (drabbles); Potato Soup Journal: 10-word stories.