From Wanted: An Honest Man
(EXCERPT #1 A holiday scene in which teachers Lindsey and Laura take a winter hike at the Grand Canyon.)
Huddling on the icy, narrow trail made them feel even colder. The women knew they should keep going, keep moving, but they crouched in the darkness instead, holding each other tightly as the velocity of the wind increased and the temperature fell.
“Did you hear that?” Lindsey whispered into Laura’s ear.
“Hear what? All I can hear is the howling of the wind whipping around the canyon walls. That, and my heart beating way up in my head.”
“No. Come on, Laura. Listen. I think I hear something. It sounds like singing.”
They paused and listened hard, then Laura nodded slowly. “You know, I think I hear it, too. Either we’ve lost our sanity, or we’re dead. We must be dead. We couldn’t be insane. Not us.”
“No,” Lindsey agreed. “But I don’t want to be dead. Not yet. I saw ‘Our Town,’ and the dead were lifeless. Pain-free, but lifeless.”
Laura snorted. “Brilliant deduction, Linds.” “But I don’t want to be insane, either.”
“I’ll take insane over dead any day,” said Laura. “They have medication for insanity. There’s no pill for dead.”
“Well, we may not have a choice,” Lindsey said, sitting taller. “I hear Christmas carols. Maybe we’re dead and the song is being sung by our angel.”
They sat silently for a few moments, getting colder by the second, listening intently for their angel, a hiker, anyone that could help. Then the blustering, wintry gale suddenly stopped, producing a vacuum of stillness. Delicate snowflakes danced down from the sky, weaving a soothing, white blanket that would cover up and tuck the women in for the night.
Keeping track of time in this dangerous, wintery setting was impossible, but the sound of singing emerged again. Their angel’s footsteps crunched on the ice and snow as it approached, and the voice grew louder.
“Now the ground is white. Go it while you’re young. Take the girls tonight and sing this sleighing song.”
But an angel would not have crunching footsteps or be singing Jingle Bells, especially the second verse.
“Someone’s coming,” Lindsey exclaimed, shaking Laura. “We’re not dead. Wake up!”
They both began to shout. A bright light shined directly into their eyes, nearly blinding them momentarily, then a man appeared.
“What the—” he began to say, obviously surprised by what he saw.
“Can you help us to the top?” Laura cried.
“Sure, but … why are you just sitting there? You’re going to freeze to death. You’ve got to keep moving.”
“Please, no lectures,” Lindsey begged. “The slush turned to ice, we kept slipping and …”
The stocky, heaven-sent stranger got right to work. He crouched down to them, then gave each a sip or two of brandy. The women appeared to be coming around, their mental aptness returning, though physically their bodies were still dangerously cold and painfully stiff.
“Well, no wonder you can’t get up the hill,” he muttered. “You’re not wearing crampons. You should always take crampons when hiking the canyon in the winter. Always! Here, I’ve got an extra pair. That will help one of you get up the trail, anyway. Ladies, on your feet. March in place for a minute.”
He took charge like an army sergeant: no humor, and all business. Lindsey was grateful for that. She didn’t feel the least bit like laughing.
“You, the taller one,” he said, pointing to Laura. “Let’s get the crampons on your feet. You will make it to the top. It’s not that far from here. Just go one step at a time. Plant your foot firmly and make sure it has a good grip before lifting your other leg. You can do it.”
He handed her an extra flashlight and explained that they’d be just a few steps behind her. Lindsey was smaller, and therefore more affected by the elements. Without crampons, she’d continue to slip and slide on this steep, dangerous part of the trail, so he placed her in front of him to keep her from slipping backward.
“We’re going to have to synchronize our steps,” he told her. “Don’t worry. This will work. Left foot first,” he instructed.
They headed up the path like a very short centipede, with Lindsey about a foot ahead of him, his hands on her waist. This arrangement worked for about ten paces. Lindsey warmed up a little, which caused her hands and feet to tingle and sting as the circulation crept through her shivering body. Then she slipped on an icy patch and skidded back into the stranger, nearly knocking him down. His strength, the gripping crampons, and his determination to get her up the trail all held fast. He quickly and carefully put both strong arms around her waist, held her tightly to him, and spoke firmly.
“It’s okay. You’re all right. The trail’s slicker than I thought. So let’s try it this way for a while.”
“Thanks,” was all she could say. She felt suddenly safe and even a little warm, wrapped in his arms, pressed firmly against the full length of his sturdy body. Who was this helpful stranger, this mysterious angel? It didn’t matter. For the moment he was her very own knight in shining armor, the prince saving her from a fate far worse than sleeping for a hundred years.
* * *
Blindsided by his words, she had some words of her own. “You’re not taking that dog anywhere. He belongs with me, can’t you see that?”
Her sadness threatened to return as Jake led Wendell to the door. Wendell was usually picky with strangers, but he didn’t seem to mind going with this young man. She found that very interesting.
“Jake?” Lindsey called softly. “Do you think you could steal him again sometime?”
After a long pause, Jake and Wendell turned. They looked at each other then back at Lindsey; they both were smiling. It looked rehearsed. Like something from a movie or the seal show at Sea World. If she hadn’t been so sad about their departure, she’d have laughed. Instead, she waited. She knew what Wendell’s answer would be, but he didn’t seem to be the one in charge.
Then it hit her… the epiphany! She stepped up and became the one in charge. Something she should have done well over a month ago.
“He’s my dog, always has been.” She called Wendell to her side. “Good-bye, Jake.”
“What am I going to tell the owners, especially the lady? She will be furious!”
“She doesn’t know that you took him tonight, right?”
He gave an affirmative nod. “But I dog sit for those people. Once they notice he’s gone, they will ask me if I’ve seen him.”
“I pride myself in being an honest man. That’s what!” He looked worried as she slowly closed the door.
* * *