The Path Off the Road

Cali could never pride herself with being a person with internal GPS. In fact, she had a tendency of getting lost. But this challenge seemed simple. Her new friends let her out on this road and told her she had one hour to follow it home. They said it was like an initiation; each one of them had undergone it. They warned her not to deviate from the road at any time, no matter what.

Cali peered down the wide, newly-paved black road that seemed to stretch right through the heart of the season-changing forest. If the road led home, there was no reason to deviate from it anyway. It would be like following the yellow brick road.

She began to walk, imagination keeping her company, spending most of the first fifteen minutes playing out scenarios and wondering about this initiation. She wondered if she would be rewarded for passing it, if a party or some sort of celebration awaited her back home. So far the road was uneventful. No cars, barely any sounds, only distant bird songs. The sun was high overhead, the temperature comfortable. This would be an easy hour.

A few yards ahead, Cali observed a deer bound out the trees from one side of the road to the other. Then another and another. Ten deer had shot across the road by the time she made it to the spot. Cali stopped and peered through the woods wondering what–or who–they were fleeing from.

It dawned on her it was the start of hunting season and she increased her pace, praying she wouldn’t become a hunting accident. All was quiet for the next fifteen minutes, then a flock of birds swooshed out the trees. After that, all the woods stirred with activity and unidentifiable sounds. Foliage rustled as nature’s residents dashed through them. There had been no gunfire, so what was spooking the animals?

A sliver of fear swept over Cali as her imagination created new scenarios. What if there was a bear or a mountain lion? She quickened her pace, cursing her friends for dropping her off in the middle of nowhere, cursing herself for letting them.

A squawking cry nearly jolted her out her skin and she froze, swallowing the lump she was sure was her heart, then sprinted. Cali ran until her lungs burned, then slowed to a brisk pace. A realization crept up her spine and made her shiver. She hadn’t seen any other vehicles since her friends dropped her off nor a single road sign. She looked behind her and before her. Just road, straight, unending.

She sighed heavily when she looked at her watch and realized she’d been walking on this lonely road for almost forty-five minutes. No way would she make it home in the next fifteen minutes. Would her friends come for her? This initiation now seemed like a cruel joke.

Fighting to quell the dark turn of her imagination, Cali pushed on. Home was her destination; she will focus on getting there… and giving her friends a piece of her mind. The crunching of leaves startled her and when she swung her head toward the sound, she spotted a narrow path appearing well-trodden. She checked her watch: ten minutes left. Cali stood there peering back and forth between the road and the trail, acutely aware of the seconds ticking by.

It’s impossible to make it home in ten minutes if I stay on this road, she reasoned. But if I take the trail and my friends come looking for me, they won’t know where to find me.

Cali knew no more about the trail than she did the road, but the compressed earth convinced her that it bore many travelers. Maybe I’ll find someone along the way, she thought.

Steeling herself, she turned off the road, headed down the path and hoped for the best. When her hour elapsed, she heard a car. Cali shrieked and dashed back toward the road, heart pounding, arms waving, hoping to flag down the car, but the more she ran, the farther she seemed from the road.

When her friends called out to her, Cali’s heart nearly plummeted and she ran harder, wildly flailing her arms and screaming out to them. They kept calling out to her, their cries shrill and frantic. Cali screamed until her throat bled and ran until her lungs nearly burst.

But never did she make it back to the road. Never did she make it home.

©D.L. Lunsford

D.L. Lunsford

Saying a lot with few words.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.