by Laurel King
Tara didn’t have any idea where she was when she woke up. The pole pines leaned in over her as if investigating the situation. She wasn’t sure she could move and was afraid to try. Her neck was stiff—that much she knew without even moving. She tried to see to the top of the trees but they disappeared in the fog. No matter—she could tell they were benevolent. All trees where, really, but some tended toward indifference. These were not indifferent trees, she could tell, by the way they leaned in.
Take me to your leader. The line swirled through her head like some science fiction movie. Tara laughed, which really hurt her head. She wasn’t quite right, she knew, but at least she was with it enough to realize that.
The trees watching over her were so powerful; it really was if they were protecting her. But from what? Or whom? Then she remembered Hilda. Where was Hilda? Hilda had been her great protector since Tara had rescued her from a shelter eight years ago. Hilda liked to follow her nose at times but she never left Tara’s side for more than a few minutes at a time. Tara tried to quiet her worrisome mind in order to listen for Hilda. Her hurting head seemed only able to process one thing at a time. She closed her eyes; the only sound was the creaking of the trees as they leaned in toward her. Hilda, she tried to call, but her voice was lost somewhere within her throat. Hilda come! Tara shivered, the coolness of the morning and the seriousness of her situation both sinking in at once. Hilda, I need you….
Tara slowly opened her eyes and tried to explore her situation without moving the rest of her head. The sun was beginning to cut through the fog, and though she was chilled from what she guessed had been a whole night on the ground, with no protection but her t-shirt and jeans, the sun seemed to be promising a hot day ahead. She had to figure out where she was. She had to remember.
She closed her eyes again and breathed deeply, gently prodding her memory. She didn’t remember where she was; she didn’t remember how she got here. What was the last thing she remembered? Her stomach growled, offering the clue that it had been quite some time since she’d eaten. Pasta. Pasta with fresh grape tomatoes, garlic and basil. Yes, she remembered! Fresh French bread and good red wine, sitting across the table from Ryan. Ryan! Where was he? She didn’t think he had come out here with her, wherever “here” was. Hilda yes, Ryan no.
Even though it was summer she had decided to wear long pants that morning—well, it must have been yesterday morning— to protect herself from ticks. She lifted her left foot up slightly—good, that seemed to be working fine—and saw she was wearing her hiking boots; good again, that fit with the story.
The boots. She remembered tying her boots in the semi-dark of the hotel room so she wouldn’t wake Ryan. They were in a hotel because…they were on vacation. They were headed out to Seattle…. Was she in Seattle now? Ryan was in Seattle. Yes, Ryan had gone into Seattle without her, to take care of some business with his ex-wife and she and Hilda had gotten an early start on exploring one of the state parks near Mt. Rainier. She and Ryan would hike Mt. Rainier together, after the business with his wife was out of the way.
Remembering all this had taken so much energy that Tara almost fell asleep again. Then she remembered Hilda. She could mentally trace her movements back as far as pulling into the parking lot at the trail head and Hilda bounding out of the passenger’s seat. No, she remembered locking the car and putting the key in her pocket. She patted her side pocket now, and yes, there was the key. But where was Hilda? She would have never left her without good reason. Hilda! Hilda! Hilda!
“Hilda!” Her voice croaked but at least it was there. “Hilda!” The effort to summon her voice made her feel nauseous, so she gave it a rest. A breeze blew through the forest and the trees swayed over her. It was as if they were gently echoing her: Hil-da…Hil-da… Hil-da….
“Hello, Tara.” Hilda licked her cheek. “I’m so glad you could join me.”
Pieces Inspired by this Image
'The Evil That Men Do...'
'The Family Tree'