Authors: Linda Byler
Table of Contents
HE LEAVES TURNED SHADES
of bright orange, red, and yellow, and the squirrels scurried in short swift trips up the rough bark of the trees. Their cheeks were stuffed full of acorns and nuts which they stashed away in a deep, dark, cozy chamber for their winter nourishment.
Lizzie and Stephen walked together on a Sunday afternoon along a creek, kicking the brown leaves and bending their heads to the stiff autumn breeze. Lizzie wrapped her sweater tightly around her chilled body, crossing her arms in front of herself to keep warm.
“I should have worn a scarf!” she said her teeth chattering.
“Hey, Lizzie, I just had a great thought. Thursday evening I’m going archery hunting again. Would you like to come along?” Stephen asked.
“Archery? Bow and arrow? I can’t shoot a bow and arrow,” Lizzie said.
“No, you don’t have to shoot. Just go along and be with me. There’s nothing quite like it. Honestly. It is the most exciting, the most intense sport there is. To sit in a tree somewhere, waiting quietly until you hear leaves rustling, or maybe spot a reddishbrown color gliding along through the trees, is an incredible experience. Your heart starts thumping so hard you feel like your head will burst. There’s just an unbelievable amount of excitement in all hunting, but archery is my favorite.”
That was quite a speech for Stephen, so hunting must be more than a hobby—closer to an obsession, Lizzie thought.
“How can it be so thrilling? Actually, all you do is sit in the woods,” Lizzie said, still less than enthused.
“No, that’s not true, Lizzie. Come along, and I’ll show you.”
So that was how Lizzie found herself careening across the mountain at breakneck speed in an old, white work van, driven by a friend of Stephen’s. His name was Ryan Gustin, and he was quite a character, speaking the Pennsylvania Dutch dialect as fast as he drove his rattling old van.
Lizzie enjoyed his company, sometimes laughing uncontrollably at his version of a Dutch expression which served to take her mind off the alarming rate of speed he maintained down the winding road. Stephen seemed quite comfortable in the front seat beside him, so Lizzie decided Ryan must be a competent driver if Stephen was so relaxed.
Turning north, they came to a valley between two mountains. Old buildings and beautiful, prosperous farms dotted the scenery, while simple family dwellings sat along the road. The mountains were colored with every brilliant hue imaginable, and Lizzie was content to ride along and enjoy the beauty. She was just starting to become a bit bored and uncomfortable when Stephen yelled for Ryan to stop. This was the place. Ryan stomped on the brakes.
As the van shuddered to a stop, Lizzie peered out of the splattered window at a dilapidated, old, three-story house. Broken shutters hung from single hinges, the porch railing looked as if it had been ripped from its base, and pieces of gray siding lay strewn across the yard. The porch roof gapped where the wind had torn shingles loose.
Lizzie shivered, wondering if the house was haunted at night. She knew there was no such thing, but old, unoccupied houses always gave her the blues. The real, sad blues. Not that she felt depressed. Not the crying blues. Just the kind of blues where the sun was hidden behind a dark cloud in her feelings.
She didn’t really want to get out of the van as she looked a bit timidly at the steep, brush-strewn hillside directly behind the creepy old house. The sloping fields led to dense forest, real mountain woods that suddenly looked quite dark and spooky.
Stephen and the driver were already out, unloading their archery gear, still talking and laughing and having the time of their lives as Lizzie pulled her white cotton scarf tighter under her chin. She sniffed nervously, running a hand hastily across her hair to straighten it.
She wished she had worn some heavy material around her legs, because her thin woolen knee socks were not going to be heavy enough to wade through the unkempt woods. She remembered the hillside along the ridge in Jefferson County and the horrible scratches she and her sisters got every day from the long, spiny raspberry bushes that lined the trail.
She sniffed, squinting nervously to see if she could locate any brambles, but then sighed, gave up, and sat back against the old plastic seat. Stephen would take care of her, she decided, so she would relax.
“Ready?” Stephen stuck his head around the door, extending his hand to help her down. Lizzie took it gratefully, searching his eyes for reassurance. Stephen smiled, and her heart melted as she stood beside him. If your boyfriend was so nice to you, it didn’t take much to believe you could do anything at all.
Ryan strode off in the opposite direction, and Stephen swung his bow under his arm as he headed out. Lizzie followed, determined to be a good sport. She would certainly not be a hindrance to him or hold him back by telling him she was uncomfortable.
Stephen parted the tall weeds as they started the gradual uphill slope. Lizzie grimaced as heavy seedpods slapped her cheeks, raining prickly, granular seeds down the neckline of her coat. She slapped at the heavy pods, shaking the front of her dress to get rid of the itchy feeling, her mouth pressed in a line of determination. She would not grumble or complain, knowing Stephen would not appreciate a whiny girlfriend tagging along.
Stephen stopped after a short distance and said, “Whoa.”
“What?” Lizzie asked, trying to peer around him.
“These brambles are pretty thick here. Think you can make it without getting scratched too badly?”
“I think so,” Lizzie answered, with all the false bravado she could muster.
“I’ll try and hold them for you,” he reassured her.
He must have forgotten about her the minute that statement was out of his mouth. Lizzie found herself in one of the worst situations of her life, trying to hold back a long bramble with one hand, only to rake a thorn across the palm of her hand, while two more long whips with briars intact tore across her thin woolen socks.
Grimly, she untangled herself, putting the injured palm to her mouth as she tried to free her legs by tramping on the briars. As she bent to hold back the brambles, a long vine yanked her hair, pulling horribly as her white scarf slid around her neck. She grabbed quickly to retrieve the scarf and was promptly scratched by another sharp branch.
“Ouch!” she yelled, completely undone by this thorny predicament.
Stephen’s instant response was, “Ssshhh!”
“Why? Why can’t I holler? These brambles are unbearable!” Lizzie wailed, close to tears.
Suddenly retrieving his manners, Stephen mumbled an apology and came to her rescue, holding aside the long spiny branches until they came to the forest’s edge. Lizzie shook her head grimly, smoothing her hair with scratched fingers and adjusting her white head scarf.
“Okay,” Stephen whispered, “step as quietly as you can, and when I come to a suitable tree, I’ll motion for you to follow.”
“F … f … follow?” Lizzie whispered back, aghast.
“Yeah. Up the tree. We have to sit in a tree so the deer don’t see us.”
“I can’t climb trees!” Lizzie hissed, her eyes narrowing.
“Pine trees are easy. Now be as quiet as you possibly can.”
That was how Lizzie found herself halfway up a scaly pine tree, positioned so that she had the same view Stephen did. The bark was rough and very uncomfortable. She sat on the side of her leg, holding onto a branch beside her. The first five minutes weren’t too bad. She rested from the strenuous climb, breathing in the pine tar and admiring Stephen’s profile as he stood alert and absolutely motionless in the tree, waiting breathlessly for the sight of a deer.
The wind swayed the branches as Lizzie strained to see through the thick growth. It would definitely be exciting to see a deer with huge antlers come walking across the pine needles, but who knew when that might happen? Deer roamed acre after acre of woods, but having one walk in front of you seemed about as possible as finding a needle in a haystack, so what was the sense of sitting in this tree? The deer were probably all on top of the mountain or in some farmer’s cornfield having a bedtime snack.
Her leg ached and her arm became very stiff, so she shifted her weight to her other leg. Instantly, a small branch broke loose, rattling down through the pine boughs with the noise of a shotgun, or so it seemed.
“Sorry!” Lizzie hissed.
Stephen drew his eyebrows down. “Shhh!” he warned, putting a finger to his lips.
Boy, he was serious. All right, she would be more careful. So she sat quietly. And sat. And sat. Her nose itched, her feet hurt, her whole leg was numb, and still she sat. The sun slid behind the opposite mountain, casting long shadows through the thick forest, and still she sat.
This is a lot worse than council meeting or communion or sitting at Emma’s wedding, she thought grimly. A hard bench would seem like a recliner if you compared it to this pine tree. Sitting like this for hours in a darkening woods would be a good form of torture if you wanted to force someone to talk. She would gladly say anything to get out of this tree.
She tried shifting her weight to the opposite side as slowly and quietly as she possibly could, loosening some bark in the process. She looked at Stephen beseechingly, but he only frowned seriously. She groaned inwardly. She wished she had never agreed to go hunting with him. It was the most uncomfortable, boring thing she had ever done in her entire life. She hated hunting and was never, ever going to get herself in this predicament again.