The sun begins to drop farther down the sky as night approaches. Claudia’s naivety of the distance she hoped they could cover that day becomes exposed as she realizes it is time to find a spot to stop for the night. The ground she hoped to cover was at least triple the amount of what they actually walked today.
Claudia swivels to face Jasper and says, “Wait here. I’m going to look around for a place for us to sleep tonight.” She bounds off before Jasper has a chance to answer her.
“Hm,” Jasper says to himself. He takes note of how her mouth pursed at the end of her sentence and her brows scrunched together before she took off through the trees.
As he tries to decipher the meaning of these facial expressions he grows tiresome. The act of observing, understanding and then responding to another human being’s story of communication expressed through body language, tonality and cryptic words feels overwhelming to Jasper. The last time he cohabitated with another human was years ago and he feels as if he is learning a forgotten language.
Jasper sighs heavily, and slowly lowers his butt down to a rock while holding steady onto his walking sticks. He lands with a less than graceful drop to the rock, which elicits him to cry out from the pain that shoots up into his tailbone. He doubles over and focuses on breathing.
Jasper sits and watches as the sun drops from the sky and then all the way below the horizon, leaving a pink and purple sky in its place. As he waits, he lets his mind rest and his thoughts blow around aimlessly like a leaf in the wind; being taken this way and that, wherever the wind chooses, and without putting up a fight.
Jasper breathes. Time continues to pass, and with it goes the remaining light. It is only when Jasper becomes aware of how bitterly cold and stiff he is that he begins to grow weary.
Where could she be? Too much time has passed.
More time passes and Jasper gets up to walk around. He cannot sit idle any longer. The already shaky gait becomes worsened by his new tailbone wound. He worries that something happened to the girl.
Is she hurt? Or more likely, did she desert me? She must have decided that I am too much of a liability or burden to help any longer.
“Humph,” he exhales.
The light is almost nonexistent and Jasper is exhausted from the amount of walking they did that day. Although he wants to just set up a shelter right there, his conscience tugs at him and he walks in the direction the girl bounded off in, to make sure she isn’t in any trouble.
He pauses for a moment to drop his walking sticks and open his shotgun to see that it is in fact loaded. He locks it back, walks forward with the gun held out in front of him, leaving the walking sticks behind him in the snow. Each step takes effort without the aid of his sticks, but his focus on what may lie ahead makes him feel stronger and surer with each step he takes that brings him closer to where the girl went off to.
Jasper follows her tracks as they lead him deeper into a thick foliage part of the mountain, making it more difficult to see far ahead. Her tracks lead him straight in one direction for a while, before peeling off to the right. The length and type of print look the same apart from the direction thus far, which keeps Jasper calm.
As he follows her path, he pauses every so often to cock his ear up and listen. He hears nothing and keeps moving. Her tracks take a hard left and then begin zig zagging through the trees.
Something’s not right.
Her tracks lead him to a bush and then back away from the bush. Here is where her tracks get confusing and go in circles until they come to an abrupt end.
Jasper turns around in a circle searching for the impressions in the snow her feet make.
Nothing? This cannot be right.
He looks off to the right and can see the snow does not look the same as it does everywhere else. As he walks towards it, he makes the connection that her tracks were being covered up, perhaps with the use of a branch.
The question is, who covered them up?
Calculated and silent, Jasper follows the close to non existing path.
With alert eyes and ears his awareness is heightened. So as not to make much noise, he controls his breaths to remain steady and quiet. He follows the tampered snow for another 100 yards before it disappears completely. Instinct tells him to look up. Above him are silhouetted tree branches.
“Claudia,” he whispers.
“Shhh!” Is the reply he hears.