The Middle of Somewhere
Author:Sonja Yoerg

She tried to keep the irritation out of her voice and pointed to the downstream trail. “It’s this way.”

“Really?” the older brother said. “I was sure it was the other way.”

The younger one added, “Thanks for saving us the mistake.”

“No problem,” Dante said, waving.

They started off again. Before the trail veered to the left, Liz looked over her shoulder. The older brother stared in her direction. Given the distance, she couldn’t be certain, but she thought she detected a smirk on his face.





CHAPTER TWO





At six thirty, the sun hovered above the horizon, and they stopped for the day. The campsite overlooked Long Meadow, a vast expanse ringed with pines. The Echo Peaks and Matthes Crest stood guard in the distance. Tawny grasses in the meadow awaited the first precipitation since early May, and the tops of the peaks had lost their snow.

Dante groaned as he lowered his pack to the ground, then sat on a fallen log to take off his boots. Liz unpacked the tent and began clearing pinecones and other debris from the rectangle she’d chosen for their shelter.

“How are your tootsies?”

He crossed his ankle over his knee and examined the damage. His boots were new, as was the rest of his gear and clothing, but unlike everything else, he’d refused Liz’s advice on which boots to buy. She agreed that his choice, Italian Zamberlans, were fantastic boots, but doubted he would have time to break them in and suggested he pick a lighter, more modern style he could wear off the shelf. He’d ordered the Zamberlans, and she had packed plenty of moleskin.

“Several, but not all, of my toes have sore spots.” He pointed out the red areas and turned his foot over. “And this looks perhaps like a blister on my heel.”

Liz unfurled the groundsheet with a snap. Blisters on Day One. Not a good start. “Tomorrow morning please mole-ify all of them.”

“Okay, Mama.” He sniffed his underarm. “I smell like a pig!”

“Well, you’re in luck. I read there’s a standpipe nearby because of the High Sierra Camp. We don’t have to filter water, and if you carry it away from the pipe, you can wash, too. Luxurious, huh?”

“Yes. It’s wonderful that, after today’s efforts, I will be treated to a bath in a saucepan.”

“A cold bath in a saucepan.”

“Of course.”

She clipped the tent ceiling to the arc of the central pole, then fitted the crosspiece through the grommets, forming the roof. “Ta-da!” She’d hoped Dante would clap, but he continued to worry his toes.

A hiker came around a stand of trees a dozen yards away. Though the light was failing, he wore sunglasses and had trouble finding his way. He wasn’t anywhere near the trail.

“Hey, there!” She waved at him. “Are you lost?”

“Maybe.” He took a step, caught his toe on a log and stumbled a few steps before righting himself. She guessed he was orienting by sound. “I’m looking for the High Sierra Camp.”

“Oh, lucky you. I hear those camps are swank.”

Probing delicately, he took baby steps toward them. “I hope so. I just learned about it today.”

Dante looked up from his podiatric pity-party and addressed Liz. “Why aren’t we staying there?”

“Because we’re stoic.” She noted Dante’s pout. “Well, some of us are. Besides, you have to reserve months in advance.”

The man stopped dead. “Are you shitting me?” He unclasped his hip belt and threw the straps off his shoulders as if they were the strangling arms of a rabid orangutan. The pack hit a boulder with a crunch of metal and glass.

Liz said, “Was that a camera?”

The man ignored her and she regarded him with concern. She couldn’t figure out why he hadn’t taken off his sunglasses, nor could she fathom why anyone who seemed so unhappy about roughing it would be backpacking alone. Dante, at least, had a reason for being here, even if he had no clue what he was getting himself into. She had tried to warn him, but when he began to take her warnings as evidence for her lack of feelings for him, she backed off. But this stranger was another story. Why would he put himself through this? Did he lose a bet?

The man kicked his pack several times, shouting, “I’m gonna kill him! I’m gonna kill him!” with each kick. Spent, he staggered in a small circle, tripped on a rock and came down hard on his hip. “Goddamn fucking rocks everywhere!”

Dante jumped up to help him but realized he was barefoot and sat again. He didn’t do barefoot. “Are you okay?”

The man had lost his sunglasses in the self-induced fray and was searching for them on his hands and knees.

“Are you visually impaired?” Liz asked, thinking the impairment was more likely mental.

For some reason, this question calmed him. He looked straight at her.

“Oh!” She pointed at him and couldn’t help jumping up and down in excitement. “You’re that guy!” She turned to catch Dante’s eye so he could verify her I.D., but he was digging in his backpack. “Dante!”

He didn’t look up. “What? I’m trying to find my camp shoes.”

“It’s that guy! The one in the movie!”