The Middle of Somewhere
Author:Sonja Yoerg

“Oh, here they are.” He bent to strap on the shoes. “My feet are killing me. What movie?”

Liz continued to point at the man, so when Dante finally finished with his shoes, he’d know whom to look at. The man sat on a rock in the Thinker pose and rubbed his hip with his free hand. He seemed to be reminding himself to refrain from betting on a day never getting worse.

“The movie we saw last week. He played the dumb cop.” She shrugged at the man in apology.

He raised his hand. No offense taken. “Matthew Brensen,” he said. “Just to end the suspense.”

“That’s right!” she said, then caught herself. “Of course, you would know that.”

“I would.”

Dante walked over, introduced himself and Liz, and shook Matthew Brensen’s hand. The actor was not a big star—he’d never win an Oscar—but was famous enough that his embarrassing moments had a better than even chance of ending up on Entertainment Tonight.

Brensen said, “Aren’t you going to ask me what I’m doing out here?”

“Having a bad day?” Liz offered. The excitement of a celebrity sighting was wearing off. She was tired and wanted to eat dinner before it got any darker and colder.

He nodded sadly. “I let my fucking agent sign me up for a lead in a goddamn backpacking movie. Smart, right? But, okay, I go with it. Expand my scope and all that horseshit. Then the director says I need to find out what it’s like.” The anger flared in his voice again. He spread his arms wide. “So here I fucking am. And you know what it’s like? It fucking bites!”

Dante nodded sympathetically. Brensen pulled out his phone, and cursed when he couldn’t get a signal. Over their heads the sky was chambray blue, fading to pale pink at the horizon. The setting sun cast an amber glow on the distant peaks. A handful of deer had gathered in the meadow, heads low.

“Tell you what,” she said to Brensen. “Dante’s about to have a cold bath in a saucepan. You’re more than welcome to join him.”

? ? ?

The next morning, as soon as she judged it light enough, Liz crept out of the tent, leaving Dante dead to the world. Their body heat had warmed the interior; leaving it was like walking into a freezer. She pulled her fleece hat from the pocket of her down jacket and slipped it on, tugging it over her ears.

She poured water from a Nalgene bottle into the pot—the only one—and lit the stove. The quarter-sized circle of blue flame hissed, and she smiled. Morning in the mountains. She climbed a nearby granite shelf to get a better view, her thighs complaining about yesterday’s hike.

No questioning how Sunrise Camp got its name. The meadow stretched two miles in front of her, cast in near darkness, but the sun had found the Cathedral Peaks, painting them a warm orange, a promise for the coming day. The air was completely still, her breath in her ears the only sound. It was morning distilled, the sun rising on a quiet world, a mute witness. To Liz, it was both the oldest miraculous event, and the newest. This one belonged to her, and she to it.

She swallowed hard and shivered. Hugging herself, she descended to the campsite. The water would be ready. Coffee beckoned.

While Dante slept on, she prepared for the day. She retrieved the bear cans from where they had stashed them last night. The cans were large bear-proof plastic cylinders in which the Park Service required they store all their food, toiletries and trash. Liz and Dante each carried one, which, with careful planning, could hold food for ten days. Although, as Dante pointed out, not the food you really wanted and not enough of the other kind either.

Numb with cold, her fingers fumbled with the catches on the lids, so she used a spoon handle to open the cans. She rehydrated milk for granola and set aside the food they’d eat during the day (energy bars, trail mix, wax-wrapped cheese and dense bread) so the bear cans could stay inside the packs. After she drank her fill of water, she went to the standpipe and refilled the bottles. Brensen’s pack rested against a tree. Next to it lay a gigantic larvae—Brensen in his bag. Only the top of his hat showed. He’d been too pissed off to bother with his tent, a fine decision as long as it didn’t rain.

She returned to their site, stuffed her sleeping bag into its sack and deflated her air mattress. As she worked, the line dividing dark from light marched across the meadow. She looked at her watch. Seven thirty. Time to wake Sleeping Beauty.

Dante had never been a morning person, and he certainly wasn’t going to be a convert this morning. The sleeping bag was warm, he mumbled from inside, and his legs and shoulders felt as if he’d been pummeled by a prizefighter during the night.

“Wasn’t me,” she said, cheerfully. She reminded him that today was mostly downhill.