I crunched into an apple as I turned down the main drag and made a left at Notch 8 and on out to Ponderosa State Park. I paid the fee at the toll booth and the black and white striped barricade lifted for me to pass. I gave the short gal a wave of thanks and then followed the familiar road through the campground. Instead of taking a left to go where we had always met for family reunions, I stayed straight. That road led me to an area where the trees were so tall and thick they blocked out the sunlight and cast the area in shade.
Not really sure where my destination would be, I came up on a curve in the road that sloped slightly downhill. There was a make-shift parking lot to my left littered with cars. Images flashed through my mind. This was the cliff-jumping site.
“Oh my…I haven’t been here forever!” I breathed being swarmed with memories of sun drenched rocks and kids squealing in fun while jumping into the cool waters below. I even jumped once as I held tight to the hand of my husband.
He was so patient with me that day, I was decked out in a wetsuit to stay warm, the heat of the day making the water enticing. I stood there frozen with fear. Natural bodies of water just freaked me out. I loved looking at them, not a fan of being in them. So my legs were shaking as I sat perched on a rock about eight feet up, if that. I practiced plugging my nose and holding tight. The anticipation of the butterflies all the way down about made me sick. Little kids, maybe four and five years old, wanted to go and they waited for me to just jump. I could feel them mocking me, a grown woman, who was so afraid to take that one step off the edge.
I laughed and stepped to the side and they climbed up the face of the rock and just plopped right in. We waited for them to make it out of the way and I finally jumped. I never let go of his hand. Not even the strength of the water when we hit could tear us apart. I bobbed to the top and saw him there waiting for me, a smile stretching his face from ear to ear with pride.
“I’m proud of you, baby!” he laughed and swam behind me as I shook all the way back to the stability of the rocks.
I jumped once more that day, still holding tight to him. However, the other hand slipped from my nose and it felt like an ice pick had been driven up my nose. That was enough of that.
Shaking my head free of cobwebs from the past, I grabbed my backpack and stuffed the camera inside. It was a bit of a hike…okay, I’m lying. It is not a hike, it is a rock climbing adventure to get back in there. Having wised up years ago, I discarded my flip-flops and started wearing some little tennis shoes for that trek.
Slipping over rocks and hefting myself up the crags, I made my way to the cliffs. There were a few people here, hence the cars in the lot, but not so many that it was crammed. It was only Thursday, after all. Probably the best day to be back there. I fought to catch my breath and sat on a rock under the one tree that miraculously grew there. The shrieks from the kids jumping from fifteen and twenty feet filled the air and I couldn’t resist the urge to snap some photos as they left the solid ground and fell through the air to hit the water below them. I smiled fondly. My husband was not afraid to jump. He went twenty feet up and would take the leap again and again.
I imagined him perched up there with the others, the water running from his close cropped head of dark hair and the steady drip of droplets that fell continuously from the hem of his swimsuit. He would be talking openly with those up there and I could hear him laugh, just happy to be in the sunshine out in the middle of God’s country.
That stubborn lump came to me again and I cursed inwardly at myself. Perhaps this was not the right decision. Perhaps I should have stayed away and let the ghosts be ghosts.
I could hear music and I diverted my attention to an incoming vessel. It was the white boat with the yellow stripes and red canopy from the morning. They had music blaring so loud I had no idea what it even was.
My camera snuck to my face and I peeked to see who these people were that disturbed my peaceful moment.
Involuntarily, my finger depressed the shutter in surprise. There he was, his kids jumping off the side of the boat and into the water. They swam to the rocks and climbed the natural staircase passing me as they went to the platforms.
Just to be certain, I put my eye to the camera again and there he was, manning the ship, laughing and cheering his brood as they gathered the courage to jump. And then, he looked right at the camera again.
Feeling so flustered, I turned away from him and took shots of the two teens making the plunge. I heard a sharp squeal and then two distinct splashes below. Jack erupted into cheers and clapping, the sun bouncing off his dark glasses.
The kids broke the surface again to the sound of their dad cheering them on. I heard them call out to him and he laughed saying something about having to watch the boat.
I snapped as many photos as I could while he was so in his element. Every time his kids jumped, I focused on his reaction and for a while I just held the shutter down. When I saw him put a cell phone up to his ear and send the evil eye my way, I decided it was time to go.
The climb back left me breathless again. The adrenalin flowed from the encounter with Jack so my hands and knees were shaking and like jelly. I slid behind the wheel of my car again and sucked a few breaths before I turned the key and pulled out of the dirt parking lot. But I didn’t go right and head toward town. I turned left. Another car followed my lead.
Around the bends in the road I sped, watching for deer and other animals along the way. I rounded the lake a bit until it opened up a bit for marshy areas and ponds that stood still as glass.
“There it is,” I said out loud to myself and pulled the car to a stop.
Ahead of me and off the road was a congregation of great boulders of different sizes. The car following stopped as well, but they never got out of the car. With my camera around my neck, I started climbing until I stood at the base of a cliff. The very cliff I had climbed so many years before. I didn’t make it to the top, but I gave it my all. My husband had made it all the way. He gave me the strength to even try.
But more than that, I turned back toward the cars along the road to see the pond sparkling in the sunlight and the tall firs surrounded it casting shadows over the smooth surface. It was quiet here. I just sat on the warm rock and randomly captured the rugged scenery around me.
A man came my way, struggling over the rocks in some places. I fleetingly wondered if I looked as silly as he did. But he didn’t come dressed for the occasion either. Loafers and jeans were not climbing clothes.
He was huffing and puffing when he reached where I sat and I looked up at him.
“Hello,” I said politely.
The man looked up at the height of the cliffs above. “Howdy,” he replied not looking at me.
“Such a gorgeous day,” I added to make conversation.
“It is,” he said. “What is a woman like yourself doing out here alone?”
I noticed a foreign accent in him but his statement alarmed me. I suddenly became uncomfortable and stood to step down from my rock and skip one to another.
“I didn’t mean to frighten you,” he called out.
“You reminded me that I need to meet with someone back in town!” I called out hoping he believed my bluff.
I thought I heard him growl up there but I didn’t care. When I reached my car, I looked back at the rocks and he was coming back down. My heart sped up and I gulped at the air. What if he killed me? No one would find me. My kids would be left alone. Suddenly the gravity of my situation caught up to me and I turned the key. When the engine roared to life, I flipped an easy u-turn and started back to town. The sun was setting, the man was still following me, and I was freaking out. I didn’t know they had creepers in a small mountain town!
I began plotting where I would go if the man kept up his pursuit. Maybe I could make it into a place to eat before he would get to me. Maybe I could go inside the main house back at my apartment. Surely the owners would protect me from people like this guy.
I was able to leave him at a stop light and I knew it wouldn’t stay red long so I hurried as fast as I could to my apartment. As I pulled into the driveway, I grabbed my camera and unbuckled the seat belt. Then I bolted for the stairs taking them two at a time. I cursed myself for fumbling the key as I tried to slip it into the lock. Finally it obeyed my rough commands and I burst through the door, quickly closing it and locking it tight. I left the curtains closed and instinctively ran into the bathroom slamming the door and locking it too.
Then, I slumped on the toilet, setting the camera on the counter and let my forehead fall into my hands. I was breathing like I had just run a marathon and I closed my eyes against my fear.
I couldn’t just stay in the bathroom, and I knew that. I needed dinner and I wanted to feel free of weird people. Okay, weird guys. What if he was waiting until I ventured out again?
The feeling of being utterly alone crept into my bones. It was the same feeling I had when I buried… well, you know who I’m talking about. I was surrounded by people as I was then too, but I was alone. While I took solace in being by myself these days, that awful feeling of panic shed a new light on the subject. For once I wished I had just one friend I could call.
My phone. I needed to send a message to my son. If anything happened to me, he would know where to tell people to begin looking.
“Not to worry you, but there is a strange dude following me. If I disappear, let the authorities know that I was in McCall in a studio apartment on the lake not far from town. I’m turning on the GPS so they can track my signal. I’m fine, just being careful” was what I wrote.
Less than a minute later, my phone rang and a panicked young man was near to shrieking on the other end. I talked with him a spell and calmed him down. Reassuring him I was safe, he finally let me hang up and I made sure I turned the tracking on.
The shaking had ceased and my breathing was normal once more. I ventured out of the bathroom but peeked warily about to make certain I was still alone.
No one there. So I decided to change my clothes and head down the street for some Hispanic food. There was a great place with a view of the lake just steps from where I was. With any luck, Mr. Stalker wouldn’t be there too.