In the early afternoon of the sixth day they reached the Broad Creek Shelter where they planned to stop for a quick lunch before putting in another six miles. Sitting on the front edge of the shelter platform Philip saw Karen. She was seated with one bare leg extended flat on the platform edge.
“That’s Karen,” he said to Penelope.
They walked over to the shelter. “I’m glad someone finally came along,” Karen said to them, her voice close to tears.
“This is Penelope,” Philip said. “You okay?” He was looking at her leg and a very red and swollen ankle.
“It’s my foot,” said Karen. “I stepped on something and I think it got infected.”
“Let me look at that,” said Penelope. She shed her pack and went and gently lifted Karen’s ankle and looked at the bottom of her foot.”
“She’s a nurse,” Philip said.
“Nurse in training,” said Penelope, “and that is definitely infected.” She put her hand on Karen’s forehead. “We’ve got to get you to a hospital. You have a phone?”
Penelope turned to Philip. “In the left back pocket of my pack,” she said.
He found the phone. “Call 911 and see if you can get someone to carry her out,” she said. “I’m going to clean up the wound and bandage it.” She went over to her pack and dug out her first aid kit.
Two minutes later Philip was talking to the Fire Chief at Pittsford Search and Rescue. “A young woman,” he said, “We’re at the Broad Creek Shelter. She’s got an infected foot and can’t walk on it.”
“Gotcha,” said a solid man’s voice. “No problem getting her out. We can get Jake’s four wheel drive in to about a mile from the trail, then it’s maybe two mile on the trail. We’ll be there with a stretcher in say, two hours. What’s her condition? Is she conscious?”
“Just the infected foot. She can’t walk on it.” He looked over at Penelope who was looking at a thermometer she had just taken out of Karen’s mouth. Karen nodded. “And she’s running a bit of a fever. Otherwise okay. Look, I really appreciate your coming. I’m sorry to burden you with this.”
“Our pleasure,” said the voice. “We haven’t had a rescue all summer. My crew is getting rusty. I even thought of faking an accident up there for a drill. Believe me, you get a lot less bitching from the crew when it’s a real person they’re carrying out, not a bunch of rocks.”
“See you in a couple of hours.”
He switched off the phone and looked over at Penelope. Where did we learn to work as a team like that? he asked himself.
“When did you two meet up?” Karen said. Philip realized he had been thinking about her simply as a patient, not as an ex-girlfriend.
“We’ve been hiking together for like five days,” Penelope said. She looked at Philip.
“Yeah, like five, six days,” he said.
Karen looked at the two of them. Although Philip felt there was now nothing between himself and Karen, he could still read her thoughts. It was obvious to him that she thought there was much more going on between him and Penelope than just hiking. He decided that he would just let her think that.
Close to two hours later the rescue team arrived, four burly men carrying an empty aluminum framed stretcher. They heard their voices well before they saw them, men joshing, kidding, laughing and obviously doing the ultimate man thing.
Once in the clearing the men put down the stretcher next to the shelter. The oldest of the men stepped over to Philip and held out his hand. “I’m Riddle, the Chief”
Philip shook his hand, a hard firm grip. “I’m Philip and this is my friend Penelope.”
“Lucky for her you came along.” The Chief nodded towards Karen. “We’ll get to work.”
The men worked with surprising dispatch. Karen was quickly wrapped in a blanket, gently placed on the stretcher and strapped in. One of the men picked up Karen’s pack and slung it over his shoulders as if it was filled with feathers.
“Everyone ready?” said the Fire Chief.
They started up the trail, the four men with the stretcher in front with Philip and Penelope following.
Philip realized that he needed to follow Karen out and to the hospital. He didn’t love her. That feeling had, he now knew, disappeared well before the two of them took to the trail. But he did care about her and worry about her. Even though a relationship is over, you still hoped, when it was there, it meant something.
A quarter mile along, they came out onto an open ridge so they could walk side by side. “I’m going to follow Karen out,” Philip said. “I’m the only one who knows how to contact her parents and the right people at the college. But there’s no reason you have to come with me. You can go on ahead. I’ll hitch up to Parson’s Gap tomorrow or the next day and meet you there. No need to mess up your hike with my problem.”
“No,” she said, “It’s our problem. I’m coming with you.”
Philip was not sure what she was saying. Was she, as a nurse, simply concerned about Karen? Or was she worried that he might not be over his relationship with Karen?
He looked over at her serious face and saw she was waiting for an answer, an answer that meant something important to her. “Okay,” he said, “it would be really nice of you if you came along. Not just nice,” he added, “important to me.”
She smiled at him, judgement gone from her eyes.
“And besides,” he said, “we need to stock up on the food again. I’m getting tired of that salami you brought.”
“At least I stocked up enough so we aren’t starving.”
“Ice cream,” he said. “Think ice cream.”
She leaned over and kissed him on the cheek. He realized that it was the first real physical contact they had ever had. “Ice cream,” she said, “ice cream and cake.”
There. How’s that for an ending? Something has happened in their relationship yet we leave all of what will happen in the future to the reader’s imagination. Is that enough? Want a little more definitive ending? Let’s give it a try.
Penelope came out of the ER into the waiting room and walked over to where Philip was sitting with their packs. “They don’t want to keep her overnight,” she said. “They cleaned out the wound and gave her a prescription for an antibiotic. Her fever is down and they aren’t worried about it being some incurable strain of bacteria as she got the wound out in the big clean wilderness. Did you call her parents?”
“Yeah. Her mother’s driving up tomorrow morning to pick her up. We should stick around until that happens.”
“We’ll have to find a motel for tonight then. Why don’t you see if the receptionist here can recommend one nearby, one with a restaurant. Look, she’s going to be on crutches so I think I’d better bunk in with her so I can help her get washed up and stuff. So get a two bed room for Karen and me and a single bed one for you.”
Philip checked with the receptionist. There was only one motel in town but it had a restaurant and was not supposed to be too tacky. But then, anything would have seemed luxurious after sleeping on the ground or wooden shelter floors. They had the receptionist call a cab which took them the four blocks to the motel. Penelope took Karen off to their room and got her into bed. Philip stashed his pack in his room and washed up.
The restaurant was almost empty. The two of them sat at a Formica table with chrome edges and each ate a hamburger with double fries and an omelet on the side. Philip pulled his guide book out of his back pocket and they mapped out their plans for the next couple of days.
“I want to take something back for Karen. I bet she’s a vegetarian.”
“I’ll get her a salad. I think she has other stuff in her pack.”
At Philip’s door, Penelope said, “I’ve got to get Karen to eat something and I should probably get her washed up a bit.” I’ll see you in the morning. She walked down the walkway and disappeared into her room.
Philip went inside, pulled off his clothes and took a shower. He had not realized how badly he smelled in an enclosed space. He put on the change of underwear he had in his pack and slipped into bed, feeling the unbelievable smoothness of the clean sheets.
He must have been asleep for an hour when a knocking on the door awakened him. He got up and opened the door a crack. It was Penelope holding a large paper bag in one hand and a small cosmetic case in the other. “I lied about not seeing you until the morning,” she said.
“Wait,” he said, “let me at least get my pants on.”
“Don’t be silly. I’m going to be a nurse. I’ve seen plenty of men in their underwear before.” She pushed her way into the room. “Now sit down on the edge of the bed.”
He sat and she sat beside him. She reached into the paper bag and extracted a half gallon of ice cream and two plastic spoons. “The convenience store across the way stays open late,” she said.
They ate the ice cream quickly as if neither wanted the other to get the lion’s share. When she had finished, she looked at him. “Do you mind if I take my shower here? I don’t want to wake up Karen with all the noise.”
“Sure,” he said. “But how will you get back to your room? You going to put on all your dirty clothes again?’
She smiled. “I’ll put on all my dirty clothes again in the morning. I think it’s time we worked out the second part of the compatibility bit.”
How’s that for an ending? I thought it was pretty good, but then I realized I had left Philip out of the equation. So I might possibly add on the following:
“Wait a minute,” Philip said, “don’t I get a say in this?”
“What do you mean?”
“Maybe I want to go on a bit finding out if we are really compatible before we go to bed together.”
She looked at him with a puzzled expression. He realized that she had assumed that men always were ready for sex any hour of the day, any day of the week.
“Well okay,” she said. “I’m going to go and take a shower. When you hear the water stop running, call through the door and let me know your decision.”
Well, I’m hopeless. I can’t keep my characters from falling in love or at least into bed. In fact, a number of women in my writing group feel that a serious flaw in my writing is that the women in my stories are too nice, that real women are really much more bitchy and self-serving. Notice that it is the women that say that. The men in the group either don’t feel that way or they are smart enough to keep quiet.
Okay, there is a complete story although it obviously could be greatly expanded. We know very little about what the two of them talked about while hiking together. After they call for the emergency evacuation, Karen doesn’t say anything for the rest of the story, she’s just treated pretty like patient 201.
However, one of the reasons I wrote this piece in this format is that I wanted to record some of what was going on in my head when I wrote it. Such comments are as much for my own enlightenment as for yours. I believe that how and why you are writing is just as important as what you are writing.
Now the ball is in your court. What do you think of the ending? If you don’t like the ending, specifically what don’t you like? How would you improve the ending? What is missing from the story? Is what I have the beginning of a longer story?