It was like a white blanket of snow had covered the forest and the plants were falling asleep beneath them. The pine trees were never going to rest but only held on to the blanket for comfort as it was the only thing visible to grasp. It was cold yet comforting and soothing. The only noise was the rushing of the stream, always moving, always restless, never still. The air was pure to breathe in and the smell of the pines masked all other scents. The snow was soft, as if the clouds had decided to settle down on the earth. Every so often, a bird would chirp or a small creature would scramble up a tree. The skies extended overhead as the clouds roamed the sea of blue. In this place all felt free.
I walked the well trodden path along the forest floor. I took a deep breath in, I loved the air here. It was so unlike the air in the city, or any other human populated area. All regular people do nothing but pollute the area. They don’t know what they’re missing. The real fresh air, the beauty of it, the freedom, there was nothing better. I adored it.
Allegheny National Forest was a reserved area. It served as a sanctuary to woodland animals that had lost their homes in a wild fire in the old Lovell Forest around the lake. I was only two when this happened. If it weren’t for the wildlife reservation people, this retreat would be a mall. No one was allowed here, but I wasn’t about to start listening now. I loved it here; it was like my little refuge. It was like leaving all my troubles behind to just enjoy myself and be happy just by myself, with no one else.
I placed my hand on the rough bark of a tree and closed my eyes. I was at peace. Unfortunately, a vibrating in my pocket disrupted my bliss. I sighed and looked at the caller ID. It was none other than my mother. I warily put the phone to my ear and answered it.
“Hello?” I said into the receiver.
“Caitlynn Carell!” my mom yelled into the phone. I moved the phone away from my ear and put it back, she had a pair of lungs!
“Yes, mom?” I replied idly.
“Where are you? You were supposed to be here hours ago!” I looked at my watch. It was half past six. Oops. “I had to waste money on buying pizza because you were taking so long!” her nasally voice complained.
“Get a cookbook and learn how to cook,” I muttered.
“What was that?” she said.
“Nothing” I replied.
“Look, I’m on my way as we speak,” I said walking towards the edge of the forest. It would take about twenty five minutes to get to the fence separating happiness from hell. I always wandered all over the place, it was just so big!
“Okay fine, but if you’re not back within forty minutes, I am calling the cops,” she threatened. I rolled my eyes and simply replied,
“Whatever” and snapped the phone shut and placed it in my right pocket.
Way to make my life miserable again, mom I thought. I paused. Something wasn’t right, I didn’t know what. It was just a feeling, but it was strong. I just shrugged it off as my over active imagination.
I missed it when my life was enjoyable. Dad was alive and healthy back then. I remember he used to play with me, even if they were ridiculous games like dress up or tea party. My mom was happy back then. My dad was adventurous. He had a job as a volunteer fireman while my mom was a therapist. I took so much interest in her work; I even got her to tell me the symptoms of a couple of mental illnesses. These memories crossed my mind as I slowly wandered to the fence
About four yards away from the fence there was a narrow gorge. In it, a thin river flowed rapidly about twenty feet below the edge. The only way to cross it was to either keep following it until it was shallow enough to wade across or find stepping stones. The other way was to cross the tree. It was a big tree and was wide enough to cross. It was too big to move. It was like nature’s own little bridge. It was perfect, as long as you didn’t stay in the same place for more than two minutes.
I cautiously stepped onto the tree. I spread my arms out for balance as I slowly put one foot in front of the other. I always had my dad’s spirit, my mom used to say, always looking for the challenge. As I made it half way there, my phone buzzed. I momentarily lost my balance, but I was steady again. I took out my phone and looked at the caller ID. It was the police. It had only been half an hour, she said forty five minutes! Reluctantly, I picked up the phone.
“Hello?” I said.
“Ms. Caitlynn Carell, this is the police department of Warren, Pennsylvania,” some lady said.
No, really? I thought you were a telemarketer! Thank you for pointing out the obvious! I itched to say, but for the sake of not ending up in jail, I didn’t.
“Yes?” I said through gritted teeth.
“I’m sorry to tell you there was a terrible accident.”
I stopped dead in my tracks. “What do you mean?” I said hesitantly.
“Your mother accidentally left the stove on but apparently forgot about it and went to go take a shower. The curtains caught in a blaze and by the time your mother got out of the shower, most of the house was on fire. She was smart enough to call the fire department, but unfortunately, the fire was blocking her exit and she too was engulfed in flames.”
I dropped my phone into the gorge out of shock.