13. Reunion

“For our newcomers: while Tony & I are on the road, please enjoy his book, ‘Leaving the Trail’ as a weekly series in condensed form. Be sure to go back to the beginning to understand the story! If you can’t stand the suspense, simply order a copy from Amazon or write toinfo@martonpublishing.com.”

Friend and Aaron came to the top of the ridge they had been climbing all afternoon. The sun was nearing the top of the surrounding mountains, and they were looking for a suitable place to camp for the night.

“Not much space to spread out along here,” Aaron observed. “I suppose we could string out the campsite all along the trail itself.”

“Yeah, we could do that if we had to,” Friend agreed. “But there’s also the problem of no water nearby. Let’s wait until we get to the top of this rise and see if anything better presents itself.” Turning to look back down the trail, he caught glimpses of the Rendezvous staff as they struggled up the switchback trail, many carrying heavy loads of camp equipment. The sounds of the children, normally interspersed with laughter and teasing, had now mostly died away. They were getting tired.

A few more minutes of climbing and they finally reached the high point, just before dropping down into the valley below. The lengthening shadows revealed a long, fairly wide meadow extending a mile or more, with heavily forested hillsides reaching to the bank of a small stream, meandering slowly through the grass.

“That’s more like it!” exclaimed Aaron. “Plenty of room, lots of water, and less than fifteen minutes more of walking to go.”

Friend started to agree, then stopped short. Peering to the far end of the valley, he could just make out a thin column of smoke, drifting above the tops of the trees. “Tell the others to move on into the valley. I’m going to see who our neighbors are. If I haven’t come back to join you, keep coming ahead until we meet up.” Then shifting his backpack to a more comfortable position and pulling tight on the straps, he moved down the trail, quickly outpacing those who followed behind.

By the time he reached the source of the smoke, the sky had grown to a violet hue and the woods on either side of the trail were completely dark. A campfire lit up the area where two people could be seen moving around. “Hello the camp!” he called out, and watched as the two sprang to attention, looked his way, then waved.

Fisher was the first to recognize the traveler and called out. “Friend! It’s good to see you. We were hoping for some company tonight.”

“That’s good, because you’ll be having plenty. The rest of the Rendezvous team is right behind me. I hope you don’t mind our …” Friend stopped as he noticed that Sandy had been crying. “Are you … is everything all right?”

“We’re fine,” offered Fisher, who paused, then corrected himself. “No, we’re not fine. In fact, we’re miserable. I mean, we’re okay, it’s just …”

“Mommy! Daddy! Where are you?”

Friend looked toward the tent, from where the voice had come. “What’s the story, Fisher?”

“Her name’s Lisa,” he replied. “She’s five years old, and she just became an orphan.”

Friend dropped his backpack and immediately reached to Fisher. Sandy joined them, and they stood there silently for several moments. “An accident?”

“No,” said Fisher. “Murder. Demonic warriors, judging from her description. She’s pretty traumatized.”

“I imagine she would be,” Friend said with a sigh which shook his whole frame. “Where are they? Did you take care of the bodies?”

“Didn’t have to,” Fisher whispered, fighting back tears. “A pack of wolves took care of them for me.”

“Oh Lord,” Friend breathed. “You poor kids. Listen, as soon as the rest get here, I’ll bring my wife over. You’ve done more than enough already. Let us keep the child tonight. You said her name is Lisa?”

Sandy nodded and Friend continued. “Let’s all get a good night’s rest tonight, then tomorrow morning we’ll make some decisions. It looks like the two of you could use some sleep. Ralph and the others have organized a militia of sorts, and I’ll make sure they post a guard around the camp.” He looked toward the fire and noticed that nothing was cooking. “And eat something with us. That’s important.”

“There’s more of them,” Fisher interrupted.

“Yeah I know,” said Friend. “We saw tracks a few miles back. It looks like this area is especially active. That’s what prompted us to look to our defense. But don’t you worry, we’ll…”

“No, I mean there’s more people, like Lisa’s parents. Lots of them. They live in houses, Friend. She talked about her aunt and uncle and her pet cat! They’re way off the trail, and from what we understand, they don’t even know the trail’s here.”

Friend knew what Fisher was leading up to, and for the moment, he couldn’t deal with it. Instead, he said, “Bring the little girl to us. We’ll take care of her tonight. Tomorrow we’ll have a meeting with everyone and decide what to do next. Until then, you and Sandy get some rest.”

“Did you hear what I just said?” Fisher began. “There’re people out there! We have to …”

Right now we have to set up this camp, get everyone fed and settled for the night. We’ll talk tomorrow.”

Fisher started to say something, thought better of it, and turned to Sandy. “Go bring Lisa out, will you?” He noticed Ralph walking by, and was about to call out when Friend stopped him.

“Tomorrow, Fisher. We need to discuss this all together. I don’t want you stirring up everyone until we have a chance to consider this as a group, okay?”

Even in the failing light, the dark cloud which fell over Fisher’s face was all-too obvious. He was silent for several moments, then spoke. “Okay,” he said at last. “But we will talk about it tomorrow.”

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