Coming around the corner on the trail, I find myself face to face with a grumpy man dressed as if he were on a job site carrying a dirty axe. My heart jolts, and my mind jumps to the girls. They were ahead of us, and I worried about them. All sorts of ideas of the acts he could have done jump into my mind. The fear is so urgent; I don’t hear the birds anymore. Instead the sound of an axe hitting a stump pushes its way into my ears. Was that what we heard last night? I wonder. Though the axe was covered in dirt, I saw the deep brown of dried blood. It didn’t make sense because the girls weren’t that far ahead. There had been no screaming from them. I had only heard the song “She’ll be coming around the mountain when she comes” playing in my mind before coming upon the man.
We move off to the side of the trail allowing the man to pass us, and we say, “Hello.” He doesn’t look at us or even respond. Images of a variety of single hiking shoes with severed feet in them rush to my mind. The ominous warning we received before leaving for the trip that I had brushed off earlier crashes into my thoughts and fears. Was that the foot thief? Chills dance down my spine. Again I fear for the girls we cannot hear or see.
Stimulated from the hiking, my mind goes into overdrive and conjures many different scenarios. First, the hiker had been watching us through the end of our hike the previous night, paralleling us on the ridge. His steely eyes were the ones I felt on us and wrote off for being animals. Once he found where we were camping, he pushed on ahead. He knew our speed and that we loudly announced ourselves periodically along the trail. He would have no trouble crossing paths with us in the morning. This worked out well for him. He heard us laughing and carrying on as we filled our water bladders a mile down the tail. From his vantage he knew that when we started quieting down we would be spreading out along a part of the trail with nowhere to go but the path in front of us. The bank was steep on one side and the cliff dropped off into infinity on the other. We could scoot out of his way. That was it. As the girls came upon him, he knew he would have time alone with them. He could easily push them off the cliff, attack them without room for retreat, and many other things. Only there was no explanation for the lack of screams. Were they that far ahead? I didn’t think so. Did he scare the scream out of them, or do something to them before they could let out a sound?
He passes us with that grumpy expression never changing. These visions flashed through my mind. Then the feet. The feet raced back into my head. Would the girl’s feet be found on some river shore still bound in boots? Would their bodies ever be found? Unlike the other poor victims, at least we knew about where to look, and he wouldn’t have a lot of time to do anything with them.
I watch him intently as he walks closer to the turn not moving until he disappears where we just emerged from. Getting back on the trail, I am thankful my cousin is behind me. I have a creepy feeling that the guy with the axe is going to sneak upon us from behind.
An hour later, we meet up with the girls. They are sitting on the ground with their packs off, laughing and snacking. A big grin overtakes me. I realize that though I knew the thoughts were fanciful, I was still anxious about the girls and their well being.