“Impossible! There’s a small one on the
lower slope. Creekside. Maybe you’re there?”
Granddad asked hopefully.
Wearily, I answered, “Don’t know. Can’t
hear the creek for the wind.” Confused, I
released the button.
Granddad called back, grim. “Snow’s
begun here, but now there’s no yard light.
Wind just took out our power. I’ll light a
kerosene lantern. Keep coming. I pray you’re
near the bottom.”
Me, too! But what about that bear rub?
Maybe I wasn’t as far down as I thought. Maybe
I was close to that killer cliff!
The wind tore at the uphill pines, break-
ing a branch that whomped down beside me.
Startled, I slipped. My hands clutched at, and
missed, the nearest safe hold. Suddenly, hor-
ribly, I hurtled downhill, feet-first, bouncing
crazily over rocks that bruised my already
bruised shins and veering wildly between
short windswept bushes that thwacked me
in the face. My headlamp beam careened off
everything and nothing. The disorientation
was dizzying. I couldn’t tell how fast I was
sliding, or how far I’d come down the hill.
And then I twisted sideways as one foot
caught an exposed root and yanked my body
around. The force threw me forward, uphill,
as my forehead smacked against duff-padded
ground, and the headlamp went out.
I was in one piece, though my headlamp
wasn’t. There was no mistaking the tinkling
sound of broken glass. And then the stuff
of nightmares revved my heart into rib-
slamming jerks: my foot dangling below me,
frantically searching for solid ground, met
nothing but thin air.
My breath left me in a rush. The cliff
edge! I’d ended up in the one place I did not
want to be!
Don’t move! My brain screamed. Hold on!
Frantic, I embedded my hands, clawlike, in duff
that wouldn’t hold for long. My nerves were
shot, my arms cramping, every bone aching.
And then Granddad’s voice cut across my
panic. “Lantern’s lit. Come ahead, Alec. I’m
headed behind the house, some young bear’s
crashing about. No worries, bears don’t.. .”
It wouldn’t matter if Granddad lit ten
lanterns. I was face-planted, uphill. Wrong
direction, totally. I couldn’t even contact him
about the mess I was in. To key the mic I’d
have to let go of my duff grip. As if.
So—I’d have to rescue myself. But I
wasn’t exactly, strictly alone.
What would Granddad say if I could ask
Of course. I forced myself to breathe slowly,
deliberately. To think like Granddad. Calmly.
Had I actually careened to the center of the hill
while so determined to stay further to the right?
The hill was vast and wide, my descent mainly
downhill, not sideways. Wasn’t it?
All right, then.
I was stranded in fragrant pine needles on
this steep slope. I took a deep breath, ignored
snowflakes pelting my head and neck. Well—
duff wouldn’t pile up on a windswept cliff
edge, would it?
DUFF IS THE THICK LAYER OF
DECAYING LEAVES, TWIGS, AND STUFF
ON THE FOREST FLOOR. LOVELY, LOVELY STUFF!