Hailey’s oatmeal has gone cold, untouched on the breakfast bar. She sits on a stool, head bent and staring down at the bowl of beige, glistening oats. Something shuffles just outside the front door. Occasionally, the creak of underused joints breaks the stillness of the morning.
She’s at the door already, Hailey muses, her fingers running along the length of her unused spoon as if she’d never seen one before. She’s getting faster.
Before long, she’ll be inside.
Appetite lost, Hailey stands and begins gathering bags of chips, boxes of crackers, and a few granola bars in her arms. She retreats to her bedroom on the second floor and dumps the goodies on her bed before going back to the door.
She pushes it shut with a satisfying click and turns the lock, knowing it will do no good but feeling better all the same.
Feeling secure, Hailey settles in at her desk and opens her laptop. She has work – projects due and deadlines to meet – but first, she needs to check apartment listings.
The rain came in such a sudden burst that Hailey and June only had about fifteen seconds of warning before the fat, thunderous drops soaked through their clothes. They were halfway up the trail, surrounded by nothing but trees and steep drop-offs on either side.
“Aw, shit!” June cried. She pulled the hood of her jacket over her head for some semblance of protection.
Hailey, who had opted for a loose-fitting t-shirt and joggers had no such barrier, and she simply placed her hands over the top of her head as if they could help keep her dry. “What do we do now?” she cried, needing to shout to be heard over the downpour. June was the experienced hiker. Hailey always just tagged along for the ride.
“Back to the cars!” June shouted back, already turning on her heel. “The trail will be too muddy to hike safely soon!”
“Dammit, I knew we shouldn’t have come!” Hailey whined. She struggled to keep pace with her quick-footed friend, who was hovering at a pace somewhere between a trot and a jog. The wind tore at her, whisking her words away, and she clamped her mouth shut as she struggled to keep up.
Hailey saw it happen. June, unable to see well with the rain marring her vision, stepped too close to the edge of the trail. The dirt had already gone soft and was likely unstable to begin with after the previous night’s rainfall. A single clod of dirt broke off under the weight of June’s foot and toppled down the steep hillside. Hailey opened her mouth to call out a warning, even reaching out a hand in an attempt to grab her friend.
But June was too far away.
In an instant, she was gone.
June’s shrill cry could be heard over the pounding rain as the edge of the trail gave way and sent her tumbling. The hill was coated with slick leaves and soft undergrowth, and June careened downward like a child sledding on fresh snow.
Hailey heard the thump; saw the top of a tree shudder with the impact and release a flock of birds who had taken up shelter there. For a moment, all she could do was stand frozen in place, drenched.
Continue to Part 3
Sarah McKnight has been writing stories since she could pick up a pencil, and it often got her in trouble during math class. After a brief stint teaching English to unruly middle schoolers in Japan, she decided she wasn’t going to put off her dream of becoming a writer any longer and set to work. With several novels in the making, she hopes to tackle issues such as anxiety, depression, and letting go of the past – with a little humor sprinkled in, too. A St. Louis native, she currently lives in Pennsylvania with her wonderful husband and three cats. Find Sarah at: https://linktr.ee/sarahmcknightwrites