Hailey dares to take a peek outside her bedroom door and finds June standing at the bottom, her bad leg raised as if to step up. Her progress will be slowed for a while, Hailey knows. It always takes her a while to figure out the stairs.
Hot tears sting the tender space behind Hailey’s eyes, and she grips the doorframe as she looks down at her friend.
“I’m sorry,” she says in a voice barely above a whisper. “How many times can I say I’m sorry?”
June manages the first step, and her broken leg bends at a sickening angle with the weight she puts on it. Her neck creaks as she raises her head and meets Hailey’s eyes.
With a strangled cry, Hailey slams the door shut and turns the lock once more.
On her hands and knees, Hailey crawled to the edge of the trail, getting as close as she dared to the point that broke off and sent June on a near free-fall. She took a shuddering breath and gulped hard in anticipation for what she might see. With all the courage she could muster, Hailey peered over the edge.
“June!” she shrieked when she finally spotted her friend at the bottom of the hill, crumpled against a slanted tree trunk. Her best friend’s name echoed and died under the weight of the rain and Hailey had to clear her throat several times before trying again. “June, don’t move, I’m coming to get you!”
“No!” June’s cry was loud and clear, and it sent Hailey rocking back into a squat. “It’s too dangerous; get help!”
Hailey inched closer to the edge, brow furrowed. She wiped a mixture of rain and sweat from her forehead. “Can you climb back up?” she called down.
June was quiet for a beat too long. “I think my leg is broken.”
On her feet again, Hailey began to pace, her face buried in her palms and groaning out a string of curse words that would curl her mother’s hair if she were there to hear. Finally, she dropped her hands and fished her phone out of the pocket of her pants. “I’m calling for help!”
She hunched her body over the phone to protect it as best she could, but the screen grew slick with water in an instant. Wiping it off on her clothes was useless, as she was soaked completely through. When she did finally manage to get the touchscreen to react to her desperate tapping, she realized it was hopeless. There was no signal.
“No,” she moaned, long and desperate. Tears slid down her cheeks, mingling with the rain, and she cupped her hands over her mouth as she called down to June once more. “Can you use your phone?”
She watched as June fumbled around for a moment, then threw her hands up into the air.
“It broke!” June’s voice wavered, an edge of desperation creeping in that Hailey didn’t like.
Peering at the trail over her shoulder, Hailey let out a long breath. It had taken them nearly an hour to reach this point. The rain would likely slow her down even more, but she realized she didn’t have a choice. She turned back to face June and let out a long breath. “I’m going to get help, don’t worry!”
As she straightened and adjusted her backpack, June’s strong, authoritative voice shot through the air.
She paused. “Yeah?”
“Mark the trail!”
It took Hailey’s frazzled mind a moment to get what she was saying, and when she did, she dropped her backpack into the mud and began fishing through it. All she carried was an aluminum water bottle, now half-full, a black baseball cap, a bag of trail mix, and a portable phone charger that was currently useless to her. There was nothing that would stand out or that she trusted to stay in place in the several hours she would be gone. Weighing her options, she finally removed her water bottle and stuck it into the soft dirt of the trail, twisting and pushing it as far down as it could go. It was white, and it blended in with the various rocks and pebbles scattered about, but it would have to do.
Standing, she cupped her hands over her mouth. “Hang tight, June. I’ll be right back!”
Continue to Part 4
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