Flannel: Short Story Part 4 of 4

She began putting her gear into the pack with careful precision. Every ounce counted. Her toothbrush was missing most of the handle, which she sawed off herself. One of many dedicated feats for the commitment ahead. Shannon was setting out for a hike through of the Appalachian trail, starting in Chattahoochee National Forest, located in northern Georgia and ending in Baxter State Park, Maine.

When she had told her family that she was planning a solo hike she was met with anger and fear. The only one who understood her was her brother Mark, who insisted on hiking a portion of the trail with her. When Mark pressed her about her commitment and reason for fleeing, she danced around the subject. Asking herself the very question led to an underlying sense that she needed to run. Though what she was running from wasn’t exactly clear to her.

The day before she was to leave she went to a local second-hand store to pick up a few things that could be lost or torn without fret. Fumbling through the long sleeved shirts in the woman’s section was displeasing. Nothing was practical for her journey. She wandered over to the men’s section, her eyes drawn towards a red flannelled shirt. It looked cut a bit different from others on the rack. Reaching out her hand she ran her fingertips down the sleeve, to her surprise it was soft and sturdy. Her lips curved into a downward smile, approving the find with a cock of the head and an audible “hmm.” The price tag inside showed it was only $3.00, a price she couldn’t beat. Something about the buttons and the label on the collar told her this shirt was older than it looked.

The next day Mark and Shannon were dropped off by their parents at the checkpoint. Her mother’s sobbing was getting under Shannon’s skin, so she pretended not to hear it any longer. Her father gave her a hug as if it might be the last time he saw her, the longer then acceptable embrace was something she also chose to ignore.

It was a brisk February morning, so she reached in the top of her pack and withdrew the red flannel shirt to fit over her base layer. As she buttoned up she smelled a faint hint of pipe tobacco, which reminded her of her someone she missed, but unsure of who. Her brother was equally geared up and ready to take the first steps, she turned to him and put her hand on his shoulder.

“You don’t have to come with me. I’ve figured out I’m not running from something; I’m running towards something. What it is I’m not sure, but I want to find it.”

“That’s a great answer sis. I’m still coming, not because I don’t think you can do it by yourself, but because I want to,” Mark responds.

She gives him the kind of hug that only a sister can give a brother, a tight hug that allows the heart to touch the person you love. “Let’s do this then!” she smiled.

Brother and sister march side by side through Georgia and Tennessee. The trail starts to zig and zag between Tennessee and North Carolina. Mark planned to see her to the top of North Carolina and then meet back up with her in New York and finish the trail with her. The days were long, their feet wary with a ten-mile goal each day. Bad weather pushed them off their target from time to time, forcing them to try to make it up in the days ahead. They avoided groups, preferring their own pace, and the comfort of silence held between them.

Uneven terrain and harsh inclines had them both second-guessing their body’s abilities on more than one occasion. This morning Shannon had her red flannel over her short-sleeved shirt. Sweating meant chills to follow, so having the right layers were important for comfort and to prevent the body from depleting energy. Shivers and sweats both eat calories.

Mark wanted to stop to take off his fleece jacket and swap it out for something lighter. They stopped at the side of a gorge, which dipped down to a rocky bottom and a small stream. A sudden thrashing of leaves and sticks surprised them both. Shannon twisted around to see three dear darting from the brush ahead of them. She steadied herself and looked for her brother, who was nowhere in sight.

She screamed out his name in rapid fire, panic hit her chest, her frantic search for him only revealed trees and earth.

“Here. I’m down here,” a remark made with strain. He had fallen in the gorge, about 6 feet down. Shannon unbuckled her pack, fearing the weight would throw her off balance, she scurried down the embankment. Catching her feet on the rocks at the bottom made her ankles twist and knees buckle, but she kept her footing.

“Mark. Oh my god, this is bad!” She saw his foot pointing in an inappropriate way, indicating a bad break. Blood was starting to seep through the fabric of his pants. “I’m going to get my knife and open your pant-leg so we can see what we have here. Stay calm, okay? I’ll be right back.”

Adrenaline pushed her forward with force, she scurried up the incline with ease. Undoing clasps and zip ties, she rummaged in her pack for the first aid kit and knife.

Sliding back down the gorge towards her brother she forced herself to take a deep breath. Fearing the worse, she walked up to him and began to cut open his leg pant. Mark was taking quick erratic gasps, trying not to move. Shannon reached for gauze and dabbed away the blood, trying to find the source. There seemed to be a lump where his shin bone should have been flat. She slowly touched it with gauze and Mark screamed out.

“I’m sorry! I’m sorry! Try to hold still. I don’t want to scare you, but I think you have an impound fracture. This lump here, I think it’s your leg bone,” Shannon gritted her teeth. The blood was continuing to come out of a small punctured area. She took off her flannelled shirt and wrapped it around the wound, trying to ignore her brother’s cries and protest.

“Go get help. I don’t think we have reception here, but we did about 2 miles back,” he said in a slow raspy voice. He was starting to shake and she could see his complexion waning.

“Okay! I’ll be fast. I’m going to toss you down the bear whistle so you can make noise. This way I can find you easier. You have to stay awake! Promise me you will stay awake!”

Mark nodded and Shannon knew she didn’t have much time before he went into complete shock.

Heaving herself up the embankment she started to choke out a sob. She shook her head, trying to free herself from an emotional tangle. RUN RUN RUN, she told herself. Dodging rocks, trees, roots, and briers, the woodlands breezed past her. Holding her cell phone in the air she heard a beep, indicating service was restored. Jerking to a halt she saw one bar of cell reception, just enough to get through. Quickly, she dialed 911.

“Hello, this is Shannon Henderson. My brother Mark Henderson has been hurt badly. We need help.” She remained cool when speaking to the operator, and was able to indicate approximately where they were, based on the shelter they stayed at last night. Once assured that help was on the way, she began her sprint back to Mark. Upon her arrival she heard the bear whistle, relief washed over her. He was awake.

He was paler and his face was clammier than when she had left him. She laid all of their warm clothes over him to keep him warm. Hours ticked by, the shadows in the woods moved from West to East, warming the day just slightly. Mark continued to shiver and the concept of time was lost.

It was late afternoon when help arrived. They strapped Mark onto a stretcher and gave him pain medication that allowed him to sleep. It was seven miles to the road, with several men and woman carrying him out. When they reached the ambulance one of the first responders held scissors in his hand and leaned in towards the flannel.

“No! I mean, wait. Please? Can I untie and keep the shirt? It’s been through a lot.” Shannon reached over and untied the flannel causing fresh blood to ooze from his gash. The first responder quickly stopped the bleeding.

“That was smart of you to tie something above and around the wound. You may have saved his life.”

Shannon nodded her head, hoping she also saved his leg which was now swollen and purple.

Their adventure was cut short, but once Mark had several screws and plates holding his bone in place, they headed home. Mark was sorry for their fate, though Shannon ensured him she was just grateful he was okay. When asked if she would try the hike again she responded that she wouldn’t. It wasn’t as if she had lost interest or abandoned a goal because of fear, she accepted that the adventure took the path it was supposed to. Exposing the lessons that were intended and building her confidence in areas that needed a boost.

The red flannel shirt, now rinsed of Mark’s blood, was adorned by Shannon. She wore it like a badge, though only she recognized it as such. Even after several washes, the faint smell of pipe tobacco comforted her. She found herself talking to the shirt sometimes, asking it to choose an adventure for her, as if it were her guide.

PS. This is my 100th post on Fingers To Sky! Kind of exciting.

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