Jorge and Luis hurried down the stairs to the door at the bottom. A faint glow was coming up over the trees as they stepped out into the ravine.
“It’s going to be dawn in a little while, ” Luis said. “We have to find the girl before it gets light. Take my flashlight and go that way,” he said, pointing to the left. “I’ll go down here. Look for little tracks. If you don’t see anything in twenty minutes, get back here quick! Those guys will be occupado up there for a while until they figure out the girl is gone. Then they will come lookin’.”
The clouds had cleared away and there was enough light to see the trail. Jorge went left and Luis ran to the right. Jorge ran down the trail looking for tracks. In a few minutes he came upon a set of tracks coming up out of the creek bed. He looked down. The snow had been disturbed and he could see where someone had lain in the snow. He walked over and looked closer. There were some spots of blood in the snow between two rocks and something had been pulled up out of the sand. He looked up and saw some broken branches on a bush several feet above the stream.
“She must have fallen off up there and landed down here,” he said to himself.
He looked closer at the snow between the rocks. There was blood and what looked like a piece of skin on the rocks and spots in the snow.
“It looks like she hurt herself. That means she’s walking slow.”
Jorge ran back to the bank and looked at the tracks. The left foot was dragging in the snow and there was a strange mark on the left side of the tracks. Jorge could see that Jenny must be using a stick to lean on. He forgot what Luis had said and hurried on down the trail following the tracks. He saw a place in the snow where she must have fallen down, for there was a handprint and the snow off the trail was disturbed. In about twenty minutes he came to an area where the walls of the ravine closed in. The tracks led on down the trail around a corner. Jorge ran around the corner and stopped in bewilderment. Ahead of him, shrubs and trees overhung the trail and the snow had not come down here. Jenny’s tracks led up to the edge of the snow and then disappeared on the hard ground under the trees …
Jenny hobbled down the path leaning on the stick. The tie line was strong nylon and it supported the broken pine branch against her ankle but her ankle throbbed painfully and it was slow going. Suddenly she stepped on a hidden rock, rolled her bad ankle, and pitched forward into the snow. The pain was agonizing. She tried to get up and realized that she was going to have a hard time going any further. She looked around for a place to hide. The light from the sun was slowly coming up. Ahead of her was a clump of bushes and it seemed that it was darker behind them. She randomly poked the pine stick into the bushes and instead of the wall of the ravine her stick encountered a hole in the side of the hill.
Jenny knew she had to hide somewhere but her tracks would give her away. Then she remembered something her Uncle Bobby had told her about hiding from the Japanese when he was a scout in the Marines.
“We would walk out to a place where the ground made our tracks hard to see and then walk backwards in our tracks until we came to where we wanted to hide,” he had told her. “Then we would jump off the trail and walk backwards using a branch to sweep our tracks away. Lots of times the enemy would walk right by where we were hiding and lose us in the woods ahead. Some of the Indian guys taught us that in training.”
Up ahead the ravine narrowed and the snow had not gotten down onto the trail because of the brush overhanging it. Jenny broke a branch off one of the Scotch Broom bushes along the trail and walked up the trail until there was no more snow. She stepped out onto the hard trail and took a few steps. Then she went back and as carefully as she could stepped backward in her tracks until she came to the bush that hid the mouth of the cave. She gathered her strength and jumped off the trail. Again an agonizing pain shot up her leg. She gritted her teeth and began to inch backwards into the bush, sweeping her tracks as she went. She pushed through and there was the cave. It had a narrow, low, entrance but it looked big enough for her to wriggle through. She knelt down and crawled in. Inside, the ceiling rose up into the darkness and the floor was dry and sandy. She could see a little but not much. The cave seemed to go back a lot farther than she thought. Her ankle was throbbing horribly and she was exhausted. Suddenly she heard a rustling sound up in the roof of the cave and, out of the dark, something black came at her. Bats! Jenny’s heart leaped up and she almost screamed. The bats fluttered all around her, brushing her with their wings in their effort to get out. She heard their tiny squeaks and felt their bodies hitting her head and shoulders and then she collapsed in a heap on the floor…
From THE ROAD HOME by Patrick E. Craig