the lost afternoon

by kat

soon after we married, my new husband, buddy, and i purchased a cabin in southern pennsylvania. it was a wonderful get-away, with orchards, woods, and a few tall pine trees. i promptly created a wooden sign to hang over the front porch. i had named our new place, “tall pines”.

the man who sold us the place, grayson showers, owned a ninety-acre farm in the valley below. grayson had a brother, milton, who lived not far from our five acres. (for the purpose of my story i have named him milton. unfortunately, his real name has escaped my memory along with oh-so-many other of life’s details.)

while spending weekends and two solid weeks every december at our cabin, we frequently explored the woods, which could be entered just steps from our door. in the summer the tall, leafed-out tree canopy shaded us from the sun and provided a lovely, lush setting in which to wander.

bird calls greeted us, tiny chipmunks popped out to visit, a stream lent it’s bubbling voice to our journey, and on a very lucky day, we might catch site of a graceful deer lifting his head of fresh antlers for a brief glimpse of from whom it was that he was about to flee.

it was during just such a jaunt, each lost in our own reverie, that we encountered milton, carefully picking his way through briars and across the stream. stopping, as country folks do, to say hello and pass the time of day, we expressed our appreciation for the beauty of these woods.

oh, said milton excitedly, how far have you explored? we explained that we’d so far crossed over the little stream and discovered another tributary a little farther in. there we had chosen to turn around, as we had grown weary and the two streams had interwoven and become a bit confusing. it had seemed prudent to save further exploration for another day.

well then, he offered, let me give you a tour of the deeper woods. though we were truly tired and it seemed a bit late in the day, the older man’s delight was hard to ignore. he had spent his life combing these woods. he was offering a tour of his home. it would have been supremely impolite to refuse. besides, i have never been one to turn down an adventure.

off we set, deeper into the woods. we soon became quite grateful for our guide, when we discovered that our babbling little stream had not two, but four branches, each looking very much like the other, first separating, then intertwining, making it difficult indeed to determine which branch we were following.

it was about this time that our trusty guide began to look a bit weary also and seemed somewhat unsure of his course. i asked after his well-being and was assured, “oh just fine, thank you.” just a little further and milton seemed slightly shaky. when i asked again, “huh?” and then the same response as before, “oh just fine, thank you” . . . but . . . was that a bit of a slur?

purposely allowing some distance between milton and us, i whispered to buddy, “do you think he is drunk?” “i didn’t smell it on him,” he answered, “but maybe he is. i don’t know.” we chuckled and caught up to our seemingly inebriated friend.

milton plodded onward . . . and on . . . and on . . . without conversation, periodically changing direction, the two of us dutifully, if uncertainly, following behind. after a spell, i noticed the woods were slowly losing a significant amount of sunlight. still milton plodded silently onward, this way and that, seemingly undaunted.

i was beginning to feel a little like hansel and gretel, and wished i had left a trail of breadcrumbs. our “host” continued on, but with occasional furtive glances to his right and left. i had not wanted to face the possibility, but, oh, my god, milton was lost. and, like good christian soldiers, onward we marched. panic began fighting with exhaustion for control of my body.

about the time that i thought i could not walk another step, we popped out of the woods onto a small country residential road. with obvious relief, milton announced, “oh, i know this road. a friend of mine lives just a few houses away.” buddy and i gave each other a sideways roll of the eyes. we weren’t quite as sure as milton seemed to be that we were close to being rescued. this was an area we had never seen before, so, if milton was wrong, we were still lost.

but hope, being what it is, began to creep in. at least we had rejoined civilization and, though we couldn’t exactly call a taxi, perhaps someone would take pity on us and figure out how to return us to the safety of hearth and home.

as it turned out, milton’s friend did indeed live very nearby. i can’t imagine what he must have thought when his friend turned up at his door, acting oddly, in the company of two exhausted young strangers, with no vehicle, and asking for a ride home.

some time later we learned that the cause of our lost afternoon was a tiny little insect. after we were miraculously returned home, mrs. milton, having apparently endured enough strange behavior from her husband, had insisted he visit a doctor the very next day.

there the discovery was made that a tick had taken up residence in milton’s scalp, digging in for the long haul. milton had rocky mountain spotted fever.

October 2016