Cyrus’ labored breath and light headiness told him he needed to stop running. The sounds of brush breaking behind him had silenced, but he knew she was back there. He had been a fool to try and approach her children, but he was only trying to take their picture.
The youngsters played in the forest, tackling each other, and running amok amid the underbrush and litter of the forest floor. Their bodies would sometimes crash into the green ferns, bushes, and saplings. Cries of pain and delight echoed about the woods as the two played without fears or cares of any sort.
Cyrus had known it was dangerous. After all, what parent would want a stranger approaching their children with a camera as they romped through the thicket? To him, it had been worth the risk. The two siblings had not even noticed him hidden behind the trunk of an old poplar tree with his head and long lens peeping out around its edge. Cyrus smiled to himself as his camera silently captured dozens of actions shots.
This moment was exactly what Cyrus had dreamed of when he made his way into the woods that morning. According to Cyrus’ GPS, he had only had to hike a little more than a mile before he stumbled upon his prey. The early summer always brought out the families before the Carolina weather heated up even the Appalachian Mountain range. Cyrus knew his photos would be the talk of his tight-knit group on the internet.
He smiled as he thought of Jordon. The smug leader of their purveyors of pictures. Although Cyrus found Jordon self-absorbed and entirely too self-important, he was proficient at finding the right customers for the photographs he, and the other merry band of photographers managed to take. Each person knew the risk associated with the type of pictures they attempted to capture, but the payout was normally worth the effort.
Cyrus listened intently. Only the sound of the breeze blowing gently through the newly leafed trees could be heard. Occasionally, birdsong would gently ride along the waves of the wind. He knew he could not stay where he was. Surely, the children’s mother would wander his direction at some point. He wished he had heard when she broke off the chase, but his heart had been pounding too loudly in his ears for him to hear much of anything.
Pulling up his phone’s GPS, Cyrus tried to determine where he had run. A broad smile spread over his face. As if by instinct, he had managed to arc his way back towards the trailhead where his car was parked. Although he had two small creeks to traverse, it was less than two miles back to the safety of his vehicle. Cyrus prayed that the angry mom was content to take her children and lead them away from his vicinity. Still, there were no guarantees.
The first half mile had been surprisingly easy. The forest’s canopy was so thick that little grew on the forest floor. Although the leaf-strewn ground was still slick from the latest spring storm, walking was not difficult. As Cyrus approached the first creek and was relieved to find the stream barely a trickle. He surmised he must be near the wellspring that fed the water out of the ground and down the mountain. With a simple hop, Cyrus continued his quest for the parking lot.
Most of his trek back had been down a gently sloping hill, but now the ground began to level off. Here the larger trees were spaced further apart. Small bushes, ferns, and rocks poked up out of the ground and lay hidden beneath the forest debris. Cyrus tripped twice in his first fifty yards. He cursed his own clumsiness and slowed to a more deliberate pace.
Cyrus stopped and sighed at the sight in front of him. The second creek was swollen to the very edge of its banks. Sparse rocks barely peeked out above the water’s surface and created a hazardous crossing for only the most confident of hikers. Cyrus sighed, and dropped the camera backpack he had all but forgotten was carrying.
A grin crept across his face once more. There was no need to keep his camera ready as he had found his quarry for the day. Slipping the camera inside the bag, Cyrus once more tossed his light burden on his back and carefully traversed his slick, rocky bridge. Despite his best efforts, he could feel the creek’s water wafting against his hiking boots and his socks turning wet with each passing moment. Cyrus was not worried, however. Soon, he would arrive at his car, and he could drive barefoot if need be.
With a final leap, he landed on the other side with the snap of several twigs. The sound of a large baby rattle caused him to catch his breath. Cyrus stood as still as a post. His eyes darted back and forth. Off to his left, he spied an eastern diamondback coiled to strike. Cyrus stood still and prayed for the serpent to be on his way. The sweat rolling down Cyrus’ brow began to soak into his collar before the snake finally decided it was safe to slither back into the forest.
Cyrus carefully continued towards his car. Each slow step only followed a careful survey of the ground ahead. The pace was arduous, but he made steady progress. Cyrus pumped his fist in the air and let out a yell of triumph as the path near the trailhead came into view. Once he reached the well-worn hiking trail Cyrus quickened his pace. He stopped short at the poster board at the trail’s entrance. A somber ranger stood between him and his car.
The ranger did not say a word but pointed towards Cyrus’ vehicle. There on his car’s hood stood the mother bear that had chased him through the woods. Her two familiar cubs attempted to climb on the Chevy Malibu, leaving their deep claw marks down the sides of his car. The large black bear clawed and scraped the Chevy’s front windshield, determined to find her way inside. The damage to the vehicles trim and weatherproofing was obvious even from fifty yards away.
The ranger stepped closer to Cyrus and whispered, “Is that your car?”
Cyrus let out a muffled sigh and nodded.
The ranger quietly continued, “I have backup coming. We’ll try to chase the family back into the forest. I hope you have roadside service.”
Cyrus dropped his head and shook it.
The ranger put an understanding hand on Cyrus’ shoulder and said, “I’m sorry. I can give you a ride into town. It might be easier to get a hotel and wait for your car to be towed there after we are sure the area is secure. I have a cousin who owns a body shop. He should be able to get you fixed up.”
The ranger and Cyrus backed up a few yards into the trail’s entrance to keep a safer distance. The ranger noticed Cyrus’ backpack, “How long did you hike today?”
Cyrus shrugged, “I haven’t had time to look. I was taking some wildlife pictures of those two cubs when their momma started chasing me.”
The ranger tried to stifle his smile, “Looks like she found you.”