Chapter 9: Waking Up On the Appalachian Trail

Day 38, Dancing Bones Village

A hysterical hiss cut into the dark forest around me. I replayed my earlier interaction with Joan, scanning my mind’s eye for any signs of ill intent. Maybe her excitement was only because she had found two more hapless victims. I’d heard of cults before. They lived in communes and drank Kool-Aid. Sometimes they danced. Sometimes they murdered.

Another murderous cry cut through the night and sent an electric shot through my spine with such a start that my nipples hardened. Leaves rustled next to the tent. The footfalls cut a sharp angle, the sound approaching close to my head. And then silence.

Something scary in the lurks in the night.

I closed my eyes to focus on the chaos outside the tent walls, trying to capture an image from the sounds as if I were a dolphin or a bat. If only I saw an ambush before it fell, I began to imagine in so many hues of self-delusion, I could stop any harm from coming to us. But the vibrato of air fighting past Ben’s insubordinate tongue drowned out any chance of hearing right. I pulled the edge of my sleeping bag over my shoulders, firmly clasping both hands at the opening. The bag made me feel safe, like a two-year-old grabbing for its binky after lights out. I accepted my fate and took a breath. At least I’d die hydrated.

Probably just a squirrel, anyway. Again with the hissing! Is that a howl? A cat in heat?

I couldn’t take it anymore. “Wake up,” I whispered, kicking Ben in the shin from inside my cocoon of goose down.

“Hmph?” he grunted. His tongue snapped back to attention as he turned to me.

“Hear that!?”

N. B. Hankes

N. B. Hankes

Founder and best selling author of "Waking Up On the Appalachian Trail."
Humboldt County, California