Paula Shablo: Wherever it leads you

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Wherever It Leads You

By Paula Shablo

Daddy was never blessed with a son, but that didn’t mean he would have nothing to teach his six daughters. As far as he was concerned, there was nothing we couldn’t do that a boy could do — except pee standing up.

Growing up, we spent a great deal of our time out in the wilderness, camping, and fishing. Mom was always up for an adventure and had no objections to having us learn how to bait a hook, clean a fish and start a campfire.

My parents believed that everyone should know how to survive in case survival became necessary. I learned to shoot a rifle when I was eight, but only on the shooting range. I had no interest in hunting. Like Mom, I would stay at camp while Dad and my sisters went after deer or elk. Dad never forced the issue; you like to hunt or you don’t, he always said.

The point was if I had to hunt, I had the skills to do it. I could hit a target with a gun or an arrow, and I actually won a few ribbons in archery when I was younger. My older sister and I took police firearms classes so we could improve our skills with moving targets, various light conditions and more.

She’s a cop now, a good one. Her shooting skills far surpass most of her peers.

I’m still shooting too, but these days I mostly use cameras.

Dad gave us compasses and made sure we knew how to use them. We could read maps. We could find our way back to our camp no matter where Dad left us — and he used to really go out of his way to get us lost because he wanted us to know how to find our way if we ever really had to.

Sometimes it was a little scary, trying to get back to camp alone. The truth was, we were never really alone. Dad was always nearby, watching and ready to rescue us if we went off track. We didn’t know that until later, of course; he’d tell Mom the whole story of one or the other of us being lost in the woods, once we’d rejoined the family in camp.

By the time it was my turn to be “lost,” I had heard enough stories to know Dad was taking care of me. Even so, it was scary. What if he took a wrong turn and lost sight of me? Then we’d both be lost!

Well, that never happened, of course.

We all grew up; got jobs; found loves and lost loves; found new loves or gave it up as a lost cause.

That last would be me. Get it wrong enough times, you decide all you really need is a dog.

Now, all that is history in my life, but it’s important, because of where I am now.

I never believed I would actually have to use the lessons I learned growing up, but now I’m tramping through this dense growth of woods. I’m using the compass I always carry with me as a reminder of the beloved father who has gone on to the next world. I have a handgun tucked into the waistband of my jeans, wishing it had been there earlier instead of in my backpack. If it had been, I could have killed that stupid black bear before he snapped my poor dog in half.

God, I loved that dog! She was my best friend. The young girl who refused to hunt instantly turned into a woman who had not one qualm about shooting a bear dead as a cold stone. Didn’t think twice about spitting on the damned thing, either.

Killed my friend, you stupid bear, take that!

Thanks, Dad, for making sure I could shoot.

The private plane went down hours ago. Everyone else is dead. I don’t know how Jo-Jo and I made it out alive. She was lying on top of me when I came to. We were in open air, because half the plane was gone. We found the other half about an hour after we started walking east.

I don’t want to talk about what we found in either half of the plane, except for the food and drinks I was able to salvage from the galley. I stuffed my backpack with as much as I could carry without dumping too many extra clothes. I figured I might have to layer them for warmth later.

I’d left the gun in a side pocket of the pack — damn my hide. Too many wasted seconds dropping the pack and digging out the gun. Poor Jo-Jo.

At least I have my gun and some ammunition. Flying private has some advantages, including having my dog in a seat instead of a crate. We were headed for a photo shoot. Some government thing that wasn’t clearly explained to me, which makes me wonder what really happened with the plane.

I have no idea where I am. Damn my secretive agent for sending me on this job! The pay sounded great at the time…

My phone is useless. No signal. I record a bit of what I’m doing now, but mostly, I keep it turned off to save the battery.

Well.

Dad always told us to find a path, or a road, or a stream or river, and follow it wherever it leads you.

Good advice if you can find one of those things.

He also said to use the compass, choose a direction and keep to it. No going in circles. Walk a straight line.

I chose east, God knows why. I’ve walked a long way alone. I miss my best friend. I keep talking to her and then remembering she’s not here. I want to cry, really cry, but I can’t.

So I leak, and I walk. I count my steps and every 100 paces, I check my compass. Weaving through trees can put a person off track if they’re not careful — another of Dad’s lessons.

I can’t see the sun through all this foliage, but the quality of light is fading fast when I finally find this track.

Find a path, and follow wherever it leads you.

Okay, Dad.

But it’s a strange track. I thought at first it was a railroad line, but when I got close enough, I could see that it was lined with wood, not iron. It’s some sort of path. Maybe a hiking trail. That would be good.

The bridge just ahead doesn’t look so good, though. The light shining through should look welcoming, but it’s making me nervous instead.

Is it a bridge? Does this path lead through it — or past it?

Why would there be a window, if it is a bridge?

Is somebody in there?

I make up my mind: Not tonight. Nope! Not me.

I back off the trail and into the trees. I settle behind some bushes. There are berries, but I can’t see well enough to guess if they’re safe to eat. Maybe in the morning.

I can still see the path; I hope no one can see me.

I eat airplane pretzels and drink a coke and finally have a good cry over my little Jo-Jo.

I’m not going any farther right now. I can wait until daylight. Wherever it leads you, be damned — at least for tonight.

I layer on extra clothes and using my backpack for a pillow, I cry myself to sleep.

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Please visit Paula on her blog: https://paulashablo.wordpress.com