Tom Lohr lives in New Mexico, where he explores the region with his canine sidekick, Ella the Brown Wonder.
A Hike Up the Mountain
The hike up to Atalaya Mountain was just the beginning. Carrying a 120 pound duffle bag that far is a herculean feat; especially for me. I was drenched in sweat despite the cooler temperatures, but at least it was dark. No sun meant my water would last and I wouldn't get cooked alive. The New Mexico sun and its barrage of UV rays can sap a person's strength, and I needed all of the strength I could muster. The rocky trail is often crowded with tourists trying to squeeze in some scenic exercise while visiting the City Different. At two in the morning, I had it all to myself. That was the plan. Hike up in the middle of the night, lugging a heavy load. The straps on the duffle bag were digging into my shoulders and I was worried that they might leave a lasting mark. Shoulder strap abrasions was the last thing I needed.
The start of the hike wound through a wooded area. It smelled like pine and juniper, a smell I always savored. I knew the trail was scenic. I had tackled it many times. But tonight, with less than a quarter moon, I was doing well to stay on the path. This was the hike Jill always wanted to do.
Jill was a girl I knew in high school. She was a cheerleader and I was a nerd. She had cool friends and I belonged to a group of misfits. In school, she barely noticed me and we rarely spoke. I shouldn't say this, but in high school, Jill was a bit of bitch. It's weird how time can turn the tables. After decades of not staying in touch, I was a successful real estate agent and Jill was a semi-broke divorced mother of two college-age kids. If Jill wasn't a bitch, karma certainly was.
A few hundred yards from the summit, I had to sit down and rest. It felt good to feel the blood flow return to my shoulders after dumping my load on the ground. Even at night, the high desert air made me so thirsty that my throat felt like an old baseball glove. The hard part was almost finished. Even with the sliver of moon breaking through the unusually cloudy sky, I could make out the top of Mount Atalaya. Its boulder strewn summit beckoned me and soon it was time to slip the bag onto my back and march on.
The last half an hour of hiking up the hill gave me time to reflect on my turbulent relationship with Jill. A year ago we connected on social media after the privacy invading program suggested I send her a friend request. It only took a few months of messaging before she asked to come and visit. I would like to think it was that, after all these years, she realized just how wrong she had been to ignore me in school and now found me exciting and attractive. But in reality, she was out of work and needed a cheap vacation. That caused me to chuckle. Here I was, complaining about lugging 120 pounds up a mountain, while she had to take a Greyhound bus all the way from Connecticut. I got the better part of the deal.
I drove to Albuquerque to pick Jill up when her bus arrived. She refused to take the Rail Runner from the bus station to Santa Fe, because, and I shouldn't say this, but Jill was a miser extraordinaire. She had been living with me rent free for the entire summer, without pitching in for groceries or even with light housekeeping. I tolerated it because, from the moment she stepped off of that Greyhound, I knew I was still in love with her. The high school jitters that always happened when she was around returned after a 30 year absence. Despite her misfortune in life, she was still a stunner. Nearing 50, she didn't have a gray hair on her head and still rocked a slim and diminutive figure. Once a cheerleader always a cheerleader.
She wasn't around much in the evenings. I wasn't the only one who thought she was attractive. She capitalized on that nearly every night, carousing bars near the plaza and coaxing men to buy her drinks. She never went home with them, she always came back to my place, staggering and slurring. I could never join her. My work required an early rise, and while she may still have had the high school party spirit still in her, mine had vacated about a decade ago. I shouldn't say this, but Jill was a bit of a lush.
The only time she really wanted to do anything with me, despite mooching off of my generosity, was to go hiking. She would drone on and on about the reputation of outdoor activity that Santa Fe offered, trying to lure me onto one of the trails despite feeling on the verge of collapse after a grueling week. Occasionally, I would acquiesce and take her on one of the shorter Dale Ball trails. That satisfied her for a while. For the life of me I could not comprehend why she wouldn't hike alone. After a few months, she began hounding me to take her up Mount Atalaya. Even after explaining that it was not a novice hike, and that my strength was sapped by Friday afternoon, she wouldn't let up. I shouldn't say this, but Jill was a bit of a bitch...or did I say that already?
Often, it was worse when she stumbled in after the bars closed. She would shake me awake and want me to take her up to the summit. She didn't care that it was two in the morning, she wanted to go...now. It would cost me an hour sleep to get her calmed down, and then only by promising to take her up the mountain on the weekend. As you probably guessed, on weekends I was too beat to even think about hiking. That was the catalyst for our weekly Saturday quarrel. She would remind me what a loser I was for not keeping my promise and lounging in my living room for the greater part of the weekend. I would remind her that she was freeloading, enjoying a cost-free summer vacation. Then I would toss in the fact that, despite my tolerance and generosity, we weren't even sleeping together. That always prompted a shouting match that caused the police to show up on my porch more than once. I shouldn't say this, but Jill was a ungrateful, drunken bitch.
Tonight was the worst. I expected our weekend spat on Saturday, but this Friday night it got off to an early start. She had gone out early and come home early. I was just past midnight when the slamming front door woke me out of a dead sleep. I had fallen asleep staring at the ceiling, brainstorming ways I could extricate Jill from my life. I suspected only the offer of cash would get her onto a bus headed east, but cash was one of many things that was in short supply. The clicking of her heels on the hardwood floors grew louder. I knew it was going to be ugly as soon as the sound stopped just outside my bedroom door.
Jill burst into my room yelling about what a disappointment I was. Adding that I should be thankful that she traveled across the country to visit a loser like me. Once a loser always a loser was her mantra. At some point, it is still a little fuzzy, she began beating me with one of her high heels; with the pointy end. Twice she barely missed my eye and placed a nice gash on my face. That I remember. The rest I really don't recall. All I remember is feeling like I was being pulled out of a collapsing tunnel as my vision and awareness slowly came back into focus. I surveyed the situation and knew I had to do something. That's when I retrieved my old canvas duffle bag from the garage.
As I reached the top of the mountain, I drank in the dimly lit view, highlighted by the twinkling lights of downtown Santa Fe. The worst part was over. I had summited. It was only then that I was thankful that, after all of these years, Jill had managed to keep a trim figure. I hiked down about a hundred yards on the backside of the mountain, the part where nobody goes, and put my load on the ground. I reached into the duffle bag, pushed back a curtain of long brunette hair, and pulled a small camping shovel out of the bag. The digging in the rocky soil was hard, but I was motivated.
After an hour I was done. Jill had finally gotten her hike up Mount Atalaya, and I was free. And I shouldn't say this, but I'm glad she's gone.
Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on April 01, 2021:
What a surprising ending! This is quite an interesting story, but like the You have a great imagination.
Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on April 01, 2021:
I second Brenda's "Wow!" That is quite a story, and you had me hooked from the beginning to the end.
BRENDA ARLEDGE from Washington Court House on April 01, 2021:
I wasn't quite expecting that ending.
I must say your story is quite intriguing. It kept me glued the whole way through.
A great write with a twist of horror.