Tess scanned one side of the pond, and then to the other side, searching for any way out. Directly below her, she noticed something.
"Please let it be what I think it is!" she huffed as she raced down the slick hill to the edge of the murky body of water. She reached out and pulled back dead branches and uncovered a battered canoe.
The howls and snarls sounded closer.
Tess glanced over the canoe. No visible gashes in the wood.
There was only one oar.
Grateful that Dad taught her how to canoe when she was younger, she slipped out of the backpack and threw it into the boat. Then she pushed it until the frigid water came up to her thighs before jumping inside. She picked up the oar and splashed it into the water, and began paddling side to side as fast as she could.
When the canoe neared the middle of the pond, Tess dared to look back.
All along the muddied shore several creatures paced on all fours, snarling and snapping at the water's edge. The largest one lifted its face towards her, and stared back with coal-black eyes and opened its mouth which bared saliva-soaked teeth.
A shiver ran down her spine as she whipped back around to face what was ahead. The pond went on for another half mile or so to the other side. From there she'd attempt going up the one large mountain. If she was right, this one was High Face. Near the summit was a park ranger's cabin. There, she hoped to find some supplies, and perhaps even a weapon. She just needed to get there.
After what felt like hours, the canoe finally touched the other shore. Tess instantly jumped out, pulled on the backpack, and took off in a fast pace. It took her only a few minutes to locate the trail which would lead her up the mountain.
The trail was rugged, and it zig-zagged.
She stepped over a dead log, and when something snagged the cuff of her pant leg, Tess fell hard, cutting her left knee on a sharp-cornered rock. Grimacing, she stood back up and limped forward.
The wind gradually picked up as dark clouds billowed in the sky, making it seem like near dusk rather than mid-day.
How much longer now?
Her injured knee burned. Her thighs ached. She shivered because of her pants being soaked. Possibility of hypothermia began to enter her thoughts. There was no choice, she must keep moving until she reached that cabin.
The trail suddenly plateaued where she paused briefly.
The tiny, rugged structure stood just yards away.
Tess hobbled towards it, and up to the door. She pulled on the latch. The door swung open, and she rushed in.
Exhausted, she leaned back against the wall and panted.
Glancing around, she saw only a barren room.
What? No, no there has to be something here!
Tess swept from one side of the cabin to the other in desperation to find a secret compartment or something that contained supplies.
None. Not a darn thing.
She slumped to the warped floor as she stared blankly at the wall. She ran up here for nothing.
A map hung on the one wall, the print faded.
Tess gingerly stood up, and moved towards it. She studied the map for a few moments, using a finger to follow various colored lines. If she continued on the trail, it would intersect with another that'd lead her up Mount Marcy, and about a quarter of the way up was a lodge used by maintenance crew, rangers, and hikers.
Surely there had to be something there.
Tess stepped out of the cabin, and paused for several seconds.
No sign of them.
She hobbled away from the building.
One of the things that most outsiders noticed about the Adirondacks was how rocky the trails were. This one was no exception.
The urge to run was tempered by the large stones and boulders which peppered the trail. The ache in the wounded knee grew as her limp became more noticeable with each painful step. Tess ignored the knowledge of the pursuing predators and forced herself to maintain the steady pace.
The downhill trail turned steep for nearly a mile until it crossed another. A green mile-marker with a sign post stood at the intersection.
The sign for Mount Marcy pointed left.
Tess turned left, and staggered on.
As she trekked along the jagged path, the realization that she'd not heard any sounds from nature struck.
Suddenly even her own breathing seemed much too loud as her eyes darted from one shadow to the next within the trees.
Are they out there? Lurking. Hunting. Waiting.
Tess fought back the urge to hide in a tree trunk. Something kept propelling her forward. Perhaps it was the knowing that if she didn't, it would mean a sure death sentence for her.
Fatigue now setting in as her legs felt heavier with each step.
How much further was this lodge?
The trail then rounded a corner and continued over a short wooden bridge. After she crossed it, a large rustic lodge came into view.
Oh, thank goodness!
Tess quickened her pace until she reached the front open-deck. She glanced around the expansive graveled parking lot.
Void of any vehicles.
At the door, she held her breath, touched the black knob and turned.
And rushed inside.