A Twinkle in My Eye

by George Gauthier

Chapter 10


As I have mentioned before in these narratives, an alternative to parkour is the sport of bouldering whether at a gym or in the great outdoors. Bouldering presents many of the same challenges as rock climbing but is much safer. In a gym you climb a wall, one which is seldom more than twenty-feet high. If you lose your grip you drop onto a crash pad or mat. Also climbers do not have to cope with rain or wind or cold or heat.

The sport engages your physical faculties fully as much as rock climbing, testing your upper body strength, flexibility, and reach. The mental side of it is a test of your judgment in selecting a route to the top. That is why hand and footholds are altered periodically to offer climbers fresh challenges. My main physical limitation in bouldering is my stature which limits my reach though my tripled strength more than makes up for it. I can lift my weight with handholds others cannot use, their fingers being too big to fit.

Outdoor bouldering is riskier, but it is a more realistic way to practice escape and evasion techniques. Real rocks present problems varying with the type of rock being climbed. For instance, granite often has long cracks whereas steep overhangs and frequent horizontal breaks are characteristics of sandstone rocks. Shale splits along flat layers less than a centimeter thick, a condition known as fissility. Shale splinters easily and is not to be trusted with your full weight.

[I commend the term fissility to aficionados of word games.]

Then there is scrambling, a form of mountaineering something like parkour in that climbers do not use ropes to ascend steep terrain, just their feet and hands. In exposed situations an unroped ascent is one of most dangerous activity in mountaineering. Bad weather may make a climb that starts easy turn dangerous from mist, fog, or especially black ice. Hypothermia can easily set it if the sun goes behind a cloud. I don't get much enjoyment from scrambling but do it only for training purposes. You never know when you might have to depend on that skill.

With me on this trip were two of my parkour buddies, Andrew and Colin. Our various climbs tested us but were not particularly dangerous. We mostly did bouldering rather than scrambling though the rocky terrain offered plenty of opportunities for both. It was Colin who carried our first aid kit just in case.

On our fourth and next to last day we came upon a party of five hikers in their thirties, all of them built like lumberjacks though I later learned that they worked in construction as plumbers, electricians, and masons. The stubble on their faces showed they hadn't been out for very long, maybe a couple of days. They had gathered at the edge of a cliff and were arguing about something. Seeing us they looked up expectantly.

Not liking the vibes were were getting the three of us simply nodded politely and tried to pass them by but no such luck. One of them stepped onto the trail and held up a hand to stop us.

"Hello. My name is Seth. This could be the lucky break we need, you guys coming along like this. Look, could you lend us a hand?"

"With what?" I asked.

"It's Phil's phone. He dropped it over the side. It's one of those pricy dual devices, a cell phone which folds out into a tablet. It's brand new, and the damn thing costs as much as two iPhones. Now he makes good money as an electrician, but even so, he cannot easily write off a loss two thousand dollars."

"Okay, but how are we the solution to his problem?" Colin asked.

"We need someone to scramble down the cliff and retrieve it. Come over here and let me show you."

Wary but not ready to just ditch these guys who hadn't really done anything untoward we looked over the edge of the cliff. Phil's device was caught in the branches of a small shrub growing out of a narrow ledge about sixty feet down. Below that was a further drop of eighty feet.

We looked at each other and shook our heads.

"Look, we three are experienced climbers in parkour, so believe me when I tell you that there is no way anyone could get down there safely without the right gear. Maybe if a life were at stake, and an injured man was lying on that ledge one of us might risk it, but for consumer electronics? No."

"But you skinny guys are perfect for the job, especially you Blondie. How much could you weigh anyway, not much more than a hundred, right? Guys our size couldn't trust their weight to hand and foot holds on a slate rock face, but with you it's another story. Won't you at least try?"

We shook our heads. "Way too risky."

"All right. Maybe you cannot simply climb down, but couldn't we rig a rope from the cords that hold our tents up?"

"Definitely knot!" (and yes I spelled it that way because I did think of the pun as I uttered the word.) "We would need a climbing harness and climbing rope, preferably of kermantle rather than just nylon. Thin cords knotted together to reach just won't do."

"So sorry but no. Just have Phil contact his insurance company to report the loss."

At that point the lumberjacks, as I thought of them, got belligerent.

"You're not being very helpful," one of them warned.

"Yeah, what's your problem?" the spokesman Seth asked. "You can do the job all right. You just don't want to. So why is that? Are you afraid of heights or are you just plain cowards?"

Colin and Andrew sighed at the verbal slight. Both had been to the sandbox and needed no lessons in courage from these guys.

"Andrew and me," we fought in Afghanistan. We have three tours between us not to mention as many Purple Hearts. I won the Bronze Star with "V" and Colin the Silver Star. So forget the macho posturing. It's not going to impress us, not one bit. Come talk to us after you've seen the elephant yourselves."

"What elephant?"

Never having served, these men were ignorant of the metaphor for someone who has seen combat. I had to explain.

Now that the shoe was on the other foot, and they were the ones who had been slighted, their belligerence went up a notch. They closed in around us.

"You punks think you're so tough, do you? Let's see how tough you really are!"

This was said with a raised fist.

"Seriously?" I asked. "How is a resort to fisticuffs going to help with anything?"

And yes, when I spoke of a resort to fisticuffs I was channeling John Wayne in "She Wore a Yellow Ribbon".

And why not? Their own tough talk sounded as if it had been lifted from the script of a bad action flick. I guess we all have lines from old movies rattling around in our heads, but most of mine are quips not tough guy talk.

"Whoa there," I warned. You really don't want to do this. The three of us train together in Thai boxing. That's the bad news. The only good news is that we are also trained in emergency medicine. Colin here carries a big first aid pack for us. I hope you guys carry major medical, because you might need it."

All right, that was not the most diplomatic language to defuse the situation, but the way I read the room, they wanted to vent their frustration on someone, and we were elected as the target of their wrath.

One of the five held his hiking pole at the ready till Seth told him to ditch it.

"Whoa there Gar. We're just going to teach these punks a lesson in good manners. So just fists. We're not sending anyone to the hospital."

So that made it clear that this would be a brawl but not a serious attempt to hurt us. They just wanted to thump us a bit to make a point. I guess five big guys like them were used to having their own way.

The fight, if you could really call it that, lasted less than a minute. Big and and strong as they were, the five of them were clearly out of their league against the three of us. For all their size and strength, they were slow and clumsy. We three were quick and agile. As long as they didn't connect with one of their punches, we were OK, and we hit back with kicks and punches of our own.

They wound up not needing major medical mainly because we too held back. We needed these guys to be able to walk out under their own power. Besides no one had pulled a weapon. These guys were angry but were not out for blood. So neither were we.

Had we not held back, it would have taken us maybe fifteen seconds to disable them by targeting their knees or the insteps of their feet. I could have done that job myself with my tripled strength, speed, and fast reaction time. Admittedly, with odds of five to one, it would take much longer. To fight off a pack you need to maneuver, not just strike or grab hold. It's not like those choreographed fights in the movies. You gotta separate your multiple foes by dodging, ducking, or maybe by a feigned retreat. I could mention here several ways to distract or trick multiple foes, but I don't want folks trying them at home.

After we broke apart I told them:

"Just so you know, I made an audio recording of our encounter. Don't complain to the rangers that it was somehow our fault you lost your expensive gadget or stated the fight. Fair warning: if you involve the law, things will get awkward for you. This app can also produce a transcript. I will send it and the audio to the authorities. Besides, do you really want to publicly admit that five tough guys like you got beat up by a trio of pansies?"

For the record, it was only two pansies. Andrew is straight.

Once again the Just Press Record app had come in handy.

Hunger Games

Angry lumberjacks aside, the real threats in the wilderness are disorientation meaning getting lost, falls, and, in hunting season, misdirected or accidental discharge of firearms.

I did not worry much about encounters with big carnivores like that angry grizzly I ran into with Darren in British Columbia. Despite their potential ferocity, bears and pumas are among the least likely of hazards. In bear country just make noise to warn bears of your presence. Be especially wary of bear sows with cubs or solitary bears or any bear found at its kill.

Loud talk works to let the bear know you are coming so no surprises. Some hikers hang a bell around their necks, a practice I consider demeaning. Don't put too much faith in the stopping power of a pistol against a charging bear. It can absorb a lot of punishment and still keep coming. I was lucky my grizzly stood up and presented me with a soft target, its throat.

Anyway, whether it is with bears or pumas, each successive tier up the food chain is smaller and smaller so the number of apex predators necessarily must be very low indeed. Big fierce animals necessarily are rare, otherwise they would soon slay their way to starvation and self-extinction.

The most basic hazard in the wilderness is its sheer extent. Whether it is temperate or boreal forest, savannah, rainforest, or desert it is all too easy to get lost. Stay lost too long and you get dehydrated or even starve. Which is why I always download topographic maps to my phone and tablet with a paper map as backup. I won't always have a cell-phone connection much less a Wi-Fi link. Good maps, a compass, and my skill at the art of land navigation make me confident that I don't need to worry much about getting lost.

Even if that happens, I could navigate by the stars or by dead reckoning. Maybe all I would really need to do is to keep my cool and head downhill or downstream till I ran into the works of man, even it it only an overgrown fire road or a marked trail, or an abandoned railroad right of way.

Always take along signaling devices like a police whistle, flashlight, and a small mirror to attract the attention of search parties or aircraft.

Another danger is going it alone. Remember that hiker who slipped down a rock face and into a crevice? Jammed in and with no other way to get free he had to cut his own arm off then climb to the top where he could be rescued. They made a decent movie of that with James Franco, the actor with those killer cheekbones who caught my eye when he portrayed Harry Osbourne in the early Spider-Man movies. Yummy!

Or think of actor Julian Sands who went hiking alone in the San Garbriel Mountains and disappeared. His body wasn't found for five months. Given the state of the remains, the cause of death was undetermined; perhaps it was simply dehydration.

The buddy system then is not just for scuba divers. The minimum number in your party should be three. If one gets hurt, another can give first aid and tend to the injured party while the third goes for help. If the injured party has to be moved, two might carry him to safety. For a single person, that would likely be impossible.

That was why I was glad that Will and Kyle signed up for a four day hike in a nearby national wilderness area. No cabins this time. We three would sleep under the stars or, if rain threatened, rig a domed tent like the ones homeless persons sleep in though only too popular on college campuses recently.

Unfortunately, Kyle sprained his ankle the day before we were to leave, so it was just the two of us, Will and me. We figured that maybe once we reached the jumping off point, we might join up with other enthusiasts, but we had no such luck. So we started out very early the next morning off to wilderness adventure, just the two of us.

And what an adventure it turned out to be, or rather a misadventure which pitted us against some of the very worst human beings either of us had ever encountered. No angry lumberjacks these guys, but stone killers.

The wilderness area was easy enough to traverse. It was mostly rugged hills rather than mountains though we could advance through the tangled understory of the forest only at a slow pace. Under the canopy you could not see very far for all the brush. Occasional meadows marked the site of an old pond or lake, long since filled in with sediment. Soon enough tree seedlings would take root, in time erasing any obvious trace of pond or meadow.

We did not encounter any creatures dangerous to humans, just smaller predators like bobcats, coyotes, and a rascally raccoon who tried to steal some of the food we had cached up a tree so as not to attract hungry bears to our campsite. Even the clever hands of a raccoon could not open the lock nor get through the metal mesh protecting our grub.

The second afternoon we set up camp in a scenic overlook, a clearing with woods on three sides and a steep slope, almost a cliff on the other. It was not a sheer drop but was steep enough that you did not want to get too close to the edge of the eighty foot drop.

Soon enough we had our fire going merrily both for the light and to cook our simple supper. Will produced a flask from which we took a nip and relaxed. About dusk four young ladies pushed their way through the woods and into the clearing. Spotting us they screamed for help. By the time they had reach our campsite we had got our boots back on.

All four were good looking young women in their mid twenties, two brunettes, a red-head, and a blonde. They were shouting and sobbing at cross purposes which made it hard to figure out their problem. An annoyed wave from me got the idea across and the others subsided in favor of a single spokesperson, a blonde named Susan.

While I talked with them Will listened but most of his attention was on the tree line from which the women emerged as if fleeing pursuit. It turned out that they were being stalked.

"Stalked? By whom?" I asked. "And why?".

"Archers!" the blonde told us. "Hunting us."

"It's two weird guys with bows. Survivalist types. Maybe an hour ago they shot Janet dead to prove that they were serious then told the four of us to start running. They promised a fifteen minute head start after which they would track us down like so much prey. I guess they really gave us that fifteen minutes, because that was how long it took before we heard a hunting horn. It gave us a faint hope that maybe we would be lucky and get away. Otherwise those hunters would shoot arrows into us just like they did done with poor Janet. It was like a scene out of that movie The Hunger Games."

"So you began as a party of five?".

"Not exactly," the redhead interjected. "Two of us, myself and Miriam are good friends. We met up with a couple of strangers including Janet at the head of the trail. Susan then joined us making a party of five. We hoped that our numbers would ensure our safety, but we were wrong."

Will nodded but kept his attention on the tree line. A former soldier in the Canadian special forces, Will knew the importance of maintaining situational awareness.

A thought struck him so Will spoke up and said: "A pair of experienced woodsmen can move faster that four women. They'll likely have nearly caught up by now. Forget fifteen minutes we gotta move now."

"Move? Move where?" the ladies chorused.

"Into the woods" Will explained. "Out here in the open we are easy targets."

"Into the woods!" the blonde screeched. No, no way I going back there, especially not in the dark."

"Lower your voice." I told her firmly. "Sound carries at night. In the dark the stalkers cannot follow your trail, but your loud voice will let them zero in on us."

"Who put you in charge?" the blonde challenged even louder. "Men!", she added looking to the other women for support.

Will shook his head. "This is no time for a battle of the sexes. You gotta listen to us, Troy and me. First thing though let's put out the fire."

"No," the women objected. We'll need light to see them when they show up."

"That is not the way it works." Will told them. "We would be silhouetted against the fire, sitting ducks and with our night sight ruined by its light."

We had only enough water to drink and no time to fetch more, so, after kicking loose dirt on the flames, Will and I did the only thing we could, we pissed on the fire to put it out.

"That's disgusting!" the blond woman said.

"Get real Miss. This is life and death. And shut up already."

"Don't tell me what to do." she snapped back then turned away sulking. Soon enough though she pulled a a keychain flashlight out of her pocket and turned it on. Two other women did the same ignoring our protests that artificial lights at night would point to us.

"Ladies, you gotta do as we say, or you will get us all killed."

But nothing we said would convince them to hide in the woods, turn off their flashlights, and keep quiet.

"So much for light and noise discipline." Will said with a shrug. He looked over at me expectantly and pointed a thumb toward the slope. I knew what he was getting at and nodded my understanding.

"Sorry ladies, but we are outta here."

With that we grabbed our packs and negotiated the steep slope leaving the women to their own devices. They shouted for us to climb back up then cursed us for cowards when we did not.

Now we were not abandoning the ladies, not at all, but we had to play this smart. Making ourselves targets for ranged weapons was dumb.

After scrambling down the slope we followed the contour of the hill to where we could climb a gentler slope so as to approach our campsite through the woods unseen. Unfortunately the archers reached the women before we were in position to intervene. It took us four minutes to reach them once the screaming started.

By the time we got back to our old campsite, one of the women was obviously dead with an arrow in her chest. Two others looked like they had been knocked unconscious as the archers raped them. Standing guard with one of their bows was the blonde lady. No wonder the bitch had carried on the way she had. Her role must have been to keep their prey confused and easy to trail.

Whatever her skills at deception, the blonde traitor made a lousy lookout. She was much too interested in the action at her feet to pay proper attention to the tree line. Will and I snuck close enough to charge the archers.

My shout on approach made both men look up and turn their heads. Perfect. I whirled my sling and put a lead bullet through the skull of the one the right. Will double tapped the other one. Blood and brains, sprayed out the other side of his skull.

It turned out that the archers were not just murderers, they were sicko necrophiliacs who raped women after they killed them. The fiends had yanked the arrows out of the bodies which explained why the two rape victims were lying motionless.

After the horrors of the Inquisition, Auschwitz, and the Gulag or more recently Hamas, I should not have been surprised at this new evidence of how low human beings could sink.

As we turned to face the blonde bitch, she threw her bow to the ground at her feet.

"There. See. I am unarmed. I surrender."

"Now just among the three of us I don't mind telling you two that while I know that I will get arrested, I won't get sent to prison. Instead they will commit me to an asylum. As a former psych patient I can convincingly fake an insanity plea. It worked before, when I was sixteen after I killed my older brother for his college fund. Give me two or three years and I will miraculously respond to psychiatric treatment and be released as cured, someone deemed no longer a threat to myself or others. And there isn't a damn thing you two can do about it. Ha, ha, ha, ha!"

Bad enough what she had said and done and was planning to do, but to laugh us to scorn as well?

Will and I were consumed with rage and with deadly purpose. We both selected an arrow from a quiver, and walked up to her. Will drove his arrow into her throat, but she was still alive and conscious when I drove my arrow through her temple into her brain.

"She was right about one thing." Will remarked brightly. "She is no longer a danger to others."

I cocked my head in admiration. "That was cold!"

Cellphones did not work in the wilds, but Will's satellite phone worked anywhere on the planet the better to serve his boss, tech billionaire Franklin Dyson. Another perk was that Will's credit card was the coveted American Express Centurion Card, familiarly known as the Black Card. Will had only to display the black card to ensure prompt, courteous, or even obsequious service.

As Dyson's personal secretary, bodyguard, and boyfriend Will covered most of Dyson's travel and entertainment expenses which were billed to one of his employer's personal accounts, not to any of his businesses.

After Will and I sanitized the scene to remove our fingerprints from the arrows and add those of the archers to the areas we had wiped, the park rangers and the FBI reached the obvious conclusion that the archers had killed all five women, including the first one named Janet whom Will and I never saw. We left it up to their special agents to explain why the blonde lady had been working with the bad guys. Of course, Will and I had no clue why the archers had turned on her. Maybe tying up loose ends. More sicko sadism. Who knew?

An expanded FBI investigation implicated the trio in a string of disappearances in the North Woods a couple of years earlier.

Will and I turned down all but one interview saying that it was the first, last, and only public statement we would ever make about those tragic events.

During that single interview Will and I indignantly denied suggestions that when the ladies had run up to us, we had been in flagrante delicto. For crying out loud, seven dead but all the interviewer was interested was the gay angle? And no, we would not sign up for a documentary or an episode in a true crime series on TV. We were done with the whole sorry business.

That left producers frustrated especially once they realized the connection Will and I had with the assassination attempt the previous year on Dyson's estate. I figure that it is only a matter of time before conspiracy theorists suggest that our participation in both incidents was not coincidental.

Only recently could I write about these things, choosing, out of caution, to cast them as fiction, a series of fanciful tales of an immortal youth written under a pseudonym. My secret is safe for no one in these days of modern science will believe it. In this tale, everything except the names is real. The events described really did happen just as I have written.

Talk about this story on our forum

Authors deserve your feedback. It's the only payment they get. If you go to the top of the page you will find the author's name. Click that and you can email the author easily.* Please take a few moments, if you liked the story, to say so.

[For those who use webmail, or whose regular email client opens when they want to use webmail instead: Please right click the author's name. A menu will open in which you can copy the email address (it goes directly to your clipboard without having the courtesy of mentioning that to you) to paste into your webmail system (Hotmail, Gmail, Yahoo etc). Each browser is subtly different, each Webmail system is different, or we'd give fuller instructions here. We trust you to know how to use your own system. Note: If the email address pastes or arrives with %40 in the middle, replace that weird set of characters with an @ sign.]

* Some browsers may require a right click instead