By Korie Pelka
The animals ran first, like that scene from Bambi, where they know a wildfire is coming and they all head in the same direction, instinctively sensing how to get away from the danger. Except this danger wasn’t fire. It wasn’t even quite human.
But I didn’t know that yet. What I knew was, I should be running too, and so I did. Up the hill and through the trees.
Now, I have to say, I’m not a runner. My body isn’t built for it. Not that I’m overweight or don’t like physical activity. It’s just that my “ladies” are too big and bouncy without the constraint of a sports bra built like Fort Knox. The most cardio I’ve ever done was a very memorable night of sex with Ricardo in Tahoe. Come to think of it, as I began to pant and scramble up the hill, maybe it was the altitude that had me breathing so heavily that night and not the sex. If I survived this chase, or whatever it was, I’d need to test that theory at lower elevations. But not with Ricardo. Not after The Breakup. I’ll save that tale for later. At the moment, fear and adrenaline were doing a pretty good job of overcoming my physical limitations, as I continued running awkwardly up the mountain.
I’d lost my gal pals in the panic that had erupted around us. We were here in Yosemite for a bachelorette weekend, celebrating the last vestiges of freedom with Ali before she said “I do”. We’d hiked deep into the forest, seeking an enchanted fairy ring to hold our Bad-Ass Goddesses rite of passage; something we’d been doing for years as a way to bring us together and celebrate our feminine auras. Sometimes, we’d burn effigies of men who had dumped us, sometimes we’d celebrate, as we were today, the joy of finding a life partner. The Goddess, we believed, didn’t care what we were celebrating or burning, as long as we were together as women, seeking love and strength. That’s what you get when seven women are gathered in a dark forest, surrounded by mystical-seeming sequoias, all with wild imaginations and a passion for adventure.
After all, we were actresses.
Hiking in the woods, away from rehearsal halls and dramatic script readings, the forest was our antidote to the Real World. Not that theater is in anyway the Real World, but it was our Real World. Nature has it so much more together than us humans. Seriously, I can’t stand in a grove of ancient trees who have protected themselves for thousands of years and not think, “I’d really like to put down roots next to you, Grandma Sugar Pine, and pull up some of your old-timey wisdom and comfort.” Which was what we were trying to do, standing next to a sweet-smelling tree with bark so deeply grooved we had hidden fairy offerings in its crevices.
There I was, imagining my feet growing little sprouts (like Groot from Guardians of the Galaxy), my hair blossoming with rose petals (the kind from Sleeping Beauty, all gnarly, dark and menacing) and my arms looking strong and muscular (like Jennifer Garner’s in Alias). Not your typical tree, but I think trees are generally much more accepting of differences than humans. Have you ever seen two trees exactly alike? No. I rest my case.
When the ruckus started, we were deep in our trance state, dancing in a circle, chanting Oms and Namastes, the only two yoga phrases we could remember given our inebriation. Now’s the time to admit we were just a bit high, and yes, the mimosas had been flowing faster and stronger than the stream beside us. So, it took us a while to understand something was happening that might endanger us.
Our first clue was the big-assed moose bounding through our circle. Did you know a moose is really quite graceful? And fast! In the fleeting moments it took him to crash through the clearing, I thought he was the most elegant creature I’d ever seen, with antlers like a crown worthy of King Arthur. Not Richard Burton King Arthur, but Clive Owen King Arthur or Idris Elba if he wanted to be King Arthur. Truthfully, I think Idris could be King of Anything-He-Darn-Well-Wanted and I’m sure I could be his Queen of Whatever-You-Desire, but I digress.
As we watched the fuzzy moose tail exit stage left from our circle, the second clue came in the form of more rabbits than I’ve ever seen. Rabbits, apparently, don’t hop so much as scurry . . . really, really quickly. We had to jump all over to avoid stepping on them as they rushed to follow the moose.
The noise that accompanied this flight was an odd mixture of hoof beats, branches breaking, human cries and an unidentified rumble that sounded like an earthquake without the earth actually moving.
That was enough for us. We knew a good stage exit when we saw one, so we hastily grabbed our backpacks and took off after the rabbits, not waiting to see what the next fleeing animal would be.
I probably shouldn’t have stopped to fill my water bottle with the remaining mimosas, but I’ve never been one to let a good drink go to waste. If the apocalypse was coming our way, I had every intention of keeping my happy buzz going for as long as possible. When I looked up, I realized I had been left behind by the wannabe goddesses I called my friends.
So, there I was, accompanied by a ton of other people coming out of the woods at an amazing speed. I’ve always been terrible at estimates. I couldn’t tell you what a hundred feet looked like, which is kind of dumb when I think about it, but my spatial perception has always been iffy at best. Apply that to a moving mass of random humans and I’d say there were fifty of us and realize it might have been a thousand.
Where had they been just a few minutes ago? We hadn’t seen anyone in hours, yet here they were lurching up the hill. This unknown danger propelling them out of the fairy rings, interrupting their off-trail trysts and forcing them to abandon the hunt for pollywogs in the creek beds. They were massing; a human herd, taking their lead from the animals, hoping they knew their way to safety better than we did. Our senses may be dull and blind but that primitive part of our brains just knew that danger with a capital D was chasing us.
I scrambled up the hill, feeling safer now, thinking the steep climb of the mountain would slow down the pursuers, whoever they were. I didn’t realize until later that thought should have been, whatever they were.
As I rounded a thicket of bushes, I saw him, sitting as still as a deer tharned in headlights, cross-legged and composed. He appeared to be around my age, until he removed his sunglasses and I saw the ancient spirit within his eyes.
“There’s no need to run,” he said quietly.
Actually, I’m not sure he said that out loud because he seemed to be in my head already. But what I heard, besides his words, was an Australian accent. Good Lord, save me now, that’s the one accent I simply can’t resist. Irish, South African, Jamaican; those I can fend off with some effort. But Australian? Forget it.
I stopped, heeding his words. I’m not sure I could have run much further anyway, so really, thank goodness, I ran into him, right? I’ll leave that for you to judge later on. At the moment, I stopped and stared as the sound of panic rose all around us like an orchestra tuning up for The Phantom of the Opera.
His eyes were on me – a very slight smile full of, I don’t know. . . Encouragement? Mischief? Flirtation? I couldn’t tell and I’ll never know why, but I sat. I chose to stop running and quietly sink into the soft bed of pine needles, shoulder to shoulder with this strange man. That choice, born of instinct and fate, changed my life forever.
~ ~ ~
I’ve been rude and not introduced myself properly. Let me pause for a brief intermission and say hi. This saga may take a while and we’ll be spending some time together, so like a good host, I’ll invite you to grab a drink. I know I need another round to keep going.
I’m Petra Rose Malloy, named after my suspected conception location. I’m thankful it wasn’t Hoboken or Ogunqit; both of which were up for consideration before and after my parents’ visit to Jordan. They had both been cast in an off-off-off Broadway revival of Hair and needed to get into character. So, they were vagabonding their way around the world pretending to be hippies before they settled down to start rehearsals.
I’m not sure they actually understood the concept of settling down because we’ve moved almost every year of my life. They are actors, and that should tell you everything you need to know about them. If it doesn’t, I can’t really help you. Go hang out in Ashland or Niagara-on-the-lake or New Haven for a summer and get back to me. The theater gypsy spirit is just a Thing and it was alive and well in my parents.
Even actors need to eat though, and when your only employable skills are stage fencing, emoting in iambic pentameter and tap dancing while belting out a song, then you’ll do what my parents did and travel from show to show. I know that sounds flip and I don’t mean it. They are gifted, passionate, curious and funny. I grew up with an extended theater family that taught me to question everything, seek joy at all times and always put myself in someone else’s shoes. That last lesson might seem like a call for compassion, which it was, but it was also everyone’s desire for me to become a famous actress that they could claim to know. I’m glad I cultivated that particular talent because it was going to see me through the next few hours.
That’s enough about me for now. I think it’s time you met Kyan.
~ ~ ~
“You will all be captured, Petra Rose.”
And just like that, the song Perfect Duet by Ed Sheeran and Beyoncé popped into my head. I hate it when that happens because it’s now destined to become my latest ear worm. I mentally acknowledge the weirdness, knowing the song is way too soppy for this setting with someone I’ve just met but I let it continue to play in the background of my consciousness.
“Wait, how did you know my name?”
“I’ve been watching you for a while and knew you were the one that would be my ally in what will come.”
Well, that was creepy and also kinda cute. I was torn between wanting to slap him and kiss him. So, I did the only appropriate thing in this type of situation, I asked, very politely, what his name was.
“Kyan, my name is.”
He’s talking like Yoda with eyes like Bradley Cooper, exuding strength and charm like Chris Helmsworth and did I mention the accent?
“Don’t be talkin’ like Yoda, dude, unless you’re as old and wise as he is. Where did you come from anyway? And how do you know what’s going to happen when all hell seems to be breaking loose around here?”
He let out a small sigh, like I was a child trying his patience with all my idiotic questions, and with it the sounds of panic around us faded into the background. He turned to face me, brushing my arm and my knee ever so slightly. I realized his skin was glinting in the sunlight, a warm deep indigo blue that seemed to pulse when he took a breath. My first thought was to stop drinking during the day because this was tripping me out. My second thought was to finish off the mimosas in my water bottle, which was what I did as he began his tale.
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