A HIKE IN THE WOODS
BY: Debra Alcorn
A father, stripped of his family with no explanation is left endlessly searching and left with no results. Riots create chaos as he is finally reunited with his son. After planning an amazing camping trip to reconnect and bond things don’t turn out as planned. As he struggles to get back the family he once had, tragedy gets in the way, will he live to tell about it?
I haven’t seen my son in over a year. It’s been difficult to live or even eat, wondering if I would ever get to see him again. I ran in to Alicia, one of Shela’s friends at the grocery store. She told me she had seen Jackson in a grocery store a few towns away with a lady named Wendy. Alicia told me she went up to Wendy and Jackson and said hi and asked where Shela was. Wendy told her she wasn’t sure who Shela was and after a short conversation learned she had adopted Jackson just a few months ago.
I then went to the police and informed them of this news. They said they would check into it as soon as they could but would need Alicia to come in for a statement. I called Alicia when I left the police station and told her that she would need to provide a statement to the police.
The next day, Alicia called me and said she provided a description of the woman with Jackson and told them where she had seen them. She said she told the police exactly what Jackson looked like and what he was wearing as well. I think I may finally be closing in on what happened to my son.
I decided to go to this town, Fairaway, and visit all the local businesses with a picture of Jackson. I knew it was a long shot concidering it’s been a couple of years since the picture I have was taken. A few ladies said he looked familiar but couldn’t say for sure. I asked them if they could point me in a direction where they may have seen him. I was sent all over that town and finally decided to go door to door. I knew this would take a while so I rented a hotel and called my boss to inform him of what was going on and asked that I could take the rest of the week off.
I have been searching for Jackson for two days now, a few people said they thought they might have seen him from time to time at the local playground. I kept a list of addresses of the people who gave me leads and I pulled the city map out of the front of the phone book so I could mark everywhere he may have been seen.
After four days of knocking on doors I found a house with a lot of toys in the yard. I knocked on the door and a lady answered with long brown curly hair and hazel eyes. She seemed to have a good life. She had an amazing house and she looked very professional as if she has a job of importance. I showed her the picture of Jackson and told her he’d been missing for over a year. She said she had adopted a boy that looked very similar about six months ago. She said the social workers found him lost in a mall and couldn’t find the mother and since he didn’t know where he lived or what his dad’s name was, they put him in the foster care system.
After talking with Wendy a while I asked her if I could see Jackson. She said she wasn’t sure if that’d be possible. She was never able to have kids and was so blessed by finding a kid like Jackson. I told her, since he’d been living with her a while he could stay there for now as long as I could see him. After all, I am his father and I have been looking for him for over a year. I told her that I understand that it wouldn’t be good for Jackson to be bounced around so she could keep him until we got the legal stuff taken care of but I requested that I take him for the weekend to catch up. We agreed that I would call him every day so he could get to know me a little bit. I took down her name, address and phone number and took it to the police as soon as I got back to Calaloo.
The next day, I called Wendy to talk to Jackson. I’m so excited! I have no clue what w’re going to talk about, after all, he’s only four years old. Boy, do I miss holding my little champ. I can’t wait to see him.
“Hey Buddy, how are you today?” I asked. “Okay.” He answered back. “Do you remember me Buddy?” I asked, “you sound like my daddy.” He replied. I started crying, I can’t believe he remembers my voice. “Jackson, I would like to take you camping this weekend so we can get to know each other better. Is that okay?” I asked. “That sounds fun!” Jackson replied. “What all are we going to do?” He asked. “We will go to the mountains to go camping and hiking in the woods, and I have a surprise for you.” “Cool!” Jackson replied. “I’m excited!” I replied. “Are you?” Jackson seems excited. “Yes!” He responded loudly. “Oh, Buddy, you just wait! We are going to have the most amazing weekend! “Yay!” Jackson replied, “Can we go now?” He asks anxiously “Sorry bud, I have to work. It will be time to go soon enough.” I replied. “Good night Jackson.” “Good night, Daddy.” Jackson replied
I can’t wait to finally be able to spend time with my little buddy. He has always been my world. We used to roll a ball back and forth in the yard. When he was just starting to walk, he would roll the ball as hard as he could and even though our feet were touching, the ball didn’t quite make it to me. I’d smile at him and he would giggle in excitement. I’d play tag with him and he just loved that. Every time he was “it” he would run toward me and I would move quickly but in short motions so he could catch me and when he did, he would giggle until his face turned pink. I mised a lot in the past year, but now we can have more exciting days together.
When Shela left me I didn’t think I’d ever see Jackson again. She changed her phone number and moved away. She didn’t even leave a forwarding address at the Post Office. I wasn’t sure how I was going to live without seeing Jackson. I was so afraid she would disappear forever with him. I didn’t make enough money for a lawyer to find her and I couldn’t afford a private investigator either. I spent every day searching the internet for her name, waiting for something new to pop up and nothing ever did.
I reported them missing after a couple of days and followed up with the police every Saturday morning. I would take them any information I had or any leads I’d find but they didn’t lead anywhere. The police said it was common for women to up and leave with their children in our area because all of the work there for men required long hours and the women didn’t want to ask for divorce because it wasn’t the man’s fault they worked strange or long hours. Instead, they’d just leave to save themselves the pain of hurting their spouse. I continually told the police that wasn’t the case here and that I had suspected she left but I wasn’t sure if she and Jackson had been abducted. I just wanted my son back, and to be a family again.
I’m not sure what I ever did to make her want to leave me. I couldn’t figure out if maybe I wasn’t spending enough time with her. Maybe I wasn’t helping her enough. Or maybe someone else gave her attention I wasn’t able to. I didn’t know why and I couldn’t figure out a logical explanation, all I knew was that I came home from work one day and they weren’t there. Their belongings had all been cleared out of the house, only one photo of me and Jackson on my desk in the office was all that was left. Jackson was only one or one and a half in that picture. He was so short. He had on a baseball cap just like mine. I took that picture to remember that day because, I asked Jackson what he wanted to be when he grew up and he said he wanted to grow up to be me. I felt proud at that moment and took the picture that now sits alone on my desk. I didn’t have any recent pictures of Jackson, the only other picture I have of him is an old crinkled up photo in my wallet that had been through the wash so you can barely make out the picture. I was so upset when my wallet got washed and messed up all the pictures I had, this was the only one that was still somewhat recognizable.
I found every family member of hers I could and no one knew where she went. Her aunt Peggy said that Shela told her she was planning on leaving but wouldn’t give her any details. Shela just told Peggy she wasn’t sure where they were going yet but wanted a fresh start. Peggy just assumed I was going with her.
It’s been over a year now. I’m surprised Jackson even recognized my voice on the phone. I’m glad he was excited to talk with me. I’m going to make sure this is the best weekend of his life.
It’s Thursday, I’m getting so anxious for my weekend with Jackson I can hardly concentrate on my work. My boss walked in and asked me if I’d finished the contracts for the Conrades. I looked at him like I had no clue what he was talking about and it’s true, I didn’t have a clue. He knew by the expression on my face I was confused. “You know…the Conrades…Soldiers….signing contracts.” He said. “Oh, right, I’m sorry, I’ve been a little distracted lately, all I can think of is my first weekend with my son in over a year.” I replied embarrassed of my forgetfulness. “Well congrats,” he said. “Now can you focus on the work at hand? These are expensive clients, don’t go messing stuff up.” “Yes, Sir.” I replied, now feeling scolded.
When I got off work, I just had to call Wendy and talk to Jackson, I was too excited to wait to hear his voice again. “Hey Buddy! How are you today?” I asked Jackson. “I’m good Daddy.” He says and goes on talking. “Did you work good?” Jackson asked. “Did I have a good day at work?” I replied. “Yes.” Jackson quickly responded. “I had an excellent day at work Buddy, all I could think about was me and you hiking in the woods!” I said excitedly. “Okay, well, Mommy says it’s time for bed. How many days ‘til we go Daddy?” Jackson asked. “One and a half. We have all day tomorrow and then we are leaving early Saturday morning.” “Can we go tomorrow after your work?” Jackson asks sadly. “If we go tomorrow, it will be too dark to set up our tent when we get there Buddy.” I replied. “Okay.” Jackson said sadly. “Good night Daddy.” “Good night Jackson, I love you Buddy.” I said and hung up the phone.
Ring, ring, the sound of the phone woke me. I rolled over and looked at the clock. It’s five o’clock in the morning. Who would be calling this early? I don’t even have to be up for two more hours. Ring, ring, I answered the phone, “Hello.” I said waiting for a response. “Freddy, it’s Bob.” He continues on to say, “The Conrades are rioting, it’s not safe here at the office. I want you to stay home today.” He said. “Okay Bob, see you Monday then.” I replied and hung up the phone.
What am I going to do all day to keep my mind off of tomorrow? If I’m thinking about my camping trip with Jackson all day, the day will go by so slow! Now that I’m up, I’m too excited to fall back to sleep. I decided to go into the kitchen and get a nice fresh glass of iced tea and cook some bacon and eggs for breakfast. Mmm, I love the smell of bacon in the morning. That’s enough to get my heart pumping for the day.
I walked out to the porch with the newspaper and the headline read “Riot in Callaloo Causes Fatal Injuries to Innocent bystanders.” The article talked about how citizens are joining up with the Conrades and causing fights with innocent bystanders putting many people in the hospital. The article goes on to say how people aren’t giving the military the credit they deserve and how the government is dishing out billions of dollars on a war that’s completely pointless. The government is merely fighting a war out of vengeance. There’s no “end game” here. We got what we went in for, what’s next? The article has many statements from a lot of concerned citizens. Some are understandable and others are outrageously far fetched with no real knowledge of what’s going on out there. I think those people just want to feel like they’re a part of something. Whatever the case, I’m not a politician and I don’t believe in a lot of what the government spends their time and our money on but that’s not up to me.
After reading the paper and getting lost in my self-defeating thoughts, I decided it’s time to go pick up some groceries. The store is full of irritable customers complaining about the riots causing issues for them and how “The rioters need to get a life of their own or go ruin the lives of people who actually deserve it.” I heard a couple of rich-looking ladies saying. I personally don’t get why people get so worked up about this kind of stuff. I figure they’ll get tired eventually. Giving them press and attention will only make it get worse, so I just stay out of these types of things and go on with my life. One lady stopped me and said, “You look like one who keeps up with the news, what do you think of all this?” “I don’t really have an opinion Ma’am, I got called off work today, that’s it, nothing big.” I replied and continued down the dairy isle. She starts to follow me like she has another question then backs off and goes the other way.
I stopped at the bank to get some cash for my trip with Jackson tomorrow and only the drive-up was open. The bankers were afraid with the riots going on, criminals would think this was a perfect opportunity to rob them. The tellers wouldn’t even look up at you when you got to the window like they were afraid of being shot through the glass or something. Wow, I never thought something like this could make so many people so timid. But it was true, everyone was on edge, a lot of people boarded up the windows and doors to their houses so the rioters didn’t try breaking in. It’s a mess out there. People keep looking at me like I had no business being out of my house.
When I got back home, there was Graffiti on my front door. “Traitor,” it read in big red letters. Is this what I got for not wanting to be a part of the riot? Did people truly think I was a threat? Is this because I didn’t go to work today? Whatever the reason, I’m not frightened by their angry outbursts, this had nothing to do with me. I then went to the paint store so I could paint over the Graffiti and get on with my day. While I was there, I decided to paint my front door a new color, white is so boring and I think all of my neighbors have a white door, why not stand out? If the Graffiti didn’t already make it stand out, what else would? Yellow, I know, it’s not the ideal color for a front door of a brick house but now that I have my son back in my life, it’s like the sun is always shining and yellow reminds me of that, so yellow is absolutely perfect.
When I got back home, I immediately started working on the front door. I took it off its hinges, removed the hardware, laid a paint cloth in the middle of my driveway and started painting the door. I finished the first coat of paint and went in the house to wait until it was time for a second coat. I want to call Jackson and talk to him since I’m not working, but he is at daycare. That gives me a great idea. I picked up the phone and dialed Wendy’s cell number. She didn’t pick up since she’s at work but hoping she would check her phone on her next break, I left her a message, “Wendy, it’s Freddy. My boss called and had me stay home today, with the riots going on it’s not safe at the office. So, I’m just wondering if it would be okay if I picked Jackson up from daycare to spend some time with him until you get off work. I’ll talk to you later.” I hung up and turned on the news to waste some time. The first thing I saw was a burning building.
Apparently the rioters got mad at a company for making a statement to the press that they had no business causing riots throughout the city. If anyone had any business, it was the soldiers, not the people, they reported. That caused many people to call into the news station and threaten them for airing it that way and the news signal was blocked. All that was on the t.v. now were wide vertical colored lines with an alert signal buzzing real loud. Well, so much for watching the news I thought to myself and shut the t.v. off.
I started thinking to myself, I better clean out the spare room, it’s been piling up with research from my search for Shela and Jackson. It was a mess in there, I didn’t realize how much the room had gotten away from me. I started moving boxes into the garage. I found an old stuffed puppy Jackson used to carry around with him when he played in the back yard. I dusted it off and carried it back into the house. I continued to sift through papers. I threw away everything I no longer needed. I washed the windows, vacuumed and dusted the ceiling fan, the trim around the room and the window ledge. I then decided teddy bear wall paper probably wouldn’t be suitable for a little man about to start school so I decided to go back to the paint store.
I looked at all kinds of paint samples. I never realized how difficult it was shopping for paint. It had to be absolutely perfect for my special little man. I decided that lime-green and blue would be nice. I also bought some glow-paint to put stars on the ceiling for him. When I finished up at the paint shop, I drove a few miles away to a department store and got a new sheet set and pillows for Jackson’s bed. Heck, I was so excited, I then decided to get him a monster truck ceiling fanto go with the new wall colors. Jackson will love it.
Wendy called, “Hello Freddy, I got your message. I don’t mind if you pick Jackson up, Just as long as you bring him home by five. I will be home from work by then.” I replied, “Okay, that sounds great, I started cleaning Jackson’s room out. I’d like to put a fresh coat of paint on the walls before I pick him up. Okay?” “That’s fine.” She says, and hung up.
I rushed home to get started on Jackson’s room and realized my front door was still in the middle of the driveway. As I was now in a hurry, I slapped a coat of paint on the other side of the door and went in the house to start on Jackson’s bedroom. I moved the bed and dresser to the middle of the room and covered them with drop clothes to keep them from getting paint on them. I put a strip of tape about one-third of the way up the wall from the floor all the way around the room. I started painting the top two-thirds of the room lime-green and continued down to paint the bottom third of the wall in blue. When I was finished with the walls, I opened the glow-paint and painted stars, a moon and some planet-like shapes on the ceiling. I then replaced the ceiling fan with the monster truck fan I had bought and I also put the Monster truck bedspread on the bed.
I just knew Jackson would love his new bedroom. It’s been a few hours and I know everything will need a second coat of paint, but I don’t have time for that If I want to see Jackson today. I quickly went outside, picked up the door and re-hinged it to the frame. I put the hardware back on and headed to the daycare.
When I got to the daycare center, I could see Jackson playing on the marry-go-round with a couple of other kids while one of the providers pushed it. I started crying, this is the first time I’ve seen Jackson in over a year. He’s gotten so big and I missed out on all of that. He probably has all of his teeth by now. As I walked up to the daycare provider, Jackson looked up at me curiously. His expression appears as if he knows who I am but he also looks curious as if he’s unsure. “Jackson.” I say to him, “Are you about ready for our camping trip?” I ask to assure to him that I’m his father. Jackson jumps up real fast and runs over to me and clings to my legs. I can’t help but tear up with joy.
On our way home, I asked Jackson what types of things he likes to play with. He told me he likes cars and trucks. “Great!” I tell him, “You’re going to love your bedroom.” “I have a bedroom at your house?” He asked, “Yes, Buddy. You have your very own bedroom at my house.” I replied. I went on telling Jackson how excited I was to finally see him again. He had a smile on his little face all the way to my house.
When we got back home, I took Jackson to see his room. As soon as he walked in, his face lit up like the fourth of July. I then told him, “It’s not quite finished. It still needs another coat of paint.” “I love it Daddy!” He says excitedly. “Can I sleep here?” Jackson asks. “I will have to talk with Wendy a little more about that Buddy,” I replied. “Lets go to the back yard and play with our old ball.” I said to Jackson. “Okay.” Jackson replies excitedly. We played ball for a while, he’s learning to catch now. We also played tag like old times. I looked at my watch and saw that it’s three-thirty and my house is about fourty minutes from where Wendy and Jackson are living. I took Jackson in for a snack before taking him back to Wendy’s house. He wanted a peanut butter and jelly sandwich with a glass of milk. When he was finished eating, I washed him up and headed to Shela’s house. Jackson wasn’t too excited about going back there All he wanted to do was play outside with me and sleep in his new bedroom. I explained to him that we will be able to do everything he wants soon enough and wished him a good night.
It’s Saturday morning! I rushed out of bed, got into some comfortable camping clothes, grabbed my baseball cap and slid my feet into my tennis shoes. I then threw three changes of clothes into a backpack. I already put all my camping gear in the car last night before I went to bed. I packed some food suitable for camping such as crackers, hotdogs, juice, water, marshmallows, graham crackers, and chocolate for S’mores. Finally, I grabbed a roll of toilet paper and stuffed it into the bag. I’m not sure how Jackson will like going to the bathroom outside but I guess as a dad, I’ll have to teach him.
I pulled up to Wendy’s house, she’s waiting on the front porch with Jackson. Jackson looks so adorable with his wavy brownish-blonde hair, blue eyes with a hint of green just outside the middle of his eyes, and a little smile that will light up your world. He’s holding an umbrella, a sleeping bag and a teddy bear. Wendy is holding his backpack and another bag she put allergy medicine into along with some hand sanitizer and a box of band-aids. I didn’t even think of those things, I was just thinking about all the things we need to have fun. Jackson is wearing his baseball cap from the picture. It’s blue with a picture of a baseball on the front just like mine. It’s a little too small, it doesn’t even cover half of his head. The sides stop about two inches before his ears. After all, he has had it since he was two. He looks so cute with his wavy brownish-blonde hair hanging out from under his hat. Jackson said goodbye to Wendy and we got into the car and headed down the road.
On the way to the mountains, Jackson looks up and sees a lot of flashing lights and big machines, “What’s that, Daddy?” he asks amazed. “That is where we are going before we go to the mountains Buddy.” I replied with excitement that he asked what it was. “That’s a carnival. We are going to go on those rides and eat corn dogs, popcorn and cotton candy. How does that sound?” “It sounds fun.” Jackson said. We rode on a spinning strawberry, a little dragon, a train, and the farris wheel. We also went in a bouncy house and ate foot-long corn dogs and the biggest bag of cotton candy we could find. Jackson had such a big smile on his face all morning, I didn’t want that to go away. I wanted my son to be happy. I wanted him to have a family again. As we were walking back to the car I thought to myself, I have to find Shela. I need answers. I need to know why she left and why she changed her number and left no forwarding address for me to find her. Where did she go and how did she let Jackson get put into foster care? How do you leave your two and a half year old kid alone in a mall. He could’ve ended up in a lot worse situation or even dead.
I took Jackson up to the mountains where we found a suitable place for our tent where there was a fire pit for cooking. We put all of our things in the tent and went hiking in the trails. There were times I had to carry Jackson on my back to get through streams and over fallen trees. We identified plants, trees, animals and even found rocks he thought looked cool. I thought to myself, I’m going to put all those rocks in a case to remember our camping trip with and when he gets older, I’ll give it to him to remember the fun times we had. I knew we would have many more adventures together but this day was exceptionally special to me. We built a fire and cooked hot dogs for dinner. Jackson enjoyed roasting marshmallows and making S’mores. “These S’mores are yummy!” He said. “I like them a lot too Buddy.” I replied
The next morning we woke up early and cooked some eggs in an iron skillet over the fire and wrapped them in tortillas for breakfast. Jackson said he’d never had eggs over a fire or in a tortilla so I thought it was neat that we were able to share that. When we finished eating, I put the fire out, cleaned up the camp site a little bit and took Jackson for another hike through the mountains. We took a new trail this time where we saw Elk and we even saw a grizzly cub. We stayed clear of there in case the mother bear got defensive. The mountains are beautiful in the morning. Looking out over trees below and feeling so close to all the birds, it was absolutely amazing.
“Jackson.” I said. “What Daddy?” Jackson replied. “What do you think is the most fun thing we’ve done so far?” I asked him. “I liked the big rides and when you carried me through the water and over the tree and S’mores.” Jackson replied happily and continued to ask, “What’s your favorite part?” “My favorite part is walking with you and seeing your smile Buddy.” I answered. Jackson had a big smile on his face and stopped. I stopped, and turned to look back at Jackson and asked, “What’s wrong Jackson?” “Nothing.” He replied, “I love you Daddy.” That was the first time I had heard him say that since they came back. I started tearing up and Jackson grabbed my hand and said, “What’s wrong Daddy?” “Nothing.” I replied, “I’m so happy to be here with you Buddy.”
We continued to walk as I continued to look down at Jackson watching him smile. I was so excited to finally have my little champ back in my life. Jackson let go of my hand and started running as fast as he could straight ahead yelling, “Daddy, look!
Look Daddy!” I ran ahead to catch him only to see a cliff at the end of the trail. My heart stopped and then started racing. Afraid, I yell, “Jackson, NO! Stop Jackson!” I’m screaming as I catch up to him and go to pick him up and I tripped over a rock stuck in the ground. I went soaring through the air frightened keeping my eyes on Jackson, I catch the side of the cliff. Now looking up at my little boy. Scared, he starts crying and screaming, “Daddy! Daddy! Someone help my daddy!”
As I hang there, wondering if he knows his numbers yet to call 911. I can’t reach into my pocket and hold onto the cliff at the same time though. I can’t send Jackson for help, he doesn’t know where to go. We didn’t even see anyone on our way up here. Hanging on for my life, trying to pull myself up, I’m losing stamina. I can’t hold on any longer. I fought so hard to be with my son. I looked up at him still crying and screaming, “Daddy, come up!” I start to cry as this was the first time I got to see my son in over a year, all I wanted to do was have my family back. I love him so much. I can’t go out like this, not while he is alone and defenseless with no way of finding help or taking care of himself. I struggle to hang on. I keep pulling and pulling to get myself up but there is nowhere to rest my feet to help push my weight up onto the ledge. I look into my little boys eyes knowing that it will be the last. As I’m slipping away from the cliff, I see my precious little boy all alone, this must be how he felt at the mall. I start to cry and yell up to Jackson, “I love you Jackson! Don’t you forget our fun camping trip. You take those rocks and you keep them safe for me. I love you Buddy!”