Bad JuJu

Short Stories Jun 5, 2024

That small dim light on the verandah is a monumental relief. It’s bulb has drawn an assortment of nondescript night moths, and now me. Shaking involuntarily, I rap a fist sharply on a wooden door panel, peer through frosted glass, and bellow loudly between chattering teeth. I cock my ear, aching to hear the sounds of somebody, anybody, inside. Then the interior of the cabin, seemingly abandoned in the blackness of the evening, stirs. Inside, there’s a menacing dog bark, an alarmed voice, then lights flip on. I exhale the long relieved breath of a condemned man given a last-minute reprieve.

 Threatening clouds had rolled in prior to sunset. In the absence of a moon or any starlight, the sky was painted in jet black in the remoteness of the canyon. I’d had no idea where I was. Hours earlier, when the last thimbleful of fuel in the Subaru had disappeared, the battery had selected the same moment to expire. Damn, I’d known for weeks that the ageing car battery’s life would soon cease. It’s common knowledge that bad juju happens in threes. No fuel, dead battery and … my cell phone was uncharged. I was stunned at the odds of this trinity of bad juju. In the blackness of the canyon, I was adrift. I had no internal compass because, as a visitor from Santa Fe, I didn’t know the canyon roads outside Boulder. Surely there’d be a property nearby? What a fool I’d been to have chosen a minor road to get to Estes Park just after midnight. Should have remained on the longer, but more populated, major road.

 I’d initially walked blindly forward along the gravel roadway in the inkiness, but had several times deviated unknowingly and almost slipped down embankments or stumbled into scrub or isolated pockets of remnant snow. After several near mishaps, I’d walked with arms extended in front as a bumper to soften crashing into unseen trees or boulders. Aware that mountain lions and coyotes inhabited this area, my nerve endings were arcing. Does bad juju descend in fours? I wouldn’t be able to see these night predators, but they’d be acutely aware of my presence. As I’d driven up the canyon, prior to this evening’s shit shower of bad juju, I’d been following a rapidly flowing watercourse, swollen with snow melt at this time of year. Tumbling from the roadway into this raging flow could prove fatal, so I’d kept the noise of rushing water to my left as I’d blindly plunged onwards into the blackness. Thankfully I had located warm gloves and a hooded winter anorak in the trunk of the Subaru prior to crazily abandoning it at the road’s edge.

 It felt like hours later, although in a state of heightened anxiety it may have been only half that, when I’d seen the dim glow on my left. Could that small light belong to a mountain cabin? I’d optimistically believed that my self-despair might soon ease. Hopefully, the owners would provide me with shelter for the remainder of the night. With their assistance I’d be able contact the Automobile Association in the morning and be on my way to Estes Park. Unfortunately, I needed to cross the canyon’s raging watercourse but I was night blind. Knowing the owners must have some form of bridge or walkway to access their cabin, I’d crawled tentatively along the lip of the narrow canyon, groping desperately for any structures extending outwards across the torrent below. I’d crawled about 50 yards when my fumbling hands blindly encountered the wood and cables of what I assumed must have been a narrow suspension walkway. It was a straw to a drowning man. I guessed it crossed the canyon and led to a lit residence.

 With a pinprick of light guiding me to salvation, I’d groped nervously across the footbridge. When my right boot slid awkwardly on an icy plank perhaps ten yards across, I over-reacted and pitched off the edge with a scream. Arms flailing blindly, I clasped a structural wire cable as though it were prey in an eagle’s talons. It arrested my fall but I was then suspended, swinging hopelessly above the swirl and roar below. I tried desperately to lift myself onto the deck but didn’t have the strength. It may have been only a few minutes of sheer terror, but I realised I could not get back up. I was a mule-deer in headlights.

 Prior to my muscles relaxing and gravity taking over, those few torturous minutes were not spent in prayer or self-pity. I thought sadly for the lady in Estes Park who was vainly waiting for me alone tonight. The lady I’d met in Santa Fe who’d invited me to Colorado in a hopeful attempt at reigniting a flame that we’d briefly lit six months ago. And I saw those eyes twinkling with mischief, and her beaming face framed by long white hair, as my aching fingers eventually released and I plunged forlornly into the abyss. Yes, I plunged all of 3 feet in that blackness and landed on river pebbles in swirling water that barely reached to my mid-calf.

 My God I hope there’s whiskey inside this cabin.


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