Licton Springs Review

Honeymoon at Fire Creek By Ian Ross

Sarah awoke on the morning of her honeymoon with a bad taste in her mouth. Elliott was fast asleep beside her, flat on his back with his mouth wide open. The smell of champagne and cheap beer was still heavy on his breath from the night before. Their ceremony had gone quicker than she expected. Vows were said and rings were exchanged, and with a few quick blessings they were married. She didn’t remember much after that, just a few drunken toasts and an awkward dance, Elliott laughing and pushing wedding cake into her face.

She got up quietly, careful not to wake her new husband. Her HUSBAND. She still wasn’t used to the word. It left her tongue feeling funny after she said it, like a foreign word that had no place being in her own vocabulary. She walked into the hotel bathroom and looked in the mirror. One side of her face was bright red. It was a sunburn, and now that she saw it she could feel it too. She wrinkled her face in disgust, remembering why she didn’t like outdoor weddings.

It was her husband that suggested they have their wedding outside, in the sun, at her parents’ Oregon home. Sarah had grown up on ten acres of land near the ocean, and Elliott had fallen in love with the countryside when Sarah first brought him there to meet her family. On a night not long after their engagement, they had driven down from Seattle for the weekend. Elliott brought up the idea after dinner, as they sat on her parent’s back porch drinking wine and enjoying the cool breeze that wafted inland from the Pacific.

“Who says we can’t mix it up? We can do things different. Forget the church…I mean, look around us!” He gestured grandly at the surrounding hills. “We could have it here! What could be better than this?”

Off the top of her head, Sarah could think of a million different locations that would be better, but her parents were ecstatic about the idea. The rest of the night’s conversation revolved around it, and by the time they all went to bed, it seemed as if everyone was in agreement on where the wedding would take place. Everyone but Sarah. She was setting up twin cots in her old bedroom when Elliott waltzed in from the back porch. He had been sharing a cigarette with her father. He promised her he wouldn’t smoke time and time again, but it was a promise he often broke. She closed the bedroom door and turned to face him.

“What’s up, babe?” he grinned nonchalantly, pulling his t-shirt over his head.

“Elliott, I would appreciate it if you and I could discuss these big ideas of yours somewhere other than in front of my parents!” She sat down on the cot and tried to control the shaking of her voice. She didn’t know why it was always so hard to argue with him. Every little disagreement they had made her stomach hurt. She hated to fight with him. Maybe it was because she never won.

“I would rather elope than get married at my parents’ house. My mother will be here running every single detail. It’s going to feel just like when I was a kid…”

“I think you’re overreacting,” Elliott cut her off. “It’s a great idea. We all think so. And besides, think of how much money your dad will save. He’ll be paying for it, after all. And we both know he isn’t exactly loaded.” He climbed into one of the cots and rolled over on his side. “Would you mind turning off the light? I’m pretty beat. We have a long drive ahead of us tomorrow.”

She turned off the bedroom light and sat in the dark, silently cursing herself for always doing what she was told.

They had reservations at Fire Creek Lodge, deep within the woods of South Central Oregon. Elliott had researched it exhaustively over the internet and found it secluded, quaint and affordable. Sarah had always dreamed of a European honeymoon, but Elliott had talked her into Fire Creek. Still, from the pictures Sarah had seen, she was excited. The lodge was in the Cascade mountains, surrounded by beautiful alpine lakes and meadows. The website promised a “carefree getaway with the beauty and splendor of nature around every corner.” It sounded wonderful. They were both avid hikers and planned on spending most of the week on the trails.

Just past Prineville, the weather took a turn for the worse. A thick fog banked rolled in from the west and reduced visibility to almost zero. Elliott couldn’t see the road and slowed his Volkswagen down to a near crawl. They inched along cautiously, searching for the exit to the lodge. As they headed up the mountain, Sarah heard the crash of thunder. Rain began to pour down around them. It wasn’t long before Elliott started complaining.

“Can you believe this?” he said. “The weather was supposed to be perfect this week.”

“I wouldn’t worry about it,” said Sarah, still feeling chipper. “It will blow over. Thunderstorms are pretty normal in the spring. It’ll be gone before you know it.”

“Can you guarantee that?”

She nodded. She was sure it would stop. But it didn’t. Elliott turned the radio up louder, trying to drown out the sounds of the rain hitting the car roof. Sarah sat silently in the passenger seat and wondered if her face was sunburned while they were taking wedding photos. She guessed that it was. They had been outside all day setting up the tents and chairs in the backyard. It had been hot. Why hadn’t somebody said something?

She didn’t want to see the photos. If anyone were to ask her, Sarah would say that the part of her wedding day she enjoyed the least was posing for photographs. Elliott’s family was huge, and every relative he had seemed to play a part in the wedding. His cousins were the flower girls, and his fraternity brothers were the ushers, and of course they all needed to be in the photos. After what felt like the hundredth different pairing of in-law, sibling, parent and bridesmaid, her mouth felt sore from smiling and she needed to pee. She was worried that it showed, that each captured memory would present her with a pained look on her face, her brow wrinkled in concentration from the effort of holding it in. And a sunburn sure wouldn’t help anything. She wondered how good the photographer was with Photoshop.

They reached Fire Creek in the late afternoon. With the fog and rain, the drive had taken them much longer than they’d planned. To make matters worse, they had gotten a flat tire, and Elliott hadn’t known how to change it. They sat on the side of the road for nearly an hour while he tried, cursing at the tire and the jack and the rain and everything else. He had gotten soaked standing outside the car, yelling at a piece of rubber. Sarah had sat inside the car watching him, feeling helpless, angry and ridiculous. She had tried to help, but he had snapped at her and told her to stay put. He said she didn’t know the first thing about cars.

As they pulled up to the lodge, the rain was still coming down hard and showed no sign of stopping. Elliott parked the car and busied himself unloading the luggage while Sarah ran into the lobby to take care of their reservation. The desk clerk checked them in and sent someone to help with their bags. He gave them a quick tour of the lodge and showed them the restaurant and bar. The lodge was rustic, an immense log cabin that had been sub-divided into a small hotel, with dark wooden walls and oversized furniture. The light inside was dim and claustrophobic. The clerk pointed out the main lounge, then took them to their room. Sarah found herself disappointed. She had imagined it larger. Still, they did have a view. They had paid extra to have floor to ceiling windows and a room with a patio. With the fog gone, Sarah was sure there’d be something worth seeing out the window. Elliott tipped the clerk and then closed the door.

“Well…we made it.” Elliott pushed his fingers through his short blonde hair and sighed deeply. He glanced around the room, then shook his head disapprovingly, “You call this a suite? They always make the rooms look bigger in the brochures.”

“It will be perfect. And once the fog clears, we won’t be inside here much.” Sarah sat on the bed while Elliott walked over to the sink. He reached down and pulled out a bottle of champagne that had been left for them in an ice bucket

“Well, I guess this makes it the honeymoon suite.” He held it up and laughed. “Let’s drink to us.”

“To us!” Sarah lay on the bed and lifted an imaginary glass.

“To fogless days!” Elliott pointed out the window and lifted his own imaginary glass. “To steamy nights!” Sarah bounced up and down on the bed and giggled.

The next morning the fog was still there. Sarah looked out the window and saw that, aside from the railings of the patio, the rest of the world didn’t exist. “I think we’re inside a cloud,” said Elliott. “I think we’re in a convergence zone or something. This is unreal. It’s thick as soup.”

“I think it’s thicker than it was yesterday,” said Sarah.

“Well, we can’t hike in it. I mean, we could walk right off the side of a cliff or something. There’s not much we can do but wait it out.” Elliott yawned and climbed back into bed. “Why don’t you see about some room service?” The fog and rain lasted for three more days. Sarah couldn’t believe it. They had come prepared for bad weather but hadn’t planned on anything like this. They wandered back and forth between their room and the restaurant and bar for the first day and a half. She was desperate for a change of scenery, and convinced Elliott to go out hiking the second day. They were fifty yards from the lodge when he slipped on a moss-covered rock and fell backwards into the mud. He scrambled to his feet, cursing and screaming at her. After that, the only place he wanted to be was pouting over a beer. Sarah tried her best to stay upbeat but by the third day was going stir-crazy. Her honeymoon was being sabotaged. It was slowly being stolen by the weather. That night, they sat at their regular booth in the bar, and she decided that if the next day was foggy, she would demand they leave.

“I will demand it,” she said it softly.

“What?” Elliott looked away from the basketball game that was playing on the bar’s TV.

“Did you say something?”

“No.”

He turned back to the game. Sarah sat and watched the rain beat down on the window, trying hard to keep from crying. The next morning she woke with the sun in her eyes. Sarah got up quietly, careful not to wake Elliott, and tip-toed out onto the patio. She saw steam rising from the trees and ferns that surrounded her. Shafts of sunlight danced through the canopy of leaves above her head. The fog was gone. The forest looked primordial and wondrously alive, both ancient and renewed at the same time. Her face broke into a wide smile. Finally, good weather! She was desperate to be out in it. Elliott was still sleeping, snoring softly. She bent down and kissed his cheek. His eyes opened, and he saw the sunlight streaming in through the window behind her. “Thank God,” he said.

They left the lodge as quickly as they could, taking three-minute showers and wolfing down breakfast too fast to taste it. They were outside in under an hour, both of them anxious and eager for some fresh air and adventure. As Sarah walked out the door, she inhaled deeply, savoring the scent of the forest. She smelled the sharp bite of pine needles and the warm loamy soil beneath her feet. Her sunburn was gone, and the light felt wonderful upon her face. The day was going to be hot. They walked aimlessly for a while, simply enjoying their surroundings and going wherever their feet took them. With the fog gone, Sarah was able to see exactly why people came to Fire Creek. The views of the Cascades were majestic. The mountains rose sharply above them, their ragged edges brushed with snow. The trail they were walking on bordered an alpine meadow, and as she walked, Sarah saw wildflowers swaying back and forth slowly in the wind, tiny bursts of color in a sea of long green grasses. Soon the trail grew steeper, and Elliott stopped and took out a trail map from his backpack. He studied it intently for a few moments.

“We can stay on this trail and go to Lake Francis,” he said. “It’s not far, maybe two or three miles.”

“Sounds great to me.” Sarah didn’t care where they went. She was just grateful to be outside.

They were about a mile away from the lodge when Elliott shushed her loudly.

“Quiet!” He hissed.

Sarah grimaced, showing her teeth. She was sick of being yelled at. She opened her mouth to respond, but he grabbed her shoulder and pulled her close to him, jerking his head towards the underbrush.

“Do you hear that?” he whispered.

Sarah didn’t hear anything. She had been daydreaming, content to enjoy the scenery and simply letting her mind wander. But now she listened. Off in the distance, something was moving loudly through the underbrush. Something large. Her heart began to beat faster. She vaguely remembered reading something in the trail book about bears and maybe something else about wolves. Sarah’s skin broke out into goose bumps. She didn’t even like seeing wolves at the zoo.

Suddenly, a deer bounded out from the underbrush ahead of them, stopping abruptly on the trail, not more than twenty-feet away. Sarah’s heart leapt to her throat. It was a young doe, speckled brown and white and hardly taller than her shoulder. Its legs were shaking and its body was taut and rigid. The deer didn’t seem to see them but was entirely focused on the forest it had just come from. It looked poised to run. Sarah and Elliott held their breath. The noise from the forest hadn’t stopped. It was something big, crackling through the branches and leaves. It was getting louder. Sarah saw a brief flash of movement in between the trees. A large dark shape, moving quickly. Then the deer bolted, running straight past her and Elliott, away from the noise, back towards the lodge. Sarah heard panting coming from the trees and smelled a rank odor like wet dog and rancid meat. There was a bear in front of them. She couldn’t see it, but she knew. So did Elliott.

She heard him gasp and saw him take two large steps backwards. Sarah was completely frozen. She was trying to remember what to do. Was it play dead? Stop, drop and roll? Running certainly felt right…Then the noises stopped. The bear was watching them. It let out a low, throaty growl. She could almost see it, but the foliage was too thick.

“Oh God, oh God….stay calm Sarah, just stay calm….” Elliott’s voice was shaky and his skin was ashen. He looked terrified. Sarah realized that she had never seen him scared before. She watched him turn around as slowly as he could and begin to walk away. She could see his thin legs trembling as he struggled to remain calm. He didn’t look back to see if she was with him. Was he just going to leave her there? Sarah took a step backward, and a twig snapped beneath her heel. Elliott let out a panicked yell and broke into a run. She took one more step backwards, then turned around and slowly began walking away. She could hear the bear behind her, but it didn’t seem to be getting any closer. Just stay calm, just stay calm, she thought. I’m not what he wants. I’m not the deer. Sarah was pretty sure the deer was what the bear was after, but she and Elliott had gotten in its way. She guessed she was still in the bear’s way, but now Elliott was nowhere to be seen. He had disappeared around a bend of the trail, leaving her behind. She walked slowly and purposefully and heard the noise of the bear fade behind her. Elliott was waiting for her about a quarter mile away, his face flushed with shame and embarrassment.

They walked back to the lodge in silence. When they got to the front door, Elliott pushed it open quickly and stormed up the stairs towards their room. Sarah started to follow him but instead went to the front counter and rang the bell for the desk clerk.

“It’s odd,” he said after she told him of the encounter. “We hardly ever have bears around here. They usually stay a lot deeper in the forest. Maybe that one was hungry, or spooked, or lost or something. You did the right thing just walking away like that. Worst thing you can do is panic. And bears know not to mess with people. We’re not that far off the highway, and the noise of the cars usually keeps them away.” He shrugged his shoulders, “I guess the rain and fog may have been to blame. It’s hard to tell if you’re coming or going in that stuff. I’ll let the rangers know.” Sarah gave him the details as best she could.

“I’m sure it was terrifying,” he said as he wrote down her descriptions. “But look on the bright side of things. Some people come here hoping to see bears. And no one was hurt. You could consider yourself lucky.”

She walked back to the room, pausing on the staircase to look out the window of the lodge. The mountains were there, still ragged and beautiful. The sun shone brightly on the meadows and trees, and she could hear birds chirping, darting in and out from the eaves of the roof. She let out a deep breath and tried to relax. It had only been a bear. Maybe the clerk was right. No one had been hurt, and they did have a great story to tell. But then she opened the door to their suite and saw Elliott packing their bags, stuffing clothes in at random and cursing loudly. A lit cigarette dangled from his lips. Sarah knew it was time to leave Fire Creek. She knew that their honeymoon was over. And she didn’t feel lucky at all.