The news reported a small plane going down near Thunder Forest, a heavily wooded area just north of Jackson Town. Search crews found the plane early on Thursday morning; the passengers, Tom Marking and his two boys, Steve and Eddy, were nowhere to be seen.
“If you go close to the edge, it will take you!” Warned Tom. The thundering waterfall seemed to reach out for the boys.
The boys took heed in their father’s words. He always knew what to do in these circumstances.
The boys held their father’s hand as they carefully walked along the narrow path that led to the top of the falls. The edge of the cliff beneath them showed signs of erosion, and each footstep foundered in a new piece of soil.
The tumble of rocks under Tom’s feet scared the kids, but his strong hands held them tightly.
“Just a few more steps and we will be safe.” Encouraged their father.
Throwing the smaller boy on his shoulders, Tom was able to grab a branch with his free hand.
Now standing at the top of the falls, Tom’ disappointment grew quickly. Miles of thick timber….nothing to give them any hope of rescue.
Scanning through the thick forest, Tom noticed a trail between the fir trees. Without hesitation, he directed his boys to follow him, and the three of them scaled down the steep rocks and onto the trail.
Thanks to the frost the night before, the dewy underbrush took away Tom’s footing. Losing his grip on the branches, Tom slid uncontrollably down the slippery mountain face; his boys behind him.
When they stopped, Tom checked for injuries. They were lucky this time, but who knows the dangers they will face as they head down Jackson Mountain and even further into the unknown.
Night had set in too quickly to start a fire, so the three had to make it through their first night without it.
The ground beneath them was ice cold. A heavy frost had set in, covering the earth like a silvery blanket. Luckily for the Marking boys, their father was resourceful enough to scan the plane for supplies before embarking on their journey home. A heat reflecting blanket came in handy, as the three of them wrapped tightly and cuddled even tighter. Tom found a box of rations under the seat of the plane, and all three of them feasted on the dry food.
The small boys began to cry with fear as in the distance; they could hear the howling of wolves. Tom soothed the boys’ fear with the assurance that the wolf meant no harm; he was only looking for someone to cuddle to as well.
Although Tom told the kids not to worry, he worried. Years of working as a guide in the remote mountains of Alaska, Tom had more than one run in with those creatures.
Eventually, the boys did fall asleep; but not Tom. Leaving the boys cuddled inside the foil blanket, Tom scoured the area for threats and signs of predators. He also took this quiet time to plan their next move.
The sky was as clear as day, the moon and stars lighting up the world around him. Using a small notepad he kept in his pocket, Tom drew a map using the stars. Doing this, he was able to picture where they were, and how far they drifted from their original location. He also gathered several berries that grew around the area, and prepared them for morning. The boys will be hungry when they wake up.
When he felt good with his work, Tom was able to lie back and relax a bit. Just when he managed to shut his eyes and rest, he heard a loud cracking sound, followed by a loud roar.
Jumping to his feet, he could make out the silhouette of a huge animal not fifty feet from their camp. What appeared to be a large bear, perhaps a grizzly, loomed in their presence, and was heading towards Tom and his boys.
Old Charlie Pickering was a strange old man. He lived in the hills all his life; he never had anyone close to him, he never needed them. Charlie built a log home deep in the cover of the tallest fir trees in the Thunder Forest, and has lived there, alone for over 50 years, maybe longer.
He never had a family, at least not that anyone ever known, he was happy to be one with nature. Years ago, a few survivalists visited with Charlie, and he taught them many skills that would ensure their safety should they ever get lost. One of his students was a boy named Tommy Marking.
Tommy was a good kid, although he was bitter after losing his dad at such a young age. Tom Sr. was a bush pilot whose plane crashed deep in the forest when Tommy was just eight years old. In Tom’s will, it was mentioned that Tom Sr. wanted his kid to be trained for whatever Thunder Forest could throw at him. From the years of 9 until he turned 15, Tom Jr. spent summers visiting with Charlie, and winters practicing what he had learned…
The grizzly never had a chance. A long tree branch sharpened at the end provided Tom the opportunity to save himself and his beloved sons. Taking the long stick, he trust the end towards the chest of the now standing giant. Propping the other end in the ground, the beast fell towards Tom, the sharp stick driving into the chest of the massive animal. The pain was not enough to kill the animal, but just enough to send the beast running in the opposite direction. A simple trick he learned from Charlie Pickering had saved the day.
Speaking of Charlie Pickering, Tom now had a plan for the morning. By drawing a map according to the stars, Tom was able to discover exactly where they were. Just a few miles from Old Charlie’s log house. Charlie is gone now, but hopefully enough of his cabin still exists so that they could take up refuge for the day.
Getting to the cabin was one thing, getting in will be something else. The map that Tom drew managed to get the three directly in front of the old cabin, which stood the test of time far better than Tom realized; now they had a new challenge.
Perched on the rooftop directly over the only door sat a very territorial eagle. The massive bird sat watching the Markings’ every move, waiting to swoop down on her new found prey.
“She must have a nest close by, she will protect her eggs with her life” Tom warned his two young boys.
As they hid in the tall bushes, wheels spun inside Tom’s head. He had to distract the Eagle so that they could seek refuge inside the cabin. Thinking back to his childhood, he recalled a time when he and Old Charlie faced a similar problem. The bird was a large Falcon, and the thing was every bit as cunning as that eagle.
Tom remembered Charlie tying various bits of leaves, feathers, and pieces of moss together to resemble a bird. Charlie then threw the thing far away from the bird, and when she flew to retrieve the ‘animal’, He and little Tom ran and retrieved a few of her eggs. Tom didn’t want the eagle’s eggs; he just wanted to get inside the cabin.
Just as Old Charlie did so many years ago, Tom threw his makeshift animal far into the forest. The eagle took the bait.
The Markings ran to the door and pushed their way in.
A musty smell poured from the old cabin, which was lit by the blazing fall sun. As rustic as the old place was, one thing stood out for the boys to see…
A chandelier hung above a rustic table. Out of place, the thing stood out as if it didn’t belong in the cabin, or anywhere near it.
“Dad, what is that fancy lamp doing in this dingy cabin” Steve asked his dad.
“Long story… I will tell you later” his dad answered. As Steve was curious, his brother Eddy was scared.
“What is this place, why is it in the middle of nowhere? Who lived here, and who is that kid in the picture? He looks just like me!” said the younger brother.
His father laughed. “I guess I did look a lot like you when I was a kid.”
“That is you? What were you doing here in this cabin? Did you live here when you were a kid?” they both asked, in unison.
“After your grandfather died, I spent most of my summers up here. See that man in the picture, the guy with the big grey beard? That’s Old Charlie Pickering. I used to call him Chars. He was like a father to me, taught me everything I know.”
Tom brushed the dust from a wooden table and dusted off the chairs surrounding it. The words “TOMMY WAS HERE” were etched into the center of the table. “Chars got really angry with me for doing that. He said that it was disrespectful.”
“Truth is, I was so angry for losing my dad, I was mad at the world.”
“Later, when I realized that Chars was only here to help me, I wanted to make things right. I brought him the Chandelier from mom’s old place, as a peace offering.”
“Of course, there wasn’t any electricity up here, but Chars hung it above the table anyway. We put candles where the light bulbs were supposed to go.” I grew to love the old guy as if he was my dad.”
Using matches he had rooted out of a compartment above the table, Tom made a fire in the pot belly stove that sat at the far end of the room. For the first time since their plane went down, the three Markings were finally warm.
Tom spent the rest of the evening telling the boys all about his adventures with Chars and about how he learned things that schools could never teach. With the last of the rations gone now, he would have to hunt in the morning. For now though, he was home.
The next morning, the boys were early to get up. They were surprised to find their dad wasn’t around. A note on the table explained where he had gone.
‘Boys, when you get up, put a few more logs on the fire. I will be back soon…gone to find food for the day, and to take a look around. Make sure not to leave the cabin. Oh, there’s a surprise for you and your brother on the counter.’
Sure enough, on the counter sat a bag of candy. Tom had taken it from the plane and forgot about it. It would be enough to keep his kids going until he returned with food.
Hanging from a branch, Tom’s feet dangled over the edge of the cliff. He had been tracking a deer since sunrise. Just when he had the animal in his sights, his feet slipped over the edge and he was hovering over the falls. His grip was failing. The branch was covered with frost from the night before, and its roots were beginning to fail.
Tired, hungry and not really thinking, Tom let his guard down; he should have known better than go hunt before the sun came up….and now he may have to pay dearly for this mistake. With nobody to call out to, and nobody to save him, Tom was alone. The worst part, if Tom doesn’t make it, his two sons won’t either…..
“When’s Dad getting back?’ the younger one asked. “I don’t know, but we need to stay here and wait!” replied his brother.
The candy didn’t last long, and it wasn’t enough food for two boys who hadn’t had a square meal in several days. They rooted around the cabin in search of something to eat.
In one of the cabinets, the boys found a small box. It contained letters addressed to Tommy Marking. Although the boys have been taught to respect the privacy of others, they were bored. Eddy opened the box and grabbed a few of the letters. Holding them to the light, he noticed that most of them were from the same person, their grandmother.
The letters were mostly the same. ‘Miss you; listen to Mr. Pickering, and other things that bored the boys. And then there was a letter from someone their dad had never mentioned. It was addressed to their dad, from someone named Alice.
‘Tommy, I am so sorry. I didn’t mean to drive you away from our home. You just reminded me so much of Dad, I couldn’t stand to see you around the house. Please come home with Mom and me, we miss you’
Now, if Tom was around, he could explain this one to the boys. He never left home because he was driven away; he just needed some male guidance, something that his mother couldn’t provide him. His sister sent him an apology letter for something which had never happened. She was riddled with guilt because she thought she had driven her brother away from home. Little did she know that Chars gave him the guidance he needed in life. He did not dwell on the past like his sister did; he moved on and became a successful guide and bush pilot.
Alice Marking never married. She never went to college either. She lived her years alongside her mom. The two of them never got over losing her Tom Sr. Years of guilt for ‘driving’ her brother away ate at her as well. That’s why, when they got the news that Tom and his two sons’ plane crashed somewhere near Jackson Falls, they worried so much.
“The boys will be safe; there isn’t another human being in the country who knows that country like Tommy. If I know him, he will head straight to Charlie Pickering’s cabin. All we have to do is alert the search party to head for the cabin. I know my son, he will be there waiting.”
After Ellen Marking made the call to Jackson County Search and Rescue, community members were quick to assemble another search team. This search would prove much easier than the last, now that they had a destination in mind.
At approximately 3 p.m. on Saturday, November 14, Search and Rescue found two boys near a cabin just north of Jackson Falls. They were unconscious at the time of rescue. Upon the time of resuscitation, it was discovered that they had been starving, possible without food for several days. Cold must have taken the boys while they searched for their father, who did not return as the note suggested. Their father was nowhere to be found. The boys were taken home to live with their grandmother and their Aunt Alice.
Later in the spring, the body of Thomas Marking Jr. washed up on a beach in a nearby town. Apparently he had fallen into Jackson Falls and died on impact. He wasn’t the first taken by the falls, and sadly, he wouldn’t be the last. Visitors take notice, Beware of Jackson Falls.
I entered this story into ‘Today’s Author‘ blogsite. The line ‘sister sent him an apology letter for something which had never happened’ is this week’s prompt.