Mountain Air

My mom lowered the two plastic water bottles that she'd been smacking together for the last hour as we climbed the steps to the front porch of a small cabin. Her eyes still searched the woods around us, looking for any sign of black fur or movement of anything other than the trees. She'd already been startled multiple times by deer bounding by us. The clamor of the crinkling water bottles was replaced with the dull, repetitive thud of my dad's knuckles on the cabin door. We were all tactfully ignoring the terribly weatherworn sign tacked to the doorframe that said, "Keep door closed. Oxygen generator in use" in bold letters. The vines creeping up the steps didn't inspire us with any confidence either.

"Hello?" he called loudly. The four of us stood waiting, silently hoping that the owner was home. None of us wanted to admit that finding someone to help us in the middle of the woods was only the first step. We weren't willing to entertain the idea that whoever we found might not have a working phone. It had taken us awhile just to find the cabin, and our group morale was as nonexistent as the signals on our cellphones.

My dad rapped on the door again, running his other hand through his hair with an exasperated sigh. It might have just been the way the afternoon light was hitting his face, but I could have sworn his wrinkles had multiplied and his eye bags had darkened since that morning.

I still hadn't decided whose fault I thought it was. My mom was the one to shut the car door, but my sister was the one hurrying her along, and all because she couldn't wait to experience the outdoor thrill of peeing in the woods. My dad hadn't said a word to either of them since his initial outburst. It was lucky, though, that we'd been able to leave the verbal arguments and finger pointing behind us back down the dirt road in the parking lot, along with the Suburban and the keys locked inside. If we wanted someone to help us, we should at least appear amicable.

After a few more moments of hopeful anticipation, the quiet sound of a lock clicking open came from the other side of the door. My mom smiled slightly as she looked at my dad, whose eyes were fixed on the man who had appeared in the now open doorway. He was shorter than my dad by a few inches, but if he'd been standing up straight they might have been the same height. His eyes peered at us from behind thick rimmed glasses, the few strands of hair left on his head folding over as a breeze blew across the front porch.

"Don't get many visitors in the Adirondacks," the man said shortly. I suddenly felt like we had no business being on his steps in the middle of the woods, hours away from any place that even resembled a town. His eyes went from person to person, but in between I caught him glancing at the fanny pack strapped to my dad's waist. I guess my mom's insistence that he exchange holster for fanny pack didn't help all that much. It's just a Colt .45 Defender, a short pistol, for the bears, I wanted to say. It was probably better to just let him wonder, though. Maybe there was only a few granola bars inside.

"Sorry to bother you," my dad replied. "We were looking to hike the trails of Azure Mountain and locked ourselves out of our car about an hour north of here. You wouldn't happen to have a landline, would you?"

We held our breath as the man glanced from person to person again before slowly nodding his head. My dad closed his eyes for a moment and let all the air out of his lungs as my mom's smile broadened.

"Thank goodness," my sister exclaimed as she plopped down onto one of the porch's steps. The man ushered my dad inside and asked the three of us to remain on the porch. None of us cared in the slightest since a phone call was the only thing between us and getting into our car, so my mom and I sat down next to my sister. The man pulled the door shut behind my dad, having to open and close it again as the sign got caught.

"The sign makes sense now," my sister thought aloud once the door was fully shut. "He's older. Living all alone in the woods would suck though." My mom just nodded, tapping the two bottles together again, but this time not as forcefully. Only a few minutes went by before the door opened behind us again and my dad came out, thanking the man profusely for letting him use his phone. The man waved it off, "Just glad I didn't get rid of the landline."

"Triple A's sending a guy," my dad explained. "Either he can get us into the car or he can tow us back to the nearest town. We should go wait on the road by the parking lot, so he doesn't miss us." The three of us on the steps hopped up, thanking the man as well. He wished us well before returning inside. We heard a faint click as he locked the door again, and my family and I started back down the dirt road.

"What's the inside of his house look like? A guy living alone must have some weird décor," my sister said as she kicked up some dust with her shoes.

My dad took a bottle away from my mom and held her hand as they walked side by side.

"He doesn't live alone," he said quietly. "He's got a wife, but she's bedridden."

"Oh…" She didn't ask any other questions but continued scuffing her feet along the road. The rest of the walk back to the parking lot was quiet save for the sound of the wind jostling the trees. I didn't miss the sound of the plastic at all.