Waterloo

Phillip Temples

Nathaniel arrived at the Knife Edge Trail on a Monday afternoon. Baxter State Park was quite remote; it comprised nearly a quarter of a million acres of pristine land in rural Maine. One had to drive almost fifty miles off the main highway just to reach the entrance to the park. From there, it had taken Nathaniel over seven hours of hiking along moderately difficult trails to reach this place.

Knife Edge was a daunting trek to many a seasoned hiker. It earned its reputation: in places, the trail narrowed to just over three feet wide with sheer drop-offs of thousands of feet on either side.

Nearly all of Nathaniel’s hiking friends had successfully navigated the one mile “Edge” leading to the summit of Mount Katahdin. In fact, just two weeks ago, he had accompanied his friends, Georges and Sally, to this very spot, only to part ways with them at the last minute and turn back for the car. They pleaded with him, then lightly taunted him, but in the end, both realized it was pointless. Georges and Sally were mature enough to not make a big deal about it. But Nathaniel knew what they were thinking. He was a big scaredy-cat—then, just as now. In fact, at that moment, he felt terrified.

The early June afternoon mist cast a pall over the picturesque landscape. He saw no other hikers in the vicinity, no one with whom to share his misgivings. At the beginning of Knife Edge was The Chimney, a thirty-foot drop into a rock-walled crevice. It featured no ropes or metal rungs to aid the hiker. 

This is no hiking trail; this is mountain climbing! And I’m no mountain climber.

It seemed to Nathaniel complete madness!

The Chimney was just the first of several formidable challenges he would face on Knife Edge, were he to conquer his fear, move forward, and claim Katahdin as a victory.

This is a crazy idea to come here without a hiking buddy. What if I slip and fall?

Nathaniel remembered he hadn’t informed anyone he was coming here today. He was too embarrassed. It might be days before they discovered him missing—before they connected the abandoned car in the parking lot to a missing hiker. And even longer before they recovered his body. Forty-four people had perished on the mountain since records started being kept. Yes—Katahdin and Knife Edge might easily claim another victim today. He could be number forty-five. This could be Nathaniel’s Waterloo.

Nathaniel was interrupted from his thoughts about his demise by voices. They were high-pitched and giggly. He was certain the voices belonged to children.

There!

Through the mist, he picked out a red parka belonging to a child that looked to be no older than nine or ten years old. Behind that child was another in a green parka. They were busy scampering down the far side of The Chimney. Nathaniel marveled at how they navigated the rocks like little monkeys. They seemed oblivious to the dangers. Behind them, Nathaniel spied bright blue parkas belonging to adults. As they came closer, he could make out the figures of a man and woman in the rear—obviously the parents. They, too, were busy chatting but moving somewhat more cautiously than their progeny.

The mother called out, “Careful, D.J.! Wait for us when you clear The Chimney.”

“OH, MOM!” The youngster replied. He sounded annoyed. The kid reached The Chimney’s bottom and started up the other side toward Nathaniel. His little sister was in hot pursuit. The father spied Nathaniel and shouted out, “Hello! Sorry, we’ll be out of your way in just a moment.”

Nathaniel was speechless. He’d seen younger hikers on the trails before but never imagined seeing children this young crossing Knife Edge.

“Not to worry. Did—did you just come from Katahdin?”

“Yep. We got there about an hour ago, and now we’re headed back.” The man slipped down the rock and landed roughly next to Nathaniel. “Hiking on your own today?”

Before Nathaniel could reply, the man said, “It’s a great day for it. A little foggy in spots. But you’ll do fine.”

“Have you all done this before?”

“Sure! We come here with the kids at least three or four times in the summer. Becky and D.J. have crossed the Knife Edge about—how many times now, Suzie?”

“Eight times,” said the woman.

“Anyway, have fun! Oh, by the way—there’s an old man about an eighth of a mile back. Please check in with him and make sure he’s okay. It’s his first trip across the Knife Edge. He’s blind.”


About the Author

Phillip Temples resides in Watertown, Massachusetts. He has had five mystery-thriller novels, a novella, and two short story anthologies published, in addition to over 150 short stories. Phil is a member of the New England Science Fiction Association, the Mystery Writers of America, and the Bagel Bards. You can learn more about him at https://temples.com.