Recently, I've been playing Ultima Online (or UO), and a lot of it too. Which isn't a good thing. You see, UO involves a lot of time-consuming skill-building, which in turn involves a lot of sitting down in front of the pc. So I sit down in front of a pc at work all day and then I come home and sit down in front of the pc all night. Then the weekend comes around and... guess what. Yep, I sit down in front of the pc some more. Today was almost no different. I got up, turned on the TV, and it was the Sci-Fi channel with their Halloween movie marathon. That's great, I thought, I get to watch some horror classics while playing UO.
By three o'clock, my butt starts to ache from all the sitting down. It was like, 'dude, give me a break, go do something that doesn't involve me bearing the brunt of your weight'. So I thought, okay, what can I do? Well last week, Brent and Marci had gone babysitting at their friends' house on Saturday and asked me to do something with Brae, their dog, just so she wouldn't be lonely all day. Well, I'd heard that House Mountain, which is about 15 minutes drive away from where I live, was a good place to hike. Problem was, I didn't know exactly how to get there, and I wound up driving around House Mountain (I could see it from the road), not knowing exactly how to get to the hiking trail. Eventually I went home, defeated, with a very perplexed dog in the back seat.
Well, today I decided I would atone for that failure. Brent had given me simpler instructions for how to get there. "Get on Rutledge Pike, and just look for the House Mountain State Park sign". I could do that. I got in my car and took a roundabout route via Millertown Pike to Rutledge. Saw a few creepily decked out houses in the area along the way. One particularly brilliant getup was situated just over a small hill and around a bend. They had put up cobwebs and ghosts that sprang into view just as you came around that bend. That gave me a bit of the willies!
I got on Rutledge, drove a bit, and found the sign Brent had talked about. Soon I was at the parking lot for the House Mountain trail. Quite a few cars were parked there, so I knew I could expect to see other hikers. I walked out a ways into the woods to take piss (when you gotta go, you gotta go), and saw that someone had a left a copy of the News Sentinel a little ways off the trail. It was today's, too. I picked it up cause, hey, I'd have something to read when I got to the top.
I'd been up this trail with friends before, so I kinda knew what I was in for. It isn't a long hike... it maybe takes half an hour to get to the top of the mountain. On the way up, I ran into quite a few people making their way back. I checked the time on my cellphone to see what the rush was... it was only about 4:30pm. I thought that was weird, because these past few weeks it only gets dark around 7pm. That's at least two-and-half hours of daylight left, so what was the rush? A couple of them looked at me weird too, but didn't say anything. So much for Southern hospitality :p.
The trail winds around the side of the mountain quite a bit, so there were quite a few corners to take. After about twenty minutes, at one of these corners, I came to an overlook that faces South. It was a rock outcropping that gave a cool preview of the view at the top. I sat there for a moment to catch my breath. The view was already pretty good, even at this point. I was going to look at the copy of the News Sentinel I'd found, but then I thought I'd just save it for later. I did glance at it, though, and I saw that the Lifestyle section had a Halloween special in it. I promised myself I'd look at it.
When I was ready to keep moving, I thought about getting back on the trail, but then I remembered the last time I was here. Instead of taking the trail, Brent had gone up the slope from the overlook and got to the trail at the top quicker that way. I'd followed him the last time, and I thought, what the heck, I'll take the same shortcut again. I didn't quite remember the route he took, but I thought it couldn't be very complicated, as long as I just went up.
About ten minutes later, I was dog tired from clawing my way up the slope, which had been a longer climb than I had thought it would be. The slope had also turned out to be more slippery than expected. The dirt was pretty loose. Once, to steady myself, I grabbed a small tree whose roots had rotted away. It wasn't fun regaining my balance AND dodging a dead falling tree. I did manage to get up to what seemed the top of the mountain, though. The problem was, I didn't immediately see a trail. I started thinking this shortcut is way longer than I remembered. The only other way was back down the slope, though, and I wasn't about to give up on my shortcut just yet. I did start wishing I'd stuck to the trail, though. If I had someone with me I could at least be yucking it up. As it is, the only sounds I heard were the wind and the rustling of leaves underfoot.
Where the slope had levelled out, there was a small clearing that had a bunch of rocks sticking out of the ground. They would have been kinda cool if it wasn't getting so lonely. I spotted a couple of dark crannies amongst the rocks, and decided that if there were any animals inside, I didn't want to meet them. I got out of the clearing and wandered through the trees for what seemed more and more to be an inordinate amount of time. Just as I was ready to turn around and head back to the slope and try my luck finding the overlook again, I got over a hump and found the trail again. Well, I found *a* trail. This one was wider and had more leaves on it than the narrow trail I'd been on before. It was lower than the rest of the ground, so I hadn't seen it from a distance. It was a relief to find some form of civilization again. Well, except I didn't know which way to go. The trail seemed to run along the length of the mountaintop, and neither way seemed intuitively to be the fastest way down. And frankly, I was tired enough that home was where I wanted to be as soon as possible. I decided to go east along the trail, because that was the direction the trail had gone in back at the overlook, where I had taken my 'little' shortcut.
After about, oh, forever? I was wondering if this trail actually went anywhere. I came across a wooden bench by the side of the trail and thought about sitting down, but I was really in a hurry to get to my car. I didn't know exactly where I was and I didn't know how long it would take to get back, and I still hadn't found anything that looked like a path leading back down the mountain. As I got closer to the end of the mountain, the trail got narrower and less descript. Eventually, the trail was nothing more a narrow winding path hemmed by mossy rocks. Just when I thought that I'd never see another living being again, I spied a couple coming along the trail towards me. What a relief. I stopped to talk to them. The dude was pretty friendly... his gal was kinda quiet, so I didn't pay much attention to her. He introduced themselves as... get this... Dick and Sue. He must've been living in the 60s... who calls themselves Dick anymore :p. I asked if where they were coming from led down to the parking lot. Dick was like Nooo, that goes to the East overlook at the edge of the mountain. He told me the branch that lead back the the cars was way back where I'd come, next to a wooden bench. I was like, dude! I saw the bench, I must've missed the trail. The lady pulled out a map and thumbed through it, and silently pointed out where I was. I was going to turn around and head back to the bench, but Dick was like "The view from the overlook is too good to miss! You *need* to see it".
Well it was only a quarter past five, so I thought I had plenty of daylight left. I said adieu and kept moving. They were like, "If you don't spend too long there, you'll probably catch up to us!". Yep!
Eventually I got to the overlook, and the view WAS great. I would've enjoyed it thoroughly, and I did for a while, until I took note of the overlook itself. It was made up of a five rocks (more rocks, dang) that kinda pointed out from the side of the mountain... it was like a big freaky golem hand that I was sitting on. That really weirded me out. Of course, I was being silly, but to take my mind off all the kookiness, I took out the News Sentinel I'd found. Thought twice about looking at the Halloween special, but again, I was being silly. It had the usual: origins of Halloween, Halloween events, blah blah blah. Then one story caught my eye. It was about Spooky Knoxville Locations (tm). I could not resist. There were places downtown (surprise! surprise!), and some others out West I didn't know about. Then I saw it... House Mountain. I thought, okay, this is tacky, and I don't need to read that... but I did. Fifty years ago, Richard Shipe took his girlfriend, Susan Hawkins up to the East overlook (horrors!), and, in a fit of rage, threw her over the edge to her death. Apparently she wanted to break up with him, so she followed him to the top of a mountain, alone, go figure. Then he shot himself with a pistol. On Halloween.
Okay, that was just too funny. Like bad-horror-movie funny. I ditched the paper and started back the way I'd came. The sky was taking on that red sunset hue, which had me a little concerned. It wasn't anywhere close to seven... but then it hit me. Daylight savings. The switch was last night. I've only got, um, half an hour of light left, not until 7pm like I'd thought. Geez. I start to hustle. I eventually came to the bench, and... no branching trail. I looked and looked, and didn't see anything that looked well trodden leading down the side of the mountain. I had that I've-been-had feeling. That and a I-need-to-get-the-hell-back-to-my-car feeling. I was still on a trail, though, at least, and it's gotta lead somewhere. I just need make like a walkathon contestant and I'll be... somewhere... in no time.
After another fifteen minutes walking the length of the mountaintop, it was officially darker than I was comfortable with. I'd kept my eye out for a trail, *any* trail, leading down, but had seen nothing. I wasn't TOO worried though... the last time I came here I'd gone down the West side of the mountain, and I knew THAT trail had to be in the direction I was going. I'd get there, eventually, I thought. Well when I eventually found myself at another overlook, hence a dead end, I knew I'd thought wrong. Apparently I was suffering from a serious blind spot... how else was I missing all these branching trails? I started thinking, if I hadn't taken that shortcut, I would never half gotten this lost. Stupid, stupid shortcut. Now I had somehow wound up on the trail that goes nowhere along the top of House Mountain. I took out my cellphone, meaning to call Brent... he probably knew where I'd gone wrong. I lit up the screen to look up the phone. It said 'No Signal'. Which was weird, because the last time I was here, and I promise this is the last time I talk about the last time I was here, I'd called my friend Chun Liang in Chicago on the way up. I even remember some idiot we passed saying "Can You Hear Me Now?" to me.
I sat down at the edge of the overlook to ponder my situation... and then I saw it, sitting on the rock next to me. The copy of the News Sentinel that I had ditched on the other side of the mountain. What the heck. I stood up and looked around me. The overlook I stood on was five ugly, mishapen fingers of rock.
"Good view isn't it?" I heard a voice say.
I turned around with a start. It was Dick and Sue! Boy was I glad to see them. "Hey hey!" I laughed, "Good to see you guys! You won't BELIEVE what just happened!"... blahblahblah... I told them the reader's digest version of everything that had happened up til that point. Dick didn't seem too surprised, and Sue was quiet like before, but I didn't care, it was just good to see other folk. When I was done with my story, I was like, okay I'm ready to get back to the car, can you guys show me the way? Hey come to think of it, what are you guys still doing here?
"What are we doing here?" Sue said in monotone, "We came here to talk, just us alone".
That was the first I'd heard her speak, so I was a little taken aback. She sounded weird too. Dick laughed, and said "Well she came up here to talk. I'm here to do something else."
"Um, what?" I asked.
"This", he said, and he pushed me over the edge of the rock.
I fell backwards some 60 feet, too shocked to scream. I hit the ground. I didn't completely lose conciousness, yet. Through the blackness, I heard them arguing, up on the overlook... he got mad, they struggled... I heard her scream on the way down, and land a few feet away from me... a few more moments of blackness... her last pathetic whimpers in the throes of death... then a gunshot from above.
As darkness came over me for the last time, I thought to myself...
That's the last time I'm taking a shortcut.