Josiah found the sound of leaves crunching beneath his feet a comfort, even though Crockett’s absence was never more apparent than when Josiah was in the woods. When he could hear nothing but the barking of squirrels overhead and birdsong all around, he started to feel the tension leave his body. If he could build a cabin and live up on the mountain, he would. It was only his loyalty to his aging parents and the farm he grew up on that kept him in town.
Josiah’s stride lengthened as he crested the ridge and the terrain leveled off. He had no intended destination, and yet he felt a distinct sense of purpose with every step, almost like he had an appointment to keep. A stirring in the leaves nearby caused him to stop and listen. After a moment, he spotted a chipmunk busy collecting nuts under a massive oak tree.
Pushing through a particularly thick stand of mountain laurel, Josiah gasped as the way opened up in front of him. The path in front of him was no more than a deer trail, but the sunlight cut through the trees overhead and shone directly on the path, illuminating a small piece of quartz that sparkled in the sunlight. Something about the combination of the sunlight on the quartz and the wide open view in front of him made Josiah feel expectant. He picked up the quartz and dropped it in his pocket, and carefully made his way to the place he hadn’t realized he was headed.
Taylor’s Jump Off was a bluff not visited by many people. People frequented other bluffs on this mountain that were easier to get to, but, though it was the least visited, Taylor’s Jump Off was the most talked about. Josiah could still remember the first time he came here with his Papaw. The old man had made him hold his hand, even though he was nearly twelve. The panoramic view was seen easily enough from several spots, once you fought your way to the clearing, but the ledge Josiah was working his way toward had the most magnificent view he had ever seen. His papaw warned him not to try to get down to the ledge; several people had fallen and been injured or killed attempting the short descent to the granite outcrop. Papaw had said it was suicide to attempt, and then told him how Zeke Taylor had done just that after he lost his wife and kids in a fire. He left a note under his hat at the base of a tree, climbed down to the ledge and jumped off. That was seventy odd years ago, but the spot was still called Taylor’s Jump Off.
Josiah smiled to himself, remembering how he had climbed back up the mountain just a few days after his papaw had showed him the spot and climbed down to the Jump Off. Telling Josiah not to do something was pretty much the same as giving him a direct commission to do it. Taking care not to lose his footing, he lowered himself the final two feet to the granite ledge. Getting down was easy; getting back up was the tricky part.
Once he found a spot to sit, he looked around and sighed. The view was worth the danger. Jutting out from the rest of the mountainside, the Jump Off allowed an unobstructed view of nothing but treetops below and another mountain across the valley. Off to the left, you could barely see the Little River snaking its way through the valley. Josiah inhaled the crisp air and closed his eyes. The peace was almost palpable.
Unbidden, the memory of Ezra’s visit a week ago came to mind, and Josiah remembered the words he had said, “There’s peace to be had, but I only know one way to find it.”
Josiah thought about all the times he had sat through church and wished he was in the woods. All the sermons he tuned out paled in comparison to the integrity of the wind in the trees. Remembering Ezra saying he met Jesus in the woods, Josiah rolled his eyes, and then laughed at himself for doing it. There was no one around to see his disdain. No one else to laugh with him over the Sunday School version of a white-robed, scarlet-sashed Jesus strolling through the forest. No one else around, yet Josiah felt strongly that he was not alone.
Feeling silly from the moment his lips parted, he said aloud, “I’m here if You’re here.”
Josiah shook his head, feeling foolish. He reached into his pocket and pulled out the piece of quartz. Holding it up to the sunlight, he admired the way it sparkled. He had always been a sucker for the pretty things he found in the woods. His dresser was covered with the items he brought home.
As Josiah’s thoughts wandered, he suddenly had a very vivid memory of sitting with his Papaw on his back porch. There was a large creek rock balanced on the porch railing with a Bible verse painted in his Papaw’s shaky block lettering. Josiah had sat there so many times that he had memorized the verse on the rock. “Be my rock of refuge, to which I can always go; give the command to save me, for you are my rock and my fortress.”
“Why did you paint that rock?” Josiah had asked.
“To remind me that God takes care of me,” Papaw had answered. “A long time ago, I went through a dark time. I was tired and scared, and I used to go down to the creek to pray. One day, God gave me that verse while I was sitting by the creek. I carried home that rock and painted that verse to remind me.”
Josiah had only nodded, and pushed himself back and forth in the old porch swing. Now, the memory of his papaw’s words and the intensity with which he spoke them flooded Josiah’s mind.
“I guess You are here,” Josiah whispered. “I’m here, too.”
Rachel Holbrook writes from her home in Knoxville, TN. She is the author of the syndicated serial, Little River, Volumes 1 & 2. Her short fiction and poetry have appeared in Burningword Literary Journal, *82 Review, Ink in Thirds, Akitsu Quarterly, The Avalon Literary Review, The Society of Classical Poets, and various other literary journals. She recently won an Honorable Mention for her short story “A Slow Burn” at the Sigma Tau Delta International English Honor Society’s annual convention. She also received the Springs of Helicon Award for Poetry, awarded by Tennessee Wesleyan University. When she’s not writing, she enjoys going on literal and literary adventures with her husband and six children.