Excerpt for Lightning Strikes Twice: A Short Story about Intuition by , available in its entirety at Smashwords

Lightning Strikes Twice

A Short Story about Intuition

by Matthew Félix


Published by Solificatio

Smashwords Edition


Copyright 2017 Matthew Félix

matthewfelix.com



Cover Photo Credits

Modified detail of “a puma”

© 2009 by Pat Murray

Photo: http://bit.ly/2tobTps

License: http://bit.ly/1ryPA8o


Smashwords Edition, License Notes

This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. It may not be re-sold or given away. If you would like to share it, please purchase an additional copy. If you’re reading it and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, please return to your favorite ebook retailer and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of the author.


Author’s Note

The following story is an adapted excerpt from a work in progress.


CONTENTS



The Hike

The Drive

The Hike



It was a gorgeous Northern California day, the kind of day that reminds those of us lucky enough to live here, why we do. The sky was an impeccable, boundless blue. The sun radiated with a joy almost indistinguishable from fury, rolling, golden hills aglow, the dazzling sparkle of the Pacific at times almost blinding.

It was also a perfect day for a hike.

Even before I’d planned my inaugural trek down a trail that had been calling for months, my friend Sarah had decided to head up to her cabin in the Russian River. When it turned out our respective plans overlapped, I easily convinced her to join me.

I’d been driving for an hour and a half when I got the call. Sarah was getting a late start. A very late start, in fact. She hadn't even left San Francisco yet. She wouldn't be joining me after all.

Disappointed, I considered my options. The hike was isolated enough and my admittedly irrational and overblown fear of mountain lions great enough for me to question making the trek on my own. On the other hand, the whole reason I’d rented a car and driven up the coast was to do the hike. I was almost at the trailhead.

It was the weekend. There were bound to be people around. I would give it a go and, if I got to a point where I felt uncomfortable, I would turn back. Doing so now didn't feel right. I had looked forward to the outing all week. I wasn't inclined to abandon my plans so easily.

I parked the car and got out. As I stretched my back, the sun warmed my face and a salty breeze ran its fingers through my hair. From where I was standing, I had expansive views up and down the coast. Looking out to the ocean, I beheld a smooth blue horizon, punctuated here and there by the white specks of a few fishing boats. Closer to shore, guano-capped outcrops rose from the water like giants wading into the sea, waves crashing and seals barking at their feet.

Turning around, I saw a massive ridge on the other side of the two-lane coastal route. A gravel trail made the steep climb to the top, where it vanished from sight.

I locked the car and headed for the trail.

As hoped, there were people everywhere, some going up, some coming down, most in colorful, functional outerwear expressly designed for the occasion. I wondered if there was an REI photoshoot up ahead, my own jeans, sweatshirt, and tennis shoes suddenly seeming woefully inadequate. I also wondered whether there would be as many hikers on the other side of the ridge.

It wasn’t that I was afraid of being alone. To the contrary, I treasure solitude, especially in the outdoors. Nature makes for great company.

Big cats, on the other hand, can be a little more temperamental.

I knew my fears were unfounded. I knew I was being paranoid. People hardly ever see mountain lions. Almost no one is attacked by them. The chances of getting hit by a car or being struck by lightning are much greater.

It didn't matter. Fear isn’t rational. Neither cars nor thunderbolts provoked in me anywhere near the dread of being stalked by a predator that could measure eight feet head-to-tail and weigh over two hundred pounds. A predator capable of taking down prey three or four times my size, and able to jump fifteen feet into the air. A predator as comfortable lying on an overhanging tree limb as crouched at the ready among tall grasses, effortlessly blending in, whatever the surroundings.

Yet I loved to hike. And I loved to hike alone.

Coming to the top of the ridge, I paused to take in the view. It was even more spectacular than from the parking lot, miles and miles of breathtakingly beautiful coastline visible to both the north and south. Cars below appeared Lilliputian, the road little more than a silver filament slicing across a golden landscape. I stole one last look, and reluctantly tore myself away.

Over the crest everything changed. Before, the entire panorama had been dominated by the ocean, awe-inspiring in its size and power and beauty. Now it was neither seen nor heard. Nor felt. In its place were rolling hills covered by tall grasses and dense scrub. Sweet fennel perfumed the air. Manzanita shrubs dropped their smooth bark like snakes shedding their skin. Bushes black with berries ensured no one went hungry, while the invigorating scent of bay laurels reminded passers-by of the potent medicine in their fragrant leaves.

The path meandered into a grove of towering redwoods, spread across two small hills divided by a trickling creek. Although the trees were huge in comparison to most, they were much smaller than their elders elsewhere on the coast. No cars would be driving through any of these anytime soon. As for other members of the grove, there were few to be found. Like the all-male Bohemian a short drive away, this was an exclusive club. The delicate ferns unfurling on the forest floor and the flowering sorrel that softly carpeted it were the sole exceptions.

Leaving the grove, I noticed a conspicuous gap beyond a nearby ridge. Whereas most of the hills were surrounded by others rising up at random, organic intervals, here there was little to see other than blue sky. I suspected the Russian River was to blame, its final bends out of sight below, paving the way for a long-awaited reunion with the Pacific. For a moment I could almost hear the raucous barking of the seals typically there to welcome the river at the end of its journey.

When I spied a small outcrop that looked like a perfect place for a meditation, I headed toward it. I found a suitable spot on its craggy surface, and sat down.

A small grassy clearing opened up below me, its precipitous slope vanishing into a dense thicket a short distance away. Beyond it, I could still see the majestic ridge concealing the river.

I looked over my shoulder. The trail continued on its way, meandering in and out of sight at the unpredictable whims of the landscape. I was reassured to glimpse a couple of hikers strolling down the path without an apparent care in the world—never mind a bloodthirsty cougar nipping at their heels.

I closed my eyes and took the first of a few deep breaths, directing my attention inward. My nostrils filled with the soothing scent of what I guessed was some sort of sage.

I’m not sure how long I meditated. Ten, fifteen, maybe even twenty minutes. When it was over, I opened my eyes.

Overwhelmed by the sudden onslaught of sunlight, my pupils contracted like the ego blocking out an uncomfortable truth. Only once they’d adjusted did I observe that the sky was no longer a perfect blue; a few puffy white clouds now bespeckled it. A lone vulture circled overhead, patiently awaiting any sign of death. Perhaps it was anticipating what came next.

Over some nearby bushes, a high-flying territorial dispute broke out between two hummingbirds, their rapid-fire chirps sounding the alarm. Before I knew it, they were dive-bombing each other. Reminded of the Aztec belief that warriors became hummingbirds after death, I had no trouble imagining these two as veterans of ancient battlefields. If they kept it up, I wasn’t sure how much longer they’d have left in their current incarnations.

Before I could give it another thought, it hit me: out of nowhere, an acute sense of imminent danger, surging through my body like an electrical shock.

I had to leave.

Now.

I had seen more hikers heading down the trail. Even before that, I’d already made up my mind to continue hiking. There wasn't any reason to stop. Having proven to myself there was nothing to fear, I’d laid my worries to rest. I was looking forward to exploring the trail I’d been thinking about all week.

But then the message came again.

You have to leave.

Now.

I’d never experienced anything like it. It was as clear as it was unrelenting. Given that I was writing a novel about intuition, discounting the peculiar warning seemed not only imprudent but hypocritical. It didn’t make sense, but I had to set my rational doubts aside. I had to trust what I was feeling—especially since I was feeling it with such bewildering certainty.

I stood up and prepared to head back to the car. I couldn’t believe I was doing it. I was actually going to put a premature end to my hike, just because a voice in my head was messing with my mind.

Before I turned to go, I took one last look.

It was then that two eyes popped up. At that very moment. Out of the grasses extending down the slope at my feet.

“That's a strange looking deer,” I thought, my mind reflexively projecting the familiar onto the unknown. When we’re not clear what to make of something, the brain is more than happy to take creative license and fill in the blanks.

In this case, however, my mind’s best intentions could not have produced worse results. It had substituted Bambi's innocent mug for a puma's piercing stare.

My irrational panic suddenly made perfect sense.

I was face-to-face with a mountain lion.

On the one hand, I was elated. On the other, I was mortified. In a matter of seconds the big cat—which intuitively felt female—could be on top of me. I imagined her tossing me around in her powerful jaws like a dog shaking a toy from side to side.

My mind spinning and my heart racing, instinct urged me to run. I knew better. If I ran, the mountain lion was likely to confuse me for prey. Neither could I turn my back. That would send the signal my defenses were down. Meanwhile, a more brazen, intensely curious part of me felt an almost irresistible desire—the temptation—to look the beautiful animal in the eyes. But I knew I couldn’t do that either. The mountain lion was apt to take it as a challenge, one she was sure to win.

I lingered on the outcrop, unable to extricate myself from the once-in-a-lifetime encounter. The mountain lion poked around in the grasses, innocently. My worst fears had come true, and it was exhilarating.

Eventually, I acknowledged my time was up. Rather than press my luck any further, I began a slow, deliberate retreat. One step at a time, I backed up until I was no longer in the mountain lion’s sight, the steep slope and looming outcrop obstructing her view. I then did what my body had been urging me to do all along.

I ran.

I didn't get very far before I came upon a middle-aged, pony-tailed man, who was stooped over the trail. When I got closer, I saw that he was looking at a butterfly.

"There's a mountain lion over there," I informed him, anticipating his alarm.

"Oh yeah?" he asked politely.

Not the reaction I had expected.

"Uh, yeah."

"Cool.” His eyes didn’t stray from the insect, its colorful wings widespread. It wasn’t a species I recognized.

I resumed my sprint for the car.

The Drive

I had expected to be hiking for another two or three hours. What was I going to do with the extra time?

My normal day trip consisted of a loop. I drove up the coast on Highway 1, distracted at unpredictable intervals by scenic turnouts, beckoning trailheads, and occasional food or drink. When I came to the picturesque hamlet of Jenner, I headed inland, following the winding course of the Russian River. Steep hillsides and dense redwood groves gave way to a little town that boasted of being a vacation wonderland. A larger town followed, as did, shortly after, meticulous expanses of row after row of grapevines. When I joined the high-speed race down the thoroughfare to the city, I knew that yet another adventure was drawing to an end. Twin art-deco towers brought me full circle an hour later, my day to a triumphant close.

Today was different. It was still early, and I wasn’t tired or in a hurry.

I opted to drive back down the coast.

As I negotiated tight twists and hairpin turns up and down undulating terrain, again I marveled at the stunning coastline, the cliffs, the outcrops, and the ceaseless successions of waves. I spied midnight-black ravens loitering in parking lots, snow-white egrets foraging in lily-pad-capped marshes, and seagulls circling and squawking and scavenging, everywhere. Fresh pastures made for happy cows and carefree sheep, small groups of deer occasionally sharing in the good fortune.

After passing through a picture-perfect Northern California town, its Old West storefronts and quaint, historic houses from another time, I got my first look at Tomales Bay. Golden sunshine reflected off sparkling blue waters. A mountain ridge acted as backdrop to a few sail boats that, from a distance, looked frozen in place. About a mile away, the long and deceptively narrow strip of land afforded safe haven to herds of elk and hoards of hikers. Its role holding back the Pacific Ocean was no less worthy of note.

I also noticed a tiny, uninhabited island, a eucalyptus-covered protrusion that the tides kept forgetting to carry out to sea. A shipwrecked group of hogs had been stranded there in the 1870s, a defining moment memorialized in a name as perfectly fitting as unforgivably unimaginative: Hog Island.

Closer at hand, I caught glimpses of wetlands, their dense mats parted in places by perfectly defined rivulets. The waterways twisted and turned as though looking for a way out, desperate for their freedom.

I’d seen it all many times before. I let myself go as though it were my first. No doubt that’s why I was caught off guard by yet another unexpected turn of events.

Pull over.

I ignored it.

It insisted.

Pull over.

We’d been through this before. Shortly before, in fact. Going through it again so soon only made it that much stranger.

Pull over.

Knowing better than to put up a fight, when I came to a turnout, I started to veer to the side of the road.

Not here. The next one.

I laughed out loud. I questioned my sanity.

I did as told.

The worst that could happen was that I’d get a real chance to take in the stunning scenery. Unless I wanted to drive over a cliff, I had to pay very close attention to the road. Stopping was the only way to fully appreciate the landscape.

At the next turnout, still high above the bay, I pulled over. A cloud of dust took to the air as the car rolled to a stop.

I took the key out of the ignition. I opened the door. I hadn’t even put my foot onto the pavement when it happened.

On the tall embankment on the other side of the road, a big cat bounded out of nowhere.

I was stunned.

Yet this time, I felt little fear. This time, all I felt was an empowering rush.

I was now standing on the road, the car door between me and the mountain lion. I figured a cat was unlikely to come flying at me from ten feet in the air and two lanes away, exposing its vulnerable underbelly—particularly since the mountain lion was spooked. It was so distracted it didn’t even look my way.

Until I called out to it.

I couldn’t let this one get away without making eye contact.

We did.

I felt another surge of excitement. It was enthralling to make a connection—however fleeting—with such a majestic creature, one that was not only remarkably sentient but truly wild.

The beautiful animal didn’t pause. Instead, it continued on its way, fleeing some unseen danger and leaving me in a state of utter disbelief. Once again, I both marveled at and struggled to make sense of what had just happened. Once again, reality seemed suspect.

What were the odds? Twice in one day? Less than an hour apart? Both times intimately involving my intuition—its guidance so clear that I had even understood to wait for the second turnout?

There probably weren’t any.

I questioned what I had seen—what I thought I’d seen. In my haste, could I have mistaken a bobcat for a mountain lion? Could a bobcat even be that big? None of the ones I’d ever come across had come close. Never mind the big cat’s coloration, the way it moved, or its presence. As improbable as it seemed, the alternative seemed even more so. I remained convinced: I’d seen another mountain lion.

I could not believe it.

Nor was I sure anyone else would.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR


A longtime resident of San Francisco, Matthew Félix has also lived in Spain, France, and Turkey. Adventure, spirituality, and humor infuse his work, which often draws on his time living in the Mediterranean, as well as his travels in over fifty countries.


matthewfelix.com



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