Chapter One Romero Pools
It was a very warm day, as was typical for mid-November in southern Arizona. The sky was the shade of blue that could be seen splashed over travel magazines, enticing people to some desirable tropical destination. There was a paintbrush wisp of white cloud to the west. Marin had just finished her climb up the last gentle slope to the second pools and waterfall. She stepped across the rocks to the far side of the falls, where she collapsed on one of the big smooth rocks. She was tired. For some reason, the hike today seemed harder than usual. Lying on the hard cool surface, she closed her eyes and listened to the roar of the water as it cascaded over the boulders. Marin exhaled as she waited for her body to cool off. Before long, she had fallen asleep.
In her dream, she looked over to the passenger seat where Tyler sat smiling at her. The sun was shining on his face, and his hair was blowing across his forehead, partially obscuring his intense blue eyes. Suddenly, the scene exploded with the sound of busting metal and screeching tires. Marin woke up with a jolt. Not again, she thought. She had no idea how long she had been asleep, but she could tell by the shift of the sun that it had been too long. She would have to hurry to get back to the base of the mountain. She didn’t like to leave it too late, as she would hate to be caught here even nearing dusk, let alone after dark. She picked up her small backpack, took a big drink of water, and stood to leave.
Marin quickly passed the lower falls, very aware of her aloneness. She was doubtlessly the last person on the trail. Again, she scolded herself for falling asleep. The days were considerably shorter in November, and she knew better than to leave it so late. Crossing the water using the stepping-stones, she easily made it over to the other side. Although the levels were higher this time of year, the rocks were not yet submerged. It wasn’t unusual to cross over in ankle-deep water. Once safely on the other bank, she struck up the steep incline. The grogginess had dissipated and she was now fully awake. Her thoughts of Tyler and the crash began to subside.
Heading up the narrow path that twisted its way around boulders and small trees, Marin ascended up from the streambed and began the steep, rocky climb up the ridge. She would have to climb for about twenty minutes before the trail would level out somewhat before descending again, back towards the parking lots below. Hearing a disturbance from the top of the ridge above her, Marin looked up just as a few small rocks came down onto the path in front of her. She stopped in her tracks, worried about what might come down next. She wondered if it were an animal moving along the ledge above her. “Preferably a bighorn sheep and not a mountain lion,” she mused aloud.
Suddenly, Marin heard a cracking of branches in the vegetation above. There was something big moving around up there. Her first thought was to pass by quickly and keep moving, but before she could react, a dark mass plummeted to the ground in front of her. She let out a low scream and froze in her tracks. She stood like that for a moment before she realized it wasn’t an animal but a man. Marin stared at the figure, absorbing what had just happened. The body was not moving. Was he dead? She stood like that for a moment, waiting, although she didn’t know what she was waiting for.
Snapping to her senses, Marin rushed forward. The man had fallen on his side and appeared to be unconscious, but she could tell he was still breathing. She noticed a large bloody patch on his forehead where it had struck a rock. Feeling flummoxed, Marin was unsure whether to try to move him, not knowing how badly he was hurt.
Marin cautiously looked around for a sign of anyone else. Was this man alone? She waited for a moment, listening. There was nothing but stillness. She then grabbed a small towel from her pack and knelt beside him. Moistening the towel with water from her bottle, she cooled his face and wiped the grime from his wound. Marin was afraid to breathe and was becoming worried when his eyelids suddenly fluttered. Slowly, his eyes started to blink open.
She looked at him with a worried smile and said, “Well, hello there.”
The man looked confused for a moment, so Marin continued, “You just fell, from up there.” She pointed upwards to the ridge.
“Oh shit. I did, didn’t I?” His hand went up to his face, shielding his eyes. “I lost my footing. I took a wrong turn looking for the path down. I was trying to take a picture.” He tried to move but winced in pain.
“What hurts?” she asked. “Aside from your head.”
He laughed weakly. “Actually, I don’t feel my head. But everything else hurts.”
“I think you may have knocked yourself out. I need to put some pressure on your head, if I may. You are bleeding and I’d like to try to stop it,” Marin said, as she wrapped her towel tightly around the wound and tucked it under his head to hold it in place. He lay still. “Should I check you for broken bones or anything?” she offered.
“Do you know how to do that?” he asked.
“Well, no, but I figured if I just pressed everything, you’d scream if I hit a sore spot. Isn’t that how they do it on TV?”
The man was now starting to stir. “Well, no thanks. Let’s just see if I can feel anything when I sit up. We’ll start there, shall we?”
“Do you want some water?” Marin asked.
“Please. I have some in my pack, if you don’t mind.”
Marin fumbled with the bottle that was clipped to the side pocket of his backpack, which he was still wearing. With Marin’s help, the man was now propped up on one elbow as he drank the now warm fluid. Turning his gaze upward, he looked at the ledge above.
“That was quite the fall. Thank Christ there was this path here, or I could have fallen a lot further. Thanks for your help, by the way.” This time he looked straight at Marin and, with a smile, offered her an awkward handshake. “Hi, I’m Adam.”
“And I’m Marin,” she replied, sighing with some relief. She fumbled with the towel, which was sliding down into his eyes. The blood had subsided somewhat. “Can I help you stand? We might not be out of the woods just yet.”
“Agreed,” said Adam enthusiastically. “Let’s get me up.”
They locked elbows and Marin braced herself while she pulled back. After the second attempt, Adam struggled to his feet and very nearly collapsed again.
“Shit,” he yelled. “My leg. And maybe my ribs, as well. No, definitely my ribs, too.” He leaned on the rock face for support.
“Can you stand on your leg? Do you think it’s broken or just sprained?” Marin didn’t want to panic. There was a little more than two hours of light left, and they were most surely the last two on the trail at this time of day. She had seen nobody behind her. Not to mention the fact that they had no cell phone service and so could not call for help.
Adam put his hand on her shoulder for support and took a few steps forward, testing his legs. He winced in pain but did stay on his feet. “Okay, so I think it’s safe to say it’s not broken, which is the good news, right?”
Marin nodded in agreement. “So, I guess this means celebrations are in order. Woo-woo,” she said, feebly, making a circular motion with her fist above her head. “Now, we just need to figure out a way to get you back down.”
“What do you mean, ‘we’?” Adam looked at her with concern. “I can’t expect you to hang around. You just head on your way, and when you get to the bottom, you can send someone up.”
“Are you crazy? I can’t leave you. You’d probably fall off another cliff. You’re not very steady on your feet, and I see you don’t have a hiking pole. We’re going down together, no argument.”
Adam smiled at her warmly. “This is really too kind. I will hold you back.”
“We are going together, Adam, and that’s that.” Marin put her pack on and hesitantly pushed her small body against Adam’s much bigger frame to lend support. She felt a little awkward standing so close to a stranger but knew he needed help. “Now, how will this work? Should I hold onto you, or will you lean on me?”
“I think it’s best if I hang on to you. Can we try it this way to start?” Adam brushed the dust from his clothes, stood up straight and with a huge exhalation, took his first steps forward. “So far so good,” he announced with a smile.
Marin knew the first part would be the worse, as they were still ascending and many sections were steep. She was also worried about the time but said nothing. Hopefully when the shock wore off, Adam would be able to walk a little quicker. She guided his steps carefully until she was sure he wouldn’t stumble again. Both had fallen silent, the tension apparent. There was little doubt about the challenge ahead of them.