David’s feet shuffled to face him in one direction, and then the other. His sneakers cleared a circle of dirt from the dry leaves that covered the forest floor. An irritated sigh put a puff of frosted breath before his face.
“Any ideas?” Arnold looked up from the pamphlet covered in multicolored lines that wound over each like wet spaghetti. The thin page crinkled beneath his Gore-tex fingers. He shifted on his numbed feet, trying to work the straps of his backpack out of the rut that creased both shoulders. The muscles tingled with the brief relief from the weight.
David shrugged. “No…”
“We must have missed a turn back there.”
“Really?” David ignored Arnold’s rolling eyes as he tromped past him in order to gaze down the trodden path they had just come down. His peered into the dusk tinged light filtering through the bare branches. “I swear that’s a trail.” He swiveled and his gaze shot down to where the vector of the path should point. He met a thick corpse of trees and underbrush turning autumn tones.
“I don’t see any markers,” said Arnold. His hands folded the map and his arms dropped down to his sides.
“Humbug…” David muttered.
Arnold snickered. “Did you just say ‘humbug’?”
David shot him a glare but it did nothing to temper the grin plumping Arnold’s chilled cheeks.
“Well, sorry Mr. Scrooge.” Arnold shook his head and his humor drifted as he watched David stomp back to the other end of the clearing. “I think we should head back.”
“What?” David shot a glance over his shoulder before he kicked at some of dry leaves. They just revealed more dirt and nearly frozen ground. “You know how long that would take?”
“Better than getting lost stumbling around out here.” Arnold stuffed away the map and stuck his thumbs through the loops in his dirty jeans. “Come on. There’s not much light left.”
“Exactly.” David said, bending aside a naked sapling. “We should be almost back to camp.”
“Right…” Arnold scanned the quieting forest. “Which way would that be again?”
David slung him another glare as he turned away from the uninformative brush. The thick sleeves of his jacket bulged as he folded his arms across his chest. “I don’t know.”
“You could have said that twenty minutes ago.”
“Well…I’m saying it now.”
Arnold held up his gloves and toned down the sarcasm soaking his voice. “Ready?”
David swung one more glance at the floor coated in fallen debris, the silent stands of trees and up to the streaks of thin clouds. Their feathery edges were tinted with the setting sun, standing them out from the stretch of icy blue overhead.
“Come on. We can try from the other direction tomorrow.”
David shrugged and stuffed his hands into his coat pockets. His head hung. His eyes wandered over the crushed leaves and well defined path that fell under his hiking boots. He could see their earlier foot prints, facing the other direction and he stomped down on the first pair of larger prints.
Behind him he heard Arnold shifting his pack and tucking away the map. Then Arnold’s size 16’s were crunching along after him.
David heard him snort. A slight burst of chilled air brushed onto the back of his neck with Arnold’s low snicker.
“I can’t believe you said Humbug…”