Aicha Zoubair

Jessica Bell

Sunday, July 7, 2013

The Learner by Alan Nayes


Five miles north of Los Angeles, the heavy traffic winding along San Gabriel Canyon Road began to thin. After another ten, Jared’s was only one of a few vehicles on the curving stretch of highway. He purposely slowed and opened the window partway. The cool night air filled the car’s interior with pungent scents of cedar and pine.

The rugged, forested San Gabriel Mountains provided the last natural blockade to Los Angeles’ seemingly unstoppable urban sprawl. He could just make out the placid waters of the San Gabriel Reservoir, shimmering under a three-quarter moon. The solitude of the drive was mesmerizing and never ceased to have a calming effect on his mood. Tonight this was good, though on other nights, smelling the outdoors so close would remind him that within a thirty-minute drive, he could reach trailheads that he and Emily used to hike; those languid days when they’d spend hours traversing the rugged terrain on their quests for hidden lakes, lost Indian trails, and obscure waterfalls. They’d spotted deer, coyotes, once glimpsed a cougar, and even a black bear. He recalled the time Emily had read about a fabled gold mine buried high in the mountains of the San Gorgonio Wilderness area. Of course, he and Emily had tried to find it and discover the gold. No luck, but it’d been fun dreaming of riches. They did come upon a secret high meadow, though, lush with alpine grasses and wildflowers.

His smile faded with the memory.

He hadn’t hiked the Angeles Forest trails in four years.

Dinner this evening had been an utter failure. In fact, Jillian had been called away before they’d placed their order. An important client situation had suddenly popped up. He ended up dining alone.

Just as well. The emergency room at Red Pine Hospital where he worked two or three shifts a month was in need of a physician to fill in for a doctor who’d called in ill at the last moment. “Why not?” he’d told the ER administrator over his chelo kebab. What the hell, how busy could a Wednesday night be in Red Pine? He would begin at ten, still over an hour away.

Jared slowed. As the road climbed in elevation the curves became more serpentine.

His mother called while he was guiding the Lexus around a particularly steep stretch of roadway.

“Hi, Mom.”

A few garbled words broke through, but nothing coherent.

Jared saw a sign indicating a scenic turnout and took it. He parked and dialed her back.

“Jared.” Good signal now. “I’m not interrupting anything, am I?” she asked.

“On my way to work.”

“Thought you had Wednesday nights off.”

“Driving in to Red Pine. They need a fill-in.”

“And Jillian?”

“Got called in by a client.”

A pause. “Well…?”

“Mom, she’s nice. Beautiful, intelligent, too.”

“Then why—”

A bus raced uphill around the curve, the loud whine of its engine drowning out the words. Jared watched the taillights disappear. Kind of fast, buddy. “Sorry, Mom, didn’t catch that last part.”

“Nothing, just thinking how after your father passed away, it took me some time to get back in the swing of things.”

“Mom, you never remarried.”

“But I went out.”

“We have this conversation every couple of months.”

“Just don’t want you lonely, honey.”

“I’m alone, Mom, not lonely. There’s a big difference. Besides, I don’t think Jillian was that impressed.”

“With Alborzs?”

“With me.”

A sudden clap like distant thunder rolled past the overlook. Jared glanced at the sky. Moonlight. The disturbance repeated briefly, but now the sounds seemed to be rising up from below him.

He checked the incline where he’d last seen the vanishing taillights of the speeding bus. A chill touched the nape of his neck.

“Mom, I gotta run.”

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Genre – Sci Fi / Paranormal Romance

Rating – PG13

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