This weekend we will be posting the five finalists for the 2018 Voorheesville Short Story Contest! These are stories that made it through the local faculty and staff judging panel, and were sent on to be evaluated by our professional writer panel of judges. Our fourth story is Samantha Jasinski’s “The Journey.” In “The Journey,” our judges were captivated by the tension between strength and wonder, which seemed to be rooted in the gender of each of the characters. They also felt that the metaphor of the veil found in the story perfectly represented the sense that “there is much more happening in these few pages than [she] might be letting on or that is not yet fully explored.”
Waking in the early morning to the sound of a doorbell, I rush to my hallway and open the door to the sight of adventure himself. I’m greeted by his bright smile and the sound of a car engine waiting only a few feet away. Before he can grab me or ask how I’m doing, I find myself hastily running to the car. I quickly shut the door and lock myself in place with the seatbelt, out of breath with laughter. He shifts into gear with a sudden jolt and I shut my eyes. That smile that melted into the back of my head is a haunting yet sweet image that reminds me to forget dreaming and to look at him instead. We quickly drive through our bashful town, the sights of charming country houses and vibrant joggers illuminating that small town feeling. As we enter into the highway, I hear the car engine murmuring to itself unsteadily. Taking in all of my senses, I notice his hands that clutch the steering wheel, and my eyes can only focus on white knuckles holding it all together. The dark blue veins rope around his calloused hands, and flinch each time the cars in front of us break without a sign. As we continue to make our way down the road, the speedy vehicles begin to flush together into one complacent race, as they merge in and out of yellow lines. My mind stills when I see him bend his body to the side and begin to fumble with the mess of clothes and old papers that lay in the back seats. With one hand gripping the wheel and the other haphazardly pushing random objects around, he finally pulls out a bright orange speaker. The color quickly catches my eyes and I snatch it from his strong grip. The bluetooth on my phone is already itching to play my favorite music as I sneakily search my typical teenage girl playlists. After suffering through a batch of angsty songs, I hear a deep sigh escape him as he blurts, “You cannot be serious right now.” He gives me an annoyed groan, tossing in an intense side-eye for effect. I chuckle to myself and quietly tap the volume button to a louder setting. The slight beating of the speaker rings in my hands and the sensation begins to play a melody with the humming of the wheels against the cracked pavement. Looking past the unkept ground beneath us, I fixate on the exit signs passing us by. Each one huddles to the large metal rods holding them up, like shy ghosts peeking behind dewy pine trees. The mass of trees around us was breathtaking. Different shades of forest green and lime that combined together to show a wild garden of monstrous size. Suddenly I’m pulled into a conversation about the underground fungus that connects all of the trees around us together, like friends playing telephone. I hold onto each word he’s saying, trying to remember what each phrase means and seeing if I can outwit him with any environmental knowledge floating in my brain. After a few exchanges I slowly tune out of the mushroom talk and am overtaken by my surroundings. The atmosphere of the car clouds my mind with the surprisingly sharp scent of clean laundry and musky cologne. It’s almost too strong for me to remember that I’m the one in charge of listening to the directions that bring us to the hiking trail.
I momentarily block out the world around me, trying to soak in every moment and focus on what I could take away from everything. Time seems so still, so forever in this one moment, that what happened next didn’t matter. The feeling of the present and how deeply it grasped my heart, pulling me in closer, was the one thing more tempting than a neon-tainted city. The playfulness of our conversations and the simplicity of the moment was making me feel as if I was living a daydream. Seeing trees zip past the car were like the seconds ticking down on his watch, whispering to me that time grabs us all at the wrong moment and forces us out of our beloved daydreams. The feeling of soft leather, the hum of quiet music, and the dragging allure of conversation for hours down a winding road was the one adventure I craved. Adventure had snuck into my life, not with a loud bang of fireworks, but with a shy boy that would lose his mind after finding a patch of fiddleheads by an isolated river. He found the most amusing fun in dragging me to crazy places all around the east coast. It didn’t matter if it was a beef jerky outlet or a Whole foods full of hippies, if it had even the slightest amount of adventure, it was game. Adventure between us became so easily found, that with just a simple text, we were headed to the Adirondacks. My thoughts buzzed with eagerness as I looked next to me and saw him staring intently ahead of us. Seizing this quiet moment, I find myself falling asleep to the dull hum of the world around me. I sink into the darkness of the oversized sweater hugging my body and drift away. After a reassuring few minutes, a soft voice begins to sing to the music pouring out of the speaker. I can no longer find the courage to sleep away that small, genuine moment and I smile to myself, knowing he thinks I’m actually asleep. This is a small moment I’ll never forget, but a fleeting memory for him. Guitar strings and music notes flood my mind, creating the most spectacular symphony that swirls into one angelic voice.
A gentle shake of the shoulder and I’m forced out of my hazy state. “Had I finally been lulled to sleep by his singing?” I ask myself, tiredly rubbing my wide eyes. My vision then casts over the glass of the frosty window, and I see him nudge his shoulder to my door, nicely telling me to scram. I notice he had parked us right at the head of the trail, with a small group of “mom vans” accompanying our own little red vehicle. Getting out of the car and stepping outside was like passing through a veil of serenity. In just a matter of hours, we had traveled from a busy highway to a heavily wooded area that rang with singing birds from each tree. As I look to my right, I can already see him bouncing up the rocky terrain ahead of us. I sigh and run along, knowing my arms and legs would be screaming in pain from the excessive exercise soon enough.
What’s more daunting than having to climb 4,098 feet with no practice? Having to do that and impress a highschool boy at the same time. It seemed like an impossible task, but the desire to witness the top of the mountain was an exciting thought. Brushing my thoughts to the side, I start to feel the air close in around me. Giant boulders pile against one another all across the trail, littered with muddy handprints and a wintry green colored moss. The further I pushed on, the further the trees began to crawl deeper into the earth, holding into their dirt with a hesitant fondness. Tiny pebbles scattered around my bright blue tennis shoes and made an innocent “crunch” with every step I was taking. Small salmon colored salamanders crawled between the damp leaves beneath me and I scrambled to catch each one I saw, earning a scolding from my hiking partner every time. Finally grabbing a salamander from the dirt, I race up to him and excitedly display my catch. To my surprise I was met with a scolding and a warning to “stop rubbing my finger oils on the wild life”. Washing away my newly found childish pain, the plants around me encouraged me to continue climbing. Their lively figures and the smell of clean air was enough to get me to race up alongside my hiking partner once again, but only to shove a handful of scratchy leaves down his shirt.
After failing to display my “strength” and impress this kid, I began to notice that the sound of crying birds was behind us and the only thing accompanying me was my strained breathing and the gentle rustle from the leafy bushes in my path. Smiling faces and gentle eyes pass us by as we go further up, greeting us and telling us, “Fifteen more minutes to the top!” A false statement that made my legs burn more and my eyes become dizzy with fatigue. I stop in my tracks and let out a loud whine, describing my aches and complains. With fiery eyes and a defiant form, I feel his hand grabbing me and pulling me up the vertical, rocky slopes. He drags me higher up the area, until I’m finally able to fend for myself once again. The amount of energy and excitement in my mind from the mere thought of the top, floods over my physical pain. I’m shoved into the warm feeling of accomplishment and hope, as I climb higher to the top of the absurdly high mountain range.
One last slope and a forceful push up worn steps, and there we are. The diversity of the range of mountains that piled against each other suddenly made my chest feel shallow. Seeing the massive landscape around me made me realize how tiny and powerless I was compared to nature. The sky was a marbled, milky hue that resembled the deepest oceans and all I wanted was to dive in and never come back to the rush of daily life. I run to the far edge of the peak and sit down, cradling the hiking bag I had dragged up. Then, he sits besides me and puts an arm around my shoulder, complimenting me on a job well done. Sitting there on the summit and looking into a deeper blue than the sky, was more dazzling than the calm sight of puffy clouds or passing sunbeams. What was the reason for climbing the range of miles, through sharp rocks and slippery slopes? I look past him, over the incredible mountain ranges, and into the ant-sized town below us. Was living a normal, idle life for me? Would I accept the adventure that had found me in my own hectic world? A newly found personal message awaited my soul as I sat against the weathered surface of the summit. Everything had clicked. My mind withdrew from every harsh experience, and was replaced with a more kind, more sincere one. The pain I had just once felt climbing vigorously up the slippery slopes, was replaced with an unbelievable sense of achievement and love. The summit was the peak of my questions, the guidance a cellphone or computer could never offer me in the bustling highway of life. The blinding lights, crowded halls and busy streets were all a wake-up call from my monotonous patterned schedule. The only brilliant light I wanted was from that of a certain, pure smile and the stars peeking through a thin tent at night. How could one person have such a big impact on my life, despite being so profoundly smaller than the towering landscape around me?
I had found my happiness in the distant, foggy moments of past adventures. I had clutched my mind and future with longing hands and felt the warming reassurance in the smallest passing scenes. No matter how big or small the moments felt, each was an adventure into a happier life. The journey surrounded me, embraced who I was in the moment and showed me who I was meant to become in the future. The feeling of cold air pressing against my pale face on the top a mountain, the pure emotion from simple car rides and the exact joy from just a simple glance of a few mountains, gave me all a journey I had ever wished for in seventeen years.
The journey had brought me to the place I had longed to be.