(2018-09-09) One False Step
Ranger Julian comes to the rescue when Jessica's hiking trip goes awry.

Fall Canyon South Hamrock Hills
Sun Sep 09, 2018 — Sun Sep 09 20:31:24 2018

Suncrest Road comes to an end at the edge of Fall Canyon's south wall. Not an area for visitors or tourists, there is no place to walk and observe. Though rails have been put up near the ledge for those visitors that do manage to wander onto this side of the canyon. The view below is beautiful, looking down at Fall Creek and the trees growing alongside it, opposed to the more spartan vegetation atop the Hamrock Hills. From this vantage one can see the north wall and the ledge there, paved and bricked for tourists. This is a prime location for watching sunrises and sunsets away from some of the more scenic touristy spots around Calaveras.

A reporter doesn't necessarily have free weekends, but that's actually one of the nicer things about working in local paper in a town rather than a big city: here, it IS possible to take weekends off sometimes.
Today is one of those weekends for Jessica, and she has taken the opportunity to do something she loves: hiking. Foregoing her usual office attire, she has donned something more appropriate for outdoors activities, including a white tank top, khaki shorts, thick socks and hiking boots. She is also lugging around a backpack, as well as a baseball cap to shield off the sun. All she needs are pair of revolvers, and she may pass muster as Lara Croft cosplay.
She's been out here for the better part of two hours, picking her way through the forest and mountain trail until she arrives at the edge of the canyon: and what a sight! She is briefly stunned by the magnificence of the place, before shedding her backpack at the side of a boulder, so she can make her way closer to the edge to take a seat. It may look like a precarious spot, but Jessica is an experienced hiker, and the scenery is just too beautiful not to enjoy it.

The sun is on its decline and with it, the introduction of more pinks and oranges to a sky already considered in this area as the most beautiful around to witness for sunsets. Julian Walker, the regional Warden, is cruising along Suncrest on his way to his usual watering hole, Johnny Slim's. He hits the crossroads that leads west or northward when the crackle on his comm fires up.
"Possible 10-56A out at the canyon's southside."
"Dammit." There's a moment where he sits there, seriously considering continuing on his way. But there really is no 'off-duty' when it comes to his position. So with a resigned sigh, he pulls the mic off the hook and responds.
"Ranger One, oscar-mike."
And with that, he shifts gears and makes a sharp turn, cutting up Suncrest all the way to where it stops abruptly, leaving several hundred yards of hiking before he reaches the top.

Trudging up the hill to the top of the canyon is nothing for the former Marine, who doesn't even break a sweat as he picks his way meticulously through the rough path that is hardly designed to attract hikers or tourists, until he finally breaks clear of the foilage and comes to a halt several meters from a seated brunette and a stunning sunset.
It only takes Julian a moment to realize that this was most likely a false alarm, but as he takes note of his surroundings and the young woman, quietly deciding on how to approach the situation, the decision is prematurely made for him when the radio clipped to his left breast crackles to life.
"HQ to Ranger One, what's your 10-20?"
Julian fixes his tan colored Kingsmen donning his head with the wipe of a hand as he unclips the radio to respond.
"Ranger One HQ, that's a 10-26. Sheryl, callin' it a night. You take care now." With a brief display of familiarity with the dispatcher, the young man in the park ranger uniform straightens and starts picking his way up the last few meters toward the brunette.
"You're a bit far off the beaten path there, Miss." His voice is soft spoke, friendly even, though there's the natural hint of suspicion and studiousness reflected there as well, most likely part of the job.

The radio communication ruins the serenity of the picturesque scenery, breaking Jessica's concentration and her head turns towards the source of the interruption. At first she can hear the conversation, but can't quite see the ranger as he is partially obscured by the large boulder, necessitating her to lean to the side to peek. When he eventually comes into view, and she can see his uniform, Jessica is relieved that it is someone on official business, rather than some weirdo creeping around in the bushes. Carefully she half-rises from her sitting position, keeping one hand on a rock outcropping for support while she turns to face the ranger.
"Hey." She greets amiably. "Hi officer. I guess I was, a little. It's absolutely gorgeous here; I wanted to get a better view." A quick smile is flashed, followed by a look of some skepticism. "It's okay to come down here, right?"

There's a moment where Julian is put off his guard when the girl turns around to greet him. His demeanor relaxes noticably at that point and he leans to one side, hand on his hip and his head briefly lowering as he chuckles to himself and shakes his head. The brim of his hat hides his expression till he can compose himself once more and when he looks up, he appears much more professional, though there is a distinct, amused sparkle in his eyes.
"Ehhh…I'd say you wandered to the wrong side of the canyon, Ma'am." He doesn't seem to concerned though and that relaxed demeanor may be enough to brush away any concerns about safety.
"I guess I was expecting someone…a lot different." He admits a moment later, still clearly amused by this whole situation for some reason as he carefully picks his way up to the edge where the railing, hesitating a moment before he comes any closer.
Julian clears his throat, "Mind if I join you?"

"No, it's just me. If you were expecting Bigfoot, I think he's on the other side of the canyon." The brunette smiles again, and quips lightly. There is a brief pause as she seems genuinely surprised the ranger asks to join her on her precarious perch, but she shakes her head and brushes off her hesitation. "Of course! There's plenty of…" She pauses a beat and looks around the rocky slope she's standing on. "…there is /some/ space down here."
Thoughtfully, she moves to the side to make room for the descending ranger, careful to keep one hand on the rocky surface for support. Good thing too, because some pebbles come loose and tumble down the cliff; reflexively she crouches down, but then more rocks loosen up and start rolling. With a startled "OH!" Jessica looses her footing and slips, falling prone on the slope and is now in real danger of falling off. It's her hand clutching that small rock outcropping that, for now, keeps her from going over!

At first, Julian is calmly picking his way toward the edge and over the railing to the downward sloping face that the girl has picked for a sightseeing spot - notably away from the built-in railing for such purposes. The sound of small rocks skittering down over the edge has the trained professional reflexively tensing up and his eyes immediately shift down to the positioning of the girl's feet.
Like a slow motion train wreck, the ranger already knows what's coming next and in mid-dive by the time Jessica's body hits the rocks. The first sign that she isn't alone is the strong, warm grip of the friendly park ranger whose hands are covering hers as she grips for dear life.
"Hold on now, I've got ya!" Julian calls out with the same tone and calm that he had just moments ago, as if their friendly conversation was never disturbed with the near-death experience. His legs splay out, booted feet digging in and hooking around the pole of the railing while his hands work their way down Jessica's clutching hands to her wrists.
"I'm gonna need you to do me a favor, uh, what's your name again?" He speaks with a professionalism that serves to soothe and calm as he conversationally instructs the dangling woman.

To her credit, the girl never breaks out in a hysterical scream, or anything like that. It doesn't mean she's not scared though — the ranger has managed to grasp her hand, and now wrist, and her other hand is frantically searching for his grasp to reinforce that lifeline. It takes her a few seconds to ascertain that she is, for the moment, not going to fall to her death, and spares a glance over her shoulder down the cliff. NOPE! Definitely shouldn't have done that! Her grasp tightens around his hands and wrists, her gaze looking up at him now, brilliant gray eyes wide.
"What?" She exclaims, blinking. "My name? My name… Jessica." The brunette answers between short breaths. "Hey don't let go… I don't think… I have a proper footing…" Indeed, her legs are spread out, trying to find something, some solid rock or something that her feet can find purchase on, but clearly in vain.

"Jessica." The ranger echos her name, drawing her attention toward his face now sans hat that fell from his head and went rolling down the slope to disappear into the canyon below. "Focus on me, Jessica." His words come out in a controlled tone, the man even manages a stiff smile. "I've got you, don't worry. I won't let go. But I'm going to need you to help me out, Jessica."
He reaches out with his other hand, catching the one she had frantically searching for a handhold. Carefully and with an exceptional show of strength, he draws that hand up to the same perch her other one is at. "Listen carefully, Jessica. There's a slight outcropping to your right, I need you to move your right foot slightly over, just a few more inches. Once you have it planted, you can rest for a moment. It won't give out. Trust me."

Jessica nods to his words, quickly and curtly, as her gray eyes lock on his. Turning her head to the right, she risks another glance over her shoulder, but this time she's careful not to look down the cliff, but only for the outcropping that the ranger points out. Her right leg reaches out cautiously, managing to rest the tip of her hiking boot on it. It's not exactly the perfect position and that's hardly going to support her entire weight, but it IS something even though most of her is still held up by his strong hands. At the very least, she seems to feel slightly better that there is a little bit of solid beneath one foot, and the brunette catches her breath for a moment. She takes the opportunity to look to her left and down, before lifting her gaze to meet his again. "I don't think… I can reach… your hat from here. Sorry."
Well, at least this girl can still make a joke in the face of death.

Julian watches closely as the girl now known as Jessica carefully places the tip of her hiking boot into the groove he instructed her toward. Once there, he breathes a little easier and even manages a controlled smile. "There you go, Jessica. Good. See? Now, relax your knees, don't lock them or you'll pass out from lack of blood flow. There you go." As the man talks the brunette through the next several moments, he finally has her to a point where he can reaffirm the grip he has with his legs on the pole of the railing further up behind them.
As Jessica glances down the dropoff, Julian's eyes follow and then meet hers when she looks back up at him. He starts to chuckle, a rumble through his strong frame that reverberates in his protective clasp over her hands and wrists. "It was a spare." He remarks with an easy smile, and then clears his throat as he switches back to professional mode.
"Okay, Jessica, now I'm going to need to take hold of my wrist. Now, see the loop on the shoulder of my uniform? I want you to grab that and pull yourself up, okay? Do you think you could do that for me?"
Julian studies the girl for a moment, as if sizing her up, "I've got you. I'm not letting go and I'm with you every step of the way, okay? You can do this, Jessica. Slow and steady. You're going to be just fine."

The quip was clearly meant to calm her own nerves, than any genuine attempts at humor — she doesn't crack a smile, not even a faint one. Focusing her attention on her lifeline, Jessica nods to him quickly. "Yes. Yes, okay." With that affirmation, she reaches for the ranger's wrist and grasps it tightly. "Okay, here we go." She gasps out, and then her teeth grit, her face scrunches up as she lets out a cry of supreme effort. Now she is using all her upper body strength and attempting to pull herself up — to no avail. Not willing to give up, she regathers her focus and tries again, and this time, she makes some progress — she manages to gain a few inches, which she retains by quickly releasing his wrist to grasp at his bicep instead. Can she hold on to this gain for long, though?

Fortunately, the question won't need to be answered because the moment Jessica makes some headway, Julian's powerful arms are there to help, if one serves as more of a leverage point for her to hold onto, the other reaches down, grabbing her by the waistband of her khaki shorts and quite literally lifting her up like a mother cat might her kittens. He grunts with the effort while encouraging her to climb up his body.
"Alright, good girl. Grab my belt and I want you to pull again, this time I'm going to grab your foot okay? I want you to push off the moment you feel comfortable enough. Grab that railing the moment it's within reach!" Now, the first sign of sweat beads down the ranger's forehead, the exertion gradually beginning to take its toll but he grits his teeth and continues to haul the amateur hiker up.
Once her feet are within reach, he uses the free arm he has to grab the sole of her boot, flexing powerfully as he stiffens his arm to provide her with the push-off she needs to complete the climb.
"Good job, Jessica. You're almost there. One point at a time, okay?" He continues to call out encouragement, though his voice sounds more strained now as he physically powers through the effort with a core strength that belies his lean build.

With his help and providing leverage, Jessica makes good progress on her climb; when she grabs hold of his uniform loop, it gives her far better purchase to pull herself up, especially with him hoisting her up by her shorts. Her face is right up against his as she takes a breather from her ascend, panting momentarily for breath, and a silent look of gratitude to him, before she continues. She is soon high enough that he can take hold of her foot, and now she can also reach the railing. Between all of that, Jessica pulls herself past the ranger, on to safety of the ledge. Although she is still catching her breath, the brunette makes sure she doesn't leave the helpful ranger on his own; while one hand grasping the railing tightly, she reaches down to help pull him back as well.

Powerful legs remain latched to the pole of the railing like an immovable anchor, the last show of strength from the timely ranger who, once positive that the young woman has successfully made it over the railing, carefully begins to scoot himself up as well, gratefully accepting Jessica's hand for the final rise. When both of them are over on the -safe- side of the railing, Julian finally lets out a long, relieved sigh as he begins to dust himself off.
"You okay?" He asks, pausing in mid-swipe to settle those comforting, confidant green eyes on the girl. "So," Julian continues, glancing carefully over his shoulder at the dropoff into the canyon. "Welcome to Fall Canyon. Though, I think you're the first person I've met who took that quite literally." Where many might still be freaking out over a situation like this, it seems like this particular man, whom she still doesn't know the name of, seems to be at home with this kind of danger.

Now that they are both safe, Jessica sits on the ledge and leans back on her hands to properly catch her breath. "I'm good. I'm good." She bobs her head, exhaling and leaning forward to meaningfully peer down the canyon. "That was… not my best move, but I'm glad you are here. They would probably rename this place 'Dead Man's Drop' or 'Combs Fall' or something." Turning her attention back to him, the girl breaks into a genuine smile, swallowing a bit and calming her breathing. "Thanks for the save. Thank you, really, Mister Ranger Sir." Sitting forward, she quickly dusts her palms against her khaki shorts, and offers a hand towards him.

Mister Ranger Sir just smiles, this time brilliantly enough to show off those pearly whites as he rocks back on his heels in an aw-shucks good ol' boy gesture. "Call me Julian." He takes her hand in his, this time in a different sort of way, one that doesn't require an exceptionaly display of strength and a life-threatening situation. His grip hints at that same strength, though it's much softer now and for a moment the ranger doesn't release her hand as he studies her with that familiar easy smile of his.
"Who knows, maybe they would have and I was never meant to be here. Life is full of moments…" Julian looks up from the clasp their hands have made, that emerald gaze of his equal parts comforting and haunting.
"… moments that dictate the rest of our lives." For just a second, his expression and demeanor is quite introspective, but it is quickly dashed away by his infectious smile. "For example," He continues, his tone easy now, that hint of amusement sparking in his eyes again, "Take me just about twenty minutes ago. I received a call about a possible suicide attempt. Being off-duty and on my way to get a much-needed drink, I could have kept driving." Now he looks down, studying where their hands are still clasped together as if only now noticing the awkward length of time that has passed. He withdraws his hand, straightening and looking back up at Jessica.
"But I didn't. I hiked up here - just in time, it seems like." Taking a deep breath, he glances sidelong toward the canyon and the sun that is slowly disappearing over the horizon. "You risked your life getting up here. May as well enjoy it for a little longer, right?" He turns then and heads back for the railing, leaning against it and propping one booted foot up. "I can give you a ride, my jeep is just a short hike down."

"Julian." The girl nods and repeats the offered name, as if committed it to memory. The hand is grasped in a firm shake, betraying her honest and earnest gratitude. In fact, she keeps hold of his hand as the ranger philosophizes about fate, equally oblivious to the awkward duration that they remain clasped. Her delicate brows arch when he reveals why he's here in the first place, and a pained smile quirk her lips. "You came up here because someone reported I was trying to commit suicide?" Yes, she is definitely amused by that. She chuckles weakly, and turns her head towards the slowly setting sun on the horizon; wordlessly she rises to her feet, wiping at her arms and face before joining the ranger at the railing. Squinting at the golden light of the sunset, she folds her arms on the top rail and leans forward. "You're right about life being full of moments. Look at that." The girl points at the sunset with her chin. "Isn't it stunning?" She says with a sigh. "This is one of those moments. I came up here for this; I'm so glad I didn't miss it because I was too busy trying to stay alive." She pauses a beat, and turns a sidelong glance at Julian. "If I was trying to kill myself, I'd do it here too. If this is the last thing I see on this Earth, it wouldn't be so bad."

Julian cannot help but chuckle, turning to study Jessica just about at the same time she is looking at him. He's already shaking his head, emitting an amused groan. "Too soon, I think." He remarks, though his tone is hardly serious as he turns back to watch the sunset beside this very odd young woman. "Hold on…"
Trailing off, Julian reaches into his back pocket, rifling through the misleadingly deep pocket of his uniform until he produces a metallic flask. Leaning over the railing, he unscrews the top, pours out a small bit of the amber colored liquid which splatters down the side of the same slope that, just minutes ago, he was scrambling to pull her up from. "To my poor hat. You will be remembered." Then he tilts his head back and takes a long swig from it, sucking his teeth as he lets the liquid burn down his throat. He wipes away the moisture from his lips and turns, regarding Jessica with that increasingly familiar smile of his. "Salute?" He asks, offering the flask to her.

Jessica perks up, her gaze following Julian curiously as he searches for his flask, and then watches him pour some of the contents down the cliff. "Yes, well, sorry about your hat." She smiles weakly to that, looking more than a bit contrited about the loss of his hat. Straightening up to lean her back against the railing, she watches him drink, then bobs her head as the flask is offered. "Thanks." With that she accepts the contained and takes a swig as well, only to squeeze her eyes shut at the burning sensation. Not much of a drinker, this one?
The flask is handed back to the ranger, and she reaches up to pull her baseball cap off to reveal her pigtailed brown hair. It's a Rockies cap, which she holds out to Julian. "Here, take this. I know you can't just replace a ranger hat with just any headwear, but… it'll make me feel better." Beat. "I mean, you saved my life. I probably have to buy you coffee for the rest of my life."

Julian waves his hand dismissively, glancing again sideways at Jessica and flashing a smile and helpless shrug. "It's the second one this week, what with the fires and all." He admits, taking another deep swig from the flask before screwing the cap back on and stuffing it in his pocket.
He turns now, leaning with one hand and facing Jessica as she goes through the motions of removing her basebal hat. There's a moment where Julian seems to be staring as he watches the girl shake her hair out. He's quick to look away, though, and only turns back when the hat is offered up to him.
"Why Miss Jessica, it would be my honor to wear it." And with that, he fits it to his head, chuckling softly as he has to remove it and adjust the band on the back before throwing it back over his head.
"For the rest of your life, huh? That's an awful long time." He pauses, grinning impishly as he peeks out through the side of his gaze to gauge her reaction to his next comment, "Or maybe it's not, with your luck."

Her reaction? It begins with a questioning lift of her brows, followed by a wry smile that curls her lips prettily. "I hate to sound ungrateful, because I am. But I was doing fine before you showed up, Ranger Julian." She points out, and then the wry smile blossoms into a full grin. That thought is interrupted, as she catches the colorful sunset skies from the corner of her eyes, and her attention turns back to the scenery. Clearly, this is a girl who really enjoys the natural sceneries. Her hands resting on the railing, she takes a deep breath as she takes in the beautiful sight. "All these colors, it'll be gone in thirty minutes… it's amazing. You must get to see this regularly?"

Julian is already chuckling as Jessica speaks, fishing into his back pocket for the same flash, which he takes another sip of and turns to offer it to Jessica again. "Oh, believe me, I could tell." But he's on the verge of laughing as he meets the girl's gaze and holds it. All the way to the point where she turns away to look back at the remnants of the sunset before it fully disappears over the horizon. Jamie's gaze lingers momentarily before also turning to watch the last of those purples, oranges, and reds disappear.
He takes a deep breath, exhaling slowly as he stares out at the canyon stretching out in front of them. A silent nod is offered her, but it's followed up a moment later, "I have a small cabin out on the south side of the San Juan. It's not much, but it's mine. It's quiet… and peaceful. Can't ask for much else."

There is a peaceful reverence as the brunette girl watches the sunset, as the last vestiges of light fades to twilight, and the mountain breeze sets strands of her brown hair fluttering. As the sky darkens to a deep blue, when they can still see without external lighting, Jessica finally looks away and turns her head back to the ranger. "That sounds cozy and peaceful. Again, sorry to get you out here and all scruffed up, when you could be back at your cabin relaxing." Another smile is offered; there's no stopping her from expressing her gratitude in multiple ways. "I guess I should head back. Did you say you can give me a lift? I actually don't mind hiking back in the dark; I did come prepared." She gestures at the backpack that she left at a nearby boulder.

As the stars begin to wink into existence, Julian finally straightens and stretches a little. Sure, he's a little scuffed up, but "It's all part of the job description." His responds comes easy and he turns away from the canyon overlook to face Jessica fully, eyebrow up. "I -just- saved your life and you wanna hike back to the north side in the dark?" He shakes his head, bewildered by this crazy, odd girl as he laughs the idea off. "Come on, I'll take you back. Watch your step, there is no beaten path back down to the road from here."
First and foremost, Julian steps back through the railing to grab her backpack, returning ot to her before starting off at a half-step. He stops and turns, pulling his flashlight off his belt buckle, flicking it on and offering it to her in case she doesn't have one. "I see pretty well in the dark and I know this area back to front, take it. My jeep is only a couple hundred yards down."

Jessica isn't going to fight him to grab the backpack, and waits for him to do so before leaving the railing to follow to his jeep. The offer of the flashlight is turned down with a shake of her head, followed by a finger point at the backpack. "No it's okay, I have a flashlight in there." Not so crazy, after all? If he will slow down, she'll go digging through the backpack for said flashlight, which is in fact one of those large portable spotlight-types. When it's switched on, it's rather bright and illuminating, allowing relatively safe travel to the vehicle. "I wasn't kidding when I said I owe you coffee. At least coffee. I wouldn't have to fall off the cliff again to get in touch with you, I hope?"

The brief hike down takes only a few minutes and pretty soon they're standing outside his wrangler, which gestures toward the passenger seat as he moves around to the driver. He leans over the vehicle, a half smirk on his face as he studies Jessica. "It /is/ a quick way to get a guy's attention." He returns, unable to help but smile as he climbs into his vehicle. The engine rumbles to life and the lights flick on. With one hand on the wheel and one on the stick shift, he shoots the brunette a curious look, gauging her carefully before finally relenting with an answer.
"I was just doing my job," He begins, making sure to get that out of the way, but judging from his demeanor, it's pretty clear he's already made up his mind. "But I suppose for safety purposes, we can have a drink." Pause. "Tell you what, ever heard of the B&B? It's a cozy little spot I have breakfast at most mornings before work. You can get me that coffee… but only if you promise no more hiking red zones." He looks the girl in his passenger seat up and down, it's not a creepy look, more that he is sizing her up, followed by that same easy smile. "You'd just end up making more paper work for me and we can't have that."

Climbing into the passenger seat of the jeep, retrieving the backpack from Julian so that his hands are free to drive, Jessica switches off her flashlight and stuffs it back inside the pack. After fastening the seatbelt, she turns to regard the ranger again as the vehicle comes to life. "It's a crime to cordon off that magnificent view." She protests, but not very vigorously. "How about if I promise not to fall off any cliffs? That should take care of any potential paperwork issues." A tilt of her head, and an innocuous smile designed to emulate a puppy's plea. "And which B&B? The only B&B I know is Stone's; I stayed there for a couple of weeks when I first came to town. If that's the place, then absolutely."

As the wrangler shifts into gear and rumbles down the road, Julian occasionally glances sidelong at his charge, snickering softly at her mock protest. "Yeah, someone had the odd realization that the outcroppings on that side of the ravine were unstable. I wonder who could have made that call." He winks at Jessica before turning his attention back to the road. "Stone's, that's the one. An old school friend of mine runs the place. Good food, good atmosphere." When she agrees, he turns to glance at her again, nodding and smiling.
It doesn't take him long to navigate the danger-prone girl to her car and pulls up to it when she directs him to the right vehicle. Though at this point, there aren't many vehicles left. Julian takes note of those vehicles and chuckles to himself, "Probably just some gradeschool kids making out up at the top of the trail."
Turning, Julian settles his full gaze on Jessica before she disengages completely from the vehicle with her backpack. "Drive safe. I'd hate for you to get all messed up before I see you again." The way he says it feels like there's more behind the words. But near-death experiences will do that to you. Oddly bring you close to a complete stranger, if only briefly.

Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License