Department of English

Spring 2010 Edition

Casualty of Innocence

Eric Smith
Expressive 1010 2nd Place
Professor: Kurt Harris

The rain started to come down harder than normal in the Uinta Mountains. A fog rose up from the direction of Crystal Lake. Sitting in the vehicle, I could just barely make out a figure of a man running out of the woods towards us. He yelled, "Help! Somebody has been struck by lightning!"

Earlier that day, I arrived in the parking lot of Crystal Lake with my brother and father. My eleven-year-old body was finally able to take a break from hiking the Notch Loop. I sat on a little hill of dirt right next to my older brother Mike. The adults found out that a couple of the scouts from our troop got lost. Some of the adults tried to find these scouts—the rest went to get their Suburbans from another parking lot.

After about half-an-hour, it started to rain lightly. The sky turned from a blue to a dark gray. Due to fog, I could barely see a couple feet in front of me. In a couple of minutes, the drizzle turned into a more steady rainfall. I tried to find a place to keep my pack and myself dry. I soon found myself huddled with my brother and a few other boys under the lip of the outhouse next to the parking lot.

A single bolt of lightning crashed twelve feet in front of me. I looked at the face of my older brother and laughed to myself. It looked like he was having a panic attack or wet himself in front of a cute girl. I didn't understand why he was scared—the bolt of lightning didn't seem that bad to me. I thought that lightning wasn't deadly or even dangerous.

After a few minutes, my dad and the lost group of scouts could be seen at the entrance of the trailhead. At about the same time, a fleet of white Suburbans pulled into the Crystal Lake parking lot, ripping the dark fog apart. I could finally get out of the downpour of this rainfall.

I hopped in the closest Suburban, relieved that I could finally take off my somewhat wet backpack. I started to unlace and take off my boots. Once the Suburbans where loaded, the leaders turned on the vehicles and began to back up.

We heard a man crying out, "Help! Somebody has been struck by lightning!" The Suburbans all stopped immediately. The leaders and a few other boys opened the doors and ran towards the man. I put my hiking boots back on and went out into the onslaught of weather.

I called back to my friends who stayed in the car, "Well, it could have been worse for them, they could be dead. I'll be back in a sec."

I ran towards a scene that I thought two years of examining the Scout Handbook prepared me for. An older boy and I entered the Crystal Lake Trailhead, zipped up our jackets and tried not to get soaked. We went about twenty yards when one of our fellow scouts came staggering from the direction the leaders sprinted to. He was the most outgoing scout in our troop, but this time he wasn't joking around or even smiling. He looked like he just got hit in the crotch—something was wrong. He threw-up right in front of us. The older boy took this as a sign that we shouldn't go further and turned back, but all of these events made me even more curious. I couldn't help going forward.

I continued on the trail for another fifty yards and there was the scene. I went closer. About half-a-dozen men tried pushing me away from the area, attempting to save my innocence. I just kept on walking towards it. I was only a foot away from them, two adult bodies with faces that appeared to have been contorted and covered with what seemed to be blood. I didn't see them breathing. I bent down and stared into their glossed eyes. I smelled their burnt flesh. I thought that they were dying. I thought that if I could only get a closer look at them, maybe I could find the life that these people were losing. Maybe if I looked into their eyes, they would be healed. Maybe I could cause a miracle like the Nazarene.

I started to lose the sense of the people and things going on around me. The leaders kept trying to push me away. I would not budge.

"Can I please just tie my shoes?" I asked.

My father answered that I could.

I stopped on the rock that was closest to the bodies. I tried tying my shoelaces and couldn't. Two times, three times, four times…I tried tying one boot over five times. I didn't care about my shoelaces. I wanted to bring these people back to life. I stared into their frosted eyes. Each time I tried tying my shoelaces, I stared even harder. My scout leader saw that I was having a hard time tying my shoes and offered to help. I declined instantly.

The first boot finally was tied; I went to tie the second. I continued to stare. I thought that they would get up and everything would be fine. I was waiting for them to stand up—they didn't.

When I was able to finish tying my second boot, I stood up. I was able to leave, but then a nurse, who happened to be in the area hiking, came along to help. I waited to see her revive these people. I waited for a miracle to happen. The nurse looked down at these victims and said that they were dead. She didn't check their pulse; she didn't do anything. The nurse moved on. She didn't give them a second glance.

I wanted to yell at her. I wanted to tell her to come back and save them. Everyone else lost hope. They gave in to the fact that these two people were dead, but I didn't. I was outraged when I saw that everyone but me believed that they were lifeless.

I stared at them and witnessed a miracle in my mind. If these adults wouldn't save them, I would. Then I heard a sound that I didn't expect to hear: the cries of children. They were crying for help. They didn't know what was going on. They didn't know that their parents were dead. They didn't know that they were now orphans.

There were three children. I saw a three-year-old girl foaming at the mouth. To me, she seemed like a doll thrown onto the dirt floor. I then saw a six-year-old girl who was crying for help. I wanted to rush over and pull out the twigs in her hair—maybe she would calm down. I was about to run over when I saw a ten-year-old boy having a seizure. The leaders tried to keep him safe. I couldn't help them.

I glanced at the victims' bodies. I was finally able to see the state that the bodies were in, not just staring into their eyes like I did before. I lost my hope that they would be saved. My scout leader was finally able to force me to turn around and head back to the parking lot. Before he turned to go back to the scene, he gave me the task of making sure that no one else came and saw what happened there.

I took my commission and recruited an older scout. I found a wooden stick for my staff. I positioned myself on a large boulder located in the middle of the trailhead. I stood there making sure that no one would set foot near Crystal Lake. I wanted to do what my leaders weren't able to do for me—protect innocence. I was left to ask myself questions for what seemed like hours until a large group of young women came and tried getting past me.

These girls had just lost their leaders, but they didn't yet realize it. I, the guard of this scene, kept them from knowing the fates of the lightning strike victims. I held out until the stretchers with the bodies came out. I couldn't stop them from seeing the body bags. I couldn't protect these girls from the truth.

Three years later, when I was fourteen, I went back to the Uinta Mountains, to Crystal Lake. I took with me a simple pine cross and a small bouquet of flowers. I walked the same path that I did a couple years earlier. I stumbled along the path and finally found where I thought the lightning strike had occurred. I didn't recognize anything. The tree that was attacked by the lightning grew back most of its limbs, and there was only a small indentation and burn mark where the lightning struck and went down to hit Richard and Lisa Goff, the victims of the lightning strike. There were bushes now where their bodies had been. The land healed itself.

All the images of that day flooded over me. I remembered everything that happened. I then thought I saw the bodies staring back at me, calling for my help. I fell to my knees and started to cry.

I was wrong in thinking that I could save them; I couldn't bring back the dead. I came to the fact that it wasn't me who let them down, but that it was their time to die. Death took these parents, this son and this daughter, this brother and this sister.

For the next few years, I hated happiness. I thought that if I ever had an enjoyable time, I betrayed the victims. My friends didn't understand why I turned from a cheerful person to a pessimist. It took me years to smile again. It took me even more time to laugh without feeling some form of regret. Death scrapped my childhood out of me.