Once upon a time in a small town in Massachusetts, where the rolling hills were plush and green, there was a little school. The school was for girls only, and almost all of them lived at the school. The students ate their meals together, played together, and of course studied together. Because the school was so small, the people that lived and taught there acted like a family. The school was also very old and had over the years established many traditions.
One of the school’s oldest traditions was Mountain Day. Everyone would wake up incredibly early load on to buses, take a field trip to a park or some other outside place, and just spend the day playing and relaxing.
Every year, just like other schools, some people would leave, and new people would come. One year a girl named Cindy came to the school. She had never been to Massachusetts before, and she didn't know anyone at the school. She was a nice person, but she had a hard time making new friends. She just didn’t fit in. It seemed to her like everyone else in school already had friends and belonged. She felt very alone.
The year that Cindy came to school, the teachers decided to do something new for Mountain Day. Most of the teachers in the school liked to hike and camp in the woods. The school even had a P.E. class in outdoor education. The teachers decided that they would take the whole school to a real mountain, and everyone would go hiking. Many of the students had already been hiking in the mountains, the outdoor education class was extremely popular. All of those students thought it was a great idea.
Mr. Dean and Miss Hanson were in charge of the trip. On the day before the trip, Miss Hanson had a meeting with all of the seniors. "Tomorrow you all are going to be responsible for waking everybody up," she said. We want to leave by eight o'clock so that we can have enough time to climb up the mountain and then have lunch. You better make sure everyone is up by 6:30 am.” The seniors were excited. They liked being in charge.
The next day the seniors woke everyone up on time. Some of the girls didn't like being woken up so early and they put pillows over their heads to try to go back to sleep, but the seniors were smart they used every trick they knew to get even the most stubborn of girls up. Some of them rushed into the rooms, flicked on the lights, and started singing. Others crept into the rooms and yelled Waaaaake UUUUp. Everyone got up whether they wanted to or not. By 7:50 am, every teacher and every girl piled on the buses. The ride took about two hours. The girls all sat with their best friends; the teachers sat together. Everyone was excited to have a day off from school. Even the girls who didn’t want to get up were happily talking to their friends. Everyone was happy except Cindy. Cindy was sitting next to a teacher because she didn’t have any friends, and she was not happy at all. She was scared.
When the buses stopped the girls found themselves in a picnic area below the mountain, Miss Hanson asked everyone to gather around the picnic table that she was standing on. Everyone listened and moved close to her. "There are a few things you need to know before we head up the mountain,” she said. "There are several trails marked on the way up the mountain. We will be going up the red dot trail." Cindy looked away for a moment and saw an old, weathered sign with spray paint on it. There were four colored marks with words next to each one. The red one had the word easy next to it. There was a green, blue, and then a white one. The white one said challenge next to it. Miss Hanson went on to say, "We will break off into small groups. Everyone find a buddy and stay with your group. If you get lost it could be days before anyone finds you. There are lots of wild animals on this mountain and, it gets very cold very quickly when the sun goes down. She paused for a moment then she said again, “So stay with your group.” Everyone quickly grabbed their best friend, and the groups were formed. Cindy was left alone again. When the groups started up she just tagged along.
After a while, the group that Cindy had been walking with decided to take a rest break. Cindy was afraid that if she sat down to rest that she would not want to get up again. She was not a very active person and being overweight kept her from enjoying many outdoor activities. So, when the group rested, Cindy kept going. She passed one or two groups, but she was not afraid because she knew that there were more people ahead of her.
Cindy continued to trudge up the mountain, passing group after group. She was determined to reach the top. “I can't stop," She said to herself, “If I do I know I will never want to get up again." As she walked along, she noticed that the terrain was changing, and it was becoming more and more difficult to traverse. The trees began to thin out around her. The ground that had been laden with pine needles, leaves, and bark, was now giving way to bare rock and stone. In her worn Reeboks, she now had to pay more attention to her footing. She was beginning to worry. It had been some time since she had heard the voices of the others making the trek. She hesitated for a moment to listen and look around. It occurred to her that it had been some time since she had seen any trail markings. Then she saw it.
A huge lump suddenly formed in her throat. Her stomach began to ache. The big white mark stared her in the face. She had gotten off the trail. She managed to go from the easy trail to the hardest one. She wanted to cry. She studied the rock formation ahead of her. She would now have to climb to get up the treacherous path ahead. She calmed herself, "It's ok you can do it. Just go slow and be careful,” she thought. She took a few deep breaths then grabbed onto the rock. She was careful. She checked her footing before pulling herself up farther. She made it to a small ledge and was now faced with an even steeper climb. This looks like it." she said to herself. "If I can make it up this wall I’ll be there". All of a sudden, she felt a great sense of accomplishment. Eagerly she reached up with both hands. She gave a push-off and reached up again this time with only one hand. Her foot searched for a place to lock onto the rock. Cindy pulled harder grasping at the almost smooth stone above her. She could feel the top of the cliff under her right hand. She held on and quickly swung her left arm up to the same level. Cindy pushed hard with her feet and managed to get her left elbow up on the sturdy ground. She clawed at the ground and pushed as hard as she could against her solid arm hold. Now half of her was over. She was exhausted, her legs dangled over the edge. She swung her right leg up, but the effort was not strong enough to get a foothold up on the top. Cindy tried again with a loud grunt she heaved her leg over and rolled her round and well-padded body onto the surface.
She lay there for a moment looking up at the pale blue sky, streamed with long wispy patches of cotton. The clouds looked like cotton balls that had been unrolled and stretched. Her breath was heavy. As her chest rose and fell to a quick steady beat, she felt herself sinking into the rock beneath her. Cindy couldn't move. Her heart was racing. Her muscles were collapsing. She closed her eyes and tried to regain the strength to sit up. "Calm down," she said to herself. “Breath slowly". She laid there for what felt like forever until her breathing returned to its more normal pace. "Ok, time to get up," she said out loud. She reached out her arms and pulled her body up, and in one awkwardly smooth motion, she was on her knees. She paused for a moment then slowly rolled onto her left leg and placed her right foot flat on the ground. Pressing hard against the surface, she stood ready to finish the already too long hike. Standing she looked around. The area was fat. Surely, she had reached the top. She walked forward-searching intently for a sign of the others. Her eyes scanned the area back and forth. She concentrated to hear, but there was nothing. At that moment, Cindy knew that she was truly alone and lost.
Her fear overtook her, and she began to cry. Big monster tears welled up quickly in her eyes. How could this be happening to her? What had she done so wrong to deserve such torture?" Her mind raced. She cried out, “Why me?" As the tears poured out of her eyes. “Hey, is anybody out there? Hello," she said. “Hello” she called out again, this time a little louder. She yelled out over and over again but the only answer she got was her echo. She cried to her mother who was home in Miami, several states away and oblivious to her daughter’s distress. But, for some unknown reason, she thought her mother would hear her cry and save her from this terrible ordeal. Many Minutes passed before Cindy resigned herself to the fact that neither her mother nor anyone else was coming for her. She had to make a decision. She could keep roaming farther and farther up the Mountain, or she could go back down and accept defeat. After taking the time to re-compose herself, Cindy decided to turn back.
Cindy walked back to the edge of the cliff that she had heaved her body over only minutes before. As she gazed down, she realized the distance from where she was standing and where she had to go was farther than she thought. She stood there studying the terrain for a moment trying to map out the best route back down. Tentatively she tried to track her way back down, but she lost her footing and almost fell off the cliff. Gasping for breath from fear of what might have happened, Cindy caught herself, “I’m going to die up here and no one will know” she thought as those alligator tears reemerged with a vengeance. She sat back away from the side of the cliff hyperventilating from her near-death experience. She sat back from the edge of the cliff sobbing and heaving until there were no tears left. As her breathing slowly returned to normal Cindy could hear voices coming toward her. “I’m not the only one,” was her first thought, but her hope was soon dashed by the sight of strangers.
The man was middle-aged with a full beard and mustache. He wore worn blue jeans and a blue and green plaid shirt. He was carrying a walking stick and a small backpack. The woman was dressed similarly but instead of flannel, she wore a sweatshirt with some sort of collared shirt underneath. As they approached, Cindy stood to meet them. “Have you seen any groups on your way?” she asked hopefully. “No,” the man answered, “we haven’t seen anyone.” Cindy’s heart sank. “Are we at the top?” she asked, “Am I close? I haven’t seen any marks up here.” The woman chimed in “Once you get to a certain point they stop marking the trail with paint. You have to look for little piles of rocks. Just keep heading that way you will see what I’m talking about,” the woman motioned behind Cindy. Cindy thanked them and walked off in the direction the woman indicated.
After a little while, Cindy ran into another person. A girl from her school whom Cindy knew was a year ahead of her, and also not one of the popular girls. She walked down toward Cindy with a slight bit of relief on her face. “There is no one up there” she announced. “Mr. Dean is gone.” “Are you sure?” Cindy protested. “Are you sure you went all the way to the top? Do you know you have to follow the piles of rocks?” Cindy asked with some authority. “Yes, I’m sure,” Jane said with a tone of resignation. “ There is no one left.”
With their heads, a little lower the two girls started to make their way back. As they made their way down the mountain, they talked about this Mountain Day. By the time they were halfway down, Jane had confided in Cindy how scared she was. Cindy’s confidence was beginning to be restored listening to her companion. Cindy was past being scared. She had spent half the day crying and screaming for her mother. Now she was able to comfort someone else and that made her feel good. It didn’t take long for the pair to run into another girl. Ginger was a freshman, and her Latin heritage showed in her high-strung nature. She was almost hysterical with fear when Cindy and Jane encountered her. Cindy knew her from her hometown of Miami but never liked her. Today that didn’t matter. Ginger was freaked out, and Cindy could comfort her. As she approached Ginger, Cindy put her arm around her shoulder. “It’s O.K.,” she said. “You’re not alone anymore. We’ll be fine. I’m sure they are all down there waiting for us.” Cindy spoke with a mature calm that made the group feel better.
By the time they could see the end of the path four girls were walking down together. Mr. Basset, the dean of academics, and Mr. Dean the dean of students were standing at the mouth of the trail. Their stern expressions turned to one’s of relief when they saw all four of their missing students trotting towards them.
When Cindy saw Mr. Basset standing there she almost broke into another round of tears. This time for joy. He had tried to take her under his wing, and she had a deep admiration for him. She embraced him as a child who would embrace her father after a long business trip.
The busses that had brought them were long gone. The rest of the school was sent back. There was only a minivan left. The two men did a cursory visual exam of everyone, and after the girls assured them that they were fine, the small group loaded the van. “Is there any food left?” someone asked. The answer was a definite no. Cindy and the rest of the girls were almost too tired to care. They were filthy from the hike and tired. They all dosed in the back of the van for a little while.
When they finally reached school, it was after 5:00 pm. Cindy had just enough time to shower and make it to the dining hall for dinner. That night she wrote a song about the whole ordeal and got permission to sing it in house meeting, an all-school assembly the next day. Cindy’s song was published in the yearbook that year.
That Spring Cindy decided to take the outdoor education class as her P. E. In that class, Cindy mastered a ropes course that ended with a platform 50 feet in the air with a zip line to the ground. Cindy ended the course with a great sense of accomplishment. Through the activities and exercises of the class, Cindy realized she was capable of overcoming many obstacles. She had done so well in the class that her instructor invited her along with a small select group of students on an overnight hiking trip. They would hike up the Mountain then camp out in sleeping bags. Cindy went and had a great time.
The decision was made by the administration of the school never to climb an actual mountain on Mountain Day again. The next year the school went to Mount Tom for a field day. Mount Tom was more like a bunny hill. There were no lost students on this trip, and everyone had an enjoyable day, including Cindy.
This is a true one although most of the names have been changed to protect the innocent and the stupid. You can decide which is which.