To wade across, or to chance the slippery looking rocks placed there by some ancestral hand. That water couldn’t be that deep, surely; Eric watched a twig fall from an overhanging tree branch drift by where he stood, convinced that by monitoring its progress he could see into the murky water below. Though what if he was wrong? What if the water wasn’t ankle-deep, and stepping down from the uneven bank into the stream instead revealed it came up to a shin, or knee, or thigh? Then what would he do, besides get cold and soggy? Surely not soggy to hip height, though; those carefully placed rocks would like more than pillars than stepping stones were that the case. Not that he could really see into the water to tell. If only he had a pebble to toss, to pretend his ears were competent enough to tell from mere splashes and the dull thud of the pebble on the stream bed just how deep his foot might sink in?
This early morning walk had seemed such a good idea when he’d set off. Crack of dawn, brand new boots, out of-the-packaging gators which crinkled every time he moved; Eric had been ready for some fresh, clean air. He’d not bothered with a map; why would he? He’d always had a great sense of perception and direction around town. Why would it be any different in the countryside that he’d not set foot in since a school trip almost fifteen years ago? In school, no less, with a guide, and a compass, and plenty of other, better experienced walkers to hand. Just through the sheer wisdom of aging surely he’d become a superior navigator to any of them?
Two hours after setting off, there he was, stood on the bank of a stream that he hadn’t been expecting, debating with himself on how best to cross. Eric crouched down resting his palms against the ground, like that might give him a better feeling for what to expect. In the moment he fancied himself some sort of modern-day Aragon, sure he could feel footsteps in the distance of a meandering herd of cows. All it did really was seep cold wetness into his knees from the grass, and make him wish he had something better to wipe his hands with. His right calf twinged as he stood promising a good round of cramp later, when Eric eventually found his way home.
Home was in that direction, wasn’t it? Eric was sure he’d seen the stream earlier on his way out. Not to cross though. Which was why he was still standing trying to work out the best way to get the least wet. It was obvious from the rolling clouds overhead that whatever he did, he wouldn’t avoid getting wet altogether. Standing here any longer would only, probably, make things so much worse.
This was ridiculous. Eric squared his shoulders puffing out his chest knowing he probably looked like a caricature of himself as he blustered up to the stepping stones ready to cross. What did it matter, when there wasn’t a soul in sight, not a person to hear him slip and fall when he misjudged his footing? Not a person to help when he sprained his ankle during his fall, couldn’t climb up the bank, and then died of hyperthermia draped poetically in the bottom of a probably-shallow stream? He’d heard of people drowning in puddles before, well, hadn’t he? Surely the same could happen to him here? Maybe children in the future would tell tales about him, the mysterious hiker who had found his fate in the bottom of a bog. Well, stream. Unless of course the stream washed his torpid corpse down in to a bog. Who would ever find him there? Would he spend an eternity mournfully wailing for some company or someone to talk to, any time he heard someone pass?With a deep breath Eric told himself to shut up, then stepped out on to the first rock ready to cross the stream, pleading with himself not to fall.