I will not post the entire novel in serial fashion, but want to put out a few more chapters. Today’s chapters are a little more of the main characters trying to figure out what the heck happened and what they’re going to do next. Tomorrow will be a little backstory. Were you a fan of the television show Lost? It started with the plane crash and the characters trying to survive. Then you began to learn their backstory. Then you learned who they really were. Then they changed. And then…well, it all went too crazy. No smoke monsters in my story.
If you missed the first two chapters, start here.
Here are chapters three and four.
He awoke, at first thinking he was in bed at home. He was cold. He looked to the right where his window should have been, glowing with light from the streetlight outside. Not the streetlight. Moonlight, maybe.
Then he remembered. He was camping. Upward Bound. Weekend retreat.
He was cold. He reached for a blanket – but no, he was in a sleeping bag. He felt around and found nothing. He tried to sit up but pain in his back forced him back down. He closed his eyes and soon he was asleep again.
A half hour passed before he regained consciousness, and this time, even though he had no illusions of dreaming, he had no sense of where he was or how he had gotten there. He pulled himself into a sitting position, ignoring the pain and stiffness, and by the light of the moon he could see mountains, miles away. He was at the overlook. But something wasn’t right. He was in a thicket on a narrow ledge. Definitely not the overlook.
He began to notice the aches. First was his knee. His jeans were ripped and there was a long ugly cut caked in dried blood. A dull ache on the back of his head. His fingers throbbed. He looked at his right hand and saw more dried blood where his fingernails used to be. His tried to hold up his left hand but pain shot through his elbow.
Although everything he saw, from the bright moon and the mountains to the trauma inflicted on his body, seemed real, he had no idea what had happened, or where he was, or why he was sitting on the side of a mountain. He fumbled for his cell phone in his jacket pocket and discovered he wasn’t wearing his jacket.
He stood and looked up at the sheer rock face looming twenty feet above him and knew he couldn’t go up. He looked to either side and though there wasn’t a clear path, it seemed passable.
Right or left. He had no idea. He turned to the right. His first step was shaky and he steadied himself on the rock face. He took two more steps and stopped. With his next step, he would have to clear the underbrush with his foot. He swept the vegetation, then waited to make sure his equilibrium was good. He reached for the rocks again but misjudged the distance and teetered to his right until his hand hit. He took a deep breath. He could wait. He should wait. But he had to move. He was alone on the side of a mountain and he couldn’t just sit.
He looked forward. His path was clear. One step. Then another. He was feeling a little better, his head a little clearer. Another step through the brush, but this time, his foot failed to find firm ground. Before he knew what was happening, he was rolling down the hill. He tried to grab at branches and managed to snag a twig but thorns ripped his flesh. As he rolled over rocks and briars, he felt himself going airborne – just long enough for a feeling of weightlessness to register – before he crashed back to the ground, smashing over a small tree as he did. He stopped when he slammed into another tree a hundred yards down the hill. After a few seconds he opened his eyes, his face in the forest floor.
After a few seconds, he got to his feet and began walking parallel to the contour of the hill, this time going to his left. He could only see moonlight reflected off of leaves and the darkness of their shadows. Tree trunks were a combination of black and gray vertical lines. He walked without conscious thought, not even thinking of why he was tromping through the underbrush. He just walked.
An hour passed, and then he stopped. His legs were weak and his skin felt cold and clammy. He started to fall but staggered toward a tree and managed to remain upright. When he felt his stomach starting to heave he took two deep breaths, hoping to stave off what he knew was inevitable. It worked for a moment, and then it didn’t. He staggered backwards and eased himself down to the forest floor, face toward the ground. His heart was pounding. He took another deep breath and closed his eyes.
It was a restless sleep and Katherine was glad to see the dawn creeping into the forest. She was unsure how many times she awoke or how much sleep she actually got, but she knew it wasn’t nearly enough. She stretched out over her bed of leaves and grimaced at the stiffness of her muscles and joints. She tried to work out a kink in her back but it just got worse. As she sat up, a sharp pain cut through her shoulder blades causing her to catch her breath as she went back down. She took a moment to take another breath and slowly pushed herself up, powering through the pain. She sat upright for a few minutes as she thought about her next move.
The sun was growing stronger and from the sunrise, she determined her compass directions. She still had no memory of why she was away from her camp or how far from it she was. She would hike up to the ridge and try to find it, but knew the state park would be in a general southwesterly direction. She’d give herself an hour and then move toward the park, though really, depending on where she actually was, that choice wouldn’t guarantee that she would make it there. But it was her best chance.
As she stood she noticed that a heavy dew had settled in the forest. She looked around and found several fleshy leaves and rolled them together to form a funnel cup. Then she spent twenty minutes going from leaf to leaf knocking the dew off and into her leaf cup until it was about half full. She carefully raised it to her mouth and sipped it slowly. It wasn’t enough to keep her hydrated but it felt good on her parched lips. She knew she’d eventually come across a stream and that she’d have to drink. She also knew it would likely make her sick. As for food, she could easily survive for a few days on nothing but nuts, berries, and roots. Surely by then she’d have made her way out.
Her one hour limit turned into two and though she had found a ridge, she saw no sign of her camp, no trail, or anything that indicated that anyone had ever been through the forest. She checked the angle of the rising sun but the higher the sun rose, the harder it was to get her bearings. If she was off even a little, she would easily miss the park. Or just hike through its forest without even knowing it.
She began walking back down the ridge and after an hour, she came across a clear-running stream. She knelt along its banks, scooped up a handful of water and smelled. Nothing. A good sign. She took a small sip. No taste. Another small sip. She knew that she couldn’t expect to smell or taste bacteria, but it was all she had. She took several handfuls and drank until her thirst was satisfied. Then she leaned back against a tree and closed her eyes and listened to the stream flowing over the rocks. She was asleep in minutes.
Then a gunshot.
A long war whoop.
She recognized the voice.
copyright 2020, joseph e bird
photo copyright 2015, joseph e bird