Saturday, August 7, 2010
Davis L. Bigelow
Green Canyon lay nearly silent. A few resident birds and animals were just beginning to awaken. Several hours before, the mountain breeze had stilled to the strength of a baby’s breath. Now it was even less perceptible. Below the snow-capped peak of High Tor and the clouds that obscured it, two forlorn adventurers lay motionless on their rock beds. The only padding provided by nature for them was a scattered smattering of paper-thin lichens that clung tenaciously to sharp angles and rough surfaces of innumerable, randomly scattered rocks.
Glen McPherson’s body felt slightly uncomfortable and a little restless. Bits of crimson light stabbed at the thick clouds overhead, but his face hid from them under the protective flap of his sleeping bag. The dawn of their third day had arrived but the oblivious man didn’t know it yet. Clothed in his warm chrysalis, and still deep within a sweet dream, Glen was nowhere near the despair, discomfort and potential death that was his reality. In fact, he was lying comfortably on his own bed talking on his cellular phone. The smiling Scotsman was just finishing up a pleasant conversation with his three-year-old granddaughter.
“Ok Val Marie” he said. “See you next week.” Glen paused to listen attentively to the child’s excited voice tumbling from the tiny speaker. Val Marie was his one and only granddaughter. Obviously his favourite, the precocious five-year-old was Glen’s pride and joy. In fact, an impartial observer would easily conclude that the doting Scotsman spoiled Val Marie even more than his wife did – if that were possible. Incurably optimistic, the joyful child had earned herself a splendid nickname. Nearly from the day of her birth, Val Marie’s proud grandfather had called her Sunny Valley.
“I love you grandpa.” Val Marie bubbled as their conversation concluded.
“I love you too.” Glen confessed warmly. “Bye Sunny Valley.”
Glen squirmed in his sleeping bag but continued to dream. “Hey Lille?” He called out, closing the cellular phone. “Laura, Kelstern and Val Marie are going to join us at Midnight Lake.” Laura was the McPherson’s only child and Kelstern McTaggart was their genuine, bona fide, Scottish son-in-law.
“That’s wonderful news!” Lillie’s voice sang out. “What day are they coming?”
“It’ll be on the third day of our hike.” Glen called back, repositioning his feather pillow and consulting his watch. “Then they’ll stay until Stan and I get back.”
Glen squirmed again. He was downright uncomfortable. “Something is wrong!” The bed felt like Lille had spread a dozen golf balls on top of the mattress. His wife entered the bedroom. She still wore her pyjamas and a frothy toothbrush gyrated in her mouth. In spite of the pain in his back, Glen tried to grin up at her. Even with her auburn hair in a tangle and toothpaste foaming on her delicate lips, she was beautiful. “Why is my bed so uncomfortable?” Suddenly, Lillie removed the toothbrush from her mouth and spoke.
“Glen!” She said brusquely. The Scotsman stared at her, dumbfounded. He had seen her lips move, but he had heard Stan’s deep voice. “Glen!”
The wiry Scotsman’s eyes burst opened. His eyes darted about. All around him was darkness. “What’s happening?” He moved his arms. They protested with stiffness. “Aaaaaah!” Glen moaned, throwing the top part of the sleeping bag off his warm face. Cool mountain air shocked his unprepared skin. A dim dawn greeted the disoriented man.
”Lillie?” Glen called out.
“It’s ok Glen.” A deep voice sounded.
Then, in an unstoppable cascade, reality washed over the Scotsman! “Oh! I must have been dreaming again!” the smaller man lamented.
“You were talking… in your sleep.” Stan observed.
In the faint light, their eyes met. Glen shook his head in disgust and let out a heavy sigh. “My dreams are so much nicer than our current reality!”
“Mine too.” The big man whispered compassionately.
“Are we really going to make it out of this… this…” Glen searched for an appropriate word to fit his foul mood, “this… lifeless moon crater!” he finally blurted, peering out into the morning’s gloom.
“If we don’t… lose our heads.” Stan concluded.
Glen said nothing. In fact, he pressed his lips together in a effort to remain silent. The stiff Scotsman crawled out from inside his warm sleeping bag and began pulling on his cold hiking boots. A scowl furrowed his brow. He glared up at the obscured sky. “Obviously, the sun will not warm us very much today.” Glen drew in a large breath and blew it out purposefully. The deep furrows in his brow began to disappear. At last he spoke. “I guess there are only two things we can do.” Stan’s eyebrows lifted at the change in tone. The trussed man turned his head to listen as his friend went on. Glen started tightening his bootlaces. “We either keep on struggling to live or we will die!”
“We will make it.” Stan predicted. “You will save… us both!”
Glen stopped tugging at his laces and stared at Stan. “I’m not sure I have enough strength.” He shook his head and dropped his dark eyes back to his boots. A leather lace was wrapped around the index finger of both his scuffed hands. “I’m so very tired already.” The smaller man sighed. “I’ve done so much, yet it seems like nothing!” He finished tying the bow in the leather and snatched up the second set of bootlaces. “It seems like it will take more than what we both can offer to rescue us!”
“No!” Stan sounded unusually determined for a man who was trussed up like a large baron of beef in a butcher shop window. “If anyone can… do it… we can!”
Glen briefly regarded the big man. They had been on so many adventures together. This, however, was much more of a tragedy than any exciting adventure they had ever shared. “I just hate being so powerless!” Glen muttered. “If I could just walk!” In bitter silence, Glen looked away. Chaffed fingers mechanically tied the second set of laces. “The accident was so unfair! Why did we take the risk of climbing without a rope?” Glen continued his brooding. “We both knew better!”
Glen stared out over the field of boulders. The two of them were supposed to be having the time of their lives! Glen shook his head in despair. Suddenly, he was face down in his imagined fighting ring once more. The frenzied crowd was on their feet roaring their approval. The referee began the second ten count of the match. Glen saw his opponent lift his hands in a gesture of triumph. The partisan crowd cheered again. “It’s no use Glen.” His own voice whispered inside his throbbing head. “You are defeated.”
Suddenly, Stan spoke again, jolting Glen out of his private pity party. The big man knew all too well that Glen was their only hope for survival. He needed to say something to help his friend and potential rescuer from losing the will to live. “But what?” Glen McPherson was drowning in discouragement! “Think Stan! Think!” The big man closed his eyes to consider. “We can’t give up!”
“Glen.” Stan said gently, scattering the sorrowful sights and sounds in Glen’s imagination. “Neither one of… us are jam-tarts. Neither one of… us are quitters. And neither one… of us are going… to give up hope!”
Glen met the big man’s intense gaze. He knew his own depressing thoughts were not helping, but they were pummelling his mind anyway. Glen shook his head in defeat. “I know.” He muttered. “It’s just so hard to keep going when it doesn’t look like we have any chance to win.”
“I know.” whispered Stan. “But we’re tough… enough to keep… trying. You... are tough enough!”
A long moment of silence passed before Glen spoke. “I’m sorry.” He said finally.
“It’s OK. We’ll make it.”
The small man began to gather himself. “I guess I should get going.”
“Before you go” Stan began. “I need to go… to the bathroom… again.”