Saturday, September 4, 2010

“In Ravenscrag’s Shadow” – Chapter 20

In Ravenscrag’s Shadow
Davis L. Bigelow
Copyright 2010 

Chapter 20
Stan Calderbank lay motionless. His pain-induced sleep deprivation had finally given way to exhaustion and then, at long last, to slumber. Above his unprotected face hung huge hazy clouds. Beneath him, the double sleeping mats attempted to cradle his large, bruised and broken body. All things considered, he was about as comfortable as it was possible for him to be.

Stan’s waking world soothingly spun away as semi-consciousness slowly gave way to the dreams of all out slumber. From somewhere in the distance, Stan could hear laugher. “Come on Jam-pa!” One of his grandchildren called. “Come on!”

Glen stopped on the trail to rest and to listen. He pealed back the wrapper on a Mars chocolate bar and took a hearty chomp. The small man needed water, but, at this point, even a little dry energy would help. He felt calmer, since uttering his heartfelt prayer, but the limping Scotsman still knew that he had work to do if he and Stan were going to survive. “The Lord helps those who help themselves.” The words his mother had often taught him sounded inside his head. He could hear her voice as the oft-remembered track played. Glen smiled a little. His mother had been gone for six years now. It felt good to replay her kind voice.

Glen stuffed in the last of the chocolate bar before readjusting the pair of thick wool socks that protected his chaffed armpit from the full force of the top of his makeshift crutch. He longed to run free again, but the injured ankle would still not tolerate any weight whatsoever. Glen plodded forward. This was his second trip to visit the life-giving waters of Maple Creek and he was nearly there.

Suddenly, a sound brushed past his ears. It was faint. Glen stopped and held stock-still. To his right, he heard it again. It was a light rustling of bushes. Carefully, the alert hiker peered into the camouflage of green. He felt for any motion in the air that might carry his scent towards the sound. The slightest of breezes caressed his cheeks. The puff of wind was moving from the area where he could hear the rustling sound towards the place where his foot and crutch tip stood riveted on the meandering trail. “If I just kept on moving, I might pass undetected.” He couldn’t tell what animal was disturbing the tranquility of the forest, but from his recent encounter with the massive paw print and scarified tree, his conclusion was easily jumped to.

The trembling man quietly unsnapped the hatchet and drew it out. Breathlessly, Glen began to move. His pace, already slow from his dependence on the crutch, was now the speed of a small caterpillar. He could not afford to alert the unseen animal. After all, it was he who was the potentially unwelcome visitor to this place.

Several minutes of slow going passed. As each new second added itself to the next, Glen moved farther and farther away from the danger. Finally, the tense man picked up the pace. Seconds later, his alert ears picked up the sound of running water. Glen grinned nervously. “Maple Creek is just ahead.”

Glen McPherson quietly loosened the straps of his red backpack and slipped it to the ground, resting it in the emerald green grass beside the unsheathed hatchet. In another minute, the intake end of his water purifying system dangled lazily in the placid current. Glen pumped rhythmically. A tiny stream of precious water flowed into the hydration pouches; first one and then the other. Several times, the dehydrated Scotsman paused in his pumping to drink deeply. “I need to get as much water into my body as I can hold.” He swallowed again. “Stan will consume most of the water I carry back.” Glen scowled, wiping his dripping lips. “Dragging the big man across the field of boulders will leave me dried out in no time.” The sobering thought lingered for a moment before being replaced by another. “And then there’s that bear to worry about!”

With the water pouches replenished, Glen ate some dried fruit and gobbled down a granola bar. He rested near the edge of the creek, hoping that the short time he spent there would give the grizzly bear time to move on. So far the unseen bear didn’t seem to know Glen existed. “I hope things remain that way too!” Glen thought. “Right now, anonymity is my best friend!”

Glen rubbed at his swollen ankle. Held captive within his hiking boot, the tendons and muscles surrounding the joint throbbed mercilessly. Glen stared at the cool flowing creek. “It would be wonderful to soak my bruised ankle in there.” The idea promised some much needed relief. “No.” The Scotsman breathed, looking around for what must have been the twentieth time in the last five minutes. ”I don’t dare. Shedding one of my boots right now would be a very poor choice.” Instead, Glen massaged the swollen ankle through his boot and then dug his fingers into his shoulder and neck muscles. “I’ll just have to wait till later to find relief.” He told himself tilting his head sharply from side to side to stretch his trapezius muscles.

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