Saturday, September 18, 2010

"In Ravenscrag's Shadow" - Chapter 22

In Ravenscrag's Shadow
Davis L. Bigelow
Copyright 2010

Chapter 22
For the fourth time since arriving at Maple Creek, Glen McPherson drank deeply from a hydration pouch, washing down the final remnants of a mint chocolate protein bar he had been feeding on. The cool mountain water gurgled as it went down. The solitary man pressed a hand against his chilled belly the way a pregnant woman might caress her abdomen. His eyes bulged out and he drew as much of a breath as he could fit beside the pressurized water and then blew the air out. “I feel like a tanker truck!” The water gurgled from the small chuckle as Glen grinned at his own joke. His smile was fleeting though as a serious expression quickly took its place. He scooted back to the edge of the creek. “Time for the last refill.”
The wary Scotsman scanned his surroundings again before refilling the water pouch one final time. The marginal respite Glen had afforded himself, as well as the food he had downed were desperately needed. Most unwelcome however, was the tense atmosphere. Glen lifted his eyes from watching the pump do its work. “At any moment an ornery grizzly bear could wander out of the woods and attack me.”
As Glen rested quietly near the bank of the lazy creek his mind had been anything but lazy. “We are making progress.” He told himself. “The travois is built and mostly ready to go. All I need to do, upon my return to the rock field, is to give Stan water, help him back onto the travois, tie the backpack onto the lower wooden crossbar and drag the big man towards the trail.” Glen had complete confidence in accomplishing the first three objectives, but the final one was daunting. Glen drew in a deep breath and let it out slowly. “It remains to be seen whether or not I have enough power in me to cross the finish line in this race.” Glen began to stretch in anticipation. “Stan can’t lie prone for too much longer. By now, his lungs will already be badly stressed.” More of Glen’s first aid training came back to him. “If Big C’s lungs fill with water, my friend will drown in his own fluids.” The small man sighed and shook his head. “If that happens, all my efforts to save the big man will be in vain.” Glen pulled his backpack closer. “Maybe it’s good that Stan’s body is a little dehydrated?”
The small man placed both hydration packs into the bottom of his pack. The purifying pump followed. Glen struggled back to a standing position. In spite of stretching, his body felt stiff. A glance at his digital watch revealed that the morning was nearly gone. “Come on Glen.” He encouraged. Shouldering the red backpack, Glen faced north and stared up the trail. It was devoid of life, but somewhere out there lurked a large carnivore.
Glen pushed the padded crook of the crutch under his armpit, muttering to himself. “I just hope I’ve rested long enough for that bear to get far away from me.” The intrepid hiker drew in a long, steadying breath and continued to address his audience of one. “One way or another Glen, if you’re going to save Stan, you have to travel the trail back to him.” Glen stared along the path, still unmoving; brow furrowed. Then the dirt-stained crutch tip led out and his uncertain journey was underway.
Under the dark cloud cover, Stan continued to enjoy his sweet dream. His grandchildren were the best! The big man adored them all. Smells of soft green grass filled his nostrils. He lounged in the shade of the giant poplar trees that had been waiting there when he and Alida moved onto their acreage four years before. His five grandchildren were gathered close. Juniata and Tyson sat on his lap while Tyner, Grant and Gerald leaned close as he read aloud from a Dr. Zeus book. The grinning grandfather paused in his narration. Looking at each one of the growing children, a lump rose in the big man’s silent throat. “I am the luckiest man alive!”
The wiry Scotsman pushed forward. The trail led slightly uphill from the creek. Glen’s sharp eyes were like radar, constantly sweeping the pathway ahead for any sign of danger. No shadows were present. No brilliant illumination was there to assist the injured man. A monotone sky cast muted light on the woodland trail. “At least it’s not raining.” Glen muttered under his breath. Dust stirred as his foot plodded, his crutch poked, and his unused foot dragged along in the swirling wake. “If I don’t have to stop for a bear encounter, I just might make it back to Stan by noon.”
Then, a tuft of brown hair caught Glen’s attention. He stopped short. Finger tips tentative, he plucked the little tuft from an outstretched branch and held it up in the grey light. The hair was fine and long. Silver highlights tipped one end of the small sample. As Glen examined the fur, his thoughts briefly visited his memory. He had read about grizzly bears. Their fur was brown with silver tips. The nervous backpacker looked behind him. He scanned the bushes on both sides. “The only living thing on this trail or in the woodland seems to be me. But that wasn’t true a few minutes or hours ago.”  Judging from the fur, Glen couldn’t tell how much time had passed since the big bear had passed this way. “Maybe the fur was already here when I passed by the first time?” His eyes dropped to the dirt, hoping to find some additional clues.
In the dust, he could see remnants of his own tracks as well as the bear’s. Scrutinizing the area, it appeared that the silver-tipped carnivore had been the last northbound traveller on the remote trail. “This is not good!” Came the harsh breathy whisper. “The bear was in this very spot not thirty minutes ago!” Glen shuddered. “If I had not rested for so long…” He didn’t finish the disturbing thought. “One thing’s certain. The only thing saving me so far is my timing.” A quiet prayer of gratitude slipped from his lips. Then, Glen McPherson silently squeezed the handle of the sheathed hatchet, set his jaw and limped onward.

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