Saturday, November 27, 2010

"In Ravenscrag's Shadow" - Chapter 32

In Ravenscrag's Shadow
Davis L. Bigelow
Copyright 2010

Chapter 32

Creeping soundlessly on cat’s paws, darkness finally overtook the weary hikers. Before the sun had vanished, however, Glen had the tent erected. He had put it up in the dark several times before and utilizing the waning light of day just made the task all that much easier.

With the tent up, Glen pulled out his knife and purposefully cut a slit into the floor. “Alright Big C.” he said, “You may want to grab a breath so I don’t suffocate you.” Stan obediently drew in as much breath as he could hold.

“Ok.” He squeaked, using as little air as possible.

Glen lifted the erected tent into the air and swung it over top of his big friend. Once it had settled into place, the wiry Scot scuttled to the tent door. He quickly located the big man’s bulky bump and slipped the tent floor around him. “Nice.” Stan wheezed. “That only hurt… a little.”

Glen grinned and began to quickly stuff their loose belongings inside. “Let’s just hope any rain water doesn’t run under the tent and get you from below.”


Once his mat and sleeping bag were spread, Glen hobbled around outside the tent to locate the pack’s hanging rope and a suitable rock. Then, tying the fist-sized rock to end of the rope, Glen scouted to locate a tree with a high enough branch. He located a large Fir tree nearby, and in the near darkness, began to toss the weighted end of the rope skyward. Success finally came on his sixth try.

With the rope in place, Glen returned to camp and heaved the pack the short distance to the waiting rope. Under the Fir tree, once again, Glen tied the pack to the rope and prepared to pull. With Stan‘s help, the chore wouldn’t have been too bad, but all he had was himself. “Why does everything have to be so hard?” Glen dug in his pocket and found his flashlight. Shining the beam here and there, he searched until he located a low branch on a nearby tree. The bough appeared to be strong enough, and Glen wasted no time in introducing the dangling rope to it. The day before, when he had hoisted Stan’s pack, Glen had looped the rope once around a neighbouring branch, taking advantage of the mechanics of friction to assist him. Tonight, would be no different. With his gloves on, Glen began the tug-o-war. Slowly the dangling, dead weight rose until it the pack was high enough. From the claw marks in the milky bark of the towering Larch tree in Green Canyon, Glen knew how high the pack had to be to remain out of reach of a roaming bear.

Glen shone the narrow flashlight beam onto the dangling backpack. “I think that’s high enough.” He said approvingly and began trying off the free end of the rope. A flashlight inspection revealed secure knots and Glen wasted no time in stowing the light, retrieving his crutch and making off for the tent. His inviting sleeping bag, complete with an inviting, soft sleeping mat awaited him. Mercifully, there were no rocks to lay on tonight. Glen knew that for a fact. Before he spread out the tent, he had checked!

The limping Scotsman made his way back to the tent. The handle of the hatchet, mounted on his belt, slapped at his leg as he moved. The journey was only 25 yards—not the 100-yard recommended distance to separate your backpack from your campsite. In the darkness, however, Glen no longer cared. Physically, he was spent. Mentally, he was beaten. Only one more problem remained to be solved before he could chase his dreams into blissful sleep. He was starving!

Glen scuttled to the creek and dipped several cups of cool water into the aluminum pot. His mouth watered in anticipation. “Supper’s a comin’ Big C.” He called out, shuffling past the tent door.

Glen easily assembled the stove and attached the fuel bottle. Rummaging in a tiny pocket on his fanny pack, he produced a waterproof cylinder containing matches. Five seconds later, a tiny, but hot fire blazed in the darkness. The stove fire’s blue and yellow glow danced through the open door and onto the tent walls. Their second hot meal in three days was in the making.

Shadows from the fire’s illumination flickered across Stan’s swarthy face. He was so very tired. Laying still, breathing shallow breaths, the big man stared out the tent door at Glen. After three days with nearly no food, he was finally feeling hungry. “I guess that’s what a broken femur does to a guy!” He thought wryly. As the stove’s heat seeped into the pot of cold creek water, hope began to replace the big man’s doubts. “The trail to the truck has two more river crossings.” He thought. “At least we’ll have a steady water supply.” The big man’s memories of his hike into Green Canyon were still crisp and he took a short walk down memory lane. “The pathway is mostly a gentle downhill slope. That will aid Glen in dragging me.” He recalled the crossing of Maple Creek and his mind raced to the banks of their next crossing. “Crossing Paisley Brook will be OK, but fording Skull Creek will be another matter.” When they had crossed Skull Creek, on the way to Green Canyon, the water had been a twelve-inch deep torrent, nearly forty feet wide. “Going through a foot of icy water on this travois will be tough! And then there’s the climb up the hill to the truck.”

As Stan’s thoughts swirled, Glen prepared the freeze-dried suppers. When Glen poured the boiling water inside the two Mylar pouches, steam violently erupted into the cool air. With the pouches resting carefully on the ground, the weary Scotsman lit the candle lantern and extinguished the stove. The candle’s warm, yellow glow flickered in the darkness, dancing on the tent wall and nearby foliage.

Glen moved into the tent and fastened the lantern to a short string hanging from a small loop sewn into the ceiling. He pause a moment and remembered installing the string three years before, on the tent’s very first adventure. “Those were better days.” He said softly. Suddenly the small man frowned. As the light illuminated the tent’s ceiling, Glen saw something he didn’t like. Numerous holes! All the dragging over the boulders had damaged the fabric. Most of the holes were tiny, but if it rained, they’d have a problem. The frustrated Scotsman let out a weary sigh. “When this is all over, I’ll be needing a new tent!” Shaking his head, Glen crawled back to attend the food.

Following five minutes of rehydration, the food was ready. Under the flickering flame, Glen carefully fed his prone friend. Stan chewed methodically. It seemed like the man was learning how to eat for the first time.

“I need… some more… Tylenol.” Stan muttered between bites.

Glen produced the nearly empty bottle from his fanny pack and shone the flashlight beam inside. He counted the tablets. Glen shook two pills into his hand and held them up to Stan’s lips. “Here.” He said. “There are only eight left after these.”

“Ugh!” Stan grunted, letting the tablets drop in and then swallowing. “I hope… I make it.”

“You will.”

Stan finished eating, and Glen chowed down on his own supper. It was already getting cold. “The night’s upon us and it looks like it’ll be a cool one.” The small man said, speaking through a mouthful of cheese laden macaroni.

In the candle light, Stan nodded his silent agreement.

Glen gulped the last bite and licked his spoon several times to get it clean. “Well that was a much needed meal.” He stated. Glen held his spoon up in the light to inspect it. Satisfied, he stashed the utensil in his fanny pack. The weary Scotsman gathered up the two empty Mylar food pouches, grabbed his crutch and rose. It would be a serious mistake to leave such tantalizing smells anywhere close to their campsite. “I’ll be right back.” He said.

Following his flashlight beam, Glen made his way downstream, keeping close to the edge of Maple Creek. After a hundred feet, he paused to crush the Mylar packages in his hand. He had been taught to pack out any garbage he brought, but he was about to make an exception. He was not about to lower the packs just to put their trash out of reach of a hungry bear. Tonight, staying alive took precedence. Glen frowned as he tossed the two balls of plastic into the current. He watched as the discarded garbage drifted out of sight, miniscule bits of twilight dancing off the wrinkled silver. Then, the darkness swallowed them up.

The tired Scotsman turned and headed for the tent. The muscles in his face were slack. His eyelids were heavy. In a minute or so he was there, removing his boots and then the tensor wrap that cradled his swollen ankle. “My ankle’s beginning to look a bit less black and blue.” He observed aloud. “But it still can’t bear any weight.” Glen gently massaged the bruised flesh for a moment and then re-wrapped it. Stan said nothing.

The tent zipper hummed, sealing in the two men. Stan was settled and all that remained was for Glen to turn in. “Goodnight Stan.” The weary man whispered. “I hope you sleep well.”


Glen peeled off his pants and removed the pepper spray and hatchet from his belt. “Here.” He said, raising the bottle into the candle light for Stan to see and then setting it down. “The bear spray is right here between us.” Glen set the pressurized bottle against the edge of Stan’s hand so he could feel its location.

“Ok.” Stan replied. “I hope we… don’t need it.”

“Me too, but better safe than sorry.” Glen trailed off. “The flashlight and hatchet are here too.” He added, setting the items alongside the bottle of pepper spray. “You wanna have prayer with me before we go to sleep?”


When Glen had finished praying, he blew out the lantern’s flame. The weary man then nestled into the cocoon of his sleeping bag and exhaled a long warm breath. Before the humid heat penetrated his sore and exhausted frame, and extinguished his consciousness with some much-needed sleep, he spoke, “Goodnight Big C.”

“Goodnight Glen.”

Saturday, November 20, 2010

"In Ravenscrag's Shadow" - Chapter 31

In Ravenscrag's Shadow
Davis L. Bigelow
Copyright 2010

Chapter 31

Aromatic evergreen boughs rustled gently in the fresh, late afternoon breeze. Birds scavenged among the bushes for seeds and insects. Green leaves danced and the long grasses, growing along the woodland trail, whispered to one another in what sounded like a distant sea of jubilant children. Daylight was westbound, bearing relentlessly for the distant horizon. The cloud dampened sun would dawn elsewhere on the planet, but here and now, dawn would have to wait until the darkness had its turn. Night would soon reign supreme.

Glen McPherson struggled onward. The gentle downhill slope helped immeasurably, but the weight he dragged behind his spent body felt heavier and heavier with each lurching stagger. Ahead, between ragged gasps for oxygen, the stubborn Scotsman could hear the promise of temporary relief. The sound was the cool babble of water in Maple Creek!

Several more minutes passed before the creek came into sight. Determined to get as far down the trail as possible, the stalwart Scotsman did not stop at the water’s edge. Scrapping his original plan, he lurched boldly into the shallow stream. His boot and crutch tip sloshed through the four-inch deep current. The small man’s hiking boots were waterproof, but that fact influenced him little. Even if he had been wearing ventilated court sneakers, he would not have slowed. The obsessed man just kept on tugging at the litter until he and his moaning cargo were safely on the opposite bank.

Glen panted hard from the final haul of the travois up the far bank of the narrow creek. A strange set of wet tracks trailed behind him. Wet boot marks were accompanied by an equal number of round, damp depressions in the alpine soil. Even the most bumbling of trackers would have had no trouble following the distinctive marks made by Glen’s makeshift crutch and the sole of his right boot. Of course, if the would-be tracker were extremely blind, the twin, continuous skid marks, made by the laden litter, were even more obvious.

“Where should we camp?” Glen looked around. He instinctively knew that when he finally set the travois down, he wouldn’t want to lift it again! After more than a few seconds of scrutiny, Glen turned and pulled the travois a few feet to his right. Then, with the sweetness that is only born of relief from pain, Glen set the laden litter onto the ground. “At last!”

The next few minutes were not minutes of rest for the worn out Scotsman. Oh no! The muted light was already beginning to fail. At best, the injured men had just under a half an hour of daylight remaining and Glen knew it. The small man rallied his failing muscles and quickly moved to the rear of the travois to attack the lashings of the backpack. He had it untied in seconds.

The determined Scotsman rummaged in his red pack. Before Glen could even think about resting, both he and Stan needed water. In seconds, Glen had a hydration pouch and the water-purifying pump at the edge of Maple Creek. “I’ll have a drink for you in a minute Stan.” He panted.

The big man just nodded and moistened his parched lips with a sticky tongue.

Once they were somewhat refreshed by the cool mountain stream, Glen set to work on their camp. He unloaded the backpack with anything he thought they might need before morning. That included a two energy bars, two freeze dried dinners, the pot, stove, fuel bottle and candle lantern as well as his own sleeping bag and the two flashlights. The rest got stuffed back into the pack for safe keeping – all except for the tent poles.

Glen McPherson glanced up at the darkening sky. The thick cloud cover would most certainly wring out some rain during the night. “If it helps,” Glen offered, returning his gaze to Stan, “I think we need the tent, even if it hurts. Things are bad enough without us getting wet!”

“I know.” The big man muttered and then scowled. Ordinarily, the big man could rise from the ground with relative ease, but his present condition was anything but ordinary! All day, he had suffered. He had done so as silently as he could, but the throbbing jolts of pain had been relentless! Stan longed for the secure, unconscious cocoon of sleep. He longed to receive a little respite, but it had not come yet. “A little longer.” He told himself. “Very soon now, you can rest, but first, you must endure a little more torture.”

Glen scuttled to Stan’s side. “Ok my friend.” He said, untying the tent from the travois poles. “Let’s get you off our tent.” Once the tent was free of the wooden framework, Glen lifted the travois out of the way and returned to Big C.

“I have an idea.” Glen said. “Instead of dragging you off the tent and my sleeping mat, let’s try to roll you off.”


“If the plan works you can roll one way while I stuff part of the tent and mat under one side of you. Then, you can roll the other way, and I’ll pull the bunched up tent and mat the rest of the way out.”

“Sounds painful.” Stan rasped.

“I’ll be a gentle as I can my friend.” Glen was already gathering up the fabric next to the big man’s side. “Before the rolling phase of this plan, let’s get you to sit up a bit so I can stuff part of the tent under your upper back.”


The event went better that Stan expected―at least until it was time for his broken leg to rise off the ground.

“Argh!” Stan screamed out in unrestrained pain.

Glen grimaced. “Sorry!” He looked compassionately at his hiking partner. “Almost there.” Glen encouraged. Stan moaned again, but the tent and mat were already free. Glen carefully eased the broken limb on back onto the remaining sleeping mat. The small man’s face was stricken. “I’m so sorry.” Glen apologized.

“I know.” The big man wheezed. “It’s not… your fault.”

“So far, we’ve beaten the odds.” Glen said. “If you get hypothermia you can’t just do a little cardio to warm up.”

The big man nodded. Stan knew he was especially vulnerable to exposure. If he got chilled, he would probably die.

Glen looked up again at the lowering clouds. “Yes…” he mused, “Rain is most definitely our enemy tonight.”

Stan listened, but reserved his next comment. “Getting wet would be a bad thing, but rain’s not our only enemy!”

Saturday, November 13, 2010

"In Ravenscrag's Shadow" - Chapter 30

In Ravenscrag's Shadow
Davis L. Bigelow
Copyright 2010

Chapter 30

Behind the hobbling hiker lurked the bear. He couldn’t see the small man especially well, but at only two hundred feet away, the carnivore could see well enough. Besides, the alpine air was thick with the man’s sweat-ripened scent. Even at this close range, the hiker didn’t seem to be aware of him. The human certainly didn’t seem to pose any immediate threat. The big bruin had lived through several summers, and had learned to be cautious—even when things appeared to be safe. If the grizzly had been human, he might have summed up his attitude by arrogantly stating that, “Only fools rush in… and he was no fool.”

The careful carnivore cast his dark eyes upwards. His best guess was that it would be dark in a little while. He was in no hurry anyway. His stomach was full. He could easily wait till nightfall to satisfy his mounting curiosity.

“Big C!” Glen called out. The big man lay motionless on the inactive litter; eyes shut and seemingly devoid of life. Glen had been observing his friend ever since beginning the trek back. Limping the one hundred feet to reach his hiking partner hadn’t taken that long, but in all the time it took, Stan Calderbank had not moved. Glen knew first aide, but he was no doctor. He had never before witnessed the full symptoms of a broken femur. Perhaps he didn’t even know all the symptoms? “I wish they’d taught me more in first aid” He panted under his breath. All Glen knew, from his first aid classes, was that a broken thigh bone could trigger sufficient shock to kill a person. He had been taught how to splint and how to treat for shock, but most of what he had learned about broken legs involved calling a paramedic and getting the injured person to a professional. Glen’s stomach growled and the small man glowered. “My first aid learning is like my stomach... practically empty!” Worry gnawed at the small man. “Perhaps, in spite of all my efforts, Stan will die anyway? Perhaps he will die from something I have no knowledge of?”

Glen McPherson shuffled closer. Apprehension built within him. “Big C!” he called again trying to quicken his pace. “Curse my ankle and this backpack for slowing me down!” He muttered, eyes riveted on his prone friend. “If Stan’s stopped breathing, every second counts!”

The big man pried his heavy eyelids open and stared up. His friend sounded anxious. Glen was a sight, too. In spite of his discomfort, Stan allowed a slight grin to flicker across his ashen face. Without the pack on his back, and with a patch over one eye, the dirty-faced, unkempt Scotsman might have passed for Robert Louis Stevenson’s fictitious character, Long John Silver. Glen hobbled up to the litter. Stan still made no sound.

“You weren’t moving!” Glen panted. “I wasn’t sure you were still with me.” Stan regarded the smaller man. Glen stared for a moment before beginning to unstrap the backpack from his shoulders.

“I’m ok.” Stan finally wheezed. “I just need… some real… painkillers.”

Glen smirked and rolled his eyes. “Well at least you haven’t lost your sense of humour!” he chortled, his worry dissipating a little. “We’ll get you some real medication soon.” Glen was serious again. “You just hold on until I can get you out of here!” The wiry Scotsman sounded fiercely determined.

Stan nodded, but didn’t reply. He only watched as Glen transferred the contents of the pack he had been carrying into the one fastened to the bottom cross bar of the travois. A lump rose in the big man’s throat. For two and a half days Stan had harboured the very real fear that he would not live through this adventure. This afternoon, however, he had reason to pause. Glen just might be able to save his life after all. “Thanks Glen.” He muttered.

Glen looked up from closing the backpack and squarely met the big man’s gaze.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

"In Ravenscrag's Shadow" - Chapter 29

In Ravenscrag's Shadow
Davis L. Bigelow
Copyright 2010
Chapter 29

Twin nostrils flared and then relaxed. Moisture glistened on the black tip of the brawny snout. Rhythmic slumber was the exclusive activity that presently occupied the silver-tipped bruin. Suddenly the grizzly’s beady eyes flickered open. Raising its enormous head, the bear sniffed at the gentle airwaves that wafted by its improvised bedchamber. The human’s scent was in the air!

The big bear eased effortlessly to its feet, scarcely making a sound. Its bushy bulk stood hidden by the low scrub that grew at the feet of the narrow strip of trees near the north end of Green Canyon. It moved cautiously forward, caressing the leaves of the low bushes with its soft hair. Its experienced senses were now on full alert. The grizzly was ready and willing to defend itself should the need arise. Its large nose poked into the grey afternoon light. Its dark eyes peered southward along the dirt trail. Then the big bear froze.

Glen McPherson shuffled up to the old Larch tree. Before he began the short journey, he had strapped the pressurized bottle of pepper spray as well as Stan’s hatchet to his belt. Not particularly well equipped to encounter a bear, at least he had two weapons at his disposal. Glen felt for the weapons and nervously looked around before uniting the rope that held the backpack aloft. Nothing moved in the canyon. Hand over hand Glen’s gloved hands controlled the decent of Stan’s dangling backpack. This would be the pack’s final partnership with the useful tree. The wary Scot eyed the claw marks that gouged the smooth, creamy white bark and looked around again.

The grizzly watched and wondered. “A strange creature is this human!” The man began to approach, but then stopped. “Why had he stopped?” Then the unimaginable took place. The unusual item, hanging from the large tree he had clawed, somehow fell slowly to the ground. The sight was amazing. The human had powers the bear lacked, yet the small human looked so puny.

Limping to the base of the towering tree, Glen tussled the pack onto its front so he could access the exterior zippers. On his trek from the travois to the tree, he had decided that some things would have to be left behind. The travois was already weighed down, and any extra load from the second backpack would only make Glen’s life that much more difficult.

The contemplating Scotsman unceremoniously spilled the pack’s entire contents out onto the ground. He scrutinized the cache. The two men had eaten little from the stock of food they had packed in. Glen’s mouth began to water. Both men were hungry, but Glen had expended considerably more energy than his friend had. “How much food should I take?” Glen wondered aloud, tearing open an energy bar and greedily gnawing on it. “We should make it back to the truck by tomorrow night.” The small man rubbed a dirty hand over his bristling moustache and beard. “But what if it takes us a little longer?” Glen shook his head and furrowed his brow. “For sure we’ll need one more breakfast and lunch plus supper tonight and maybe one for tomorrow night.” Glen selected four freeze-dried meals and set them apart in a pile. Next, he grabbed four packages of dry soup, four packages of instant oatmeal and four energy bars. “Ok.” He said, still talking to himself and pointing at the empty air, “I already have a pot on the travois, as well as our bowls and spoons.” Glen shed his hat and ran his fingers through the tangled remnants of his once-thick hair. He nodded and then pulled the tent poles and pegs from among the strewn equipment. Glen eyed the pile of food and gear and put his hat back on. “That’s not very much stuff.” Glen selected two pouches of instant juice and two packages of powdered milk and added then to the newly formed pile. “Ok. That should do it.” He said, stuffing the food and tent pegs into a mesh bag.

Still laying in the grass, slated to be left behind, was the remainder of the food they had thought to enjoy. The weary hiker placed the excess grub against the base of the Larch tree. He added their second pot and outback oven to the pile before scanning what remained. “We no longer need the folding saw either.” Glen paused to stare at the two piles, screwing up his face a little. “It looks like a peace offering to the god of claw marks!” Glen muttered sarcastically, looking up at the scarified the tree and then glancing around again. The small man frowned and blew out a breath. “I guess our lives are worth more than a bunch of replaceable stuff.”

The worn Scotsman stuffed the priority pile into Stan’s pack. The food and gear fit loosely. Glen gathered the rope from the tree and zipped it into the pack. Standing, the wiry man hefted the light pack from the ground onto his shoulders. He easily fastened the waist and shoulder straps and cinched them up. Then, sweeping the canyon with his eyes, he turned southward.

Beady, unblinking eyes continued to observe. The human rummaged on the ground a while. Then, suddenly, the small man arose and lifted the unusual item onto his back. With a fleeting backward glance, the human tramped away, leaving the bear to wonder what bizarre spectacle might next present itself. The grizzly sniffed at the air again. “I smell food.”

In Glen’s absence, Stan’s breathing had eventually returned to normal. The big man watched his friend hobble to the towering tree and lower the dangling backpack. The trussed man was tired, but not exhausted enough for fatigue to overcome his pain and send him into the blissful realms of slumber. In fact, his throbbing leg and ribs were making it difficult for him to even relax. Stan continued to stare after Glen. “My ordeal is not remotely near its conclusion!” The big man thought darkly. “Glen will return in a minute, and my pain will become unbearable once more.” In response to his thoughts, Stan let out a low groan. ”Steady Stan!” He tried to bolster his resolve. “Surviving takes precedence over pain right now!” The big man closed his eyes willing his thoughts to be positive. “You can make it Stan.”

After some time, Stan saw Glen rise from the dirt and put on the backpack. “My time to rest is just about over.” The big man closed his eyes again and tried to relax. “Dear God, please help me to survive this day!”