Saturday, November 20, 2010

"In Ravenscrag's Shadow" - Chapter 31

In Ravenscrag's Shadow
By
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.”

“Ok”

“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.”

“Ok.”

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!”

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