Saturday, January 29, 2011

"In Ravenscrag's Shadow" - Chapter 41

In Ravenscrag's Shadow
Davis L. Bigelow
Copyright 2011

Chapter 41
Glen grabbed the door handle and glanced skyward. Overhead, the afternoon sun was still shining, but that was about to change. Thick clouds were billowing in from the west and a fresh breeze was puffing their way. The exhausted Scotsman opened the door and plopped onto the driver’s seat. “It feels so good to sit on a soft seat!” He muttered. With a dirt-stained hand, he inserted the key and turned. “Yes!” Relief washed over him. The truck’s engine roared to life and settled into an easy idle.

As Glen emerged from the cab, a broad grin was plastered onto his ruddy face. Stan was smiling too. “Ok Stan, it’s time to leave.” Glen gripped the edge of the truck box and hopped towards the tailgate. “I’ll have you in the bed of your truck in a jiffy and then we’re finally going to high tail it for Midnight Lake.



“Try the… cell phone… first.”

Glen stopped, nodded, and dug into his fanny pack. The small man shook his head and frowned. “Why did I forget such an obvious thing?”

The phone came into view and Glen flipped it open. Stan waited, the top of his head towards Glen, his neck craning to see. “A helicopter ride to the emergency room would be much nicer than a bumpy ride in the back of my truck.” Stan thought as he waited for the phone to power up.

Glen blew out a sharp breath. “The phone’s dead!” His lips pursed tightly. As Glen stared off towards Skull Creek he shook his head again. “It looks like the phone drowned in the river.”

Stan considered, then replied, “Better it… than us.”

Glen stashed the dead phone and hopped to the head of the inclined travois. He bent down and crawled back underneath the front crossbar. Lifting the laden litter one final time, he drew it the last three feet. His smile was gone now, replaced by concentration. With the forward tips of the travois at the truck, Glen lifted them a little more than usual and set them on the tailgate. Half climbing, half crawling over the front crossbar, Glen gained the truck bed and prepared to hoist Stan in.

It was an epic struggle, but finally the top of the travois was most of the way into the truck bed. “We have a problem.” Glen puffed. “The travois is too wide to fit all the way into the bed. I’m going to have to take it apart and leave it here.”


“Not that we’ll need it again anyway.” He rationalized. “It’s just that it would be nice to get to our wives and get some help before we die of old age!” Glen sounded frustrated. His stomach growled and thirst gnawed at him.

Glen withdrew his Leatherman and snapped open a blade. “Since the tent’s obviously ruined, I guess cutting the cords won’t really matter that much.”

Stan regarded his friend. Between the two of them, they had begun their backpacking adventure with some nice equipment – equipment that was expensive. The big man frowned. He understood, but didn’t like it either. “You can… get a better… tent.” He wheezed, trying to apply a bit of healing salve to Glen’s wounds.

“Yeah, I know.” Glen muttered. “But I really liked this tent!” The sharp blade made short work of the lashings, its light slicing sounds nearly covered up by the breeze. “At this point, I guess any tent would be better than this one!”

Stan nodded.

Glen clamoured out of the truck. In seconds the travois poles lay scattered in the alpine grass. Glen then crawled back into the box and heaved Stan’s remaining bulk off the tailgate and fully into the truck‘s bed. “Finally!” The panting man muttered.

Glen stood erect, stretching. One hand sat on the roof of the cab, while the other massaged the lower regions of his sore back. They were almost there! Glen shut his eyes and breathed in a satisfying breath of alpine air. At his feet, Stan Calderbank lay prostrated on the softness of the sleeping mats, resting, at last in the bed of his truck. Miraculously, the mats had not been punctured during their ordeal. Glen looked down at his large friend, opening his eyes. “Well Big C?” Glen sounded optimistic for a change. “I think we’re ready to make like Skull Creek and flow quickly away.”


Glen looked up, preparing to make a calm exit from the bed of the truck when his eyes caught movement. He froze, an inaudible gasp caught in his throat. Glen’s blue eyes widened. His heart redlined. Up Wynyard Hill, following the trail the two hikers had just scraped into the alpine dirt, lumbered a silver-tipped shimmering mass of fur! Death was coming for them!

Without thinking, Glen propelled his alert body into the air, hands grabbing the edge of the truck box. Like an awkward gymnast at end of an intense performance, the wiry Scot rotated in the air and struck his good foot against the dirt. “Aaaaaah!” The jarring forces swept pain into his damaged ankle, but he mostly ignored it. Stan looked up, bewildered as Glen’s flushed face bounced towards the tailgate.

Terror shrieked in Glen’s frenzied mind. The muscles in his neck were bowstrings awaiting release. His fingers found the driver’s side edge of the tailgate. His bulging eyes never left the charging bruin. From his lower vantage point, all Glen could see of the animal was its massive hump. The bear’s thick hair undulated in the summer sunlight. It looked like a field of ripe grain in the wind. Then, exploding like a jack in the box, the beady eyes of the charging grizzly bear emerged above the edge of the hill.

Glen screamed! The tailgate flew upwards, slamming shut. Glen McPherson pivoted. His stormy eyes fixed on the door of the truck. “I should have left it open!” Determined hopping began in earnest. Then, with sudden abruptness, his foot struck the tip of a discarded travois pole.

Within the bed of the pickup truck, Stan Calderbank lay puzzling over Glen’s strange behaviour. The big man hauled his weary head off the soft sleeping mat, seeking understanding. Then, Stan heard the scream. His heart leaped into his throat. At his feet, the tailgate slammed. Glen’s stricken face turned his way. “Oh no!” he muttered. Like a deadly blow to the solar plexus, realization struck the big man. “Glen’s panic can only mean one thing!” Then the unthinkable happened. Glen’s bouncing, terror-twisted face fell forward and disappeared from sight.

Glen landed heavily. The dazed man was completely unprepared for the fall. His right hand was unceremoniously ripped from the edge of the truck bed while his left somehow got to the ground just before his face arrived. The strewn travois pole dug into the shin of his good leg. The wiry Scotsman rolled over and looked up. “I’m a dead man!”

Paralysed and helpless Stan felt the gentle vibration of the truck’s engine against his back. The view from his vantage point included just a few emerald-green treetops and the black insides of the truck box. He strained to hear, but the world beyond the truck had gone deathly silent. Then his blood ran cold. From just beyond the confines of his metal prison a mighty snarl vibrated the metal under his fingertips! “The grizzly!” Stan heard Glen scream again! “What’s happening?”

Stan Calderbank had never felt such intense frustration. He had never been so utterly powerless. “At least in the tent I was able to fight!” Stan clenched his jaws together and gripped the edge of the truck box. “I have to see!” The big man tried to hoist his shoulders into the fresh air, but the longest of the splints was still lashed firmly to his chest. His fingers flew to the knot. Thankfully, Glen had tied it like a shoelace. Glen screamed again. If it were even possible, this latest scream sounded even more desperate than the last. The knot came loose.

Stan Calderbank’s head and shoulders lifted. The big man’s eyes were wide and filled with terror. Blood pounded in his head. Over the edge of the truck bed the giant grizzly’s massive maw reared into the sky. Stan gasped. Then suddenly, Glen’s fingers slapped onto the black paint near Stan’s face. Big C gasped again! The struggling Scotsman’s face popped into view. There was a bright scarlet smear beginning at his nose and running across his right cheek! The distressed hiker was panting feverishly, but then he was gone.

The grizzly roared. This time, Stan’s gaze riveted on the ivory teeth glinting against the traces of blue that the dark clouds hadn’t quite painted out of the sky. Then the mighty growl died out. Stan heard wood hit steel. The grizzly dropped to all fours. The truck door slammed. The bear snarled again, but this time the sound came from just over the edge of the truck box from Stan’s upturned and unprotected face. “Would the bear climb into the truck bed?”

A powerful blow shook the pickup truck. Stan gasped again and sagged back onto his makeshift bed. His ribs and thigh were throbbing. “Have we come all this way just to die here?” The truck lurched. The engine died. A second blow struck the truck. “Oh God!” Stan prayed. “Please spare us!”

Saturday, January 22, 2011

"In Ravenscrag's Shadow" - Chapter 40

In Ravenscrag's Shadow
Davis L. Bigelow
Copyright 2011

Chapter 40
“Get up!” From some distant mountaintop, the sound floated into his mind. Like the feet of a tiny butterfly alighting on a rose petal, the sound caressed and soothed Glen’s water-soaked eardrums. “Get up!” Suddenly, the prostrated hiker’s eyes popped open. Through water-speckled glasses, he stared blankly at some strange plant that clung to the wet soil of the river bank.

“Ooooooh!” Glen moaned. His body was shivering uncontrollably. He tried to open his mouth to speak, but his tongue was an overstuffed sausage and his jaw was unresponsive. The waterlogged hiker fought to move his head, his arms, his legs, straining unsuccessfully against seized joints. He was a partially thawed Christmas turkey that had been rushed through the defrost phase of its existence by immersion in running water – except the water hadn’t melted his unyielding flesh, it had immobilised it! The small man’s mind reeled on the brink of oblivion. “Get up Glen!”

Finally, the determined Scotsman moved. He rose unsteadily to his knees, a disoriented tightrope walker without a safety net to catch him if he fell. Glen’s head lolled about atop his shoulders like a disjointed bobble-head figurine. “I haff ta mae a far.” He slurred. Glen’s brain was barely working but somehow he remembered that slurred speech was a sign of advanced hypothermia. Death was gently wrapping him in her lifeless embrace, lulling him to relax in her welcoming arms, coaxing him to sleep in silence. “No!” he muttered, resisting the inevitable. “I haff ta mae a far!”

From his kneeling position, Glen could see a small nest of deadfall on the riverbank. The clutch of smashed branches and shredded bark appeared to have been washed there by a spring flood and then left to parch in the summer sun. The nest of limbs was far enough from any trees or other flammable materials to do the job Glen required. The determined Scot eyed the potential fuel for the lifesaving bonfire he and Stan required if they were to remain alive. He tried to grin, but his face was senseless. “If I can just get a fire going.” Glen thought through his haze of hypothermia. He took a deep breath. Then, with superhuman effort, the soggy Scotsman abandoned the travois and crawled towards the deadfall.

Bruised knees drug in the dirt. Gloved hands clawed forward. Inch by inch Glen closed the distance between himself and the nest of deadfall. Soon, he was keeling again, sitting on his heels and digging out his match container and fire starter kit.

Beside the shivering hiker lay his soggy gloves. Glen puffed a few warm breaths on his unresponsive fingers and went to work on the lid of the watertight match container. Finally Glen had a dry match ready and a wax-impregnated cotton ball squished into a thin patty. He placed the ball under a few thins sticks and struck the match.

A tiny yellow ball of fire erupted from the tip of the thin wood, sending a miniature ball of heat past Glen’s downturned face. The smell of sulphur briefly filled his nostrils and then was gone. Anticipation flooded the small man. “Cuuu-mmmon!” He shivered, his jaw chattering like a steel wheel over gravel. Between his senseless fingers, the match quivered and nearly went out. Then the wax ignited. A growing flame licked hungrily at bits of fractured fuel above it. “Cuuu-mmmon!” Glen slurred again, trying to will the fire into being. He pushed a few tiny branches over the fragile flame, and the pile began to burn. Then, like an injection of morphine to a trembling addict, heat took over Glen McPherson’s world, overwhelming him, wrapping him, filling him with indescribable relief.

Before the blaze, like an albino shaman in a fictitious nether world, Glen McPherson began to strip, shedding his wet clothing and exposing his numb skin to the growing warmth. When the goose-bumped man was down to just his underwear, and his skin had finally dried, he pulled his waterlogged boots back on and headed for Stan.

The litter rested on the dirt some twenty feet from the fire, its lower shredded tips of green wood still protruding over the swirling stream of Skull Creek. Big C lay motionless between the long poles. “Stan?” Glen crawled up to the big man and shook him.

Stan Calderbank’s eyes fluttered open. Glen grinned from ear to ear. “You’re alive!” Stan grunted, his voice barely audible above the rushing creek. Glen could feel the fire’s heat on his bare back, but he was still shivering. “I have to get you closer to the fire.”

With that, Glen crawled to the head of the litter and began dragging his big friend across the weed-punctuated dirt. In another minute, both men were basking in the intense heat.

Glen helped Stan out of his boots, socks and shirt, but removing the big man’s pants was not an option. “I’m going to use an emergency blanket to help warm us.” Glen said, pulling the scuffed, dripping Mylar from his fanny pack. As Glen held it up, the blanket’s reflective surface bounced heat onto their pale hypothermic bodies. Glen gazed down at Stan and chuckled.


“It’s just that you look like a small Beluga whale in a giant reflector oven.”

“Ow!” Stan said, beginning to feel deliverance from the icy grip of a watery grave. “Don’t make… me laugh.”

“Sorry.” Glen offered, but continued a silent smile. The small man propped up the Mylar with a branch and then scuttled off. He laid out their clothing to dry before employing his own reflective blanket. With the immediate crisis passed and the sun finally beginning to burn off the fog, Glen collapsed beside his friend. “Too bad we didn’t think to bring a pot and some hot chocolate.”

“You could… go back across?”

Glen McPherson eyed his big friend, tilting his head a little to one side before responding. “I would,” he finally said, a smirk on his face, “but my boots are still wet.”

Nearly an hour passed in unspoken silence. Radiant heat from the bonfire began to force the chill from their bones, and finally, the men had to retreat a little from the blaze. “It feels good to be warm again!” Glen said. Stan nodded, but managed to add a smile to the exchange before his face again resumed a slack expression. The big man was warm, but his pains hadn’t been washed away.

For the next hour, Glen held piece after piece of wet clothing between himself and the fire, waiting until each began to steam before selecting the next one. The sun finally poked through the fog to add its warmth, but the enormous bed of crimson coals did the majority of the work. Soon, the dark stains of water in the fabric gave way and the clothing’s colour grew lighter.

“Good thing I listened to you.” Glen said, rubbing at his empty stomach. “If we hadn’t brought the water filter, we’d be in more trouble than we already are.” Stan nodded and Glen crawled to the creek to get a much-needed drink.

The battered Scotsman sat on the bank of Skull Creek, right leg out over the raging rapids, the water purifier’s intake hose dangling into the current over his bare foot, his hands methodically pumping. Glen’s nervous gaze slowly swept the distant tree line. They were at least a hundred feet downstream from their previous night‘s campsite. He shook his head. “I still can’t believe we’re alive!”

Goose bumps swarmed Glen’s muscled chest and then disappeared into the sunlight. He continued to pump. His left ankle throbbed mercilessly and the battered hiker stared down at it. The blue and purple skin looked like some dismal Vincent Van Goth painting, created on a day when the master painter was unusually downcast and dejected. Glen shuddered. “Heavenly Father?” His prayer came out as a whisper, swallowed by the sounds of the surging stream. “Thank thee for helping me and Stan to get across this river.” The small man’s eyes took in the bonfire, and he continued to speak. “Thank thee for preparing that pile of wood and twigs so I could start a fire so easily.” Unbidden tears rose and began to weep out onto his ruddy cheeks. It was painfully obvious that the two men were alive only by the grace of God.

Five minutes passed before Glen McPherson was crawling again, carrying a pump water pouch toward his big friend.

“Hey Big C?” Glen sounded a little more upbeat. Stan’s eyes met his. “I think I can still pull you without my crutch.” A look of curiosity flickered across the big man’s face, but he remained resigned to listen. If I lean on the front support of the travois, I should be able to make it work.

Stan nodded his understanding. His breathing was shallow. His face was drawn. After a pregnant pause, he spoke. “Are the clothes… dry enough?”

“I think so.”

“Then… let’s go.”

Glen scuttled in the glow of the coals, relishing in the final minutes of heat. He dressed first and then worked on Stan. With the Mylar blankets again gathered into his fanny pack, the water drank and the pump refastened to the litter, the small man took up his position of draft horse.

Without his crutch, Glen balanced on one leg and then bent down and hoisted the head of the travois into the alpine air. Gravity swung the front support into a vertical position and Glen let the litter’s weight settle onto it. Pushing downward on the front cross bar with both hands, the determined Scot shuffled his right foot forward a little and then simultaneously lifted and pulled forward. The travois slid ahead nearly a foot. “It looks like this is going to work.” He called out. Behind him, Stan smiled with relief. “Looks like we have about five hundred yards to go!”

Stan’s thoughts were both bitter and sweet as he watched the river slowly retreat. “I’m glad to be rid of you!” He thought as he eyed the raging, glaciated waters of Skull Creek churn relentlessly by. Raw memories of his helplessness in the churning river haunted his thoughts. In spite of the ordeals of the past several days he had never faced certain death before. But today he had. The terror he felt in the river had eclipsed everything. In that prolonged moment of distress, his life had paraded before him. The big man had experienced a rush of gratitude for good deeds done and a rush of regret for things left undone. How Glen had pulled him to safety he didn’t know. “Truly, it was a miracle.” While Glen had been drying their clothes and boots, the big man had offered a silent, but sincere prayer of his own. God had given his life back to him and Stan knew it. “God gave life back to us both!”

For several minutes, Glen struggled forward across the relatively level riverbank. His intense blue eyes fixed the top of Wynyard Hill. “You’re almost there!” he muttered under his breath. “You can do this.” In spite of the self-fabricated, psych up success speech, Glen McPherson knew the truth. Pulling his large friend up this final grade would be tough – perhaps even the toughest test of the week. The small man stopped to rest and to catch his breath. The water he had consumed was already feeling used up and his empty stomach housed no fresh power for the small man’s abused muscles.

“Hey Big C, you’d better get your good foot against the bottom crossbar for this hill.”


“I can’t leave you now, so close to the truck and all!” A vision of Stan sliding off the travois played across the stage of Glen’s mind. In spite of their sombre situation, he grinned. “Of course, if you did slide off, it would be so much easier for me!”

Stan smirked and shook his head. “You’d like that… wouldn’t you?”

The men were silent for a few seconds as the brief moment of humour was absorbed into the fleeing fog that still clung to the tallest tree tops of Wynyard Hill. Finally Glen spoke. “Not really.” He said. “We’ve come this far. No point in quitting now!”

Stan’s smile faded, and two tiny rivulets ran down his cheeks. In the past five days, his tenacious friend had saved his life more times than he could count. His debt to Glen McPherson was too large to ever repay. Stan stared absently off into space. “I would have done the same for him though!” Fresh tears spilled over the big man’s lower eyelids. With a large hand, Stan wiped at his face and then pressed the foot of his god leg against the lower bar of the travois. Hope filled his heart and the big man’s mind found the face of his devoted wife. “I’ll be home soon Alida!” He took a shallow breath and let it out slowly. “I’ll be home soon and things will be better between us.”

Well over an hour of puffing, panting, sweating and straining passed before Glen spied the truck. The exterior, of the sought after vehicle, was covered in rain-splattered dust. The ebony paint bore the haunted look of ten thousand chicken pox scars, but the struggling hiker didn’t care. All that mattered was the fact that they were nearly saved!

Ten additional minutes saw Stan laying quietly on the inclined travois atop the grassy knoll that marked the highest point of Wynyard Hill. Glen knelt at his head, panting hard while fumbling in his fanny pack for the precious truck key. As battered hands and knees crawled for the ignition an unspoken thought ran through the minds of both hikers. Neither man however, dared give the dour thought a voice. “I just hope the truck starts.”

As Glen McPherson plunged the key into the door lock and turned, four hairy feet approached the bank of Skull Creek and came to a halt. Five hundred yards below the oblivious hikers, twin beady eyes scrutinized the embers of the dying bonfire before finally gazing upwards at Wynyard Hill. “Where are those human’s now?” The bruin paused for only a brief moment longer, sniffing at the moist alpine air. Then silver-tipped hair felt the icy sting of Skull Creek as the grizzly boldly stepped into the water.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

"In Ravenscrag's Shadow" - Chapter 39

In Ravenscrag's Shadow
Davis L. Bigelow
Copyright 2011

Chapter 39

“Glen?” Lillie’s voice floated into his ears. The sunlight dazzled her delicate features and caused her hair to catch fire. “Come on Glen.” Lillie was running across a verdant meadow of green. The vivacious redhead stopped and turned. “Hurry Glen!” She called again. Her smile was alluring. Glen willed his legs to move, but they were like firmly rooted oak trees. “I’m trying.” He called back. Lillie began to run again. Her graceful form danced across the lush grass, but Glen could not seem to move. Cords constricted around his heart as he watched his beloved wife fade into the distance. The exhausted Scotsman thrashed in his sleep and then went still once again.

Muted morning light finally seeped softly through the holes in the tent, dappling the two weary men with splashes of illumination as they fitfully slumbered. Above the shredded tent, the sky was completely hidden from view. A thick blanket of fog hung in the alpine air, obscuring the plentiful overhang of tree limbs. The moist murk seemed determined to remain attached to every leaf and blade of grass it could touch.

Stan’s eyes popped open. The big man hadn’t meant to fall asleep. “Glen?” Came his harsh whisper. “Are you asleep?” The wiry Scotsman stirred, then drew in a sharp breath of the humid air.

“What? No.” Glen shook his head and then opened his eyes unusually wide as if trying to stretch his eyelids. Suddenly, a powerful yawn contorted the small man’s stubbled face. “Ok.” He finally conceded. “Maybe I was asleep.” The small man peered out through the nearest overhead hole and scowled. “I must have been asleep. I was dreaming again, except this time it wasn’t very nice.”


“Did you hear the bear again?” Glen asked, now wide-awake and worried.

“Not a sound.”

“I still can’t believe we chased it off like that. I thought we were dead men!”

“Me too.” Came the wheezy reply.

Glen pulled his feet out of his sleeping bag and donned his clothes. “Well, my friend…” Glen sounded a little playful as he buckled his belt. “If that bear comes back now, at least I can outrun you.”

“You mean… out limp me!” Stan countered adding his own efforts to the stress relieving humour. The truth was however, that the tension was like the fog that hung over their tent – thick, oppressive and inescapable!

The small man laughed as he unzipped the tent door, but then cut his chuckle to silence. “Aw!” He chortled. “What is this?” Glen picked up one of his boots and displayed it to Stan. A large portion of the boot’s tongue was missing, obviously gnawed away by some animal. Stan face reflected Glen’s scowl.

“It must have… been a squirrel… or something.”

“Disgusting creature!” Glen glared at the boot, fingering the ragged edge of the padded leather tongue. “I guess it could be worse.” He rationalized. “At least I can still wear the boot!” The tired Scot blew out a breath and pulled on his footwear.

With all the food gone, their morning rituals took less time than usual. Glen McPherson hustled to get the tent off of Stan. “Ok Big C.” He said. “Time to get onto your chariot.

“After I go… to the bathroom.” The big man groaned.


Fifteen minutes later, still under the thick grey repression of fog, Stan Calderbank was nearly back in his place atop the tent. “Almost there!” Glen encouraged, tugging once again on the sleeping mat and sliding it a little more. “We’re definitely going home today!”

When the mat, and its prone human cargo, were finally positioned on the flattened tent, the struggling Scotsman wrestled the travois back into its place. Punctuated by furtive glances in all directions, the wary Scotsman attended to his work. In minutes, Glen’s practiced fingers tightened the ripped tent back onto the travois.

With the litter ready, Glen hobbled to retrieve the hanging backpack. Stepping over the strewn tent poles, the determined man untied the rope and let the pack drop to the dirt. He withdrew a water pouch and took a deep draught. “Ahhhhh! That’s nice!” Dropping the pouch back inside, Glen shouldered the backpack and limped over to Stan and spoke evenly. “Hey Big C, you’d better have a drink before we go.”

The big man was still panting from his bathroom and repositioning ordeal. “Ok.” He said and reached out a hand to accept the half full pouch. Glen watched as his friend swallowed the cool liquid.

“I think we’d better leave as much stuff as we can.” Glen said, obviously still thinking about their escape plan. The small man’s eyes mechanically swept the perimeter of their campsite. “The less we have on the travois to get caught in the current, the better.” Stan continued to drink, but nodded his approval and grunted slightly. “We’ll send someone back to get our things.” Glen’s eyes swept the edge of the trees. “Right now, all I wana do is get us to the truck and find some help.”

Stan stopped drinking. “Just remember… the cell phone… and keys.”

“I’ll put them in my fanny pack.”

Glen rummaged in the backpack and held up the trophy. “Here are our tickets out of here.” He said, trying to mask the tiredness in his voice. The small man zipped the phone and keys into his fanny pack and looked around again. The fog was still low, but beginning to lift. “At least I can see across Skull Creek.” He muttered to himself. The fact was, a bear could be napping in the bushes on the opposite bank and Glen still wouldn’t be able to spot him. In the distance, the foaming bank was just barely visible. The proximity of Stan’s unseen pickup truck fuelled his strange sense of optimism. The determined Scotsman drew in a full breath and pushed it out past pursed lips. He shook his head and prepared to move. “I feel like a paranoid homing pigeon!”

Glen paused for long enough to stuff the strewn tent poles into the top of the open pack and then turned to face Stan. “Should I leave the water and pump too?”

“You could put… one pouch and… the pump… beside me.” He wheezed. “We’re not there… yet.”

The small man’s brow furrowed, but he nodded silently. In seconds, Glen had the full water pouch and the nylon bag, containing the pump secured to the free end of the topmost tent string on the travois. “There.” He said. “Now let’s get outa Dodge before the big gun comes back to town!”

With that, Glen McPherson zipped up his faithful red backpack and tossed it to the edge of the wide trail. “We’ve sure wrecked a lot of our equipment.” He observed aloud. “I hope some bear doesn’t rip our packs to shreds before we can get someone to retrieve them for us.”

Stan said nothing. He agreed, but a few lost items were infinitely less precious than their lives. The big man’s eyes followed Glen as he hobbled to the head of the litter. He heard the wiry Scot grunt as he bent down to pick it up.



“Let’s have prayer… before we go.”

Glen knelt at the head of the litter while Stan lay quietly behind him. Glen’s pleading words carried over the rush of the nearby creek.

In moments, the heartfelt prayer was concluded. Feeling marginally refreshed from their night’s sleep, and buoyed by the prayer, the two battered and humbled hikers set out. Stan watched as the litter pivoted his limp body under the grey dawn. There was a strange smearing of colours. Streaks of muted greens and browns mysteriously blended with the brooding, translucent haze. Then, the big man felt his head fall towards the ground. Above his head, he heard Glen gasp and moan. The river crossing had begun.

It seemed to take forever before the rear tips of the fourteen-foot travois reached the damp dirt that marked the bank of Skull Creek. As the shredded tips of green wood slipped downward into the water, Stan wondered something very strange. “Why is this river called Skull Creek?” Then, with shocking abruptness, the question, like dirt in a gold miner’s sluice box was swept away by the clear water.

Ahead of the big man, Glen McPherson struggled against the powerful current. The raging waters of Skull Creek surged and swirled about his legs and the two crutches. Progress was slow, but he was moving. Glen’s good foot slid unsteadily on the thin coatings of algae that clung to the submerged and unstable river rocks. “My legs!” He muttered under his breath, screwing up his face and gritting his teeth. The small man’s legs were rapidly losing feeling and he had only just begun the crossing.

The determined Scotsman fixed his stare on the opposite riverbank. It was one hundred feet away, but it might have been a million miles! “Come on Glen!” He hissed through clenched teeth. “You can make it!” Glen felt the rear of the travois drop into the river. Then, suddenly, the river took hold.

“Ahhhhh!” Water coursed and surged about Stan Calderbank instantly soaking him through. All his aches and pains drowned as frigid waters wrapped about his body, suffocating him in a watery cocoon. There was no veiled promise of mercy here! Skull Creek boiled over the big man, its glaciated droplets of death splashing onto his face. The litter lurched ahead. “Oh God!” Stan puffed aloud. “Help me… to survive… this river.”

The tips of the travois headed downstream, dragged by the frothing current. The inflated mattresses, that cradled Stan, began to rise. For Glen, the litter was nearly weightless, but another problem quickly demanded his attention. The small man had to keep the travois from pulling him off his feet and sweeping them both downstream.

“If you fall, you’ll both die!” The terrifying thought was demanding, insistent, and reeked the acrid, stultifying scent of intolerable truth! Powerless to resist it, the anxious warning echoed through the empty corridors of Glen’s mind, and refused to fade.

“Hold on Stan!” Glen shouted. The roar of rapids diluted the small man’s voice like water does thin soup, but Stan heard the struggling Scotsman anyway. Glen pivoted his body to accommodate the river’s pull.

Big C’s white knuckles clung frantically to the travois. The litter’s stout poles now made up the rigid portion of his hull and provided the only stability within reach. The travois had transformed into an unexpected life raft! Stan grimaced, his head still miraculously above water. “At least I’m not drowning!”

Hour long seconds trickled by, and with the passing of each one, the struggling hikers floundered. The menacing river gave no quarter. Rushing, glaciated waters penetrated further and further into the flesh of each man. Then, its icy grip went after their bones.

Inch by inch, the far bank of Skull Creek drew nearer. It would have been a faster crossing if Glen could have hobbled directly across, but that was an impossibility. The best the wiry Scot could do was to maintain a heading of about 45 degrees to the current.

Breathing hard, Glen McPherson willed his good leg to pull. The small man and his hapless raft lurched onward. Fifty feet left. Forty feet left. Thirty feet left. From his thigh down, all feeling was gone.

“Ahhhhh!” Glen’s water-anaesthetize foot slipped and he went down. Suddenly, everything began to move in slow motion. “No!” He heard himself scream, but his pathetic sound was drowned out by the raging river. Glen’s mouth filled with chilled water. His eyes were wide with terror. The small man’s hind parts struck the slippery riverbed. The merciless river tore at his body. Then, before he could break his fall, water boiled over his head!

Big C felt Glen collapse. The big man’s face went white as his mind released a clear message to his body. “This is it!” As the roiling waters of Skull Creek powered over him, he drew in as big a breath as he could. He wouldn’t go down without a fight, but he was virtually helpless. Stan’s eyes stared up at the morass of murk smothering the landscape. For a prolonged moment, the big man noticed the wispy gauze that reached out from the ragged bottom of the overhead fog as it attempted to brush against his upturned face. The fog was spectral, a phantom reaching with gentle tendril-like fingers to claim the stricken hiker. Then, the nightmare took a turn for the worse. The litter went into full reverse. It was picking up speed. “Alida!” Stan moaned. Then, Stan’s helpless head was buried in the rapids! “Oh God, not yet! Please not yet!”

From the protection of the thick evergreens that rimmed the northern bank of Skull Creek, the large bruin stared at the surging stream. His black eyes were fixed on the strange spectacle. The human and his human cargo were bobbing up and down in the water like pieces of driftwood during the spring runoff. Silver-tipped hair caressed the press of foliage that camouflaged the massive bear as he watched. The Grizzly’s encounter with the two men in the tent had been painful, but with the coming of dawn, curiosity had prevailed. He would not be cowed a second time by these puny humans!

At the head of the travois, Glen McPherson’s fingers raked at the slimy riverbed. Sputtering, the struggling Scotsman fought for breath. The front bar of the travois pressed into the small man’s stomach, dragging him forcefully backwards. Hiking boot heels and unprotected hind parts scraped and bumped unceremoniously across the slippery, submerged rocks. Glen’s injured ankle begged for relief. Suddenly, the small man’s backside hit a high spot in the riverbed. Glen was propelled upwards. His lips found air, but the moment didn’t last. As the small man frantically tore against the turbulence, he slid off the boulder. Icy water again boiled onto Glen face. “Dear God help me.”

Holding a precious breath of air, Glen took firm hold of the travois’s crossbar and flexed every muscle in his midsection. The wiry Scot pivoted his legs downstream and twisted his body until his stomach faced the river bed. His traumatized ankle bawled. His concentration was all consuming. He knew what was required. “If I don’t find my footing fast, we’re both dead men!”

Face downward and still buried in the frothy fray, Glen McPherson dug the tips of his hiking boots into the riverbed. His feet shuddered, stuttering over the slippery stones. Fire filled his injured ankle, but he blocked it out with all the mental power he could muster. The travois stopped! Glen struggled to stand, pulling his shoulders clear of the raging river and gasping for breath. A mighty upward pull lifted the head of the litter clear of the river. Behind him, Stan Calderbank sputtered and coughed.

Like a lone fence post in a brutal prairie blizzard, Glen McPherson stood stoically in Skull Creek. His chest heaved for breath! His crutch was gone! His hat was gone! His body was numb! Somehow, he was still alive!

The determined Scotsman glanced around. The southern bank of Skull creek was only fifteen feet away. “Are you Ok?” He panted.

“Yeah.” Stan wheezed.

“I have to crawl the rest of the way out of this river.”

“OK… just let… me catch… my breath…first”

“Me too.” Glen replied, hyperventilating hard. The small man shook his head. His muscles were close to failing from hypothermia. “We might make it out of the river alive” he thought, “but surviving the next half an hour will be the real trick!” He looked down at his waist. “At least I still have my fire starting kit!”

“Alright Big C, are you ready?”


Glen sucked in a deep breath and dropped to his knees. Froth, from the closest rapids, lathered his stubbled chin as it plunged into the river once more. Head down, travois crossbar pressing against his stomach, Glen scratched and scrambled forward with all his might. Eternity passed, but Glen’s numb bald spot finally struck the earthen bank. On hands and knees, a dripping apparition rose from the deadly waters into the hanging fog, dragging the litter behind him. Glen shut his eyes in concentration. As the laden litter lifted from the river, it’s weight returned. The spent Scot heard Stan sputter and cough once again. In spite of their perilous predicament, Glen grinned for a split second before sagging to the dirt.

Several precious seconds passed. The two soggy hikers lay panting and shivering on the southern bank of Skull Creek. Across the boiling water, twin beady eyes stared on.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

"In Ravenscrag's Shadow" - Chapter 38

In Ravenscrag's Shadow
Davis L. Bigelow
Copyright 2011
Chapter 38

Darkness squeezed every spec of light from the tree-covered landscape. The stars came out to play, trying in vain to illuminate the lonely tent sitting beside the frothy mountain stream. In several more hours, the moon would arrive to assist the stars. For now, however, the world was murky and shadowless.

Glen McPherson and Stan Calderbank lay in silent slumber. Outside the thin, ripped walls of their meagre accommodation churned Skull Creek, its turbulent waters roaring in the night and blocking out any other sound.

“Look at all the amazing flowers” Lillie exclaimed, music in her lilting voice. She turned her dazzling smile on Glen. He met her piercing gaze. His heart fluttered. Lillie wore a lacy white blouse and a full skirt, bearing the pattern of the Royal Scottish House of Stewart. The blood reds, forest greens, royal blues, coal blacks, golden yellows and pure whites, delicately woven together in a pleasing plaid pattern, flowed around her hips as she danced through the field of knee-high flowers. She was breathtakingly beautiful! All around her, crimson and gold wild flowers flourished in the hot sun. Blue-green mountains back dropped the alpine floral display. A calm lake shimmered in the valley below them. This was nature at its finest and his Lillie was like a sparkling diamond that completed the jewellery! Glen ran to catch up to his exuberant wife.

Warm air was filled with the sweet scent of blossoms. The delightful sounds of her voice filled his ears. Lillie’s soft hand was in his. His sweetheart pressed against his side. Glen was in love.

Lillie leaned into him, her face close. “I love you.” She breathed. Then, her tender lips brushed his. Glen kissed her back, lost in her embrace, his very life entwined around hers. Life could not be better than this!

Suddenly, the scene began to peel away. As new images materialized, Glen found himself sitting across a food-laden table from Lillie. He looked around, trying to orient himself. “Where are we?” His searching eyes settled on a menu. It sat on the table next to him. Tornea’s Authentic Mexican Restaurant was emblazoned in rich gold lettering on the deep red leather of the menu cover. He smiled to himself. Glen McPherson was Scottish to the bone, but he dearly loved Mexican cuisine.

Glen stared down. In front of him sat a colourful plate of enchiladas topped with melted cheese, a proliferation of jalapeno slices, green onions, and red tomato chunks, all smothered in thick scarlet salsa with a side of guacamole. Spicy rice filled one edge of the sumptuous looking platter while a cluster of purple tortilla chips graced the opposite edge. The meal smelled incredible! Glen smiled at Lillie and picked up his fork.

In the darkness within the tent, Stan Calderbank’s eyes fluttered open. His broken leg throbbed and his good leg demanded to be wiggled. The big man shifted a little. Pain shot through him. He winced. The big man squeezed his eyes shut and tried not to cry out. When the lancing pain finally subsided, Stan opened his eyes once more. Above him, twinkling through a rip in the tent’s ceiling, were stars. The slash was only a few inches in length, but with the moon still hidden, a brilliant swath of the Milky Way galaxy was visible. The big man gazed longingly at the sky. “What a show Mother Nature can put on!”

All of a sudden, the stars winked out. It was strange. It was as if a cloud had leaped across the sky and eclipsed the small smattering of starlight. It was then that Stan smelled a foul stench.

Glen dug his fork into an enchilada. His mouth watered in anticipation. The food touched his lips. “Oh it was so spicy!” The Scotsman choked on the piquancy. Fire exploded in his mouth. The inferno tore into his unprepared nasal passages. He could feel the heat in his ear canals! How could food be so hot? Glen dropped his fork and looked around. Beside him, at the next table, the patrons were just getting their order delivered by a group of waiters. Without warning, the lead waiter tripped. The poor man was carrying a platter of flaming hot goose. “What?” The oven bronzed bird was actually on fire!

Big C sniffed at the putrid air, an unspoken question demanding a response. “What is that?” The hair on the back of Stan’s neck stood on end. “Something’s definitely not right!”

Pandemonium broke loose in the restaurant. A man, at the neighbouring table jumped to his feet. His cloths were burning. Glen McPherson’s eyes popped out of his head. A shriek erupted from the flaming man’s mouth! Glen sat paralysed in his chair. His hands flew to cover his ears. The frenzied, flaming man was at least ten feet away, yet the scream seemed to be just inches from Glen’s head.

Glen choked awake. Beside him, Stan was screaming. The stinging taste of pepper spray filled the night air. Glen rolled towards the big man. “Where’s the flashlight?” Its LED bulb glowed against Stan’s sleeping bag. Glen snatched it up. Above the roar of the nearby river, he could hear a deep rumble. It was like rolling thunder! Glen aimed the flashlight’s beam towards the sound. His stinging eyes bulged out! He drew a sharp breath of terror and choked on it! Even with his glasses off, the small man knew what was happening. Through a hole in the tent roof poked the enormous snout of a bear!

Glen’s flashlight beam glinted off massive moist nostrils. They were black and flaring violently. A multitude of fine blonde-coloured hairs rimmed the tip of the bruin’s snout. The low, thunderous sound of extreme displeasure emanated from closed jaws and seemed to refract and echo past massive ivory fangs that barely showed against creamy red gums. Stan had already discharged some of the pepper spray. The burning flavour of capsicum filled the air around the two men, choking them. In his panicked state, the pepper spray had missed the bear and hit the tent roof instead. When Stan had groped desperately for the bottle, he had inadvertently dropped the flashlight. The horror-struck hiker had fired blind.

“Shoot him!” yelled the frenzied Scotsman, now wide-awake. Glen had never had a near-death experience before, but he was having one now! The flashlight trembled in his hand, strobe lighting the snout of the carnivore and casting disturbing shadows on the tent’s fabric. Glen groped frantically for the hatchet, unable to take his eyes off the bear. Stan squeezed the trigger. In the feeble flashlight’s glow, the broken hiker’s aim was deadly. A wicked torrent of crimson pepper spray hit the bear. The fiery liquid splattered against the black, flaring nostrils. The powerful propellant forced some of the stream right up its quivering nose!

The grizzly bear’s silver-tipped head jerked and then pushed further into the tent, tearing the nylon fabric like a sledgehammer through rice paper. Finally! Glen’s fingers closed about the carbon fibre handle of the hatchet. The bruin’s formidable jaws opened wide. The wavering light revealed a double row of tarnished white teeth. Saliva ran down a gigantic red tongue. A pink lower lip stuck out in a pout and started to gyrate. The grizzly let out a mighty roar. It sounded like a locomotive speeding down a gravel road at a hundred miles an hour. The sound was deafening! Putrid breath, blended with the thick scent of pepper spray, filled the tent. Stan nearly wretched. The deadly, gaping jaws were less than two feet from his unprotected face.

The big man could feel the discharge of hot fetid air as it ripped from the depths of the beast. Bear spittle spewed out, landing unceremoniously on Stan’s exposed face. The big man started to heave, but by sheer will power, he held back the surge. His kind-featured face contorted. He was nauseated and he was terrified. Gone was the throbbing in his leg and ribs. Stan’s life was about to end and all he could do was lay there, helpless!

“Shoot him again!” Glen screamed, trying to mount a counter attack. The wiry Scotsman squirmed to his knees and brought up his weapon. Glen was nearly blind from the stinging cloud of pepper spray. His breathing was distressed. The leather sheath still protected the hatchet’s honed blade, but there was no time to remove it.

Stan yelled again. It was the cry of a man about to die. It was the cry of a fearless warrior not willing to give any quarter until his heart beat for the very last time. It was the cry of a hero of legend.

The big man squeezed the trigger, nearly denting the bottle with his vice-like grip. A torrent of pepper spray drenched the entire insides of the grizzly’s gaping maw. Stan held the trigger until the bottle ran dry, but his thumb refused to release. At that same instant, Glen dropped the flashlight and crushed the carbon fibre handle in both fists. A battle cry, worthy of his ancestry, ripped from his stinging throat.

The hatchet came down with bone breaking force. Glen’s hands vibrated violently as the inertia was absorbed by the bear’s skull. The giant grizzly roared again. Glen struck again. In an instant, the mild mannered Scotsman became a crazed captured creature. Adrenalin pumped wildly through his bloodstream. He would not cringe in a corner. He would fight for life or die trying. Like a mighty machine, Glen rained blows down on the bear’s head. Their pepper spray was gone. They had only one weapon left.

The bruised grizzly roared again. Stan detached his hand from the empty spray bottle, his brain reeling for more options. Suddenly he remembered Glen’s crutch. Above him Glen’s frantic face was a blur in the near blackness. Stan groped in the darkness. In a split second, his powerful fingers closed around the wooden shaft of the crutch and into the fray it flew. The big man blinked hard, trying to douse the fire from his eyes. The feeble light lay on the floor, but in the near blackness at the ceiling, Stan could still see a little. With all the strength he could muster, the big man swung the tip of the crutch. It struck the grizzly on the throat. Beside him, Stan heard Glen’s ragged breathing punctuated by coughing. He could hear the dull thuds of leather-protected steel on fur-covered bone. He swung the crutch again. If the grizzly wanted them, the ferocious beast was going to pay dearly first! Again Stan swung. The solid wooden crutch sunk one last time into the soft, unprotected target.

Then suddenly, it happened. White pinpoints of light appeared through the hole in the tent’s ceiling. Glen swung the hatchet, but missed. The inertia caused him to fall forward. His souped-up body landed on Stan’s stomach and the hatchet head tore wildly through the tent wall, harmlessly digging into the dirt outside. Just beyond him, branches and twigs snapped mercilessly. Then, the rushing waters of Skull Creek swallowed up the sounds of the bear’s rapid retreat.

The winded Scotsman pulled himself off of the big man. His mind reeled. “What a rude awakening!” he muttered, coughing some more. “I can’t believe we’re still alive?” Beside him, Stan panted and moaned. Glen gasped for air, reeling from his swim in swirling capsicum.

“Are you hurt?” Glen rasped, grabbing up the flashlight and setting the hatchet down on the tent floor.

“No!” Stan gasped. “But I… think I… wet myself!”

Glen laughed. It was more born of nervousness than humour, but the laugh just got out before the small man could stop it.

“Are you… ok?” Stan asked.

“Yeah.” Glen panted. “I can’t believe we’re still alive!” he said again. The massive hole Glen had torn in the tent was rapidly clearing the cloud of pepper spray. The Scotsman drew a deep breath of pure night air and held it for a second. His heart was pounding, threatening to jump right through his heaving ribcage. “I’ve wrecked the tent.” He said finally, pointing the flashlight towards the massive rip.

Stan turned to see. “Oh my!”

“So much for a good night’s sleep.” Glen remarked, finally regaining some of his humour. “And I was having such a nice dream too!”

Stan let out a breathy laugh, moaning and then nodding. The big man brought his arm up and consulted his watch. “Almost four.” He stated.

Glen thought a moment. “The sun will be up in three more hours.” He said. “And the moment we can see, I want to leave this awful place!” Glen sounded as determined as the big man had ever heard him sound.

“Sounds good… to me.” Stan agreed.

“I’m surprised that that bear left without a bigger fight! If it returns, I’d wager that it won’t back down again!”

Big C nodded, but said nothing. His ribs throbbed, aggravated from swinging the crutch, not to mention the tensing of more muscles than he knew he had. His increased heart rate caused his fractured femur to pulsate and burn. The wetness, now cooling at his crotch, was irritating, but all the big man could do was to lie still and hope for better events with the coming of the dawn.

“We’d better stay awake until we can get out of here in the light of day.” Glen said. “If that grizzly returns, an extra second or two of warning might save us again.”

“I doubt… I can sleep.”

“Me neither.”