During the night the weather began to change. The wind began to pick up and soon had dispersed the fog, but with the wind came dark gray clouds, the type of clouds that carried snow. Sometime after 2:00 am, flakes of snow began to fall; big wet ones that melted almost as soon as they hit. The temperature began to drop and soon the snow was starting to stick instead of melt.
He shivered slightly in his sleep, oblivious to the change occurring around him. He clutched the liner closer to him and rolled onto his side, drifting back into a deeper sleep. And while he slept, the world grew white.
The morning sun dawned on a different world. The grey of early winter had been replaced with white, sending nature notice that it was time to adapt to a new set of rules. Birds and small mammals must now search in earnest for their daily sustenance.
Plop! The sound of snow sliding off his shelter brought him to the REM sleep stage as his mind tried to decipher this new sound. He began to dream strange dream sequences, better suited to a Sci-Fi novel than a coherent thought pattern.
Shhhhhh…Ploppp!! The sound now caused his eyes to flutter open and struggle to focus on the source of his awakening. The birds twittering in the trees and brush about him greeted the rising sun as they awoke to perform their nature. Propping himself up on one elbow, he looked around at the new landscape assembled for him as he slept. “Ohhhh Shittt!” he grumbled, knowing that this was not to his advantage as he fled his pursuers.
It was much colder now than before he had gone to bed, so he sat up and pulled his GHB over to him, rummaging thru it, pulling out the contents and setting them in a pile in front of him. He had his 4 pair of extra cotton socks, heavily worn now after his boots failed, his socks absorbing most of the abuse of his journey. Most of the damage was in the areas of the toes, and the rest was fairly serviceable still. He took the two worst of the 4 pair and cut the damaged ends off. He took off his hooded sweat shirt, then slid them over his bare arms, making a pair of detachable sleeves that instantly helped to warm him up. He then put on two of the brown t-shirts. They were initially cold from being stored in the pack, causing him to shiver, but began to warm slowly. He hurriedly put the sweatshirt back on and then looked to his feet.
When your feet are warm, it is easier to warm up the rest of your body. If your feet are cold, you will have a harder time warming up. With this in mind he removed his boots and took off his tattered wool socks. They were still serviceable, but they would need to be washed and repaired soon or they would be beyond saving. He pulled on one of the pairs of cotton socks, and then put the wool ones back on over the top of the cotton. The wool was damp feeling and he wanted to put something dry next to his feet.
No matter how you looked at it, the boots were going to let in moisture in their current condition. He slipped an empty 1 gallon Ziploc freezer bag over each foot and slid them into the damaged boots before lacing them up. It wasn’t a perfect solution, hell it wasn’t even a good solution, but it would help keep his feet from getting wet from the boots.
Now he examined the small pile of gear left in front of him. Two of the trash bags lay there awaiting the decision to put them into use. He took one and cut three holes in it; one for his head and one for each arm. He then slipped it over his other clothes and tied it at the waist with a piece of 550 cord.
Soon he was warmed up and turned his attention to getting the fire going again. There were still some coals in the fire pit so he added some wood shavings and twigs from a pile he had created the night before. It smoldered for a bit and then the tinder caught fire, flames growing taller as they woke and feed their latent hunger. He added more wood until he had another energetic fire, flames leaping from the pit. It was time for breakfast so he sorted through his remaining rations. There was so little left to choose from, so he took one of his remaining two packets of instant oatmeal and dumped it into his bowl, adding water from the pot heating in the coals.
He made a cup of coffee from the remaining water, crushed a Jolly Rancher and dumped it in his coffee. He stirred it in until it dissolved then sipped on it after finishing his oatmeal.
He had a dire emergency looming. He was nearly out of toilet paper from his kit and was not looking forward to the prospect of going without it. His food was about all gone also, meaning he either needed to forage some more cattails or catch some of the small mammals he had seen signs of in his journey thus far. He feared that hunger would dull his senses and render him susceptible to making mistakes. He couldn’t afford any mistakes!
If it wasn’t for having to move so stealthy, he would have had plenty of food available to reach C1. But as it was, he figured he was at least 3 days from C1 at his current rate of travel. He would be out of most everything by tomorrow. Just a handful of hard candies and his hot drinks stood between him and the looming hunger.
His flight from the dogs had caused him to travel far off the course he had intended to follow along the river bank. He would need to travel in a southeasterly direction to get back on his track. The river was an important navigation landmark for him as it passed close to the town were his house was. A large creek flowed into the river and meandered through town, not more than 3 blocks from his house!
Because of the snow clouds he could not determine his location by the shape of the surrounding mountains. Living in the same area for most of your life lets you become familiar with your surroundings as viewed from different locations. Using his compass he laid out two sticks in the form of a cross to mark the points of the compass. He studied the visible terrain as much as he could and guessed he was no more than 2 miles from his home. He knew that his house was probably watched, hell, they had probably already torn it apart searching for contraband!
He told himself that he was going to make someone pay for all this misery before he left the area for good! He needed now to focus on securing enough food to allow him to get to C1. The snow cover would prevent him from finding all but cattail from the plant kingdom, but he hoped he could snare some small game. He pulled out a 20’ hunk of paracord and began to pull the inner strand out to make some snares. He soon had made four that he felt confident in and set out to place them in likely places.
He was camped on the edge of an old clear-cut which was in the process of growing back into underbrush so he felt that the prospects were good for him being able to catch a rabbit or other small mammal. He located several likely areas and set up his snares. One critter popped out of his hole while he was in the process of setting one up, surprising both of them. It ran back down into it’s hole so he finished setting the snare anyway.
Once he had the snares placed he set out to find a wet area where he could collect more water and hopefully harvest some more cattails. He wanted about six pounds of roots so that he could focus on travel rather than on procuring food. It could be days before he actually snared something so he did not want to rely only on that source of food. He struck out east across the overgrown clear-cut and walked about 300 yards until he came up against the edge of a swamp.
There were plenty cattails growing in the old skidder tire ruts leading into the swamp so he soon had his six pounds gathered. He also gathered an armful of the dead leaves to use as insulation under his ground cloth. He stacked the leaves at the side of his trail, placed the sacks of roots on top, and then turned to look south. The swamp stretched out as far he could see and he wondered if it ran all the way to the river. He began to follow the edge, hoping to find a passage across that was not too much trouble.
He walked for what seemed like a mile when he came across an area that was too marshy to travel further. While he had been walking it began to snow a little harder, so he decided he would go back to his stash of cattails and return to camp for the night. He needed to gather more firewood to keep him overnight so he thought it was best to turn back now.
He began following his tracks back the way he had come, noticing that the snow was starting to fall a little harder. He wished that he had one of those little Coleman thermometers that are meant to hang from your jacket zipper. He could tell it starting to get colder as the flakes were getting smaller. His fingers were getting colder now too. He continued trudging along semi-lost in thought. Up ahead he could see the spot where he had left the cattails.
As he walked along, he noticed something different about his tracks. There were big paw prints following his track back the way he had just come. He stopped immediately and scanned his surroundings. Somewhere back the way he had come, he had passed something walking his trail. It must have hid in the brush as he passed it, but he didn’t remember seeing the tracks lead away from his. He stooped down to study the tracks and felt a shiver run up his spine! He was being stalked!
It was a cat, and a big one! Most likely a cougar come down from the snow covered hills to search for food in the lowlands. This was not a good development, as he had left his Taurus back at camp, secure in its waterproof packaging. He scooped up his gleanings and headed back to camp at a rapid pace, nervously looking around him as he made his way back. The cat tracks were still there, apparently following his tracks from the direction of his camp.
He was getting more worried now. If it had been in his camp, it wasn’t afraid of humans. This meant it was either a young male or a older cat that was looking for easy pickings. Finally he could see his camp ahead and the tracks veered off from it. It was probably uncomfortable around the smell of fire and so had skirted the camp. He unceremoniously dumped his load next to the tarp and dug out the .38 Special. He mechanically checked it all the while scanning the area around the camp for movement. Satisfied nothing was there, he placed the Taurus in his pants pocket and set to reviving the fire.
Once it had come back to life, he put some water on to boil for a hot drink and to cook up some of the roots. He then set out gathering enough branches from the top of the maple to last for a day. Just outside of his camp was a young alder, about three inches in diameter, and twelve feet tall. He cut it down and pulled it back to camp. He was going to make a spear about six feet long, that could also be used as a walking stick. Back in camp, he arranged the cattail leaves under his ground cloth and then laid out his bed.
While the roots boiled he sawed up the pile of branches and stacked them next to the fire pit. The wind was beginning to pick up again so he built several three foot high walls out of snow to help block the wind. He noticed how this made the area under his tarp much warmer and more comfortable. He had about an hour before sunset so taking his pistol out of his pocket, he went out to check his snares. The first one looked as though it had no activity so he left it in place. The second snare was in the same condition as the first.
The third snare had a small rabbit in it and his heart jumped for joy. He collected it and reset the snare, then moved on to the fourth one. When he got there he saw that the cougar had been there first. The area was tore up a bit as though there had been a struggle. All he found were bits of fur and lots of blood that told him a rabbit had died here. He retrieved his snare and carefully retreated back to his camp. Once there, he skinned and gutted the rabbit, and skewered it on a maple branch over the fire. As it began to cook, he started working on his spear.
Dusty snuggled the crossbow up to his shoulder and took aim for the snipers shoulder, and when he had the sight picture he wanted, he gently squeezed the trigger. Thhhrummmm! went the bow as the bolt sped to its target. He heard the man scream as the bolt pierced his shoulder and a slight smile crossed his lips.
He watched and listened for a moment and was rewarded with hearing the mans moans as he passed out from the trauma. Dusty rose up, shouldered the bow and worked his way down to the stricken man. Lifting him to his free shoulder, he grunted as he stood up and began to walk slowly down the hill towards the camp he had left earlier. He had to tend to the mans wound so that he would not die too soon. Dusty wanted some answers and he had to take care of Eddie also.
He froze in the underbrush as a group of men that appeared to be soldiers walked in front of him, down the tracks and across the bridge. Once they were out of sight he moved across and disappeared into the brush. Within minutes he had reached camp, where he dumped the wounded man without care. He retrieved his bolt from the mans shoulder which caused him to cry out, even though unconscious. Dusty cleaned up the broad head and put it and the crossbow back in their bundle which he then replaced in the small hut.
Dusty then tended to the mans wound, and once satisfied he was not going to die right away, he proceeded to bind him in such a way as his right hand was free but he could not move the arm. He then made a fire and heated up some leftover coffee. Sitting down he waited for the man to regain consciousness.
“For you Eddie!” Dusty said.
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