He was dreaming again.
And the strange thing was, in the dream, he knew he was dreaming! He was cooking something over an open fire on a spit. It looked like a tree rat but much bigger.
In his dream it was night, but the moon was out lighting up the woods with an eerie glow. He could see a figure walking towards him from the distance. Strangely, it did not alarm him at all. As the figure grew nearer he recognized it as his youngest son. His son drew closer until he was only several feet away. He could see his mouth moving but couldn’t hear anything. It was if the night swallowed up the sound of his voice!
“What is it?” he said. “What are you trying to tell me?”
His son’s mouth moved again but still no sound issued forth.
“I can’t hear you!” he said.
His son shook his head, stepped forward and grabbed him by both shoulders, pulling him in closer to him. They locked eyes for what seemed like an eternity and then his mouth moved again.
“Dogs!” he said.
He bolted upright in his makeshift bed and said out loud: “Dogs!”
Sure enough, in the distance he could hear the baying of dogs, and what sounded like voices yelling into the still morning air. He jumped up and looked around him in a panic! Springing into action, he stuffed his makeshift bed into his pack. He then untied his poncho from the saplings he had attached them to. The knots had been tied in such a way as all he had to do was pull on one side of the cord and it came undone.
He donned the poncho without removing the cords and was off in less than 2 minutes time! He was moving fast, but his mind was racing faster!
“Dogs!” he thought. “How do you lose Dogs?”
The area that he was traveling in was still covered in fog. It was a strange experience traveling in the fog with the sun starting to rise. There were lots of small creeks and rivulets in this area, as it was a drainage to the river from the snowpack in the hills above. He started walking in a small stream and followed it until it turned back to the sound of the baying dogs. He then left the stream, traveling northeast until he came across the next stream.
Although his feet were starting to get numb from the cold water, he continued to follow the stream, always moving upstream and when it got too shallow, he moved on till he found the next. He continued moving in this fashion for the better part of an hour, until he could hear the dogs no more. He found another campsite, similar the one he had spent the night at before, and proceeded to dig a fire pit so he could dry out his shoes.
Though he could no longer hear the dogs, for a second he thought he heard a far off gunshot! He began the task of drying out his feet and began to think about that strange dream which had warned him of his peril. He wondered if his son was ok; he hoped it was not a visit from the spirit world, the spirit of his dead son come back to warn him. The possibility that one of his sons may be dead broke down the last remaining bastions of strength that he had. He began to sob, slowly at first, building in intensity until the sobs broke down any shreds of control that he had managed to maintain.
He woke late, after 5:00pm. At first he wasn’t sure where he was. Then it all came flooding back to him. He felt the rush of anger and of dread, and fought off the returning nausea as the scene replayed in his head. It was dark enough this time of year that he would need to use his Mini-Mag flash light with the red lens filter to find his way down to the river bank and to cross. The sky was overcast and he would not have the help of any natural light to effect his movement across the river.
Moving slowly, so as to make the least possible noise, he crossed the open area between his concealment and the goal of the riverbank. He could hear the voices of the soldiers guarding the trestle as they gathered around the small fire they had started. It was probably against orders to break light discipline in such a manner, but they were out here in the sticks where the probability of anyone catching them was near nil.
As he got near them, he shut off the light and closed his eyes for a moment. When he reopened them, they were much more sensitive to the ambient light and that cast from the small fire, scant as it was. Moving slowly, he began to descend the riverbank, getting caught up on brambles and underbrush, slowly untangling himself until he stepped into the shallow riverbed. The water was slightly above his ankles as he started to ford the shallows. Moving slowly so as not to splash, he progressed until it was knee deep, and then it began to get shallower as he ascended the other side and stepped onto dry land.
Looking back over his shoulder, he could see the shapes of the soldiers huddled around the little blaze that they maintained against orders. Finding that his crossing remained undetected, he moved on up the bank, out of sight of the murderers behind him.
Dusty moved up the hill, silent as a shadow. He scanned the area before him, looking for a trace of the sniper. It seems that he had relocated from his earlier position and was better concealed than before. Dusty knew he was there. He could smell him! The sniper was a smoker, and though he had not lit up while Dusty was there, he carried the smell ingrained in his body’s pores, breath and clothing.
Just ahead and down the hill from the spruce. He saw a faint movement that betrayed the snipers position. Now he had him! Dusty slowly moved behind a small spruce that would conceal his actions. Opening the bundle he had retrieved from the hut, and he drew out a crossbow, complete with a scope.
Slowly and quietly he cocked the bow, and then placed a bolt with a four bladed hunting tip into it. He did not want to kill the sniper right away, so he would aim for his right shoulder. Once he had him, he would find out what he wanted to know. And he was good at extracting information.
Very, very good!
He had lain there for who knows how long, his body racked by the sobs. They were coming much further apart now as he regained a small measure of control. He needed to direct his thoughts to surviving the situation at hand, not reflecting on what might or might not be. He sat up and took measure of his current location: He had shelter, water, a dwindling amount of food, warmth from his fire. His feet were healing despite the constant traveling and repeated immersions in cold water. So overall the situation could be much worse.
He decided that a good hot cup of cider would be cheering right about now, so he retrieved his cooking pot and began to heat some water. It was a homemade pot, constructed from a larger Heineken beer can (24 fl oz). It was easy to build, just run a sharp pointed knife around the top (looking down) and when the knife point poked thru, cut out the top with the knife, leaving the ring on top for strength. An earlier experiment with cutting the ring off the top yielded a cooking pot that got bent in his pack because the aluminum had no strength to hold its shape. The pot was usable at this point, but he liked to sand down the sharp edge that was left, aiding in cleanup and reducing the chance of a cut.
His stomach began to grumble too, so he looked at his watch and to his amazement, he saw that over 8 hours had passed since he had first broken down! He couldn’t afford any more of that kind of behavior! His pursuers could have come up on him and he wouldn’t even have noticed until too late. Even so, he decided to spend the night in this camp and in the morning head back toward the river, and follow it until he reached a crossing point; ford or bridge.
When he had constructed the Ration Packs, he had included a vitamin pack in each one to help with the nutrition that he knew he would be missing. He was out of them now, as when he went to half rations he kept on taking the vitamins to keep up his health. He did not need to come down with a cold or flu while he was on the run. He thought about foraging again and then he remembered the cattail roots in his pack.
He pulled out his forage bag and immediately set to work peeling and slicing the pile of roots until he had enough to fill his cook pot. He boiled them for a while and when they were soft, he poured off most of the liquid into his cup, and then he mashed them up with a clean stick. He opened a packet of bullion, sprinkled it on top and then stirred it in with his spoon. He then added back in more of the water until he had a consistency of a thick soup. He tasted it and was surprised that it was almost like mashed potatoes!
Hungrily, he devoured it all and then cleaned up his kit. He always put everything back in his pack when not in use so as not to misplace it or leave it behind in the case of a sudden departure. He drank the still warm liquid he had poured off the roots; not too bad, but kind of bland. His new camp was only a few paces from a small rivulet that hurriedly flowed through the clearing where he was camped. He needed to replace his water supply, and was faced with the choice of using his Polar Pure or boiling. Since he had a fire going he chose to boil and thus save the crystals for a later time when he would be on the move and had no fire.
While the water was heating, he gathered more wood for the fire and began to saw it into manageable sized pieces that would fit in the fire pit. He filled all of his water bottles and after the last pot full had cooled sufficiently, he filled several of the Ziploc bags and tested them for leaks. Satisfied that they would not soak the contents of his pack, he placed them in a 1 gallon Ziploc freezer bag as further protection against leakage. By doing this, he increased his water supply greatly and would be able to travel in areas away from water supplies for a longer time.
Once he reached one of the more remote caches, he would setup a rainwater catchment to collect the runoff from his parka. He wished that he had his bug out bag. It had a wild foods trail guide that would be helpful in identifying wintertime wild foods. He remembered reading about Burdock root, and how it was best to harvest the first year rootstalk for cooking like potatoes. It was recommended not to peel it, but to scrub it well and after slicing it, simmer it for 20 minutes.
He removed his crumpled up Mylar blanket and straightened it out, folding it neatly in half. He then wrapped himself in the poncho liner, climbed in between the half’s of Mylar and tucked in the loose edges. Warm and fed, he drifted off to sleep once again.
He moved slowly up the riverbank, trying to not make any sounds, but the brush seemed to clutch at him and try its best to trip him up. It was agonizingly slow going until finally he stepped onto the gravel bed of the tracks once more. The sound of his feet in the gravel roared in his ears, but the river covered the sound with it’s constant chuckling as it flowed over the rocks. He gained the tracks and crouched down to erase any silhouette he might create. There was so little ambient light that he would be forced to travel using the Mini-Mag with the red lens.
Moving out east on the tracks, he attempted to step only on the ties as to avoid the crunching noise made when walking in gravel. It was an awkward form of travel, but he made fairly good time and found himself drawing nearer to the town. He could hear a lone vehicle travelling on the highway through town. He knew that he was getting closer to inhabited land, so he slowed his pace and began to look for a place to leave the tracks and begin moving through the underbrush.
Moving slowly gave him the advantage of hearing noises in the night, and now he heard gravel crunching up ahead. He switched off the light and moving quietly, he followed what seemed to be a deer trail off the tracks. It appeared as though the trail lead to the river once more, and the animals could drink at a low spot on the bank. He wished to skirt the people he heard on the tracks so he moved silently through the trees that grew on the edge of the right-of-way. He could smell cigarette smoke now, as the patrol took a smoke break.
He quietly moved down a game trail that ran parallel to the tracks, carefully keeping an eye on the place where the patrol had stopped. Suddenly, a light snapped on and a low voice sternly said “Halt” Identify yourself!”
All of his stealth had been for naught!
He had been discovered.
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