Hanging On

By , Newton, MA
There was ice in his veins and he could see nothing but white. The trail could have been a few feet or a few miles away; he had no idea where he was except that he was definitely not where he should be. Of all the summer expeditions he had been on, of course this was the one he had to get lost on. Snowshoeing in the mountains near Kodiak, Alaska. And of course, out of all the places he could have stopped along that whole trail, that was the place he did. A fork.

For no reason, he stopped moving. He was in the middle of a field of white. Tall evergreens fenced it in, but from where he was standing, they looked like toothpicks. The rest of his group was somewhere in the mountains around him, but he had no idea which one. He just stood still and let the snow around him cover up the top of his boots, his eyelids and his nose. Nothing but trees in sight. He felt the chill travel up his nostrils and into his head. Everything about him was tired. His legs ached, his throat ached, his toes had shriveled up, and his back was about to snap. The 30-pound pack of water and candy bars felt heavier.

Crying, he shouted. He wasn’t even saying anything. Just shouting. He could almost feel the sound being absorbed by the snow, by the cold, by the forest. No one could hear him and he knew it. He shouted again. The wind stole his words out of the air and freeze-dried his eyelashes. He stopped yelling and let his pack bring him to the ground.

He would have lain there on his back for almost an hour if it hadn’t become so dark that the toothpicks around the field began to disappear. He knew he would pass out if he didn’t move. Slowly and carefully he rose to his feet, his skeleton groaning. He kicked the snowshoes off his feet and trudged forwards. He always sunk right through anyway. All he had to do was get out of the field, get out of the snow and find some shelter. Shelter from what, he didn’t know. Anything. The wind, the snow, the cold, the animals, hunters. With his head bent he walked until it was black and all he could see were the trees a few feet away.

Throwing his pack against a tree, he sat down with his eyes closed. Even if he had known what to do, he was too tired to do it. The snow covered him in sheets. His heartbeat pulsed in his ear. He hoped that someone would find him. He hoped that someone would even notice he was missing.

Too tired to have nightmares, he fell in and out of consciousness. He hadn’t eaten anything but candy in hours. Cold wind whistled through the boughs of the forest. He heard the crunching of snow and drifted into sleep again. Time passed slowly and then stopped. It was morning.

The crunching of snow. He heard it again. His eyelids drifted apart and his mind raced to find the words. Adrenaline seared though his veins but he lay still. He was frozen in place but his limbs were on fire. He knew not to look but his eyes wouldn’t move.

It stood on two legs, a mammoth of an animal. In the daylight he saw the shine of its nose and the fog of its breath. Its fur was golden and wet with frost. Its eyes were pools of deep black and it reeked of blood and dead animals. It fell like a truck to all fours and then its nose was a foot from his own.

He had never run so fast in his life. He didn’t know what he was doing, but his legs did. His brain waking up but they threw him over roots and between trees. His boots were weightless and he was half-asleep. Alaska shook as it bellowed behind him. Now he was awake. His brain couldn’t think of anything but running and breathing. His legs felt nothing but tired and his ears heard nothing but its footfall.

Never run from a bear. Even he knew that.

His body remembered to climb trees even before he did. His foot was on a branch and then his hand was on another and then the bear’s mouth was on his boot. He felt the tickle of its hot breath and then his left foot went missing. His arms stretched for the next branch. Its heavy breathing sounded like a dog’s and its bite felt like daggers. He was almost fifteen feet off the ground then, but he felt the bear’s claws shake the trunk and he struggled to pull himself up again without a left leg.

Snow fell gently through the branches and the bear howled again. If he fell now he would break his legs and then be eaten by a bear. Don’t fall, he told himself. Every muscle in his body was burning and he climbed higher. The tree shook again as the bear threw itself at the tree. Snow fell from the branches and blinded him, made him deaf and stung the thing at the end of his leg. Everything was quiet and dark. It howled again, but this time he barely heard it. Exhaustion replaced the adrenaline left in his blood. He hooked his arm over a branch and closed his eyes.

Just hang on, he told himself.

Hang on.

Hang in there.

Hang in there, kid. You’re alright.

Hang in there.

My God. Is he alright?

He will be. He just needs to rest now.





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This article has 2 comments. Post your own now!

Lucy Diamond said...
Jan. 23, 2010 at 3:16 pm
What a gripping story. I love the transitions in words and meaning at the end - very effective. When is your next story coming out?
 
Montana Shook said...
Jan. 23, 2010 at 10:13 am
Great story--I'm still hanging from a limb!
 
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