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Hunger gnawed at his stomach as he eyed the last piece of bread in his food bag. He shook his water canister to hear the filter shaking at the bottom. Sighing, he lay back against the mossy woodland floor, dampness soaking into his trousers. As the light coming through the branches over his head began to fade, he poked a stick at his fire, sending embers flying into the air, to land on the brown forest carpet, each time threatening an eruption of flames. He blinked as the flies and moths swam in front of his vision, swarming around the heat of the fire. As the last clouds parted, the full moon came into view, casting eerie shadows against his white skin and the shivering trees around him. His eyes fluttered closed and the world around him blinked out.
John Patterson woke to the sound of rustling beside his ear. When his eyes finally opened, he let out a groan as he tried to move his neck, instantly regretting sleeping once again on the cold forest floor. He turned and rolled over fast, jumping at the site of something moving around in his rucksack. He grabbed the cold, charred log beside him and swung it at the bag repeatedly. Out flew a disgruntled badger, squeaking furiously, clamping the small piece of bread in his teeth. “Come here!” he yelled, as the badger scrambled away into a concealed burrow beneath a fallen tree.
Now that his last real food was gone, he slumped back against a tree stump, his chest heaving. John packed away his plastic sheet and empty water bottle, and slung the bag onto his back. He stamped hard on the cool ashes of last nights fire, then made his way down the steep overgrown hillside. He needed food and water fast, and these barren lands didn’t provide much other than berries or nuts, and he had no gear to catch a small rabbit or beaver.
Eventually, he approached an opening in the forest, instantly smelling the less-damp air. He climbed over the thick ferns and fallen branches, and walked out into the vast open greenery. This was day four of John’s descent of the steep, wet trail he was hiking. John had spent three nights on the mountain side, after telling his mother he’d only be a few hours. After being caught in a massive rainstorm and losing site of the path, he was plunged into the dangerous, unknown mountains of Canada. After all his experience with his walking friends and the hunting knowledge of his Father, he lost all sense of direction. Even the most experienced walker would have difficulty, after being thrown against the sharp wind and the endless rain that caused a side of the mountain to collapse and the soft ground to flood and cascade down. Now he was walking with the bare minimum, with only his thoughts to keep him company.
Over the course of the last two days, he’d thought a lot about his life before that day. His Father’s passing, but everything his Dad had taught him on the days they went out hunting. Just as he was beginning to remember that last day with his Father, he heard something nearby. John spun around quickly, nothing but the thick treeline close behind him and the open land on the other side. He continued walking, absorbed again by making an inventory of his belongings. He had the small foldable penknife, the stronger lock knife, a basic first aid kit, two pairs of socks, a bright red ski hat, waterproofs, and an empty water bottle.
The next second happened in slow motion, as a huge squirming brown mass pushed him onto his front. He gasped as he was flung onto his back, dragged by his left foot. He yelped as he looked into the hungry eyes of a black bear. The animal nudged him violently in the stomach, before stopping to sniff from his head to his heavy boots. John knew only to remain completely still and silent. He held his breath, until the bear leaned a heavy paw on his right ankle. Then the pain was unbearable. John let out a howl as the bear suddenly sank his teeth into his upper thigh, biting through his trousers and into his soft flesh. Quicker than he could think, he pulled his tiny fixed blade out of his pocket and plunged it into the bear’s neck. He took it out for a second, the bear roaring. He stuck the knife in again and again until the bear stumbled off him, and collapsed on its side, it’s chest heaving. John waited, but the bear’s breaths slowed to nothing, and it was silent again.
He groaned as he tried to sit up, his leg shooting pain up and down his leg. He propped himself up against a large rock, and took one look at his leg. There was blood soaked through the fabric that had remained, but the area where the bear had bitten was a pumping red liquid that was seeping into the soft ground around him. He threw his knife down and painfully took off his rucksack, searching for his first aid kit. He tore out a plastic-wrapped bandage, and began wrapping it around the wound, wincing as the piercing feeling came back. He bit down on his lip as he tied a knot right above the opening. Then he removed his belt and wrapped it around his leg four times, tying it off, this time screaming, black dots suddenly popping at his vision. He took a massive breath as a crushing feeling overcame him, and passed out.
John awoke shaking, his whole body rigid with the cold. He could see the clouds of his breath in the air, and felt the hard ground underneath him. The temperature had drastically dropped, and he felt weak as he tried to push himself onto his elbows. He must have been asleep for hours. He glanced at his watch, only to see the familiar broken face, destroyed when he tumbled down the side of the mountain four days ago. He cried out as he shifted his legs, clutching his thigh.
It immediately became clear that night was settling in once again, and he needed to get off the exposed mountainside. He looked at his leg, stories he’d heard of mountain deaths and frostbite flooding his brain. He held his breath and quickly rolled onto his front. Groaning again, in one quick movement, he forced himself onto his knees, then his feet, the tight bandage around his leg making his foot feel fuzzy. John stumbled into a tree, holding back tears as he felt the pain tearing at his leg. Without thinking, he pushed himself forward, one foot in front of the other, trying to get closer to the treeline. He panted and yelped with every step he took, as the heat in his leg began to burn through his whole body. Shivering, he collapsed against a fallen trunk, wheezing air in and out of his lungs. He still had another five hundred metres until the forest, but he was overcome by a sudden sleepiness. Trying to fight away the drowsiness that threatened to close his eyes, he propelled forward, one step at a time.
John’s body became suddenly uncontrollable, as his body was shaken with convulsions. He screamed up at the sky, tears streaming from his red eyes, his tongue dry with thirst. He collapsed on the ground, shivering with the cold, fighting off the sleep of blood loss. He lay there until he stopped shaking, until he felt nothing. His body was calm and he was finally warm. Was he dreaming? Was he dying? Maybe he was already dead and finally at peace. As his mind began to calm and his thoughts slowed down, his eyes fluttered closed, the sound of the harsh wind whispering him to sleep. He felt no cold, no pain, and no fear. He sucked in a weak breath and disappeared into the darkness.
John woke in his bed with a sore thigh. He sighed, begging the lights to turn off again. The alarm was too loud and his back was sore. Why was his mattress so hard? He looked through cracked eyelids, confused. Why was it so noisy? He just wanted it to stop. He wanted the noise to go away. As the light got brighter, the sound intensified, and now his eyes were fully opened. He looked up at a sea of dancing lights, swirling around his head. Was this a dream? John shielded his eyes from the white light that was now shining directly on his body, everything around him suddenly glowing. The noise got louder and louder, his ears ringing. A strong wind was now blowing at him, his jacket trying to take off. He rolled over and closed his eyes, curling his legs towards him.
“Sir, we’re taking you to a hospital.”, boomed a loud voice. The strong wind continued as he felt the strength of a rescue helicopter’s propellers. Strong arms pulled at his feet and torso, as he was rolled over and lifted up. “You are safe now.” said the voice.