Mark Ethridge’s Picture Choice: 2
Title: The Whole World Went Insane - Part 4
It was the sixth day of the trip home. I jerked awake when she screamed in her sleep. I struggled to my feet. I’d slept beneath the stars that night, and was a more stiff than normal when I woke. Waking to a girl screaming wasn’t my idea of a great way to wake up. But after what she’d been through, I figured she had the right to scream.
“Ah. Morning.” I made sure I spoke loudly enough she could hear me. I stretched, making noise so she’d know where I was. “Time for a pit stop.” I wandered into the trees, and answered mother nature’s call. I also gave her a couple of minutes of quiet, so she could do whatever she might need to.
I stepped on sticks, and shook bushes to make sure she knew I was returning. “Looks like a good morning!” I stepped into the clearing.
She didn’t say anything. She didn’t look at me either. She was kneeling on the ground, her arms wrapped around herself. She watched me as I bundled up the tent, and the bedding. “I’d give you some water, and some more jerky, but I’m all out.”
She stared at the ground.
“No. Don’t be like that. Don’t even think that. It’s not a problem. I would have run out today anyway, so it’s not your fault.” I smiled at her. “Just means it’s time to start looking for water and food along the way, that’s all.” I faked a laugh. “Not like I haven’t done that before.” Which was the truth. I’d had to find what I could to stay alive more than once on my various journeys. The worst part was always the water. I learned I could last a couple of days without food without real problems. But without water, things got bad quickly.
A wolf entered the clearing, and nuzzled her hand. “I bet you know where we can find water, don’t you.”
She struggled to her feet, and I noticed the bruises on her arms. Some a deep, dark purple. I decided to watch her as we walked, to see if she had any broken bones, or other nasty injuries. “You’ll let me know if you need a break, won’t you?” She didn’t answer, of course. I mean, I was a male, and males had hurt her. It would take her a while to get over that. If she ever did.
I pulled on my backpack, and away we went. The wolf was our guide through the trees, and headed due West, following the path of the sun. I watched as she struggled to keep walking. After an hour, I stopped, “We’ll rest here for a few minutes, OK?”
She sat down, and wrapped her arms around herself again. “Oh, crud,” her left forearm had a nasty bump on it, and was swelling. “That doesn’t look good.” I held both my hands low, by my hips, facing her as I walked up. She didn’t look at me.
I knelt, and carefully touched her left arm. She didn’t move away, but she was shaking with fear. I couldn’t blame her. “It’s OK,” I whispered, “I’m not going to hurt you. I just need to see if your arm’s broken.”
It probably was, but it looked like a basic fracture, and not a compound fracture. I wished I knew how to set a broken bone, but I didn’t. So I pulled out my copy of “Basic First-Aid” by the Red Cross, and followed its instructions on how to splint a broken bone. I pulled her arm out straight, and carefully probed the bone structure. “It’s not too bad. Just cracked, I think.” I ran my fingers softly across the swollen area, “I can’t feel any separation. It should heal pretty well.”
I looked around, and found a fairly straight part of a tree branch. No such thing as boards in the forest. Lots of trees to make boards with, but no boards. “I’ll need to splint it, to support it, so it won’t get worse.”
She let me carefully tie the branch to her arm. It wasn’t a great splint, but it was better than nothing, and I thought the bone would mend pretty well. She didn’t say anything, but she’d stopped shaking like a leaf. She looked at her arm, then at me, and that was enough of a thank you.
“Come on, you. Let’s see if we can find some water.” I helped her to her feet, and we resumed our walk, the wolf leading the way. I kept watching her, and ever so often, we’d stop and rest a few minutes.
We didn’t find any water that morning, but that afternoon, we got lucky. The trees thinned out some, and we came to a white lattice fence. I whispered to her, “You stay here, safe, in the trees. I’ll go see what we’ve found.” I looked at the wolf. “You take care of her, OK?” The wolf nodded, and stood next to her.
She looked terrified, standing there, me walking away. “I’ll be back in just a few minutes. OK?” She nodded. We both knew I had no way of knowing what was beyond that fence. On my own, I might have waited hours, peeking through the lattice, studying what was beyond it. Walking along it, trying to observe any activity inside it.
The fence was in pretty bad shape, like it had been there several years without anyone taking care of it. Vines grew all through it, and it could no longer keep anything inside, or outside. I took that as a good sign, and crossed through one of the breaks the vines had made. I pulled out my knife as I walked. Hell, I knew it was a useless thing to do, but it made me feel better, so I did it anyway.
The trees gave way to brush, and saplings and an overgrown field. In the middle of that field was a small log cabin. The door was splintered, and the porch was overgrown. Spiders were everywhere. I walked around the cabin remains, and was surprised to find a mechanical pump. It looked like it hadn’t been used in years.
I grabbed its handle, and tried moving it. It made an awful racket as I started moving it, but it quieted down rapidly. And I was rewarded with a stream of water. I filled the canteen. Then I explored the cabin. I got lucky again, and found a couple cans of green beans, and a can of pineapple.
We had water. And we had something to eat. We’d make it another couple of days.
I quickly returned to her and the wolf. “That was a stroke of luck.” I held up the canteen, “Found water, and a bit of food.” I swear the wolf was laughing at me. Of course, he’d known the cabin was there. And the water. He’d lead us to it. “You make a good leader.”
She whispered, “Frank?”
I nearly dropped the canteen. “Yes?”
“Kelly.” She quickly looked at her feet.
“Well, Kelly. Thank you for walking with me.” I handed her the canteen, and let her drink all she wanted. We refilled it as we passed the cabin, and headed into the woods once more. A couple of hours later, we stopped, and watched the sun set through the trees. I made the tent, and had her sleep in it again that night.
And I wished I knew where we were, and how long it would take to find the camp with Jessica and the others.
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Mark woke up in 2010, and has been exploring life since then. All his doctors agree. He needs to write.