Mark Ethridge’s Picture Choice: 2
Title: I See Angry People (Part 12)
One step at a time, I walked, one step at a time, endlessly, across endless hills, with nothing on them. Barren land, no weeds, no bushes. Nothing. Scruffy grass, dirt, rocks. Nothing. I wondered where I was. I didn’t remember this on any map I’d ever seen of the country. The ones in school, all those years ago, where the USA was green, with rivers, and mountains. Nothing like this.
I hadn’t eaten in two days, I was low on water, I was lost. My only guide was the sun, it told me the directions, north, south, east, west. I knew, if I went in the same direction I wasn’t going in a circle. I kept going north east.
As I walked, the days grew shorter. The sun rose later, set earlier, the nights grew longer. It was fall, winter was coming. With it, cold, snow, ice. I found myself wondering how Valerie was doing, if she was ready for the winter.
It was the first I’d thought of her in days. That didn’t feel right. I was supposed to think of her all the time. The woman I loved. She’d saved me from myself, more than once. First, when I lost my parents, my sister, to the crazy men that destroyed my home town. They killed almost everyone. Dad made sure I’d escaped. Jessica found me, took me to her little camp, where I met Hannah and Valerie. Valerie pulled me into the group.
Every time I doubted myself, Valerie stood beside me. She loved me, held me, taught me it was OK, I was OK. I left on long trips all the time, sometimes I was gone for months. And always, when I found my way back to the camp, Valerie was there, waiting for me.
And there I was, in the middle of nowhere, with no idea where I was, no idea where I was going, and no idea when I’d have my next meal. As I walked through that barren wasteland, I wondered if I was going to die. If I’d run out of water, die of thirst. If I found water, would I find food? Would I grow too weak to keep walking, and end up a corpse, in a wasteland, never to be seen, never to be heard from.
I wondered if I’d ever see Valerie again.
I decided I would. A man’s got to believe in something. Something that matters, something he cares about. I believed in Valerie. I believed in her love, believed it was worth fighting for, staying alive for.
I kept walking. One step after another, endlessly.
At night, I slept in my small tent, bundled up as best I could, under all the clothing I had. I gathered dry, dead grasses, weeds, anything, and piled them around my tent. Anything to break the wind. At night, the wind howled, it cut through my skin, chilled me to the bone. I woke every couple of hours from the cold.
And still the wasteland went on, and on, endlessly.
On the fourth day, I ran out of water. That night was the worst, the coldest, with the fiercest wind. I stayed in my tent, my teeth clenched against the cold, the wind. I curled up, pulled my knees to my chest, made myself as small as I could to conserve as much heat as I could.
I knew I was running out of time. I knew, if I didn’t find water soon, I wouldn’t survive.
The next morning, as the sun rose, I packed my tent, and started walking again. I heard birds. Geese, actually. Honking. I wondered if it was my mind playing tricks on me. If I was delirious from exhaustion, hunger, and thirst. But, as I walked, I heard the geese again. And again. If it was real! If I wasn’t dreaming it, the sound of geese was good news. It meant I was getting somewhere. I was heading toward water of some kind. A place where the geese would be. A stream, pond, lake, river. Water.
I kept walking. I couldn’t rush, I didn’t have the strength. But I kept walking, and the geese grew louder. There. Along the horizon. I saw something moving, something changing. I headed toward that movement. In that wasteland, I had no idea how far the horizon was. On that wasteland I figured I could see forever. Fifty miles, maybe more. Would I be able to hear the geese from that far away? Would I see geese moving, flying from that far away? If they were that far away, could I last long enough to reach them?
I pushed such thoughts from my mind, and walked.
And the motion along the horizon grew. Things began to pop up above the horizon. They got higher and higher. And the sound of the geese grew louder.
The sun set, and still I walked. The wind grew, and still I walked. Through the cold, through the wind, the darkness. Toward the sound of the geese. Until I found them. Thousands of them. More than I’d ever seen. An ocean of geese. Around, and on a small lake.
I kept going. I had to keep going. I had to keep moving. I couldn’t stop. Something told me I couldn’t stop. I watched the lake grow. I smelled the water in the air. And still I walked. Until I reached the water.
I drank. I filled my canteen, and I drank.
Only then did I rest, make my tent, bury myself under every shred of clothing I had, and slept.
I woke to the sound of the geese.
They’d saved me. Their honking, their noise, guided me to the lake, to the water I desperately needed. They had one last thing to do for me. Surrounded by geese, I drew my bow, set an arrow, and did what I had to do to stay alive.
I ate. Raw goose. It didn’t matter. I ate. For the first time in days. Solid food. I’d have cooked it, but I had no way to set a fire. And nothing to set on fire.
The lake was a gift from nature. I followed it’s shoreline. One day. Another night spent by the lake. Then, more following the shoreline the next day. The lake turned into a stream. I followed that to grasses, brush, and trees.
I found food there. It’s there, if you know how to find it, if you know what to look for. Certain types of tree leaves, mushrooms, grasses, roots. Not the best, not the tastiest. But it kept me alive. Pine nuts, acorns, berries. The same food the squirrels and birds ate. And I followed the stream.
Until I found a cabin, then another, and a third. And more. Cabins scattered through the landscape. Small places. All empty. But, they were what I needed. A place I could spend a night, shielded from the wind, from the cold.
I picked a cabin to stay in that night. One room, with a small, single bed, a table, a chair, and a fireplace. A useless lamp sat on the table. I had no light to look around. I pulled the covers off the bed, and huddled in them for the night. For once, I was warm. For once I slept.
I slept for hours. Well past the sunrise. I wasn’t in any hurry to move. I don’t know how I knew it, but I knew no one was around, and no one had been around for a very long time. So, I had time. I had time to rest. I was able to bathe in the stream. It felt good to get clean, to wash away the dirt of the long walk I’d taken across that barren landscape. I foraged for food, edible vegetation. I found plenty. I decided to stay put for a day, maybe two. To rest. To gather my strength.
That afternoon I explored the cabin, There were some towels, sheets, and other sundries in the small closet I hadn’t noticed that night. There were a couple of books on the table, they stood neatly between two bookends. Centered on the table was an envelope, with something in it. And a notebook, with a flowered cover, and a pen. I hadn’t seen such a reminder of how the world had been in a long time.
The notebook was small, with few pages inside. All of them were filled with drawings, all done by hand. A goose, a tree, the cabin, the stream. Simple drawings.
I kept it. I wanted to show it to Valerie. She’d like it.
As the sun set, I settled in for the night in that cabin, and I wondered if I’d ever find my way back to Jessica’s little town in the woods. If I’d ever find my way back to Valerie.
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Mark woke up in 2010, and has been exploring life since then. All his doctors agree. He needs to write.