Jandrax 76

Chapter 14

The first day, Jean merely walked. He had enough meat for at least three days and he gathered such fruits as he came across on his trek. During the morning he kept to the lake shore, but about noon he came to a small river which he could not cross and turned inland.

This was the first obstacle he had encountered and already he was wondering if it were not insuperable. He had no boat and could not swim with his bad leg. There were no logs with which to make a raft. By nightfall he was far inland and no better off than he had been. Finally he burrowed into a thicket of dry greenhorn, a remnant of the last melt, and wrapped himself in the remains of the sail. He had to have sleep so he trusted the greenhorn to give warning of the approach of any animal. Three times during the night he was wakened by something rustling in the dry brush, but each creature retreated when he shouted.

In the morning he hunted again, even though he needed no meat. This time he carefully removed and emptied the herby’s stomach, tied off one end, and inflated it. With fresh meat and his few possessions wrapped in the sail and his rifle and ammunition held high, he floated across the river on the inflated stomach. It was barely buoyant enough to keep his head and rifle above the water.

He had lost time going upriver so he made no move to return to the lake. Nothing was there for him now. All day he walked, dragging his bad leg in ankle-deep mud, splashing clumsily through knee-deep pools of snowmelt. He was constantly cold from the wet.

That night he was close to despair. His leg throbbed unmercifully and he had walked past sundown looking for another dry brush thicket. He had found none, and now he dared not sleep for fear of longnecks. He wrapped himself in the sail and sat cross-legged atop a bare knoll; he had no fire for nothing was dry enough to burn. His rifle lay across his knees as he struggled to stay awake. The cold that had been with him all day intensified now. His head nodded and soon he was asleep.

What woke him he could not have said, but when he opened his eyes he was looking into the snarling face of a longneck. The creature had been overcome with curiosity at his strange figure and had not attacked at once. Jean grabbed convulsively for his rifle, thumbing the hammer and squeezing the trigger in one motion. In his haste he had grabbed the forward hammer and the 17mm short barrel went off like a small cannon, blowing a gratifyingly large hole in the carnivore and shocking the night into wakefulness.

He sat for a long time with the longneck at his feet, the blood black in the wan moonlight, shivering uncontrollably. Then he slit the hide and ate, the still warm juices returning life to his frozen body. Nothing moved. Jean got to his feet and surveyed the nightworld around him. In every direction the world was a shallow lake, save for his low hillock. He should leave the place because the smell of blood would soon attract other predators, but to do so would be to expose himself again to the numbing waters. more tomorrow

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