The stream roared in its bed, and towhees darted about, showing him their red sides as the flitted by. Tim was watching them, when he saw his deer. The stream took a sharp bend here, so he saw the muley through a double screen of willows and across the open space above the stream. Its forequarters were matted with dried blood.
“Finally,” Tim thought. He brought up his rifle. Walking at a half crouch, he worked out to the lip of the stream. The wind was upstream and the deer was not looking his way, so he waited, hoping it would move. A tree trunk lay between Tim and a prefect shot. But the muley didn’t move, so Tim carefully shifted sideways.
A rock turned under his foot, the rifle went off into the air, and Tim fell through space into a pit of blackness.
Tim was caught up and swept away. For an eternity, he fell through frigid space, beaten by unseen fists.
Then there was a time of drifting and slow surrender.
There was an endless slope where he chased his quarry. Then the quarry turned on him and he was running downhill in frenzied panic.
There was the cold. The numbing, all consuming cold.
Finally there was ultimate blackness.
* * *
It was the cold that woke him.
His consciousness did not return all at once. First he was aware of the crumbled granite beneath his cheek. Then he became aware that his clothes were wet and that the world was dark.
Tim rolled over onto his back, tearing his ice encrusted jeans loose from the rock. The moon was up and for a time Tim had no idea where he was.
Fire! He had to have a fire. His clothes were soaked, where they had not crusted with ice. He reached for his match case, but it was not there. The survival pack was torn open and empty.
He sat for a minute, holding his head and shivering.
He was beginning to remember his plunge into the stream. Somewhere along the line, he must have hit his head. His fingers explored his scalp and came away damp and sticky. He had probably smashed into one of the boulders that studded the stream.
He raised his head and looked around. He was nowhere near the stream. He was high on a slope in broken granite country; the boulders and stunted trees around him made fantastic shapes in the night.
And he was freezing!
The cold was intense. As he became more fully awake and aware, Tim’s discomfort changed to pain. His fingers ached deep in the joints and he shivered so that he could hardly move.
His rifle was gone. His watch was gone. He had an empty canteen and a hunting knife at his belt, but the canvas case that held his survival kit had torn open. The snake bite kit, salt tablets, coil of snare wire, coil of fish line, hooks, sinkers, compass and plastic poncho – all the things his dad had helped him put together, all were gone. He still had the clothes he was wearing, a handkerchief, and four cartridges for his missing rifle.
Those cartridges seemed his best hope of a fire. He knew how to start a fire with them if he had a rifle. But without one . . . ?
He gathered firewood as best he could in the near darkness, where the moon only showed occasionally through the clouds. Using his knife, he shredded bark from the driest wood and cut fuzz sticks. He arranged this tender on a flat rock and worried the bullet out of a cartridge with his teeth. more tomorrow