Spirit Deer 9

He stood again, propping himself with the juniper, and measured it against his body. Then he sat to cut his makeshift crutch to length. The narrow tip that he cut off would make a crosspiece later, but now he just jammed the base into his armpit and started out looking for firewood. It cut him painfully, but Tim couldn’t worry about that.

Everything was soaked from the rain. All of the down wood he dragged up had to be dried by the fire before it would burn. As he nursed the fire, he lashed a crosspiece onto his crutch with another strip cut from his shirt sleeve.

Rain soaked him through and turned the granite shiny in the firelight as the last light of day faded. Nearby, a nest of boulders caught the runoff and made a finger sized waterfall. Tim set his empty canteen under it, and had his first drink of water that day. It made him feel better.

Out there, a quarter of a mile away, were trees which would give him shelter. But he could not move his fire, and he could not be sure of starting another one with wet wood.

His second night on the slope was even more miserable than his first one.

* * *

Tim awakened when the wind began. The rain had stopped, but the wind was even more dangerous. It cut through him with a deadly chill. His campfire was nearly out, and so was the fire of life within his body. He knew that if he did not get warm soon, he would die.

He added new fuel to the fires and started a third one.  Within that triangle of fire, he stripped. Off came his left boot. His jeans would not go over his splinted right boot, so he split his jeans from waistband to cuff and pulled them off.

Off came his wool shirt and he sat nearly naked, shivering as he dried his shirt over the fire. When it caught fire, he squeezed the flames out with his fingers. The wind tore at his bare skin and carried away the heat from the fires, but he would not let himself take half measures. He held the shirt to the flames until it was dry, and when he put it on again the warmth was unbelievable.

Drying his jeans took even longer. By the time he had them on, and had laced up the split leg with strips cut from his handkerchief, the sky was beginning to turn light. He used his makeshift crutch to stand and turn around, but the clouds were so thick that he could not tell which section of the sky was lightest.

Tim knew that he had to get off the bald side of the mountain and into shelter before it rained again.

He could not put his fire out properly, but on this bare, wet rock it would do no harm. He scattered the wood with his crutch, and took stock. At his belt he had his knife, canteen, and the precious firestone in its canvas case. Since he had laced his pants leg with handkerchief strips, his pockets were empty.

Or were they? He suddenly realized that he had dried his jeans over the fire with the three remaining rifle cartridges in the pocket!

He swallowed hard and started down the slope. It was rough going with the crutch, but at least he could move. The crosspiece cut into his armpit, but he didn’t want to sacrifice any more clothing to pad it. When he got to cover, he would find something to use as a cushion. more tomorrow


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