The next snowfall could easily bring another foot of snow. The sky had not cleared, but the clouds hung higher and all of the animals seemed to be in a desperate last minute frenzy of activity. Douglas squirrels dashed about harvesting the last of the pine cones, and the birds had left. The wind across the snow fields cut deeply.
All day he heard the clatter of bucks in battle. Where yesterday his own deer had seemed to be the only one on the mountain, today he had seen several in the distance and had seen the tracks and rut signs of others.
There was real storm brewing. He could see it in the sky, in the behavior of the animals, and could feel it in the cruel wind. It was as if nature had given her warning and was now drawing her forces together for a real horror.
He was worried about his feet, as well. They hadn’t been dry in two days. And he was worried about his ability to travel. Already he was having a rough time in the snow because of his crutch.
Life had been simpler when he was too hunger dazed to worry. The thought made him smile.
During the afternoon, he spotted a number of muleys feeding in the open. They bolted before he got anywhere near a stalk. The ground was crisscrossed with tracks, but the cripple’s tracks had disappeared.
It was growing dark when he found a trio of cedars set in a rough triangle. Working as quickly as he could, he cut numerous saplings and braced them horizontally among the lower branches. He swept the ground free of snow, laid down boughs for a bed, and used more for a roof.
He built a fire and dried his feet as best he could. He roasted the last of the porcupine meat. It was frozen, but Tim had had the foresight to spear it with a roasting stick while it was still fresh. All afternoon he had carried it like a meat popsicle.
Night fell as he continued to work, building brush walls and dragging up firewood. The wind increased and the temperature dropped until he could no longer work away from the fire.
It was a rough shelter at best. One wall was open and another was only partially completed, but these faced away from the wind. The fire fought a losing battle with the dropping temperature. No amount of fuel would keep this shelter warm, and Tim sat huddled miserably into the smallest ball his body would form.
* * *
The black bear was hungry and enraged. His wounds had not healed; the pellet below his eye remained swollen and infected.
He paused to strip the inner bark from a pine, but it did little for him. Then he smelled rotting flesh. Such carrion had nearly led him to his death, so he approached the carcass with exceptional caution but there was no trace of man. He still instinctively trusted his nose, even though it was nearly useless.
He fed well on a deer which some hunter had wounded and lost.
* * *
Near midnight, Tim had to make a foray for more wood. The snow had fallen steadily all night, first with wind, and later in an insistent, heavy downpouring. In the darkness beyond the fire, Tim could not see the snow as it whitened his body. He hunted for wood by feel, running his bare arms through the drifts to find down wood. more tomorrow