on the right track, so to speak. My main priorities were to find food, water and shelter. Doubt began to creep in. What the heck was I doing? Danny had me so confused.
Forget about Danny and focus, Helena. Find a water source. The other two can wait for a while. Yep, water was essential.
I stopped to listen. If there was a river, creek or waterfall nearby I should be able to hear it — nothing. Maybe I could smell water instead, like being able to smell when it’s about to rain. I sniffed the air and the scents of the forest assailed my nostrils. I could smell the vitality of the trees, the cleanness of the air, the decomposing leaves under my feet and the animals’ droppings. There were others smells as well, many of which I couldn’t identify — a few sickly-sweet — bombarding me from all directions, but water was not one of them.
It was strange how vivid each of the scents was. Perhaps it was the result of being in fresh, unpolluted air. I found myself taking deeps breaths through my nose, trying to identify every individual scent.
Stop it . Use your ears, not your nose .
I continued walking and allowed my sense of hearing to range outwards. I tried to rely on my nose as little as possible. The sickly-sweet smell was becoming overbearing, almost to the point of making me nauseous.
In the distance I could hear the sounds of a ferocious fight. The snarling and growling, interspersed with yowls of pain, echoed throughout the forest. They sounded like big animals, not the little creatures I’d seen scurrying away from me. I shivered slightly, more so at the images my imagination conjured up for me, to accompany the cacophony. I’d never heard sounds like that before. They were frightening.
I hesitated. There was no way I wanted to end up in the middle of a fight, or worse, as a meal for a pack of wild animals. As I tried to decide which way would be the best direction to take — to give the fight a wide berth — I heard a distressed howl, then silence. Everything was quiet again.
I angled off to the left, not wanting a chance encounter with whatever animals had been involved in the fight. If I was lucky they were busy eating their prey and wouldn’t catch sight or scent of me.
My decision had been a good one. Within half an hour I heard the faint sound of water, and it was this sound I followed, until I reached a grassy clearing divided near enough through the middle by a shallow brook.
I looked around cautiously from the cover of the trees. A number of trees had fallen down at some time, fashioning this small glade. Most of the wood had rotted away and only a few stumps remained.
Not seeing or hearing anything out of the ordinary, I ventured out into the small patch of sunshine. The sun felt good on my face and its warmth made me realise how cold I’d been, travelling in the gloom of the forest.
I knelt by the brook and splashed my face with water. It was icy cold and I gasped involuntarily. I wiped my face on the sleeve of my jumper, closed my eyes and raised my face to the sun again, soaking up the warmth and waiting for feeling to return to my numb nose. It was then I sensed something was watching me.
My heart should have been pounding in my chest with fear, but it wasn’t. My stomach should have been in knots, but it wasn’t. I was strangely calm and serene. For all I knew it was a predatory animal, come to eat or drink — perhaps both. The thought didn’t bother me as it had when I’d heard the growling and snarls earlier on. I should be scared, but I wasn’t.
Surely it was Danny who was watching me. It was the only explanation for my lack of fear. On some subconscious level I must have known I wasn’t in any danger.
“You can come out, Danny,” I said.
I cupped my hands and lowered them into the icy water. I heard the sound of soft footsteps behind me. Yes, footsteps — two legs, not four. So it was Danny!
I quenched my thirst with the water. It had an odd metallic aftertaste.
Blake Crouch, Selena Kitt