fighting the painful spasms that shook him. When he was able to see again he kept his eyes open, knowing he could not sleep, and tried to think.
Where was he?
His fingers found the bark of the tree beside him. Yes, it was a tree. But why was it so wet, so moist and clammy beneath his touch? He drew back his hand, putting it to his mouth, and tasted his own raw and bleeding flesh. Something had happened, something horrible. But what? Fiery currents tortured him while he tried to think, to remember. Quickly he forced these thoughts from his mind to ease the pain. He used his ears then, hoping they would furnish him with all he wanted to know,
needed to know
, if he was to get assistance.
He squinted his eyes to shut out some of the pain. He listened, and heard wind roaring through treetops. Yes, there were trees all around him. He was certain of that now. And it was night … that, too, he knew. He heard the scream of an animal, and to him, just then, it was all the more wild and terrible because it rent the night air of an unknown wilderness. Yet when the scream trailed away, he thought no more of it, so wretched was his pain. Instead he listened to another sound, something that moved beneath the cry of wind and trees, something that rushed like the wind, but at a lower and more gentle pitch. It came to him suddenly that the sound could be made by a stream. He opened his eyes a little more.
He lay in a gully, and the ground sloped away from him. The low, rushing sound came from beyond. The way to it must be downgrade with nothing to climb. Yet he hesitated, not wanting to move, dreading the pain he knew any movement would bring.
Reaching for the trunk of the tree behind him, he dug his nails into its bark, and began pulling himself tohis feet. He screamed in his agony, stopped and held fast to the tree, not wanting to lose the few feet he had already gained. He pulled again until, staggering and weak, he stood on trembling legs. For a few minutes he rested, then he pushed himself away from the tree.
He fell forward more often than he walked. Yet he never stopped in his search for the stream, for he knew he’d never go on again if he did. With every step, the agonizing pain mounted until he thought his head would burst. Yet he went on, sometimes on hands and knees, always moving a little closer to the sound of running water. He tried to think of the comfort the water would bring to his head. He tried to concentrate on this and nothing more.
Finally he came to it, a thread of a stream rushing down the mountainside. He crawled into it, heedless of the sharp rocks that tore his hands and knees, opening fresh wounds, causing him to shed more blood.
He let his face fall into the cold water. The stream was shallow, and the stones at the bottom scraped his nose and mouth. He turned his head sideways, facing downstream. He lay there, letting the cold water run over his head. And for the first time his pain lessened. He had found his solace.
For a long, long while he lay there without moving, without thinking. Then, suddenly, down the mountainside he saw the moving lights! With great effort he raised his head from the water.
Help was coming. Somebody knew. Somebody was coming for him!
He staggered to his feet, and the pain beat his head again. It was severe but he was able to stand it now. It wasn’t as bad as before. He would be able to move. Hetook a few steps, then stopped, his eyes on the lights below. They were no longer coming toward him, but turning away! They were not lights held in the hands of people coming to his aid, but the headlights of a car, a car that was moving along a mountain road,
not looking for him and even now leaving him behind
He screamed at the top of his voice, and this great effort caused him to drop to his knees and clutch his head. He didn’t watch the car disappear down the road. His only thought was to get back to the stream, to let the cold, cold water ease his pain.
In time the pain
James M. Bowers, Stacy Larae Bowers