I was to be the thing’s next meal. I could see it in its eyes. As my mousey little heart wanted to give up and give out my ratty brain saw my one chance of escape. I knew I wouldn’t be able to out run it. As the thing belly crawled toward me and then wiggled its butt as it prepared to pounce I took off my back pack and hid it in a crevice formed by the rocks I stood on. I couldn’t out run it … but I could jump. Right as it bound I jumped into the river … almost too late.
It got a piece of me but only a couple of deep nicks from one paw. It did more damage to the shirt I was wearing than the skin underneath. But I wasn’t out of danger yet. The cat had followed me into the water and still wanted its meal. Unfortunately for both of us the current was bone chillingly cold and powerful. There were lots of rocks and eddies making it even more dangerous. I was taken under by a sieve and barely popped up in time to avoid being smashed to smithereens in a strainer. The cat wasn’t so lucky.
Eventually the current slowed enough that I was able to swim to the side and pull myself onto a small beach. As I lay on the wet mud made of sand and scree I watched the lifeless body of the big cat float by tangled up in a sweeper that had come loose as it tried to climb out in a futile effort to escape death. I should have been sorry for the beautiful creature’s demise but all I could think was that I wish I could to turn its thick fur into a winter coat for me.
I was cold and soaked. My shirt hung from me in tatters and the sole of one of my boots flopped free. I started walking; I was several miles downriver and the hike back wasn’t easy as it was mostly up. Finally I collected my back pack. Good thing that animals couldn’t be embarrassed because my state of dress, or undress as it were, wasn’t what you would refer to as modest.
I was barely able to put one foot in front of the other and by the time I got to the cabin nearly fell down the stairs trying to reach the basement. I started a fire in the fireplace and stripped out of the remains of my clothes and hung them to dry, then crawled into my bed and shivered myself to sleep. I woke the next morning with a fever. I knew I needed to do something about it but couldn’t find any real desire to do so. It was as if the wild ride down the river the day before had washed away a lot of my desire to live. I slept the night and day away and awoke again in even worse condition.
I was cold and hot at the same time. I hurt from being smashed repeatedly into objects in the water and then the long slog back to the cabin in the cold. I was discouraged. And I suspected, though I found it hard to believe, that I was lonely. Even in the city there were other people. I might not have talked to them but I listened to them. I didn’t have to sit with them to be near them. Out here there was no one. I hadn’t heard a human voice, not even my own, since the last words that I had spoken before I escaped Gill’s settlement. I felt I was bound to fail and no one would even know where my body lay.
But as soon as that thought crossed my mind I became irritated. No one was going to tell me what to do, certainly not my over tired and fever-ridden subconscious. I know there was no logic in having such a battle with myself but logic had nothing to do with how I was feeling at that moment. But apparently a little anger is just what the doctor ordered. I forced myself to get up and go to the bathroom. It was dark and I had to feel my way around, and the air coming up from the toilet made me shiver but it also woke me up even further. I crawled to the fireplace and stirred it up and got it going again. I arranged the grill that I used to hold my cooking pot, put water in it, and dumped in a good handful of dried rose hips and a handful of currants and let them simmer.
I was terribly thirsty but the containers that I kept water in were all empty which was a stupid mistake I vowed not to ever make again. I forced my body into the mud stiffened pants that were dry but filthy and threw a fur poncho – my first attempt at making clothes with the animal skins – over my head. I didn’t have anything on underneath it because of the scrapes and bruises and because I was just too tired to care. I wasn’t concerned with anyone seeing me and if I shocked the squirrels I didn’t give a rip. If they barked too much about what was none of their concern I decided I would just eat them.
My boots were full of dirt and gravel and I wasted time and energy having to knock them out which of course finally knocked the sole off of the boot that had been threatening to fall apart. I got mad and threw both shoes back into the cabin. I obviously wasn’t thinking too straight but I didn’t realize it at the time.
I walked over to the well and was barely able to move the cover off. I knew that was wrong but let it go. All I could think of was getting a drink. But when I didn’t check the chain I was using to lower and raise my “bucket” and it fell off the handle I paid for it. My chest was tight with frustration. I could see the bucket bobbing right on the surface of the water but if I didn’t get it fast it was going to sink and I didn’t know what I would do then.
I kept bending over trying to reach it. Finally I decided if it didn’t work this time I was going to have to crawl down into the well and get it. I was down in the well with my thighs barely on the rock edge of the hole when I heard, “Hello the cabin! Don’t mean to startle you but I smelled your fire. Don’t want any trouble but was wondering if … if … hey … you … you OK?”
I was so angry. Why of all times did my brain pick that moment to finally crack?
I pulled myself up out of the hole as fast as I could and then stood there trying to catch my balance. I pointed at him, “You. Figment of my imagination. Get it.”
The look on his face would have been funny if I wasn’t so angry. “Figment of your …? Get what?”
“My bucket,” I snarled. “I dropped my bucket and I don’t want to climb down in there and get wet like I did yesterday, wait no, the day before – I’m sick and now obviously crazy – and you very well know it. The cat must have done some damage or I banged my head or something. So if you are going to just pop up you can go down and get it.”
The figment of my imagination eased over and looked down in the well, looked at me, and then reached down and pulled out the bucket that had stubbornly remained out of my reach, water and all. I took it from him and started walking back to the cabin and then realized that figments of a person’s imagination could not actually fetch like I had demanded that he do.
I slowly turned around, looked at the bucket in my hand then looked at him and sat down hard. I remember saying something to the effect “I dropped my bucket and … and you pulled it out. I think you pulled it out. Only now I’ve spilled it. I dropped it and … and now it’s not dropped.”
The man muttered as he put his revolver up, “Dropped the dang bucket. I’ve dropped my dang teeth. Sitting there talking about buckets with your face all hanging out. Ain't even bucket it's a pot. And … hell fire and damnation haven’t you got a lick of sense?! You’re barely dressed and now you’re wet.” He picked me up when he realized I was too stunned to move and stamped into the cabin and then cursed thinking he’d gone into the wrong one.
I croaked, “Down.” I was starting to shiver, with shock or cold I couldn’t tell.
He sat me in front of the fire and shouted, “I swear by all that is holy I will tie you down if you do not promise me on everything you hold dear that you will be here when I get back.”
I mumbled, “Yeah, whatever.” Right before I started listing to the side.