Friday, 26 July 2019

DC Chapter Two: Sam: Day 1

(Begin Recording)
Okay. Okay, not dead. That’s a good start.
Arms and legs wanna work, if a little sore. And by ‘a little’, of course, I mean a whole lot. And by ‘sore’, I mean completely pulverized.
I checked the transcription app, and amazingly, the cougar was close enough for my phone to pick it up. It actually transcribed the word ‘growl’ when the demon-thing closed in again. I gotta hand it to the software engineers. It even transcribed me yelling in pain.
I’m amazed the phone is still working, actually; but I guess the shock-proof case lived up to its name.
Doctor Wilson, I’m sure you’re going to be reading this, at some point, so I may as well tell you what the transcript missed. When the rocks started slamming into the bridge, I decided to turn my jeep around and get outta there. But one of the rocks hit the undercarriage enough to get wedged and lift the wheels off the ground.
While I was trying to get the car moving again, I could smell leaking fuel. Looks like the rock hit a line, too; so I have to get back up there, and fast. I had more than two thirds of a full tank, plus the reserve in the fuel can.
Except I can barely move. Jumping back from the damn cougar, I slip on the ankle-deep water over the bridge, and go tumbling over the side. I don’t know how far I slid, but I must have hit every rock and tangle of thorns on the western slope of the Valley.
The rain hasn’t stopped; and it gets dark fast under these trees, but… god, I can barely move. I don’t know how long I was in the water, but I’m… I’m cold. God, Chloe; I’m so cold.
Chloe. I wonder where she is now. If I was unconscious for more than an hour or two, she’s probably wondering where I am. I hope she’s dry.
Come on, Sam. Get up. You’ve got dry clothes back in your jeep. Get moving!
(End Recording)
(Begin Recording)
Chloe, how did you ever make this hike so easily? Even with an ATV, or a snowmobile, I can’t imagine it. The mud is so thick I’m sinking halfway to my knees with every step; and everywhere the ground is solid, it’s only because the incline is extreme enough that I’m on all fours for most of it.
The rain has stopped, at least. If it was still coming, I never would have been able to get a grip on anything. The rocks are all slick with some kind of moss or algae. Being in a wet environment, it probably grows fast here.
The trees help. They’re packed in so tight that the roots have emerged from the steep mud. It’s a little like a jungle gym, with…
Blood. Oh, where’s that coming from? I was bashed around a lot, but as far as I can tell; it’s more bruises than bloodletting.
(End Recording)
(Begin Recording)
Okay. Think, Sam. In a survival situation, you’re better off naked than in soaked clothes. Chloe was worried that the pass would be snowed in before you got here. It isn’t snowing yet, but it has to be close, so the chill in the air can be dangerous if you’re injured and waterlogged… and you are.
I need some heat. Dry off the clothes, get rid of the chill. I need a fire.
(End Recording)
(Begin Recording)
I squeezed half a gallon of water out of my clothes. The mud is still thick in my boots, but there’s still some sun. I had to go back to the river for that. The tree cover is just too thick everywhere else I’ve seen so far.
Fortunately, the trees have also supplied some low hanging branches, so I’ve put my clothes over them to dry out. I cannot get a fire going, even with the cigarette lighter. The rain has soaked everything, and I can’t make it burn.
Oh, yeah. No, I haven’t taken up smoking, dad. It’s your lighter. Remember, the gold-plated one that they gave you when you retired? It’s mine now.
The lighter is the only bit of spark I can make, but it’s soaked too. I know how to dry it out so that the spark will flame again, but I still have nothing dry enough to burn.
I’m freezing. That’s not a metaphor. I’m in peril, here. If I can’t get back to the Jeep soon; I’ve got real problems.
(End Recording)
(Begin Recording)
Dear Chloe,
I’ve got real problems, here.
I managed to get dad’s lighter to work again, but it’s been damaged in the tumble I took. The fuel is leaking. Bad enough that I can’t patch it.
Turned out to be a blessing in disguise, because I got the fuel all over a small collection of sticks and bark that I was trying to dry out. I scalded my fingers pretty badly, but with all the mud I’ve been wading through, I was fairly well fireproof. The fuel burned long enough to dry out the sticks, and I have a fire going.
It won’t last, and with the lighter out of commission, I’ll have to go back to the Jeep for matches. But my clothes are getting dry, at least.
Ah, Chloe, I miss you. You’d be in your element right now.
Alright, Sam. Let’s take inventory. All your gear was in the Jeep. You don’t have much in your pockets… You have your phone; and an extra battery, which both seem to be working. No signal, obviously; or this would be easy. You’ve got a bag of M&M’s, which survived the water, as the bag wasn’t opened yet.
I’ve got my c-clothes, which are fairly sturdy, just soaked through. My Jeep’s heater worked-d well, so my survival and cold-weather clothes are also at the Jeep. I’ve got a good pair of hiking boots, thick socks, c-c-currently d-drying out…
Oof. The wind is like a baseball bat made of razor blades, but once my clothes dry out, I should be okay…
I’ve been checking my injuries. I think I busted a rib or two, but I can move all my limbs and fingers. Could be worse, all things c-c-considered.
The valley starts at the river/waterfall; and goes west. The road gets anyone in a car through the valley mouth and over the river. That’s the pass where Chloe was meant to meet me. The map is still stored locally on my phone, and near as I can t-t-tell, the river winds back and forth, steeply downhill; while the road makes a gentle descent along the valley wall. I could either walk westward for a day and find where the terrain gets gentler, and then start my hike back to the jeep, or I can climb back up the valley wall to the pass.
(End Recording)
(Begin Recording)
Dear Dad,
Good news. No broken ribs. Bad news, they still hurt like hellfire. Only hell would be hot, and I’m freezing.
The terrain is nearly vertical, no matter which direction I look. Heading for flat ground first is going to take a long time, and I need the supplies more than anything else. Climbing back to the road it is.
It’s slow going, getting back to the Jeep. I’ve torn up my hands, climbing the… well, the mountainside, I guess. Technically a valley, but it’s a mountain to me. The good news is, with every inch of me in numb pain, I’m making very sure of my handholds; so I haven’t gone on a tumble back down towards the lake. At least not yet.
I have to stop and get my breath back every sixty feet or so. I’m still bleeding a bit from the gash on my head, but I don’t think it’s bad. I’ve used the camera on my phone to check, and the skin’s not peeled away from the bone; thank mercy. Also used the flash to record a selfie-clip. My pupil response is normal. I think that means no concussion. I may have spent a lot of the last three months in a hospital with you, dad; but you don’t get a medical degree by osmosis.
But head wounds bleed fast, and it keeps running into my eyes. My First Aid Kit is also with the Jeep. I know, that’s a lousy place for it; but I hadn’t planned to leave the car at all. I just had to move a stupid rock.
Oh. It just hit me that the rock is probably still there, holding up the car. I don’t even remember if I closed the door when that Cougar closed in. In fact, the Demon Cat is probably still there too.
One thing at a time. Get back to the jeep, patch up the damage, refill the tank... And food! Don’t forget the food!
(End Recording)
(Begin Recording)
Dear Chloe,
I remember when I was last here in the summer with you. That time we left the cabin for a fishing trip. I had a huge hiking pack. You went with a hatchet, and not much else. We hiked in a loop around the valley for two days, and you were able to set up a camp anywhere you wanted.
I envied you that trick. I envy it a lot more now. I’ve been trying to climb back up to the road, and I’m clearly not going to make it. I’m too beat up, and it’s too late in the day. It’s a hard enough hike if I was in good shape. I’m guesstimating that the valley wall incline is almost forty degrees, and it’s full of mud and rocks. I can’t see more than about forty feet with all the trees and mist. The rain is abating, but…
Hey! I see the Firewatch Station! It’s a long way off, but I can see it! Just above the trees! It’s way too far to do any good. I don’t have a signal flare.
Ooof. Yeah, you know what; I think I’m just going to rest right here for a minute.
(End Recording)
(Begin Recording)
Dawn. Thank god.
Dad, for the record, when I said to Chloe that I envied her ability to travel light in the wilderness, I had no idea how terrifying the forest is at night. It’s scary. It’s every horror movie I ever watched. I spent four hours shining the light on my phone out across the dark, looking for whatever ax murder was making those sounds.
I only meant to rest for a few minutes, but I was beat up enough that sleep was inevitable. I woke up and it was pitch black. I’m wedged between the roots of a tree, and all seized up after yesterday. My bruises have come in nicely, so I’m quite the technicolor man.
Oh, mercy. So. Painful. Can’t. Move. There are actual icicles on my jacket...
Yesterday, I said I was hurt? That’s a lie. I’m a mess of barely moving ouch. I need coffee, and painkillers. And more coffee, and lots of painkillers. Wedged in here, there’s nowhere to make a fire to warm up… I could probably find a flat rock, or something, but everything’s still soaked, and your lighter is empty.
Coffee’s at the Jeep. Also, I can avoid freezing to death. But still, coffee. What more incentive can I ask for?
I have no idea how long I’ve been down here. My wristwatch was smashed on the drop, but I’m glad for it. Without the watch to take the blow, odds are I would have torn my left wrist open.
While trying to locate the ax murderers last night, I also did the math. I’d say I climbed about a hundred feet, maybe a bit more; which means I’m likely to reach the valley entrance, and the coffee, by lunchtime. Jeep. Not coffee, the Jeep. Man, I really gotta get up there.
I shone the light on my phone in the direction of the Ranger Station several times. I covered it with my hand to shine an SOS in morse code. There was no sign they saw it. I’m also going to have to turn this phone off. Even in power saving mode, I used up way too much juice last night, trying to light up the forest. If I left the headlights on in the Jeep, I may not be able to charge it up again; or get the Jeep started.
Huh. Add that to the list of ways this little vacation is going badly.
(End Recording)
(Begin Recording)
I’m not going to make it there tonight, that’s for sure. The cold nearly got me last night; and it’s already mid-afternoon. Under these trees, it’s close to dark already. I don’t know why I’m so cold, after…
Oh, yes I do. The climb made me sweat. The cold is getting worse, so the… the sweat is actually icing up under my clothes. I have ice in my underwear now. But if I take them off to dry them out again, I’ll freeze to death anyway.
Shelter. Need a shelter. My sleeping bag was with Jeep, of course.
Alright, Chloe; what would you do?
(End Recording)
(Begin Recording)
I’m looking into making an A-Frame shelter before nightfall. It’s the best I can do, given that I don’t have any of my tools. I just need to find the right place…
All these trees means there’s plenty of leaves and sticks, and to make an A-Frame shelter, that’s all you need. I found a fallen tree that’s about a foot wide and sitting almost three feet off the ground. I’ve been stacking short sticks on either side of it, making a triangle frame about six feet long. Once the sticks are in place, I’ll cover the whole thing with leaves and dirt. Enough to keep the wind out.
Fortunately, the opening is on a slight incline that will take any pooling water downhill, instead of filling my shelter. I’ve used another stick to dig a trench around the other end; which will hopefully divert any rain away from me.
I remember Chloe telling me about the snowshelters she made near the lake. You have to put a layer of branches down, or the cold ground will just suck the warmth right out of you. The leafy branches I’ve snapped free are wet, but I’ve shaken most of the water off them.
I need another fire, to warm up my shelter. But without matches, I’m not having much luck. Friction Fire is the easiest way, but everything is still soaked. The leaves are all soaking wet, so is the grass. Trying to light a fire by rubbing two sticks together is… exhausting. I’m living on a few M&M’s and rainwater.
The exertion warmed me up a bit, but the clouds are getting dark; and I can smell the rain coming.
(End Recording)
(Begin Recording)
Well, the rain came.
It hit about five minutes after I made the last recording. I’m exhausted, Chloe. My skin is six different shades of black and blue, I’m starving, and the leaves of my shelter are all wet, which makes this place so cold and damp.
There’s nothing for it but to wait out the rain. I won’t get far on foot in this.
(End Recording)
(Begin Recording)
Chloe, I remember you told me once that the first tools were stone, rubbed smooth and to a sharp edge. With the rain so heavy, I’ve only really been able to improve my shelter from the inside, digging a few more inches, shifting the dry dirt beneath over to the sides. I found a rock or two, slammed them together. I had the idea that I could make a fire if I could make a spark. Didn’t work. Wrong kind of stone; but I’ve been grinding the flattest one on the other, trying to make an edge.
(End Recording)
(Begin Recording)
Dad, I’m going mad from cabin fever.
Three days of this insane rainfall! I haven’t been able to go more than two hundred feet from my shelter. Nothing but counting the hours, rationing out my last bits of candy. I can barely sit up in here.
What I can do is think. I’ve been trying not to think about you, dad; so I’ve been making plans.
I’m out of food. The batteries are nearly dead on this phone; and I’m a few hours from the end of the road, so to get to the Station, I’ll have to figure out my own map and compass.
I’m out of food. That’s a big one.
There’s plenty of water. I was able to arrange some of the leaves to pool the rainwater. Enough to get me three or four sips at a time. Over the course of a day, I’ve probably drunk a full eight glasses of water. But I still don’t have any way to store it, so when the rain stops, I’ll have to find the creeks again.
The three days helped with the bruises. I remember your doctor saying something about how shock can dehydrate you, your body redirecting water to help with the injuries. The pain has turned into stiffness… I say stiff, but it feels like Rigor Mortis. Such thoughts do not help.
I have an edge. Sharpening the stones together has given me a smooth stone with a sharp end. It’s barely the length of a Swiss Army Knife, and too thick for finer work, but it’s been helping me carve notches into the bones of my shelter. It’s sitting snugly now, packed in. The wind is picking up at night, so a more secure shelter helps.
The wind is another problem. This water I’m drinking has a real chill to it. In fact, the little puddles are iced over in the morning. Another reason not to try hiking the incline. A wet climb is bad. Ice would be suicide.
Chloe was worried I wouldn’t make it before the snowfall closed the valley off. It’s gotta be close.
Even without snow, the cold is going to kill me if I’m not careful. Icy water meets body temperature, and calories are burned warming it up. Back in civilization, that’ll be good for losing weight. Out here, it’s just another way I’m in trouble. My stomach has definitely shrunk. I’m hungry all the time now.
The rain hasn’t stopped. I’m rather pleased with the shelter. I’m dry in here; and I can get all the water I need just holding my hands out to catch it. Time consuming, but where am I going to go?
(End Recording)
Dream Journal:
The bookshop is small, and every inch of the place is crammed full of books. Mostly paperbacks with heavy creases in the spines. These secondhand places are like caverns full of disposable books. It’s actually hard to see the lower shelves, because I can’t step back without hitting another shelf behind me.
And then I hear the bell over the door ring. The woman who walks in is like nothing I’ve seen before. She reminds me of a deer, and it takes me a moment to figure out why. She’s wearing deerskin; but that’s not it. It’s her stride. She’s slender enough that its like she prances on hooves.
Not that one.” I say to her as she reaches for a book. “Trust me, the good reviews are all from paid sources. You should look up the reader reviews; personal blogs.”
She smiles at me lightly. “I can’t. I don’t have internet access at home. Besides, I have to read it. I read all the others in the series; and I’m committed now.” She riffles the pages, and I notice how calloused her hands are. “Besides, what are reviews worth? Opinions aren’t right because they’re popular.”
What’s your review system?” I ask.
A book that I really like? I put it on my shelf. All the rest I use as tinder for my fireplace.”
I cough out a laugh. “I’m afraid to ask how you pick your favorite restaurant.”
She laughs musically, and I’m smitten at once. “Maybe you can suggest something?”
I pull out my kindle, and open up my favorites list. “Any of those interest you?”
She reads the list quickly, running a finger over the screen. “I’ve always wondered about these. I travel light, as a matter of necessity, but I’m fairly off-grid. I don’t know about a library I have to charge up.”
To answer her, I flip the cover on my kindle closed, and reveal the solar panel that takes up most of the surface area. “One day of charging gives you two weeks of reading.”
She flips it back open again, her eyes still locked on the screen. “I think I’ll look for… this one. It was one of my favorites when I was younger, but I don’t have a copy any more.” She hands the device back to me and goes hunting through the shelves. “So, if you’re the ‘digital’ type, how come you’re in here?”
The bookstore?” I put my kindle away and follow. “Well, first of all, it’s hard to start a fire with an e-reader.”
This is true.” She giggles. “Ah! Here it is.” She pulls a mystery novel down from the shelf. One that I enjoyed. “I don’t even have a credit card. Setting up an account isn’t an option for me. I use cash, sometimes barter.”
That comment makes me look at her again. I can’t see any sign of the twenty-first century on her, except for her boots. No jewelry of any kind, no electronics of any kind, not even a watch. Stonewashed jeans and deerskin shirt with fisher-vest pockets. I’d swear it’s homemade. “Well, I’d ask about that; but it’s not polite to pry before you’ve been introduced.” I take the book off her and scribble a note on the front page; giving it back to her. Hi! I’m your book, and pleased to introduce you to Sam, who also loves reading me!
She reads it and takes my pen to jot down an answer. Chloe is always pleased to meet mutual friends of her favorite books.
You gonna buy that, or what?” The guy behind the counter looks owlishly at us.
~~/Document Saved/~~
(Begin Recording)
Dear Chloe,
I dreamed about how we met last night. First time I’ve remembered my dreams for a while.
Chloe, I woke up and for a moment, I thought I was still dreaming. The rain has stopped. I woke up to the sound of absolute silence for the first time in days. Doc Wilson told me to let my mind take me places. He said that on some level it’s part of my grief, my brain making the connections subconsciously. What I noticed this morning was the silence.
I always equated the valley with peace and quiet, but after being here, surrounded by it for three days, this is the first actual silence I’ve heard. It’s quieter than being indoors with my white noise generator.
The snows have come. That’s why. Last night hit the magic temperature and the millions of raindrops turned into millions of snowflakes.
Chloe, when you invited me up here, you said that I’ve never seen the Valley in Winter. You said that it’s like a whole other universe. You were right. I’ve been looking out of the shelter at the rain for hours at a time, and now I can’t recognize anything. The ground isn’t the same, buried under a thick carpet that obscures everything. The trees aren’t the same; the branches all changed colors. Even the incline looks softer and gentle. It’s a lie, of course. I don’t have snowshoes. I’m going to have to push through this thick white powder.
It sucked the air clean. No movement in the air, no insects… Not a drop of rain. Just this still, all-enveloping cold. But the snow starting means the rain has finally stopped. I can finally get out of this shelter. What I take with me is an empty plastic M&M bag, a sharp edge, and some tinder and sticks that I was able to dry out by keeping it close while I slept.
I have to get to the Jeep fast. I haven’t eaten anything in a day. And before that, two days stretching out one bag of M&M’s and rainwater.
The Jeep. Get to the Jeep. Food and supplies. Dry clothes. Survival Gear.
(End Recording)
(Begin Recording)
Chloe, where are you?!
I know, it’s not fair. You thought I’d be here days ago, and if you were on the far side of the Bridge… and of course you are, because that’s where we were going to meet; then you probably gave up on me after one night. You’d be back at your cabin by now.
The Jeep is… I can’t even say it. It’s burned out. It’s gone. There’s nothing left of it.
Alright, let’s apply some intelligence to this. I know the fuel line was ripped, so there was lots of fuel around. I know I was scrambling to get in and out, because of the Demon Cat... The Cigarette Lighter? I probably knocked it out. One of the rocks? They were tumbling over the bridge fairly fast. It’s how I went over the edge. If something hit hard enough to make a spark, or if a rock hit underneath and did damage to the battery…
In fact, now that I think of it, it was a pretty heavy storm, and some of the trees over the Bridge have scorch marks. This is a pretty high point in the valley; so if the car attracted some lightning, and a branch above got hit… A shower of sparks, even in the rain, would have lit the fuel. With me washed off the bridge, and the fuel-line leaking…
No. Doesn’t matter. My supplies are gone.
My… My Supplies Are Gone!
The food, water bottles, the matches, dry clothes… The Food!
Ohgod, Chloe… What do I do now?
(End Recording)
(Begin Recording)
Chloe, something horrifying just hit me. You don’t have a satphone. Unless you bought one since we spoke over email, and I don’t think you would, then you aren’t expecting me. You would have given up on my coming by the end of day one, and assumed I’d not made it this far; or changed my mind. You even said: If I got lost: Check in with Ewan. It’s days travel to get home again. It’s not like you can check and make sure I got there.
Everything inside that wreck is white ash at this point. The tanks were full. It must have burned hot for a long time. If you even found the Jeep, you’d probably not expect a body. If you think I’m dead, you’re not looking. In fact, nobody’s looking. There’s no sign of anyone having been near the Jeep since it burned out. No police, or search helicopters that I’ve seen of heard.
Liz decided to take an extra three weeks in Europe, and the last she heard, I was with you… And everyone who knew I was heading for the Valley, my co-workers and such… I sent them a copy of my route up here, for exactly this reason; but it wasn’t until I was halfway here that I realized the route on my printed screenshot from Google Maps is off by almost ninety five miles.
So even if someone noticed I was missing, which isn’t likely to happen for weeks, and even assuming someone called for a rescue, and even assuming they began a search, they’d be looking in the wrong place.
Do the math, Sam. Ninety five miles from where I’m meant to be, on a path that’s at least a day’s drive from civilisation anyway; call it three hundred and ten miles from the last place someone saw me or my car enough to identify me… Multiply by pi, to get the circumference of a space that large… That’s a search area of nine hundred and seventy five square miles.
And the terrain is so bad that I spent half an hour looking for the damn road when I climbed the valley wall; and I knew exactly where it was when I set out.
And it’s a good bet nobody even knows I’m in danger.
I’m… Oh god, Chloe; I’m going to die up here.
(End Recording)


A Note From The Author: I hope you're all enjoying 'Dear Chloe' in its serialised format. If you'd like to read the whole thing at once, and take it with you, you can buy the whole book here in eBook and Paperback Format.