Saturday, 3 August 2019

DC Chapter Three: Sam: Day 5

(Begin Recording)
Dear Dad,
You always said ‘work the plan’. Even when you didn’t have a plan, you acted like you did. That’s where I’m at, trying to convince myself there’s a plan.
Okay, do the math. I was driving for the better part of a day when I realized the route was off. The road to that station comes in from the opposite side of the valley to Chloe. Following the road in any other direction… That’s days of travel on foot, especially in this state.
I didn’t see a single car on the road, and there’s nothing up here but the Station; and Chloe’s cabin. The odds of seeing someone I can flag down are slim to nothing. My survival gear was all in the Jeep…
The vehicle is burned; and with the snow; even the ashes are cold. It looks like it could have been there for months. I can’t believe it’s all gone. I had canned goods, but they all boiled in the can and burst open… Oh, of course. The supplies themselves were pure kindling. All the flour and sugar. I remember, Chloe. You once showed me how to light a fire in a hurry. Flour and sugar is so fine the flame catches instantly; and packed into a bag like that, the flame spreads to all the other specks of flour and sugar. Forget flammable, it’d be downright explosive, even in the rain.
So. Work the plan. And that plan is The Station. I saw the Firewatch Station during my climb. It’s halfway along the valley. That’s my best bet for rescue. Even if Ewan’s not there, I can call for help.
I’ve followed the road as best I can, given the obstructions. The fallen tree was just the start. The road wasn’t exactly easy to follow, but I’m past the end of it now. It just sort of… faded into brambles and pine needles past the Depot. With no path to follow, I’m moving downhill a bit, to be closer to the water sources. My water bottle melted with everything else in the Jeep. Stupid plastic. I have to collect water, and can’t carry any with me.
The Station. Get to the Firewatch station; and you can call for help.
First step, a Shelter. I have to rest. I have no food, and I’m exhausted. I’ve been walking for hours, and my strength is nearly gone. I have to ration enough energy to make camp for the night.
(End Recording)
Dream Journal:
We’re at the library. In a town like Fairbanks, it’s small enough. At this time of day, there’s almost nobody there.
But there’s a computer, with internet access. Chloe sits next to me, interested, as I set up an account for her. “I don’t know how you don’t have an email address.”
Everyone I know is close enough to talk to. When I don’t visit my uncle, I use a Ham Radio.” She excuses. “I told you, I travel light. That includes the people.”
No offense, Chloe; but it seems… wasteful.”
Ooh. That’s a four letter word in my world.” She scoffs. “You better be ready to back that up.”
Well, take the bookshop for instance. What you said, about how a book you don’t like goes in the fireplace? That bookshop is secondhand. They’ll give you store credit for a trade-in. Two books you don’t like for one you love? Seems wasteful to burn it instead.”
I get back to civilization once a month.” She counters. “Longer, if I can stretch it. I choose my luggage carefully.”
Still, you’d think that keeping communications-”
Sam, this is only the fourth time we’ve met; so let me jump to the end of the page, here.” She says kindly. “You have no idea what my world is like. I was probably the last person in the world to find out about 9/11. By almost two months. Out there, the rules are different. Civilization? The only thing about it I really can’t bear to part with is that bookstore. Hot showers are a luxury, so are the groceries. But I can heat water, and I can find food. The valley has everything I need… And I’m possibly the only person in the state that isn’t worried about rent payments, identity theft, credit card debt, and about a thousand other things. Believe me, my way of life makes more sense to me than yours.”
Well, you’re not wrong.” I admit ruefully. “Once the radio tower is repaired, I have no idea where I get sent next. And that won’t be more than three or four days.”
Sam…” Chloe seems genuinely saddened. “This is goodbye, then?”
I guess it must be.”
Chloe bites her lip and turns back to the screen. “Well, I don’t know if you heard, but I have an email address now. If you like, I could see if it works. Though, I should warn you, I only get to a computer with Internet once a month.”
I’ll have to think of something important to say, then.”
~~/Document Saved/~~
(Begin Recording)
Dear Chloe,
I’ve made a new shelter, and fashioned myself a spear/walking stick. Still no luck with fire; which is getting aggravating. I sharpened the stick with a flat stone that I spent hours every night grinding to a sharp edge. I’m starting to line up with daylight. Sleep when it gets dark, wake up with the dawn.
I’m on the last third of my last battery. I’ve dialled all the settings down to minimum to save power. I’ve been staring at this map of the valley for so long I can see it when my eyes close, but the map means nothing. Lines on a relief map will tell you how steep an area is, but it says nothing about how thick the snow is above the incline, or how likely you are to fall and break an ankle pushing through it.
The Station is closer to my end of the valley. The Lake is further than halfway. Your cabin isn’t on the map at all; but I know it’s closer to the far side of the lake than the Station. So the Station is easier to find, and closer.
The stone edge I have is nothing. Not much of a tool, even less of a weapon. Last night, I heard a wolf howling. There are Predators in these woods beyond the Demon Cat.
That Cougar has been on my mind. I found pawprints in the snow that look like the sort he’d leave. El Diablo is still in the area, and unlike me, he’s got a fur coat and snowshoes.
I’m tired enough that the sounds of wolves eating something savagely didn’t even keep me awake last night. Huh. There’s a sentence I never thought I’d say.
I need food and water. I’ve already dropped two belt loops; and I think my body has realized there’s no food coming in, so it’s shifted to a ‘starvation’ mode. Despite being in ‘energy saver mode’, I’m walking for hours, and the cold… I’m burning up my calories; and I haven’t eaten in too long. Running on empty.
You’d like my new shelter. It’s a snow cave. Well, I say the word ‘cave’, but really it has about a foot of clearance around me. Some pine boughs underneath, and I’m warm enough to live. I built the snow back up into the entrance, leaving just enough for ventilation.
Oh, by the way, Chloe? I’ve got that M&M bag wedged upright against the wall of my shelter between sticks. I cut one end of it open and filled it with snow last night. It’s liquid now, so my shelter is officially above freezing point. It’s the only liquid water I have. Eating snow without melting it is going to speed my inevitable death considerably.
Those damn cans. I must have searched through the burned out Jeep a hundred times. The fire burst all the tins when their contents boiled. To top it off, I don’t have a can opener anyway. Even a can with a hole in only one side would have been enough to boil water… But only if I could get a damn fire going!
(Transcription Error. Too much background noise. Please try again)
Hate! This! ARGH!
(Transcription Error. Too much background noise. Please try again)
Okay, dummy. You’ve had a nice long tantrum and used up a good chunk of your energy… to say nothing of telling every predator for a hundred miles where to find you. You ready to get up and do something now?
(Pause Recording)
I'm going to die here.
Funny, but I’ve never really thought seriously on the subject. It happens to everyone eventually, but I never really dwelled on it, even after Dad...
Back in the city, there are people who don't know where their next meal is coming from, have no place to sleep... But those people rarely have to dread hunger and thirst the way I do now. If I was homeless, back in the city, I'd know where all the drinking fountains were, I'd know the warmer spots, out of the wind. I could hide out from rain in a library, or a gazebo in a public park... This far into the wilderness, I don't have any of that.
Another day, and eating out of a McDonalds garbage can will seem like gourmet food. It always seemed so…
No, never mind.
(End Recording)
(Begin Recording)
Dear Dad,
Chloe used to say that survival in the wilderness isn’t a sprint, it’s a long walk. I didn’t realize how literally she meant that until I started walking.
I saw wolf-tracks this morning, and I saw drops of blood in the snow alongside them. I can’t really tell you why I followed the tracks back the way they came, but I did… and I came across their last kill.
The wolves have moved on, but it looks like they tore into this elk mid-run. At least I think it’s an Elk. I was never clear on the difference between an Elk and a Moose. Anyway, there’s lots of snow tossed around, lots of blood… His insides extend for several feet back that way, so he fought like hell to escape the pack. But aside from the hindquarters and belly, the carcass is mostly intact… There’s so much meat left on this thing, and I’m an inch away from tearing into it with my teeth right now.
The meat is going to make me a target for scavengers and predators. Not that I’m not already. I’m slicing into the carcass with my edge. It’s not much, and my fingers are numb all the time now, even without getting them covered in frozen meat and blood. I don’t exactly have any tupperware with me, so I’m putting frozen solid hunks of meat into my pockets. I can fold my shirt up to make a pouch, but that would leave me open to the wind, until I get this meat back to my last shelter. The wind is only getting colder. It slices into me so hard and so unrelentingly that I actually check to see if it’s left me bleeding. Forget the hike for today. Food’s more important at this point.
I need fire, dammit!
Chloe, I must have watched you make a hundred campfires. You had a flint and steel most of the time. I had matches for other times…
Wait… You had a cat-tail. I remember, you got one from the edge of the lake, and tore the head of it apart. I remember, it sort of erupted open like cotton candy!
That was your tinder. It was super-fine. That’s the key. Tree bark was too sturdy to give in to sparks. Dry grass? Hasn’t worked yet… I’ve gotta go finer than that. If I can tear up the grass to be even thinner...
(End Recording)
(Begin Recording)
Okay, I can make a fire stick now. Carving the elk bones into sharp points is way easier than grinding stone. I’ve been doing this for almost two hours, filing the elk bones on rock. It’s given me a knife. A thin edge with a sharp point on the end. I remember, Chloe. You called it ‘knapping’, creating a serrated edge in a bone or stone blade.
Since I can carve a notch into a stick, and I can create a bow-string out of my shoelaces... Like the old boy-scout fires. Wind a stick with a piece of string and spin it back and forth fast in a notch… The friction gives me an ember, the ember gives tinder a spark…
Alright, this time. This time for sure…
Come on. Come on… I can’t keep this up without eating something…
Ah! Okay! Okay! Now, the notch is full of black char… turn the stick over, put the char in my tinder… Come on… Breathe a little bit… Come on, catch! Smoke! Smoking…. Smoky… Blow a little more… Flame! Come on, catch the stick! Don’t go out!
(Transcription Error. Too much background noise. Please try again)
At last! I have finally graduated from neanderthal to cro-magnon! Snow-Shelter, bone tools, and fire!
I’ve gotta get this meat cooking! And firewood! I need that.
(End Recording)
(Begin Recording)
My Dear Chloe,
I remember when I was up here last Summer, you used to carry around an old coffee can full of kindling, and kept a small fire going in it. The smoke from that can was like a miracle shield keeping the mosquitoes away. Remember them? They were like a bloodthirsty blanket on everything; and you banished them with a coffee can full of embers, swaying on your walking stick. It was a magic trick. To say nothing of never needing matches whenever we made camp.
Liz thinks I fell in love with you last summer. I’m not so sure she’s wrong, but I don’t think I will ever love anything or anybody as much as I love my campfire.
She, and yes, my true love the campfire is a she; has already given me so much. My spear, for starters, is blackened and pointed. Burning away the surface has hardened the spear-point. I’m even looking into putting something sharper on the tip, if I can get that elk bone sharp enough to make a spearhead.
The campfire has made drying out tinder and firewood immensely easier, so after a while I had less smoke. She’s been great company, too. I never really appreciated the character of a campfire sound; but it’s been a great conversation. There’s the subtle shivery hiss when a bit of sap boils out against the flame. There’s the playful pop of some bit of liquid expanding enough to snap a bit of wood open. There’s the hungry growl that never stops as the fire devours her fuel. If you huddle close, there’s the constant sound of something breathing in, as the air is drawn into the heat. It keeps breathing in, but never out.
There’s the flower spark that floats up to the night sky like a prayer; there’s the smell of smoke and powder ash. There’s the dance of shadows on the trees and snow. The shadows move constantly, with each and every flicker of the firelight. She gives me territory. I’ve been trying to figure out the way all these animals live with each other; and I’ve decided that they’re all neighbors; respecting each other’s territory. The circle of light cast from my fire is my boundary.
She feeds me. I’ve taken as much meat as I could from the wolves’ leavings. I don’t know much about harvesting; and there was wolf slobber all over the thing anyway. I dread to think what a diet of raw meat means for anyone sharing a plate with them. I’ve had slips of meat on sticks, hovering over the flame.
That’s not to say our relationship has always been easy. We have our share of ups and downs. For one thing, she’s incredibly needy. The spark goes out without constant attention, and I have to keep… I’ve taken this metaphor way too far; haven't I, Chloe?
Seriously, though: It’s a hassle, trying to keep it alive. The wood is still damp from the snow, and I’m limited to what I can break off by hand or haul out of the snowdrifts. I have to dig out space in the snow or it’ll melt its way into being put out. The cold does a good job of snuffing out a flame if it gets too low, so I have to maintain it… Tell you the truth, I’m afraid to leave it alone.
And, if I’m honest, I’m having trouble cooking. I know, I’m new at this; but I didn’t want the smell of meat in the air, given that there’s at least one wolfpack nearby. So I kept the meat I harvested hidden in the snow. I figure it’s as good as a freezer… And it is; which is why I’m having trouble cooking it. It’s going to char on the outside, and still be frozen inside. Not that it’ll stop me. I’m hungry enough to eat it charred and frozen. So far, my best solution is to cook in small bits. You know how I used to snack constantly. You’d laugh yourself sick if you saw me now.
Tell the truth, I’m not that worried about the quality of my cooking skill. I’m worried about the meat. I remember reading this article once that said meat lost nourishment value after it was cooked. Something about the juices cooking away. The way to maximize the ‘health’ value was to stew it, so that the juices made it into the gravy. But without a pot or pan, I’m reduced to cooking it like a marshmallow over a campfire.
Ah, Chloe. You used to make those great clay pots, remember? I’d be fishing, and you’d be working clay that you mixed from the riverside. I’ve actually been experimenting with the dirt and melted snow. My heavy weather gear went with the Jeep, so I’m limited in how many hours I can be out of the shelter. I’ve been looking for ways to pass the time. I actually toyed with the idea of making a small fireplace in my shelter out of mud. I haven’t found the knack yet, but I can make a ‘wall’ out of dirt and mud. I remember seeing a video about that on YouTube once. Instead of the heat escaping out in every direction, you build a wall behind the fire, ‘reflecting’ the heat in one direction, towards the entrance to my little snow cavern. Closest thing to a fireplace I can make for an emergency shelter.
Well, it worked. The fire has also kept my shelter a lot warmer, of course; and that’s good, since I’m going to have to make more than one of them as I travel. I figure I’m still a day or two away from the Station; given that I can only travel with the weather on my side. If I ration the meat, that might be enough.
I saw the Station again. I figure I’ll get there in another day. Maybe two, if the weather changes overnight. I can’t see anyone inside it, though I’m not sure I would. I’ve never actually been anywhere near that station before. I remember it being on the far side of the lake from Chloe’s cabin, and the lake takes up almost the width of the valley, if only a quarter the length.
Please, God. Let the Station be enough to save my life.
(Low Battery Warning)
(End Recording)
(Begin Recording)
Chloe, today’s the day. I can see the Firewatch Station. It’s been snowing during my walk, but I don’t care; because I’ve got a secret weapon against the cold.
Overnight, I heard a sound like a cannon going off in the distance. I finally figured out what that was. A tree exploded. I found it earlier, and collected plenty of kindling. I remember the first time I saw a post-popping tree. I meant to ask you about it, but never did. Now that I’m seeing it myself, I understand. The tree sap freezes inside the tree. Liquid expands when it freezes, and thus the tree pops. Which means I found tree sap. I was just able to stuff enough bits of it into a pine cone, and then I split a branch open enough to shove the pine cone into one end. I tested it this morning; and it worked! I made a torch and can carry my fire with me. It’ll keep me warm and give me an extra hour or two of walking time.
(Low Battery Warning)
It’s amazing the difference that food and fire makes. I suddenly feel civilized. Behold the primitive man, with his spear and his fire!
Speaking of Primitive Man, I’ve been getting battery warnings on this thing all day. With luck, I’ll be able to call home, and your cabin from the Station. I have no idea what I’ll say, though I’ve been rehearsing for a while...
Chloe, I never told yo-ohno. Not now!
Get away from me, Diablo! I’m armed this time! I mean it, Demon Cat!
(Low Battery Warning!)
(End Recording)
(Power Off)


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.