"One more march to save my soul" (Short story)

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I was quite happy and relieved to have found a cache! This bunker would make for a hazard-proof hideout in my search for food and sustenance. I unfortunately missed the hatch when i first landed in Pleasant Valley, one week ago. An excusable mistake since the blizzard was blowing hard, blurring away any clue that would have allowed me to find it. But today, i had another chance and here i am.

Packing up after a good night sleep, i went up the steel ladder. But again, the weather conditions were against me... Snowstorm with searing winds. Damn, it must feel like -35°C or something? But still, i can't stay here without proper heat source. I'm missing the fireplace so much, back at the Farmhouse. Oh well... I HAVE to go look out for food, as there was not much left inside the bunker. It would be useless to wait here any longer as well. The granola and candy bars are not the most luxurious gastronomy and besides, the flesh of those two rabbits i have will soon be no good without proper cooking. So let's get this going on.

As i was struggling to walk into deep snow, the coldness quickly started to get a grasp on me. I was already slowing down due to the sudden numbness in my legs. Jesus christ, just give me a tiny break! I was like, gone for a mere 15 minutes? I decide to go down on a frozen part of the river, sticking close to the huge rocky walls along the shores to cut me off some wind chill. I ended at the sound of a waterfall, that i encountered soon enough. The blizzard is still going on strong. I'm getting freaking cold now. There, a hollow spot in the rocks, deep enough to take refuge from the deadly winds. It's not a cave, but it'll do for now. I put up a nourished fire and managed to get a good nap.

Three hours later, i wake up. I planned to still have some fire after my sleep. Warm up some pork & beans, eat it and drink some water. Pack up again and i decide to run back up the river, this time on the opposite shore. Turns out i missed a pik-nik area when i came in. God lord! After scavenging some edible items over there, i spot a cave. A real one this time. And as i stepped in there, i see coals! Yes!! Finally, i get my hands on those precious stones. I only find three of them, but hey, it's still a wonderful reward after the trouble i went through to get here. Along with some other things i found from a poor, dead frozen camper, i get out of the cave to continue on my trip. After going up the icy river, i got to small wooden bridge. I can only evaluate that i came from the right side of the road this bridge is on, so i guess i'm gonna go on the left. The sun is high in the sky, i can't tell if i'm going north, west, south... Whatever. Climbed up the bank of the bridge and keep walking.

Soon enough, i perceive a large, dark mass looking nothing like the rocks i see around. Then it started to move... a black bear. It may be at 200 meters from me and it doesnt seem to see me. Yet. I crouch right away and start moving further from that bear, to pass behind a huge rocky mound. I'm just wishing, with some foolish but legitimate hope, that i can go around it without catching its attention. May the winds carry away the sound of my steps...

Flanking the sides of the mound, i stop a bit to listen. Nothing comes to my ears. Or maybe the winds are also covering the bear's own steps? Again, it comes to me that it would also be foolish to stand here any longer, as a sitting duck is a sure shot for this big guy. So i proceed to slowly look around the way i want to go. Nothing in sight. Let's move!

The 350 pounds or so bastard was there, right on the corner. It. Was. Right. There. He totally screwed me and i can firmly confirm it did as i have its maw right in my face. It growled and roared at me before lunging onto me. I guess i just saw my own version of Hell in this dreadful moment.

The bear proceeded to f*** me up BIG TIME, as i was fighting against its enormous claws striking me. I looked like a pitiful rag doll. At first, i responded to my survival instincts, like pretty much anyone else would do. But then i remembered those stories of people encountering raging bears and playing dead and avoid being killed... I attemped this strategy, since i was so outmatched by this juggernaut. I also remember seeing his eyes looking upon me, while i'm bleeding, like it was wondering if it would give me the last strike or if it would keep toying with me a bit more. I let myself fall on the ground and stopped moving. I was beyond exhaustion anyways. The growling ceased... i faintly heard loud paws in the snow, getting away from me... and then i lost consciousness. But it worked!

I "woke up" in a shape thousand times worst than a hangover. If i had to evaluate my state, i'd say i passed from 100% to a lame 5%. It came to my mind that i should have died instead of getting back to me in such catastrophic condition. I'm fighting to get my head up, along with the rest of my body. I'm coughing up hard, almost vomitting. I hear my heartbeat loud, the pain of the horrible wounds i got makes me suffering like i had a train run me over. Then i distinguished the same black mass i saw minutes ago... The goddamn bear is still standing there!!! It isnt moving. Yet. But i said no way, NO WAY. You didn't finish me off in the first place, you won't have another chance! In an ultimate effort, i gave myself an instant of lucidness and grabbed the rifle that i didnt even had the time to use at the first moments of the attack. Both of my hands are shaking more than a washer on spin cycle. I put the crosshair right between the bear's eyes. Strangely enough, it is still not moving. Alright then, suit yourself pal! My turn to f*** you up...

BANG. One bullet got him right where i wanted. BANG. I slugged second shot in it to be sure... and because i wasnt satisfied with only one. The bear fell down on its side, immobile. One more second to acknowledge its death and the atrocious pain gets back to me like a fist in the face. Oh my god... I crawled back to the rocky mound, away from the winds. I'm still grasping for air when i tell to myself "You ain't dead, you're still there, fight for your life! Otherwise, you wouldnt have woke up again!". With the last parcels of energy i had, i put up another fire, threw in all the cedar and fir logs i had, the batch of sticks i picked up along the way as well. A wonderful blaze soon started to comfort me. Here, let's put in those coals too. The heat kinda make me feel better, body and mind. Fortunately, i had everything in my bag regarding first care. Painkillers, antibiotics, antisceptics and bandages were a godsend. My rejoicing was halted by the coming of dusk. Like i didnt had enough. But i simply couldnt do nothing else than standing there, by the sturdy fire i made, and getting some rest. I could clearly be able to get around 7 hours of rest because of it.

I woke up at approximately 2:00am? Anyways, it was right in the middle of the night. And guess what... blizzard again. For crying out loud... At least, i was able to stand up. Not without sudden pain in my fresh wounds, but still i could manage to move normally. The fire was less stronger than earlier, but i could still roast those two rabbits i kept. Plus pork & beans. Plus some crackers. Plus a candy bar for dessert. And i almost emptied my water jug. By then, the fire was on its last embers. Now, no more time to waste, i gotta go back to the farmstead ASAP. No more bear visits anymore. Speaking of which, i still took some time and proceed to harvest some of its meat and its pelt. War trophies.

As i'm starting my march again, i quickly felt discouragement getting to me: how the hell can i orientate myself at night in a blizzard? I have NO IDEA where i am. My eyes started to get slightly wet when i said to myself that i wont go down like that, after going to through Hell, as black as a bear, and back. On my left are towering mountains, and i'm certainly not in a mood for alpinism. I decided i would walk along them in the eventuality i come across some roads, some houses, or a cave. Well, i came across a cave, which surely was the lair of that bear. Bones were scattered all over the entrance... I looked away, to avoid thinking that my own skeleton could also have been added to those. Anyways, i was out of anything useful for another fire, except the usual sticks i could find around. I had to walk in the hope i'd find a proper shelter with walls and a roof. That was my only goal for now.

And then i walked. The cold got through me. Through my damaged clothes. My boots were almost ruined. Freezing feet is the worst of all. I need those to reach a safe haven, dammit... Wow, i'm getting colder way quicker than before. My hands are petrified and can barely hold my rifle. I don't wanna let go this weapon that took part in saving my life, but i just cant sustain the freezing pain anymore. I get it on my back and put my hands in my pockets. What a ridiculous relief... After like half and hour or so, i wonder what's the most terrifying: this bear, almost dying or the present despair that is invading my mind? A frightening nihilistic feeling starts haunting me. And i'm still in the dark, with snowflakes crashing in my face like the claws of this bear... With every step i take, a small portion of my hopes fades away. And everything is blackness around me. I sacrifice my right hand out of my pocket to hold my lantern. The light is a weak consolation as i only illuminate more snowflakes, making them look like icy cannonballs.

Looks like this light reaches some structures reminding me of the ones shacks or cabins are made of. As i get closer, i finally see that those are cabins! Yes! This is nothing less than a divine intervention! Only thing is: the cabins are destroyed. They're blackened like they caught fire, some days ago. F*** my life... Please, don't tell me that all i deserve are stupid, derelic cabins. It can't be... I don't accept this... No way it can be like that.

I started crying for real. The warmth of my tears will mostly be the last warm feeling that i'll encounter if everything keeps getting worse like that. I walk up to the charred cabins. Nope, there's nothing good to expect from such desolate place. Not even a single piece of wood have been spared. I can't stay there one more second. My head is getting dizzy, my ears are starting whistling like they do after a loud concert and i feel becoming deaf. I feel like my blood is having the hardest time getting to my brain. The limited scenery i see from my lantern's light is dancing like a boat in a stormy ocean.

My eyes are getting blurry as the snowstorm is. I remember seeing a car, faintly, in front of me. Wait... I remember this car... This car that was... near a road. Blocked by rockslide. Cut in half. By an insurmountable wall of stone. And it was the fatal blow.

Then the car suddenly slipped away. The trees went upside down. The darkness of the night seemed like walls crashing on me. The light of my lantern was blinding me but disappeared in an instant. My hand, that i couldnt feel anymore, like it was chopped off, surely let it go. My body and my face fell down in the snow, like an unknown tree in an uncharted forest. And all that i felt at that moment, was the coming of the long, dark slide in my last slumber.

My lantern kept shining on my dead, frozen body, until it also went off, early in the first rays of dawn.

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