The Long Walk
Brian and Christine
The Long Walk
It was January 24th. Brian Sims had just celebrated his 70th birthday with friends in New York, and was now on his way back to his home in Los Angeles. He had with him his fourth film script. Having had a minor success with his first film “Trumpet's Blare” and two major successes with “The Burnaby Story” and “Miracles,” he had high hopes for this one.
He had taken an early flight out of La Guardia so that he could be home in the morning to freshen up. He had an appointment with the producer, Myron Bloom, at 4:00. The flight was sparsely booked and all of the passengers were near the front of the plane. He told the flight attendant he wanted to move to the rear so that he would not be disturbed while he worked on his script and that she needn't wait on him. She agreed.
From time to time another passenger would come back there to use the rest room. But Brian was so engrossed in his script he hardly noticed them.
It was about 10:00 a.m. when the first sign of trouble happened. The plane started trembling and the pilot announced that there was some turbulence, probably a high electrical storm, but not to be concerned.
Brian did not like flying under the best of circumstances, even though he had to do a lot of it, back and forth from coast to coast. But he particularly disliked it in the winter. At his age he found it difficult to put up with cold weather. That's why he moved to LA.
Brian saw the seat belt light go on over his head. He fastened his, but not tightly, and a few moments later the pilot was saying that they were experiencing extreme icy conditions on the wings and in one of the engines, and to please fasten all seat belts. The flight attendant went up the aisle checking everyone. She looked over at Brian who pointed at his lap and gave her a thumbs up. She smiled and returned to the front. The pilot then said that they may have to make a temporary stopover at Salt Lake City just to dry out, but it would only be for a couple of hours.
Now Brian was on edge. If they stopped for a while he wouldn't be home in time to get himself together for his meeting. He hated being rushed. He looked out the window and saw nothing. They had descended into the clouds. Brian opened his back pack and tucked his script into it. He was too nervous now to concentrate on editing it. The only item of winter clothes he had on was the parka he was wearing when he boarded the plane in New York. Everything else was in the back pack.
The pilot then announced that they were losing altitude rapidly and rather than try to go over the mountains they would turn back to Denver. He advised the passengers to hold on to all personal possessions and take small children in their laps.
From that Brian deemed it was going to be a rough landing, so he emptied his pockets into the pack: cell phone, pocket watch, pens, keys and his wallet. Then he propped the pack up onto his lap and put his arms through the straps.
He felt the plane bank and start to turn. He stared out the window and for a brief few seconds the clouds cleared and he saw a mountain ridge, very close, too close.
He heard the pilot say "Passengers, we... Pass " Just at that moment he heard a man shout "No!" and a woman scream. There was an enormous jolt, a sound like a hundred animals in pain, and he saw the plane buckle in front of him, twist and split apart.
The side of the aircraft next to Brian was torn open as the tail section separated from the rest of the plane with a deafening noise. He was thrown out onto the mountain side still in his seat and gripping his back pack. He tumbled roughly for a while until the seat dug into the snow and he stopped. Panting for breath he struggled to unfasten the seat belt. The arms of the seat were bent out of shape and he couldn’t reach the lock on the belt. Meanwhile bits of the wreckage were falling around him. He looked up to see that the main body of the plane had fallen over the top of the mountain. One wing of the tail section was perched on the top and hanging over it. Then Brian saw another figure emerge from under the tail wing and start sliding down the icy slope. Following the figure came a loud rumbling noise and a ferocious snow slide that caught up to the figure and completely covered it. Brian forced his way out of the seat with a great effort, slung his pack over his back and trudged through the snow to where he last saw the person. When he got there he began digging frantically in the snow with his bare hands. His fingers began to freeze and he remembered that he always kept gloves in his parka. His fished them out and put them on. He resumed digging and still could find no trace of anyone until at last he uncovered an arm, a small, slender arm. He followed the arm, digging his way to a face. When he uncovered the face he saw that it was a child. Digging off the snow from the child’s face he found that it was a young girl. Her eyes were closed but he could see the steam from her breath. Brian brushed away the snow from her other shoulder and held her as he spoke. “Miss. Miss. Can you hear me? “ He shook her gently. “Miss, open your eyes. Please!”
She blinked once and then looked up at him. “We crashed,” she said. “Yes, we did.” She sat up. Just then there was a loud boom and Brian could see smoke rising further down the range. The plane must have spread out a great distance when it fell apart, he thought.
The girl stood up and looked. She was wearing boots, corduroy trousers and a thick shirt, but not thick enough for this weather. Brian took off his pack, zipped it open and fished out a sweater. It was way too big for her but he rolled up the sleeves. Then he found his blue knitted cap put it on her head and pulled it down over her ears. She placed a hand against her cheek and pushed her dark hair back behind her ears on both sides of her head. While she was doing that, Brian found another pair of gloves, slightly padded knitted gloves. They weren’t as good as his but they would have to do.
“We have to get down off this mountain. There may be another snow slide any moment.”
“It’s a long way down,” she said. “How will we get there?”
“I think we should roll.”
“Like this.” He zipped up the pack, held it in front of him, put his arms through it and then wrapped them around her. “Now we lie down and roll.”
They lay down in the snow and started rolling, over and over. His arms were around her back so that she wouldn’t be crushed by his weight and she was gripping the sides of his parka with his back pack between them.
And so they rolled, for about 20 minutes, keeping clenched to each other and going quickly down the slopes of the mountain. Everything was alright until they plunged over the edge of a cliff.
The girl screamed. Brian, certain that it was a mortal moment, struggled to stay underneath her so that she might survive it even if it killed him.
But almost immediately they fell into soft snow and kept rolling. The drop was only about 10 or 12 feet from the edge.
Now the angle was very steep and icy. They slid as much as they rolled. Again, Brian was keeping on the bottom because his parka was slick and made for a faster descent. But they were also turning as they went, sometimes head first, sometimes feet first. They had trouble holding on to each other. The girl’s hat fell off at one point but Brian saw it and grabbed it before it got away.
They continued on down the mountain now at great speed for another half hour or so until they reached a large clump of trees, where they stopped.
They were both exhausted and out of breath. Brian said that they should move in among the trees because they would stop any snow slide. So they trudged into that small patch of forest and sat down to rest.
After he caught his breath Brian handed the girl the hat that fell off and said, “What’s your name?”
“Christy,” she said. “It’s short for Christine. What’s your name?”
“Brian. It’s short for Brian.” Christy giggled.
“How old are you Christy?”
”10 and a half. How old are you?”
“7 times 10.”
“You’re 70?” she asked in amazement. Brian nodded. “Cool” she said. Christy looked down through the trees at the slope. “Where do you think we’re going?”
“Oh, I think there’s probably a lodge or some other buildings down there, or maybe a road that has some traffic on it. We’ll be okay.”
After a while they stomped through the trees to the slope and started rolling again, but soon the slope began to level off and it became easier to walk.
Another hour went by and they came upon more trees, a thicker forest this time. They picked there way through it until at last they came out to the foot of the mountain.
But Brian was dismayed to see that there was nothing there. They looked all around them for something. But there was nothing, no buildings, no road, nothing but a brook moving slowly through the valley with ice covered rocks in it.
“We’ll have to call for help,” he said.
He put down his pack and zipped open the part where he kept his cell phone. But he discovered that everything in there was broken. His glasses, his pocket watch, his cell phone, all crushed beyond repair.
“Well, Christy, we can’t call anyone. My phone is just a hunk of junk.”
“My stuff is still on the plane,” said Christy. For the first time she thought how much she had lost in the plane crash. Not just her phone but everything she owned, including the addresses and numbers of her friends, her aunt and uncle and the home she was supposed to go to. She missed her CDs and letters and everything. She managed to save as much as she could to bring with her to her new life, and now it was all gone. She felt lost. She began to cry.
“Aw Christy, don’t cry. We’ll get out of here.”
“Are we gonna make it?” she asked .
“We’re gonna make it.” He took a handkerchief out of his back pocket and gave it to her. She blew her nose and stopped crying.
But Brian didn’t know how. He looked around him and all that he could make out was snow, a few outcroppings of rocks, bare trees or dark evergreens. He also saw that everything was turning grey. Night was coming.
“Christy, you’re going to have to be my eyes for me. I can’t see well without my glasses. And they’re broken too.”
“You can’t see?”
“Only to read. I’m myopic.”
“It means I can’t see far off, only close, to read.”
“My hearing is very good, but not my eyesight.”
“We’re going to have to stay here for the night. I wish there was a cave or something. Can you see any place where we can get out of the wind?”
“Umm.” She looked around. “Yes, there’s a ledge over there.” She pointed.
They walked over to where she was pointing, and found a rocky ledge jutting out from the ground. It was enough to crawl under and sit.
Brian removed his gloves, opened hi pack and said “I still have some airplane food.”
He took out a small bag of nuts and a roll. The roll was crushed but still edible. He gave Christy the nuts. “Here, you have these, and I’ll have the roll. My teeth aren’t good enough any more to chew nuts.”
She opened the bag and ate the nuts quickly, while Brian had the roll. They talked. Christy told him about the death of her parents in an auto accident, how she had been living with her aunt and uncle in Connecticut but couldn’t stay there because they already had a lot of kids of their own. She said she was being sent to a home for orphan girls in LA. She talked about her friends back in Hartford, her kitten, the school she went to and her hobbies like painting and running in races.
Brian spoke of his life in show business. He talked about having been an actor and director, how he had begun writing and had written some film scripts. She was fascinated.
“In fact I have one right here in my pack. I was working on it when the plane went down.”
Brian opened it, and reached in. But instead of the script he took out a pack of cigarettes and a lighter. He flicked the lighter. It still worked. The pack of cigarettes was crushed but it hadn’t been opened. He opened it and took out one bent cigarette and lit it. Christy laughed at the look of it. It was dark now and getting very cold. Brian’s feet hurt.
Brian asked her how she managed to escape from the plane.
“I was in the wash room. And then the crash came,” she said. “The door blew open. I had to crawl through a hole in the back. But then I was under the wing or something and had to crawl out. Then I slipped and started sliding. And then I don’t remember what happened.”
“You got buried in snow, and I dug you out.”
They could hear a cold wind blowing through the valley, but they were out of it, tucked into their niche under the ledge. They talked some more. Christy asked him where he grew up and he told her about his family, his father Frank the architect, his mother Leslie, the teacher, about his sister Louise and her husband Jason, both anthropologists, about growing up in Waynesburg, about being a swimmer and about getting into the theatre. Christy was fascinated.
Brian didn’t want to probe into her history since it meant talking about her late parents, but he did ask her why she was being sent all the way to California. “Couldn’t they find a home for you somewhere in New England?”
“Well,” she said, “Aunt Lydia and Uncle Sy looked all over, and we went to see places, But then a man came and told them about this place in LA ‘cause it’s free.”
“Yup. They don’t have much money and they have a lot of kids. So they thought it was a good thing. I didn’t like the man, though. He was creepy. But it’s run by a bunch of nuns, he said.”
“Well, I hope you’re going to like it there.”
“Yup. I hope so.” Christy stared out into space.
Brian thought that Christy, short for Christine, was a nice, intelligent youngster and was glad that she was taking this whole thing in her stride and not whining every minute.
After a while they managed to get some sleep. Brian slept fitfully. When he woke it was still dark. Christy was asleep. Brian got up and went outside the cave to piss. It was so dark he couldn’t see anything, but he heard the brook softly babbling so he carefully walked down to it. He sat down in the snow and wondered what was happening in LA. Since he didn’t show up for his scheduled meeting would they assume he wasn’t interested in making the film? He would have to give them a call first thing. Then he would have to call the Romeros. They would be concerned because of the crash and the fact that he wasn’t home yet. Maybe they were thinking he was on that flight and didn’t survive.
He thought about the crash and ran it over in his head, how it came about so suddenly and with such violence, how he was flung out of the aircraft even as it split apart, the noise, the smoke flowing up from the other side of the mountain, the long trip down to this valley, and he wondered what was next.
It was just beginning to get light when Christy woke up. She sat up and when she didn’t see Brian she got frightened and called his name.
“Down here, by the brook,” he answered.
She slid out from under the ledge of their temporary hotel and walked carefully down to the spot where Brian was and sat down next to him.
“I’m hungry,” she said.
“I know Christy, so am I. But there’s no more food. The wind has died down and it looks like it might be a clear day. We should be on our way pretty soon.”
“Okay. Brian? Are we gonna make it?”
“We’re gonna make it.”
When the sun was beaming at last, Christy stood up and said “Let’s go.”
“Which way, I wonder.”
They looked around and saw that the valley went in both directions embracing the brook. Christy looked back and forth with an intense expression.
Finally she pointed to their right and said “This way.”
“Are you sure?”
So they trudged along through the snow beside the brook. It was slow going because the frozen surface was not strong enough for Brian and his feet kept falling through. But after about an hour the way became easier. It was a bright, sunny day and there was no wind.
After a while Christy said, “I have to pee.”
“Okay,” Brian said with a chuckle.. “I’ll walk on ahead and keep my back turned.”
When Christy came back to Brian she started to say something, but he shushed her and said “Listen.”
He was looking up at the sky. “A helicopter.”
“I can see it!” said Christy. “It’s way up in the sky. Do you think they can see us?”
“I don’t know, but we should wave at them.” He flailed his arms back and forth over his head. Christy copied him.
They kept waving as the helicopter flew overhead and finally disappeared.
“Do you think they saw us?”
“I don’t know Christy. Maybe, maybe not.”
“Should we wait here in case they did?”
They waited for a while.
Then Brian said, “We’ll be waiting here for a long time if they didn’t see us. They probably went to check out the crash site. We should keep walking. If they saw us maybe they’ll come back looking for us.”
They trudged on for a long time. Brian’s feet were hurting him a lot. He had on his boots, but though they were good for walking the New York City streets in January, they were no good on the ice and not much better in snow. Christy was walking slowly to stay with him. And she was right there to take his arm when he slipped, as he sometimes did.
“I’m so hungry,” she said.
“Scoop up some snow. It’s only water but it’s better than nothing.” They both did that. They never heard the helicopter again.
After a few more hours of walking, stopping now and then to rest, a dark low cloud cover came down.
“Well,” said Brian, “that helicopter couldn’t see us now anyway.”
They came to an icy patch that was very slippery and treacherous to walk on. Even Christy was slipping and sliding a lot and they were holding on to each other to keep steady. When they got back to snow Brian noticed that the forest was thinning out. But they saw a large tree that had fallen across the narrow valley they were in. Since it was now getting dark, he said “Night is coming. I think we should stop at this fallen tree and rest until morning. It will give us some cover.”
Brian took off his pack, set it down and they both sat propped up against the tree. After a few moments Brian stood up with great difficulty and started walking off the trail into the forest.
“Where are you going?” asked Christy, alarmed.
“I’ll be right back,” he said.
He returned about ten minutes later with the twigs and branches he found. He put them down next to the fallen tree and then he unfastened his belt buckle and slid off his belt.
“What are you doing?” she asked.
He went back into the forest and after another few minutes came back with a handful of bark which he had pried off of a tree with his belt buckle. He put them down on his pack and he sat. He broke off a piece of bark about the size of his finger, gave it to her and said “Here. Chew on this. It doesn’t have much nutritional value and you won’t like the way it tastes but it helps stave off hunger.”
Brian broke off a piece for himself, put the rest in the back pack and then arranged the twigs and branches in a pile in front of them.
“What are you gonna do?” she asked.
“Make a fire, I hope.”
He reached in the pack and took out a few pages of paper, crumpled them up and put them under the twigs.
“No! Don’t burn up your movie!”
“It’s okay, Christy. It’s all on my computer. I can print it out again when I get back home. I was making some edits and additions, but I can do that again.”
He took out his lighter and held it under the crumpled paper and flicked it. In a moment the paper caught fire and blazed up in a flash of warmth. Soon the twigs were burning and they had a fire.
Christy took a bit of bark off of her tongue and tossed into the fire. “You’re right. This tastes awful.”
“I know Christy, but it’s all we’ve got “
They sat for a time staring at the fire. Occasionally Brian would move another bit of branch into it. He was very tempted to take off his boots and warm his feet, but he remembered a hitchhiker he once met named Ben who warned him that they might swell up if he did and he wouldn’t be able to get his boots back on. So he just warmed up the boots without removing them.
Then Christy said sadly “I miss Flicker?”
“Who’s Flicker? A friend?”
“Mm hmm. She’s my kitten.”
Brian had a sudden shot of fear. “Was Flicker on the plane?”
“Oh, whew, that’s good.”
“They said they would send her to me if they can. But I don’t know if I can keep her where I’m going.”
“Well, you’ll see. Meanwhile she has a good home. Right?”
“Yeah. I guess so.”
“You don’t sound convinced.”
“What? Oh she’s OK. They have another cat, an old one named Smoky. He’s all grey.”
“What color is Flicker?”
“A tabby cat.”
“Well, do they get along?”
“Flicker and Smoky”
“Oh. I guess so. Smoky doesn’t pay much attention to Flicker. He’s old.”
Brian wondered what it was like to be an old cat. Do Smoky’s feet hurt, he wondered. What did he think of Flicker? And how did he deal with a house full of children? Was he jealous that the kids probably paid more attention to Flicker because she’s so cute? Or would he just rather be left alone? Why wouldn’t he look after Flicker just as Brian was looking after Flicker’s owner? It seemed right. If Brian could have a word with Smoky he’d suggest that. As one old cat to another.
“How did it come about that your aunt and uncle managed to get you on your way to that home in LA?”
“I don’t remember exactly. There was a phone call. And then some papers came. . They had to sign them and send them back. And, uh. And then another call, I think, and then they drove me to the airport.”
“Did they say they might come and visit, or have you come back for Christmas or something?”
“No. But they said I should come back and visit some day.”
“When I’m grown up and on my own.”
“Oh.” Brian thought about that. It’s going to be many years before she’s grown up, but she seems to be already on her own.
“What’s the name of this home?”
“Saint Somebody. I forget. It’s in my book, which I lost. Could you put another branch on the fire?.”
“Sure. But I want to save some for the morning.” He pulled a branch over and put it on top of the fire, then lit a cigarette from a burning twig. They didn’t talk much after that. Exhaustion and the warmth of the fire had made them sleepy. And so they slept.
When Brian awoke it was still dark. He looked around but couldn’t see anything. The low lying clouds had come down and now there was a fog. It’s going to be tough going in the fog, he thought. He looked over at Christy. But she wasn’t there.
He called her name. No answer. He called louder.
“Here I am,” she said and a moment later came over and sat down next to him.
“Where’d you go?” he asked.
“I had to pee.”
“Oh. You had me worried.” He opened the pack, took out a few more pages of his script and a cigarette. He crumpled up the paper and put most of the remaining twigs on it. He lit the paper with his lighter and then his cigarette.
“What’s your movie about?”
“Miners. In Pennsylvania. In the Civil War.”
“Oh. What’s it called?”
“I don’t know yet. The producers will probably name it. They usually do.”
Brian didn’t mind the questions, but he was having difficulty answering them. The cold, the lack of food, the meager fire in front of them, the pain in his feet were all making him feel sad and hopeless. He wanted to be picked up by that vanished helicopter and carried away to safety and warmth.
“Christy, are we going to make it?
She put a gentle hand on his arm. “We’re gonna make it. I predict that the sun will come out and this fog will go away.”
“Are you a meteorologist?”
Brian broke off a couple of twigs, handed one to Christy and said “Here. Maybe this will taste batter than the bark.”
The fire was now down to smoke. It was painful to stand, but he did. He kicked some snow onto the smoldering ashes to make sure it was out, and said “Let’s go.”
“Don’t forget your belt.”
“Oh, yeah.” He tried to put the belt back on but his gloves were too heavy. He took them off and tried to put them under his arm while he fastened the belt but they fell onto the snow.
Christy picked them up and said “I’ll hold them for you.”
He managed to thread his belt back into the loops of his pants and buckle it, then took his gloves and put them on. “Thank you,” he said.
They began walking. The snow was not too thick, but thick enough so that they didn’t worry about the ice underneath. They couldn’t see more than about 20 feet in front of them because of the fog. But also because of the fog it was not as cold as yesterday.
They walked in silence, and Brian thought about the uncertainty of things. What‘s the difference between cold and not as cold, when does cold become not cold, or snow become not so much snow? He is tall and Christy is short, but next to a mountain they are both short. But then next to, say, a chipmunk they are both tall. How can one accurately measure anything? When does cold become hot? And what’s the difference between hot and not cold? Everything is vague and uncertain, it seems.
You get on a plane to make a trip you’ve made many times before and then one day your whole life changes. Everything is unpredictable, he thought. His life did not turn out the way he planned it. He was a good actor. He could have become a movie star, with his name on Hollywood Boulevard. But now, instead, he writes words for movie stars. It’s a good life, but not the one he was certain of when he started.
And what about Cindy? He was so certain of her. They were going to share a life together and raise a family until she decided on someone else and broke his heart. And now here he is an old man with no family except a live-in couple who take care of him and no children in his life except a strange girl he dug out of the snow on the side of a mountain who was destined to live in some other home.
And now they were walking together through a savage winter wilderness uncertain of where they were going or how long it would take them to get there. Brian felt dizzy.
Suddenly, out of the fog emerged a strange looking object. As they approached it they saw it was an old abandoned two wheel cart. The wood was rotted away and one of the wheels was missing. Brian guessed it was buried in the snow, or possibly in the sand underneath. This was the first piece of civilization they had seen since the high flying helicopter that didn’t see them, and it wasn’t a very encouraging sight to see. Brian wondered what had caused a man to leave his cart like this in the middle of nowhere. Perhaps he was fed up with repairing it. Maybe the horse died. There was no sign of a skeleton about, but that could be buried also. Or maybe he was a prospector who just gave up, unhitched the horse and rode it back to town. But what town, where? Not a ghost town Brian hoped. Quite unexpectedly Brian had a funny thought. He remembered the lyrics of an old song. It went something like “You’re a good old wagon but you done broke down.” He chuckled. Christy looked at him strangely.
“What’s so funny?” she asked.
“Aw, nothing. I was just thinking I’m like this old wagon.”
“No you’re not. You still got both your wheels.”
Brian was beginning to like this wee, unflappable youngster more and more.
Brian tried to pull a piece of wood off of the cart to use for a fire, but it crumbled in his hand. It was useless.
“Let’s go” he said.
As they trod along, just as Christy had predicted, the fog lifted and it was a bright sunny day. They were now in a large open place. There were mountains, but they were in the distance. The field was eerie. It had strange shaped rock formations, no trees, but occasionally some shrubs. This is desert, Brian thought. They stopped to rest now and then, more for Brian’s sake than for hers. The hunger pangs in his stomach began to wane but were replaced by light headed and dizzy feelings. He felt that if he didn’t get some food soon, he wouldn’t be able to go on. And then the brook they had been following meandered off into some strange dangerous looking rocks and disappeared. They decided not to try to follow it any longer.
When night came there was a moon, not full but almost. It was bright enough to see by so they decided to keep walking for as long as they could. It was tough going for Brian. The tension of stepping on painful feet had worked its way up into his ankles. He just stared at the ground in front of him as he put one foot down and then the next, hoping that one day soon he would look up and see a friendly neighborhood. He tried to imagine being back in Waynesburg, with front lawns, oak trees, warm summer evenings, sitting on the beach in the sunlight and watching the shimmering water. He wanted, with all his heart, to be home.
They moved on for a few more hours until exhaustion made them stop. Even Christy was panting for breath. There was nothing to burn, no food except the handfuls of snow they would now and then put in their mouths and no shelter.
Brian started scooping out a hole in the snow. Christy helped him. And soon they had a trough with the snow piled up on either side for protection from the wind. Breathing heavily, Brian unzipped his parka and sat down in the trough. After a moment Christy joined him. There was just enough room for both of them. Brian took out a cigarette and his lighter but he didn’t light it.“Why do you smoke those?”
“Because they don’t have a filter.”
“I don’t like filters. Filters are poisonous.”
“Tobacco is its own best filter. My sister told me that.”
Soon they lay down in the pit they had dug. Brian pulled the right side of his parka over Christy to cover her from the cold. She fit snugly inside it and Brian was amazed at how really tiny she was. Just before he dropped off to sleep he heard the howl of a wolf way off in the distance. He always wondered why wolves do that. Was it just the moon they were howling at or was it something else, something the moon was doing to them? Well, he hoped they wouldn’t run into any wolves.
When Brian woke up it was daylight. Not as bright as the day before, but bright enough so that the sun lighting up all the snow around them hurt his eyes. He closed them and blinked a few times to try to adjust to the brightness. There was no wind.
Christy was sitting up on the small snow bank they had made the night before. She was holding one of his cigarettes, looking at it and sniffing it. She must have taken it out of my pocket while I was asleep, he thought. He felt his pocket to see if they were still there. His movement caught her eye. “You want your cigarette?” she asked.
“Give me your lighter.”
He fished in his pocket for the lighter and handed it to her. She held the cigarette between her thumb and fist finger, put one end in her mouth and flicked the lighter, trying to light the cigarette and not quite managing it. She took the cigarette out of her mouth, held it sideways and lit it that way, then put it back in her moth and took a puff.
“Ew” she said and coughed one small, dry cough. She handed the cigarette and the lighter back to him with a sour look on her face. He sat up and took them from her.
While he smoked the cigarette he looked around at the relentless plain and felt disoriented. “Which way are we headed?” he asked. She didn’t speak but pointed over her shoulder. When he finished the cigarette he pushed the butt into the snow and stood up. But he sat right back down again. The effort of standing had made him feel dizzy.
“What’s wrong?” she asked.
“I don’t know. I just felt dizzy.”
“We should get going,” she said.
“Christy, are we going to make it?”
“We’re gonna make it.”
Brian carefully stood up again and stayed standing. He stepped out of the sleeping place onto the snow. He wondered about his feet and how much longer he would be able to walk.
Christy stood up also and said, “I saw some birds.”
“What were they doing?”
“Oh.” He looked up. He saw no birds.
He stepped away from the trough and started to walk, painfully. She joined him. They trod on for a few minutes when Brian said “Oh, no.”
“I forgot my pack” He turned to go back, but Christy said “I’ll get it,” and went back for it. It didn’t take her long. When she returned she helped him put the pack on his shoulders.
They walked on for a few hours. Brian stumbled in the snow. His feet were feeling numb and his legs hurt. After a while Christy said, “Brian, I don’t feel good. My stomach hurts.”
“That’s because there’s no food in it.”
“I guess so.”
Up ahead they saw some more trees and a large hill. It wasn’t a mountain but it was big and spread out, like a huge mound. As they approached it they tried to pick the easiest way to climb it. They chose a bare place where there were no trees, but even so the climb was exhausting and the hill was bigger than they thought.
“I see something,” Christy said, quietly.
“Something’s moving over there.” She pointed. “I think it’s a rabbit.” He saw it, and the only thought he had was of food.
Brian had never been a hunter but now he crept carefully toward the rabbit who gave one hop. As he got closer, the rabbit hopped a few more times: twice, then once. As Brian got near he stumbled but made a lunge for the rabbit. He fell face down in the snow and the rabbit escaped. He lay there, his face buried in the snow. Gradually he lifted his head, rested his forehead on his arm, panting for breath. Christy went over to him, put her hand on his back and said “Brian? Are you okay? Can you get up?”
He put his hands on the snow in front of him and raised himself up to a kneeling position. He looked ahead of him, up the hill toward the trees. There was no sign of the rabbit.
“I’m glad the rabbit got away,” said Christy. “I didn’t want you to kill him.”
“Let’s go,” he said and painfully got up on his feet. He felt disgusted with himself. They walked on for several more hours, still uphill. There were more clouds now and it was getting dark. Brian looked up at the trees further up the hill and said, “We could get some wood. Make. Another fire. But. Can’t make it up there.”
“I’ll do it,” she said and started up the steep part to the side of the trees. Brian sat down to wait and fell into an almost sleep. His mind wandered. He was in many other places doing other things. There was a lot of sunshine and people around and he was happy. Someone had a radio and there was music playing. People were laughing. He was walking through someone’s house. He recognized the faces of people he didn’t know. He heard a dog barking. Children were getting on a bus. He was sitting on a porch and someone brought him a baby to hold. He heard someone say his name. He looked up and no one was there. Then he heard his name again, this time with his ears. He opened his eyes and saw Christy standing there with an arm load of twigs and branches.
“Oh. Good. Good for you,” he said. He took off his pack, unzipped it and took out a few more pages, crumpled them up and put them down in front of him. Christy put some twigs on top and Brian lit the paper.
As the fire blazed up Christy said “Maybe we’re going the wrong way.”
“But you were so sure back there.”
“Well, don’t blame me,” she said sharply.
“I’m not blaming you,” he barked back.
They sat across from each other and stared into the fire for a while. Then Brian said, softly, “Aw Christy, I’m not blaming you. You were sure this was the right way and so I was sure. And I still am.” She said nothing. “Are we going make it, Christy?”
“We’re gonna make it.”
“Let’s hope so.”
The next morning Brian took the remaining twigs and lit another fire. It wasn’t much but it was enough to warm them up a bit. “You know what they say about wood in New England?” Christy asked.
“It warms you twice. Once when you chop it, and once when you burn it.”
“That’s a good one. I’ll have to remember that,” said Brian. “Do you miss Connecticut?”
“Yeah. It’s nice there. Specially in the Fall.”
“Do you have a lot of friends there?”
“Not a lot. But some good ones. I’m going to write and tell them where I am, if I can remember anyone’s address. I hope I can get another phone.”
When the fire was out they got up and moved on. That morning they made their way down off the hill. It was slippery going, but it wasn’t as steep as the side they came up on. When they reached the bottom they were on another level area. It was cloudy but bright. They were closer to mountains now, and there were rolling hills in the distance. Brian hoped that they wouldn’t have to climb any more hills. His feet were numb and the pain in his legs from tension and exhaustion was intense. He looked around at this new location. Sheep pasture, he thought. Too far away from anything. No civilization here. He felt lost. He was afraid.
After a few hours of walking and resting Christy said “I see something moving.”
She pointed in front of them. “It’s some kind of animal. It looks like a dog. Oh, there’s more of them. They all look alike. They’re coming this way.”
Oh, hell! Brian said to himself. Wolves. Now he was really frightened. Not like this, Lord, not like this. I will go quietly, even in pain, in my own bed. Not like this. Not in the jaws of wolves. Please. Please! What do I do?
Suddenly, as the wolves approached, Brian got a crazy idea. He took off his back pack and said “Sit down.”
He sat with his legs crossed, the pack in front of him. Christy sat beside him, clutching his arm with both hands. As the wolves came closer they slowed down. They spread out behind one of them, the leader, who stood in front of Brian and Christine, about ten feet away. Then the wolf bared his teeth, made a low snarling sound, threw back his head and opened his mouth wide as if gasping for breath. Then he stared straight at Brian. Brian was as frightened as he had ever been in his life, but he looked the wolf straight in the eyes and began to speak, gently and quietly.
“Wolf, we are lost. We were in a terrible accident and we are trying to find our way home. Please help us by letting us go on. I respect you. I admire your strength, your courage and your intelligence. You are a magnificent wolf. We mean no harm to you or your comrades. We would never hurt you. We just want to pass peacefully through your territory and be on our way. Please help us by letting us go on safely, and don’t hurt us. I am asking you as a friend, dear wolf. Please”
There was a pause. The wolf stared at Brian for a few moments. Brian smiled at the wolf, being careful not to show any teeth.
Then the wolf walked slowly up to Brian, sniffed at the back pack, pawed it once, sniffed again and then sniffed at Brian’s arm and Christy’s hand. Then he backed up a few paces, came around to Brian’s side, lifted his leg and sent one short spurt of urine on Brian’s leg, and walked behind him. The rest of the wolves followed. One of them brushed against Christy as it went by her. Brian knew he had been marked by the leader of the pack, but he didn’t know what that meant.
They sat perfectly still for a long time. Brian didn’t want to turn around to see if they were there for fear of provoking them. But finally, after several minutes, Christy couldn’t help it. She looked over her shoulder, straightened up and said ”Brian. They’re gone.”
Brian let out a huge sigh. With Christy’s help he unfurled his legs and stood up, picked up his pack and put it over his shoulders. They moved on.
Sitting as he did for such a long time, the circulation was cut off in Brian’s legs, so he stumbled for a bit to get them going. Christy held on to his arm to help steady him. She was not complaining, but she was not smiling.
Finally his legs began to feel better but his feet were still partly numb and partly hurting. It seemed more difficult now than it had been to walk, even on a flat surface. He tried. He struggled.
“Work. Work, damn you,’ he said.
“Who are you talking to?” she asked.
Gradually they reached the end of that part of the plain, and there was a small forest. They decided to stay in there for the night. It wasn’t dark yet but they were so exhausted that by the time they were rested enough to continue, it would be. There was enough wood, but Brian had to find a clear place to build a fire. He didn’t want to risk setting the trees ablaze. He built a small fire and they warmed themselves as much as they could. Brian tried to light another cigarette but his hands were shaking.
“Brian, what’s the matter?”
“I don’t know, but I can’t keep my hands still long enough to light this cigarette.”
“Gimme the lighter.” He did and she lit it for him.
“Thank you,” he said.
“Brian, why didn’t the wolves attack us?”
“I don’t know. Maybe because. We sat down. We weren’t a threat. Maybe they. Weren’t hungry. They were going. Somewhere. They weren’t just. Around. On a mission. Or something.”
“Why did you talk to that one?”
“Sometimes. You can talk. To intelligent animals. And they listen. A dog, a cat. A horse. A wolf. Louise told me that.”
“Oh yeah. You told me. She’s in science. An antro….”
“Ant. Throw. Polly. Jist.”
“That’s close enough.”
“Did he understand you?”
“I don’t know. He didn’t understand. The words. But I guess he. Sensed my meaning, that we weren’t a threat, my. Friendliness. Maybe even my. Honesty. Who knows.”
“Why did he listen to you?”
“Curiosity, maybe. I suspect he never heard, The human voice before.”
“Christy, are we going to make it?”
“We’re gonna make it, Brian.”
It was a clear night. Brian wondered at how bright the moon and stars were in this part of the country. No pollution, I guess, he thought. They rested.
When daylight finally came there were clouds. They got up to go. Brian’s legs were still sore from the day before. He moved very slowly. But as the day wore on it seemed to get warmer and the sky completely clouded over. As they moved along it started to rain.
At first Brian was glad to have the rain. He thought it might melt some of the snow and make walking easier. His hope failed him however when it turned into freezing rain, then sleet. The sleet pounded their faces like needles. Brian pulled the hood of his parka up over his head as well as he could. Christy held her hands in front of her face. But it was no use, the sleet penetrated her gloves and Brian’s hood kept slipping back.
Christy turned around with her back to the wall of sleet. “What are we gonna do. This is awful.”
“Why don’t we try walking backwards?” he said.
They did that, occasionally looking over their shoulders to see where they were going. But Christy said, “It’s no good. It’s hurting my neck.”
“Wait a minute.” He put down his pack, unzipped it and took out a few sheets of paper. He put them down the back of her clothes, covering her neck. “There. When those get soaking wet, I’ll replace them until all the paper is gone.”
“But save some for a fire,” she said.
So, not sure where they were going, they walked backwards through the storm. The wind was blowing the sleet at them with great force. It smattered their clothes with a loud static noise. It was very slow going.
How much more are you going to throw at us? Brian thought. How much more can I take?
They trudged on for a few more hours like that, carefully checking the way ahead to see where they were going. When the sleet finally destroyed the paper protecting Christy’s back, Brian replaced it with fresh paper, discarding the old, wet ones, casting his writings to the elements. Why not? If he couldn’t sell it to the studio, what good was it? Gradually the sleet let up and turned to rain. Now they were walking on wet snow which Brian knew would freeze up at night.
As the dim afternoon light began to fade they saw a small forest area ahead of them. It was still some distance but they wanted to get there out of the rain and wind. Walking on the slush was easier anyway. So with a great effort they tried to pick up their steps to make it there before total darkness.
When they reached the edge of the woods they stopped, out of breath and sat under a big tree. After they had rested Christy went scouring for some fire wood and came back with an armful. They moved out from under the tree when the rain let up, Brian took some more of the few pages remaining in his pack, they piled some of the wood on it and Brian flicked his lighter. It sparked but didn’t light. He tried a few more times. It still didn’t light. He shook it and finally a flame came out. He quickly lit the paper, which blazed up and lit the wood.
“We didn’t go very far today,” said Christy.
“No. I wish we had a destination.”
“We do. We’re gonna make it.”
“Yes,” she said.
Brian was sitting bent over with his eyes closed. He thought he heard a bird chirping. “Are there birds here?”
No food, no sleep. Brian was too weak even to feel desperate. He flashed back in his memory to a day in college when he was so tired that he actually fell asleep standing up. He was studying late. He went into the bathroom to splash water on his face. The bathroom light was out and he stood by the sink and took a nap.
He lay back on the snow with his eyes closed and said softly to himself, Please let this be over now.
Brian awoke to the sound of birds chirping. But there were no birds. Christy was curled up next to him, shivering.
It seemed so logical just to get off the mountain and walk to the nearest village. But where was the nearest village? How did they get so lost in this frozen wilderness? How are they going to survive it without food and shelter? Brian had known danger before, from a knife wielding gang leader, from the back seat of an abandoned car in Arizona, but this was taxing him beyond all experience or knowledge.
The day was breaking dark and cloudy. The rain had stopped but not the cold. Christy stirred and soon sat up. Brian, with a great struggle, bent his knees. His legs were stiff and the effort was painful. He didn’t know how they were gong to manage another day of walking. But there seemed no choice.
They started out without a word, staying next to the forest. There was no awareness in them now of anything but moving forward. There was no reference point to their movements but an unknown and elusive end. Walk and rest, walk and rest. Just an endless cycle of futility.
At one point Brian turned to say something to Christy and she wasn’t there. When he couldn’t see her Brian became very frightened. He thought she may have gone a different way and gotten lost, or maybe she found something. Why would she disappear like that?
They had just come over a small hill. He went back to the top of the hill to see if he could locate her or her tracks. When he got there he saw her way off sitting on the ground not moving. He went over to her as quickly as he could and said “Christy, what’s the matter?”
She was sitting with her feet stretched out in front of her and her head bowed. She said quietly “I fell.”
“Aw. Are you okay?”
There was a pause. “My tummy hurts bad.”
“Soon we’ll have food,” he said. “Do you think you can get up and go?”
“In a minute.”
“Okay.” He sat down beside her and also stretched out his feet. “Dear Christy, take as long as you want to.” He gave her a hug with one arm.
After a pause, “Yes?”
“Are we gonna make it?”
“Yes” he said. “We’re gonna make it.”
They sat there together looking like two spectators waiting for some event to begin. About five minutes went by. Then she lifted up her head and said “Okay. Let’s go” and stood up. Brian stood up also but sat right down again.
“What’s the matter?”
“I just felt a little dizzy, that’s all.” He carefully got up again and they started walking.
When it was beginning to get dark, Brian saw something. “Look. Someone’s coming.”
“See the headlights? It’s a truck or something. It’s coming right to us.”
“Where? I don’t see it.”
“Look! It’s right in front of us, headlights and a big truck.”.
“I don’t see anything.”
Brian watched as the two headlights loomed larger. Then the lights each split apart into circles like stars. And then the circles started spinning. But the truck behind them was solid. He could see it clearly now, coming toward them. But then pieces of that started coming off and flying out. Brian watched them float through the air with amazement. First they were solid, then transparent, and then they slowly disappeared. More and more pieces of the truck broke off and disappeared. By the time the truck reached them it had completely vanished.
“What just happened?’ Christy asked.
“I don’t know. It was strange. There was that truck with its headlights. And then it was gone.”
“You thought you saw something that wasn’t there?”
“Yes.” No, thought Brian, I really SAW something that wasn’t there. He didn’t know if Christy knew the word “hallucination” but he wasn’t going to bring it up to her. The idea might frighten her.
They spotted a knoll ahead with a large tree on it. They went to it to spend the night. Christy collapsed from hunger and exhaustion. Brian stayed awake for a long time with his back against the tree staring off into the darkness. He was thinking very hard.
Twice I heard the chirping of birds that weren’t there, and now that phantom truck. I know what’s happening to me and I can probably guess why. But I don’t understand what it means. Why couldn’t there have been birds? Christy said she saw birds flying. Only I heard the birds. At least she didn’t say she heard them, she only said there were no birds. Could there have been birds that only I could hear?
The truck was real. It was really there. I saw it, until it broke apart and disappeared. How do we know a thing isn’t real when we can see it? Is empirical evidence all we have to use to determine if a thing is real or not? How can we test out the reality of something that our senses tell us is real, if it is only illusion? There are mirages, trompe l’oeil, legerdemain, magic tricks, a thousand ways in which the senses are fooled into believing an illusion.
I believe that the pain in my feet is reality. I can feel it. But what if my nerves are fooling me the way my ears and my eyes did? We have been living in this cold now for days. But how cold? Probably sub-zero temperatures. But even zero is an arbitrary thing. It is there to mark a point at which something freezes. Does that mean that everything above that point is not cold and everything below it is? Of course not. And then what is the difference between cold and not cold? When does a thing become not cold, when does night become day, when does tall become short, when does reality become illusion? There is no arbitrary point on a thermometer to separate one from the other. Is it possible that many things we consider realities are illusions, and many illusions realities. Maybe I have gone along believing many illusions in the long walk of my life.
What did that man see that made him leave his cart in the sand and go? What did the wolf see or hear that made him leave us alone? Was there really a rabbit, or a helicopter? Was there really a plane crash and did we really survive it? Did we even board that plane?
I wish I could turn this whole nightmarish reality into an illusion right now. Maybe it is.
He lay back covered with doubts, fears and regrets.
When he awoke later he saw Christy gathering some twigs and branches for a fire. He thought it was a futile effort because he was sure his lighter wouldn’t work. But he wasn’t going to discourage her.
When she returned with the wood she asked him for more paper. He removed a few sheets of what was left and she crumpled them up and put them under the twigs. Brian took out his lighter and flicked it. But as suspected it only sent off sparks. He flicked it a few more times and it still didn’t work. “Christy, my lighter is out of fuel. It doesn’t work.”
“Course it does,” she said. “Let me have it.”
She took the lighter and gave a few unsuccessful flicks. She looked at it sternly and tried again. At the third flick a very small flame appeared and she quickly lit a corner of the paper with it and handed it back to Brian. She sat across the fire from him and fed the twigs and branches into it. She didn’t speak.
When the fire was out she stood up said “Let’s go.” and started off. Brian painfully rose and followed her.
It was a warmer day and some of the top ice had melted, so it was very slippery. Nevertheless they made fairly good time, walking and resting. Many hours went by without a word when suddenly Brian slipped on a rocky surface covered with ice and fell hard onto his hip. He screamed in pain. Christy rushed back to him to help him up but he was raging.
“No! No! No! It’s too much! You are giving me TOO MUCH TROUBLE! I can’t take any more.”
Christy stood to the side while he yelled, and when he was finished went to help him up. He tried to walk a few steps. The pain was intense. He was only hobbling now. Every step was agony.
Christy walked right beside him, holding his arm in case he started to fall again.
Finally they came to a place where there was a small rock wall that he could lean back against. He was out of breath from the heavy burden of just trying to move forward. Finally he spoke. He was going to offer an idea he had been thinking about, and now this recent fall and injury convinced him to offer it.
“Christy. I’ve been thinking. Why don’t you go on ahead. And let me rest here? We are bound to come to some place soon. Where there are people. When you get there. You can get someone. To come back. And find me. There will be someone. With a snowmobile who can. Get back here quickly.”
“Oh, Christy, I’m just holding you back. You can move much faster. You would be out of here. If you didn’t have to wait for me. All the time. Now I’m even slower. So go on ahead.”
“I don’t want to leave you.”
“I’ll be all right here. This is a good place for me to rest. I’m comfortable. You’ll find someone.”
“Are you sure?”
“Pretty sure. Now go ahead.”
“Brian, are we gonna make it?”
“Yes Christy, we’re gonna make it.”
“Okay.” And without another word she started off.
When she was out of sight, Brian closed his eyes and leaned back against the rock to wait or to die through starvation, exposure, wolves or desire.
After some time elapsed Brian thought he heard something and opened his eyes. He could see nothing. He thought he had gone blind. But when he raised his arm he could see his gloved hand in front of his face although he could barely make out his feet stretched out in front of him. There was a fog, a fog thicker than he had ever known. Again a sound came from far away through the fog. Another hallucination, he thought.
Then he made out his name being called out there in the fog. Is this how it ends, he thought, being summoned from a fog? Is this how death happens? Well, I’ve been in a fog most of my life, it seems, why not in death. A few moments later he heard it again. It sounded like Christy’s voice, but he knew that wasn’t possible. She had left and gone off on her own long ago. There was silence. He leaned back and closed his eyes.
A few moments later he heard it again “Brian.” The sound was still far away but was coming from a different place. What if it is Christy? he thought. It couldn’t be, but, just in case it was, he struggled to his feet and called out “Christy!”
Then he heard “Brian, where are you?”
It was Christy. “I’m here.,” he hollered back.
“I can’t find you”
“I’m here. I’m not moving. Come to my voice.”
A few minutes went by and she called again, closer this time. They kept calling back and forth to each other and she kept moving until she was near.
“Where are you? I can’t see you,” she said.
“I’m right here.”
Christy suddenly emerged from the fog a few feet away from him. She gasped when she unexpectedly saw him, but she stepped toward him, threw her little arms around him and pressed her face against him. “Oh Brian I was so scared.”
“I went along for a while and then the fog came and I couldn’t see anything and I got scared. I tried to find my way back but I got lost. I couldn’t see anything and I was so scared. I called out a few times but you didn’t answer and then I thought I was lost and I was scared I was going to run into something and fall bad like you did or something bad was going to come out of the fog and hurt me. I just wanted to get back to you, to where you were. Oh Brian, I don’t want to leave you again.”
“Okay, okay. You’re safe now. You don’t have to do that again. We’ll just sit together and wait for the fog to lift.”
But the fog didn’t lift. It stayed thick all the rest of the day and all that night.
When Brian awoke Christy was still clinging to him.
It took a long time for the sun to clear away the fog, but by late morning they could see where they were and what lay ahead of them. There was a small hill and then another stretch of No Man’s Land.
Brian felt it was sheer futility to try to walk any more. His head was dizzy and his body was terribly weak from the pain in his legs and the lack of food. But he bent one knee and straightened it again. He bent the other knee and winced with pain when the muscles moved against his injured hip. But he kept bending and straightening, bending and straightening until he could feel some life in his legs. Suffering a lot he made an attempt to stand. Christy let go of his arm and tried to help him. But it took him several tries before he could stay standing.
“Well,” he sighed, “we can’t stay here forever. Let’s try to move on.”
It was very slow going now; every step was agony for him. But Christy stayed right with him all the time.
It took them almost an hour to climb the small hill. From that point on the way was level. They walked on, but Brian would stop and just stand for a few minutes panting while he regained his strength.
They didn’t make it far that day. There were foothills to the right of them and a forest to the left. Brian just wanted to go into the forest, find a tree and lie down until he died. But Christy, probably sensing his despair said “Brian, are we gonna make it?”
And Brian, from deep inside his heart with the love he now felt for this young friend, found the strength to say “We’re gonna make it.”
When the darkness set in they found a place in the forest where they could rest and have some meager shelter. There was no wind but it had gotten much colder. Brian again pulled the parka over Christy as she curled up next to him.
He lay awake for a long time in pain and total discouragement. They were not going to make it. At least he wasn’t. He knew that now. The last day’s walk had taken it all out of him. How could he ever find the strength to stand up and move any more? It just wasn’t in him.
But what about Christy? he thought. How is she going to get out of here without help? It isn’t fair. I’m an old man. I’ve lived my life. But she should not end her short life, her ten years, her ten and a half years, in some forgotten, forlorn wilderness buried in snow. I dug her out of the snow. That makes me responsible for her. But how can I save her when I’m at the edge of death myself?
He remembered a day many, many years ago when he rescued his sister and her friend from a cave that was filled with water. He remembered how his lungs were bursting because he had swum too long under water. And he remembered how the touch on his foot of the girl’s hand who was swimming behind him had spurred him on to get them out even if he died.
He looked down at Christy, curled up and sleeping next to him. We are the only two people in this frozen universe, he said to himself. I am now all the wise old men in the world and she is all the young innocent girls in the world and it is my responsibility to see that she survives.
But how can it ever be when I can hardly move. I live in pain and hopelessness. I feel my body collapsing more and more every day. I am not the hero she needs. I made it out of the cave, but this is too much for me. I can’t go on.
He looked again at Christy and thought, How can I turn away such trust? How can I tell her? She rolled down a mountain with me. She helped me collect fire wood. She sat with me when the wolves came. She went back to get my pack when I forgot it. She got my lighter to work. She came back to me in the fog. She has helped me to stand up and to walk. The only reason we have survived up till now is that we stayed together and kept going. At that moment he made a promise to himself. I will keep going and see her to safety and stay alive until I do it. Then he said softly, “Christy, we’re gonna make it.”
That promise seemed to give him a spark of vigor. It was only a spark but it was at least enough to force himself up on his feet the next morning even though it took a mighty struggle. Despair and discouragement surrounded him every agonizing step. A thin veneer of hope covered his hopelessness and he would keep concentrated on that and not give up. A sense of total futility, loss and surrender were his enemies now. He was silently screaming with rage at all of the injustices of life, bundled into this terrible experience. He now bore the burden of all who had ever been bound against their will in mortal combat with an uncaring iniverse.
They proceeded ever more slowly. The pain shot up into his legs with every step. After a while the forest to their left abruptly came to a large ice covered field. They made their way along the side of it, still with foot hills on their right. Christy was beside him all the time.
After about an hour or so they were almost past the field and looking at more forest ahead, when Christy suddenly grabbed his arm and said “I see a house!”
“Way over there. On the other side of the field.”
“Are you sure?”
“I don’t see it.”
“It’s a tiny, white house. It’s hard to see. But it’s there. Let’s go over there.” She started out walking on the field.
“Okay. But be careful. It’s very slippery. Don’t fall.”
Christy started walking over the ice field and Brian began to follow here. But on his third step his left foot went through the ice into freezing cold water. He gasped with the pain and removed his foot. And then he realized with horror that this wasn’t a field but a frozen lake. If Christy fell through the ice he wouldn’t be able to get to her. He could only watch her flailing to get out and she would be overcome by the freezing water and drown, and he could do nothing to help her. He panicked.
She was already about 20 feet from him. He called to her to come back. “Christy! Christy!” But she didn’t hear him. He cupped his hands to his mouth, looked up at the sky and shouted with all his heart and strength to the powers of heaven to see her and to save her. “Christeeeeee!!” She turned. She was now about 30 feet out there. He frantically motioned for her to come back. She stood for a moment, not comprehending. He motioned even more vigorously, pointing to the hole his foot had made in the ice. She still just stood there. He put his hands together in the form of a prayer and then motioned some more. Finally she started back. He held his breath that she wouldn’t fall through the ice on the way back. She started to slip once but caught her balance in time. Step lightly little girl. Walk lightly, he was saying silently to himself. Finally, when she was just a few feet from him, he reached out his arms and pulled her to him. Now it was his turn to do the desperate hugging. He held her close to himself. His heart was pounding.
“Oh Christy, I was so frightened. It’s not a field. Frozen lake. I was so scared. You were gong to fall through. The ice and drown. See?”
He pointed at the hole his foot had made in the ice which was already beginning to freeze over.
“Oh, Christy, that really frightened me.”
She began to realize what he was saying. She looked at the hole, back out at the lake, at him, and she was silent.
They stood there for a while not knowing what to say, just feeling the combination of fear and relief. Finally Brian said, “It looks like that forest goes around the lake. Let’s go there.”
So they trudged slowly past the lake to the trees in the distance. But when they got there they found that the woods were surrounded by a chain link fence about ten feet high. The fence went as far as they could see in both directions. Brian noted with grim irony that a fence was the first sign of civilization they had seen since the helicopter that passed them by. A fence, something to keep them out.
“Maybe we should go back to the other forest. There was no fence there,” said Christy.
Brian agreed. So they trudged, slowly and painfully, back the way they had come. Another couple of hours were spent doing that and it was beginning to get dark again. That they would not reach that building on that day was almost more depressing than the fact that they had to spend another night in the cold. In the last light of day they pushed their way into the woods and found a fallen tree with its roots sticking up like some great, ancient wound. They lay down there to rest and, hopefully, to sleep until daybreak.
Hours later a loud cracking noise woke Brian. It was still dark. He reached out for Christy and found that she was still asleep next to him. He wondered what the noise was and if it meant some new danger to them. He didn’t hear it again, until later.
Christy stirred and woke up. She looked around her with a bewildered expression, then at Brian. “I had a dream,” she said. “There was a man; it wasn’t you, and a big car.”
“Was it a bad dream?”
“I can’t remember. Let’s go find that house.”
“Okay.” Brian started the long and painful process of getting to his feet. I’m a cripple, he thought. I’m worthless. I can hardly move.
They made their way through the tangles of the forest, around the frozen lake, in and out of clearings and over fallen trees. When they got to the far side of the lake there was a brook.
“This must be the same brook we saw before” said Christy.
“Probably. I don’t know.”
The brook was filled with ice covered stones. The water was coming from the lake and it was moving very slowly.
“We’ll have to be very careful. Going across here,” said Brian. “It’s very slippery.”
He started to cross the brook, stepping carefully, testing each stone before he put his weight on it. Christy followed him. Brian made it to the other side of the brook and turned to help Christy who was almost there, when suddenly there was a rapid double flash of light and a loud crack of thunder. It frightened her and she slipped. She cried out and fell forward onto the snow. “Ow! Oh! My foot. I hurt my foot. It’s bad.” She was crying.
“Is there any way you can turn it so that it doesn’t hurt?”
She turned over on her back and tried twisting her foot around, crying with the pain, but she said “If I turn it in it’s not so bad. But it still hurts. Oh, Brian, I’m sorry.”
“That’s okay. You just lie there, take it easy and keep the foot turned in.”
“Okay,” she was crying a lot.
On that side of the brook there was a short, steep climb,, thick with trees, up to a clearing. “I’d better go up there. See where we are,” he told her.
She reached up to him with both hands, "No, no!" she cried out. “Brian, please don’t leave me here.” Tears were coming out of her eyes and flowing down the sides of her face.
Brian put his hands in the snow on either side of her, leaned over and looked at her tear stained face for a long moment of realization and said “Christy. I will never leave you.”
They looked at each other and smiled, and each of them knew there was a bond now, a bond that would never break.
“We have to get up there. I’ll pull you along. Push with your good foot when you can“ So groaning with the pain and effort Brian pulled her through the trees, in and out, jamming his painful feet into the snow to gain some purchase and to keep from sliding back. Christy cried out a few times when her hurt foot caught something. There were more rumbles of thunder way up and more flashes of light. It seemed that the sky itself was angry with them for surviving. They were two wounded animals desperately trying to get to their cave.
After a long time and a great effort they came out of the woods onto a large snow bank. Trying to pull her over the snow bank Brian’s feet came out from under him and he slipped down. But he managed to get her over the snow bank and onto level ground. There was a fierce, biting wind. Looking both ways Brian realized they were on a road. The road had been plowed, but not recently. It was a flat, level surface with a blanket of snow, and the wind.
“I guess we should go that way,” he pointed.
“Brian, I can’t walk.”
“I know. I’ll carry you.”
“Why not? You don’t weight anything.”
He got on his knees next to her, worked his hands through the snow under her and tried to stand. It was a mammoth effort, not because of her, but because his legs just didn’t want to work.
“Why don’t we both stand up, and then maybe you can pick me up.”
“Let’s try it.” So he let go of her and finally got up on his feet. He reached for her and helped her up, then bent over to take her in his arms again. It worked. Brian turned to walk down the road when there was a great smash of thunder and the rain came. Great angry rain drops were driven into their faces by the wind. Christy turned her face away but Brian had no choice but to stand there as the rain smacked him like nails being hammered into his face.
He looked up at the sky and he hollered, “TAKE MY LIFE! TAKE MY LIFE, IF THAT’S WHAT YOU WANT! KILL ME, IF THAT’S WHAT YOU WANT! BUT I’M GOING TO CARRY THIS CHILD TO SAFETY AND YOU CAN’T STOP ME!
Brian began to walk, slowly and painfully with his eyes to the ground, not looking up. He was talking his way along the road. Don’t slip. Don’t drop her. One foot. Then the next foot. Slowly. Carefully. Don’t think about anything else. Just one step at a time. Forever if you need to. This is your life now. One foot. The other foot. Don’t think about any thing. Don’t think about the pain. Don’t think about the injury. Don’t think about the hunger. Don’t think about the cold. Don’t think about the rain. Forget all of it. Just one step. And then another step. That’s all that your life is now. Just one step. And another. And another. Forever.
The rain stopped, as suddenly as it had started. Christy turned her face back to see where they were going and, after a few moments, said “There it is.” She pointed.
Brian looked up and saw a small, white brick building standing alone by the side of the road. They were about a hundred feet from it. He kept walking carefully and slowly. As he got closer he could see that there was a white cross on top of the front wall. Now they were slowly getting near and Brian could make out a wooden door in the front. Slowly, carefully, don’t go fast, don’t slip, he told himself.
Then they were twenty feet away, then ten feet, then five. At the door Brian carefully put Christy down so she could brace herself against the side of the building. There was a door knocker. Brian reached up with a trembling hand and took hold of it. He rapped meekly on the door four times until his hand slipped off. They waited. There was no response.
Brian slowly walked over and peered around the side of the building and said “I think I see. Light. The back.” He reached for the door knocker again but stopped when they heard the sound of a latch. The door opened part way and a slender, grey haired man look at them with astonishment.
Brian could scarcely get words out, “We are. Victims. Plane crash. We’ve been walking. Long time. Cold. Please let us in.”
“Of course,” the man said and held out his hand to help Christy in. But Brian said, “She’s hurt. Her foot. I have to. Carry.” He reached down and took ahold of her, lifted her up and stepped through the door as the man opened it wide. Brian was very careful not to hit her foot against anything.
Once inside Brian saw pews, an alter and, on the back wall, a crucifix. “Come this way, please,” the man said in a gentle voice.
They followed him down the side, past the alter and behind the wall where an open door led to a small kitchen. There was a wood stove burning, a window with a table next to it, a lighted lamp on the table, a chair on one side and a stool on the other. The man pulled out the chair and Brian placed Christy in it and they both pushed it carefully back to the table. Brian went and sat on the stool and put his head in his hands. The warmth in that kitchen was overwhelming.
The man spoke. “I’m Father Portera. Welcome to Saint Andrew’s.”
Brian looked up at him. “Pleased. Meet you. We are glad. Be here.”
“I’m sure you are,” said Father Portera. He took a pan from his small refrigerator and placed it on the stove then turned and looked at them.
Brian looked at Christy. She was sitting still with her eyes closed, soaking up the warmth.
“Did we make it?”
For the first time in many days her face brightened. She looked up at Brian with admiration and with a big, wide smile said “We made it.”