This post is from a prompt for the 30 days of writing challenge. I found out about it from one of my classmates in CO301d and decided it sounded compelling. I don’t know if I’ll do the whole challenge, but today has been a weird day, so I’m taking the opportunity to write.
Amos stoked the flames of his little fire.
The sun was not yet risen, though the horizon could be seen through the pines against the lightening blue-gray sky. Hunched beneath his blanket, he watched the flames as they twisted and writhed, in pain they always seemed to Amos, though they ate away at the wood they consumed. He understood fire. Only by consuming could it live. Its breath came at the cost of wood, wood that one had to chop to get, and that one would never see once it went into the flames. It burned and it was gone. Its spirit fled with the smoke.
Amos himself had to consume, but wished he could do so as easily as the fire. Fire, it seemed, had little remorse, and it came and went without effort. Meanwhile, he had been following the elk for nearly a week, and still had not caught sight of them. He had smelled them, he had seen where they had rubbed bark from saplings, and where they had gathered in a park-meadow one afternoon, but they eluded him nonetheless.
He was hungry.
The jerked-beef he had bought in the little town behind him had run out two days before he first found the elk-sign. And so far, he hadn’t come across any streams or lakes that could support fish. Surely there had to be some in this country, but the elk didn’t seem to want to bother with them. They would need to drink at some point. He was assured of that.
A ray of light surged into the wood as the sun overcame the Earth. He was glad for it too. The leaves had fallen here in the high-country, and the nights would not stop getting colder.
He picked up his threadbare socks from where they had been warming by the fire and slipped them on, careful so as not to poke a hole in the heel where the wool was worn thinnest. Then, he gave each boot a few good knocks on a rock before putting them on and lacing them up. The morning before, he shuddered at the thought of it, at mouse had fallen out of his boot before he had put it on. He didn’t think to wonder how a mouse could find enough to live on in this desolate place, but if he had he may have eaten it then and there. Things in the mountains seemed to do what they had to. The tree clinging to a rock, its roots like spider webs along its surface looking for water, or the coyotes, finding corpses left by lions or disease, picking the meat from bones without a thought to the pestilence that had left it there.
Slinging his Spencer carbine over his shoulder as he stood, the water in his canteen sloshed and made a hollow sound. There wasn’t much left. Hopefully the elk would find a good stream today.
Smoke drifted up from his dying fire as he stooped to look at a track left in the debris from the trees. The dry leaves had not been disturbed as there hadn’t been wind in the night. But there had been wind the day before. They couldn’t be too far ahead now.
Evening came on again, as it usually did. He seemed no closer to his prize. The rifle weighed heavy on his shoulder and his bones ached in revolt with his every step. He hurt. All over. Inside and out. His stomach was furious, and his feet felt the same. At least his canteen was not much of a burden, hanging empty at his side.
He had followed the sign all day, but the thick brush of the country had slowed him down significantly. Now, he abandoned the trail and followed a draw down to a gully. He needed water before he could pursue the chase any farther. The leaves, loose underfoot, were even worse footing than usual with the layer of frost taking them over. He used his Spencer as a cane to help him down the slope. As he continued, the aspen leaves gave way to cottonwoods. He was getting nearer to water.
As he reached the bottom of the gully he could hear it in the rocks. His heart leapt and he leaped with it! His parched throat would soon feel life again. But, as his feet returned to earth once more the leaves gave way. Slipping, he felt one leg go under his weight. The rifle slid from his grasp and he rolled to the ground. He craned his neck towards the river but as he tried to move his body a bolt of lightning rocketed from his leg. He turned to look and saw the white of his bone protruding from his trouser, the blood staining the material to a rust-brown around it.
When he had felt the musket ball enter his arm in Gettysburg, he’d thought that was the end of him. But Amos was lucky then. The ball had passed clean through, and after removing the bits of his shirt from the wound it had healed. It still made him favor his left arm, though he’d always preferred his right, but that pain he had learned to live with. He wondered that the pain from his leg didn’t cause him to scream. His heart was now pumping so fast that there was blood dripping from his pants. They were soaked.
With effort, he sat. Pulling off his coat, he tore the right arm off at the shoulder. He grabbed a stick to clench between his teeth as he tied his sleeve around his leg.
Now he could feel it. His head got light as he pulled the knot tight around the bone. He was bleeding worse now and felt sick to his stomach.
Lying back, Amos could see the curve of the sun disappearing down at the end of the valley. The river seemed to flow into it from where he lay. The long shadows of the cottonwoods raced up the river.
He thought of his mother. How far away she seemed now, rocking in her chair on the porch of their house in Virginia. His father had made the chair, but that was before Amos could remember. His father. He hadn’t known him. He had died in a quarrel over a card game before Amos was born.
But still his mother sat rocking in his mind. She hadn’t remarried. Amos was her first child and her brother took him often. She’d known then that Amos was wild. He had always run off, chasing some squirrel or rabbit into the forest, and her brother, bachelor and rogue that he was, had taken a liking to him early on.
Stars appeared in the sky as Amos lay in the leaves. Tonight, a breeze picked up, blowing from the East, up the valley. He didn’t feel the air it brought past his face. Nor did he see the elk that drank from the river a few yards below him.
He watched his mother rocking. Her chair creaking on the porch. The stars were behind her. She was near him now, though this was the farthest away from home he had ever been.