"The question is, can you handle it?" I asked as he dragged me in his arms.
"Definitely," he said as rain continued to pelt us from above.
My smile never made it to my face as the ground we were standing on crumbled away from the edge of the trail, dragging us along with it. My scream froze in my throat while the rough terrain whipped by at a rapid pace.
My screams finally broke, ringing through the forest as the flow of water that had swept our trail out from under us dragged us down the mountain. I tried to hang on to Mason, but the momentum of the fall pulled his hand from mine.
I could hear him hollering my name, but lost track of where he was. The pitch-black night closed in around me as small bushes pelted my body over and over again along our continued descent down the steep decline. I tried to grasp the ground beneath me and felt my left middle finger snap. Letting out a scream of anguish, I cradled my injured hand against my chest as I continued to travel down the mountain at breakneck speed. Finally, after what felt like a lifetime, I slammed into a tree. My head spun from the impact and instant darkness, different than sky around me, clouded my vision and I passed out.
My body felt like it was no longer whole. I reached down to check my broken finger to find my arm was missing. I tried to sit up in a panic and heard a low rumbling sound, almost like a growl. Two glowing, menacing eyes appeared at my feet. Jumping out of the darkness, a wolf sank his teeth into my leg, trying to rip my limb from my body. I fought, kicking my leg, trying to free myself from his vice like jaws. As I turned and jerked my body, I felt a warm breathing sensation on the back of my neck. I looked up just as another wolf tore into my jugular, and everything went black again. I woke screaming bloody murder and disoriented that I couldn't see anything, even with my eyes open. The dream felt so real, and for a mom
ent, I forgot everything about the fall. After a few seconds, my eyes finally adjusted and I was able to make out the shapes of the trees around me.
I struggled to sit up, but my head felt like it was being pummeled by a jackhammer. Everything around me was spinning, making my dinner from earlier come up as I heaved on the ground beside me. I raised my hand tentatively to my head to check for any damage, encountering a smooth surface. I freaked out for a moment until I realized I was feeling my raincoat hood instead of my scalp. How my hood had managed to stay on my head while I tumbled down the mountain was beyond me. I reached up to untangle the strings that held it in place and shrieked in pain. The broken finger I had forgotten about reminded me with pain coursing through my hand and up my arm. I held it in front of my face, squinting to try and gauge the damage, but the surrounding darkness made it impossible to see. What a time for the moon and stars to be hidden by the clouds. As far as I could tell, the rest of my body seemed okay, so I cradled my injured hand against my chest and struggled to stand up. My head was still fuzzy and I clung to the tree that had stopped me from tumbling further down the mountain.
"Mason!" I called over the rain that continued to beat the ground.
My head threatened a mutiny. I waited several throbbing beats before screaming again, but my fear of being all alone outweighed the pain, so I screamed his name again. When no return call came back, I sank back down on the ground. My flashlight was long gone and I knew from my short training sessions with Rick that I'd be doing more harm than good if I started wandering around in the dark.
I pulled off my backpack that was now only holding on by one half-torn strap and cradled it in my lap. Scooting my bottom back, I tucked my legs up into my raincoat and rested my back against the tree that had become my sanctuary. A million thoughts jumbled through my head. Had they found Alyssa yet? And was Mason hurt or even alive? I knew Rick would find me, but figured it wouldn't be until morning when the rain stopped that they would come looking for us. Despair raced through me and I rested my head on my knees as tears fell hot and fast from my eyes. I was lost, cold and all alone in an area I knew nothing about. My nightmare from earlier ran through my head. I tried to tamp down my panic that maybe I wasn't as alone as I thought I was.
The fact that my watch still worked was as much of a curse as a blessing. I couldn’t stop myself from checking the time, so the hours passed dreadfully slow as I anxiously waited to be dragged off by some wild animal. Just before dawn, I finally started to relax as my eyes began to make out my surroundings. The rain continued to fall, but the sun was making its way up over the horizon, and I finally allowed myself the luxury of drifting off to sleep.
I woke several hours later, completely disoriented. Looking around, I was shocked to find how far I had traveled down the mountain from where we were last night. God, that’s a long way up, I thought. The other problem was I had no idea how far I was from camp Unlikely Allies, or if I was even on the same side of the mountain. I tried to see if I could make out the path or trail that led back up, but found none. If there was a path, the steady downpour from last night had washed it away. Rising to my feet on unsteady legs, I felt claustrophobic from the endless number of trees surrounding me. Every direction looked the same, and if there was a way out of here, I wasn’t seeing it.
I took a deep breath to shake off my irrational behavior and began to take stock of the situation. "First and foremost, I need to find Mason," I said out loud. It felt good to break up the silence that cloaked me like an unwanted blanket. I knew I’d appear loony talking to myself, but hearing any noise besides the pouring rain gave me a small degree of comfort, even if it was only my voice.
My head still felt like a freight train had used it for a demo run, but I paid it no mind as I began to make my way along the uneven ground at the base of the mountain. Being able to see where I was going gave me some security as I made my way over rocks and downed branches that would have tripped me up in the dark. Every so often, I would holler Mason's name as I zigzagged my way down to flat ground. I walked at least a quarter of mile along the base before I dropped down another five feet and then doubled back the way I had just traveled. The terrain was so dense with trees that I kept my eyes peeled to the ground so I wouldn't walk right by Mason without realizing it. I was beginning to give up on my third pass of walking on flatter ground. It wasn't like he would have continued his downward spiral once the ground became more level.
"Mason," I called in a weaker voice. I had called his name so often my throat was now paying the price. I tried not to dwell on the various aches and pains I felt, but I couldn't ignore the muscles I usually didn't use. They were definitely cursing me as my movements became more sluggish. Mason was right, I wasn’t used to this kind of physical labor and I definitely didn't belong here. I tried to take my mind off the pain, and my grumbling tummy for that matter, by fantasizing about when Rick would find us. I had the shower and meal all planned out. At least my raincoat had kept me relatively dry, but sloshing through the wet underbrush had left my pant legs drenched from the knee down and my tennis shoes were so soggy, I felt uncomfortable walking in them. "And after I use all the hot water in camp, I'm sleeping for days," I mumbled out loud.
My words were met with movement off to my left in the thick underbrush between the mountain and me. Holding back a shriek of terror, I waited for some crazed animal to leap out on me. After a few seconds, my heart removed itself from my throat and reason took over.
"Mason?" I asked cautiously, creeping closer to the spot where the noise had originated.
"Kimberly," his voice said weakly.
Charging through the brush, I found Mason nestled in the embrace of a large bush. He was virtually hidden from sight and I would have never found him if I wouldn't have been talking to myself.
"Are you okay?" I asked, taking in the multiple abrasions that marred his handsome features. Do I look that bad? I couldn't help thinking.
"Not really," he said, throwing me for a loop. With the exception of his raincoat being pretty much ripped to shreds in the front, and the multiple scratches on his face and hands, he looked relatively okay. I watched as he struggled to a sitting position that he couldn't quite manage. He wound up settling for resting on his elbows. I stepped forward to offer help, but was puzzled about what his injury was.
"Are you hurt?" I asked.
"You could say that," he said, looking at me gravely as he slowly lifted the edge of his trashed raincoat to reveal his legs.
The acid rolled in my stomach. “Oh my God,” I said as I took in the sight of his legs. It took me a moment to comprehend what I was looking at. The left leg looked fine with the exception of multiple tears in the jeans, but it was his right leg that made me swallow back the bile rising in my throat. A sharp, jagged-looking stick poked out where there should have been denim. It was only after looking at it closer that I realized the white stick wasn't a stick at all—it was his bone. The impact of the fall had obviously snapped the bone in half, making the jagged edge pierce through not only the skin, but also the denim from his jeans.
I swayed on my feet, looking at the bleeding oozing mess that just hours before had been a functional limb.
"Kimberly, look at me," Mason said, finally dragging my attention from his mangled leg. It took me a moment to finally look up into his face that was devoid of color. "Are you okay?" he asked, voicing the same question I had just asked him.
I laughed a humorless laugh. No, I wasn't okay. Nothing about this situation was okay. I wanted to rant and rave, to stomp my feet, but most of all, I just wanted to be home. I pulled it together before answering him. Now was not the time to lose it. Now was the time to pull on my big girl panties as Quinn would say and figure out how I was going to get us out of this mess.
"I'm fine," I said, finally meeting his eyes. "Well, except for a broken finger," I said, holding up my finger to show him.