I tried to open my eyes, but couldn’t. I felt warm. I don’t know where I am? I could hear myself moaning and shaking, but couldn’t speak. I felt a warm washcloth on my forehead, I felt a touch.
“You’re OK,” I heard. “You’re OK,” he continued to say over and over, very softly. I felt my hair being rubbed, it was soothing, the warmth felt so good. I can hear the crackling of a fire.
“What’s your name?” he asked. I couldn’t respond. I heard an animal. “No!” I shouted, “help me!” I shook my head back and forth and swatted my hands in the air “No!”
“Quite Max! Leave her alone!” he shouted, “go lay down! Hey, wake up, c’mon, wake up!”
I felt my cheek being slapped, I could see a faint image of someone, “Richard!” I moaned.
“No, I’m Steven. What’s your name?”
“Sandra,” I mumbled.
“Sandra, ok, here, drink some water,” he lifted my head and put the cup to my lips. “You need to drink and eat, it’s been too long.”
I tried to drink it, but felt most of it drizzle down on my chest. Again I heard an animal, and I shouted, “No!” and waved my arms in the air again.
“He’s not gonna hurt you. Your ok. Come here Max,” he commanded the dog. He took my hand in his and I felt his fur as he stroked my hand over him. “See, its ok, don’t be scared of him.”
“I’m ok?” I whispered over and over.
“Yes,” he said as he waited patiently, “C’mon, open your eyes,” he commanded as he propped me up on the pillows. “You’ve got to drink Sandra, do you hear me?”
“Yes,” I opened my mouth and he poured the water in.
“There you go, good. Look at me!”
Slowly I opened my eyes again and this time I could see him in front of me. I was startled by his appearance, he was dirty, his hair was long and dark, his beard was long and scruffy. I could barely see his face, just hair everywhere. Next to him sat a dog who whined at me.
“You! I remember seeing you,” I said to the dog. “I thought he was a wolf. I remember, I tried to shoot him.”
“It’s a good thing you didn’t, Max found you, he ran off ahead of me, I knew he was tracking something, but never imagined to find you,” he explained.
“Richard? Did you find Richard? Is he ok too?” I said filled with hope.
“You’ve been asking for Richard for a few days now…”
“A few days? I’ve been here a few days?” I felt panicked.
“Four days, and there was just you, I didn’t see anyone else.”
“He, he fell, at the waterfall,” I explained in a panic.
“Max found you about a mile from the falls.”
“How did I get here?” I couldn’t remember anything after seeing what I thought was the wolf.
“I carried you,” The stranger said matter of factly.
“Are we close to the falls, maybe Richard is still there, maybe he’s ok too? Could you go back and look?” I pleaded.
“No, Sandra. No one else is still out there, it’s been too long and the storms dumped a pile of snow on us.”
Max climbed up close to me on the bed and licked my hand, “You saved me?” I stroked his head as he laid down next to me.
“He’s taking a liking to you for sure.” Steven said as he got up and walked over to the wooden counter, he cracked two eggs into a frying pan and placed it on top of the fire. A few seconds later he sat beside me, “Here eat,” he said as he shoved a fork full into my mouth.
I was hungry for sure. “Do you have a phone?” I said with my mouth full of eggs.
“No,” he laughed out loud.
“Do you have a car?”
“No,” again he laughed. “There’s no roads up here. We can’t just drive down the mountain and we can’t walk because it’s damn near covered in six feet of snow.”
“Six feet! Richard said we were only going to get a couple of inches.”
“What the hell where you doing up here anyway?” he asked angrily.
“We were just exploring. Richard’s done several extreme mountain hiking trips before and…”
“Idiot, this mountain is not for amateurs.”
“He’s not...I mean...he wasn’t an idiot!.” The tears began to fall as I defended Richard and raised my voice.
“Yeah, I shouldn’t have said that, I guess. I’m not used to dealing with other people’s feelings. It’s just me and Max up here.”
“How far away is town?”
“Three hours or so, on foot.”
“You stay up here all alone? All the time?” I said with amazement.
“Yeah, I like it that way,” he defended himself, raising his voice a bit.
“Thank you for bringing me here, for saving me,” I sniffled and tried not to cry.
“You should try to get up and walk some,” Steven said as he began pulling at my arm.
“Ok, I need to go to the bathroom.”
He laughed out loud. “See that bucket, in the corner, that’s the toilet.”
“You can’t be serious.” I went to take the blanket off of me and was startled, “Why am I naked!” I shouted and quickly covered back up. Reality was setting in for me and I was beginning to become scared of this strange mountain man.
“You were wet,” he glared at me with anger.
“You, you took my clothes off?”
“Should I have left them on and let you freeze to death?” again he raised his voice at me.
“Where are they?” I panicked.
“You can’t wear them, they are full of blood.” He got up and lifted the top to a small wooden chest. “Here, put these on for now,” he commanded as he threw me a pair of jeans, a sweatshirt, and then a pair of socks. “Do you want underwear?” he asked.
“No! No thank you!” I said confused by his actions. I struggled to put the sweatshirt over my head, I was still so weak. I sat up and attempted to put a sock on my foot, but couldn’t manage to do it. I started to cry again.
He grumbled under his breath, I couldn’t make out his words as he grabbed the socks from me and put them on. “Thank you,” I whispered.
My legs were black and blued from where I’d fallen several times and my skin had a purple/blue tint to it. There was no blood on me though, or in the bed, I realized.
I looked around the cabin for the first time. It was one large room, with a rustic stone fire pit. There was a wooden table with one stool, the small chest, and a wooden counter with a few pots and dishes. The walls were made out of trees, I could still see the bark peeling off in a lot of areas. They looked as though they were standing upright, dug into the ground and then tied together, There were no windows or inside walls. and of course there was the bucket, which I desperately needed.
I scooted my legs over the side of the bed, realizing it wasn’t a real bed. It had four tree like posts and then thick rope intertwined between the wooden frame. A blanket lie on top of the rope. It was difficult for me to get out of, with my legs still being sore. I tried to stand and lost my balance.
“Whoa! Let me help you. I’ve been rubbing your legs, trying to get the circulation going through them again. You’ll need to take it slow for awhile,” he glanced up to see my reaction. I didn’t give him one. I didn’t want to make him angry or seem ungrateful for what he had done for me so far. I was trying to be very cautious around this stranger. He led me by the arm to the bucket.
“The plant there behind the bucket...pick off the leaves to wipe yourself with.”
“Turn around,” I commanded. “Please.”
He muttered under his breath and did as I asked. He guided me as I stumbled to walk the short distance back to the bed. I reached for the jeans still laying there, knowing I couldn’t put them on myself. The sweatshirt I was wearing was at least five sizes too big for me, it was more like a dress on me. I weighed about 140 pounds and was 5’4” tall. Steven had to be 6’ 5” and at least 250 pounds.
“Hold on to me, so you don’t fall and I’m gonna lift up your leg,” he said as he grabbed the jeans from me impatiently. I did as he told me, he very gently pulled the pants up to my waist. He cuffed the bottom of the jeans so that I’d be able to walk and I held them up with my hands. We went over to the fire pit. It was fairly warm in the cabin. He pulled over his stool for me to sit on. Max followed and sat right next to me.
“What time is it?” I questioned.
“I have no idea, what does it matter? Eat when your hungry, sleep when your tired. There’s no need for a time in my world.”
“Is there any chance you have a shower?” I hoped.
“I have a bigger bucket and there’s warm water on the fire.” He didn’t laugh this time. I think he knew my dumb questions were not meant as disrespectful, just ignorance on my part, as I myself soon realized.
“Do you want to wash up?” he questioned.
“No, I think I will just wait till tomorrow, when I feel stronger, Could I lay back down?”
He helped me back over to the bed. “Thank you.” I laid back and closed my eyes but shortly heard him making a commotion. I heard the sound of pouring water. It was dim in the cabin, having only the light from the glow of the fireplace. When I opened my eyes, I could see the mountain man standing in a huge bucket in front of the fire as he took a washcloth and used the warm water from the pot in the firepit to wash. He was not facing me, but stood stark naked as he poured the warm water down his body and over his head, right in front of me. I tried not to look.
“Move over!” I heard and felt him lay next to me.
“What are you doing?” I screeched, I was scared again.
“I’m going to sleep,” he replied matter of factly, just as Max jumped up too.
“Please don’t hurt me,” I whispered.
“What?” He sat up. “Hurt you? I’ve done nothing but help you and take care of you, for days now. I am not going to hurt you?” he yelled in a stern harsh tone.
“What are you doing then and why are you naked?” I started to cry again.
“I’m naked because, I just washed my clothes, they are soaking wet, and you have the only other change of clothes I own, on you. As far as why I’m laying next to you...Where the hell would you like me to be, huh?” he was looking right at me now, glaring in my tear filled eyes. “Would you
rather sleep on the floor, now that your coherent? Or maybe you’d rather go in the barn with the chickens?” He was angry.
“No, I’m sorry, I just assumed ...the worst.” I was embarrassed by my assumption now. He had been very kind to me so far. “I’m sorry. I’m very grateful to be here and to be warm again.”
“Yeah, I can tell,” he said sarcastically. “Give me some blanket,” he yanked at the quilt in anger and rolled over away from me. I didn’t dare say another word. Before I knew it, I heard the faint snoring coming from Steven and Max both. I closed my eyes and prayed again.