Where Life blinks
“I still don’t get the part about the rivers,” Tane says as he wipes wet hair off his face. “There’s no rivers in this town, only lakes, and a bunch of streams.”
“Maybe it’s not literal,” I say as I look at him from under the hood of my parka, glad that my hair is not soaked like his.
“We’re exhausting possibilities, we scouted the whole forest yesterday and found nothing,” he says, frustrated.
We walked around the whole forest yesterday, looking for a clue, for just about anything, but we didn’t find a thing. It’s hard to see, when you don’t know what you’re looking for.
“Maybe we’re doing this wrong, maybe you don’t have to look for something, but rather wait for it to find you?” I say, trying to appease my brother’s frustration somehow. I feel like any idea is welcome by now.
He turns around to face me, anger burning behind his eyes, which look so much greener now that we’re inside the woods. He opens up his mouth to say something, but then the anger seems to turn into something else.
“Tane?” I ask, and I take a step towards him.
He’s looking at me without seeing, his eyes fixed on a random spot in space, unblinking.
“Tane?!” I say again. I reach an arm up to touch him, but then I don’t. Maybe I shouldn’t. He’s just standing there, not moving, the rain washing over him and making his hair stick to his face. After a minute too long, he blinks, and his eyes focus back on me.
“We got it all wrong,” he says, and I can hear panic in his voice. “I’m not the target,” he explains as a thunder hits the Earth somewhere far away and he sets off running towards the noise. The meaning of his words hits me a seconds later, and I can't believe we were so stupid; of course he’s not.
This was always about her.
I’m trying to calm myself as I look back and forth.
“This is just like an exam,“ I tell myself. I already have all the answers I need in my brain, I only need to work through them. Work over the options.
The trunk is covering the whole path, which is pretty narrow, only a couple of meters at most.
The tree’s been ripped off the ground, so its huge roots are shooting up into the air to my right. It makes up a huge wall that blends into a mass of impenetrable and thick forest. I go over and try to squeeze around in between some branches just to make sure, but it seems impossible.
To my left, there’s a slope too pronounced and wet for me to even attempt going that way, I’d certainly slip all the way to the bottom of the valley if I try.
I look back to the track I came through, but going back would take forever, we were walking for hours before the storm started.
So there’s only one option left, I’m going to have to climb over the tree. It’s a huge trunk, but the bark is rough so I might be able to wedge my fingers in the crooks. Gripping as best as I can, I start climbing up. My hands are covered in mud, and it makes me slip constantly, but I use as much strength as I have, and make it to the top.
I’m about two meters high, and I could possibly jump down, but I’m scared that with my luck, I’ll sprain an ankle. The path is even more narrow on this side, thick bush to one side, and a deep slope to the other. So I start descending with my back against the wood, trying to slide down as slowly as I can, and as close to the bush as possible.
I step onto a small side branch to use it as a step, and as I put my weight on it, it snaps. Before I can do anything, I slide against the trunk, the back of my head hitting the wood, and I fall onto the path bum first. The dirt is so slippery, that I keep sliding and find myself rolling off the side, losing my sense of direction as I fall down the steep slope.
Branches and rocks and bushes hit me from all sides as I keep rolling and rolling, not knowing where it's up or where it is down. I cover my head with my arms as best as I can, and try to curl up into a ball. It feels like I’m falling forever, until I finally stop as my back hits something hard.
I lay there, stunned, my whole body hurting. There’s so much mud in my face that I can barely open my eyes, so I slowly take my right arm out of the sleeve of my rain jacket. Pain shoots in my shoulder as soon as I do, and I wince, but I finish taking my arm off and use the mostly clean sleeve of my sweater to wipe my face clean. I close my eyes for a moment, gathering my thoughts.
“Okay, assess the situation,” I tell myself, think logically.
I open up my eyes again. I'm lying on my back against a tree, so I start by pushing myself up so I can sit a little bit straighter. My shoulder hurts as I push against the floor, but I don’t think it’s broken, so I put my arm back into the jacket’s sleeve and zip it all the way up. Keeping myself warm is important, I remember. There's bushes and vines and trees all around me, and it looks like I'm almost at the bottom of a valley. There's a little stream a little bit further down.
Everything looks the same, no matter where I look, and I can’t see where the path is, but I know it’s somewhere up there. I need to climb back up, and return the way I came.
“I can do this,” I whisper.
I stand up, which is a bigger effort than I expected, and I start crawling upwards. I make my way in between bushes, gripping onto rocks when I can, trying to follow the path of broken branches and mudslides. I step on a loose rock, and I slide down a meter. So I climb again. Every muscle in my body screams for me to stop, to lie down, to rest, to give up... but I climb.
I feel like I slip and climb in an endless cycle, my muscles feeling more drained and clumsy with every little push. I’m mostly on my hands and knees, scrapes and cuts burning on my palms. I'm not even a third of the way there, but I’m making slow progress.
I grab a vine to pull myself upwards, and the whole thing comes out of the dirt under my weight. I fall on my back again, and manage to tilt my body sideways as I roll down the hill.
This time, I roll until I end up lying onto the small stream at the bottom.
“Fuck, fuck, fuck.”
I’m even lower into the valley than I was before. And even more bruised and sore. Maybe I need a new tactic, maybe I can walk downstream until I make it somewhere, I’m sure there was a stream close to the parking lot, wasn’t it? Maybe it’s just the same one, I think hopefully.
I try to sit back up as another thunder shakes the Earth, and a loud noise rips the world, making me instinctively cover my head and ears as an alarmed scream escapes from my lips. Okay, I’m panicking now! That was too close, sounded too close.
Panic is taking over my body and mind, the little logical part of my brain still working recognises all the signs. I’m in a fetal position, my arms over my head, shaking, and I’m sure there are tears rushing down my cheeks again. My heart is trying to jump out of my chest, and it’s getting hard to get air into my lungs.
“Deep breaths,” I mutter as I open my eyes and try to push myself to a standing position. Dread fills my chest as I realise my left leg won’t move.
I look down, horrified as I realise there’s a fallen tree lying on top of my ankle, and my legs are both half tangled in vines. I reach around my ankle with my hands, desperately trying to feel if there’s pain there, almost expecting to find bones shutting out of my skin. But it seems fine, and my feet are so cold that they feel numb anyways.
My teeth chatter as my whole body trembles. If it’s because of the cold, the dread, or the panic, I don’t know. I don’t know the difference anymore.
My foot is wedged between the log and some rocks at the bottom of the stream, so I try to wiggle it out. It doesn't work, so I try to move the rocks, but I don't seem to be able to do that either. The rocks are huge and too heavy. I try to push the log off my leg, but it's useless, I have no leverage or grip to push against, and it won’t even budge.
“What do you want from me?!” I scream at the world, at the Universe, at whoever the fuck has decided to test me like this.
The water is up to my hips as I half sit on the stream, my body in a bit of a weird angle being all tangled up.
The skies seem even darker and darker as the minutes go by, the whole forest pressing over me and trying to steal the air from my lungs. My chest burns with the panic rising, and I'm struggling to breathe. Each breath comes in ragged, and leaves me as a wheeze. The vines wrapped around my legs are pressing harder and harder, and my legs feel even more tangled than before. I’m starting to lose sensitivity, my whole legs going numb. And the water seems to be rising, now getting up to my waist. What’s going on here?
“I don’t want to die, I’m not ready to die.” I cry.
As soon as I say it, the proximity of death throws me into hystericals. I scream, curse and cry, I try to kick my legs, and I push the log with my hands as hard as I can, over and over again.
“Get off me you fucking piece of shit, I don’t want to die, I’m not going to die, I can not die, oh God, please, please, please.”
I can’t even make sense of my own words, but I keep pushing, and screaming. I’m not ready to die. I don’t want to die here. Please don’t let me die here.
I fold forwards and claw at the vines around my legs, ripping them out in pieces, thorns digging into my fingers. Then I claw at the rocks under my foot, trying to move them, trying to break them. I push and claw, push and claw as the cold water makes me shake and shiver.
“Don’t let me die here, I don’t want to die here, please.”
My throat hurts from so much screaming. And I look down at my palms. My hands are shaking badly and I can’t make them stop. There’s blood all over them, and it drips onto the water. It drips onto the forest floor.