I stare at the peculiar thing placed next to me, my fingers rolling the tube back and forth until I become sure enough that it’s real. It’s another new day and I’ve lost count of how many days I’ve actually been inside the woods now. One? Two? Three?
This is the last day. If I don’t find water today then I am done for, elements or no elements. I sit up in a daze, my eyes blinking down at the tube beside my leg. I reach out and pick it up, admiring it from multiple angles. It’s a stainless-steel bottle and it feels full. I unscrew the lid at the top and I stare inside, I cry with relief when I see the small ripples of water moving inside of it.
What if it’s a trick? What if Lyle found me and left me poison to drink? I am so confused. I cry with confusion. Did I have this all along?
I bring the bottle to my lips and I smell it first. It smells nice, fresh, like it’s been collected from the springs in the mountain. I take a small sip first out of paranoia and then I am gulping it down until I almost choke on it.
I screw the lid back on and I sit still for several minutes as I wait for something to happen. I thought I’d feel stronger but I don’t. I just feel more confused and scared. I look around for any signs of life. Someone must have placed the bottle there; someone must have stumbled upon me last night and helped me. Why would they leave me here?
The wind makes my skin shiver and as I cradle my arms, I suddenly remember the blanket. Someone was here. They put a blanket around me. I think.
Am I really going mad?
I push my knees to my chest and I breathe against my legs. The woods are quiet, everything looks still and everything looks like it’s moving. My stomach growls again and a sharp pain stings my insides.
I get up from the floor and I pull my dress up as I squat to pee. Not much comes out. I pick the bottle up and I surrender myself back into an aimless walk.
Now that I have water, I need to find shelter. I guess I am choosing to survive now, which is more fight than I had yesterday. I drink some more of the water later in the day, I’ve been careful to ration it but the thirst is torture.
It’s getting dark again. The days are moving by so fast. It’s unlikely that whoever saved me last night will come back to do it again. I’m on my own.
I find a comfortable place to sleep beneath a hillside and I try to make a bed out of leaves. The stars are bright above me, I watch them for a long time. I hear some distant rustling and I push myself further back into the hole.
I hear growls from all around me. Wolves. Real wolves. Not imaginary ones like I hallucinated last night. My heart starts to beat faster and I hold in a noise of sheer panic as I meet the several pairs of glowing eyes through the darkness.
What use is hiding from them? They can smell me. They know exactly where I am. I crawl out of the hole slowly. The wolves are grey and small, but bigger than the average dog. They sniff the air until their teeth are snapping in my direction.
I’m not sure how many there are. Four, maybe five. Maybe ten. Maybe twenty. I know I can’t outrun them and I know I can’t fight them but I still look around for something to help. I pick up a blunt stick from the ground, keeping my eyes on the one in the middle that is taking slow steps towards me while the others remain behind, as if they are waiting for its permission.
The wolf growls at me with its head low, becoming closer and closer. The stick shakes in my hand and I squeal as it charges right at me. I fall back into the leaves as the wolf is intercepted by something much bigger.
My eyes widen as I watch the black wolf from last night—the wolf I was certain I had imagined—tackle the grey wolf into the ground. I hear sounds of teeth ripping through skin and heavy bodies bashing against a tree before the grey wolf cries out with a loud and pained whimper.
The grey wolf limps back to the others and they all stare from afar as the black wolf positions itself in front of me. It growls lowly and stretches its claws against the ground, giving the wolves some kind of tense threat.
They turn around and run off. I keep my eyes on the magnificent black beast. It may have saved my life but that could be because it doesn’t want to share its food. I flinch as it moves, I hold the stick out, warning it to stay away. It looks down at it, there is a moment in its eyes where the beast is almost amused. I swear I can see it smiling and I didn’t know they could do that.
“Stay back,” I say.
The wolf ignores my threat and it walks over to the hole I had just crawled out of. It pats its paw against the steel bottle, rolling it across the ground for a few seconds with its nose. It’s like it’s checking if there’s something inside of it.
Impossible. I shake my head, blinking hard at the strange sight. The stick remains firm in my hand until the wolf jumps up onto the top of the hole and disappears over the hill. I think that it’s over, that I am finally safe, but the wolf returns a few moments later. It drags something thick and large down the hill, pulling it with its teeth down to the ground.
I rise to my feet, walking closer to the hole as the wolf drags something into it. It starts digging with its paws, trying to flatten whatever it has brought into my temporary home. It becomes satisfied and backs away, looking right at me as it moves further into the darkness.
“Do you. . . want me to go there?” I say confusingly.
The wolf nods its head. It can understand me? Jesus, I am losing it. I take a deep breath and I walk back towards the hill, crouching down to observe the hole. The wolf has brought a very old, matted and thick quilt into the hole. My hand bounces on top of it, it’s so soft and comfortable. I turn around to thank the wolf but it has vanished.
I have no idea what is happening. I decide not to question it as I hear the other wolves howling from far away. I bury myself into the hole, pulling one side of the quilt around me and rolling myself into a warm position to sleep.