A hiker doesn't realizes he's dead til his friends and a ranger find him
In the distance, I heard voices. Yes, indeed, I heard them. They began as a faint whisper that rose significantly in volume over time.
"Billy!" The voices called. "Billy, where are you? Billy!"
But I couldn't reply. I feared that the voices were solely in my head. I was only imagining them.
I have been on this mountain for a couple of days. I tumbled down the side of it after taking a steep trail. I lost my footing on a pile of wet leaves and plundered down the mountainside before landing on my back against a tree trunk. I felt bruised and battered. The wind had been knocked out of me and I felt a sharp pain gushing from my right leg. I feared moving it, believing I would have injured the leg more; I also feared seeing the severity of the injury. Would I see the leg snapped in two, and the bone piercing through the skin? Could I bear to look at it without puking?
So, instead, I lay there. I lay there, often going in and out of consciousness. I lost track of time, and begun to wonder how long I was actually out there. Had it been only a couple of days?
"Billy! Come on!" Those voices again called. "Stop playing these games, and answer us!"
I barely lifted my hand and mouthed, "here; present," but no sound was heard. My mouth felt parched. I thirst for water and hungered for food. I had nothing with me. No food. No canteen of water. It never occurred to me that I wouldn't make it back. Why would I? I was young and carefree. Nothing could ever happen to me. Why would it? It never had before when I went off on my own. "I'll be back by nightfall."
"But Billy, it's getting dark," cried Suzie. "You could get lost up there."
Harold also suggested he should go with me. "The buddy system, man. Never wrong with that."
But I just shrugged them both off, indicating that "it's a short hike, people!"
God! They were as bad as my parents, always reminding me to do this or to do that. Didn't they realize I was old enough to take care of myself?
And, besides, the trail was only several miles long. I felt confident I'd be no more than a couple of hours, maybe three, at best. But, looking back now, I realized I was too ignorant to think of the consequences, even the basic survival skills that included not hiking alone. My friends tried to warn me, but I refused to listen. Now, I was lying here, drifting back into unconsciousness…
For the first time since I arrived here, I felt totally at peace. It didn’t make much sense. Opening my eyes again, I saw nothing. The starlit skies were gone; they replaced by complete and total darkness. There was also a sense of numbness, coldness in my chest and limbs. I no longer felt the pain that ran up my leg. And I didn’t understand why…
Sitting up, I stood by leaning on that tree trunk that kept me from tumbling further. My eye sight returning, I looked down at my legs. Neither were broken, and I exclaimed with angry fists raised, “Look at this! It wasn’t broken after all. Just my imagination.
“Just ‘til they see this,” I added, knowing Harold, Suzie and the others would never believe it. How could I have survived such a terrible fall and lived to tell about it? It didn’t make any sense; yet, here, I was. I was standing. I was walking, and now I was running.
I ran the entire way back to camp, sprinting over rocks and other fallen tree limbs along the way. “Harold! Suzie!” I shouted. To my amazement, the tents were gone. The site I knew to be our campsite was deserted except for a couple of campfires long since extinguished.
I didn’t get it. Where were they? Did they really leave without me?
Wait ‘til I see them next, I thought. I’d show them!
“Billy!” I turned around. The voices. I heard them again. But where were they coming from? What direction? North by northeast, it had to be.
“Here I am! Here I am!” I shouted, racing toward them. I kept going, running and calling out to the voices. “Here I am. Here I am!”
But no matter how far I ran, I never could reach the voices. It angered me. Why wasn’t I reaching them? And why weren’t they hearing me? Surely, they must hear me. How could they not…? “Harold! Suzie!”
Yes. Yes, finally a response. I ran on, blinded by the thought of seeing my friends again. I should have been paying more attention. If I had, I would have been more careful. My footing went from under me, and, again, I tumbled down, crashing through branches before landing face down before hitting a fallen tree trunk. I looked down; my eyes meet my own - but they weren’t my own anymore -- staring upward. Gone were the flesh, muslces and eyelids once covered my eyes. They , too, were gone, leaving behind only eye sockets and bones covered with traces of my clothing. What was left of my clothing… Jumping backward, I screamed. “No. No, it can’t be. I…I got up.”
It couldn’t be me lying there. It had to be someone else. Some other fool who had gotten lost and, in the process, lost his soul to Morrow Mountain.
Then, I heard them. I heard the voices again, and my excitement returned, believing I had been found. Yes, in some small way, I had, not realizing at the time, how.
“Hey! Over here, guys!” Footsteps on leaf-covered earth soon followed. I gazed up to see Harold and Suzie arriving by my side. Joey, Sarah and Stef soon followed along with a man in park ranger’s uniform.
Suzie turned to Harold, burying her head into his shoulder. “You may want to stay back,” he called to the others as they approached.
“My God!” Joey exclaimed. “What on earth…”
“The elements could do wonders if you’re up here long enough,” the ranger replied. “I'm sorry. I don't mean to be crude. But these things do happen from time to time, even with the best of hikers. One wrong move on some wet leaves or some loose dirt...then, down you go to an untimely death. That, I believe, is what happened to your friend here. Look at how that leg is broke in two; he didn't fair well up here.
"Looks like something got to him before we did, too…” The ranger added as he went over to the remains and flipped open the vest, checking for identification. When he found none, the ranger turned to my friends, “Can you be sure it's him?”
Harold nodded and said as he led Suzie away, “that’s what he had on when he left.”
“I told him not to go,” I heard Suzie said. “He knew better than to go off by himself, alone.I told him!”
“No. No, this can’t be.” I said, shaking my head. Rising to my feet, I called out, “Guys, I’m right here! Look! It’s me! Hey!”
I began dancing around them, kicking up my feet as I went. No one seemed to notice.
“I can’t believe he’s gone.”
‘Gone’? No. That wasn’t right. I wasn’t dead. Was I?
I looked back toward the mountainside, where I still laid; at least, what was left of me…It was then, and only then, I began to drift away. I felt my soul being lifted, carried upward by an early morning breeze and I was gone...