Leap of Faith 4
Leap of Faith 4
Synopsis: Rookie Washington State Trooper Jeremy Cross has fallen in love at first sight with amputee Izzy Harris as she and her father Gavin approach the Seattle sinkhole to La Brea. When Gavin and Izzy make a daring leap into the sinkhole, a galvanized Jeremy equips himself from the trunk of the cruiser he shares with Sergeant James Royal and jumps in after them.
Jeremy awakens in tundra and decides to make camp in case Izzy had arrived north of him. Jeremy finds a trio of backpacks delivered by Sergeant James Royal and spends the night near where he arrived. Jeremy is awakened by a herd of muskox and sets off to the south and forested terrain.
Jeremy finds the Harris’s camp and estimates he will catch them in a week, if he can outwalk them while carrying 90-pounds of gear and supplies.
* * *
Jeremy awoke with a full bladder and the knowledge he had been stupid. He was stiff from the previous day’s hiking and had three large bottles of Ibuprofen but didn’t take any. While through hikers could complete the Sierra Crest Trail in a summer, there was no trail in 10,000 BCE. Jeremy would be lucky to complete the trip to Los Angeles in a year.
The rocket stove ate fuel quickly, so Jeremy collected extra and made coffee but not oatmeal. His diet was changing drastically so a cup of oatmeal or rice each day would help keep him regular. He would likely alternate between constipation and Montezuma’s revenge.
His cell phone charged up to 30% while Jeremy heated coffee for a breakfast of jerky and a lifeboat ration. There weren’t any cell towers in La Brea so the poor phone had exhausted itself pinging for one. Jeremy switched it to airplane mode, which seemed ironic in a world with no airplanes.
The mastodon trail was easy enough to follow and frequently passed streams where Jeremy filtered water into his stainless steel bottles. Izzy’s father, Gavin, had left a footprint proving Jeremy was still on the right track.
It was past noon when Jeremy noticed a growling noise. At first he dismissed it as his own abused stomach, but it grew louder as the forest thinned to a clearing filled with feeding
Mastodons. Okay, maybe just a dozen, but the damn things were huge. Not as tall as mammoths. Tubular was the word that best described their body shape. White tusks curved three to four feet from their jaws. Jeremy was surprised to see them noshing on wild flowers and grass as well as twigs and pine needles. Their teeth were not designed for a continuous diet of abrasive grass. Maybe they didn’t know that.
Jeremy backed away to the concealment of a cedar with a seven foot thick base and waited. He didn’t want to scare a mastodon mother. Of course, mastodon noses were sensitive and soon the area was filled with trumpeting as mothers herded their babies away from the strange man-scent. Bulls advanced towards Jeremy and wagged their huge heads; trying to catch sight of the intruder.
Boom. A baby mastodon hit the ground and the mother’s trumpeting was a maddened shriek that hurt Jeremy’s ears. He couldn’t see much of the action through the forest of thrashing mastodon legs. The bull’s gave a derisive snort in Jeremy’s direction and turned to address the attack. What was it?
Jeremy eased a bit back into the forest and sidled toward the west end of the clearing. Spot a thick boled tree. Plot the quickest path that wouldn’t trip him with branches or rocks. Look all ways. Scoot. Then look all ways before scouting for the next tree. Slow going but in a few minutes Jeremy had gained a vantage point.
The baby mastodon was still down and blood was pulsing from a wound in its throat. The reddened sides gave testimony to the crimson fountain of just a short time ago. Two mothers were trying to lift the baby onto its feet with their trunks. Jeremy felt a lump of compassion in his throat.
The mastodon bulls trumpeted warning towards the woods to the south. That was the direction Jeremy was headed. He took a deep breath and emptied his lungs to clear his mind. He looked into the forest edge for a full minute but couldn’t see past the bright meadow into the shadows.
Several more minutes passed as Jeremy snuck further south and deeper into the forest. He had just reached the pine that would shield him from the sight of the mastodons when he heard a soft cough. Jeremy froze, then slowly turned his head towards the new sound. Crap. It was a bear.
The bear was large; at least as large as a grizzly with noticeably longer legs and a smashed in face. When time allowed, later, Jeremy would realize the bear’s shorter jaws gave greater crushing power than a polar bear. The bear stood on all fours only twenty-yards away in the forest. Still, Jeremy might not have seen it except for the mastodons gobbling up lower branches and saplings. The bear was a little uphill and his eyes were higher than Jeremy’s.
Jeremy remembered two things. He couldn’t outrun a bear; especially downhill. Running would just assure the bear that Jeremy knew he was prey. Bullshit. He also recalled a movie where a grizzly stalked a pair of downed aviators. Jeremy swung the butt of his rifle up to his shoulder and pushed the safety over to ‘fire’.
The bear didn’t roar, like in the movies. The bear made a popping sound with his jaws and stood on his hind feet. That put the bear’s head taller than the backs of the mastodons. Jeremy aimed at the bear’s head and when those jaws opened again, fired a bullet through the roof of its mouth.
Jeremy didn’t hear his own rifle shot but the renewed trumpeting sounded muffled to him. The report was deafening both immediately and likely in his old age. If he lived that long.
The bear dropped like George Foreman smacked by Mohammed Ali. Jeremy palmed the rifle’s bolt sharply and chambered a new round. Then he drew his bayonet and snapped it in place on the muzzle of the rifle. This world was as scary as he had imagined. The bear hadn’t moved and the damage to its head looked mortal. A thrown stick didn’t elicit even a twitch.
Sometime later, Jeremy was back on the trail south and west with the bear’s heart in a plastic bag. Now, he was shaking. The liver hadn’t any spots but bears are scavengers. He would cook the meat thoroughly to kill any parasites.
Dead trees littered the forest floor and were attacked by fungus. Jeremy picked some morel mushrooms and some chicken-of-the-woods that he recognized as safe to eat. He placed a small bit under his tongue as he hiked. That didn’t cause any problems, so he could eat the rest for dinner.
The sun was already low when Jeremy came upon the shelter Gavin had made with long strips of cedar bark. There were several cedar trees nearby, so they should all survive the theft. Jeremy thought of pushing on for about two seconds but his aching feet and common sense agreed to spend the night in Gavin’s tepee.
A few small bones and quills in the fire to Jeremy that Gavin or Izzy had killed a porcupine. They could be killed with a club so Native American tradition was to leave them alone, unless starving.
Jeremy found a five-needle pine and collected some needles to steep as a tea. That should give him vitamin-C. Three-needle pines, like the ponderosa, had more toxic compounds. Jeremy’s mnemonic told him the Ponderosa’s Adam Cartwright had three sons. The sugar pine had five-letters in its name and five needles.
Jeremy tenderized the evening meat by stabbing it with the bayonet. Salt and a spot of Tabasco gave it a more homelike flavor. The mushrooms were softer but his jaw was sore when he climbed into bed.
Jeremy dreamt of Izzy. First, he saw her smiling face haloed by her silver hair. Then, he dreamt of her spooning him with her firm body pressed against his. Then, he heard a stick break, a large one, and he found himself sitting with his heart pounding in his throat. Where was his rifle? No. He didn’t have room in the tepee to swing his rifle. Jeremy grabbed his right wrist and followed the lanyard to the revolver’s butt. Jeremy had thought James Royal might have seen too many Royal Canadian Mounted Police videos, when he first noticed the lanyard ring on the revolver. Now, it seemed like genius. A glowing tritium front sight would have been nice, but 12,000-years too late to ask for that. Or too early.
The sound didn’t repeat and Jeremy fell back to sleep in a few hours. This time he dreamt about the bear.
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Rick Kester is a Viet Nam era veteran living in Northern California with his wife Nancy.