A Deadly Struggle

Sometimes we are called to fight for our lives.

Darren felt the blackness begin to give way to gray. Pain shot through his skull. His lips felt sticky as he opened his mouth. The metallic taste of blood touched his tongue. His world started coming into focus, and then pain shot up through his body. Darren sucked in his breath, and everything rushed into view.

Headlights blinded him, and he turned his head. A body laid on the ground with a cell phone next to its open palm.

His chest tightened, and he whispered, “Deborah.”

He looked around, and his world started to spin. Darren slowed his movements. To his horror, Deborah’s head hung limply against her shoulder, and her body rested bleeding against the doorframe. Deborah’s eyes stared blankly at the broken windshield.

He tried to reach for her, but his arm would not move. He looked down and saw a bone sticking out past his elbow. Darren stared and wondered why it didn’t hurt.

He looked back at Deborah and then to the crinkled ceiling near his head. Tears started to stream down his cheeks. “Take me, please! Don’t take her, take me.”

Blue and red lights began to light up the car. Someone walked up and looked inside. Darren pleaded, “Please help Deborah. I’ll be okay.”

The man standing outside yelled towards the red flashing lights, “Hey, this guy has multiple compound fractures, and his legs appear crushed under the dash! The woman is unresponsive.”

A female medic yanked on the passenger door, but it would not budge. The policeman and EMT yanked and pulled. The door finally gave way with a screech. Another medic appeared, and they both gently lifted Deborah out of the car and laid her on the ground. They checked her vitals and began to administer CPR. Darren prayed.

A policeman brought a blanket and placed it on top of Darren. Tears began to flow down Darren’s face. Two Firemen walked up and began discussing where they would put the jaws of life to rip the car’s cockpit open and free him.

One of the medics with Deborah hollered, “I have a pulse!”

Could it be true? Darren looked towards the activity around Deborah. Oxygen was over her mouth, and an IV needle was being taped off.

The female EMT looked in Darren’s direction, “She’s stabilizing. I think she’ll be alright, sir. Why don’t we take care of you now?”

Darren laid his head back against the seat and quietly thanked God for saving Deborah.

Suddenly, a fiery pain ran up his body, and he gasped for air. The agony he had been blocking came rushing in like a flood. Someone stuck a needle in his arm. The pain started to retreat, and Darren felt himself smile as he drifted off to sleep.

Bitten

Careful where you step.

Jerry’s pace quickened against the crisp mountain air. Dusty clouds emitted from his jogging shoes as he traveled up the dirt road. A view of the Rockies was on his left and an Aspen covered slope on his right. His agile legs expertly guided his feet around the rocks that could twist his ankle.

The smell of pine and fresh air filled Jerry’s nostrils, and a smile remained transfixed across his face. The dirt road turned sharply and substantially increased in grade. His leg muscles started to burn. The smile left his face for a few moments before it returned, and the burning disappeared.

The sun was beginning to break over some of the lower crests, and its warm glow fell on the back of Jerry’s t-shirt. He turned the next switchback, and the sun heated his face. He glanced up at the clear, blue sky when a sudden pain struck his right ankle mid-step. Instinctively, he kicked and saw the small rattlesnake go flying off into the bushes.

He stuttered, wobbled, and stumbled. The blood swiftly pumping through Jerry’s veins began to burn.

Jerry let himself collapse in the middle of the road. He screamed, and the morning’s smoothie ejected from his stomach. Tearing at his shirt, he fashioned a tourniquet using a nearby stick. His hot muscles and veins fought against the restriction put upon them.

Jerry blocked his instincts to stop tightening the torn fabric and twisted the stick between gasps for air. Dizzy and nauseous, he worked to control his breathing.

He had wanted a quiet run, and now it looked like he was going to die in the effort. The minutes ticked by, and his right leg became numb below the tourniquet. Looking down, his toes and foot looked as though they would pop if someone poked them with a needle.

An unnatural rumble emitted from the bottom of the valley. Jerry blinked, shook his head, and strained to decipher the sound below. Whatever it was, it was climbing up the dirt road. The distinct sound of an engine began to grow louder, and Jerry said a prayer of thanks.

A black jeep appeared around the bend and Jerry hollered and waved with everything he had left. The red-headed driver stopped and jumped out. Her tight hiking outfit and boots fit her girlish figure like a glove.

Jerry gasped, “A rattlesnake bit me.”

“Don’t move,” insisted the young woman.

The hiker went back to her jeep and got one of her walking sticks.

“Grab hold of this. I’ll take your other shoulder and help you up. Then we’ll get in the jeep.”

Jerry managed to keep his foot off the ground. A warm wave rose from his stomach to his chest, and the road rose and fell under his feet. He swallowed hard, and they worked their way over to her jeep.

The young woman already had the passenger seat tilted forward, and Jerry eased into the rear. He laid there on his back with his foot elevated. She grabbed an ace bandage from her first aid kit, and the two of them tied off his tourniquet. Dialing 911 on her cell she jumped in the front seat, turned the jeep around and made her way back down the mountain to meet the ambulance.

“If you don’t mind me asking, why didn’t you have a cell phone?”

Mumbling through the pain, he responded, “Solitude.”

The young woman glanced at him over her shoulder, “Judging from that swollen foot, I think your running days may be over.”

Jerry attempted to smile, his voice strained, “Maybe. There’s always swimming.”

“Does that mean next time I’ll find you floating in one of the lakes?”

“Possibly.”

The woman reached back with one hand grasping at the air. Jerry grabbed her hand for a moment. “My name’s Maria.”

Although he was wincing with pain, the conversation was keeping his mind occupied. “I’m Jerry. Thanks for the rescue.”

The ambulance appeared ahead, and she pulled to the shoulder. The EMTs brought the gurney to her vehicle and Maria hastily scribbled something on the back of a card from her purse. She walked over and put it in Jerry’s hand.

“Don’t lose this. It has my business number on the front and my cell phone on the back. Let me know how things turn out. Maybe we can go to dinner sometime, and you can tell me how you managed to avoid this from happening until now.”

Jerry looked into Maria’s bright, blue eyes and muttered. “Remind me to thank that snake later.”

The EMTs delivered a quick dose of pain medicine and pushed the gurney into the ambulance. Jerry felt himself relax and closed his eyes.

Voices in The Breeze

Life and death can happen in a whisper or a scream.

My few friends call me Owen. Names are such weak attempts to identify who we are. We are nothing more than souls to be discovered and then gone. Forever lost back to the earth.

I had a close friend once. His name no longer matters. We used to hike among the rocks and mountains on the edges of the Mojave Desert. On one fateful day, we were trekking along a dusty forgotten path as was our custom. Dust rose from the ground with each footfall or occasional gust of wind. We had long since given up any effort to stay clean. Even in late September, the sun’s heat baked our skin mercilessly. Hot and dirty, we were thrilled to find the long lost ghost town nestled between the rocky cliffs of a small pass. We sat down in front of a dilapidated schoolhouse and gave our tired bodies a rest.

The warm water from our canteens soothed our parched throats. Scanning around the small town, I was the first to notice the dark opening in the hillside. On closer inspection, the dark entrance opened to a manmade tunnel. The old mine meant refreshing air. We would have to listen for rattlesnakes, but if we were careful, we might find something to occupy us until the day had cooled and we could return to our camping spot.

My friend and I walked quickly to the mine’s entrance. All we could think about was the chilled air waiting inside. I paused for a moment at the mine’s entrance. Only the wind could be heard blowing through the tunnel. We allowed our eyes to adjust, and our skin enjoyed the cool
breeze rushing towards the opening. We each chose a side of the shaft and pushed our backs against the wall. The sun provided a pale hue to light our way. We could make out rocks on the floor and the changing shadows deeper inside. We began stepping along the wall and had gone in at least 200 feet when I spied the end of the tunnel and could tell it turned in two directions.

In anticipation of what lay beyond we quickened our pace. Two steps later, the world changed. I heard my friend scream. I could barely make out the horror on his face as he fell down the black hole in the floor. His screams
seemed to go on forever until they quietly faded away. I cautiously stepped closer towards the dark hole in the floor yelled his name again and again, but he never answered. I picked up a nearby rock and dropped it down the shaft, but I never heard it hit bottom. My fingers desperately dug through my backpack, hoping to find anything that could help. My fist gripped a forgotten penlight, and I turned it on and dropped it into the void. The light disappeared into the darkness.

I yelled one last time before rushing headlong out of the mine and down the hot, dusty road towards our campsite. Three hours later, I stumbled into what had been our sanctuary. I dove into my tent, grabbed my cell phone, and called for help. The ranger station knew the location; we had not been the first visitors in this part of the desert. The ranger’s truck finally rolled into my campsite after an eternity. One Ranger coldly informed me that my friend had fallen into a bottomless pit. None of the rescue ropes or spotlights had been successful in finding the bottom. His partner told me that locals had quit counting the mine’s victims long ago. I argued about the lack of warning signs, and the rangers scolded me for not using proper equipment.

Now I sit here alone at the black, chilly mine entrance. All hope of rescue is gone, and my friend is lost forever inside the earth. I will never forget his screams riding upon the cold, dank winds inside.

Glorious

A deadly struggle brings a beautiful ending.

Liam hugged the cliff until the sharp rocks stabbed against his ribs. His hands ached, desperately holding on to the small imperfection in the rock face. His shoe stomped and kicked in search of a stable foothold. His foot dangled in the abyss, unable to find a secure landing. No salvation could be discovered beneath, at least nothing close. Eight hundred feet below tall pines and eternity waited for him.

With nothing nearby, Liam struggled to look down. Partway down his body, a shoe sized crevice tempted him to try his luck. Ignoring his instinct not to move, he pulled his free leg in and jammed his foot inside the crack. His body secure, he loosened his death grip. Letting his arm relax, Liam started mapping the final fifty feet of his ascent.

With an expert aim, Liam’s free arm swung around and grabbed a sizeable jagged rock sticking out just three feet above him. His other hand released, and quickly stuck itself into a nearby crevice and his foot planted against a crease along the cliffside. Each movement Liam made was a triumph over death and his limits. With one final thrust, his body dangled from the top of the mountain.

Liam laid there for a few minutes, giving his spent body a much-deserved reprieve. Struggling to his feet, he looked out over the lush green valley below. Pine trees and patches of farmland filled the scene. The sun was starting to dip below the top of the adjacent mountains. Liam had hugged God’s creation, stared death in the face, and now here he was, enjoying the gift of an awesome sunset, triumphant in his victory and faith.

Behind him, faint footsteps grew louder. Liam turned and spied a man emerging from a pine grove twenty yards away.

“Stay with me, boys.” warned the man.

Liam smiled at the family. The two kids drew close to their father, and the dad acknowledged Liam while his attention remained on his children. Although cowed, the boys continued to chatter.

Liam politely ignored the stranger’s children and focused on the sun dropping below the ridgeline with its last golden rays wrapped around the mountains. All four stood there in awe.

“Glorious,” whispered the stranger.

“Glorious, indeed,” replied Liam.

They waited as the gold turned to a faint pink, and finally, the darkness began to take its place.

“Come on, boys, get your flashlights. We have a long walk back to the car.”

The children and their dad rummaged in their pockets for their flashlights and headed back towards the treeline.

Liam pulled out his cell phone from his small backpack. “Sam, are you in the parking lot?”

“You know it. Are you close?”

“I’m leaving the cliff now. I couldn’t miss the sunset.”

“At least one of us got to enjoy it. I got here too late. See you soon.”

Liam pulled out his penlight and headed down the trail and into the forest beyond.