Blood was mixing with dirt on the back of my hand, forming a terrifying, congealed sludge. The salt from my tears embedded into the cut on my cheek and made it sting. A sickening scene made my stomach turn; I thought of Fiver, the clairvoyant rabbit in Watership Down, who foretold of the blood which ran through his fields. I cried even more, stung even more. A barely-there thorn prick had metastasized into a gaping wound, all thanks to my mind and its inability to forget stupid films watched in the sixth grade. Soon that would be my blood bathing the fields.
The rain had soaked through my clothes a long time ago. (I now know that toting around the $14.95 Old Navy rain jacket did NOT qualify as being prepared.) We always say rain comes down in sheets or in buckets. And sometimes – this is the really absurd statement – “cats and dogs”. But none of these terms suited this rain. How could it possibly have been sheets? Drops were coming down so rapidly they melded together. It was one continual, lifeless wash – without beginning and without end in both time and form. And there certainly was nothing cute or fluffy about this hellish monsoon; whatever name you could assign to its shape, if any, was uglier than sin itself and sharper than needles.
My shivering brought some solace to my dilemma. I remember that night being the only time in my life when I wished to be cold. I put my heart and soul into that wish, slowly ebbing away at all other concerns until I was left with a blank slate for a mind except for that. I knew if I had only been warm enough, the animals would have found me. And I would’ve rather died of hypothermia than have been eaten alive by some stray wolf or bear out for an evening stroll.
Maybe I’m exaggerating. The chances of being attacked were logistically slim. I hadn’t seen any domestic animals nearby, so I reckoned the lack of food gave them less reason to come my way. But not knowing for sure was killing me just the same.
I tucked myself into a corner of the crumbling shack where I could get a grip on reality. Three and a half walls (if you sum up the patchwork as a whole) separated me from everything else. For all the gaps and cracks of various sizes, there was only one intended entrance. One entrance for me but countless entrances for the residents of Everything Else. Rusty nails shot up through decaying boards – the biggest of which was a makeshift door lying a few meters from its proper place where it could have helped me. I tentatively prodded the boards one by one then stacked them in the opposite corner. I contemplated making a fire for a split second and then forgot it. No chance. The whole world was wet and would surely drown.
So I sat. I must have sat for an eternity. Having accomplished my sole mission for the moment, I simply gave up on thought. Thinking was dangerous. Thinking wouldn’t solve anything. It would only kick start a memory full of fear associations. A good while passed before I remembered to take inventory of my bag.
I had three things which mattered: my cell phone – no reception, but a decent flashlight; two sticks of churchxela I’d bought earlier that day in the bazaar; and a box cutter. I thanked God, or whoever, that churchxela isn’t a fragrant food. My mind always reverted back to the animals, the creatures with their keen senses of smell – one’s nose sharper and more sinister than the next. And I thanked my hindsight for not having washed with the “good” soap, the soap from America whose scent has no place in nature, for the last few days; the organic peppermint residue I was wearing at that time didn’t paint me as a human. The rain would have diminished these indicators but not have muted them completely.
There are disadvantages to living alone. One of them is that no one expects you to come home. This is troublesome enough in everyday life for all sorts of sad reasons but possibly fatal in emergencies. I could have been gone for two, maybe three days without causing so much as a ripple in the neighborhood gossip. I seldom tell anyone my plans because there is usually no plan to tell, and that afternoon when I set out on a spur-of-the-moment hike was no different.
This spontaneity was the first thing to haunt me when I found myself stranded a few hours later. I had quickened my pace as the rain started in at attempt to get closer to home. Then I broke out into a bolt, my Converse scraping jagged rocks and tree roots. I was a few frantic steps away from tripping when I stopped still. I instinctively yanked my cell phone from my pocket: 8:30. It would be pitch black in half an hour. And there I was, lost, somewhere in between my house and the beginnings of nowhere.
No signs of people. No candy wrappers. No beer bottles. No cigarette butts. Not even a heroine needle, which made me certain that this place, wherever it was, was truly off the map – even off the radar to the most practiced escapists.
Everything trickled around me. Time trickled into seconds, then to minutes, and somehow became midnight. The earth was supersaturated at this point. It angrily spat up water everywhere I looked. I couldn’t help but smile as I imagined the earth was rooting for me and my survival, rejecting the water for the both of us.
Obviously, I couldn’t sleep on such a surface. So I began to heap the wood scraps into a platform. My muscles were wasted from stress. Regardless of the fact I had ample time to become well rested, they felt torn and bruised. Coordination failed me. Holding the flashlight in one hand and my bed fragments in another was too much, and I sank to my knees in defeat every time the light fell from my fingers. As I tossed and turned that night, I flowed from a state of muteness, deafened by the rain and blinded by the night, to a dream world full of horrible voices and colors.
I awoke to a bombardment of sensations: warmth, daylight, stiffness, sand … It’s impossible to say which one stirred me. I was overwhelmed, paralyzed until I took that first breath. Dry air! I flung the flimsy excuse for a rain jacket as far as I could, trampled it to death in the wake of life, and skipped through the doorway into the brilliant sunshine.