Survival (Part Two)
A Short Story by Liz Varley
Written using the suggestion "Dessert"
Originally featured on 01-15-2007
As part of our series "Phases of a Holiday Meal"

 

There’s a feeling that happens sometimes when thrown into an extraordinary situation, that the situation itself and the actions involved is a dream—a creation of overactive neurons. This feeling comes to me while running through ankle deep-yellowed grass, the buckles of my shoes undone. Beads of sweat hang still on my temples and along my hairline. I think back to the events of the day, finding it hard to believe how warm the city bus was that morning, how smooth the carpet in my office had felt on my bare feet. I think of the men that drove me to this place, invent the encouraging words that were never offered.

‘You’re the first woman’ repeats through my head, making me feel at once very special and very stupid. I have always been a victim of pride, favoring slim odds. I was challenged to do this by a group of powerful men that could easily determine my future, and I accepted. It seemed cowardly not to. My success would make it easier for other women to rise through the ranks, while failure would mean someone else would get the chance to be first, to be the hero. The sky surrounding the sun to my right was beginning to redden, and I was coming upon a second patch of forest.

I had made it at least three miles already and was still running on adrenaline. Each time I assured myself that I could make it another two a slew of doubts cropped up in my mind, and I couldn’t help but sense that the cabin I was running to did not exist. This is a joke, I think, like a gang of boys taking a disliked boy into the woods on a snipe hunt. I couldn’t stand the idea that I was being tricked. This is real, I say to myself in an unfamiliar voice, and I want this.

I come to a walk upon entering the woods, noting the thickness of the trees. I look up to the nearly still canopies of the pines, the needles of the low angled top branches the color of cooked spinach, while the lower needles drooping branches are every color of rusty brown. The blanket of needles muffles my footsteps as I quicken my step, relishing in the bits of light. My mind lightens and I begin to imagine the path to the cabin, the bright, waxy logs shining alongside the dull lower trunks of pines.

Mid-step, I realize I have not been paying enough attention to my surroundings. The unmistakable feeling hits in the pit of my stomach, followed immediately by panic as a twig snaps behind me. My instinct is to sink to the ground, look submissive, and hope that whatever is there loses interest. I think I hear the intake of a breath, and quickly scan the ground in front of me for rocks, sticks, anything. I spot a fist sized angular rock a few steps ahead of me and I brace myself, picturing where I will put my feet. I will grab the rock and then turn around, I think, pressing my hands onto the needled ground and feeling the cold soil underneath. Pushing off the ground I can feel the shaking in my legs as they scramble along the ground, the sharpness of the rock in my hands, the straightness in my back as I lift up. My legs tremble with heat as I crouch.

I see nothing. The rock hovers in my raised fist as I twist around, my eyes digging into the hidden places behind trees. Must have been a deer, I think, though now I hear another noise to my left, a little further away. It occurs to me that this something is moving in a circle. They wouldn’t have put me in real danger, I reassure myself, though the thought seems contrived. Pressing my feet into the ground I stand up, feeling again the shaking in my legs, the unwillingness of my knees to support my weight. It seems as if the beating of my heart is audible to the forest, reverberating through the narrow pathways.

Out of the corner of my eye I see it close—a streak of silver-black, moving towards me, then stopping, invisible. I blink, swallow the last bit of saliva left in my throat and start running, watching the line of trees ahead of me, focusing as much as I can on moving my legs as quickly as possible, despite the protests of my fatigued muscles. I turn while running and heave the rock into the distance, hearing it’s hollow thud against the soft ground, and I search the sky, see the clear half moon.

A feeling of near delirium hits when I can see a steady line of smoke rising ahead of me, practically undetectable. I push my body forward, feeling the dry burn of thirst in my throat, the almost sickening feeling of overexertion. I know when I stop the realness of my exhaustion will set in, but right now is seems like my head is disconnected from my body and it’s expressions artificial.

Ahead of me the cabin looms, I see the steps up to its narrow door, the latch that I will need to open. My feet trip up the stairs and my hands tremble on the latch as I struggle to operate them. The door opens with the squeal of rusted hinges and I slam it closed behind me, sinking down onto the floor. Extending my legs out in front of me I breathe, feeling the same necessity in this as I did in running.

The ceiling is stained with water, and the log walls are a dingy dark brown, plaster and cement repairs sticking out like scars. I see a telephone atop a long table, next to it a box of crackers, a plastic wrapped mini salami roll, and a canteen. Slowly standing up, I make my way to the table. Tacked into the wall above the phone and underneath the only light is a laminated sheet of paper. On it is a typed telephone number, with the word congratulations written in capital letters, followed by several exclamation points.

The canteen water is ice cold and I feel it travel all the way to the pit of my stomach. I open the crackers and begin shoveling them into my mouth, simultaneously ripping the salami package. A knife is stabbed into the table and I yank it out, cutting the salami into thick pieces. The room is nearly empty otherwise, less the large deer head over the fireplace and an antique looking leather chair to the left of the front door. There are two bare windows and three rows of shelved between them, a thin layer of dust covering it all. I pick up the phone, dialing the number while chewing.

“Hello,” says a recorded voice after a few rings, “congratulations on your successful completion of Part One of the initiation into the fourth tier of RycoPro—the fastest growing finance company in the world”. I recognize the voice from the training videos I watched on my first day with the company.

“Your expertise in outdoors survival and quick thinking skills are essential character traits required for management level advisors. Consider yourself on the road to success! A car will be along to pick you up within the next two hours at the back entrance, so sit back, relax, and again, congratulations!”

“Back entrance?” I repeat, as I put down the receiver. I peek out the dusty window and can see a thin dirt road snaking through the trees, coming to a circle just before the back wall of the cabin. To the other side of the circle is a small, dilapidated outhouse and a chopping stump. I curl my legs up in the leather chair and shove another cracker into my mouth. Finally able to smile, I feel the excitement of accomplishment. I push the chair to the fireplace and stretch out my feet towards the low flames, resting my hands at the base of my skull. I repeat the recording in my head and suddenly stop.

“Part One?” I say through a mouth of crackers, and my heart sinks.

 

Read More By Liz Varley

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Portland Fiction Project

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