Personal log of Kowalski, Roger
We were preparing our breakfast in the morning, when Babsie turned her head, listening downstream. “Someone’s coming.” “What?” “I heard something.” I only had time to grab the rifle and load it, when two men on horses came in sight.
They looked like a mix of a Ranger and a Native American Warrior, means they had the typical Ranger uniforms but Feathers in their hair and all that shit. The leader had raised his hand in greeting and I lowered my weapon. “Salish Rangers, good Morning!” “Good morning”, I greeted back. “We still have some tea left. Can we offer you some?”
They dismounted and were coming nearer. “We’d be pleased. With whom we have the pleasure?” “We are of Richards group on the way to the shelter. And it’s good to see you.” “Where is the rest of your group?” I pointed up the slope. “They are in an improvised shelter, one of us is sick and unable to travel any more. A second one fell down the slope two days ago, we assume he is dead, but there was no way looking for him. So we are sent out to the shelter to call for help.” “Hasn’t Richard a radio with him?” “He had, but it’s broken. We are Dirk and Terry.” “Yes. Dirk and Terry are of his group.”
They sat down and were accepting a cup of hot tea and I even offered one of the hardtrack that were all that was left of my provision. We told them the whole story and we got to know that they were coming from the next ranger station at the end of the valley and had started to move out after they Sarah had called them that they had missed their daily call to search for them. “Can you call help?” “Not from here. You best try to get up to that shelter here, we can’t get up to the rest of your group with the horses, so we go back and try to find the body of your comrade on the way. But I don’t think we’ll have much chances to find him after the snow. But maybe he is still alive and able to make a signal. Never underestimate the will to live of someone. Don’t give up before he does.” I nodded. “Okay.” “Beware of avalanches, there’s so much new snow that it might happen if the sun is coming out again in the next days.” “We will reach the shelter before that.” They sat on their horses and greeted in the Indian heart and hand style. “Be careful. We go back to the radio station and report. We will have to call in a chopper for this. Here, some provisions and medicine”, and he was tossing me a packet. “If we are fast enough, maybe the boy is still alive.” Then they were gone in the wood, so suddenly as they had emerged from it.
“What was that?”, Babsie asked. “Park Rangers.” “Indians?” “This is NAN territory. Everybody and his mother who had some Indian bloodline somewhere in the past now claims to be of native blood. That’s why they didn’t look like natives. They are Park Rangers.” I shrugged. “Let’s go for it as long as the weather allows us to.”
We heaved the tree over the ravine and fixed it with stones so he was stable. The other side was stabilized by a stub, so I suggested to give it a try. I secured her with the rope and she started to balance of the the abyss. It looked as if she would slip one time, but kept her balance up gracefully. “Shit”, she said. “Be careful, when it’s your turn. Maybe you should try it, sitting and scooting?” But my pride said ‘no’ to that option. “At least you ain’t try it with snow shoes on”, she laughed, after she reached the other side. My act was much less effortless than hers but I managed it. It was more the effect of the nothing left and right than the act itself. “Don’t look down, look at me”, she cheered me up, when I had stuck in the middle, the tree moving under my feet.
“We will do something against your overweight, Kowalski”, she laughed. “I have no overweight. It’s all bulky build and muscles.” She just laughed. “Doughnut belly.” And she patted with her flat hand on my stomach so that the skin made the same waves like water in a bowl would do if you’d toss a stone in it. “Muscles”, she giggled, “don’t move like that.”
We moved up the slope for some hours, slowly and careful, for the fresh snow hindered our way, sometimes we had to work out a way around the one or other snowbank and snow was fluttering down from above, falling from treetops or from rocks that were all around on the slope. “Say”, I asked. “This knot-thing. Where did you learn that?” She just smiled. “Look here! Tracks. What’s that for an animal?” I took a look. “Looking like a wolf or something like that.” “Great. So the wolves we heard were on this side of the ravine?” I shrugged. “They don’t attack humans. If they are not desperate.” “Are they desperate?” “I have no idea.” “That’s great.”
She was light and fast and I had problems to keep pace with her juvenile agility. We heard a few shots of a rifle from somewhere far away, but we couldn’t say from where. So we continued our march. “Maybe the wolves”, Babsie guessed.
When we left the slope behind, the landscape flattened to a highland which was stretching out before us. At a small brook we too a break to test the provisions that had been given to us by the Rangers. It was some Native American stuff that I wasn’t able to identify, spicy and hot with cold vegetables and meat, flat-bread and some dried wild fruits. We traveled on the higher grounds for the lower had been filled with snow, so our track was zickzacking through the wilderness, evading obstacles and trying to keep our march fast and light, so that in the early evening hours we stopped to talk about if we try to break through to the shelter or to camp at the place we reached.
“I can see well at night, just track my heels and we’ll be fine. We could reach the hut in two hours if it is going on like this.” “But it will be more dangerous at night.” “Two hours can’t be that bad and if I lead, that’s no problem.” I shrugged. “Okay, let’s try.” My feet already were heavy as lead and I was tired and panting out of breath. But she was looking fine, it was like she was in her natural element out here. Even if I knew she was not.
So we tried. The sounds at night get louder and sharper, the shadows of the woods look deeper and more threatening. But I just followed her tracks and we were lucky, that nothing happened. Finally we discovered a light. “Is there supposed to be light there?”, Babsie asked. “No, I don’t think so. But animals don’t use lights, so it’s most likely humans.”
The better part of half an hour later, we knocked off our shoes at the door of the shelter. It was a simple log cabin in the woods, at the side of that brook we had followed up from the slope, almost hidden in the foliage, a typical hunters cabin.
The door opened and a young woman was looking outside. “Guests”, she said friendly. “Hello, come in, and you are?” We were shaking the snow of our clothes and the inside was warm and cozy. A fire was burning in one of those cast-iron ovens in the middle of the room. Some water was boiling for tea. “We are Terry and Dirk”, I introduced myself.
There were four people sitting in the room around the oven. Five backpacks were put into one corner, they were looking like tourists, in skiing suits and outdoor clothing that you might expect from people going on a trip in the mountains. “Hi, I’m Tiffany”, the young blonde introduced herself, the geek playing with her commlink on the bed we call ‘Shy’. Shy just raised her hand to greet us, then concentrated on the thing she was doing on her electronic thingy again. “The big one on your left with blue-black skin and horns is Kinji. He is an Oni, but he’s harmless, don’t get irritated by his looks.” “Hoi”, the orc-like bulky human with pointy ears greeted us. “The one drinking a tea is Tadayo and the one behind you, that was looking for some fire wood is Yōhei.”
The two just nodded but they were all looking cautious. “Sit down. You are hunters?”, Tadayo asked. “Why?” “Rifle?” “No”, I said. “That’s just for protection against wildlife. We had no chance to hunt anything.” “Sit down. Do you like some tea? Have you gotten anything to eat? We have some stuff left from supper.” “That would be nice.”
Babsie didn’t say anything, she just eyed them suspiciously. “And who are you? Isn’t this a private cabin? How did you enter?” I looked at Babsie then at the people that had surrounded us. “Well, that’s a good question”, Tiffany said and she put her blonde hair back to a ponytail. “We entered through the door, because shelters like this are not locked. We are waiting for a group of people led by a man with the name Richard. We are the rescue group from his insurance company. My employer prefers to pay a rescue team than to be sued.”
Babsie looked at me. “Nice story”, she went on cocky, “but I don’t buy it, lady. Never try to con a conman, eh? You have to come up with something better than this, fucking amateur!” The woman nodded. “I do.”
A flash of pain in my back, then it all went black.