There was nothing like watching a break of dawn. How the growing-igniting ember of tiniest ball banished night from forevermore. Euca though, beheld it with the same level of interest on how green the grass was or how tall the trees were.
Which if not obvious, was zero. Big fat zero.
It was not something of prominence. It was nothing of import. It was just your everyday mediocrities that as replaceable as one single click on a locked phone: it was just time.
All right, all right it wasn't just time. That was snarky him talking. An annoying little pest that acted out as a part of what he wished was a healthy coping mechanism.
The dawn, hence the sun, meant that morning had arrived. Telling him that it was high time for him to move from his sad-sack-slash-existential-nervous-breakdown and chose which of the following responses were more fitting: sigh of exasperation or cursing out loud.
And as a reasonable man, the answer was obvious: the former. Display of such blatant even though warranted —like totally warranted— emotion would damage one social standing. So why bother?
So he stood up, spine straight, smile lifted. Brushing the stray grass blade, the few fallen leaves that had managed to stick between his khaki creases. All before welcoming this glorious morning cheerfully.
His mouth, his lung, and a part of his mind that rebelled against good sense, conspired. He watched in horror and shameful catharsis as the allusion of 'suggesting people to engage in act of coitus', the terrible terrible F-word, ripped the forest silence.
Not that it wasn't understandable, he defended himself to the chirping non-answer around him. Like he said, it was warranted. Totally warranted in fact, he almost glad that he broke social grace to do it. It just that there was a reason catharsis was called catharsis. You see, catharsis or katharos was a word derived from a line of Aristotle's Poetics which meant relief. And like its ancient greek meaning, the modern word still retain the same — the similar interpretation: an act of releasing pent-up emotion like distress, anger, and grief. All sorts of those negative emotions. It was one of the many things he learned inadvertently (although equally likely to be masochistically) when he was deep in the mire of wiki-walk. Something that rainbowbeyondapalesun23 termed (uncharitably termed, he might add) as clicking-slumming. Occurrences or happenstances when someone by virtue of perverted endorphin burst, enjoyed the fact that they felt smart when questioning what a term meant instead of really trying to understand what the term truly meant. It was like purchasing books or games that you never read or play because, well, it was there, it was on sale, so why not. The act of the purchase itself was entirely disconnected to what 'should be' the purpose of that purpose. And to that stab to his heart, he of course, grudgingly agreed.
Grudgingly because he was not one of those close-minded buffoons who refused the truth when presented to them, oh no, he was a good bean. An open-minded curious who could admit the veritas even if it was stabbed to his eyes. Repeatedly.
Anyway, he digressed. Right, so catharsis — ca-thar-sis. It sounded good right; happiness, giving you release, making you less sad, less angry, less wanting to see the world burn into cinder which you would burn yourself after with your already prepared soaked kerosene rag stuffed to your mouth, you knew, all the good stuff. However like all the things that preceded with 'it sounded good, right', catharsis did contain a 'but'. Yes a 'but', a 'however', a 'then again' — an unfortunate antithesis, a reverse-inverse of almost poetic justice that there was always, always, another side to the coin.
Catharsis bumped the production of the adrenaline.
Yeah, adrenaline. The adrenaline that staved off the pain, made you more focused, and by God and everything holy, a hundred percent legal. Which was why, the moment he was 'catharized', he was well, losing — depleted of those good, good adrenaline. Which was a shame, because now he must wrestle with the consequences of its absence.
Sting by sting, pinch by pinch, the feeling came back. It started with shivers and quickly turned into trembles. The stupid bundle of nerves who since last night decided that constantly alerting him not to die of the forest biting cold had returned in full force.
Which was awful, his teeth chattering. Not because he was unthankful, his teeth still chattering. He would be devastated if somehow he put his hand on the burning stove and not feeling it burn just because his nerve was too chill. It was awful because he couldn’t do anything. Like anything at all. He already pushed his arms even deeper. Rubbing, slithering up and down into his thinning sleeves. He tried and tried, digging, reaching, salvaging any remain, any last linger of heat his body selfishly decided to waste just because it loved to obey this stupid thing called entropy.
It didn’t even pause to think that the whole pathetic rubbing was the extent of his capability. Like his total extent. He had no blanket, no fire, no shelter. And knowing all that, it somehow still decided that giving up heats for free was the best course of action for his and its imminent survival?
Look body, all he had were only three things; himself, what he had on his person, and yesterday exhaustion threatened to set its final claw. So be mindful, okay?
Not to mention the next stupid thing also coming. Piling on him. You knew how bad lucks —the damn cowards— were, always ganging people together, never dared to act alone. Yes, he was talking about hunger. Stupid, stupid hunger. And it wasn't just a simple hunger. Something that you could sideline with a little sip of water. Oh no, that would be too easy. Instead what he had was the gnawing kind. The kind that made you snap when your best friend said a second following line after you answered their stupid perfunctory ‘nice weather we’re having, eh’.
Well, half of it was his fault he supposed. It was a very clear fact that his moronic self ate for his last meal a paltry leftover; half of an egg salad sandwich. Although to be fair he didn't know he would end up like this… No one would. Still just as a rule, he should have a proper dinner no matter how excited he was for a weekend break. It just good sense.
Five minutes. It only took a freaking five minutes for him to whip a scrambled egg. Less, if all he did was pouring cereal's in a bowl of milk.
God, he could drink three glasses of that now. But no. He chose to clamp down that damn ...delicious, creamy, finger-sized sandwich! Oh! The tangy note of the mayonnaise. How it contrasted divinely with—
"Gurgle..." not with you, he chastised his stomach. With Sal's ketchup!
Yet for all the cold, the thirst, the hunger, the fatigue that cloud his mind, he knew one thing for certain.
Complaining would get him nowhere.
And since he was already in nowhere, it certainly a mighty good idea to stop complaining. Even if it just not to be shoved off into the next nowhere.
So he took a long look at the rising sun. Muttered toward it some half-hearted apology and walked. Hoping that he could get out of here as soon as possible.
For all he knew, he still had quite a trek to go.
It was a half hour later when he'd been stomping. Trying to push indentation of his diminished soles to grip more friction. It wasn't easy. The mud was fighting him. He even had almost slipped twice. Joy, he knew.
Several steps ahead, under a comparatively high birch, he stopped. A stick was poking out near its root. He crouched, pulled, and lifted the stick high. He could do a walking stick. He needed all energy that it could spare. And aside from how it was a tad wet on the surface (which he attributed to the same morning condensation that made the ground basically a mush), the stick seemed to be dried inside. Which was perfect. Unfortunately it was also short, which was not. Gripping it around a thumb length from its base plate, he tried it for a hobble, parroting Mr. Cerecero, his across-door neighbor.
...and no. It wouldn’t do. He had to crouch to use it. Well, not much, just by the length of his palm maybe. But walking stick supposed to help him walk, not adding another layer of danger. Looking around, he saw nothing better. Others were either too large, a twine, or infested with some kind of slimy white bugs.
Sighing, he let the stick drop and continued to walk.
It was just like yesterday, he sighed. That a little thing, a spark of idea that he hoped to be useful turned out to be pointless, useless, and leaving him with the feeling that there was no light at the end of the tunnel.
He tried though. Really really tried. Thinking —trying all the things he thought he could do. Something —anything that could enhance his possibility of survival before the light went out. Before the hypothermia set in.
For example on yesterday afternoon, two hours after the shock finally loosen its hold, he tried to copy those desert island's contestants with varying degrees of failure. Yeah. It wasn't great.
First, he tried rubbing two sticks together to made a fire ...and got mild rash. Then, he tried to tell north by the side of moss growth. Which was hard, since THERE WAS NO MOSS, and he did see a setting sun. ...wasn't his brightest. Then, at last, he put his ear on the ground. Listening for water streams for supposed way to the nearest civilization. Which of course, if it wasn't obvious by now, also failed.
But he couldn't just stop trying, he couldn't just flop down and give up. It was fine supposedly if he was either under, asleep, or unconscious. But dying of starvation or cold or thirst while awake sounded very very painful. Thus all he could do was just that. Trying and trying again.
Around an hour had passed when he trudged and cursed the muds. He tried to avoid them as much as possible, even if it meant he was to step on some uneven stones, risking another slip. He also didn't forget about clues. Direction. He stopped at the slightest sound. Trying —hoping that it was a clue somehow. He really wished the chirping insects were one. The left side had been giving him this higher pitch, five-ten decibels louder's ensemble compared to the right for around ...six minutes. But he wasn't an entomologist or even a biologist. So it wasn't quite helping.
Therefore and for now, he just walked north in a single, straight, unbending walk. Why? Well, because that all he got until better, if any, clues ever decide to pop out. It was a gamble and a desperate one at that.
He remembered it was a morning ...or night. He couldn't tell. He was half-awake and his table clock was the kind with this a.m / p.m display. He barely glanced 10:12 when he opened his unlit bathroom door and found, as you might guess, himself in the forest.
In the tenth of a second after that, the tenth of a second when the shock took hold; freezing him still, he turned. Sharp, 180-degree turn. And to his surprise he saw that the door, the frosted glass sliding door of his bathroom, had gone — disappeared.
Then, as any normal person would do, he tried to wake up. Digging deep to his know-how of disproving, and consequently, waking up from a dream. He tried everything. From the all popular pinching himself, five digits addition, up to complex cognition that could only be done when prefrontal cortex was active and flaring; reciting his family tree and all of its side branches.
The result? Not encouraging.
Saving the case that he truly had too far gone —his constant staying up until 2 a.m. was indeed an early-onset Alzheimer's risk factor— he was certain that he in fact, wasn't dreaming.
Thus, his, well, his definitely addled-brain, pointed out the next logical conclusion which had the same level of veracity as his first guess: he had been a victim of a kidnapping. A drug-assisted kidnapping. Possibly with a schedule I narcotic involved. Since that was the only explanation how he could have blacked out like that.
Admittedly, it was a far-fetched, nonsense logical leap that he, a reasonable person who could separate his reality of daily grind from the excitement of movie plot, should be able to tell. Yet, he could not, for the life of him, think another reason for his thousand kilometers of misplacement.
Perhaps one might ask, how about a drunk driving? A drunk walking around, taking a midnight train, hitchhiked with a random stranger, and got dumped in the middle of the inter-province road? He scoffed at that thought, striking the possibility down.
One, he remembered what he did last time before he woke up. He was ...running. Not running-running as in jogging. That would have been too healthy for him. No, he was running a dungeon with some randos he found on the matching system. And like any good endless, sorry, 'survival' mode, it was until drop type of thing. So he hadn't moved from his chair. On his own volition at least.
Two, he'd been dry since forever. Barring the seasonal cough syrup, never in his life, he consumed any alcohol in a recreational capacity. That was why Derek sometimes called him, well, names. Which was insulting, since he'd LOVE to accept more good-hearted juvenile bashing like a party pooper, Mr.No-Fun, or even God forbid, Stiff. But no. His best friend had to go with the 'Permanent Designated Driver'. Which was why the man got recurring monthly bills twice the normal cab rate when he inevitably asked for a ride.
Hence, knowing all of that, the drugged kidnapping seemed to be the only reasonable explanation. Although it made one wonder what kind of kidnapper that would just dump his hostage in an unknown forest? As far he could tell, sorry, hypothesized, he had been kidnapped by a group of mafia —gentlemen kidnappers that had an ongoing and very bitter rivalry with another gentlemen group.
He reasoned that after kidnapping him —for whatever reason— the other gentleman group found the first one and began something akin to a shootout. Which would explain his lonesome, robbed self. Likely, they found his sorry ass was a burden in their impromptu, surprise-round, strategic retreat.
After all who was he in the front of their noble duty of supplying the local populace with the much-needed, pharmaceutical-assisted escapism?
Luckily for him —he felt dirty saying that— the forest itself was made of what seemed to be yellow-green colored birches and not the jungle deep aberrations that his father’s side uncle often regale. Which meant no wild animal. Probably.
But his luck stopped there. As he swerved left, passing through a rotten log, and almost fell to a hole that was covered in leaves, he distinctly remembered his panicked scream. His shout calling help that never came — his desperation, his crying. His realization when it dawned on him that he was left to rot.
Left with nothing but clothes in his body and a water bottle. And no, not even the tightly sealed, unopened one that you could find in any store. It was his water bottle. The one he rarely used. Locked under the lowermost drawer of his kitchen top shelf, it was his favorite; the wood cast fancy. He snagged it off the shelves when Pattergie held their yearly new lunar sale. He supposed the kidnappers left it there for him. After all, they were kidnappers, not murderers. Still, comforting thought was a different beast altogether from true contrition. He indeed wouldn't survive without water after two days, but hypothermia only needed an hour.
He sighed, kicking the pebble-covered mud, looking it ricocheting tree by tree before dropping a meter away. He'd even settle for the kidnapper base of operation right now. His bank account should be sufficient for a satisfying ransom. After all, he still had his diversified index fund portfolio and no sane kidnapper would want something so tracka—
He half-ran. Sprinted. Walked fast. Whatever the term, whatever you called it. He mind-shouted his aching feet to stop complaining and moved. Moved toward the light.
Meter by meter he felt it. Hope. He felt the wind. It blew was more continuous, smoother. His feet also. They were more stable, stouter. His feet breezed through just a knuckle length, yes, just a knuckle length muds. Which compared the ankle depth he had been trudging was a blessing in itself.
The already sparsed trees become even sparser, the towering trees fewer, the slanted light streamed brighter.
And then he saw it. A brown clearing. Long, straight, flat. It lay there without trees. It lay there without grass.
He stumbled upon a road.
He was saved!
He was saved! He was saved!
He heard himself chortling. Chortling-crying. A drop of tear slithered down by his nose and unto his throat. He rummaged his back pocket for a handkerchief —it was empty. Hesitating for a bit, he blew his sniffles to the edge of his shirt.
Rubbing his nose, he let himself stood there for a moment. Letting the relief washed over him for one glorious brief. Ache, hunger, thirst. All of them were forgotten.
Taking a deep breath, he stopped and refocused. He must reassess the situation now. Before the dread on the back of his head set in. Before this burst of dopamine receded. He proceeded to wipe his blurry eyes and started to take a good look. A real good look.
The road was wide. Perhaps. He was not an authority of road. But it could fit around three, maybe four cars side by side if the traffic officer look the other way and the drivers were really, really skilled. So that good, no one built this kind of road unless it was used.
And used often it was.
With his sight cleared he could see wheel marks overlapping with each other. Indicating that the road was indeed well-traveled.
Still, he was not sure how to proceed, the wheel marks were lacking in ridges. Just a couple of twin straight lines, regularly spaced. Not that it mattered. Even if there were ridges, he wouldn't know. Derek would though.
Now he had three choices. One was going north, following the muddy path. Two were going south. Also following the muddy path. Three was staying put, waiting for someone to come by. To save him. He was tempted to choose the third. His feet were already sore, ached from all the walking.
But no... He was lucky yesterday night that he found a dried patch under a big canopy. He didn't even realize it was a tree until just he woke up, because God, it was enormous like the redwoods he watched on the docuseries.
But now… he took another look at the forest floor behind him. The ground was either muddy or covered in wet leaves.
He must move.
He decided to walk north, continuing his previous route. He reasoned by how the trees were sparser, his gamble was proven right. North was closer to civilization.
Or so he hoped.
He wouldn’t discount the possibility of he was seeing things. Finding patterns where it didn’t exist in the first place.
After all, hope and denial were two sides of the same coin.