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 were 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's just time.
All right, all right it’s not just time. That was snarky him talking. Annoying little pest that acted out as a part of what he wished a healthy coping mechanism.
The dawn, hence the sun, meant that morning had arrived. Telling him that it’s 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. Waving his hand a little bit, he ruffled 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's warranted. Totally warranted in fact, he almost glad that he broke social grace to did it. It just that there was a reason catharsis called catharsis. You see, catharsis or more commonly known as relief, was a form of releasing pent-up emotion such as distress, anger, and grief. All sorts of those negative emotions. However, those emotions induced something very important: bumped production of adrenaline.
Adrenaline was great. It staved off pain, made you more focused, and a hundred percent legal. Thus, it was a shame losing it. Seeing it depleted. Especially when he now must wrestle with the consequences of its absence.
Sting by sting, pinch by pinch, the feeling came back. It started with shiver and quickly turned into tremble. The stupid bundle of nerves who since last night decided that constantly alerting him not to die of the forest biting cold were their most important mission 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 has 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’s talking about hunger. Stupid, stupid hunger. And it wasn't just a simple hunger. Something that you could sideline with 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's already in nowhere, it'd 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 has a quite of 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's not 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 he can spare. And aside from how it's 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's also shorts, 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 a 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 dropped 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's not great.
First, he tried rubbing two sticks together to made 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's not obvious by now, also failed.
But he couldn't just stop trying, he couldn't just flop down and gave up. It's 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.
He felt around an hour had passed as 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 a slip. He also didn't forget about clues. Direction. He stopped on the slightest sound. Trying —hoping that it was a clue somehow. He really wished the chirping insects was one. The leftside had been giving him this higher pitch, five-ten decibels louder's ensemble than the right for around six minutes now. But he's not an entomologist or even a biologist. So that's not helping.
For now he just walked north. A single, one straight unbending walk. Why? Well, because that all he got until better, if any, clue ever decide to pop out. It's a gamble. 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 saw that the door, the frosted glass sliding door, 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 has the same level of veracity as his first guess. He had been a victim of kidnapping. Drugged kidnapping. Possibly with schedule I narcotic involved. Since that's the only explanation how he could've blacked out like that.
Admittedly, it's a far-fetched, nonsense logical leap that he, a reasonable person who can 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, thought another reason for his thousand kilometers of misplacement.
Perhaps one might ask? How about drunk driving? A drunk walking around, taking a midnight train, hitchhiked with a random stranger, and dumped in the middle of inter-province road? Scoffing at that thought, he struck that possibility down.
One, he remembered what he done 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 recreational capacity. That's why Derek sometimes called him, well, names. Which was insulting, since he'd LOVE to accept more good-hearted juvenile bashing like party pooper, Mr.No-Fun, or even God forbid, Stiff. But no. His best friend has to go with Permanent Designated Driver. Which was why the man got monthly bill 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, hypothesize, he had been kidnapped by a maf —gentlemen kidnappers that has 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 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 front of the important service 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 seems to be a yellow-green colored birch and not the jungle deep 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 covered in leaves, he distinctly remembered his panicked scream. His shout calling help that never came. His desperation, his crying. And his realization when he saw that he was dropped with nothing. Nothing but clothes in his body and a water bottle. 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 new lunar year sale. He supposed the kidnappers left it there for him. After all, they're 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. Sprint. Fast walking. Whatever the term, whatever you call 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, smooth. It's not the short big burst that been freezing him for the last hour. His feet also. He felt it more stable, more stout. Passing through just a knuckle length mud, instead of a third-ankle depth he had walked by. He saw the already sparsed trees become even sparser, the towering trees fewer, the slanted light streamed brighter.
And then he saw it. A brown cleared patch. Long, straight, flat. It laid there without trees. It laid there without grass.
He stumbled upon a road.
He’s safe! He’s safe!
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 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, refocusing himself. He must reassess the situation now. Before the dread on the back of his head setted in. Before this burst of dopamine recede. 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's good, no one built this kind of road unless it's used.
And used often it was.
With his sight cleared he saw 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 tempted to chose the third. His foot 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's 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 walked north, continuing his previous route. He reasoned by how the trees were sparser, his gamble was proven right. North was closer to the civilization.
Or so he hoped.
He wouldn’t discount the possibility of he’s seeing things. Finding patterns where it didn’t exist on the first place.
After all, hope and denial were two sides of the same coin.