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Suspense Fantasy Adventure

           Willis stumbled again. He hadn’t seen the slick root of the spruce. Anyway, he had given up trying to avoid them. He grabbed at a wet pine branch, smearing his already raw hand with its glue-like sap but managed to keep standing this time. Maybe the sap would help heal his cuts. He’d read about that somewhere. A wilderness survival book maybe.

He swore out loud and then shouted, although there was no one to hear him. Catching his breath, he wiped his hands on his wool-sheathed thighs to rid himself of the sap, but only managed to get bits of pine needles and dirt to adhere to his filthy, burning, palms.

“Enjoy the trip?”

           He turned and made a half-hearted kick in the direction of the immense Newfoundland that had leapt over the same root.

“Easy, cowboy,” said the dog. “Don’t kill the messenger.”

Willis sat down on a log, head in his hands, shivering, and looked up when he felt the warm moist breath of the Newfie sitting inches from his face. He scratched the dog’s ears. “A Saint Bernard carries whiskey, you know. What do you have for me?”

“Brandy. I believe they carry brandy. Not whiskey. Maybe a Scotty carries whiskey, but it couldn’t be much. The poor thing would trip over the barrel like you’re tripping over those roots. If it’s any consolation, at least you look drunk doing so.”

Willis went to slap the dog’s rump, but it had moved just out of reach, tail wagging. His arms went flying in the air, paddling away, missing the dog, and falling face down on the cold ground.

He scrambled onto his hands and knees, finally standing, and continued to walk down a slope, looking to find a stream, then a river, and then follow that to something, a trail, a road, a house, a barn, a trading post, anything to get him out of the North Woods and the rain. Rain for now until it turned to sleet or snow. And it would do that, had done, every day, ever since the plane went down. And sunk. Sunk before he could get anything useful from it. Like food. He had a bag of BBQ chips and a chicken parmesan sandwich wrapped in foil between him and the co-pilot’s seat. His stomach was in agony just thinking about that. It was there, shining, when he broke through the shattered windscreen. Why hadn’t he grabbed it? It would be delicious now even cold.

Even frozen.

It was ice on the wings that took it down, ice that ringed the lake he’d crashed into. He managed to get out of the plane, swim to shore, and there was the dog, dry as a bone, just waiting for him. Warm as toast the dog was. Warm like a blanket that Willis clung to getting sloppy kisses in return.

The dog led now, glancing over his shoulder every so often to make sure Willis was close enough. At one point he stopped, crouched, wagged his tail, and whispered a shush. Willis crouched as well, hand on the dog’s shoulder to keep himself steady. The dog was so very warm, and Will so very cold. He plunged both hands into the thick coat.

A family of deer was in a clearing just ahead. They froze for a moment, staring at him as if to suggest he must be some sort of an idiot to be hiking in the woods at this time of year without gear. The dog barked and they scattered, their white tails lifting straight into the air over their rear ends mooning the intruders in their territory.

“Rude,” said his companion. “These are the cute brown-eyed animals people don’t want to hunt anymore?”

“They’re hunted. They just don’t want to hunt them back home. Too suburban.”

“I say bring back mountain lions.”

“They’ll eat dogs too, you know.”

“Only the slow ones.”

They argued over why the dog didn’t go after the slow one, the youngster that still had spots on it. Willis was starving. Surely the dog was hungry, too. Willis went on a rant about the brandy, but the dog just stared at him and moved on. Willis followed as best he could, calling for the dog to stop. The dog looked behind, shook his head, and continued. He took slower steps, deliberate steps. It was a conscious effort to keep Willis moving, whose arms were flying about as he tried to keep balance.

“Wait up. Please. I need a break.” Gulping air, Willis plopped himself down on the forest floor, head cradled in his hands, elbows on his knees. “I’m not sure I can go on much further. I’m freezing.” He wanted to grab his belly now cramped in pain like he’d been punched with a cold fist. But his arms couldn’t cooperate, wouldn’t listen. They were flailing like he’d fallen into a hornet’s nest.

The Newfie sat before, dignified, his eyes judging Willis, not without concern.

“You don’t have much choice if you think about it,” the Newfie said. “You’ve got no real food. Not much in the way of supplies; just the lighter. At least get to some water. Get a drink. Did you know a human survives in threes? He can go without air for only three minutes, without water for only three days, and without food for three weeks. You’ve got the air. Now get the water. It’s just down there.” The Newfie pointed his muzzle further down the slope and nudged Willis’s face.

"C’mon, hold onto me.”

“Wait. A lighter. You just said I have a lighter?” Willis patted himself to find he had one in an inside pocket. He didn’t even smoke though craved a cigarette now. It might warm up his lungs.

“You found it on the floor of the hangar before you got in the plane. Remember? You were worried it might spark or something.”

“Oh, yeah. Yeah. What a memory.” A thousand things passed through his mind: that damn chicken parm, the thermos of coffee, the parka. And his boots. At least he was wearing his hiking boots. He kicked to make sure they were still there. They were so heavy. His kicks were so feeble; it was like kicking through oatmeal.

Willis grabbed the dog’s coat and lifted himself. He was amazed at how solid the dog was, how its massive shoulders were able to take his weight. It was like pressing on a rock.

“Thanks,” he said.

“Better than whiskey,” replied the Newfie.

“Or brandy!” They laughed then moved downhill. With his hand on the dog, Willis found the walk easier. The dog would call out, “Watch it” when crossing over thick roots. That woke Willis from his state, and he’d kick the root away.

Ahead was a stream splashing over rocks. Willis was sure he saw fish rising in the pools and wondered how to catch them. He was desperately hungry now, weaker from it. Half dreaming, he thought back to something he’d read in a survival manual; that you can trap fish by closing them off with sticks, holding them in a funnel-like pen, and catch them from behind. With your hands. He didn’t know if he had the strength for it. Bears caught salmon. The dog looked like a bear. He nodded to the pool and the dog shook his head.

“You’ve got hooks and that fishing line,” said the Newfie.

“Huh?”

|“In your outer pocket, Willis. You’ve got that little survival kit. There’s a candy bar there, too.”

Willis didn’t think he was that dazed, that forgetful, that confused. But sure enough, there was a small box, no bigger than an Altoids tin, filled with treasure: hooks, line, bobbers, weight, lures, and a small knife. And a Snicker's, smooshed, but edible. He couldn’t bring himself to eat it yet and didn’t know why. Keep that for later. Spirits revived, Willis moved a little quicker to the stream, which now, he was sure, was filled with fish. The dog edged off to the side, staring at Willis, his image fading as Willis rushed into the water.

He took in long gulps of the ice-cold water. Too many gulps. He couldn’t control it. He tried to get out but found he was thrashing about, stronger at that moment, but unable to do more than splash as he sank again and again below the surface. In those final moments, his mind cleared. He remembered the crash, his scrambling out the front as the water rushed in, and the exhausting attempt to swim to the shore he never was able to complete.

August 19, 2022 20:36

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3 comments

Keila Aartila
15:14 Aug 27, 2022

I enjoyed the talking dog and what he meant to Willis.

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Melissa Lee
14:42 Aug 27, 2022

I loved your story! I could feel the comfort of that dog in what must have been Willis’ final moments. Thank you for the interesting read!

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David Ader
20:00 Aug 27, 2022

Thank you for the kind comments. I had a real sense of Willis' last thoughts, perhaps hopes, and the security of big Newfie. I'm so glad you loved it. I love it too.

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