Sofia walked faster than before, moving around every vine and branch in her path. The forest was so dense that even during the middle of the day, she could barely make out things just a few feet ahead of her. She also kept getting scratched by the thorny vines every now and then, but that didn’t slow down her progress. After all, the life of her little brother hung in balance.
Sofia was a 20-year-old sophomore at the community college. She was an introvert at heart who lived at home instead of the dorms, resulting in the fact that she had very few friends. But she never felt lonely as she always had her little brother for company. Her brother Max was like the alter ego of his sister. A high school senior who was outgoing, athletic and full of life.
Max tried to make his sister participate in more outdoor activities, an attempt which failed most of the times. Not today though, as he finally convinced his sister to go hiking with him. Little did he know, how lethal this trip was going to turn out.
They drove out to a nearby forest which had a great hiking trail and which was frequented by many. They put on their backpacks and started their hike. Max led the way as Sofia followed him.
They had walked only for about 10 minutes when Sofia came to a halt. Max turned around to see a panting Sofia bent down holding her knees, a scene which led Max to burst into laughter.
“We have barely started the trail Sofia, how can you be tired
already?”, said Max stifling his laughter.
“It’s….. not my…… fault”, said Sofia while trying to control her breathing. When she felt a little better, she continued, “I am not an outdoorsy cat Max, you know that. Maybe we should just head back.”
“Heck no. It took years of pestering to get you out of the house. Let’s just go till the Grand rock, it’s my favourite place and it’s not that far from here”, said Max.
Sofia looked at the pleading expression on her brother’s face and caved in.
“Fineee. But if I faint on the way, you will have to carry me”, said Sofia begrudgingly.
They resumed their hike and this time Max walked beside his sister. He showed her all the exotic birds that he could spot, telling her all the interesting facts about them. He also told her about the forest which encompassed that area, housing some of the oldest trees in nature.
He knew that if his sister loved anything more than the space of her room, it was knowledge. He wasn’t wrong, as Sofia started feeling more comfortable, even enjoying the hike.
They soon arrived at the rock and Sofia just plumped down in front of it, releasing Max into another bout of laughter. Max immediately went up to the rock and started climbing it. His sister watched in horror as he reached the top and started waving to her.
“Get down Max! You will fall from there!”, screamed Sofia.
“Relax, I have done this a lot of times. Come on up, nothing is going to happen to you”, said Max, beckoning her to climb up as well.
Sofia was scared to death, but she trusted her brother. She slowly started up the rock and after slipping a couple of times, she made it to the top. Max helped her stand up and when she gazed at the view, she forgot all her inhibitions.
From atop the rock, a majestic view of vast areas of the lush green forest was visible, spread out as far as she could see. The sun was high in the sky, basking the whole earth in its glory. Birds could be seen diving in and out of the thick cover of the trees. Sofia was in 7th heaven as she had never seen anything so beautiful.
“This is absolutely breathtaking!”, exclaimed Sofia.
“Told you it was worth it”, said Max while grinning.
“It really is. I am so glad you talked me into this. And to think, I was cursing myself for coming here”, said Sophia.
As if almost on cue, a large bird darted out of the trees near them and flew right by Sophia. That split second of distraction was enough for Sophia to lose her balance as she slipped off the rock. Max saw her lose her balance and tried to catch her. Instead, he too lost his balance and they both fell into the valley right beside the rock.
Her brother’s scream was the last thing she heard as she fell into the darkness.
As Sophia came to, she could hear a faint ringing in her ears.
‘Probably because of the fall’, she thought.
She got up cautiously and assessed herself for any injury. But except for that irritating beeping sound in ears, she felt alright.
‘Never again am I caving in to one of Max’s ideas’, she said in her mind.
Then it struck her. Her brother fell with her as well. She frantically started looking around, but there was no sign of him.
“Max! Max! MAX!”, she screamed at the top of her lungs, but there was no response.
It was getting dark and she started to wonder how long exactly was she out for. She rummaged through her bag and found that her phone was smashed to pieces. But she did manage to find the flashlight which she packed. She flicked it on and started walking through the forest, shouting her brother’s name every few seconds. She was sure that Max would not be far as they fell together. But after searching for about half an hour, she started to panic.
‘Maybe he hit his head and is lying helplessly somewhere. I need to get to him fast’, she thought.
The voice was so feeble, like a breeze in her ear. But she recognized her brother’s voice and searched all around for the source of that voice.
“Max! Where are you?!”, she shouted while turning in all the directions.
The voice was louder this time and she could pinpoint the direction. She darted in the same direction, dodging all the branches and vines in her way.
“Hold on Max, I am coming for you!”, she shouted to her brother.
She kept running as fast as she could until she arrived at a large clearing. Confused, she started slowing down and came to a stop in the middle of the clearing.
“What is going on? Why is there a clearing in the middle of the forest?”, she asked no one in particular.
Now she had no idea where Max was and she had lost the trail of his voice.
“Max!!”, she shouted again, hoping he would be able to hear her.
She waited for a few seconds but there was no answer from Max, and there was a more pertinent issue bubbling up. Sofia was feeling harder to breathe.
With every breath that she took, it hurt more the next time she tried to inhale. It got so bad that she was no longer able to breathe in after a few minutes and she fell wheezing onto the ground.
“Maxxx…..”, she whispered as she started to lose consciousness.
“Aghhh….. Ahemmmm…..”, she coughed and spit on the ground. She had almost blacked out when suddenly she started coughing and she could breathe again as well. She got up and took one large gulp of air before focusing again on the task at hand. But the problem was that she still had no clue to her brother’s whereabouts.
The voice was weak again but she got the direction this time and she made a run for it.
“Max! Just hold on!”, shouted Sofia.
Sofia was once again in the forest, dodging trees like Neo dodging bullets in the Matrix. She was amazed as she felt no fatigue even after running so much and credited it to the adrenaline rush.
Besides, she had more important matters at hand than to marvel at her newfound athletic capabilities.
She kept running up until the point when she came across a lake. She didn’t stop there to just be amazed by the crystal clear water, she stopped because she could still hear Max’s voice but oddly it seemed to be coming from the lake.
“What kind of sorcery is this?”, remarked Sofia as she carefully approached the lake. When she was right on the edge, she tried to see under the water. It was very dark all around but Sofia could make out a faint light at the bottom of the lake.
“I don’t know what that is but I have to find Max”, said Sophia as she started wondering which direction to go to.
That was the loudest and clearest call from Max that she heard and this time she had no doubt where it came from. It came from the bottom of that lake, from that light.
Without giving even an ounce of thought about the sanity of the action she was about to do, she jumped inside the lake. The cold water was hardly a deterrent for her as she continued to dive to the bottom of the lake, swimming towards the light.
The closer she got to the light, the more prominent the ringing in her ears became. But all this while, she could hear the faint voice of his brother calling out to him.
She reached the light and stopped right in front of the light for a second. She then put out her hand to touch it, and that is when everything went dark.
‘It’s my fault. All of this could have been avoided if had just let her stay at home. Why did I think this was a good idea’, said Max in his mind, while sobbing uncontrollably.
Looking at his sister’s bedridden body, Max was beside himself with guilt. He was obsessively staring at the monitors showing Sophia’s vitals but they were just incessantly beeping away with no change.
After they both fell down the rock, he managed to get away with only a few scratches but his sister was not so lucky. She bumped her head on the way down and was unconscious when Max got to her. He immediately called for help and medevac chopper arrived quickly, but not fast enough for Max.
As soon as they arrived at the hospital, Sophia was carried to the OR in a gurney while Max called up his parents who were away on a vacation and were going to catch the next flight out the next day.
A doctor soon approached him and explained how Sofia had suffered serious injuries on her head and chest.
“She’s in a coma and the condition is very critical. We have shifted her to the ICU but….. this night is very critical for her survival”, the doctor told Max gravely.
Max wanted to go kill himself at that statement. He didn’t know what he would do if he lost Sofia.
“What can I do?”, asked Max earnestly.
“All you can do right now is wait”, answered the doctor.
Max was dejected at his statement.
While his sister’s life hung in balance?
“Can I at least see her?”, pleaded Max.
The doctor nodded and led him to his sister’s ward. Max went inside and almost couldn’t recognize Sophia. There were so many tubes and wires attached to her body; he was filled with another bout of guilt.
He approached her and took a seat beside her.
“Sofia, I know you can hear me. I am so sorry for doing this to you. I swear I will never make you come out of your room again.”, Max whispered in her ear.
The next two hours were the most excruciating for Max as he just sat beside his sister, listening to the rhythmic beeping of those machines, waiting for her wake up. Praying for her to wake up.
BEEP BEEP BEEP BEEP
The quickening loud sounds on the machines broke Max out of his cloud of thought. Doctors rushed in and started talking to each other in frantic tones as one nurse ushered Max out of the ICU.
Max waited out in the hall for 10 minutes which felt like hours to him, before a doctor came out of the ICU.
Max ran up to him and said, “What happened? Is she alright?”
The doctor gave out a heavy sigh before saying, “Her heart gave out and her lungs were filled with fluid. We were able to drain the fluid and revive her. But if she doesn’t regain consciousness soon, there’s nothing we can do.”
Max glanced at the doctors and nurses rushing out of the ICU and looked back doctor with a look of defeat. The doctor had just told him in a euphemized way that Sofia isn’t going to make it.
“I want to talk to her. One…. Last time”, asked Max, holding back a sob.
The doctor just nodded once again and went away.
Max went inside and took his earlier place beside his sister. He gently stroked her cheek and smiled.
“I know you would have called me names if you could see me cry right now and make some sarcastic comment about how I could drown in a pool of tears. Normally, that would have ensured a war from my side but right now I would give an arm and a leg to hear you speak just once”, Max whispered to her.
He looked at her pale face and continued, “I know you are in a lot of pain Sofia. But the sister I know is a fighter. She wouldn’t give up no matter what. So I am not giving up on you. I know you can hear me Sofia. Just follow my voice and move towards the light.”
Max clasped her hand and placed his head on it while chanting her name. He had almost given up when he felt her hand stir and he got up. Then he saw her eyes flutter. That’s when he hollered for the doctors.
The doctor came rushing in and he told them what he just saw. Sure enough, the doctor saw it too. He was again ushered out of the ICU as people started pouring in the room.
Another bout of waiting for Max, but this time it was different. This time he had hope. He paced down the hall nervously and when the doctors came out and Max rushed up to them again.
“How is she?”, an eager Max asked the doctor.
The smile on the doctor’s face said it all. “She has regained consciousness and is coherent. She is out of danger now and will make a complete recovery. Oh and she is asking for you”, the doctor replied.
Max thanked the doctor profusely before heading inside. He walked up to his sister and saw her smile.
“Hey there. How are you feeling?”, he said as he sat down beside her.
Sofia smiled at him before saying, “Like I just completed a triathlon. But I made it because you never left my side.”
“I am very sorry I dragged you out there Sofia”, Max apologized.
“There is nothing to apologize brother. But for the next weekend, let’s do something a little less adventurous, shall we?”