Caroline trudged through the thick blanket of fallen leaves. The towering hill seemed neverending in their long trek to the tip top of the mountain. A burly German Shepherd companion, Otis, raced alongside her, dashing under branches and leaping over fallen logs.
"What do you think, Otis? Are we lost?" Caroline asked worriedly. They'd been hiking for hours, trying to find a clearer path to the top. Otis stood erect, his hindquarters twitching anxiously. Otis cocked his head, listening. Smiling, Caroline teased,
"What is it, boy? Another chipmunk?" Without warning, Otis sprinted away as fast as his nimble legs could carry him. Terrified of being left alone in the forest, she chased him.
"Otis!" she shouted. "Wait up!" Otis normally listened to Caroline's commands, but he was fixated on whatever he was pursuing. Then Caroline heard it. The rushing sound of water. Up until this moment, she hadn't realized how parched she truly was. Eventually, Caroline caught up to Otis, who was guzzling down the brisk water.
Caroline collapsed next to her comrade, mimicking his desperate gulps. Once their bellies were sufficiently full of sloshing water, Caroline laid down on the damp forest floor. Otis whined, anxious to keep up the exploration.
"I'm only going to rest for a little while, buddy," she assured him. Using her thinning backpack as a pillow, she meant to rest her eyes for just a few moments. Otis reluctantly laid next to her, forever loyal to his kindly master.
Caroline opened her eyes, unsure of her surroundings. It was pitch dark, and there was a strong wind blowing. Thin, papery objects flew around her, propelled by the strong winds. With a startled gasp, Caroline remembered where she was. At her noise, Otis readily sprang up from his place beside her. Once her eyes adjusted to the forest around her, dread filled her stomach.
"Oh great!" Caroline groaned. "Otis, we need to find shelter-it's a storm!" The two friends bolted to a thicker area of trees. Searching wildly, Caroline spotted a small outcropping about a half-mile away. I would protect them a little, definitely more than the trees.
"Otis! Up there!" She yelled, praying he could hear her above the cracking of the trees and the claps of thunder. The pair ran toward the cave, ducking from branches that were swaying dangerously close to their heads. Hope filled Caroline as she spotted their shelter just up ahead. Otis scampered up the short, sheer cliff just as the rain started. Frigid, heavy raindrops splattered on Caroline's whole body, making her shiver to the bone. She grabbed handholds and stuck her feet in footholds as fast as she could, determined to reach Otis. He waited at the top, frantically barking. The very last handhold was a small one, but so were Caroline's 14 year old hands.
The rain was coming in thick sheets now, and Caroline barely had enough strength to pull herself up. With a jolt of terror, Caroline's hand slipped on the puddle that had formed in the handhold.
"No! OTIS!" She yelled, panicking. She wildly searched for something to grasp, but her other hand was slipping as well. In a last ditch effort, she pushed off with her foot. Otis reached down and clamped his powerful jaw onto her hand. Pain shot through all of her nerves, but she was grateful she didnt splat on the rocks below. Her heart beat madly as Otis yanked her up the hill. She tried to help, but it was no use. He pulled her arm over the edge and let go once he realized she had a firm grip on the rocks. She shakily pulled her fatigued body up next to Otis. With the last of her strength, she dragged herself to the cave. It was smaller than she anticipated, but she was grateful for the shelter.
Collapsing in the corner, she sighed heavily. Both she and Otis were drenched, and blood gushed from the wound on Caroline's hand. Otis put his tail between his legs at the sight of her hand.
"It's ok, boy!" She said with false cheer. "Thank you," she added, scratching behind his soft ears. Then she used her jacket to soak up some of the blood, and ripped her shirt into thin strips of fabric. After tightly wrapping them around her hand, she relaxed against the wall. Patting the floor beside her, Otis dutifully bound over next to her, snuggling up against Caroline's warm body. And she promptly fell asleep.
BOOM! A jarring clap of thunder startled her awake. A terrifying crack and a thunderous bang sent Caroline's heart into a flurry of beats. She groggily realized that Otis was frantically nudging her hand, his eyes wild. Slurring her words, she asked,
"What is it?" She barely finished her sentence before she smelled the smoke. "Fire!" She yelled in shock, slowly standing to her shaky feet. She stepped once, but her knee buckled beneath her. She hit the ground hard. Otis whimpered, then grabbed her jacket hood. Dragging her alongside him, he headed for the hill.
Caroline looked up to see an enormous blaze, tearing through the damp trees. Not wanting to slow them both down, Caroline stood, faking strength. She stumbled along after Otis, her gaze hazy. She was sweating profusely, despite the cold rain. To her dismay, she sank to her knees, and the rain, the wind, the fire, and her beloved dog disappeared into darkness.
Caroline sluggishly opened her eyes, and for a moment her blood ran cold. Where was Otis? She was down by the base of the mountain, alone and afraid.
"Otis!" She screamed. Then, the very last person she expected to see stepped into her view.
"Mother," she breathed. She tried to hide her hand, worried that her mother might faint at the sight of it.
"I'm glad you're awake," she said, smiling a comforting smile. But nothing could comfort Caroline until she knew Otis was safe. As if she could read her mind, Caroline's mother said, "Otis is fine. He dragged you all the way down here, where I was in the car, waiting. I figure you guys would come down in the storm. I just didn't think you'd look..." She trailed off.
"So, where is Otis?" Caroline asked.
"In the car. You'd better be grateful to him-Caroline, he saved your life!"