It was there. I blinked and it was gone. I rubbed my hands over my face, feeling the slick mud covering them streak my face. I swore and used the sleeve of my t-shirt to get the mud from my eyes. I was nearly three feet deep in logs I’d thrown aside, and I could have sworn I saw something. It was a black square, a shape that stood out clearly against the hundreds of cylindrical logs. However, when I looked again it was gone. I pulled the flashlight from my pocket, the camera was too far off to grab right now, and shone the beam down into the hole I had created when I’d removed the last log.
It was pitch black, logs mortared in place by darkness. I shut my flashlight off and went to continue, ruling out the momentary sight to nothing more than wishful thinking, then froze.
Light had appeared in the hole. The flashlight was stowed away in my hip pocket and my camera light shone a beam of light above my head. Looking at it made the space I was in feel small and constricted as it shone from one side to the other.
I stared into the hole and saw daylight. How was that possible? A wave of vertigo swept over me and I had to reset my feet on the logs I was currently standing on. I squinted and when my eyes focused on what I was really seeing, the bottom of my stomach dropped out, and my bladder threatened to empty itself into my pants. I clenched to prevent that from happening, but it was the only movement I could muster.
Logs were falling. Through the small porthole I had created I could see thick logs scraping against rock. It was about ten feet below me, but in the same way that rain falls from a cloud, logs were falling from the clot I was standing on. With each second I stared, more and more daylight crept into the space beneath me.
I could hear Rod yelling something from above me, but I ignored him. I knew I had to move, but I couldn’t. I knew I was going to die if I didn’t move my feet and get off this island of floating sticks, but I still couldn’t move. My legs were frozen in place, and my gaze wouldn’t break away from the spectacle of the jumble of sticks disintegrating from the bottom up. My camera was up on the ledge, and in an unconscious gesture, my arm reached out and snagged it down. I filmed the logs falling, silently.
My mind was screaming move, move, move, but I couldn’t. All my body’s systems were shut down, I was in shock, until I saw the case.
It was dusty, the black leather was cracked and dried, the gold latches on the front shone dull through the mud coating them, and the handle flapped at me as if waving as it cascaded down with the logs. I snapped forward, my arm pistoning out to shoot down the hole. My stomach was assaulted by a sharp stick that cut skin, and another slammed into my shoulder, pushing it back into a position it had no right being in. However, if not for the fact that the whole works were falling out from the bottom, I could have been impaled like the cougar above me. When I slammed into them the two sticks fell forward like a couple of loose Jenga blocks. I thought I would miss it, I was reaching blindly, but my fingers gripped something that wasn’t wood and I wrenched my arm back.
The case dangled there. I screamed in triumph. It wasn’t a laugh, it wasn’t a scream of joy, it was a battle cry of success. I held the case above my head, staring at it like it were a long lost artifact, which I guess it was. I had mere seconds to relish the find.
Something struck me in the side of the head, and as it did, the log I was standing on, fell through and I went with it. Luckily, there were many more still jammed into spaces around me, and my stomach slammed into one of these. The air shot from my lungs in a rush, and I cried out. I tried to move, but with the case in one hand and the camera in another I couldn’t push myself upright. I tried to use the case as leverage, but it continued to slip off the log.
I started to slip. I looked to the rock wall and saw long scratch marks where the log was sliding down under my weight. I tried again to push myself up, but I couldn’t do it with my hands full. The way I was draped over the log I couldn’t move to get the camera down my shirt without dropping it.
The world around me was full of logs slamming into one another, the sound like a truckload of firewood being dumped out, except the wood is being dumped on top of me.
A log fell from above me and narrowly missed the side of my head. Another came rolling off the top, this one coated in thick brown mud, as it rolled I had time to see a tiny sapling had taken root in one of it’s decayed holes. I dropped my head as it rolled over me. It missed my skull, but slammed into my back and pushed me against the log I was on so tight I thought my lungs would explode. It kept rolling though and the pressure disappeared as quick as it came. I was slipping back and I wasn’t able to grip anything.
“Toss the camera kid!” Rod yelled at me.
“No!” I screamed. “No, no, no!” My feet hit a log beneath me as I moved down and I pushed myself off of it. I was upright then, standing on a log as others fell down around me. I dodged one that tipped straight up and fell in my direction. Another, like the top of a submarine emerging from the deep, pushed up beneath me. I jumped to another log. It was jammed tightly against another and held my weight. I looked up, and found I had fallen a long ways down. Logs were still jammed into the rocks above me, some staying where they were and other still falling and falling, bouncing off the rock wall, getting stuck, only to be knocked loose or smashed through as another heavier one came down on top of it.
I dodged a hunk of wood that came falling down like a giant spike, but was hit by another in the shoulder. It cut deep. I screamed out.
I started to run. I kept my eyes glued to my feet, instead of the mountain of logs in front of me. The middle section, where the crevice was the thinnest, was still jammed thick with logs, however on either end, from where I had pulled the case and where the crevice opened up, something had loosened and both ends were emptying their contents like a funnel that has been unclogged.
I ran up the mountain of jammed logs, praying no massive log would fall and crush me like a bug. I hopped from log to log, camera in one hand, case in the other. I could hear Rod yelling encouragment from above me, but none of his words really registered in my brain.
I was nearing the top, I could hear logs falling below me, and thought I was out of the thickest part and away from the majority of falling logs when fire exploded in my arm holding the case.
I looked down to see a massive log pinning my arm. I immediately went to push it off and pull my arm free but when I pulled back my arm pain exploded there. My brain was working too fast and I continued to pull and pull the blood pouring from the crack where my arm was pinned, and only when I took a second to stop and look that I saw a sharp, jagged edge of the log and impaled my arm right through.
I screamed, out of pain and fear. The log beneath me was starting to give way, and my arm holding the case was pinned. My fingers never lost their grip on the case though. I ripped the log out of me, I felt my back and other arm strain and creak as I did. The log was as thick as my arm and three times as long. It fell back and tipped end over end to join the others still cascading downward in a waterfall of wood.
The hole in my arm was a ragged ruin. Almost as big as a doorknob I’m surprised it didn’t shear my arm right in half. The pain was earth shattering. I felt black wings fluttering at the sides of my eyes, threatening unconsciousness. I was aware of the fact I was screaming, but I couldn’t hear it.
“Come on kid!” Rod yelled. Blood was pouring down my arm in a river, soaking the leg of my jeans and dripping over the log I stood on. I dropped the camera down my shirt again, and using one arm I managed to pull myself onto a ledge of rock. The sturdiness of it was a relief after all the shifting logs.
I looked up and was still a ways from the top. Rod was hanging over the edge, both of his arms extended in my direction. The light from the sun filled my eyes and seemed to block out the rest of the world. The pain, the yelling, the slamming of logs still happening far below were reducing to distant groans. I felt myself falling back.
I snapped away from the unconsciousness and threw myself into the rock in front of me. Forgetting about the wound in my arm and the pain shot through my arm and into my chest like a bullet. I cried out. My hand holding the case started to open, and I was holding the case in nothing but a claw. A claw that was slowly unfurling.
“Your belt! Put it on your belt kid! And tie that handkerchief around your arm for Christ’s sake!” I looked up at Rod, he was nothing but a shadow. The sunlight threatened to white out the world again and I placed my forehead into the rock wall and tried to focus on what he’d said.
My belt. Yes. That would work. Using my uninjured arm, I undid my belt, being careful not to let my camera slip out from my shirt and looped the handle of the case through the leather and buckled it back up. It took considerably longer than normal as I was doing it with one hand. The weight hung oddly down the front of me, threatening to pull my pants down, but it felt like it would hold. Next, I removed the kerchief from around my face. In the mayhem that occurred I’d totally forgotten it was even there. Using my stomach as an anchor, and my teeth. I knotted the thing around my arm, just above the elbow. I didn’t know if that was right, but at this point it didn’t matter. My arm was still leaking blood. It covered the rock ledge below me like a morbid splatter painting.
“Good,” Rod said. He wasn’t yelling anymore. I was close enough to hear him. “Now use your legs and climb up the same way you went down. I could feel tears leaking down my face. The pain in my arm was immense, like nothing I had ever felt before. My stomach heaved against the pain and I almost threw up. I swallowed it back down though.
Don’t quit now, I told myself. I saw the case dangling from my belt. It was quite heavy. A good sign.
I started to climb.