Razor Mountain — Chapter 6.1

Razor Mountain is a serial novel, with new parts published every week or two. For more info, visit the Razor Mountain landing page.

Christopher woke before the piped-in sunlight illuminated the bunker. The days were getting shorter. He wondered if he was far enough north to see days of near-total darkness in the depths of winter. He opened the footlocker in front of the bed and dressed. He had packed it with the few sets of clothes he had found in the bunker that fit him relatively well. Most were slightly baggy, although he had made some crude adjustments to waistbands with a small sewing kit.

He ate a dull breakfast of oatmeal, flavored with a packet of freeze-dried berries. He put on his jacket and snow-pants, grabbed his backpack of supplies, and exited the hatch, dragging a makeshift sled behind him. It was fashioned out of a sheet-metal shelf from the pantry, with a length of rope passed through the bolt-holes.

It had snowed again, several inches of fluffy powder, so he got out his snow shoes to travel easier. He trekked down the shoreline to an area thick with large pines. He had been working his way through this section of trees, chopping off the most easily accessible branches and collecting the dead wood. He made three trips today, loading the sled thigh-high with wood each time.

He didn’t drag it all the way back to the bunker. Instead, he brought it to a shallow pit he had dug and surrounded with a ring of rocks. It was nestled next to a tangle of low shrubs that protected the fire from the wind, making it easier to light. The line of trees further off gave the smoke a chance to rise before the wind caught it. The smoke still dissipated as it rose above the tree line, but he could only hope that the faint haze would be enough to tip off any observers.

He sat on a flat rock near the pit, periodically feeding more wood into the fire and writing in his notebook. He marked the days so that he wouldn’t lose track of time. He wasn’t quite sure how much time he had lost after the initial crash, but he figured he had been at the bunker for eight or nine days. Enough time that anyone looking for him would probably be looking for a body, rather than a survivor.

Once he had put the last of the wood on the fire, he packed his things. He had been exploring the area around the lake, and had discovered that there was a place about a few hundred feet east of the hatch where the sheer cliff was broken by a gap. It looked as though a whole section of the wall had sloughed off, leaving behind gravel and fist-sized rocks. A shallow slope rose through the gap, leading to a shelf some twenty feet up. From there, several navigable paths branched off.

Christopher had spent a good part of two days exploring up on the cliff, making a crude map in his journal as he went. He wanted to find a vantage point to get a better view of his surroundings. Today, he followed a rough path that went further up, finding that it eventually turned back in the direction of the bunker entrance, rising steadily the whole way. It led to a narrow ledge that tapered to nothing, but he found a few hand-holds up to another, wider ledge. After a couple hours of hiking, it led him to a flat spot that he guessed must be nearly straight above the hatchway. From here, he could survey his tiny corner of the world.

From above, the shape of the lake was quite different from what he had imagined as he walked the perimeter. He had envisioned it as a bean shape, with the lobe closest to the bunker a little bigger than the one further away. He had found a dozen or more lakes like that on the map he had found in the bunker. From his higher vantage point, he could see that it was more like a “3,” with a third protrusion in the middle that jutted out beyond the other two.

Christopher had studied the map for days. He knew that shape. It was the shape of a specific pond on the map, one of a handful directly adjacent to the unlabeled squares. He had no way to take a picture from this high vantage point. His phone was either in the burnt remains of plane, scattered across a mountainside, or at the bottom of the pond. He took off his gloves for a few minutes to sketch in the notebook. It wasn’t perfect, but it was good enough considering his half-numb hands.

He made his way back, purposely taking his time. His leg was still sore, but he no longer felt a knifing pain when he put weight on it. Now that it was healing, he didn’t want to re-injure it with an accidental slip or fall. Going down the final slope turned out to be the most taxing part. It felt significantly steeper descending than it had ascending, but he found a piece of dead wood for a walking stick and sidled his way down without incident.

He made it back to the hatch before the sun had reached its zenith, but he felt as though he had already spent a full day outside. He made an early lunch of rice and beans to regain his energy. When he had finished, he set the map and his sketch on the table.

After all the hours he had spent studying the map, it was gratifying to see that the shape of the pond from above clearly identified his location on the map. It was also irritating that he had wasted so much time scrutinizing all the little bean-shaped ponds simply because he couldn’t get a good sense of the shape from walking the perimeter. He circled his location on the map with the pencil. It was a little square in the bottom left corner.

The squares were scattered across the map, but there was clearly a pattern, with several lines of them radiating out in five directions from the middle, like an octopus. Pentapus? There was nothing marked in that central area, but from the contour lines it appeared to be the tallest peak in the area. The square above the little “3”-shaped lake was at the very end of one of these spokes. Only one other dot was anywhere near it.

There was no indication of scale on the map. The only easy measure that Christopher could think of was the lake itself. He didn’t particularly trust his own eyes, but he guessed the lake was about a mile long. He carved little notches in the pencil with his fingernail, using it as a rough ruler. The distance between most of the squares was anywhere from ten to twenty miles, if his guess was accurate. The distance from his square to the next one was about fifteen miles.

He had been hiking up and down the relatively flat and open shoreline of the lake for several days. Fifteen miles of that type of terrain might be hard to manage in a single day, especially if he were carrying supplies. But the terrain would almost certainly be rougher. In every direction, the landscape was mountainous and rocky, and often dense with trees or brush.

An even bigger issue would be keeping track of where he was. There were compasses among the gear in the bunker, but the rough, hilly terrain would force Christopher to go around obstacles. The map had little detail apart from the contours of the land, and bodies of water. Those would need to be the landmarks he navigated by.

A faint crackle of static issued from the radio over in the corner. Christopher left it on day and night now. He never caught anything, apart from a few seconds of the numbers station here and there. The radio and the smoke signals held no hope for him at this point. There was no rescue coming. If he wanted to get home, he was going to have to do it himself.

He circled the square closest to his own on the map, and drew a line for his route. He flipped the journal to a fresh page and began a list of the things he would need for an expedition.

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