Razor Mountain — Chapter 8.3

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

Dusk fell early in the forest, with the sun lost behind the pines before it set over the mountains. In keeping with his pledge to take his time and be cautious, Christopher made sure to stop and set up his tent before the light faded. He found a little clearing with only a dusting of snow. It was still protected from the wind, but was large enough to allow several feet between his tent and a fire pit.

Despite hiking all day, Christopher felt good. Setting up the tent was straightforward, and he had time to collect some wood and start the fire before it really got dark. He used some of the prepared kindling from his pack. He collected a good pile of dry wood from the surrounding forest before sitting down to his dinner. Alongside another of the jerky and fruit bars, he boiled some water in a small pot and cooked some beans and rice with bouillon for flavor. He finished it with a reward: a small packet of freeze-dried fruit. It was hardly a feast, but it tasted incredible after a day of hiking.

As the cold settled around him, and the warm food settled in his stomach, he found himself overwhelmingly tired. For a moment, he debated whether he ought to keep the fire going, but it seemed like an unnecessary risk in the forest, where stray embers might ignite a bed of needles and give him a forest fire to wake up to.

He gathered clean snow, washing the little pot and then melting enough to refill his water bottles. There wasn’t much else to do. He used a stick to spread out the embers and threw a handful of snow over them. They sizzled and sputtered, leaving him in darkness. He looked up at the patch of sky that was visible among the trees. There were no stars to be seen in the gray-black clouds.

Christopher got into the tent, careful to knock the snow off his boots. It was cold at first, even with his thick sleeping bag pulled up around him and a mat separating him from the cold ground. However, all of the equipment did its job, and his body heat soon filled the little tent. Within ten or fifteen minutes, he was comfortably warm.

His fingers traced the shape of the wooden figurine in the darkness, vague images of its maker swirling in his head. Faces pulled from his imagination, and then from his past, and then a swirling mixture of faces. Finally, a dark place somewhere deep underground, where the faces could not be seen at all. There was nothing but the whispering voices in the blackness. The whispers surrounded him as he slept.

He woke in darkness, as a drip of cold water struck his cheek and slid down into his ear. He instinctively shifted, bringing a hand up out of the warmth of the sleeping bag to wipe it away. Several more drops landed on his face, dislodged by his motion. As he came back to consciousness, his first thought was that his breath had condensed on the inside of the waterproof tent. Maybe the temperature had dropped in the night.

It was still dark. Wind was blowing through the trees outside. He sat up, and his head rubbed across the wet fabric. Cold water trickled in his hair. The tent was small, but not that small. He should have been able to sit up comfortably. Instead, the roof and one side were pressing in on him. He could feel the pressure of snow weighing down the tent fabric.

He unzipped the zipper just enough to stick a finger through. Sure enough, there was heavy, wet snow where there had been little more than a dusting when he had gone to sleep. He considered opening it up completely, going out and trying to clear an area around the tent, but decided against it. He didn’t know how much snow had fallen. It might have been dumped from the overloaded branches above, or it might just be a blizzard outside. Either way, it would come pouring in when he opened up the tent. Better to wait until the morning.

The tent poles were bent to one side. He pushed and pulled them, trying to force the tent back into its proper shape. The floor was damp with the condensation that was running down the cold walls. His sleeping bag was damp where it overhung the sleep mat. The mat would no doubt be soaked. His pack was near his feet, but it was waterproof. He opened it and took out a spare blanket. He used it to sop up the moisture that had collected at the bottom of the tent, then wiped the walls carefully, trying to collect as much as he could without it dripping all over him.

The tent still leaned dangerously to one side. He moved his pack to shore up the half-collapsed side, and adjusted the sleep pads to mostly avoid his sleeping bag touching the walls.

The wind grew louder outside. The trees groaned and creaked. Everything was eerie in the darkness, muffled by the tent and the surrounding snow. Christopher shivered and leaned against his pack as the tent pushed back. He doubted he would get any more sleep that night.

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