Razor Mountain is a serial novel, with new parts published every week or two. For more info, visit the Razor Mountain landing page.
Christopher shivered, despite the bright mid-morning sun. He squatted and studied the skinned and skewered rabbit as though it were a bomb he had to diffuse. He shaded his eyes and squinted into the surrounding trees. A pair of small birds flitted in the shade, but there was no other movement.
“Why don’t you just come out and talk?” he said, partly to himself and partly to the woods.
Who would be hiding out here in the wilderness, and afraid of Christopher of all people? Sasquatch? Some crazed hermit playing tricks on him?
He stood and shouted into the surrounding woods, trying to sound reasonable.
“I don’t suppose you want to have a conversation? I’m alone out here, and I’d really like to get home.”
The trees absorbed his words, only a hint of his own voice echoing back to him from distant rocks. He waited for a few beats, just in case a mysterious stranger was going to appear. As expected, nobody did.
He sighed, then pulled the stick out of the ground, rabbit and all. There were a few smooth footprints in the snow, leading to and from some nearby trees, and there, they vanished. He didn’t wander around looking to pick up the trail somewhere else. He doubted he would find much.
Someone was out there. They were watching him, but they weren’t too keen on being seen themselves. The rabbit felt like a peace offering, left for this clearly untrained explorer who would no doubt be running out of food at any moment now. Or it could be a trap.
Christopher looked over the rabbit carefully. Could it be poisoned somehow? Full of sharp things?
It didn’t make any sense to think that way. It would be a needlessly complicated way to kill him. After all, there was a good chance that whoever it was could just wait a few days and he’d run out of supplies and freeze to death.
He put the rabbit into a small canvas bag that had previously held the strange jerky bars. He packed a little clean snow alongside it and hung the bag on the outside of his pack, to keep it refrigerated and make sure it didn’t leak rabbit juice on anything. Then he re-situated his gear and continued the way he had been traveling, hauling the makeshift sled behind him.
The snow was shallower under the trees, allowing him to walk comfortably without snowshoes. The branches blocked most of the sun, but they also blocked the wind that gusted periodically through the upper branches, setting the trunks swaying.
If the mystery rabbit-giver wanted to reveal themselves, they would. If they didn’t, all he could do was continue with his plan. There was another dot on the map, another bunker or some kind of structure, and he was going to find it. That was the thing he had some control over.
The day passed in the monotony of hiking that he had become used to. The rhythm of one boot in front of another. The pause to rest, to drink, to take a bite or two of the second-to-last jerky bar. They rhythm of boots again. The wind and the creak of swaying trees.
Christopher had never been the sort of person who was interested in becoming one with nature, but he was starting to feel the odd sensation that all these little rhythms of his life fit neatly into the larger rhythms around him: the cycles of the sun and the moon, the weather, the seasons. He wasn’t sure if that was a sign of personal growth, or if the stress of the situation was getting to him.
That night, he set up his tent in a small clearing surrounded by birch. It felt pleasantly secluded from the surrounding forest, with a view of the sky like a natural skylight, and a parting in the branches that perfectly framed the broken mountain peak to the north.
He built a small fire, then tied together a few sticks with spare twine, forming a slightly uneven scaffold that he could use to spit-roast the rabbit on a stick. It wasn’t exactly fine engineering, but it worked. The meat dripped and sizzled and smelled delicious. The thin limbs began to crisp while the body was still rare, so he cut them off and ate the little morsels of meat off them while he turned the body on the spit. It was delicious, even by his pre-falling-out-of-a-plane standards.
A sharp crack of wood startled him out of his greasy reverie. It sounded like a sizable branch snapping on one of the trees behind him. As he turned to look for falling deadwood, an echoing crack answered it from the direction of the broken mountain.
There was a whump next to him, and a puff of snow a few feet to his right. Another crack in the distance.
A thud accompanied the spray of splintered bark that exploded out of a tree to his left, at head-height.
As the distant crack reached him a second later, he realized someone was shooting at him.