Marni III

Marni’s Story Part III – Escape From Paradise

By

Thom Cantrall

“And this too shall pass,” …the thought came unbidden to Marni’s mind, as she took one last long look at the beautiful glade that had been her home these last ten blissful and unbelievably beautiful days and nights.

Up the steep path the horses labored, struggling mightily to scale the ridge that separated the pack string from the scarp leading them to the headwaters of the drainage that became the Clearwater River.  The couple had decided the previous night to make this trek over the new trail, so they would not have to backtrack the route they used coming into their mountain fast.

“I have a friend with a ranch at the trail head, so we can leave our stock there.  I have called the ranch and my truck will be there waiting for us.” the tall man had told her last night.  ”It’s a day longer, but we will see new country and we will be together for a bit longer.”  A grin had spread across his rugged face, softening his rough features as a pale blush spread over her as she recalled the love and passion the two had shared these past few days.

Upward they rode, through God’s majesty, through peaks that seemed to touch the sky.  The rocky pinnacles were threatening to fairly puncture the fluffy clouds that teased their tips.  Marmots readily greeted the travelers with a whistle and a flash of their furry bodies as they dove into their rocky havens.  Pine squirrels skittered across the ground and up into the nearest tree, scolding vehemently, letting the world know that strangers were in their midst.  Again and again they passed Mule deer, those long radar antenna ears that gave them their name locked in on the interlopers, alert for any sound out of the ordinary.  Twice, large bucks, their high, wide antlers still in the nourishing velvet of summer, stopped their foraging to watch the procession pass.

At mid‑day the two stopped in the shade of a stand of Englemann Spruce on the north side of a small finger ridge.  Mark judged their elevation to be just over eleven-thousand feet as determined by the vegetation growing here.  The sun was high in the sky, warming the nest they occupied and causing the world to be alive.

Mark removed the box containing the trail lunch he had prepared in the morning prior to their departure from the cabin.  After picketing the horses on a patch of grass, he returned to find the lady had spread a cloth and laid out the spread of food from the box.  Marni smiled up at a grinning Mark as she took his hand inviting him to sit with her and enjoy their repast.  “Mark,” she began, a languorous smile crossing her pretty face, “What is going to happen to us when we get back to town?”

He paused a moment then replied, “Marni honey, what do you want to happen?  I understand that I am substantially older than you are, and that could cause problems for you.  I mean your friend set is your age, not mine!  And I don’t want you to be subject to ridicule.  I’ve come to be very fond of you in these past days, and I haven’t felt that way in a very long, long time.”

“Are you saying there is no chance for us?” she asked, her face suddenly very sad.

Taking both of her soft, tiny hands in his large rough ones, he looked deeply into her eyes and said, “Darling, let me say this once and for all time, I would never willingly leave your side if you wanted me there.  I simply want you to understand totally that the world is not going to universally accept us, and I don’t want you to feel you have to defend me, or yourself.  Nor do I want you to be subjected to derision or malice because of me.  We have many things to settle between us, and this will only come with time.”

“Listen you long galoot,” the girl fired back at him, her ire rising.  ”You leave the threat of derision up to me, ok?  I am my own person and no one, man, women, friend, family or bitter enemy is ever going to tell me that loving you is wrong!  YES, we are different ages, but what is age but a number anyway.”   Her eyes flashed fire as she continued, “Yes, Buckwheat, we do have issues to decide, but these issues are ours.  Not my friends, nor my relatives, you my sweet, and me, will decide our future on our own.  Is that clear?”

Mark leaned close to Marni, still looking at her eyes, trying to read the message they held.  Then submitting to his desire, he kissed her.  Softly at first, then more insistently as the flame in her eyes migrated to her soul leaving her eyes smoldering with desire.  “Oh my lady,” he whispered as she melted into his arms, surrendering her will to his, knowing that it was safe in his care.

Lunch was, for the moment forgotten, as the two lovers expressed their passion there on the grass in a manner as old as mankind itself.  As the horses watched disinterestedly, the couple ignored the sun’s march westward until, sated they lay in each others arms trying to ignore the lumps beneath them caused by the cones fallen from the nearby trees.  When the sun cleared a particularly large tree, it shone directly in the lovers’ eyes, causing them to break their languor and retreat to other shade, where they quickly enjoyed their lunch.  Neither ever lost the touch of the other.

It was the work of but a moment for Mark to check the cinch straps and the pack boxes before the pair stepped back into their saddles to continue the trek across the divide between the two drainages.  The terrain was rugged, with rocky spires pointing to the stars above long, steep talus slopes, those masses of broken rock that were so prevalent in this high country.

Marni marveled as, coming around a sharp bend in the trail, she watched a Golden Eagle soaring over the jagged rocks, and she was actually looking down on the beautiful raptor.  Slowly the bird dipped and swooped, riding the air currents now up, seemingly rising vertically, with no effort what‑so‑ever.  The eagle’s wings moved only to tip a bit here or spill some air there…  Occasionally slipping sideways and dropping altitude as it began a long sweeping dive towards the earth below.  At the seemingly last second, the powerful bird back winged, killing its forward speed as its legs leapt forward, talons extended, to grasp a hapless pika who had paid with it’s life for a moments inattention.  With its struggling dinner firmly in the grasp of the rigid talons, powerful wings now beat the air, launching the big bird back into an azure sky, back toward the aerie shared by a mate and three downy chicks.  Mark grinned at the girl’s look of awe as she watched the drama unfold before her and laughed openly, though quietly, as her face screwed up in disbelief as the eagle flew off with its catch wriggling in sharp talons.  As she turned to him, slightly embarrassed, she realized that she had become one with the hunting bird and her chosen man had witnessed her transformation.  Mark said softly, “It’s a harsh world out here hon, the food chain in these mountains is not a theory, it’s a harsh reality.”

“I see that Mark,” she replied with a frown.  “And I guess I’ve always known that’s how it is, but I never expected to witness it so graphically.  I mean, watching that eagle was so serene and thrilling, but I guess I never expected to see it do what it did.”

“Mark,” she continued, “I can see how it works on this level, but what about the macro scale?  What kinds of predators live in these mountains?”

“Wherever there is a healthy deer herd,” he replied, “There will be a healthy cougar population.  On the average, each adult cat will take one deer per week, or more than fifty deer per year.  Many people would have you believe that only the weak, the old and the infirm among the deer herd are at risk, and it is generally true that the old and the young are the most at risk, but, in fact, a cougar will attack any deer it can catch.  Bears also take a huge toll on the elk and deer herds, especially the calves and fawns.  There are times that over half of the annual calf crop is lost to these large predators.  There are many smaller predators that control the populations of the lesser species, martins, coyotes, minks, fishers, bobcats, raccoons and skunks all prey on the wee beasts and birds that live here.  Usually one predator species does not prey on another, but this is not a hard and fast rule.  The wolverine, for instance, will attack anything, even animals much larger than itself.  At the top of the chain is the bear.  Generally not much bothers a Black Bear and absolutely NOTHING confronts a Grizzly.  That is the main reason they are so dangerous, they ARE at the top of the food chain.  Nothing preys on old Ephraim in these mountains, so he has developed a real attitude.  A Grizz can turn a simple walk to the outhouse into the adventure of a lifetime”

Marni laughed softly at Mark’s humor, but shivered at the thought of these huge bruins and their propensity for violence.  In their time in the mountains Mark had shown her several bears.  Most were the black bears so common to these hills, but twice, off in the distance they had seen Grizzlies.  Even from a distance the girl could see the pronounced hump on its back and the extreme bulk that had marked its species.  Fortunately, Marni had thought to herself, the animal showed no inclination to shorten the intervening distance.

Throughout the afternoon the couple rode through the Rocky Mountain grandeur.  There were times that Marni was sure that she could touch the tops of the mountains as they rode to the music of the saddle leather, accompanied by the whistle of marmots and the sighing of the wind in the stands of spruce and pine.  This symphony of the wild places was mesmerizing to the travelers, lulling them to the rhythm of the horse’s movements and the ensuing creak of saddle leather.

On and on they rode as the sun traversed the impossibly blue sky, finally dipping momentarily behind the western peaks signaling an end to the day’s journey just as the troupe came upon a flat bench adjacent to a busy mountain stream, hustling it’s way across the granite stone on it’s way down the mountain en route to the Pacific Ocean.

The duo worked together unpacking the horses and picketing them on the green grass just across the creek from their camp.   While setting up their camp and pitching their tent, a band of fifteen elk moved into the small park just below the horse pasture.  Marni watched in amazement as first one shadow and then another darted furtively from one shaded area to the next.  “Mark,” she whispered anxiously, “What is this?”  Quickly she pointed to the area she had seen the movements and continued, “There Mark, just below the elk in the shadows, there‑‑‑there it is again!”

“Honey,” he answered with a smile, “You’re being treated to a rare sight in these mountains.  Watch very closely, that is a pack of hunting wolves and they’ve targeted one of the elk in that band.”

In the failing light the couple watched as the ghost-like shapes moved to isolate a calf who had wandered from its mother.  Before the band was aware of the impending danger the pack had insinuated itself between the herd and the young one, so that when the calf finally awakened to it’s peril and tried to dart back to the safety of the band, he ran right into a hidden wolf.  The dog leaped to the young animal, gripped him by the snout in those most powerful jaws and held the calf firmly, while an accomplice dashed in behind the calf and, in one fluid motion, bit completely through the large tendon at his hock, hamstringing the youngster even as a large dog attacked the other hamstring in a similar manner, sealing the fate of the elk.  The pack then moved in securing their kill and deferring to the leaders, male and female, as the feeding began.  The remainder of the elk herd moved away from the pack, eyeing them warily until, as if they had discerned that the feeding pack offered no further danger, returned to feeding themselves.

The girl shuddered involuntarily and moved closer to Mark, snuggling into his arms, somehow upset by the scene that had just played itself out before her eyes.  “Mark,” she said quietly.  “Hold me, please.  That is so unnerving watching these animals living their lives.  I think what bothers me most is the fact that I felt at one with the wolf pack.  Is it normal to be that way?”

Holding her tightly to him Mark answered.  “Honey we are predators, we have to take life in order to live.  Yes, our prey can be cute, cuddly and adorable, but the simple fact is we must eat.  That is why you related to that pack, it’s been a long day and you are hungry and weary.  Just like you should not go shopping when you are hungry, your mind is thinking about food and in your subconscious you were in the grocery store loading your cart with goodies.”

The girl laughed softly and hugged her man.  “Why do I feel so safe and confident with you?” she asked of the grinning man.  “I’ve seen, done and learned more about the natural world on this trip than I have in all my life.”  And with that she turned in arms to face him and standing on her tip toes she kissed him.  And such a kiss it was.  It felt like her soul had ignited and her toenails curled as they stood under the near dark sky, each lost in their own rapture.  They heard the plaintive cry of the hunting pack as they told the world of the pleasure of their success.

Dinner this night was a simple affair of canned stew accompanied by fresh frying pan biscuits and water, direct from the icy stream.  Dessert was an apple each and the warmth and sweetness of the growing love between the incongruous couple.

After dinner was past and the evening’s chores long since done, the loving pair sat closely before a dying fire watching a meteor shower streak the night sky with ribbons of green, white and red.  Mark showed his Beauty how to locate Polaris, the North Star, and how to tell time by the position of the Big Dipper in its rotation around the pole.

Marni listened raptly as he showed her the many constellations across the night sky… Orion, Ursa Major and Ursa Minor, the Big and Little Bears.  He showed her the planets Mars and Jupiter and kissed her often.  He listened to her as she told him of her life.  The night’s sounds were soothing to the lovers and provided a soft descant to their quiet conversation.

At last, reluctantly, the couple rose, made the fire safe and retired to the tent and their bed.  A bed they now shared unabashedly.  Mark took the light and as the girl spread their bed walked out to the horses, checking their picket pins and talking to them quietly, soothing their nervousness.  ”Must be a bear in the area,” Mark told his lady, as he reentered the tent.  “The horses are nervous and by this time, they should be settled and resting.”

“Oh my!”  Marni responded.  “Is that a danger?”

“No.”  He responded.  “Not unless something weird happens.  These horses are used to being out here and will let us know if an animal gets too close.  I’ll have to sleep light tonight, but I don’t foresee any great problem.  It’s possible they have just winded a bear that is a long way off.”

Marni, quite comforted by his calm words, scooted close to him and snuggled into his arms, content in her station and ready for a night’s sleep.  As she let her mind wander, contemplating the extreme happiness the tall confident man brought her, she did indeed feel right with the world and ready to tackle whatever problem was thrown at them.

It was a bright quarter moon shining from past its zenith when the frightened squeals of the horses caused Mark to launch from his bunk like he was shot from a gun.  As he grabbed his Levi’s and slid into them hurriedly, Marni found the hand light and turned it on, allowing him to locate his boots, slip them on and dive into the night.  Quickly, since there was ample moonlight, Mark charged across the small stream and into the middle of the plunging horses, trying to calm them even while he was looking for the cause of the bedlam.  The deep roar of a large bear permeated his subconscious, causing him to turn from the horse he was talking to so soothingly.  What he saw caused his blood to chill and his skin to crawl with fear as he spotted two small Grizzly cubs charging directly for him.  “Oh, shit!”  He muttered to himself as the youngsters quickly closed the intervening distance.

At this moment his hypersensitive mind registered the sound of the girl’s voice calling to him in fear.  “Marni,” he breathed huskily, trying not to alert the sow that had to be very close, to his presence.  “Don’t move and don’t make a sound and please, whatever you do, kill that light and don’t come across the creek.”  He heard her gasp in alarm at his words, but as a credit to her, he heard her move back from the edge of the creek and saw the light disappear.

The silence was interrupted only by the nervous stamping of the horses, the man having succeeded in quelling the impending revolution and silencing the squeals in the cavy.  At the sound of Mark’s voice the cubs had stopped dead in their tracks and looked directly at him.  Their eyes were open wide and their every sense on a sharp edge.  Mark stood rock still, knowing bears are notorious for poor eye sight on a non-moving object.  Long moments passed as the impasse continued with the man wondering where the sow was.  It would not be imaginable that two cubs would be here on their own… she simply had to be close.

Time was suspended as the two cubs, standing upright on their hind legs, searched the night for the source of the sound they’d heard.  No less intensely, Mark was feeling the night trying to locate the sow.  “Damn,” he thought to himself, “I wish Marni wasn’t here.  This is just too dangerous to subject her to,” although he knew she would not want to be anywhere but with him if he were in danger.  It is just that in a dangerous situation, it is so much easier when one had to only think and act for one’s self, without considering the actions and safety of another.

Presently, first one then the other of the cubs dropped back to all fours and began a slow retreat, back the way they had come.  Mark slowly let out a breath he hadn’t known he was holding.  He could feel the tension within him begin to dissipate.  Suddenly a sharp squeal split the night as one of the pack horses panicked at the smell of a bear so close under its feet.  The loud sound panicked the cubs who then ran blindly, directly under the feet of the remuda.  One horse, a younger mare, kicked out reflexively; striking one of the cubs a glancing blow, causing the youngster to squeal more in fright than in pain.  The effect was the same however, as the now enraged sow bawled out and charged into the fray of bucking horses and flashing feet.

A sharp gasp involuntarily escaped Marni’s lips as the sound of mayhem reached her.  That gasp, coupled with the vagrant gust of breeze directly from Marni to the enraged sow, gave the bruin both a target and a purpose.  Though a bear’s eyesight is not the greatest their nose is superb.  In fact it is said that if a leaf falls in the forest, the eagle will see it, the deer will hear it, but the bear will smell it!

The sow, having located, in her mind, the cause of her offspring’s distress, immediately charged across the creek towards the now terrified woman.  The bear’s outrage was evidenced by her roaring, bawling and the snapping of her teeth.  Marni was frozen to her spot, watching the behemoth approach in the eerie half light of the pale moon.  The girl was amazed to realize how clear the scene was before her, even though it was the dead of night.  Although terror had her anchored in place, her mind was lucid and active, recording every nuance and shadow of the horrible scene before her.  For some reason her mind fixed on the fact that the creature who had charged across the creek and was now reared onto her hind legs, growling out a message of destruction for her victim, carried the scientific name Ursus Horriblis.  “I can certainly see why,” the girl spoke softly to herself.

Out of the corner of her eye, Marni saw a flash of light off a blade as she realized the man was running at full speed, leaping the creek in a bound and charging the outraged Grizzly.

“No!”  She screamed, as the facts dawned on her.  Her scream drew the sow’s attention back to her from the rapidly approaching man.  The moment’s diversion allowed the man to complete his attack.  His sheath knife in hand.

In a long low dive Mark hit the bear while she was standing erect.  His momentum carried her back to all four feet, as his eight inch blade struck home burying itself between the screaming sow’s ribs and into her soft tissues and vital organs.  The ensuing surge of frothy red blood told Mark he had found her lungs.  The problem was, a lung puncture, though deadly, is not immediately fatal, especially to a creature as pumped on adrenaline as was this sow.  There was plenty of time for the bear to kill the man before she herself succumbed.

The bear’s initial reaction to the pain was to bellow and to roll with the impact of Mark’s attack.  This action caused the man to lose his grip on the blood-soaked knife handle, and to roll free of his adversary.  The sow turned toward her tormentor and, swinging a huge paw, she swatted at the rising man knocking him tail over teakettle away from herself.  The paw, with its long, unsheathed claws ripped across Mark’s head, ripping his scalp back from his forehead.  Immediately she charged, grabbing Mark by the shoulder and shaking him like a puppy with a chew toy.  Mark was amazed at how clearly he could think through the pain of the attack, even after being shaken like a rag doll he could see his knife handle protruding from the profusely bleeding wound and tried to reach for it.  His hand grasped the blood slick handle as the she bear lost her grip, sending him rolling across the ground, blood oozing from the torn flesh of his damaged shoulder and from his bare scalp down into his eyes.

Instantly the Bear charged, scattering the pack boxes that lay in her path, strewing supplies and materials everywhere.  Pouncing like a cat on a hapless mouse, she landed on Mark, taking his head in her mouth and dragging him towards her.  The intensity of her attack had knocked the newly regained knife from his hand, sending it flying across the blood stained grass.  Mark grabbed the ruff of the bear’s neck, trying to gain leverage to free his head from the teeth of the immense carnivore.  Try as he might, he could not get away from the tortuous fangs and the fetid breathe of his nemesis.

Marni, her fear transparent, watched in horror as the giant creature was mauling the man she had so recently begun to fall in love with.  When she saw the knife sail from her man’s hands she broke her immobility and moved cautiously towards it, not sure what she should do with it once she retrieved it, and she only knew that she had to do something or Mark would die while she watched.  Without taking her eyes from the grisly scene playing out before her, the girl knelt and grasped the haft of the knife lying in the moon light.  As she rose slowly, wondering what to do next, her subconscious mind took over her body and without conscious thought, she approached the distracted animal, intent on releasing her love from the jaws of this killer.

Suddenly she knew.  She saw the opening and with a primal scream reminiscent of her ancient ancestors, the women lunged, slicing the razor sharp blade across the sow’s eyes, instantly blinding her.  A raging, mortally wounded creature, the huge bear roared her pain and anguish, dropping the man from the death grip she held and swinging a ponderous clawed fist at this new attacker.  The blow caught the girl across her chest, raking her, tearing her garment and flipping her over backwards into the grass and knocking the wind from her.  As Marni lay there gasping in pain trying to suck air back into her suddenly empty lungs, she felt Mark’s presence close to her as she listened to the screams of the dying bruin.  As these piteous cries diminished, signaling the demise of the bear, she felt Mark’s hand grasp hers reassuringly.  Letting her know that he was still alive at least.

Breath returned, and with it a realization of what had occurred and all it implied.  Marni spoke anxiously, “Mark? Mark, are you awake?”  Receiving no answer, she feared the worst, but knew he was still gripping her hand and she could hear his ragged breathing so she knew he yet lived.

Summoning her reserves, she rose and tentatively felt the lacerations across her chest.  She could not see well in the dim light, but from what she could sense, she was not severely injured, though she feared that any laceration caused by a predator’s talons or teeth was potentially very dangerous due to the rotted flesh remaining from prior meals.  Moving to Mark, she knelt beside him and examined him the best she could.  She found him to be terribly lacerated with his torn scalp hanging backwards across his bared head while a cursory examination showed no evidence of arterial bleeding.  So, grabbing the towel hanging by the tent, she replaced this remnant, wrapped his torn scalp and applied pressure to his wounded shoulder.  This done, she took time to find and light two lanterns.  This cast enough light to see to operate.  The first thing needed was hot water, so she located the stove, righted the table it normally rested upon, and put two pans of water on to heat.  With the water heating nicely, she located the first aid kit Mark always carried.  She then searched for more clean material to use as bandages.  By the time she had located all of her materials the water in the smaller pan was hot.  Taking the pan, she returned to Mark’s still form.  She placed her pan of heated water close to him, adjusted her lantern to best affect and turned to her job.

The pretty lady’s first order of business was to clean all of Marks wounds assiduously, doing all she could to insure that the gashes were as clean as she could make them within the constraints imposed.  Fortunately, Mark’s extensive kit included copious quantities of antiseptic ointment, which Marni slathered generously into the contusions.  Those areas where flaps of skin were hanging loose, she used the needle and thread she’d somewhat sterilized with the alcohol contained in the kit and sewed them shut as best she could.  His torn scalp she put back into place and carefully stitched there.  Mark stirred occasionally during this procedure, but otherwise did not exhibit any sign that he knew what was happening around him.  The girl was extremely grateful that, as she stitched her lover’s torn skin and muscles back together, he was unconscious through this ordeal.  She knew that soon enough he would be all too aware of the pain and discomfort of his wounds.

Day was breaking in the east when the woman finally determined she had done all she could do for her man.  Turning her attention to herself, Marni was rather delighted to find that her wounds, other then where the claws had raked rather deeply across her upper arm, were indeed quite minor.  She washed the scrapes thoroughly in soap and hot water, dressed them as best she could and wrapped a makeshift bandage around herself.  With all her doctoring completed, Marni turned her attention to getting Mark back into the tent and under cover.  With much straining and not a few ‘less than proper’ words, the one hundred fifteen pound lady finally managed to wrestle the two hundred plus pound man back into their tent and under some covering.

This accomplished, the girl took time to sit down and think about all that had happened and where to go from there.  It was certain in her mind that Mark was not going to be going anywhere or doing anything on his own for some time.  “My first order of business,” she said aloud to the morning air, “is to get help up here.”

So decided, she began the search for Mark’s uplink phone finally locating it in the jumble of gear from the pack box that had been scattered in the frenzied charge of the enraged bear.  What she found was not encouraging however, as the phone was lying in the small stream and appeared to have been damaged in the confusion.  With her heart in her throat she tried and tried again to make the phone work, but to no avail.

In frustration she dropped the phone back into the box and sat down to try to figure a way out.  Two days travel Mark had told her from where they camped, to the trail head.  “Two days,” she whispered.  “We might as well be on the moon as here, as far as rescue is concerned.  One thing is certain; if we’re to get out of here it is up to me to do it.  No one is about to drop in on us for a visit, not here at the back edge of beyond.”

It is said that a problem admitted and defined is a problem half solved and the girl wondered what the back half would hold in store for her.  She knew in her mind that Mark was neither going to be able to mount a horse nor would he be able to stand the ride even if he could get mounted.  This thought of the horses was a reminder to her that she had not checked on them since the attack, an oversight that she now remedied.  The results of her close inspection of the stock revealed no severe injuries she could see.  The pins had held firm, so she lead each to water and then picketed them on fresh grass until she could decide what to do.

Through the day Marni napped, checked Mark frequently, alarmed at the fever he seemed to be developing.  That fever coupled with the amount of blood he had lost kept him in a fitful state of unconsciousness, though he seemed to recognize her presence when she bathed him and checked his wounds.

Marni was eating a hastily prepared meal at midday and trying to solve her dilemma when the idea struck her.  A travois!  She could construct a travois.  She would use one of their two pack horses to pull it, all the while praying the trail down the river valley was wide enough to allow her to use it.

The girl spent the rest of the day locating the materials she needed to construct the apparatus.  It was an effort of trial and error to achieve her goal.  The first mistake she made was to assume that any horse would do to pull the rig.  Her first attempt resulted in a bucking horse doing all he could to lose this unfamiliar burden.  She tried it on the bay gelding, having remembered Mark saying he was broke to drive.  This attempt proved to be more successful as he was used to being in harness and, though the dragging poles were unfamiliar, they were not dissimilar from the driving harness he had often worn.

When Marni attempted to fabricate a platform to carry the injured man she soon found that her poles were too short as it was impossible to make a sufficiently large cargo platform that was both off the ground and far enough from the horses rear hooves to keep the occupant from being kicked.  To overcome this Marni searched the lodge pole thicket for the longest poles she could find that would be small enough diameter to be effective.

She tested this rig with a pack box loaded to simulate Mark’s weight.  She found it to be too springy under the load, bouncing wildly as the horse moved.  Her final attempt involved a compromise in length, coupled with the fact that the pieces chosen were blown down, and well seasoned wood which meant that they were lighter and more rigid than her initial attempts.  Marni found that the use of the cross buck pack saddle allowed her to latch the drag poles securely to the horse and still leave room for her cargo.

The sun was hanging low in the western sky when the beautiful young woman declared her work complete and was satisfied that she had done all she could to prepare her contraption to perform its designed function and all that remained was to prepare for an early departure.  To this end she assembled the unneeded camp gear and packed the two boxes she was limited to, since only one pack horse was fully available to her.  She left room enough for the tent and sleeping gear and loaded all the remaining gear into the pack boxes to be left behind and cached them under a pile of stones designed to keep small animals out of the boxes.

As Marni relaxed at last, with a small, but nourishing meal, Mark became restless in his stupor, thrashing his less-injured arm in defensive motions.  Quickly Marni moved to his side, holding the large flailing hand firmly in her delicate grasp, talking to the man softly, reassuring him in his unconscious state, professing her love for him as tears left her eyes, coursing their way down dirty cheeks to fall unbidden to the tent floor.  Her words seemed to rebound off the tent walls as she talked to the injured man, calming him and easing his distress.

Once during the evening long session, Mark’s eyes fluttered open.  His gaze locked on the pretty girl’s face and a soft smile crossed his pained countenance.  Marni looked at his torn features seeing nothing but the male strength so evident there.  It took a physical effort to actually see the injuries therein.

Marni located the plastic jar of hydrogen peroxide she had found in Mark’s first aid supplies.  Silently she issued a prayer of thanks that her man had not set out on this trip with an ill supplied first aid kit.  Removing his crude bandages, she used the peroxide to bathe the wounds, hoping she was preventing infection in the fresh sutures she had installed earlier without the benefit of sterile thread.

When the girl had Mark’s wounds bathed and dressed again, and he was resting comfortably, she spread her own bed close enough to be able to touch him and hold his hand.  It seemed she had barely stretched her lithe body when she fell into a deep and restful sleep… a sleep that was interrupted many times through the night by Mark’s fevered cries.  Each time he cried out, she woke instantly, talking to him and comforting him in his pain.

The morning sky was just beginning to show a pink tinge when Marni brought the horses into camp, saddled them and moved the still unconscious Mark out of the tent, packed their gear and learned her first lesson in packing when she found she couldn’t lift the pack boxes to the saddle.  After unloading most of the boxes’ contents, the girl lifted them to the pack buck, reloaded the items removed and covered the boxes with a tarp.  She was very happy she had paid close attention when Mark explained the nuances of packing to her and showed her how to tie a diamond hitch to hold the tarp and boxes in place.  She only hoped she had gotten the weight close enough to equal in the two boxes so they wouldn’t slip from one side or the other from the horse.

At last the travois was attached to the more docile of the pack horses.  Marni struggled mightily getting Mark onto the carrier where she lashed him to the framework, praying that she would not injure him further.  The injured man stirred a bit and moaned in pain during the process, but seemed to settle comfortably into the carrier, allowing Marni to secure him.  With one last look around the ill-fated camp, and a sigh of deep regret at the sight of the two cubs lying beside their dead mother, she turned down the trail and took the first step towards home.  Silently she uttered a prayer for strength and direction as she led her small caravan across the stream, through the meadow and down the trail into the trees.

It seemed like days elapsed before the sun reached its zenith, and she called a halt for nooning.  Marni was quite amazed that her contraption was working so well.  All morning long she only had to dismount twice to help pull the drag over or around an obstacle or an especially difficult stretch.  She was diligent in keeping her patient as comfortable as she possibly could, even though he remained unconscious.  As soon as she had eaten a quick lunch and had allowed the horses to take a short rest, she remounted and continued her trek.  Many times she startled deer and watched as they bounded, stiff legged, in the stotting behavior peculiar to the Mule Deer, up the hill and into the timber, usually pausing just before they disappeared from sight to eye her closely to assess the danger she presented.

The afternoon passed quickly as the woman moved her caravan off the mountain and into the river basin that would eventually lead her out of these mountains and to help and safety.  The beauty and serenity of the high hills had mysteriously altered to a feeling of menace and peril.  The majesty of the mountains had now become her enemy.  Her very remoteness was a threat to the life of the man she loved.

That she loved him struck her with the force of a storm.  For the first time in her life she felt the pressure in her heart that told her this was her man.  As a revelation opened to her she realized that she’d known for several days now, but had been resisting the feeling as the emotions slowly seeped through her body much like moisture across a drink coaster, she felt an overwhelming need to communicate her joy to someone and since the only person in many miles was the object of her newfound euphoria, she halted her string, bailed out of her saddle and hurried to the side of her inert man.

Excitedly she told him of all her inner most feelings.  She held his hand as she announced to the mountains her intentions toward him.  Her heart soared and tears rolled down her cheeks as her love poured through her lips toward her man.  On and on she effused, wishing against wish that Mark could hear her, but knowing he wouldn’t.  For the better part of an hour she poured her heart out to the unconscious man until, feeling emotionally spent, she laid her head on his chest, listening to the slow steady beat of his heart, and reveled in the joy of her new understanding.

The sun was well down in the West before she decided to call a halt for the day. The woman knew she shouldn’t have taken such a long break earlier, but she just could not pull herself away from the beauty of the moment with her new awareness.  To compensate she had pushed on later than she normally would have done.  It was obvious that the stock was jaded from the heavy demand placed on them but the girl promised them rest and full nose bags if they would just get them out of these mountains in time.  She picketed them on a patch of green feed within reach of the small stream.

As soon as she had eaten a quick dinner, she moved to the side of her love and began checking his wounds, looking closely for signs of infection or other complications.  The girl was somewhat amazed that, as terrible as the wounds looked, there was no evidence of puss or infection in the myriad cuts and gashes, “Evidently,” she thought aloud, “the general belief that mountain air promoted healing was true.”  The one thing most worrisome to Marni was the fact that she was unable to get any fluids into Mark, and she was sure he had to be dangerously dehydrated, especially in light of the amount of blood he had lost subsequent to the attack.

While the girl was worried, she knew the only thing she could do about it, was exactly what she was now doing:  Treat his wounds, minimize his fluid loss, and hurry like hell for help.  With luck and a lot of hard work she would be out of the mountains by tomorrow night.

Marni had not bothered to set up the tent, but merely spread a ground cloth, opened their sleeping bags and covered Mark and herself.  As tired as she was, her mind continued to mull over her predicament, and the sound of the horses munching grass, the swoosh of a hunting owl, and the sight of bats flitting before the stars, helped her to put it all in perspective.  The thought came unbidden to her mind, that night was a time of stealth.  The hunters of night were a silent group, especially adapted for absolute quiet, with eyes that gathered the slightest amount of light to them, making the dimness of starlight into the brightness of new day.  It was while, contemplating this wonder, that sleep overtook the girl, a sweet restful, all consuming sleep.

Daylight found the woman with camp struck, the horses loaded and her mind set on being out of the mountains by nightfall.  She was, admittedly, amazed that her patient was doing as well as he was, but, this morning, working with the light of the lantern there were definite signs that some of the wounds were deteriorating.  As well, her supply of hydrogen peroxide, her only antiseptic remaining, was rapidly dwindling.  Worry was rearing its head as she replaced the bandages and loaded him back onto his primitive ambulance.

The sun seemed to race across the sky as she crawled her way slowly down the long river valley.  At her nooning she sat and talked with Mark, pleading with him to hold on just a while longer.  The pallor and the dryness of his lips worried Marni worse than his reddening lacerations.  She knew he had to be dehydrating, which could be potentially more dangerous than the infection.

Twice during the day the trail narrowed so much that she had to adjust her drag poles on the pack saddle so that the drags could be closed up, enabling her to negotiate the more delicate areas of the trail, but on and on she pushed.  That her livestock was near the end and terribly weak, she knew, but she was not about to stop before she reached her goal.  Darkness, the enemy, was a palpable thing as it crept slowly out of the canyon’s depths…Darkness, once a comforting and relaxing thing was now filling her with fear and trepidation.  She knew she could not stop again tonight and have any chance of Mark surviving, so down the mountain she came in the gloaming.

Finally with concern for her stock, she dismounted and with a hand light, led the way in the deepening gloom, being very careful to ensure each animal could see each obstacle in their path.  At this point, after all this effort, she had no desire to have an animal go down on her, the victim of an accident.

It was almost anti‑climatic when, navigating the sharp curve in the trail, the paved road shown in the light of the rising pale moon.  She was out!  Against all odds she had actually done it.  Her heart swelled with pride and relief as tears rolled from her eyes as she rushed to share her wonderful news with her still unconscious man.

It took a few minutes to realize that there were people talking to her as she knelt beside Mark, holding his hand and weeping her joy to him.  As the fact transcended her consciousness she leapt up to greet her guests.

“What the hell are you doing coming out of these mountains after dark?” growled a grizzled old packer.  “Don’t you know how dangerous that is?  You could have hurt yourself, or your stock.  That’s got to be the dumbest thing I’ve seen in a long time!”

“Walt,” spoke up a lean young man, “will you hold your tongue a moment, she has an injured man there, and it is obvious to me that she was doing all she could to get to help.”

His words set into motion an instantaneous reaction that culminated with a call going out for the med-evac helicopter, many kind hands attending to the girl, others caring for the stock.

The entire population of the trailhead campground rallied around the girl, doing all they could to comfort her and Mark while waiting for help to arrive.  They listened as the young women recounted the events of the last seventy-two hours.  Seventy‑two hours that had changed her life!

It seemed like hours before the distraught woman heard the sound of the approaching helicopter.  Torn between her responsibility to her man, and to the animals that had given so much of themselves to her in their trek out of the mountains she was utterly relieved when Walt and the lean young man, Shawn, she had learned, told to her to be at ease about the stock.  That Mark was a well known and well liked man in the area and his animals would be well cared for…  And, “YES, the game department will do all they can to find those two orphan cubs for you as well,” she was told.

Suddenly there were medical people seemingly everywhere.  I.V.’s were set up and started, bandages were removed, wounds sterilized, and in two cases sutures severed and wounds reopened and redressed to abort the festering therein.  The medical people were amazed at Mark’s relative freedom from infection, especially considering Marni was forced to use such primitive tools and methods.

For more than an hour the medics worked over the injured man, never noticing that the girl, too, was injured.  Not until they were loading Mark into the stretcher pod he would ride in all the way back to town and to the hospital, did they notice.  At this point, they hustled her into the cargo area of the big helicopter and the signal was given to lift off.  The people on the ground watched in awe as the brave girl and her silent patient disappeared and the sound of the beating rotors fading quietly into the night were all that told that she had, indeed, been here….

 Presented by:

“Sasquatch – The Search for a New Man”
by
Thom Cantrall