The Rocky Mountain Challenge (OWFI Short Story Weekly Contest, June 2017)
Margery Kisby Warder
Jarod’s teeth chattered and his stiff fingers stung as he tugged at the woolen blanket and tucked his hands into his armpits. Frostbite was a real possibility now. Why did I let my big mouth get me into this? No amount of cash makes this worthwhile. Any minute now the sun would slip behind the Rockies and the cold would seem like summer compared to what he’d face again later tonight.
Until yesterday afternoon, Jarod had never called anyone a chicken. When he said it, he’d hoped for some back and forth jostling, but he never figured he’d end up too proud to back out of a challenge. Now all the snow around him was at least waist deep.
Sure, he’d wanted to rile his buddies a bit, but he didn’t want anyone to call his bluff. He hoped either they’d all go camping or laugh at their foolish words and order a couple of pizzas while watching Blue Bloods there in the dorm. Instead, Dan retaliated by calling Jarod a “Wise Guy” and dared him to spend the weekend alone in the Rockies. Jared’s pride kept him from backing out.
Now he pulled his knees against his chest and slid the blanket over his head. Try as he would, he could not get warm. Besides, after hours of lugging it around while he tried to keep blood circulating, small clumps of snow clung to the blanket as tightly as he did.
What if he didn’t survive until they met up on Sunday forenoon? What would his parents think when they heard he could have refused to go ahead with this insane survivalist plan? No one thought of him as a survivalist. He’d never even been stranded. When his dad’s car had a flat tire, he’d called a tow service.
He was stranded now, though. His buddies had dumped him on the snowy road in his street clothes several miles from Boulder. They granted him time to choose three items from a smattering of quickly accumulated resources. They joked they didn’t want to be charged with murder.
He’d surveyed his options. His first choice was the woolen blanket once he knew arguing to skip the dare and head back to the down was not an option. “You agreed to the jackpot when it reached a hundred dollars, remember?”
Jarod had also chosen a knife while simultaneously praying he’d not have to use it. He’d not win any battles with creatures or deranged people, but the knife gave him a certain amount of confidence.
He’d never liked beef jerky but then, he’d never been really desperately hungry, so he debated between beef jerky and a half-empty bag of chocolate covered almonds, which he’d already proved he loved, until he saw the shiny cigarette lighter. Snow was getting down his collar while he contemplated his final choice, so the lighter won in hopes it’d at least warm his hands. So far the flicker had only put a blister on his thumb.
Last night had been scary, partly because it was, after all, the Rockies. If he didn’t slip and fall to his death, perhaps he’d be slow food for a wild creature that wasn’t hibernating. He’d not thought of hibernation until he saw the cave and skirted around it in case its occupant was a light sleeper. Now thoughts of cuddling up to a furry bear for a few hours had definite appeal, but walking won out in a rational moment.
Time had never crept by so slowly, not even when he stocked for Wal-Mart on the night shift. By walking he fought tiredness and succumbing to the pleasant thought of freezing to death. He made himself wander down the deserted road until he saw Boulder’s lights far off in the distance. The pull to head back to campus was strong even though the thought of how long it would take him tired him more. He turned and headed up the road when he pictured the ribbing he’d get and how he’d lose the chance to have an extra hundred dollars in his pocket. He had to live long enough to win that money.
He pushed one foot in front of the other up the snowy road for what he hoped was over half an hour before he permitted himself to turn and make his trek back toward the city’s lights. Each time he saw them, he fought the urge to at least stay where he could see the lights while he walked so he’d be less isolated and vulnerable. He knew, though, that slow steps in a small area would soon permit him to just sit down and sleep for ten minutes. He knew ten minutes at these temperatures would take him on into eternity. So, back and forth he walked, each time forcing his tingling feet to carry him farther from the city lights. His body ached from muscles he’d tightened to stay warm.
Fuel. He had to find fuel. The road didn’t have any. He set off to find fallen timber. Moonlight permitted him to reach the stand of evergreen with rough bark. He kicked around the base and found broken branches. Under dead wood, he found drier pieces and prayed as his cold and awkward hands whittled them into bits and shavings. Jerking from the cold, he set them inside a circle of rocks he managed to assemble. After several tries, he had a flickering fire. He wanted to crawl into it and sleep.
The fire gradually warmed his hands and face but the night wind threatened to put out his fire. He had to gather more rocks to enclose the fire. He searched until he had a variety of rocks protecting the flame. He sat still, watching the fire. A rock tumbled when his foot bumped it. He reached down to put the rock back and abruptly pulled his hand away. The rocks were hot. He had an idea.
Using his blanket for protection, he gingerly pulled a few rocks away from the circle and set them under his blanket. Yes! He could feel the heat coming through the blanket. He added more whittled kindling and thicker branches to the fire. He had to keep the rocks close to the fire that weren’t being used inside and around his blanket. Carefully he slipped off his soggy shoes and put his feet on the fired rocks. It worked! Warmth spread across his feet and up into his body. Within a few moments, he knew he could go to sleep without freezing to death. He was going to survive this Rocky Mountain challenge by being toasty warm.
Three hours after the sun peaked over the top of the snowcapped mountains, a horn honked from down on the road, but Jarod, surrounded by small warm rocks strategically placed inside his blanket, was dreaming of how he’d spend his hundred dollars.
Thanks for reading my entry in the story story challenge this week. To leave a comment or read other short stories in the contest, CLICK HERE. Thank you!
(This short story was written a few hours before a contest ended. I’d not known the contest was going on so I thought I had until 6 p.m. the next day to work on it… then I realized it was to be completed by 6 a.m. Almost always up for a challenge, I plunged ahead to see what I could create using the three required words: rocks, heat, and wise.)
Let me know what you think . . .