I woke up to the sound of wind.
The trees knocked subtly together, drumming out an uneven rhythm, slightly unnerving. Sprawled flat on my back, I stared up at a grey-blue indeterminable sky. Not a cloud I could make out, but wisps of flimsy white stretching a film across the sky. The stars were mostly missing. One, obvious. The morning star or the evening one? Venus — a planet not a star at all — all the same. In one end of the sky, there were pink and fire orange bars of light clinging low to the horizon. East or West?
I would have to know where I was to parse that information.
What I did know — there was tent, no shelter blocking out my view. And no other body wrapped warm and close around me. No sleeping bag. No pad. The air brushed freely across my cheek, which might have been beautiful but my back ached. My head, too. A swarm of questions hovered like hungry wasps, stinging my mind and heart.
When and where was I? Was the sky late day or early night? Was this wind a storm coming, an ending one, none at all? And had I not, only moments ago, been in a covered place with a friend safe beside me? Had we not been telling stories? Had there not been a fire, doused? Should there not be a pit of charcoal and wood stored under a rainfly? Did I not have a box of carefully picked tinder stored safe under my arm? Was I not prepared for it all?
No. None of these things. Only me in not so much a clearing as in the middle of the path. As if I just stopped, fell, gave up.
How had I gotten from there to here? And where did that sweet, gentle, perfect companion go?
The wind slapped a cold hand across my face, wiping the tendril of sleep away. I blinked myself back into reality, post-sleep daze clearing like a morning mist.
A dream. But how? Had I not been walking, only moments ago, with such purpose?
The sound of the ocean in the distance, much smaller than I remembered. Much farther than it should have been. The trees above my head, I noticed now, were pines. Not palms or banana trees. This wasn’t the island on which I’d thought to spend a few weeks. But this wasn’t home either. It was…
The whistle of a sparrow made me look up. It perched on a finger-thin branch above my head, twisting its gaze to peer at me. Judging? Wondering what I was doing here? Thinking nothing but of the next seed, the next branch, the next breeze.
I breathed out slow and felt the tightness of my chest. Everything hurt. The bodily pain brought me back down. To the ground. To reality. A floodgate gave and in a flashflood, I remembered everything.
I’d come up this way alone. Had, years ago, set out with someone else. And recently? We’d parted way. In the heat of a determined moment, I’d climbed non-stop up this mountainside. Made it, what, half way? Until?
I had not met some dreamy stranger in the forest thick. I had not glimpsed some companion off in a different clearing. Oh no, no, no. I had strictly kept to the path. Not eating or drinking, pushing way too hard in what had become a summer heat. And alongside exhaustion was a sinking in my heart. A longing uncontrollable and mitigated only by the ability to truncate thought with physical fatigue. So, I’d pushed. Harder. Harder. Until sweat and tears mixed, salty saline running in jagged streams down both my cheeks. Eventually, I came to a rough patch. And my foot tripped up on a slip of rocks. I’d tried to catch myself. Failed. Hit my knees hard on the sharp ground. And then, must have passed out.
Which would mean…
I sat up and looked down. Sure enough, both knees were bright red and swollen. As if just seeing them reminded my body of the damange done, they throbbed hotly. I touched the left one tinderly. Pain shot straight to the bone. I flinched and tried not to move. Feeling left out, my palms began to burn too. I stared at the tiny scrapes, some big enough that dirt had gotten in under the layers of skin. I looked for water to wash them clean. No, of course. I had not planned that far ahead. My gear had been left…where?
Never gathered. Tools essential left behind in places where I was certain I’d return.
How far out was I now? Would I even make it back? Had I even considered that? Did I have enough know-how to survive without?
The sky overhead seemed both to darken and lighten at the same time. So it was still impossible to know anything.
I laid back down, closing my eyes. Waiting for what?
Maybe not waiting at all. But simply because I can’t think of anything else to do now.