Trying to find my way to the coast I found myself entering a forest so dense the moonlight was barely making it to the ground. I could smell moisture in the air - I knew I was near water. After a little more hiking I found myself crossing some large sharp rocks with a trickling stream running through them.
By the grace of God, I had found water. I knew that drinking it might make me sick or even kill me, but my thirst far outweighed rationality at this moment. Pressing my arms against the rocks I leaned down and slurped greedily. The hike had left me overheated and the icy cold water shot down my throat bringing relief. I had to remind myself to slow down.
Just then a branch snapped behind me. I froze but could see nothing. The subtle rustling of brush passed through the air. Should I get up and run, or slink down behind a nearby rock and hide? I tried to tell myself that this was just the sound of a passing breeze but the snap of the branch had been unmistakable. I clenched a stone I found in the stream bed, maneuvering it close to my body in a hammering motion. I carefully stood up and poised myself with my eyes and ears on high alert. After a few minutes of silence, I took a few steps away from the stream to position myself near a tree.
Pressing my body against the trunk, I realized how alone I felt. I turned so that my back now pushed up against the bark, and I slowly slid to a sitting position. I wriggled myself into a divot in the roots and held the rock firmly in my hands, ready to use it if I had to. Only darkness surrounded me now; there were no movements in the shadows, no branches cracking.
I stayed like this for what felt like an hour. Exhausted, I leaned my head back and closed my eyes. They burned when I shut them. Tears pooled under my eyelids. I set the rock in my lap and rubbed the moisture from my eyes with my fists. Then placing my hands firmly back on my rock, I turned my head against the cold tree to soothe my bruise, giving myself a moment of relief. My mind reached toward sleep but with a sudden flash I pulled myself awake. This is was neither the time nor place.
With every ounce of grit I had, I pulled myself to my feet. Taking a moment to get my bearings, I continued on. My break had left my sweaty body near chilled, although the forest did offer some protection against the elements.
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