Using the branches he collected to create the lean-to, he steadies himself with each step by leaning into the sticks he now carries as walking poles. Jasper reflects on the significance of these sticks he clings to.
Where I find shelter and rest, I also find the help to push me forward in my journey. In every whisper of the wind, branch used to shelter and support me, sip of water that gives me life, I hear, see, feel, taste you. It both brings me comfort, yet in the same breath torments me. Sadie, I miss you, and I never want to forget you, but I am reminded over and over again at how I failed you, and it is killing me.
At this last thought, he begins to weep. Jasper keeps taking one step after another, but at a slower pace. As the tears spread across his cheeks, he lets them stay there, letting this moment of her memory be fully focused on without wiping it away, as he so often does.
By letting her remain in the forefront of his thoughts, he begins to feel more determined in getting off of this mountain in one whole piece. His steps are stronger and he drives his walking sticks through the snow with more force.
“I will get off of this mountain,” he says out to no one.
The hours pass and the promise of the sun draws nearer. Jasper’s steps are still steady and strong, and although his body tires, his mind is more resolute and pushes forward with each hour that passes. Jasper can feel the strings of his rock solid mind tie around the limbs of his body, pulling his weak and physical being, foot by foot, through the heavy snow. Where he lacks in his physical strength, he makes up for in his cognitive power.
Jasper’s ears perk up at the sound of trickling water. He reactionally pushes his dry, sticky tongue out of his mouth to lick his crusty lips. Moving quicker through the snow, he follows the sound till he reaches a small stream. Without hesitating, he drops his sticks and falls forward onto his knees as he thrusts his head into the stream. His palms are planted in the water on either side of his head as he tries to inhale the creek in its entirety. Once he wakes up from his dehydrated slumber, he lifts his head from the cold flowing stream and uses his cupped hands as a vessel to more efficiently drink. As the water rushes over his tongue and lips, and washes into every cavity within his throat and down to his stomach, Jasper feels cleansed, and as if his body has come back to life.
He lets out a deep sigh of relief before filling up his canteen. Setting the canteen aside on a rock, Jasper plunges his hands back into the water and vigorously rubs his face and hair. The feeling of cleaning off the dirt residue on his face and in his hair from the shelter feels refreshing, despite the freezing cold water.
Jasper rubs his hands together and blows warm air into them to try and warm them up. As he blows for a third time into his cupped hands he senses something or someone watching him. The hair on the back of his neck pricks up and he becomes very still. He scans out straight ahead and left to right before turning around. Jasper is slow to stand and turn around to face what or whom is on this mountain with him. Scanning the area, he doesn’t see anything apart from snow and trees.
Who do you think is out here? Stop being scared.
Just as he finishes the thought he sees movement. Something or someone is hiding behind the tree to his right. The tree is about thirty feet off from where he stands and is wide enough to hide a large man. Jasper’s arms tingle as he prepares himself for a fight. He has not ever met anyone out in the woods since he moved here, and he is not sure what he will encounter. He pulls the strap for his shotgun so that the gun rotates to his chest, and then holds the gun out in front of him.
Are you making the first move or am I going to have to?
There is no answer given to his thought. Only more silence.
“Show yourself,” Jasper says in a loud, stern voice.
A branch breaks, but still no movement from behind the tree.
Jasper stands there for a few minutes and waits. He grows ancy and starts walking sideways, out to the left, right foot in front of left and left back behind the right, keeping his gun aimed towards the tree. His boots crunch in the snow and it is more or less impossible to move without making noise. Movement can now be heard behind the tree and Jasper raises his gun, ready to meet his enemy face to face.
His eyes grow wide when a small, jet black haired, tan child peeps out from behind the tree. When her deep brown eyes fall from his face to his shotgun, she pulls her head back behind the tree, making her tall ponytail bob up and down before disappearing.
“Wait! Come out! I won’t hurt you, I promise,” Jasper says.
“Listen, I’m putting my gun down,” he says as he pulls the strap over his head and lays the gun by his side.
Jasper raises his hands, palms stretched out towards the tree.
Another minute of silence passes before the girl peeps her head out again and looks at his hands and then glances to see where the gun is now. Once she is satisfied with the placement of the gun, she ever so slowly emerges from the tree. She is wearing clothing made of fur like Jasper and carries a small pack on her back.
“Hello,” she says in a small voice, “Who are you?”
“Jasper. I’m Jasper,” he replies.