“If I didn’t hurt so much, I’d say I was in pretty good shape.” Xen raked the two pots out of the center of the fire. The fine sand he’d coated the insides with seemed to have melted on. So maybe they’d hold water, this time. After they’d cooled down slowly enough to not crack.
“I ought to have made more.” He looked over to where the deer hide was drying in the sun. Well scraped, and ready for the next step. “I need to render fat and mush deer brains in hot water and soak some wood ashes for lye to make soap.” He looked down at his chest. “Because that’s really red.”
A faint rumble in the distance. Bright white thunder heads rising against the distant mountains.
“Crap. I’m tired. I don’t want to have to haul firewood out of the canyon.” He forced himself up and loaded his deer hide with drift wood and hauled it up to the canyon rim. Made three trips, then took a hot bowlful of coals up to start a fire out of the reach of flood water. Stretched the deer hide from branches out to the ground to hopefully shed rain . . . The second bowl was cool enough to add water and ashes . . . Then he fetched up all the half-cooked meat.
The stream rose quickly, a wave of water rolled down the canyon, just a few feet high, full of sticks and mud. Big rain drops started falling and Xen crawled under his rough tent.
“This is a good night to stay home and tend to the cooking.” He turned the chunks on their spits and shivered. Pulled up the top of the orange overalls, too tight, not to mention the hole where he’d cut strips out of one side . . . better than nothing.
He woke. Hot. Thirsty.
He muzzily remembered bringing up everything except water.
He crawled out of his damp shelter, struggled out of the orange thing, kicked it aside and almost fell. Grabbed a tree.
“Fever. Push liquids.” He looked down, couldn’t see details in the low light of pre-dawn. “Water . . .” He headed for the stream, slipped in the mud of his ramp down to the stream. Found his first campsite. Muddy from rain but a few of his stone tools still there.
“I should take them up . . . after it get a drink . . . “ He tried reaching over his shoulder to feel why it hurt . . . Hot and swollen. Scrapped off the scab again. Oozing, smelling nasty Reached down and around with his left . . . very swollen. Squishy. “Absess, can’t drain, the only hole’s at the top . . . oh damn. How the hell do I lance my own back, huh?”
He scrabbled through the mud and found a chip of obsidian. A narrow stick he could push it into, sticking out the side like a miniature hatchet.
Hung his head and tried to think . . . gave up and eased down the slippery ramp . . . into the stream. He scramble to find footing in the dark, under a foot of water. Staggered up stream to the big boulder . . .
Patted it. “Hi boulder. I’m back for more crude surgery. Sorry, I’m not making any sense. Fever, you know?”
He turned his back to the boulder and muzzily hoped he knew what he was doing. Leaned away and right handed, held the stick behind his back. Left hand guiding it sharp edge against the hot swollen skin.
He threw himself back against the rock.
And forward with a scream. Shoved his hands out to get his face out of the water. Panted, on hands and knees in the stream. Forced himself up, to lean on the boulder. To feel the warm slime running down his back. The light was bright enough now to diagnose a mix of blood and puss.
“I think that’s good. Now how do I wash it out better? And everything else, too.” He put his hand to his chest. A hot strip, despite the chilly skin to either side. He staggered upstream, balancing shakily from boulder to boulder, wading a few times, hastily dodging a big branch tumbling down the stream and falling flat over rocks. Catching his breath and heading up stream for some reason. “There was a good reason, right?”
A dull roar ahead . . . the waterfall poured over the cliff, smooth and dark until it hit the rocks below. The dawn colors tinted the foam and spray in a rainbow of colors and he stood and gawped in feverish appreciation.
Found sense enough to approach it from the side, to lean on the cliff face and siddle into the flow, to let it pour over his back until he was shivering, to turn and let the water scour his burns, the raw path of the electric current.
And edge out, climb the side of the canyon and crawl under the long, low branches of an oak and try to covered himself with leaves and shiver back to sleep.
He woke, feeling limp and hollow. He stirred, and the warm spot at his back leapt up and slunk away. “Good morning, Grubby. Thank you for not eating me.” He felt his forehead, shrugged. No fever—at the moment. “So did you run out of raw version, Mighty Hunter?”
He squirmed out from under the low sweep of the branches, and out into the open space under the arched lower limbs of a huge oak. “You know . . . If I’m going to be around here very long, this is definitely the place to be. So, why don’t we take a stroll down stream and . . . “ he looked down at himself. “I was so feverish I was walking around buck naked, not even a handy spear?”
The wolf was sniffing along the ground, but keeping an eye on him.
“Right. Let’s just see if you ate all of my cooked venison before you tracked me down.”
No, but the smaller critters had had a party. Th wolf rushed in and a raccoon abandoned a haunch of version it was dragging away and fled. Various other small creatures disappeared with rustlings from every direction. The squirrels bad-mouthed him from a safe height.
Xen left the wolf to munch down on his liberated dinner, and fished out the one that had been knocked into the embers of his fire . . . “Hot coals! Yay!”
He fed it shavings and twigs until the flames lit, then dry wood. Carving off chunks of venison to eat while he worked. The orange overalls were a few steps away, he put it back on,. And tied the arms around his waist so he could load up his tools, the lye water experiment was ditched so he could try to carry some hot coals. The deer hide was dried and stiff . . . and he had no idea what had happened to the deer brain he’d been about to experiment with.
“The next deer will be leather. Or maybe I can soak in . . . sumac? I haven’t noticed any . . . maybe oak leaves? I really hate sounding like I’m settling in for a long stay . . .