by: Marty Chrisman
The house was still dark and everyone was still sleeping when Luke got up the next morning. Gathering his clothes, he went across the hall from the room he had shared with Bo all of his life and went into the bathroom. He took a quick shower to finish waking up, then went downstairs. It was just a few minutes past five in the morning. Going into the kitchen, Luke made himself some eggs and put a pot of coffee on the stove. Daisy had already packed a cooler for him with enough food to last for three days.
After he had eaten, Luke rinsed off his plate at the sink and filled a large thermos with coffee from the fresh pot he had just made. Grabbing the cooler, he went outside. The rest of his gear was already packed in the General’s trunk. There was still a slight chill in the air as Luke crossed the barnyard to the General and climbed inside.
Pulling out of the drive, he turned to the left and followed a long winding dirt road high into the mountains that surrounded Hazzard. When the road ended, Luke parked the General and climbed out. Taking his time, he unpacked the General and went about setting up his campsite. He put the cooler and a six pack of beer in the cold mountain stream that ran near his campsite. He would use the natural refrigeration of the water to keep his food from going bad for the next three days. He pitched his tent and then built a fire ring for his camp fire. It got cold in these mountains at night.
Luke picked up his crossbow and arrows, testing the tension of the bow string, before heading for the trail that led higher up into the mountains. Since Bo and Luke were on probation, they weren’t allowed to own firearms, so they used the bow and arrows as a substitution. Guns, Shotguns, bows and arrows, it didn’t matter. Both boys were excellent marksmen with all of them.
Jesse had taken the boys camping and hunting every since Luke could remember. He had taught them how to mark a trail, how to read the signs when tracking an animal, no matter how small or insignificant, and what kind of wild plants were safe to eat and which ones weren’t. He had also taught them how to track each other through the woods, how to find the signs that meant someone else was in the area. Even though Luke was no longer a child, he still felt the same excitement and anticipation as he had then when he went on one of his camping trips.
Luke didn’t have any luck that first day. He found some tracks and followed them for a short distance but then lost them in the rocks. No matter, there was always tomorrow. Even if he didn’t catch anything, the simple pleasure of camping out and being alone in the mountains was worth the trip. Luke tried to go hunting like this at least two or three times a year.
He returned to his camp site in the late afternoon and relaxed with a couple of beers before getting something to eat. Daisy had fixed him enough fried chicken to last for three days, along with some cold meat sandwiches, some chips, some homemade cookies, and some apples. As the darkness settled into the mountains, Luke build a campfire and sat there just enjoying the solitude and the peace of his surroundings. Since he had gotten up so early that morning, he went to bed early, ready for a good night’s sleep before starting out again in the morning. Crawling into his sleeping bag, he was soon sleeping soundly.
The sun was already up when Luke awoke the next morning. Crawling out of his sleeping bag, he stepped outside and disappeared into the bushes for a few minutes to relieve himself. Walking over to the stream, he bent down and splashed some cold water on his face. He walked over to the fire ring and sat down in front of the dying embers from last night’s fire. He was in no hurry to start that day’s hunt. He ate a couple of apples, then lay back on the ground, just relaxing and enjoying the feel of the sun on his skin. Finally, with some reluctance, he shoved himself to his feet and gathered up his bow and arrows.
Luke didn’t know how far he had walked from camp, he was in an unfamiliar area of the mountain, but he had marked his trail so he could find his way back. He paused for a moment to get his bearings. A jackrabbit ran out from behind some rocks, startling him enough that he instinctively took a step sideways. At first he wasn’t sure what had happened. A terrible pain shot through his right leg. He couldn’t help but cry out from the intensity of it as he fell to the ground, lying there on his back, stunned. Twisting his head so that he could see his right ankle, he realized that he stepped into an animal trap. The steel jaws had clamped shut on his ankle, the clawed teeth biting deeply through his jeans and the leather of his boot.
He felt a sharp pain in his back. It took a moment before he realized that he was lying on a pile of rocks and the sharp edges were digging into his lower back. He tried shifting positions, crying out in pain when he tried moving his injured leg. Luke took several deep breaths and exhaled slowly trying to calm himself. He knew that his ankle was probably broken And he was bleeding, he could feel it soaking through his sock. He was in trouble. Uncle Jesse and Bo weren’t expecting him back for at least three days. And even when they did start looking for him, it could take days to find him. He knew he wouldn’t be able to last that long. From the sharp pain in his chest when he took a deep breath, he also knew that he had probably broken some ribs when he fell.
. The ground was cold and Luke could already feel the chill seeping into his bones. He felt the nausea churning in his belly and he knew that he was going to be sick. But there was nothing he could do except to turn his head to one side as much as he could so he wouldn’t choke on his own vomit. Thankfully, there wasn’t much in his stomach except bile, which left a bitter unpleasant aftertaste in his mouth and a burning sensation in his throat. He tried to keep his breathing slow and shallow. It didn’t hurt his chest as much that way.
Although he knew it wouldn’t do any good to call for help, he couldn’t stop himself from trying “Help me!” he tried yelling, his voice echoing eerily. He closed his eyes and tried to concentrate on something besides the pain that was steadily getting worse.
* * * *
He thought about the first camping trip he could remember Jesse taking him on. He had probably been seven or eight years old. Bo had been left at home with Aunt Martha since he was still too young to go. The thing that Luke remembered the most about that trip was just being alone with Jesse. Jesse had always made things seem like a game when he was teaching the boys something, most of the time they didn’t even realize he was helping them learn how to do new things. The first night, Luke had been afraid of sleeping in the tent, until Jesse told him to crawl into his sleeping bag beside him. Cradled in his Uncle’s strong, comforting embrace, he had soon fallen asleep.
* * * *
Luke must have dozed off or passed out for awhile, he couldn’t be sure which. He felt sick to his stomach again but he forced himself to keep from retching. He knew that would only make the pain in his chest worse than it already was. His mouth was dry and he needed a drink badly but he had no way of getting one. He had lost all track of time, no longer sure how long he had been lying there.
He knew it would dark soon and with the darkness, the temperature would drop dramatically. His clothing would offer little protection from the coldness of the night air. Familiar prayers from his childhood drifted through his mind. God, he didn’t want to die here! Not like this! Not alone and afraid!