A Natural Death
‘A story about survival and desperation in the face of indomitable conditions.’.
Written by: Artemis Lupercalia
The rotten taste that plagued his mouth was the worst it had ever been, Bill thought as he trudged arduously up the mountain. The wind buffeting him had a fierceness reserved for only the most brutal winter storms, and snow fell heavily into waist-deep drifts all around him. His beard was crusted with ice, his belly ached with hunger, and his limbs were as heavy as lead. Above it all, the bitterness tainting his saliva tormented him.
Although it had been almost a week since they had run out of rations and he was verging on complete exhaustion, he was used to such exertions. He had been trapping for almost fifty years and knew what it took to endure and survive out in the bush; he had survived such desperate situations before. The pangs of hunger and the lethargy of cold could no longer trouble him. He’d once mused, “Any man who makes his livelihood in the wilds will get chewed up and spit out by them, and sooner if he don’t first make a wild thing o’ himself.” After so many years, he’d done just that: he’d developed a wild beast’s all-powerful instinct to survive.
Bill knew that in order to survive they needed to continue moving, but the bile that flowed endlessly into his mouth was a type of suffering that he wasn’t used to. His polluted palate left him feeling miserable and hateful, making every step an agonizing chore and leaving on his face a permanent scowl.
Barely audible above the driving wind, Bill’s companion Henry called for him to stop, but Bill struggled onwards, not deigning to respond. Henry was a young pup of fifteen or thereabouts, unweathered and untested. Bill had picked him up at the Hudson’s Bay Company outpost when he was stocking up in preparation for his journey to the valley they were currently trying to escape. He had been speaking with the blacksmith about repairs to his tools, and Henry had overheard and immediately pledged himself to Bill’s service. The boy wanted to learn to trap and sell furs, he explained, and had eagerly offered to help Bill with whatever he needed in exchange for his tutelage. Bill was reluctant to consent, thinking that having him underfoot would only create hassles, but Henry was dogged and eventually got his wish. After some time with his new ward, Bill was forced to admit to himself that having an extra pair of hands made his work significantly less taxing. He was getting older, and his pack seemed heavier with every trip he took. Henry learned quickly and did more than his fair share, and although Bill didn’t express it he was grateful for his help, and for that the boy hadn’t said anything about it.