They pushed on throughout the afternoon, Rachel’s stomach growling with hunger and her mouth dry with thirst. The wind picked up as the day wore on, now strong enough to start snapping branches out of the tops of the trees. The first time one of them crashed to the ground a few yards to their right, Rachel had whipped up the flare gun and nearly pulled the trigger.
She’d exchanged a look with Bill who was also aiming in the same direction then both of them looked up. The trees swayed against the darkening sky and Rachel had to look back down at the ground when the movement brought on vertigo. But before she lowered her gaze she’d seen that the clouds with the black, swollen bottoms were now directly overhead.
“It’s going to start snowing soon,” she said.
“Yes, it is.” Bill said, stepping over a thick, dead branch and continuing on.
An hour later they passed out of the trees as they approached a narrow crest. There was no soil here, just bare rock. Moving cautiously they crept up to the top and looked over into a valley. A lake filled the lowest part of the valley floor, surrounded by more thick forest.
“Told you so,” Bill said.
It took all of Rachel’s self control to keep her mouth shut. The man was really starting to grate on her nerves and if she didn’t need him she wouldn’t be putting up with his juvenile attitude. But she did need him if she wanted to survive. Not only to survive the moment, lost in the wilderness, but she needed the distress beacon sewn into his clothing. So, to keep harmony, she shut her mouth and let him have his little victory.
Standing on the crest they were fully exposed to the weather. The temperature had dropped as the wind picked up, cutting through their clothing like frozen razor blades. Rachel wrapped her arms around her torso, trying to hold in as much body heat as possible. As they moved over the crest and started descending into the new valley the first snowflakes began to fall.
They were large and heavy with moisture. There were only a few but before they moved back into the forest Rachel looked at the horizon. Other than the two peaks that were closest to them the rest of the mountaintops were completely hidden behind a wall of white. It was snowing like hell only a few miles to the north.
“We need to hurry,” she said to Bill, pointing to the north.
He looked up as he was stepping over an area of loose shale and missed his step. His foot slid out from under him and with a cry he tumbled down the mountainside. Rachel stood frozen watching him skid, picking up speed until he slammed into the trunk of a massive pine tree.
“Oh shit,” she said to herself and began making her way down the slope as fast as she dared.
It took her five minutes to cover the distance Bill had fallen in less than ten seconds. When she reached him he was moaning, holding his leg.
“How bad are you hurt?” Rachel asked as she slipped to a stop next to him.
“My leg,” he said, his voice tight with pain.
“Move your hands and let me look,” Rachel said, gently pushing them out of her way.
Nothing was immediately apparent with the flight suit covering the limb he’d been holding and Rachel didn’t want to slice it open to get a better look. It was cold, and only going to get colder, and they both needed every ounce of insulation they had. Carefully she placed her hands on his leg, immediately feeling the displacement of his shinbone.
“Your tibia is broken,” she said.
Bill grunted in pain when she pressed on the side and back of his leg.
“I can’t tell if your fibula is broken. Not without an X-ray.” She said, reaching out and pulling his survival pouch off his shoulder.
“How bad is it?” He asked as she pulled out the first aid kit.
“Bad enough. You aren’t walking on it,” she said.
Rachel opened the first aid kit and inventoried its contents. It was military issue, so was well stocked. Taking out what she needed she spread it on the ground.
“I need to set the bone and it’s going to hurt like a son of a bitch. Want some morphine?” She asked, holding a spring loaded syrette up for him to see.
“You know what you’re doing?” He gasped out the question.
“I’m a doctor. That’s why you were taking me to Seattle.” Rachel had grown tired of explaining she was only a fourth year med student when people needed help. It was easier to just say she was a doctor. That one magic word elicited immediate trust and shut down all arguments. When she was their only option she didn’t feel she was doing anything wrong by exaggerating her qualifications.
“OK. I’ll take the morphine,” Bill said.
Rachel jammed the needle into his thigh, triggering the syrette to push a dose of painkiller into his body. Almost instantly he relaxed, laying his head back on a carpet of pine needles. Putting the syrette away Rachel ran her hands over his leg again, pressing harder this time as she determined how the bone was broken. A couple of minutes later she was ready.
Grasping his ankle, she gave a sudden jerk and twisted slightly. Bill grunted, but didn’t react in any other way. Checking her work, Rachel was satisfied that she had done as good as possible without modern medical imaging equipment to let her see the break and the results of her effort to realign the bone.
Casting around she found two strong branches and dragged them over next to Bill. Taking his survival knife from the sheath on his vest she trimmed them smooth, creating two straight splints. Placing one on either side of his leg she pulled part of his parachute out of the pack on his back.
He’d been right. She’d found a use for the nylon canopy and ropes. Working with the knife she cut off what she needed. First she used the fabric to wrap the makeshift splints to his leg, continuing to wrap until it was a thick bundle. Then she threaded a rope under and began tightly tying it off until the limb was bound from ankle to knee.
Work completed, she checked his breathing and the pulse in his ankle. He was unconscious but the vitals that she was able to monitor were strong. The morphine would wear off in a few hours and he’d wake up in a lot of pain. And she didn’t know how the hell he was going to be able to walk in this terrain. It was hard enough with two good legs.
While Rachel had worked it had continued to snow. It wasn’t falling fast, but at a steady pace and the ground was almost completely covered in white. Looking up at the crest Rachel’s blood ran colder than the snow when she saw a massive wolf standing there, staring down at them. Much of its fur was burned, in some places raw skin showing through its coat. It was the same one she’d shot with the flare gun the previous night.