Time demanded a small chunk of his life before he could finally reach the edge of the forest. A short distance into a fresh clearing, he found the beginning of the Canyon Deep, a place that stretched farther than the eye could see. At first, he considered it a milestone to emerge safely from the wrath of the forest, but with a beat, he changed his mind. The valley, as he had expected, was flooded.
Now he wasn’t sure what to do.
According to the map, only one path led beyond the canyon—one that went far below the surface of the floodwaters. Though he could see faintly the outlines of trees peeking through the haze on the opposite bank, he couldn’t determine where the path restarted. For all he knew, the straight line ahead would lead him miles off course, even if he could hold to a straight line on such choppy waters.
If he had the ability to even cross the water.
He contemplated performing a breaststroke to the other side and bypass the road completely, a strenuous effort, he knew, but possible to achieve. But the distance was too far. Without a boat or piece of driftwood to carry him, he was stuck.
Like his mind’s tired old clockwork, he pondered over the possibility of turning back. Not that he wanted to waste his many previous steps, but his exhaustion was paramount. He wanted an easier solution, and he wasn’t sure where to find it.
He sat on a rock beside the valley’s edge. If there were anything he could attain in this hour, it was time to think.
Waiting here for the death of the Storm seemed like the best choice for his situation. The valley would drain and he could continue along the soggy path; if only the downpour would stop. Unfortunately, the Storm had raged for so long that waiting for it to pass would’ve been like waiting for the arrival of Judgment Day. He vibrated his lips from discouragement. There had to be another way.
Kirk checked his knapsack for resources. Nothing worked for him. His blanket was drenched. His canteen was too small to drain the valley. He certainly didn’t have enough food to plump him into a sizeable floatation device. Even his trusty map was too thin to support his weight. The knapsack itself was the only thing capable of ferrying him across, and that was based solely on a guess.
He decided to test its buoyancy.
When he set the bag in the water, his heart sank. The knapsack, his dear companion since the beginning, also sank, a whole foot to the bottom. Now he was out of options.
He reached into the shallow water and fished the bag out. After that, he didn’t know what else to do. Even after his successful navigation of the forest, he had drawn himself empty of ideas.
More time passed. The pressure to move ate at his soul. Treasure was waiting to be found, and he was sitting here moping over his failure. Surely, braver men had reached the goal. For him to lose his bearings now, he didn’t deserve to be called a man, much less a brave man. It was a burden he refused to keep. He had to find a boat.
It was unlikely he would find one at the edge of a canyon, but he searched for one anyway. He scoured a mile-wide radius for anything, anything at all resembling a water vessel. After an hour, though, it proved a fruitless endeavor.
Now desperate for any means of success, he returned to the road, ready to do what he feared since coming to this shore. He readied his bag for the great swim. Although his natural buoyancy was so far untested, he believed he could make himself and his bag floatable, so he dumped everything into the mud and went to work.
He took his shoes off first. Without the extra weight on his feet, he thought he could kick a little more smoothly. Next, he wrapped his shoes and his loose items in the blanket. Once everything folded snuggly together, he restored the blanket to the bag, hoping it would center the bag’s weight.
Once he closed the sack and gripped it to his chest, Kirk prepared to swim across the valley, hoping for the strength to reach the other shore. The last time he had tried swimming, he made it a mile before clutching to his floatation device for survival, and nearly puked when he returned to land. This rainborn mini-sea was at least three miles wide. His stomach churned in anticipation of the nausea awaiting him.
With nothing left to keep him at bay, he stepped into the shallows of the water. There would be no turning back. The valley ahead was little more than a wide-open field, so there were no trees or rocks above the waterline for him to grab onto along the way. All he could do was to swim the distance. He took a breath. This would be no simple feat.
When the water reached his chest, he heard the loud crack of thunder burst behind him. At first, he flinched. He remembered once learning about the dangers of swimming in a body of water during a thunderstorm. His first impulse was to race back for the shore he had just departed. But he pushed forward. Then he heard the rumblings of an unearthly growl. Something terrible was happening behind him. He thrashed a wide arc from where he stood, turning to face the horror he was trying to escape.
Three trees were cracking at their bases. Within moments, the first toppled over and came within a few feet of crushing him. Gallons of water splashed hard in his face and much of it got into his nose. Before he could recover from the sudden deluge, the second fell, knocking the first away with a hard splash. The third tree plunged a beat later, creating such a wave that it pushed Kirk clear underwater.
When he resurfaced, he discovered the first tree floating away. He lunged for it and latched onto its nearest branch to hitch a ride.
A few hours later, after a long steady rhythm of him paddling the bark-covered vessel, Kirk and the tree landed at the other side of the canyon. From there, he shouldered his knapsack and climbed off the branch into the shallow water. It didn’t take long for him to fall to his knees and kiss the ground.