Bad Compass - Part 1
by Jack Belinski
As I slowly opened my eyes, my neck felt stiff. I was laying on my right side and saw a hint of moon light shine through a broken window. While I felt the right side of my face pressed against the cold cushioned panel, I realized I was in a crashed carriage. As I rolled over, out of my seat, facing down in front of the black, almost broken window, attempting to push myself up with both hands, I immediately felt a sharp, somewhat crunchy pain in the wrist of my dominant right hand. I dropped and rolled over to notice my wrist was swollen badly. While I grunted in pain, I thought to myself, “why me?” On my second attempt I rolled back to my right, slightly pushing myself with my left arm, then got my feet on the ground, slowly standing up, to open the window and peek outside. Seeing nothing but snow and dark frosty trees ahead as I slowly turned to my left to notice I was beneath a steep cliff. Looking ever so high, up to that tall, jagged thing, whose top was too hard to make out due to the gray snowy clouds and I wondered how I survived. But that split second, I shook that thought out of my head as it didn't matter. Thank god for it I thought.
Suddenly the wind shifted to my right carrying the iron smell of blood that caught my nose. I slowly turned to my right, seeing the two horses that pulled this carriage piled on top of one another, lying lifeless on the ground, while still attached to their straight heel shaft and their singletrees. Their eyes were as blank as dead fish, sinking in their sockets and frozen like marbles.
GOD, the sight of those dead eyes. It made me cringe to my skin, muscle, bone and stomach as I turned with my eyes shut tight in a split second. Poor bastards, I thought. I prayed they went in peace quickly, and suffered little.
As I tried to remember what the hell happened, I felt something in my pocket.
It was a compass with a cracked lens, which didn't seem familiar. Suddenly it began to slightly spin until it stopped pointing northwest, in conflict with the directions I could read from the moon’s position. I know a compass was for helping people if and when they got lost, but this compass was clearly broken and outdated given its rusty edges, not to mention its cracked, slightly blurry lens. But regardless, I guess, I had no choice but to put my faith in the old thing, because the last thing I wanted was to freeze to death.
However, as I readied myself to leave the safety of my wrecked carriage and hopefully find civilization before it got too dark, I heard the loud, prolonged sound of howling wolves from a closing distance to my right. I couldn't see them anywhere in the midst of the darkening, misty edges of the forests just ahead of me. Not a snap of twigs, rustling bushes, or their glowing eyes. But as the howls got louder I knew there was no question they were coming. As far as I was concerned they were practically closing in. They smell the flesh and blood of those dead horses, they might even smell me. While the source of those malevolent sounds drew closer, I was paralized despite my deep breathing, the racing of my heart and the hairs on my neck standing up. Paralized with not knowing what to do. Should I stay and hide inside my wrecked carriage and hope they don’t find me? Or take my chances and run as fast as I can?
They say not to run away from wolves, it makes you look like prey to them. They also say not to show vulnerability, like turning your back on them or being in a kill zone. Given their strong sense of smell, they will find me, so staying inside that carriage is merely waiting for them to break in the windows and eat me, and if not eat me, wait me out. Either way I’m doomed. So, without hesitation I jumped, leaned and hoisted myself out of that carriage, landing into the snowy ground upon falling. Hearing those wolves howling closer I got up on my two feet as fast as I could with one thought: “RUN.” And ran I did in the direction the compass pointed. Straight into the darkening, misty edges of the woods ahead.
Running northwest through a foot of snow, my heart was pounding, my mouth belching hot mist with every exhale, and the wind blowing across both sides of my face/forehead, carrying and freezing my sweat droplets. Halfway to the edge of the treeline, I suddenly heard and felt their loud, relentless barking at my back, and I didn’t dare look. To my surprise the edge of the woods was a steep hill with pine trees spaced out, which I didn't hesitate to go down. Running through the now 2 foot deep snow my feet got soaking wet and cold with every step. Of course those wolves were still on me, right on me in fact. I heard loud barking sounds coming up both my left and right sides, and the second I turned right to see a large gray wolf with what seemed like glowing yellowish eyes it became a slow-motion chase. In that moment, I looked to my left seeing another gray wolf, this time I noticed what appeared to be a smile showing off its fangs, as if it was reveling in chasing me and just itching to taste my blood. Suddenly, I tripped and fell down the steepening hill which then became a cliff. Rolling down on my waist and back, it became steeper and I fell faster, slamming my right pelvis into a rock, my left shoulder into the side of a fallen tree trunk and finally falling onto a frozen stream flat on my back.
When I thought it couldn't get any worse, the ice started to break, and the next thing I knew I was pulled by freezing rapids that paralyzed me, until everything went black in the blink of an eye. The second I thought it was over, I heard a voice saying “Weinstein”, and suddenly I found myself sitting on a cozy couch, served with a plate of warm tea and soft, gooey-looking chocolate chip cookies with a fire beside me.
“Are you alright my friend? You look like you’ve seen a ghost”. In front of me was my friend, Mr. Robert Frost.
“Oh it's nothing, thank you” I replied slightly laughing. “Anyhow, you were saying?” I asked politely.
“What do you think ‘the harness bell’” is supposed to symbolize?” he asked curiously. “Between the woods and frozen lake, the darkest evening of the year. He gives his bells a shake to ask if there is some mistake” Robert repeated.
At that moment, I hesitated to answer, because that question and that quote sounded familiar. And then I immediately remembered: This moment occurred last night. Remembering I replied to Robert “The mind.”
In the blink of an eye, I found myself back in reality, laying on that thick sheet of wet ice. In front of me, I saw the end of the stream with fewer trees on the left side. Then I felt the pain. I was hurting everywhere. My waist felt as though 5 men kicked me in the stomach, My left shoulder felt like jelly a little, but I could still move my left arm a little. Looking back on what I endured, I said to myself “OH MY GOD.” Not only did I survive, but neither my back nor my shoulder were broken. I didn’t know how, maybe the good lord cut me a break or maybe I was just lucky. Well, if you want to call tumbling down a hill, slamming into rocks and trees, landing hard on a sheet of ice and then coming close to drowning or freezing to death “luck.” Either way, I got away from the wolves, I didn't win, any more than I wasn't out of the woods yet. I was just safe for the time being. Once a hungry pack of wolves sets their eyes on something, especially when hunting during winter, even if their prey gets away, they will find it. “I’ve got to get the hell out of here,” I said to myself. Breathing deeply, I took out my compass and realized it was spinning faster then before; after 10 minutes it started to slow down, but it took another 10 minutes to stop spinning, or so I remembered. It now pointed north east and I immediately kicked into action, got off what was now my frozen ass, walked across the frozen river and effortlessly crested a small hill on the other side.
As I looked ahead towards my new direction, I felt as though I had traveled back to the ice age. On the other side I saw no woods, no frozen lakes or streams, no animals as far as the eye can see, nor signs of human civilization. Nothing but a frozen flat field of untouched powder, like a vast ocean of unending deep snow. In disbelief, I checked the compass again, but it still pointed north east, in that moment my gut was telling me: “walking out there is like walking to your grave.” So I turned away, and stared back into the dark forest. I heard the wolves again, and I thought, “assuming I can get far out there I can out-distance those wolves,” so I chose to go though the tundra.
Hours passed since leaving the river. Powering through the deep snow, never had I ever felt so tired, hungry, thirsty and exhausted. To make matters worse, a snow storm had to come in, blowing harder, becoming colder and making the snow deeper by the minute. Meanwhile my eyes, ears, face and feet seemed frostbit, numbing them worse by the second. When the storm started easing up, I began to see things much clearer and noticed a forest nearby. I checked my compass and it was already pointing East. When it had shifted, I do not know, but it now pointed directly at a small mountain ahead. “Maybe I can spot a town from up there,” or so I stupidly thought with a presumptuous smile on my face.
As I approached the small mountain ahead,I had another flashback. Staring into my compass, I remembered arriving at Robert’s house the previous night, hanging my coat on a hanger right next to another identical coat and now realized that after that lovely evening I must have taken the wrong coat - the one carrying the compass. Little did I know that the compass would get me into trouble.
Finally after what felt like an eternity on the small mountain, I made it to the top of a plateau and found ... Nothing. No lights, no roads and, as far as I was concerned at that moment, I was more lost than ever and with the moonlight gone and with little hope. Frustrated beyond anything, I took my compass with a strong grip only to find its needle moving back and forth, spinning in every direction, as it spun it made this strange sound as it rubbed the inside of its lense. It's as if that was its way of mocking and laughing at me and, although it's immature to blame a piece of technology, especially one that's vital in situations like these, I lost it! I’ve never been more angry at anything in my life! What else is there to blame for my misery after everything I've been through?! Without a doubt it was that compass! Enraged beyond comparison I punched and broke the lense of that thing, smacked it to the ground, stumped on it as hard as I could, while cursing it. When that wasn't enough, I grabbed hold of a branch on a dead tree, ripped it off, and used it to smash that cursed compass to pieces. Slowly I tired myself out, until I just couldn't hold the stick any more. The only thing I felt at that moment was pure frustration as I breathed deeply and cried my heart out for mercy.
Suddenly, the frustration and crying turned to fear even greater than what I had felt racing from the wolves. I had the feeling I was being watched. When the wind shifted I smelt death in the air; I slowly turned around, shaking. It was a deer carcass 35 feet away, and then everything went slow, so slow that I even started to hear my own heart beat: Bum, Bum………….Bum, Bum. It was moving, something was feeding on it, when the wind shifted again, I knew that thing was going to catch my scent. As it lifted its head, I could see that it was a mountain lion. Some say that mountain lions with a full stomach are less threatening, but if you're in their territory you are D-O-N-E unless you can scare them off. So I tried waving my hands in the air and roaring like a bear, but the cat started prowling closer to me. Then I tried to back off as slowly as I could, but I guess all I was really doing was making myself look like prey as it kept coming closer. Running out of options, I grabbed my stick and threw it at him, but all I did then was piss him off as I heard his growls. “Are you kidding me, just what do you want from me?” I said, and the lion replied “ROAR!!!!!”
So I ran as fast as I could, this time I ran as if hell itself was behind me. Although a mountain lion is faster than people, I did have momentum on my side as I ran down the mountain, but of course so did he. By the time I ran all the way down the mountain and into the forest I must have covered the equivalent of three to four football fields. I assumed the cat had given up the chase; however, when I stopped between a small hill and a large tree beside it, completely out of breath and stupidly thinking I was safe, I saw its shadow on top of that hill as well as its glowing eyes, getting ready to jump me. At that point, I gave up, I just couldn't take it anymore, so I fell to my knees, closed my eyes and said: “just hurry up and kill me already. I just want it to end, goddammit!”
Originally published in Fall 2020, Volume 2, Issue 1