Elsa leaned for a moment against the tree trunk. The rough bark scratched her arm where her sleeve had been torn. She didn’t care. She had so many scratches, bruises, burns, and she was pretty sure broken ribs, that one more didn’t matter.
The urge to slide down the trunk and sit was overwhelming. Three days it’d been since the crash. At least she thought it was three days. Things were getting fuzzy. Her last drink of water was two days ago and her tongue seemed permanently stuck to the roof of her mouth. Elsa supposed she should be grateful. As the only one to climb out of the plane wreckage alive, she was grateful; at least she was three days ago. Now she wondered about God’s sense of humor.
The burn on her back was about the only thing keeping her warm and the sun was setting again. She thought hard. It was day three, wasn’t it? Elsa shook her head in an effort to clear her mind but that was a waste of calories.
I should have stayed at the wreckage, she thought. It was sending a lot of smoke into the air. Someone would have seen it. And when we were late, someone would have come looking. Justin filed a flight plan. Tears leaked from her eyes at the thought of her co-workers, Justin, Samantha and Harry lost in the fire. She’d come to, coughing on the smoke, the small plane upside down. Releasing her seat belt she’d fallen on Justin’s seat back. That caused the cracked ribs. The scratches were from trying to get out of the plane over Justin’s body. Sam and Harry, well, Sam, beside her, had a smashed forehead. Harry, she couldn’t tell in her rush to escape. None of them moved.
It was a miracle she got out. Justin’s door was jammed. She didn’t want to think about how she’d had to sit in his lap to kick the door. Elsa shoved the thought out of her mind and began her stagger down the mountain. Go downhill she remembered from the survival shows on TV. She’s never thought she’d need that information. The burn on her back hurt. She received that as she ran from the plane. It wasn’t far or fast enough. The thing blew up and a piece of the fuselage hit her in the back, knocking her over and setting her shirt on fire. She rolled in the dirt as she’d been taught but the problem remained. By day the flies bit the burn, making the misery even worse.
If I could just find some water. She was so tired and thirsty she didn’t even care about her stomach. It had stopped growling yesterday. One thing off of her mind at any rate. Elsa watched as the sun dropped behind the trees. There was a last moment of beauty as the rays shot through the pine boughs creating a cathedral effect.
Get moving, she told herself. Find a clearing. Maybe a plane or helicopter will come by. She’d been hearing planes and helicopters for the last two days but none had come in her direction. Elsa made her tired feet move. They hurt. Actually they hurt all the way to her hips. She stumbled over a root and landed on her hands and knees, the root digging into her ankle. Sure, God, pile it on. Getting to her feet again was an effort. One Elsa wasn’t sure she wanted to make any longer.
Okay, she bargained with herself. Keep going downhill till it’s dark, then you can sleep. Elsa stumbled down the hill, ricocheting from tree to tree. When it was dark, she sank down next to another trunk. It was smooth so it might have been an aspen. All she cared about was that it not scratch her.
The night was spent curled up in a ball shivering. It was cold, sure, but she knew she had a temperature. The wounds were getting to her. Infection, probably. Elsa sighed as she woke to the sun rising through the trees. It wouldn’t matter. She’d be dead today from dehydration. She used the tree trunk to stand up. Her guess last night was right, it was an aspen.
Struggling to stay upright she shuffled down the hill, the leaves making a sh, sh, sh, sound as her sneakers moved through them. It took her a long time to realize that the pounding wasn’t in her head, it was above her. She looked up. Overhead was a helicopter and unaware, she’d entered a clearing. A shot of adrenaline swept through her. Elsa waved both arms, but a croak was all she could manage as a yell. The machine flew by.
They didn’t see me. She sank to the ground, the dry grass jabbing her in the legs and butt. The tiny stabs were the final insult. Elsa lay down on her side, too tired and thirsty to go on. The thump, thump, thump returned. She shaded her eyes. The helicopter was circling over the clearing. Someone waved out of the window.
Elsa waved back, then dropped her hand. It was too heavy to hold up. Soon a second chopper appeared overhead. This time a line was thrown out and a person in orange zipped down the line on the other side of the clearing.
Thank you, Elsa thought. Thank you.
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