The murderous bushes
The spiky bushes started moving. A somewhat smaller one a few meters to my left leaped from the ground straight towards me. Out of pure instinct, I tried swatting it away, but it bit into my arm instead, holding firm to it.
My forearm screamed in pain. I bat at it with my other hand, stabbing myself at its spikes in the process, but the thing fortunately lost its teethy grip and fell off.
I turned to flee. There were a dozen of the murderous bushes, all converging towards me. I turned and ran with all I could. Desperately I ran, stick in one hand and blood flowing down the other, backpack heavy on my back.
I felt a tug, and another one. My backpack was suddenly heavier; were they clinging to it? There was no time to take it off though, not with the straps holding it tight to my chest.
And so I kept running, up and up the sloped ground, away from the forest with the monstrous bushes, with a herd of them trailing behind me. At some point I felt another one graze my thigh, but thankfully it could not get a grip and fell off.
Halfway up to the plateau I looked behind, and saw that I had shaken them off. Apparently they did not want to get too far from the tree line. Still, I kept running.
Once I reached the top of the plateau, I felt like I needed to collapse. The sprint up here had been tough. But before that, I fumbled with the straps of my backpack. I needed to get this thing and its riders off, now.
Finally I heard a “click”, and I awkwardly let it drop behind me, jumping away from it. Looking at the backpack, there was only one creature on it; the other one must have fallen down during the jostling of my panicked run.
The thing was munching away at the textile, oblivious of me. It probably thought the backpack had been a real part of my body. It was smaller than most I’d seen, perhaps melon-sized. Did the smaller ones jump further then? The one that had teared up my arm had been similarly sized.
I gripped my stick, trying to not put too much pressure on my left arm, and swung it with as much strength as I could muster on the thing. Like a baseball bat. The spiky bushy beast detached from the backpack and went rolling down the slope.
Relieved, I sat down on the floor.
I was panting. Heavily. I was in okay-ish shape, but this had been too much. Sprinting all the way up here, with a heavy load on top of that. Probably had only managed to do so because of the adrenaline pumping through my veins. It wasn’t everyday that one had to fight for their life.
For my life? Could I have died?
I looked at my arm. It was a mess; there were a dozen or so incision wounds on my forearm, all bleeding freely. I needed to get it bandaged. And yes, if multiple of these beasts had been on me at the same time, there was no doubt I could have died.
The thought felt like a splash of cold water on my face.
I looked down towards the forest, and could still make out a few of the green round bushes here and there, scuttling about. Like little fat spiders.
I took my backpack, and went back through the tunnel. Back towards my cave.
My cave. That’s what I called this hole in the ground now. My cave. It sounded ridiculous, and yet that’s how I felt about it. I did not want to go back outside, to the forest and the corridor in between infested with those horrible creatures. The soft, glowing, mossy cave felt like home in comparison.
My arm was still bleeding and needed treatment. I sat down on the ground and laid out my backpack next to me. The two critters had done a number on it. It was seriously torn in multiple spots, I’d have to see how much they had broken. As it was, the first-aid kit I always carried around on a hike was thankfully still intact.
First I cleaned the wounds with antibiotic wipes (who knew what infections those animals could transmit with their horrible teeth), and then I bandaged them as well as I could. Mostly my left forearm, but I also had to clean up the little punctures I had gotten myself when I slapped the thing away with my right hand. As the adrenaline slowly wore off and inflammation started, it hurt a lot more. If only I had managed to dodge that thing. If only I had been faster. If only I hadn’t entered this stupid cave in my panic yesterday.
Something I had been trying to avoid thinking about finally came to the forefront of my mind. What had been those creatures? Those plants, that forest? This very cave with its strange moss?
If I had harbored any doubts, now they were well and truly gone, together with my last bit of hope and sanity. The world had truly changed and become unrecognizable. Alien.
I thought about what the voice had said. Or shouted, I supposed. It had wanted struggle. Conflict. Perhaps the environment had been modified to facilitate this. To encourage it.
If so, I would certainly not give up.
I would not die of thirst, or hunger, or eaten by those horrible hedgehogs. I would not die here in this sad cave, underground and forgotten from the world. I would not.
I laid out my resources. Everything I had in my backpack.
An almost empty two-liter canteen and two smaller (empty) plastic bottles.
A munched on sleeping bag, together with it’s half torn liner.
The last dregs of travel rations.
A small cooking stove together with a burnable propane bottle. The bottle was dented with small teeth indentations but thankfully still seemed to remain structurally stable.
Some instant coffee. The bag had been teared open and now the black powder was strewn about.
A phone that had run out of battery by now. The screen had also been cracked; bitten. Oh well, it wasn’t like it would’ve been useful anyways.
Bear spray, intact.
Two extra pair of warm socks. And an extra pair of underwear.
Some sunscreen. And lip balm. And sunglasses. All wonderfully uselessly intact.
Wallet and apartment keys.
The first aid kit.
Some cord and carabiners.
The backpack itself. Quite torn.
A flint fire-starting kit.
And lastly, my survival knife and my swiss multi-tool. As well as my stick.
I let out a small sigh after cataloguing my belongings.
The compass was useful; it would allow me to orient myself even if I got lost in the depths of the forest. The torn sleeping bag was a pity, but could still be used to sleep in. Kind of. Perhaps my feet would stick out of the wrong hole. Although, it wasn’t necessarily cold here, and I had apparently fallen asleep on the moss tonight, which was reasonably soft. Perhaps I wouldn’t need it.
I wet my parchy throat with the last of the water. Getting more would have to be my principal priority for now; one could easily survive a dozen days without food, but I knew dehydration was much more serious.
The bear spray would probably be useful. Perhaps not against the spiked bushes, because their faces (and presumably eyes) seemed to be buried in the ground, but hopefully against other hostile creatures. Well, ideally I would not meet these, but after the foreboding message this morning I harbored little hope of this.
I was hungry, and ate the last of my rations. It was probably a bad idea to not save them for later, but I needed the energy now. Especially with a wounded arm.
The sunscreen was useless, getting sunburned was unlikely to be any danger. Perhaps I could lotion the green spiky horrors with it, and they’d get a lethal allergic re action? A small laugh escaped me. At least I hadn’t lost my humor.
That idea was obviously absurd, but another one popped into my mind. A much better one. I immediately got to implementing it.
First the worst part; I would have to saw a slit into the end of my stick. The wood was unfairly durable, as I had learned whilst trying to saw it off before. So I measured and re-measured, until I was sure it was the correct size. The blade of my survival knife had a decent length; about as long as my hand. And it was suitably pointy. Then, I grabbed my multi-tool, popped open the screwdriver and got to separating the blade from the handle. It wouldn’t need a handle anymore. Well, technically it would still have one, just a longer one. The thought made me grin.
Once I had separated the flat metal blade, I jammed it into the slit I had cut into the stick, as far down as I could. Then, I cut off a few feet of cord and bound the whole thing tightly, so that the blade wouldn’t bend or slip out the sides.
Ta-da! I now had a functioning spear.
The bit of progress improved my mood somewhat. My injured arm was throbbing from all the sawing, and I needed any piece of good news.
I grabbed the now significantly more lethal stick and tried a few stabbing motions. I had no idea how a spear was used, the only “knowledge” was the one I had gotten from Hollywood movies. However, sticking the pointy end into my enemies should do the trick.
With this, I could fight back against the bushes.