Part Six of The Camper

Lowell watched the stars until his breathing steadied. He scooted forward and swung his legs over the edge of the lookout and gazed down at all the degrees of darkness below. Lowell could make out the path he’d departed from some time earlier as a faint, chalky white line trailing into the valley below.

“I’m here,” he said, speaking aloud. “I am in the mountains.”

He took out his flask of whiskey, growing colder as his hiking sweat dried in frosty patches across his face and the back of his neck. He sipped at the whiskey, enjoying its warmth, and stared at the stars until he felt he could see them moving, as imperceptible as the movement was. Or maybe that was the satellites, the brightly lit satellites. It didn’t matter. What mattered was that he was here and not anywhere else.

Lowell drank until the flask was empty and he could see his breath in the starlight. He scooted back again from the ledge, suddenly overwhelmed by the long drive followed by the steep hike and tired enough that even the cold night didn’t bother him. He sat with his back against the mountain, the entire mountain, and crammed his hands into the pockets of his fleece jacket. He decided to close his eyes for a few minutes, but the minutes became hours and the cold grew worse and worse, somehow acting like a icy cocoon, and on a submerged, cellular level he began to wonder if he was going to freeze to death.

Then he felt a warmth huddle beside him, passing its heat on to him, and Lowell curled around it as if it were a crackling fire, filled with gladness.

When he woke in the morning, the sky was turning white. He found the raccoon curled between his arms, its round body stiff and no longer warm.

Lowell waited a long time before he started the hike back to camp.



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