Yellowstone Redemption(4)By: Peggy L Henderson
A quick glance in all directions told him he was alone. Where the hell had they all gone? His sleeping bag wasn’t where he’d laid it out the night before, either. Those assholes took everything, and left him. There’d be hell to pay when he got out of this canyon and back to the barracks. He only hoped his crew leader didn’t catch wind of where he’d been. No doubt he’d be arrested again. Hiking in the canyon was illegal. He knew that. That had been made clear during the pep talk they all received when they started the season. Just as hot-potting – swimming in the thermal features - was illegal, but they’d done that, too. He remembered Todd suggesting they sneak out one night and piss into Old Faithful’s cone. But no one had been brave enough to try that. Not yet, anyways.
He pulled his soaked t-shirt over his head and gave it a hard twist to wring the water out. How long had he been passed out? Judging by the sun directly overhead, it was noon or a little later. At least he’d dry faster. The last thing he remembered from the night before was stumbling from his sleeping bag to the river to hurl his stomach contents. Not enough food and too much alcohol had been to blame for that. Apparently he never made it back to his sleeping bag, and passed out right here. Good thing he hadn’t rolled sideways, or he’d have gone for his first and only wild plume ride. Watching the water rush past, even he knew that this was one whitewater trip no one would survive.
A renewed wave of bile threatened to rise from his stomach. He smacked his dried lips together, and realized how parched and swollen his tongue and throat were. He didn’t have enough spit in his mouth to even swallow. He glanced at the river. Why the hell not. He shrugged. It was the only water available. He dropped to his knees on the rocky bank and stuck his head in the water. The icy liquid felt good going down his throat. He hoped he didn’t catch giardia or something. Oh well, he’d know soon enough. There was medication for that.
Chase pulled himself to a standing position again. He picked his shirt up off the ground and tied it, turban style, around his head. He looked up the jagged face of the canyon again, then squared his shoulders. No pain, no gain. He could hear his football coach yelling in his ear, driving him to greater effort.
His stomach grumbled and churned, but he ignored it, and picked his way up the yellow rocks. Once he’d reach the top, it was just a short walk to the parking lot, not that he expected his newfound so-called friends to be waiting for him. He’d most likely have to walk a couple miles back to the Canyon Village barracks, but at least the road was paved and flat, and maybe some tourist would take pity on his soul, and give him a lift.
He cursed Todd, Jimmy, Phil, and all the other guys with every step he took. His knuckles scraped against the jagged brittle rocks, his bare knees scuffed and bleeding. The blisters on his heels burned like hell whenever they rubbed against his barely-broken in hiking boots. Gritting his teeth, he pushed on, taking advantage of every knarled tree root that jutted out of the rocks to pull himself upward. It hadn’t been this hard climbing down into the canyon, and it sure as hell didn’t seem as long. But the same drive that had earned him All Star Quarterback his senior year in high school pushed him forward now. Too bad that intense desire to be the best hadn’t carried over to college.
Riding on a full football scholarship, he’d started partying more and more, and eventually pledged a fraternity. From there, the all night drinking escalated to drug use. His grades and game had suffered, and he was kicked off the team his junior year. The arrest for possession followed, and now he was here.
With a quick glance up, Chase fingered the dog tags that dangled from a chain around his neck. They were the only things his loser father had ever given him. Why he wore them, he didn’t know. Hell, if he had any sense, he’d toss them down the canyon right now. His thumb rubbed the tags out of habit, then he let go and reached for the next rock jutting out of the canyon wall above him. With one final pull and grunt, he hauled himself over the edge and collapsed to the ground, emitting a long sigh of relief. Endless pull-ups in the gym had finally paid off.
Man up, Russell. Just a few more miles, and you can get some chow. Right before you knock the shit out of Todd and the rest of those idiots. His fists bunched at his sides at the thought. With an impatient swipe of his hands, he brushed away the gravel that stuck to his sweat-soaked chest and abdomen. A mosquito landed on his leg, and he slapped it away, hitting his knee in the process. He hissed and inhaled sharply. His knees looked like freshly ground beef. Cursing, he plucked some pebbles from the open sores. It had been a hot day yesterday, and he’d worn cargo shorts instead of long pants. Hindsight wasn’t helping him now.
He glanced down into the canyon one final time, then turned. The gravel path that led to the parking lot should be just beyond that line of trees. They seemed denser than he remembered from yesterday. He pushed and weaved his way through the trees. His shirt caught in one of the lower branches and was yanked off his head. His forward momentum jerked his neck back.