I was in a bar, and the weird thing about the bar was how bright the sun was outside. It was like one of those washout photos where the exposure is so high there’s barely any images left, just outlines and shadows that barely exist. “This is a dream,” I said out loud and the bartender, a really cute young woman who was bored to tears looked up from her phone, as if the idea of conversation was repugnant to her. I finished the Scotch in the glass in front of me and thought, hell if this is a dream, at least I’m drinking the good stuff.
“I was kidnapped, once,” a man sits down beside me at the bar as starts talking, and why would you throw the word “once” in there, as if I might get confused over which time you were kidnapped. He’s shedding light, brilliant pieces of brightness fall off his clothing, like water might drip off someone caught in the rain. I look back towards the window and it’s brighter than it was before.
“There’s a trail in the forest of a national park close to where I live,” the man continues after waiting for me to ask, and I didn’t, “and this guy walks up to me and demands my wallet, and I handed it over. Then he handcuffs me and I knew he was going to kill me, I mean, why else would he take me? But you’d be surprised how much a gun effects your ability to resist. He leads me off the trail about fifteen minutes worth of walking and know it will be a while before anyone misses me, or looks for me.
“I’ll be back in three days, okay?” the man tells me as he handcuffs by hands, with this small tree at my back. With a hatchet and five minutes I could have cut it down, but there I am, sitting in the woods, handcuffed, with this tree there I can’t do a damn thing with.”
The waitress looks over at my empty glass and arches a brow so I nod. The man pays for my drink, gets a beer, and keeps talking.
“The first few hours were pretty bad,” he says, “because I kept thinking that guy would come back and shoot me. Then, after a while, I noticed that I couldn’t hear anything but birds and stuff, and I began to worry about bears, or maybe coyotes. I could stand up, move around the tree, and see that if I could have gotten up the truck about three feet, I might have been able to catch that first sizable with a foot, and pulled the tree over. That gave me something to do, but it wore me out and made me thirsty. I decided to wait a bit, and waiting was something I was going to do a lot of.”
A couple comes into the bar laughing and hanging onto one another, and shedding bits and pieces of light. The pain in the face of the waitress is obvious. She has better things to do than to wait tables in this sort of weather. But she sticks a smile on her face and goes over to the table where the young couple laughs while shaking the light off their clothes.
“Sundown was like watching the Titanic sink from a lifeboat.” The man says while watching the couple order. “I knew if I had a chance to die it would come in the darkness. It was kind of hot that day, and I hoped the coolness of the night would make the mosquitoes go away, but they still drifted in, in pairs and one at a time, just enough to mess with me. It wasn’t bad, not horrible, but still not good at all. The darkness killed my sense of time and not being able to see made me hallucinate things coming at me in the dark. Finally, I fell asleep, for a little while, but that made it worse; I had no idea what time it was at all.”
“Dawn came slow, like watching paint dry, and I listened carefully for the sound of voices. I knew better than to just start screaming my ass off, and thirst was already working on me. I peed on myself because I knew I would have to sooner or later, but it was in the middle of the afternoon before a bowel movement forced itself out. That’s when I started feeling screwed. There was no more water going into my system or food, and after one day, I was already feeling weaker and less sane. I tried to keep still and conserve my strength. There were times I stood up and looked around, but there were trees, and more trees, and I even tried to cut the trees down behind me with the chains of the handcuffs but it was more work than I could manage. Sundown came again with my wrists hurting like hell, my shoulders killing me, and thirst.”
“Glass of water, here,” he said to the waitress who had stopped playing on her phone and was eying the couple. I looked back over at them and they were leaning in, whispering, touching one another on the hands. The waitress and I grinned.
“Sundown felt like a death sentence,” the man said. “I knew I had a better chance of dying if even a small animal attacked me. I was getting weaker and knew it. Breakfast the day before seemed a long time away, and I wished I had drank more water before the hike than I did. My pack was still were that guy made me drop it, and I hoped someone would find it, but I knew no one would that night. By now, there should be a couple of people missing me, but no one knew where I was. I saw things that night. Bears and cats and a river of dogs flowed out of the total darkness to attack me. Maybe I screamed. Maybe I was just in and out and didn’t know what reality was anymore. I woke up after sunrise and had to fight to stand up. My shoulders were on fire and I felt my hands had swollen. The day was long, terribly long, infinitely long, and I got too weak to stand. I felt bugs crawling on me and couldn’t go anything about it. I hear voices, music, songs, but none of it sounded real. I was dying, and I knew it.”
“You need another?” the waitress asked and I nodded. The man got another beer and paid for it again. I lifted my glass as if in toast and he smiled.
“The third night I saw things,” the man continued, “it was like a Disney movie on acid. I knew this was what dying was like, and the pain didn’t seem as bad. But there were lights, people looking for me, helicopters, and as soon as I yelled it all went away and left me in the darkness. People found me, cut me loose, took me to a hospital, then I would come to and be chained to the tree. It was heartbreaking how real the visions were, and how horrible it was to be back in reality. I knew this was my mind’s way of trying to escape, but it was also a sign I was dying.”
I had to go, and almost said so, but it was so incredibly bright outside. The couple was looking out of the window and all I could see was their silhouettes.
“Sunrise came and I could barely see it,” the man said. “I was so incredibly thirsty. I remember looking up at the sky and praying a cloud would drop rain on me, or strike me with lightning, whatever. I just wanted it to end. Then there he was. The guy with the gun. He brought my pack with him, uncuffed me, and propped me up. He gave me a gallon of water and told me my cell phone was in my car. I drank water, puked, drank more water, and ate some energy bars. I couldn’t walk, but I managed to get to my car after about an hour, and called 911. I kept waiting to wake up and discover it was a dream. When the ambulance got there I knew I was going to wake up chained to that damn tree.”
I woke up. The man was there, and he uncuffed my hands. “Your cell phone is in your car.” He told me. “Here’s some water. I survived it and now you have, too.”