He rolled through scrub and over heavy, sharp gravel, finally coming to rest against a large boulder. Gil slammed head first into the rock and laid, dazed, staring up at the constellations, than now included a few that moved when he blinked.
Sitting up after a few minutes, Gil cursed his clumsiness and felt for the small cut to the side of his head. “A fall like that could’ve killed me,” he concluded as he scrambled to his feet then up the embankment to the road.
As he returned to his steady stride, he could hear an odd noise coming from his pack. He knew instantly what it was, but there was little to nothing he could do about it until dawn.
Sunlight could not come fast enough for Gil as he stopped at the first rays and pulled his sack from his shoulders. Opening it, he dumped the contents out onto the side of the road, revealing what he’d knew in his heart-of-hearts all along – both water jars, smashed from the fall.
Looking around in the vague morning light, “I need to find water or else.”
Happily, he’d held tight to the tin from the can of pears he’d eaten the day before, so he knew he had a way of holding water, if he could find it. He waited for morning to come fully awake before assessing his location from the nearest spring.
As they drove to the mine, Smith pointed out cross-roads, where a person could find water. The question was, in Gil’s mind, did he pay close enough attention to what cross-roads were where or how far apart were they?
It was the first time he felt doubt. Gil knew he had to push the feeling out of his mind if he were to think clear enough to figure out his location.
Trekking an hour further, he found his answer, a cross-road with a bullet riddle and rusted sign reading ‘Gopher Springs.’ It was four or so miles out of his way, but Gil knew he had no choice but to head in that direction.
The road to the spring was less used than the main one Gil had been traveling. It was fairly flat and laden with loose, dusty sand that swirled around every time a breeze crossed it.
The mid-morning sun was beginning to heat up the dust and sand, the hotness radiating in the soles of Gil’s boots. He could feel his feet swelling and though he wanted desperately to pull them off, he knew that should he, he’d never get his feet back in them.
Trying to ignore his discomfort, Gil pressed ahead towards the watering hole. He felt his heart skip a beat when he saw the cluster of aspen, a sign of fresh water, in abundance.
Not only did he have water to his fill, Gil had ample shade in which he could rest without having to bodily move himself from time to time. “If only I could stay here,” he chuckled, knowing that he wasn’t about be that fool-hardy.
Sleep came quick and easy. He hadn’t had a full nights sleep since leaving the mine and the idea of rest was a comfort and he folded his hands behind his head and fade in a dreamless slumber.
The sun was beginning to set, when he opened his eyes. Something had awaken him and somewhere in his subconsciousness he knew that something was wrong, that danger was close at hand.
Gil laid still, listening, then feeling. He gently lifted his head and saw that along his left side was a rattlesnake, stretch out, hugging his body from beneath his arm-pit to near his ankle.
The snake had tucked its head under his shoulder and the thought of moving and being bitten sent a wave of fright through Gil’s body. Deciding to risk it, Gil rolled to his right several times, placing some distance between himself and the poisonous reptile.
Much to his surprise the snake hardly moved. Gil knew in an instant what he needed to do next.
Over a small camp fire, Gil roasted the last of his former bed mate. It was the first time he’d ever had a truly close encounter with rattler, preferring to avoid and not confront.
But necessity dictated the rash move on Gil’s part, as he knew the one can of pears remaining would not be enough to stem off the pangs of hunger later down the road. With one more long drink from the spring, and his tin filled with water, Gil hiked back to the main roadway.