Once their crashed helicopter was discovered, this place would be crawling with police and the local SES volunteer rescue services. But that could take hours, or possibly days; time they didn’t have.
At one stage, Skylar tapped him on the shoulder, and when he turned around, she offered him a broken branch. She mimed for him to use it as a walking stick. Clever girl, why hadn’t he thought of that?
After another half an hour of slow progress, the sides of the ravine became shallower. They could now see over the top to the thick underbrush growing on each side. The vegetation had changed slightly, becoming greener and lusher. The gorge was still heading downhill and had turned to the left. They must be almost to the bottom of this valley, their crashed helicopter well above them on top of the ridgeline now.
“Can we stop for a drink?” Skylar whispered.
Nash halted, his sharp gaze searching the surrounding bushland. Then he nodded; it looked safe enough. He’d be glad to rest his leg for a while, although Skylar didn’t need to know that. He’d checked his leg surreptitiously as they walked, and while the strenuous exercise this morning had caused blood toseep through the makeshift bandages again, it wasn’t as bad as it’d been last night.
“Over here.” He pointed to the base of a large fig tree perched atop a small rise to the right of the shallow dip of the ravine. He dropped to the ground between the sizable buttress roots, using the trunk as a backrest. It’d hide them from anyone coming from behind, if there was still someone following them. They’d heard the stranger working his way back up the hill, likely still hoping to trap him and Skylar if they came up to signal to the rescue helicopters now buzzing around the area. The tree gave them a good vantage point to survey the surrounding terrain. A good place to stop and decide on their next course of action. Skylar nestled between two roots next to him.
From this position, Nash could see the ground continued to drop away for around a hundred meters below them. The landscape mainly consisted of dry, open woodland, tall eucalyptus trees scattered immediately, with plenty of scrubby undergrowth in between. This country would be straightforward to walk through, but would also make them easy targets to spot, with not much cover available. At the bottom of the slope the vegetation became thicker, and Nash wondered if a small creek or river ran along the lowest point. Nash’s gaze followed the line of the valley floor to the right, noticing the vegetation change. He was no botanist and so couldn’t name the plants he was seeing, but there were some type of palms and even a fern scattered in amongst the shrubbery, and it was somehow less dry and dusty.
Once they settled next to the tree, Nash tuned in to the surrounding sounds. The light swish of a breeze touching the leaves overhead, the ever-present hum of cicadas singing, heralding the heat of the day that was yet to come. Birds began to twitter in the branches above, ignoring Nash and Skylar as they hunkered down. It was almost pleasant, an outing in the bush on a summer’s day.
“I’m beginning to wish I’d bought Dale something other than Bounty Bars,” Skylar said with a wry smile, as he handed her breakfast in the shape of a candy bar and a bottle of water.
He gave her a tight smile in return. He was worried about what their next move should be, and his thigh was aching like a bitch.
As if on cue, Skylar asked, “How’s your leg? Do you want me to look at it?”
“It’s a little sore, but nothing I can’t handle,” he replied. “We’ve got more pressing issues to worry about. You heard the guy stalking us in the bush, right?”
“Yes,” she acknowledged with a tilt of her head. “I still can’t quite believe that someone would go to all this trouble. That guy sure has a hard-on for wanting us dead.”
Nash nearly choked on his mouthful of water at her brazen choice of words. That was certainly one way of putting it.
“So, now you believe me that we can’t go back to the top of the mountain?”
“Yes, you were right. But what’s our alternative?” She finished her candy bar with a smack of her lips. “I could eat another three of those,” she added.
Nash could too, but it was better than nothing. There were still four bars remaining in the bottom of his bag, but they should ration them, just in case they were stuck out here for longer than expected.
He’d asked Skylar before if she knew where they were, but at the time, they’d been hoping to be rescued. Her knowledge of the area would be better than his. “Can you think of anything about this mountain range that might be helpful? Last night you said we’re about sixty kilometers from civilization. But are there any farmhouses, hobby farms, or even plain old hippies living in the jungle out here?” He raised his shoulders in a helpless shrug.
Skylar tapped the top of the water bottle against her teeth. “Lamb Range is made up of a couple of different national parks. There’s only one main road that runs through the middle. And being part of a National Park, there’s not a lot of people living in the area, either.”
“Damn,” he said, sucking air in over his teeth.
“If I remember correctly, this range is different from one side to the other,” Skylar continued. “The western slopes are in a rain shadow, and so the forest is dry, open woodland. But the eastern slopes get more rain and have a more tropical feel.”
“That might explain the differences we’re seeing now,” Nash mused quietly.
“Yes, I think we’re heading into the eastern side of the range, toward Cairns. I also vaguely remember there’s a beautiful waterfall, somewhere on that side. It’s called Davies Creek Falls, has water in it year-round, and is popular with the tourists. If we could get there, perhaps…”
Finding a waterfall in this terrain might be like finding a needle in a haystack. He didn’t want to burst her bubble, so instead he said, “You mentioned a road that runs through the middle. Do you mean it runs north to south?”
“If we keep heading east, then we’re bound to stumble over it sooner or later.”
“That’s a pretty vague plan, Nash,” she said, eyebrows lowered in a frown. He couldn’t disagree. But what else were they supposed to do?
He opened his mouth to say something along those lines when a noise froze the words on the tip of his tongue. He reached slowly for the backpack.
“Nash, honestly, don—”
He clapped a hand over her mouth. To her credit, she immediately became motionless, sensing the urgency in his touch. Her frightened gaze found his.