A quick glance showed her the man was already making his way up the slope. Shit, he was really coming after them again.
She followed as Nash led the way. He stopped to retrieve the backpack she’d forgotten all about from behind the tree. Nash had lost his walking stick during the whole debacle, but he waswalking okay right now, perhaps adrenaline was keeping him going. If they were to keep walking, they’d need to find water soon. They were down to one less-than-half-full bottle between them. And food. Although, she knew people could survive for weeks without food.
She wanted to argue with Nash, tell him that he was wrong. All her instincts were screaming for her to head back up the mountain, toward the clear space at the top where one of those aircraft they could still hear occasionally buzzing overhead might actually find them. Skylar had heard stories of miracle survival; of people being found days after they went missing. And a lot of them recounted how they could hear the rescue service planes flying overheard but had no way of attracting attention. That they’d been left feeling terribly alone and abandoned. Exactly how she was feeling right now.
That wasn’t quite her situation, because she had Nash with her. And Nash had been correct in everything he’d said so far. She had to keep remembering he was a cop. She had to start trusting his instincts. Because if she’d followed her instincts last night, they’d most probably both be dead.
They reached the bottom of the valley in record time, Nash half-jogging, half-limping, going as fast as he dared. Skylar kept looking behind, terrified she’d see the face of Rambo Man emerging out of the shrubs, bearing down on them with gun raised and teeth drawn back in a rictus of victory.
Another creek bed ran along the bottom, but this one miraculously had a trickle of water in it. Which was a good sign. Most creeks were parched and waterless by this stage into the dry season. But the water wasn’t drinkable, not unless they wanted to get sick. It was barely moving and stagnant in some of the larger pools. Nash was correct when he said the vegetation was taking on a different hue, greener and lusher.
“We’re not going to follow this creek,” Nash announced.
“That’s what he’ll expect us to do.”
Yep, probably. That’s what she’d been expecting them to do.
“We’re going to head down here for a little way, leave a few footprints, but make it look like we’re trying to hide them by walking in the water.”
Smart. Why hadn’t she thought of that?
“But as soon as we see a good opportunity, we’re going back up the mountain and skirt around the side, instead.”
“That sounds like a good plan,” she agreed. Skylar was impressed. Even on the run, with an injured leg and after fighting for his life with a madman, Nash was still able to think clearly. It was the mark of a true cop. No wonder he was good at his job.
She spent the next half an hour following his lead, stepping where he told her to, getting her feet wet in the puddles and shallow pools, a lot of them foul-smelling as they waded down the valley. All of a sudden, Nash held up his hand and then pointed up the slope.
“There,” he said, indicating a limestone outcrop. “That should hide our footprints.” Carefully, they left the safety of the sluggish creek and made their way up the rocky formation. The vegetation was much thicker up here, the air heavier and more humid.
“Can we stop for another drink?” Skylar pleaded.
Nash was pushing himself; she could see the pain etched around his eyes. And even though he didn’t say it, she knew he was grateful for the rest. Should she be worried about him? They should probably change the bandages on his leg. Try and keep it as clean and sterile as possible. Infection was a big worry out here.
“Just a quick one,” Nash agreed.
They sat beneath the shade of a large cycad and passed the plastic bottle between them. The bottle was only a quarter-full by the time Nash put it back in his backpack.
“We’ll climb up for a while,” Nash said, standing and shouldering his pack. “And then we’ll follow the contours around the side of the mountain range. Pity we can’t keep following that creek down there.” Nash looked back the way they’d come. “It’d more than likely to lead us out to a road or a waterfall.” Nash shrugged and offered her his hand. “Onwards and upwards.”
“Let me take the pack for you,” Skylar offered, hoping to make this trek a little easier for him. It weighed a lot less now they’d drunk most of the water, and she figured she wasn’t the one with the injured leg.
“Nah, I’m good,” he said. But this time, she noticed Nash pick up a broken branch to use as a walking stick, to help him climb the increasing slope.
Walking became more difficult the farther around the mountain they got, as the forest turned into a tropical jungle. It was odd that two different landscapes could exist so close together. The dry, open woodland on the other side of the mountain, and now the tropical jungle, impeding their path. Strangler vines dangled from the branches up high, just waiting to trip up an unwary hiker. Sometimes the vegetation was so thick, Nash had to lead them around a patch of shrubbery, because it was almost impossible to beat their way through.
After a few hours of scrambling and slipping and cursing, Skylar called for another halt. She was hot, sweaty, thirsty, and covered in scratches. There was one small silver lining to this forced march; there no way she could see that anyone would be able to follow them through this dense forest. Nash had chosen the best possible path to foil anyone tracking them.
He took a seat on a fallen log, lowering himself down with a grunt of pain. Skylar was shocked at how pale his face was. Rivulets of sweat ran freely down the sides of his face. His normally bright-blue eyes were drawn and dark with pain. The gash on his cheekbone looked red and inflamed. Shit, she should’ve been looking after him better. He’d been so stoic, not complaining, just kept plugging away through the bush.
She lifted the backpack from his shoulders and offered him the bottle of water. He needed it more than she did. He’d lost quite a bit of blood. And that wound needed attention. If only they had some painkillers. Or antibiotics. Or even some proper bandages.
“How’s your leg?” she asked, keeping her voice deceptively light. “Should we take a look at it?”
“Nope.” Nash waved her hands away, as she leaned in to peer at the bandages. Blood had completely soaked through them. “I don’t really want to see what’s going on under there,” he admitted. “We don’t have enough clean bandages to replace them, anyway.”
Skylar opened her mouth to argue, but could find no justification that might convince him otherwise. He was probably right. There wasn’t much they could do for him out here. They needed to get to civilization. That was the only real hope Nash had.