Page 29 of Starlit Skies

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“We should have another one of those Bounty Bars,” Skylar said. It was a small thing, but if Nash could keep up his food intake—even though it was one giant sugar hit—it might help him to keep going.

“I’m not really hungry,” he said, but took the bar Skylar proffered and bit into it, as if his mind was working along similar lines to hers.

They sat on the log, side by side, eating their measly lunch, and stared out into the forest. It was frustrating, because theywere up pretty high, but it was impossible to see through the dense canopy to the surrounding hills and ridges. If they could see the topography better, maybe they could locate a break in the trees that might indicate a road, or a denser patch that might take them to a watercourse.

“I haven’t heard any aircraft recently,” Skylar said after a while. “Do you think they’ve called off the search already?”

“No, it probably means they’ve found the crash site.”

“That’s a good thing. Isn’t it?” Skylar sat up a little straighter, hope raising her chin, so she looked him in the eye.

“Yes. And no. It’ll take them a while to figure out what happened, and that we’re missing. Then they’ll most likely organize a land search. Send out hordes of volunteers to flood the National Park. But these things take time to set up. They might not start the true search until late this afternoon.”

“We could just stay here and rest. Camp the night and see what the morning brings. I’m pretty sure that lunatic will have lost our trail by now.”

Nash shook his head. “We need to keep moving. Even if the gunman isn’t hot on our tail, no one would ever find us stuck here, halfway up a mountain. We need to find that road you mentioned.”

Skylar was beginning to wish she’d never said anything. That road could be at the bottom of this ridge, or it could be three ridgelines over. And she didn’t think Nash was up for that kind of hike. He looked ready to fall right where he was and never get up.

That thought scared her. She needed Nash. Needed him to be strong, to help them both get out of this situation.

Nash heaved himself off the log and held out his hand for the backpack. His stamina was unbelievable, she would’ve given up hours ago and be a sobbing mess right now.

“My turn to carry it for a while,” she said. Surprisingly, he didn’t argue.

They continued to bash their way through the jungle, stopping to have a sip of water now and then. The heat was building, so it was almost unbearable; the humidity making the air feel like she was breathing cotton wool. It only got like this at Stormcloud during the wet season. During the dry, they had a reprieve from the life-sucking mugginess.

At one stage, Nash faltered, unable to lift his injured leg over a fallen tree in their path, and cursed out loud that the jungle had it in for him and was purposefully putting obstacles in the way. Skylar had waited for him to pick his way around the offending log, but when he stood staring at the ground, she’d taken things into her own hands. Taking the lead, she found a pathway through the strangling vines and palm fronds. And she took the role as guide from there on, Nash following behind, his head bowed as he struggled to find each new foothold.

Fear blossomed in Skylar’s chest when she looked back to check on him. Nash was weakening, no matter how much he denied it, and she wasn’t sure how much longer he could go on.

Without warning, Skylar broke through a hanging veil of vines and nearly stumbled down an embankment. Large fig trees straddled a rock-strewn culvert. And down the middle of that culvert ran a burbling stream.

“Water,” she said. “Nash, we found water.”

“Great,” he replied heavily, and sat down on the nearest flat rock.

Skylar stood and studied the stream for some minutes. It flowed downhill; the vegetation getting more overgrown as it got closer to the bottom. But if they followed the stream, they could stick to the relatively flat ground. It might mean some scrambling over rocks, or wading through the shallow water, but it’d be easier than beating their way through the jungle.

“Drink this,” Skylar demanded. It was the last of their water, but Nash needed it more than she did. He didn’t seem to notice that she was no longer drinking, as he gulped it all down. His face had gone from merely pale to almost green in pallor, his eyes going a misty blue, as if he wasn’t really seeing his surroundings anymore. And his breath was rasping in and out through his lips.

Without thinking, she leaned in and smoothed his sweaty curls away from his forehead. He barely lifted his head at her touch.

Skylar didn’t let on how terrified she was, she merely slipped her arm through his and helped him to his feet. She wasn’t going to discuss the direction they should take; she was just going to take charge.

“Come on, not far now.” She didn’t know if that was true or not, but it seemed to bring Nash to his feet.

They stumbled and bumbled their way down the creek bed. Skylar had no idea how long it took them, or how Nash negotiated his way over some of the larger boulders. But she managed to keep him moving.

Slowly, it became lighter, the jungle not quite as oppressive. The vegetation was opening up as they dropped lower and all of a sudden there was a gap in the foliage. The creek bed flattened and widened, the rocks clearing a pathway through the trees, and she could see sweeping views of the countryside below.

Twenty feet below them was a flat ledge. Skylar’s heart did a double tap. Because below that ledge she could hear a waterfall dropping away into a pool deep beneath. They’d found a waterfall. Perhaps not the waterfall they’d been looking for, but a waterfall, nonetheless.

Skylar wanted to go and explore, but the next part before the flat area was steep and would require some rock-hopping.

“Stay here for a second, Nash,” she said, leading him over to a rock and helping him sit. “I’m going to take a look. I’ll be right back.” She didn’t want to get his hopes up, so she didn’t tell him what she’d heard.

Nash didn’t reply, but he lifted his head to stare down at the water disappearing over the edge. He swayed a little in his seat, and Skylar had second thoughts about leaving him. But she needed to check this out. She didn’t think Nash would make it much farther, so if this was to be their camp for the night, she had to scout out the best place. And hopefully find some drinkable water.