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Secrets of Liberty Mountain: No Man's Land (Chapter 14)

Life abruptly changes when a homeless veteran stumbles upon a group of female survivalists.

In the confined space of the cave, Alice's distressed cry reverberated off the walls, so loud my ears hurt. I scrambled to be at her side. She sat in a fetal position with her arms wrapped around her knees and her whole body trembling like a leaf in the wind. Fear distorted her face, and her eyes closed so tightly her facial muscles twitched with the effort.

A tiny voice uttered from her lips, repeating a single word again and again: snakes. Kneeling next to Alice, I put my arm around her shoulder and held her tight until her trembling lessened to not much more than a shiver.

"Where are the snakes?" I kept my voice calm and measured.

"Uhh, everywhere," she said.

"Where is everywhere? Can you point them out?" I said as I gently pressed her for details.

"Over there," she answered as she pointed to the right-hand side of the rocky cavern, "and over there," she said gesturing to her left.

The blue-white beam of my tactical LED flashlight lit up the last place Alice indicated. I nearly let out a scream of my own. Against the rock wall, at least seventy-five fat sleeping rattlesnakes knotted and piled together like a braided rug. Several dozen more snakes clumped and piled together against the opposite wall. She was right; hibernating snakes were all around us.

When an old-timer first told me every dry cave in the mountains contained a snake den, I laughed at him. All around us, I surveyed the living proof of his words. The old man made his living as an environmental scientist, and he was obsessed with snakes, specifically the Rocky Mountain rattlesnake. Racking my brain, I tried to recall what else he had told me about our legless friends.

Venomous snakes, such as rattlers, hibernate when the average daytime temperatures fall below sixty degrees Fahrenheit. In the high mountains, their favorite winter quarters are caves and deep crevices. While in hibernation, snakes are lethargic, torpid, and essentially unresponsive zombies as their metabolisms slow down to the minimum necessary to sustain life.

He said not all snakes survive hibernation. A skinny snake will not live through the winter, nor will a snake with food in its stomach or intestines when they cool. The undigested meal will rot and kill them.

Other than a heavy-duty icky factor, the slumbering reptiles posed little danger to us as long as we left them alone. I shuddered to think about it, but our slumbering cavern mates might prove to be a useful source of food.

The first priority was to help Alice regain her composure. I shared and understood her fear of snakes. Fear is useful and can provide the necessary adrenaline to power us through dangerous situations. On the other hand, too much fear has the opposite effect; often paralyzing a person into inactivity. The secret was to find a healthy middle ground between terror and bravado.

While I comforted Alice, I used the beam of my flashlight to explore our shelter. The dry soil of the cavern's floor could just as well have been talcum powder. The ATV's survival gear lay scattered about where Alice tossed it when we scrambled to get everything inside the cave.

To survive the blizzard, we needed to organize ourselves. Our situation reminded me of the scene from the movie, The Martian when the stranded astronaut faced the camera and said, "To survive I'm left with only one option, I'm gonna have to science the shit out of this."

In our case, we needed to use our heads and think the shit out of our predicament. Our biggest threat wasn't sleeping snakes, it was creeping hypothermia. The chill air drained our bodies of heat, and unless we figured out a way to keep warm in our shelter, the cave would become our tomb.

Turning to Alice, I said, "Let's collect our stuff and do an inventory. We're gonna need to come up with a plan of action."

We gathered our meager stash of supplies and arranged the gear in front of us as we huddled together for warmth. We had salvaged an odd assortment of survival items including:

  • two Kimber 84M Mountain Ascent rifles and a twenty round box of ammo
  • two winter sleeping bags (rated to fifteen degrees)
  • two all-weather mylar space blankets (useful as ground cloths)
  • one Marmot Tungsten three-person three-season tent
  • folding survival saw
  • four packages of Meals Ready to Eat
  • First Aid Trauma Kit
  • Rayovac LED lantern (one hundred fifty-hour battery life)
  • one plastic vial containing twenty-five storm-proof wooden matches
  • compact snap-together stainless steel Hobo Stove
  • One gallon stainless steel cooking pot with cover
  • two metal water flasks filled with nearly frozen drinking water; tin cups attached
  • three-ounce bottle of Japanese sesame seed oil
  • ready box containing: a mess kit, one bag of ziplock and plastic shopping bags of various sizes, Pocket Thermometer (zero to two hundred and twenty degrees), deck of cards, twenty-five tea bags with twenty-five sugar packets, three energy bars, a tin of 25 beef bouillon cubes, a bar of Lava soap, and a SAS Survival Handbook in Spanish

Huh? Spanish? What the fuck? I shook my head in bewilderment.

I emptied the contents of my pockets and added a KitKat candy bar, a pack and a half of cigarettes, one Bic lighter, a small glass pot pipe, and several buds of potent homegrown weed to our collection.

The branches stuffed in the entrance of the cave rattled as the blizzard's howling wind intensified and the air temperature dropped. The interior of the cave was too large to heat, and if we wanted to stay warm, we were going to need a smaller confined space. We decided to erect the tent to use as a shelter within our shelter.

All components of our tent were color-coded, and within a few minutes, we had all the pieces assembled. Staking our tent in place was a bit more problematic. The thin layer of dusty soil on the fifteen-by-twenty foot plateau was not deep enough to drive a tent peg into the ground. We improvised by filling several plastic shopping bags with dirt and used them as anchors to keep the shelter in place. The finished product would have been the laugh of the neighborhood if anyone could see it. Our poor tent leaned to one side like a drunken sailor as its top was squashed and misshapen by the uneven ceiling. Oh, well! We weren't trying to win Tent of the Year in the Better Caves and Snake Dens magazine.

In addition to practical benefits of an easier to heat space, the finished tent provided a much-needed psychological boost. At least the snakes all around us were outta sight. Once we finished zipping our sleeping bags together, I brought the rest of our gear inside our cozy little ice box.

"I don't know how long we're going to be stuck here, but if we don't want to sit around in the darkness, we're going to have to conserve our batteries," I said as I turned off our tactical flashlights and switched on the Rayovac lantern to the lowest setting. The smoky white mist of our breath glowed in the lantern's light, every time we exhaled as a visual reminder of how God-awful cold our shelter was.

"Pip pip and cheerio, my dear, would you care for a spot of hot tea before we retire for the evening?" I asked Alice as I mangled my attempt to invoke an excessively proper English accent.

"Haha, funny. It ain't nice to joke about hot tea while I'm freezing my ass off." Her body trembled and shivered as she replied between chattering teeth.

"Who's joking? We've got a Hobo Stove, plenty of fuel, a tea bag, water, a customer, and more time than we know what to do with, so why not?" I answered as I dug through the gear we’d salvaged from the ATV.

The Hobo Stove is the clever invention of some unnamed and forgotten hobo genius of days long gone. The stove's design is elegant in its simplicity. A resourceful camper could build a fully functional metal stove from scratch in five minutes or less with only a tin can and a church key can opener.

Coffee cans are the ideal raw material, but any thin metal container will do the trick. All that is necessary is to remove the top of the can while keeping the bottom in place; then a ring of evenly spaced rectangular holes are punched around the top and base of the can for ventilation. Finally, a series of randomly placed carburetor holes are punched through the sidewall of the can with the church key. Happy days! You have just built a survival stove.

The beauty of the tiny stoves is they are highly efficient, produce a minimum amount of smoke, and use far less wood than a traditional campfire.

In our case, our hobo stove was a bit more refined. Weighing less than sixteen ounces, it was a stainless steel design consisting of five snap together sheet metal plates and a few cross members. I assembled it and sat back to admire my handiwork.

Flashlight in hand, I told Alice, "I'll be right back" as I crawled toward the cave's opening in search of fuel. The heavily falling snow was busy turning the crowns of the young Aspens into an effective windscreen. Between the trunks of the saplings, I found piles of dry, windblown leaves I would use as kindling to start my fire. I cut several small branches for fuel and shaved off strips of wood and bark from one of the tree trunks with my hunting knife. I lucked out; I also found a book-sized flat stone I could use as a base for our stove. The rock would keep the little stove from turning our tent floor into a puddle of melted plastic.

In the center of the tent, next to our combined sleeping bags, I set the assembled stove on the flat rock, and I lined the bottom of the can with dry leaves, followed by small twigs and then a layer of larger sticks. The idea was to use the smaller fuel to ignite the larger pieces of wood. The tin can is a natural chimney, and the interior metal surfaces reflected the heat back on the unburned fuel. When I was finished, I set the leaves ablaze with my Bic lighter.

I opened the screened ventilation flat at the top of the tent and kept the bottom of the tent entrance open a crack for fresh air to keep carbon monoxide fumes from asphyxiating us.

Since carbon monoxide is heavier than air, I figured any excess would accumulate at the bottom of the sloping entrance to our cave. At least that was the theory. Nonetheless, I decided we should limit the use of our cook stove to no more than two or three times in any twenty-four hour period, just to be safe.

Once I had the fire well established, I set a tin cup filled with water and a single tea bag on top of the stove. About ten minutes later the liquid was at a rolling boil.

"You might want to let it cool down a bit before drinking," I warned Alice as I handed her the cup after retrieving the tea bag and splashing a bit of ice water on the cup's handle so she wouldn't burn her fingers or hand. "Care for any sugar?"

Alice shook her head, no, and smiled for the first time since we’d received our radio warning. "Thank you," she said as she took the steaming mug of tea from my hands. "Thank you very much," she whispered as she leaned forward and kissed my cheek.

I used the recycled tea bag to make my own cup of tea. Waste not, want not.

The air temperature inside the tent was a friendly sixty-five or seventy degrees and worked in partnership with the steaming tea to take the chill of winter away. At least for the moment. We decided to skip dinner to conserve our food supply. We would eat in the morning.

Turning off the lantern to conserve its battery, I was startled to see how cozy and romantic our setting was, as long as you left snakes out of the picture. The light from the dying embers of our fire painted the interior of the tent with a sexy, warm rose-colored glow. Our joined sleeping bags and Alice's sweet kiss hinted at all sorts of possibilities.

That's it! I scolded myself, I am officially stupid. What kind of fucking idiot thinks about sex at a time like this?

"Come on Dennis, we need to get undressed and under the covers before it gets cold again." Alice leaned her head on my shoulder.

"Undressed?" I raised an eyebrow and gave my hunting partner a hard look.

"Of course, silly man, how else do we share body heat? Do you know another way we can avoid hypothermia?" Alice nuzzled and hugged me tightly. "Besides, it'll be fun." She gave me another hug, longer than the last.

In an effort to protect my honor, I started to protest and instead burst out laughing as I thought of an old joke.

"What's so funny?" she asked as she lifted her head from my shoulder and looked into my eyes for signs of rejection.

"Nothing. Our current circumstances remind me of a funny story I heard years ago. It goes something like this: once upon a time, a terrible storm forced a beautiful maiden and a traveling judge to take shelter for the night in an abandoned cabin. To pass the time, and to stay warm, the young girl offered her honor. The judge honored her offer. All night long, His Honor was on her and off her," I laughed.

"Okay, I'll strip down to my underwear, and you do the same, deal?" I rose to my knees and accepted her hand as she helped me to my feet. My knees were high mileage, and they sucked. Such is life.

"Alright, you've got yourself a deal. You go first." Alice's smile widened into a silly grin as she fired up the lantern and held it aloft. "Showtime."

I took off my jacket and spread it open on the sleeping bag. Alice watched quietly, her eyes wrinkled in puzzlement and curiosity. I removed my flannel shirt, folded it neatly, and placed it in the center of my jacket. I dug my Bic lighter and a half-full cigarette pack out of my pocket and deposited them next to my jacket. Moments later, my folded trousers joined the shirt in the center of my coat.

Dancing from one foot to the other with Alice's hands steadying me, my boots took their place at the foot of our bed. I draped my socks over the tops of my boots to air out; might as well start the next day with dry footwear.

Dressed only in my tighty whities and a tee shirt, I knelt down, folded my coat into a pillow with my clothing as stuffing, and placed it at the head of the bed. As far as headrests went, my improvised bundle was more comfortable than a few of the crappy motel pillows I had slept upon over the years.

"Very inventive." Alice smiled as she removed her coat and mimicked my creation as she constructed her own pillow.

When she was finished, she stood in the circle of light from the lantern, barefoot from her toes to her chin.

"No underwear?" I nodded my head toward her midsection.

"This is my underwear; it's called Poils pubis el natural part of my French heritage," she explained.

"I don't speak French. Want to try that again in English?" I asked.

"Pubiens el natural is just a fancy way of saying, natural pubic hair," Alice answered with a chuckle.

"I thought you were Polish," I observed.

"I'm both. This is French fur over a Polish pussy," she giggled as she twirled like a clumsy ballet dancer.

I couldn't keep myself from smiling at her amazing recovery. Not too many women got a chance to go from nearly comatose with fear to saucy, seductive, and sexy all in the same day.

"Ladies first," I held up a corner of the sleeping bag.

"Yikes! It's an icebox," Alice gasped as she slid between the covers. "Get your ass in here, I'm freezing," she said while pulling me down to my knees.

Grabbing my smokes and lighter, I slid them under my pillow and parked the lantern within easy reach on my side of our sleeping bag. I gathered our flashlights together and handed her one while I tucked the other under my coat. The last thing we wanted to do was to wake up in total darkness and play blind man's bluff searching for a flashlight in pitch-blackness.

"Good God! You weren't kidding," I grumbled. The interior of the sleeping bag was not much warmer than the surface of an ice cube.

Within seconds, Alice was all over me like an octopus. She pulled me into a spooning position with the cheeks of my ass pressed into her crotch and her arms wrapped around my chest, and her breasts pressed tightly against my back. She tangled our legs together and rested her chin on my shoulder as she wielded her naked body to mine in the most intense sensual hug I've ever experienced. The only thing missing was super glue.

In a few minutes, we were toasty warm. The human body is a remarkable heat engine capable of generating as much as twenty-four thousand BTUs of body heat per hour when engaged in strenuous work or passionate sex. When we're at rest or sleeping, our heat production drops to a cool three hundred and fifteen BTUs an hour. On average, we generate the same amount of heat as a hundred watt light bulb.

"I'm going to kill the light to save the battery. Be sure you know the location of your flashlight." 

With a click, I plunged us into the heart of total darkness. Suddenly we were in a blackout so intense we are unable to tell if our eyes are open or shut. It is true when we lose our sight our other senses kick into high gear to compensate for the loss of vision. The sound of our breathing and the crinkling rustle of our fabric sleeping bag seemed to grow louder as the night smothered the light.

We could just as well have been two blind mice exploring each other in a lightless world. We could only "see" what we touched. As we nestled together, my sense of touch also kicked into high gear. I could feel Alice's stiff nipples poking me in the back as she pulled me tightly to her body. She shifted her position and tightened her hold on me. It was as if she was trying to crawl inside of me, her octopus grip became the embrace of a boa constrictor, almost painful in its intensity.

I relaxed my body and allowed myself to melt into her embrace. She radiated body heat like a furnace, and her warm moisture-laden breath tickled the side of my neck each time she exhaled. As her breathing slowed, we slipped into the twilight of comfortable togetherness.

I must have dozed off for a few moments when I became aware that something had changed. The effortless exchange of carbon dioxide for oxygen became a long labored sobbing, which shook her whole body. I could feel her tears trickling down my neck.

"I'm so sorry, Dennis. This is entirely my fault. We're going to die, and I'll never see my daughter again. I should have heeded the storm warning on the radio, I'm so terribly sorry," she cried as her words gave voice to the fear I felt.

Turning over to face her, I touched her face with my fingertips and brushed her tears away as I whispered, "You are right. We, and the emphasis is on we, should have listened to the warning. This is not all your fault. It is our fault. You made a bad call, and I let it stand. I also own this blunder. I was your partner and junior member of this hunting party, and I failed to speak up." I kissed her cheek, tasting the salt of her tears. "We're not dead yet. We got into this mess together, and we'll get out of this mess together." 

I held her to my body and caressed her hair as sleep slowed her breathing. Far away from the edge of hearing, the muffled lullaby of the wind became a song of despair.

This story is protected by International Copyright Law, by the author, all rights reserved. If found posted anywhere other than with this note attached, it has been posted without my permission.

Copyright © Copyright 2019 by Nathan Wolf
All rights reserved.

This is an adult work of fiction intended for mature readers.

Names, characters, businesses, places, events, and incidents either are the products of the author's imagination or used in a fictitious manner.

Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is too weird for words and 100% purely coincidental.


NOTE: "Secrets of Liberty Mountain" is a work in progress and today stands at 97,650 words. As a new author, I value your feedback. Please take a moment to share your thoughts on my story. Either leave a comment below or PM me and let me know what you think. Thank you.

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