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Secrets of Liberty Mountain: No Man's Land (Chapter 13)

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

"This is Liberty base. The National Weather Service has issued a revised winter storm warning for our area. Up to thirty-six inches of snow starting tonight at five with blizzard conditions beginning at six-thirty PM. Snow throughout the evening, ending late tomorrow. Winds south by southwest twenty to thirty miles per hour, one hundred and twenty miles per hour gusts exposed ridges. Return home immediately. Please acknowledge."

"It's too bad we can't reply to a message we never received," Alice said as she turned off the radio's power.

I scanned the sky overhead. The wispy streaks of morning clouds had given way to a high hazy overcast. Tops of advancing clouds were beginning to appear on the western horizon. The minuscule amount of weather lore I still remembered from my days as a Tenderfoot Scout told me high thin clouds and Mare's tails were telltale signs of approaching storm systems and usually signaled that a weather front was moving in.

We left base around nine and had been on the trail for almost four hours. It's a little after one, if we return now, we would make it home with no time to spare before the storm hit.

"We need to turn back if we are going to beat the snow," I urged Alice.

"No fucking way! I'm not getting this close without bringing back Bambi Burgers," she replied with a look of determination that could blister paint. "Besides, we can get down to the valley floor and back in less than thirty minutes. We should have time to spare. Not much, but enough. I didn't come this far to go back empty-handed."

I wasn't going to win this argument.

The thirty-degree angle of the slope and the sheer granite face of nearly treeless stone made for a treacherous descent. We had almost made it to the base of the ridge when our rocky trail abruptly narrowed before ending in a dead end at the edge of a vertical cliff. It was fucking frustrating. We were within a hundred feet of our goal. As far as we were concerned, our destination could just as well been on the dark side of the moon.

"Shit! I missed the turn, we're on the wrong trail," Alice swore as she reached for the radio and turned on the power.

Haste makes waste, but I kept my thoughts to myself as I scanned the sky.

"Liberty Base this is Hunter One, come in, please. Over." Alice paused and repeated her call, "Liberty Base this is Hunter One, come in, please. Over."

It was useless. A granite slab a mile thick stood between our location and the base's radio receiver, effectively blocking out our signal. The steady hiss of static ruled the airwaves. Alice handed me the radio's microphone and instructed me to repeat the call to base every five minutes.

Backing up the steep slope was a royal pain in the ass. Reverse gears are slow, and the best speed our Mule could manage up the incline was not much faster than a slow walk. Our retreat finally paid off when we came to a wide spot on the trail after twenty minutes of travel. Alice executed a tight three-point-turn, and at last, the front of the ATV pointed in the right direction.

The trail up the side of the ridge was difficult to follow. The overcast changed the light. None of the landmarks we passed on the way down looked like the ones we were passing on the way up the trail.

We blazed our own path and followed the contours of the ridge in an ever upward journey. Slow and steady wins the race in fairy tales. In our case, we won the ridge in an hour and thirty-six minutes and lost our race against the clock.

We used too much time backtracking, and there was no way in Hell we would be able to make it home before the weather turned to shit. Unless we could find a sheltered place to hunker down and ride out the blizzard, we would both be dead before dawn.

"Do we have the time and tools we need to build a lean-to?" I asked.

"Good idea. We have the tools, but we don't have the time. We've gotta find something almost ready-made - like a cave, rock overhang, or a cluster of fallen trees," Alice said as she handed me a pair of binoculars.

We drove to an outcropping with a good overview of the eastern face of our ridgeline.

"Scan to the north, and I'll scope out the south," Alice said as she lifted her binoculars and searched our southern flank.

The heavy overcast of clouds reduced the daylight in the valley to near twilight conditions even though sunset was still forty-five minutes in the future. In a classic case of the lull before the storm, the wind died down to almost nothing. I felt a drop of wetness on my cheek and a few moments later another on my nose. Like the advance scouts of an approaching army, the first flakes of snow explored the ground around us.

"Damn it! There's nothing to the south of us!" Alice growled in frustration.

To the north, the slope of the ridge gave way to a nearly vertical drop. Conditions were favorable to the formation of rock shelters. Over the eons, slabs of granite had broken away and tumbled to the ground. I was looking for anything resembling a natural rock lean-to or cave opening.

"Alice! I think I’ve got something," I shouted with more hope than conviction as I pointed to a dark shadow in a land of shadows at the base of the granite cliff.

My partner studied the rock feature with her binoculars for a moment before slamming the ATV into drive and racing forward to possible sanctuary. Hope turned to disappointment as we got close enough to see the details of our target. We were well and truly fucked; the rock outcropping was too large and exposed to serve as a shelter. Daylight was nearly gone, and snow was falling as fast as the thermometer.

"Now what the hell do we do?" Alice pounded the steering wheel in anger flavored with fear.

"Let's check that out," I said pointing to a stand of saplings about a hundred yards to the left of the useless overhang. Maybe we could construct an emergency lean-to from the young Aspens.

We drove across the dusting of snow-covered ground and dismounted our vehicle. Flashlights in hand we inspected the thin grove of trees.

"Holy shit, there's a cave opening back here!" Alice shouted and pointed to a five or six foot wide opening at the base of the cliff behind the trees.

The remains of the aborted attempt at gold mining were almost hidden behind the stand of saplings. We explored the inside of the cave with our flashlights. Thankfully, it was uninhabited. The dry and dusty floor of the tunnel sloped upward to a level area, which formed a low, cramped chamber about fifteen feet across and twenty feet deep. At the most, we had about four feet of headroom. Whoever had been looking for gold hit a dead end, gave up, and went home. Bad for them, lucky for us.

"Unload the Mule and get our stuff inside, while I cut down as many saplings as I can with our survival saw," I said as I grabbed the folding cutting tool from the ATV's cargo bay.

Our plan was as desperate as it was simple. Cut as many of the young aspens as possible, slide the trees into the cave opening, and use the thin branches and remaining leaves to block the wind. As the storm raged, the crowns of the trees would collect snow and form an impenetrable shield against the wind. The narrow trunks of the young trees were only four or five inches in diameter, and the saw made for fast work. Within fifteen minutes, I had almost a dozen saplings down on the ground.

I had finished cutting the trees and by the time I was done, snow and night were all around us. Winter had arrived with a vengeance. Alice finished bringing the last of our gear into the cave, and together we hauled away at the fallen aspens to plug the entrance as best as we could. Alice and I had no choice; the rock cavern would be either our salvation or our grave.

As I adjusted the position of the last tree, Alice screamed, "Snakes! Oh my God, look at 'em all, the fucking cave is filled with rattlesnakes."


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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