It had already occurred to John, more than once in fact, that he’d traveled due west at least twice the distance of any patch of forest within ten miles of where he had set up camp now five days ago. He was sure of it, in fact he was fairly certain that there was no point in the state where you could travel for four days due west without reaching some sort of highway or other sign of civilization. But he had done it, and he didn’t know what to make of it.
His mind wandered. He thought of his job, his friends, his family. He had no family of his own, but his parents and brothers were wonderful. His job was pleasant enough—it took much of his time, but it was simple and paid well. His friends were all much like him, young and busy, time enough to see each other rarely, to catch up and then go back to their respective lives. His drifting mind was suddenly snapped back to his situation by the first sound in days that he hadn’t caused. Far away, clear but faint, came the rustle of a large animal in the underbrush. John dashed forward as fast as his aching legs would carry him. Far ahead on the path he saw a bright white deer burst from beside the path and begin running along it. Had he thought about it John would have known that calling out to the animal was more likely to scare it than to convince it to wait for him, but his desperation, his excitement at the first sign of life in so long was much stronger than any rational thought he might have had. He chased the animal, desperately calling out for it to stop.
He chased ran for what felt like hours, although it was more likely only a few minutes. Strangely, although the animal was clearly able to move much faster than he, John could always see it, just at the edge of the path, at the very edge of his sight.
The animal stopped suddenly, and the surprise made John stumble. He quickly collected himself and scrambled to his feet, running before he had even properly picked himself up. The deer stood still a moment as if waiting. John had no idea what he would do when he reached the beautiful animal, but he felt he had to, that it was the only way for him to be saved. The animal waited until John was close enough to see the path around it clearly, and it ran again, but this time into the forest. John slowed, his feet landing heavily on the ground as he let his momentum carry his to the place the deer had disappeared. His lungs burned as he swallowed large breaths of air. He looked into the forest, a feeling of despair creeping into his mind, when he noticed a faint trail. It was overrun with weeds, and he wouldn’t have seen it but for the creature that he had watched disappear down it. He slowly stepped into the tangle of vines and thorns. He had barely fought his way a few steps when the path became clearer and his feet splashed in a stream. He pushed all attempts at understanding away as he dropped and drank the cool clear water.
After drinking more than his fill and refilling his canteen he started off again, down the dark difficult path. There was no longer room to walk comfortably, no easy footing as had been on the other path. After hours of walking he was startled by the noise of a bird above him. The familiar sound brought hope to him, and his eyes swelled with tears. Just as he looked up in search of the bird he noticed the sound of crickets around him. He stood still and listened for a long time before moving on. It became dark, but not dark as it had been on the path. Moonlight shone through the trees, and while his path was difficult, still there was enough light to go on.
After walking only a few hours more the path broke open into a clearing. John cried out in joy at the sight of the tent he had helped pitch nearly a week ago. He dropped to the ground, tears rolling down his face, as Scott and Dave, the men he had left for his walk so long ago, stepped out of the tent, looking exactly as they had that night.