Stories do not always require overly complicated ideas. I let the idea be simple for this one—a dream of the old ways, if you insist on knowing. It still needs characters to bring it to life. Hence, a story.
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I was walking in the hills a few days ago, rambling I suppose, with no real goal except to get as high as possible. Against all advice, I went on my own. I’d been looking forward to getting out for ages and I’d spent a lot of money on all this new hiking gear.
The weather was good, warm but not too hot, there was a nice breeze and a bit of cloud cover for shade. I decided to keep to the marked trails today, probably safer than just heading off in a random direction. Half an hour later I was high above the small car park looking down. My backpack felt heavy, but I had everything I needed for several days, including a tent, food, water, and even a climbing rope. I had one of those multi-tools for emergencies and some of that mint cake for energy. I wasn’t going to get to the middle of nowhere and realise I’d forgotten something.
An hour later and there was no sign of civilisation anywhere around unless you included the signs and the picnic bench, I was using to eat my lunch. The view was already good, and I was looking forward to the promised breath-taking vista when I reached the summit. There were fewer and fewer people around the higher I went.
The summit, it turned out, was further away than it looked, mainly because the path spiralled around it instead of heading straight up. It made sense, I supposed, as it was quite steep. After two more rest stops and well into the afternoon, I finally arrived and dropped down exhausted onto the rocky outcrop that was the summit of this particular hill. I celebrated with an energy drink and some mint cake.
Before descending to find a campsite, I wandered around the open space of the summit, looking in all directions and trying to work out what I could see. Somewhere down there, possibly that way, was my house, my workplace, my whole life really. It gave me a better perspective on it all, some distance to think about things.
Then I slipped on something slippery, fell several feet and landed on my left leg with a sickening crack. There was a surge of adrenalin and pain like nothing I’d felt before. My vision faded, my head swam and I blacked out.
Sometime later I came around, the pain snapping back in and threatening to knock me out again. I fought it as hard as I could. I was in the middle of nowhere and would almost certainly die if I didn’t get help soon. I’d landed at an angle, so my backpack was against the rock and I was in a sitting position. My leg was shattered, the bone sticking out and blood running down and into my boot. There was no way I could walk.
As it turned out, I’d bought one of everything from the camping shop, including a whistle for emergency signals. A mobile phone was no good out here of course, so I’d have to rely on simpler technology.
I passed out again at least once more as I struggled with the dead weight on my back, but I eventually retrieved the whistle and began blowing for all I was worth. I had no idea if I needed to whistle Morse code or a certain sequence, so I just continued until I was out of breath, rested, and then tried again.
With no sound or warning of his arrival, an old man was standing there, just looking at me. He was carrying a tall walking stick and nothing else, and beside him, a scruffy-looking mongrel dog sat looking at me with some interest.
“Well youngster, that’s certainly an impressive situation you’ve got yourself into.”
I was dizzy with breathlessness at this point, so I didn’t comment on his remark.
“That pack can’t have helped, all that extra weight coming down on the leg. Not surprising it shattered so.” He moved closer and looked me up and down. “You’re in a bad way. Blood everywhere, bone everywhere. Most likely won’t make it, unless they can get one of those whirlybirds here. But then, there’s no way to call one.” As he rambled on, he seemed to be speaking to himself, or the dog, which thankfully didn’t answer.
He suddenly looked me straight in the eye. “You want to live, we’ll have to do it the old way. You can close your eyes, pretend it was a dream, anything really, as long as it lets you sleep at night.”
I was in a lot of pain and a bit woozy from blowing the whistle, but his manner, his voice and looking into those deep, deep eyes triggered a growing panic.
“Now then, no need for that. Soon be over.”
The man held out the walking stick, pointing it towards my leg, and began to speak some ancient language. Or maybe it was just some gibberish he made up as he went along. The atmosphere changed around us, the wind stilled, the temperature rose, and heat began to rise from the rock beneath me. My vision blurred, the pain in my leg turned to heat and I could hear the pulse in my head. The man’s words took on a regular rhythm and my heartbeat matched it. The heat gathered around the wound, turning to warmth and a tight pressure. My skin began to tingle like I was sitting on an ants’ nest, then all the ants gathered around my leg and slowly faded away, taking the heat and the pressure with them.
The man stood and stepped away. “There, all done. You’ll be weak, the blood’s taken in payment, you’ll have to heal that yourself.”
I looked down at my leg. My trousers were ripped and there was a sizeable but fading pool of blood around my boot. But the bone that had been sticking out was gone and when I pulled the material away my leg was whole and intact.
“What did you…”
“Best not ask youngster, your modern mind won’t accept the old ways. Let me help you up. Night’s coming, and you won’t be fit to walk down the hill with that thing on your back.”
When I woke the next day, I was in my sleeping bag inside my tent, with an empty water bottle beside me. My sandwiches were all gone as well, and I felt a dull ache in my left leg. I had no memory of pitching the tent, nor climbing in and going to sleep. I did remember the old man, and the dog, and the advice he gave. No, that had been a dream, I decided, triggered by tiredness and my thoughts while standing on the summit. Just a dream, that’s all, just a dream of the old ways.