Every animal has its own way of surviving. The lion uses its keen hunting sense to prey upon targets. The snake has its reptilian instinct of avoiding danger, and its poisonous venom when it can’t. Even the goat, an animal that’s about as dumb as a sack of rocks, can still survive the harshest of climates due to its ability to go for long periods of time with little food.
Now, humans on the other hand…we might not be the most graceful of animals, or the most efficient, or the most sturdy…but we do something better than any other animal out there. We adapt. When faced with new situations, we can find novel and creative solutions to just about any problem. If the will to survive is large enough, a human can become just as strong, cunning or persistent as any animal out there, eventually growing into the best survivalist out there, a king of the land, master of all challenges that life was foolish to throw in their way.
We found Harold half-starving, living in a tree, and scared out of his wits.
Hey, I didn’t say everyone was going to be a great example.
I’ll admit, when we first set out exploring, I didn’t have much hope. I mean, three teenagers with relatively no long-term wilderness skills, all alone in what appeared to be an alien world or alternate dimension? I might not be a gambler and even I know poor odds when I see them. But after an hour or so of walking, I began to feel a strange sense of peace. Despite Diana’s earlier claim about seeing some bizarre creature, we didn’t encounter any other living things, let alone anything threatening. The forest was beautiful, and the weather wasn’t bad, all things considered. As someone whose daily routine mostly consisted of going to school and reading in my room, being outdoors in the fresh air actually came as a nice, invigorating relief. It almost felt like a hike, or a camping trip…as long as you ignored the fact we were completely lost (and possibly stranded forever).
“I think this might be the longest I’ve walked in years,” said Diana, stretching her arms up towards the largest of the five suns and yawning. “How much longer do we have to go?”
I rolled my eyes, even though she couldn’t see them. “So Patrick,” I said, hoping to fill the silence with something other than Diana’s complaining. “Do you, like, have any hobbies…or anything?”
Eden Hayes, master of social interaction.
“Well, Diana and I are on our school’s tennis team,” he said. “I’m also training to be a certified scuba instructor, but it’s so hard to get out to the tropics on a normal basis, you know?”
I nodded, trying to seem like someone who actually does interesting things. “Oh yeah. Totally.”
“But besides for that, just the usual stuff. Hanging with friends, studying. I dunno, nothing different than anyone else.”
“Oh, don’t be so modest, Pat,” said Diana. “We’re not just on the team, we’re the two captains. And we’re ranked in the top 10 for the country.”
Somehow, I got the feeling she was bragging more for her benefit that Patrick’s.
Patrick turned red. “Well, I just felt that there’s no need to bring it up.”
“That’s what I don’t understand about you Pat. “You work so hard but then you don’t tell others abou- HEY!” Diana almost walked directly into me. “What are you doing stopping in the middle of the path?! Watch where you’re going.”
Instead of reminding her that she was the one who ran into me, I simply pointed forward. There was a large tree a few feet away from us with a hole rotted into the side. A small human arm stuck out from inside the cavity.
“Oh god,” said Patrick. “Is that…Harold?”
Sure enough, as I looked closer I could see a faint outline of a scrawny body that was nestled within the hole. We rushed over and pulled the body out of the hole. His clothes were in complete tatters, he had lost a considerable amount of weight, and he seemed to be unconscious, but it was definitely Harold.
“Harold! Harold!” shouted Patrick. “Wake up!”
“Is he…” began Diana.
“Don’t even say it,” I said. It was like her natural instinct was to just assume everyone is dead.
Harold’s eyes began to flutter, and then they snapped open. He jumped up with surprising speed and backed away from us, his face warped in complete fear.
“Get away! Did the Minotaur send you?!” he snapped. His eyes darted around, looking for a potential escape.
We looked at each other. Minotaur?
“Harold, it’s us,” said Patrick. “You remember us, don’t you? From back home?”
How long had Harold been here?
I was worried that Harold had been trapped so long he had become feral. I had heard stories of people who had been away from civilization for so long that they completely forgot how to interact with others, more animal than human. Luckily, as he studied our faces, his wild expression faded and was replaced with complete exhaustion. He dropped to his knees.
“Patrick…Diana…” he said. “You…you…
Patrick was already helping him up and checking to see if he was alright. “Harold, I can’t believe it…what happened? Where are we?”
Harold sniffed back some tears. “I don’t know…I was in the attic…and I opened the closet to see if you guys had any more games to play and then I was here…and…it’s been so long! I thought I’d never see anyone again!
“Harold,” I said. “Just how long have you been here?”
“I stopped counting a while ago…months? I don’t think I can make it through another winter.”
So it had been less than a year, but still…the rate of time here was way too fast. It had only been ten minutes from the time I first found the door to when we went through it…which meant that it might be even longer before our parents found us. I thought about how when I first showed the closet to Diana and Patrick, it had been normal. So there was no guarantee they would ever find us, even if they checked the attic.
“So where’s the food?” asked Diana. Harold stopped crying and looked up at her. “You’ve been here for months right? You had to have eaten something.”
“Diana,” said Patrick. “Now’s not really the time to-“
“Screw that!” she said. “Look, I’m happy we found Harold, but we’re trapped here for god knows how long, and I’m already starving! So considering he’s actually survived in this hellhole, I’d like to know how he did it without chewing off his own fat!
“Diana! He’s completely malnourished!”
“No,” said Harold. “It’s fine. I know where to find food. Tons of it. More than you could ever want.”
“So then why were you passed out in the middle of a tree?” I said.
He looked me in the eyes with a face that was hard iron. “Because there are other things that want the food too.”