On the 4th of July by Holley R. Coleman
Surviving the Ozark Mountains
“Wake up.” A sweet voice whispers to me.
Slowly, my eyes flutter open and stare into the night sky. Every star is shining so bright like enormous diamonds in a store window. I think that they may burst in the sky at any moment and start to realize that I am not dreaming. Moon light enhances everything around me so I am able to see the peaks of the mountains and even the towering height of the trees all around me. It doesn’t seem real. It is so gorgeous that I feel as though I am gazing at a painting. The peaks of the mountains were peering out from behind enormous trees, each one standing at perfect attention.
“Where am I? How did I get here?” I wonder to myself, as my fingers grab handfuls of gravel and grass. I realize that I am lying on the ground and not on a sleeping bag or blanket. I am outside.
“Was I camping?” I whisper to myself softly hoping that someone will answer me.
I feel as though someone is trying to hold my hand next to me, and feel a calm warmth creep over me. Turning my head, I feel a sharp jolt of pain, everything in my body is tingling. I looked to see who is holding my hand and I am surprised to see that nobody is here. I am alone but I am not scared for some reason. I still feel like someone is sitting next to me, watching me. I can hear music, very loud music.
“Where was this coming from?” I can hear the sound of Tina Turner's voice belting out "River Deep....Mountain Highhhh oh baby.....If I lost you would you crrrrryy?"
I feel so disoriented and wonder if someone had slipped something in my drink at the party that I was at earlier.
“When was the party? Was that today?” I ask myself hoping for some sort of realization.
When I move my arms to help push up my body, it feels as though something or someone is holding me down. I do not have the strength and everything in my body is aching. Each breath I take seems tortuous and makes me feel as though I am running out of air.
“Get up!” I heard the familiar voice again, whisper to me.
“Ahhh, I am trying!” I cried back in frustration at my surroundings.
I struggle against the invisible force field that was holding me down. Each movement made every part of my body ache. I took the biggest breath I could and pushed myself into a sitting position. Everything around me starts to spin as I try to focus on my surroundings. I touch my forehead, wipe away the moisture, and realize in a panic when I gaze at my fingers, they are covered in blood. I can feel cuts on top of my head and forehead where warm blood is surfacing quickly. I also notice a long gash that runs down my right arm.
“What happened to me? Is this all my blood?” I keep talking softly as if someone is next to me and we are exchanging secrets. I don’t want to accept the reality that I may be alone in the Ozark Mountains. The Ozarks are filled with all sorts of creatures from coyotes to moonshiners; I don’t want to encounter either. I want to find out where this music is coming from. If I find a house that does not look too scary, maybe they can help me find out what happened.
After several minutes of slow snake like movements, I am almost to a standing position. I lean against the closest tree to catch my breath. I am wheezing as if an Asthma attack is coming on and I remind myself that I don’t have asthma. I rub my fingers against the soft bark of the tree to help me focus on what is real and what isn’t. I still hear Tina Turner singing the same chorus over and over and begin to notice that it sounds as though the song is stuck on repeat. I force myself off the comfort of the tree and stagger towards where I think the music is coming from.
Each step that I am taking feels as though knives are stabbing me in my legs.
After a few paces, I stop thinking about the pain and begin to focus on where I need to go. I can hear the music getting louder which gives me hope that I am heading in the right direction. I start to see headlights through the trees that I am bouncing off of and feel a jolt of energy that allows me to keep stumbling on, wheezing harder with each step. When I get close enough to see that it is my Blazer, I wipe my eyes to make sure that the blood running down my face is not blurring my vision. The SUV has been smashed so severely that it looks as though it fell off truck leaving a scrap yard. The roof is completely caved in, all the windows are smashed, the brand new maroon paint looks scratched and beaten as if it was just used in a car derby. To my amazement, it is still running. The engine is making a loud knocking sound. It reminds me of the sound you would hear from a sledgehammer beating into concrete.
The closer I get to my Blazer, the more I notice the knocking, loud and uninviting. I grab the driver’s door and try to open it with as much strength as I could muster. I don’t notice the glass tearing into my skin as I pull on the door with one hand. I just want to be inside of the SUV and don’t care if it is smashed. It seems safe in there for some reason. Maybe if I just lay down inside, I could wait for help?
“I need to get out of here!” I think to myself. Surely, I can still drive it if it is still running.
The door will not open and I start to circle the vehicle ignoring the music that has been playing the whole time until I get to the back of the Blazer. I reach inside and start banging on the disc changer that is mounted on the side, in hopes that it would break and the music would stop. I pound on it with my fist and all it does it allow it to change to the next music track.
“Girl you’ll be a woman….soon….” The sound of Neil Diamond slowly singing seems to calm me down without feeling too defeated.
Head pounding, panic consumes me as I take in my surroundings, hoping for some sort of clarity but the music and car noises aren’t helping me concentrate for very long. I look towards the top of the tree line and see a flicker of a light. My head is still pounding and. I know that I had to have been in a wreck, but where am I? I see another light at the top of the tree line appear and then as soon as I notice it, it disappears. At that moment, I grasp that what I am seeing are car lights. My eyes adjust quickly and I see the side of a mountain ridge. My heart starts racing at the realization that I must have gone off the road at some point and now I am in a valley in the middle of the night. Something keeps telling me that I need to get to higher ground. I have to get back up to the road.
“SOMEBODY HELP ME! ANYBODY!” I scream as loud as I can which has me more winded than before. I hear my own voice seem to spring back to me which surprises me at first. I have to remind myself that there may not be anyone around here for miles.
“Nobody will see me down here.” I tell myself as if I have to justify the need to be all the up way there, at least 100 feet above me. It could be 10 feet and it would still seem almost next to impossible for me to get myself there without any climbing equipment.
I start to walk through the trees in the direction of the lights. My legs are in autopilot and moving slowly, despite the large pieces of glass that are sticking out of them. I try not to think about the blood that has soaked my clothing or the injuries that I have. I know that if I don’t get help soon that I could go into shock. I can already feel the disorientation getting worse with each labored breath and cemented step through shrubs, thorns, trees, anything that is in my way. I listen for other signs of life that could be around me because I am afraid the scent of my blood will eventually attract something that I should avoid. The sounds of dogs barking in the distance catch my attention first; immediately followed by the sound of a coyote. I try to listen to where the barking was coming from but can’t tell because it seems as if the animals are all around me. I remind myself that sound can bounce off the mountains and seem closer than it really is. I was lucky to have been able to follow the music to my Blazer but didn’t think when I was circling my vehicle to look for my purse that had a pocketknife inside, my cell phone to call for help, or even my cooler bag filled with food or water.
My head is getting heavier and starting to feel like a bowling ball sitting on a thin rubber stand that was about to give way at any moment. I am exhausted and feel my body start to quiver and jerk in small movements, the wet blood soaked clothes causing my shivering to get worse every passing moment. I want to lie down but I also know I want to be wrong about the possibility of a pack of wild mountain dogs or coyotes attacking me if I don’t get out of here soon.
I have no idea how long I have been wandering through this forest but a sense of relief comes over me when I start to see rocks and weeds. I also don’t remember taking off one of my tennis shoes; but know that it is in my hand, because I am using it to dig into the dirt with one hand and as the fingers from my other hand claw away the pebbles and debris. Something inside keeps telling me that this is where I need to go…… Up.
I start grabbing at the rocks that would hold my weight and pulling at the vines and weeds sticking out of them. I don’t focus on the fact that I am slowly getting higher and the sound of my Blazer’s engine still knocking at this point and music still blaring, is getting further away.
I have never climbed anything in my life, other than a rock wall in a gym, but I seem to be setting a good pace for myself.
The familiar voice whispers to me “You are almost there, don’t give up Holley.” I clutch, pull, claw, grab anything that will get me higher. I cannot tell if the liquid I keep feeling on my face is from my tears or blood, I tell myself not to think about it. I don’t know how high I am or how much further I have to go. I will climb until I feel the road and when my fingertips finally feel the earth start to change; I know that I have made it to the road.
I breathe in as deep as I look down from where I just came from; and can actually see headlights flickering off in the distance below. I know that must be my blazer because I can still hear the engine knocking more slowly this time. It sounds like a soft hand rapping on a front door from this distance. My head is pounding more than ever and feeling extremely heavy. I bend over to put my hands on my knees in hopes that may help to slow down my breathing, but an intense pain shoots through me. I stand up straight again and look down at where the pain is coming from and notice something sticking out through my t-shirt. It looks like a piece of wood, possibly a tree branch. I reach around with the other hand, go to move it thinking that it is just caught in my shirt, and realize quickly that it isn’t. The branch has actually pierced through my left side. I know now why I have had such trouble breathing and cannot understand how I did not notice this sooner. I rub my fingers gently over the rough wood and follow the length of the branch all the way to my side. When I attempt to move it, sharp pain shocks through me. Breathe slowly and stay calm. Screams are on the verge of escaping my lips but I cannot do it; I feel mute. Every passing moment I feel the energy draining out of me.
“Well this isn’t good.” I tell myself as I start to look around for the closest house. There is nothing. The road is almost black except for the areas that the moon is illuminating. I am guessing it is at least midnight because the occasional spurts of fireworks are still going off in the sky away in the distance. I don’t have the strength to walk or even move anymore. I know that I have lost a lot of blood, because I am covered in it. My legs give out from underneath me and I slowly lay down on the hard cold asphalt.
I stare up into the sky and hope that someone will drive by soon and see me. I start to hear the last few knocking sounds coming from the valley below as my SUV starts to die. It sputters its last few loud breaths. I am left alone laying on the road listening to nothing but silence once the music and engine knocking stops.
I feel the tears running down my face because all I hear are the dogs barking and growling down below. I drift in and out of consciousness dreaming of my children that I kissed goodbye before leaving for work. I think about what I would be doing if the youth center wouldn’t have called for me to work an off-shift. I try to stay awake and keep telling myself that I don’t want to die this way. Alone.
I dream until I hear the sound of an engine coming from around the mountain bend in the road. With the last bit of strength, I raise my arm as if I am a student in class and hope that the driver will notice me on the side of the road. The truck zips by me without hesitation and deflates the last bit of hope that I was holding onto. I watch it go by me and start to cry. The sound of screeching tires startles me and when I open my eyes, I see the brake lights of the old truck that passed me just seconds earlier. I see the driver turn around quickly and position the truck headlights on me. The lights are blinding me from seeing who is approaching me, but I know I am safe.
“Mam? Are you ok?” I hear a thick southern accent ask me.
“Do I look ok?” I respond as loudly as I can.
He will call for help on his CB radio and be the one responsible for saving my life. My savior is wearing overalls.