I stared up at the darkening sky and for a moment everything seemed to stop.  There was a ringing sound in my ears and chill in the air, but other than that I heard nothing, felt nothing, and everything around me seemed so still.  I strained my ears, trying to hear the wind rustling in the trees far above me, even to hear the sound of my own breathing, but I was met only by silence.  It was as though my fall hadnít just jarred my bones, but had somehow knocked me out of kilter with time itself, trapping me in a single moment.


At least, that was how it appeared until I tried to lift my head and a wave of pain shattered the illusion.  I cried out, my shrill squeal climbing the rugged stone walls of the crevice before being carried away by the evening breeze.  I lowered my head again, panting for air, whimpering as pain continued to rage within me.  I closed my eyes tight, gritted my teeth, tried to bear it like the man I almost was, but Iíd never felt anything so bad in my life.


My legs felt as though someone was driving hot knives into them and then slowly twisting the blades.  I knew they were both broken.  I didnít even need to examine them.  Iíd hit the ground feet first and Iíd heard bones snap in the instant before the rest of my body crumpled onto the cold stone floor.  I wasnít sure how badly broken my legs were, but that was something Iíd let myself worry about when I was safely in a hospital bed.


What other injuries I had I wasnít sure, but I was certain there were more.  My back was throbbing and it felt as though someone was pounding my lower left side with a hammer.  There was a constant, unyielding pain coming from my left elbow and the shoulder above it felt as though it had been twisted, wrenched, though not torn from its socket.  As for my headÖ


I didnít know if the pulsing pain within my skull was caused by my other injuries or if Iíd actually hit my head when I landed, but the fact that I was able to move, to think, to see and hear suggested that Iíd suffered no serious wound there.  Even so I felt wetness in my hair at the back of my head.  I didnít know if my head was resting in a puddle of water or if I was bleeding, but either way I knew it was the least of my problems.


In spite of the pain in my back, I could still had feeling in my limbs Ė a little too much feeling as far as my legs were concerned.  In spite of the pain in my left arm I could still move my fingers in my left hand, so I felt confident Iíd done myself no serious injury there.  My legs, however, were my real concern.  The broken bones were not life-threatening, but I knew that I wouldnít be able to stand, let alone walk, and that was a problem.


I gazed up through the crevice at the fading sky above me.  The rich royal-blue colour told me that night was rapidly descending upon me, so I knew I didnít have much time.  Once the sun was gone from the sky I wouldnít be able to see the walls of the crevice and there would be no possibility that I would be able to climb out, let alone find my way back through the woods and into town, or even to a road, anywhere I could get help.


Though I was only two miles from town, three at most, I knew I was on my own.  Iíd told my parents I was going for a walk, but in the four years that Iíd been taking my woodland walks Iíd never once told anyone exactly where I went, never shared the experience with another living soul.  And in those four years Iíd only encountered other people in the woods a handful of times.  Iíd liked it that way.  Iíd gone for the walks precisely because I wanted to be alone, to think.


The woods surrounded my hometown on two sides.  To the east the woods were popular amongst dog walkers, families, anyone really who wanted to enjoy the well-trodden paths, the gentle slopes and the pretty foliage.  Most people preferred the woods on that side of town, very few opting to explore those to the south.  The southern woods were denser.  It was difficult to walk amongst those trees without being snagged by branches or prickled by the thorny undergrowth.


Further, the land ten miles south of town was mountainous, and even a mile into the woods the slopes became steep, the ground hard and rocky.  Walking in the woods to the south of town was too much like hard work for most people, so they avoided the area.  Of course, that meant that it was perfect for me, an open retreat where I could find solitude, space to think, to contemplate.  The fact that it also gave me a pretty good workout was an added bonus.


Normally I didnít venture too far from town.  I could stay within a mile of civilisation and still find myself adequately isolated from the world.  Further than a mile from town the ground became rougher, even perilous in places.  The few times Iíd ventured that far Iíd been careful, finding a long stick and using it to test the ground in front of me, watching where I stepped, leaving markers to ensure I could find my way back to town when I felt ready to return.


If it hadnít been for that phone call from my father thenÖ


I groaned, my lips flickering into a brief smile in spite of the pain that still gripped my body.  My father may have angered me in that phone call, and it may have been indirectly responsible for my fall, but the memory of it reminded me that I still had my mobile phone.  Provided it had survived the fall, I could use it to call for help.  Sure, I probably couldnít give precise directions to where I was, but at least I could let people know I was in trouble, get them searching for me.


I tried to recall which pocket Iíd put my phone in after my conversation with my father.  It was difficult to remember.  By the time he was done yelling at me Iíd been so angry my thoughts were far from coherent.  I had a vague memory of hanging up on him, switching my phone off so he couldnít call me again, couldnít intrude further on my solitude, but I couldnít remember which pocket Iíd put it in.


I knew Iíd been holding it in my right hand when Iíd finished the call.  I could picture it there as I pressed and held the button to shut the phone off.  That meant that it had to be in my right trouser pocket or the inside left pocket of my jacket.  Either way, it was my right arm I needed to move.  I breathed a sigh of relieve at my good fortune, for whilst Iíd injured all four of my limbs in the fall, my right arm felt as though it had suffered the least damage.  That meant moving it would cause me the least amount of pain.


I raised my right arm slowly, clenching my teeth as my back once again began to throb.  The pain wasnít unbearable, but it was more than uncomfortable, more than enough to consider dropping my arm back down and waiting a little longer, but I knew that with night rapidly approaching I was running out of time.  Just as I could not safely navigate my way back through the woods in the dark, any rescue attempt would have to wait until morning if I delayed much longer, for the terrain was too dangerous to allow a search to take place at night.


Of course, the chances were that I would be spending the night where I was anyway.  Even if I did get through to someone and alert them to my situation, it took time to assemble a search party and by the look of the sky there was less than an hour of light left.  Still, the sooner I acted the better my chances of survival.


Taking a deep breath I moved my arm towards my trouser pocket, patting it gently, carefully, anxious not to disturb my leg too much.  Without probing the pocket I couldnít be certain that it was empty, but as best as I could tell my phone was not in there.  Slowly, cautiously, I moved my arm upwards, bending it at the elbow, moving my hand towards my jacket pocket.


The more I moved my arm, the more the pain in my back seemed to intensify, but I knew I had to keep going.  Once I made the phone call, once I alerted people to my situation, I could lie still, relax, wait for help.  Well, I would have to try and cover myself, do up my jacket, try my best to keep warm, but I could at least take a rest.  I had to do it.  I had to get my phone.


Gritting my teeth so hard I felt as thought they might break, I continued, running my hand slowly across my chest until my fingers brushed the pocket.  Slowly I slipped my hand inside, praying with every fibre of my being that the phone was inside and almost singing with joy when my fingers wrapped around its cold plastic casing.  Careful not to move too quickly, I pulled my phone from my pocket, gripping it tightly and lifting it, moving it towards my face.


Though the light was dim, the phone looked and felt undamaged.  I took a deep breath as I keyed the Ďoní button, my heart skipping a beat when the screen didnít light up right away, but after a couple of seconds I was bathed in a soft blue light.  I smiled as I watched the phone come to life, closing my eyes, breathing a sigh of relief.  I didnít know how long it would take to assemble a rescue party or when they would be able to start looking for me, but I felt confident that by the time the sun next went down I would be lying in a warm hospital bed with my friends and family allÖ


A low-pitched beep silenced my thoughts of rescue.


I opened my eyes slowly, a lump forming in my throat as my mind tried to convince me that I was mistaken, that the beep didnít mean what I thought it meant, but as my eyes focused on the small blue screen and I saw the two words Iíd been dreading, I almost let loose a wail of misery.


No Signal.


It may as well have read ďNo HopeĒ.


Gripping the phone hard, I resisted the urge to throw it with all of my might.  Instead I lowered my arm and slowly, carefully, slipped it into my trouser pocket.


OK genius, what now?


I sighed.  There was only one real option.  It was too dark for me to attempt to climb the crevice walls to the surface.  Without the use of my legs and with a damaged left arm it would be difficult enough task to accomplish when I could see exactly what I was doing.  I had to wait until morning and hope I still had the strength to make the climb come morning.


The question was, what then?  How long would it be before people started looking for me?  After the argument Iíd had with my father, my parents would probably assume that I was staying with a friend.  When I didnít turn up at school in the morning people would ask questions, but I was seventeen and it wasnít unusual for me to miss a class or two.  The truth was, if I couldnít make it back to town on my own then by the time anyone realised I was missing it would be too late.


Do you have to make it all the way back to town?


I frowned at the thought, suddenly glad I hadnít discarded my phone.  Maybe I didnít have to make it all the way back.  Maybe all I had to do was survive the night, climb to the surface and then Iíd be able to get a signal on my phone.  Climbing the wall was still a massive undertaking, but it was possible.  I could do it.


Filled with fresh hope, I closed my eyes, relaxed.  It was only a matter of time andÖ




I opened my eyes as the drop of water hit my face.


Well thatís just perfect!


I groaned, clenching my teeth to contain my annoyance as more raindrops hit my face and torso.  The rain itself didnít bother me, but while staving of hypothermia on a chilly October night was going to be difficult, staving of hypothermia on a chilly October night whilst soaking wet would be next to impossible.  It didnít really matter if it was just a passing shower or if the rain would last all night, I needed to move.  I needed to get out from under the crevice opening and stay dry.


I glanced up at the opening and knew that my best option was to move left.  I would only have to move a couple of feet, three at most, and I would be out of the rain.  The trouble was actually moving.  With my legs and back the way they were, even the slightest movement was agony.  It had taken me five minutes, perhaps more, just to locate my mobile phone.  To move my entire bodyÖ


I knew there was only one solution.


Like tearing off a plaster.


Taking a deep breath I braced myself, tensing my body, gritting my teeth, preparing as best I could for the wave of agony that was about to envelop me.  With my right elbow I pushed hard, a cry erupting from me even before my body began to roll.  I felt my mind begin to swim as the pain consumed me, but still I let myself roll, using the momentum to propel me over once I landed on my face, forcing myself further from the crevice, rolling onto my side and thenÖ


And then I was falling againÖ



*        *        *



I didnít even try to move.  I knew it wouldnít make a difference anyway.  I could feel the blood seeping from my body in numerous places; from the bones that had torn through the flesh on my arms and legs, from the wound on the left side of my skull, from my mouthÖ


I felt a lump form in the back of my throat as I resisted the urge to call out for my mother, as I fought the fear that gripped me as I contemplated my inevitable death.  All of a sudden I felt like a little boy again, a terrified child lying in the dark, too afraid to go to sleep.  I wanted my Mummy.  I wanted her to come to me, to softly stroke my forehead, to sing me a gentle lullaby that would soothe my fears and allow me to drift peacefully into unconsciousness.


I had my own lullaby, of course.  I could hear it singing to me in sharp, shrill tones, but it did nothing to calm me.  As I felt the darkness coming I cursed it, cursed the melody that emanated from my phone.


Looks like I could get a signal after all.