Primordial Elements by R.V. Priestly

It was a nearly two-hour grueling trek, but finally, I found an acceptable campsite. The night was falling rapidly, and of all the tasks I had to perform, making a fire was perhaps the most important. I dropped my gear and got right down to it. With the flashlight in one hand and the large hunting knife in the other, I did some quick chopping and stomping to reduce a few dead branches to a pile of firewood. Almost everything was damp, but I found enough dry wood to burn. There were plenty of twigs lying around for kindling. With those, I made a second pile. Pine needles, moss, and birch bark would have been great for tinder, but it was too dark to scout out these items. Fortunately, my backpack had a fire starter kit and a box of waterproof matches. I struck a match and said a prayer to the patron saint of campfires, hoping the damp wood would burn. The spark caught hold, and I leaned in close and blew into it. There was more smoke than fire at first, but soon, the tiny flame breathed on its own. Its survival was the most crucial thing in the world just then. I didn’t need to cook, but I needed the fire’s warmth, light, and protection from insects and wild animals. I fed more wood to the flames and sat back on my heels to admire my creation. When it was strong enough to sustain itself, I moved on to the next important thing: 

setting up camp. 

I spread the shell on the ground near the firepit and snapped the flexible rods together. After threading them through the fabric sleeves, I carefully bent them to create the loft and popped the ends into the grommets at the corners. I was in a rush, so I took a chance that there wouldn’t be much wind that night and didn’t bother to stake the tent down. I did, however, cover it with the fly. I couldn’t take a chance that it wouldn’t rain. When my humble abode was erect, I returned to tend to my precious fire. 

Darkness descended like a thick blanket over my tiny camp, completely isolating me from the rest of the world. Orange and gold flames curled around the logs in the pit, casting enough light to push back a bit of the night. Shadows swayed eerily around the camp’s perimeter, enhancing the mystery of the evening. Still, I breathed a profound sigh of relief for the first time that day. The race against the setting sun was over. I was where I needed to be, off the grid and out of reach. There wasn’t another person in the world who knew where to find me then; that was precisely how I wanted it. 

I sat on a stump beside the fire, removed the knee brace, and assessed the damage. Since the bumbling incident earlier that evening, when I stumbled and plowed face-first through a massive spiderweb, I was limping again. Sighing away my annoyance at the possible setback in recovery, I rubbed my hands together and began to massage the injured joint. While gazing into the fire, I reflected on what had been a most trying year. 

It began with the death of a dear friend, with whom I sat as she lost her battle with cancer. The following season, I caught and held another young woman who attempted to throw herself off a bridge. Those life-and-death encounters, happening in such succession, seemed to 

affect me in ways I had yet to come to terms with. Then, shortly after that came my own brutal fight for survival against a group of thugs for some stupid gang initiation, as was explained by the district attorney afterward. The confluence of these seemingly unrelated events had me contemplating those existential questions for which there were no easy answers. “Who am I? Why am I here? What should I do with the time I have left?” 

As the tensions of the day and city life drifted away, inevitably, my thoughts turned to Taz. The two of us had become very close. I recalled our last conversation with a pang of guilt. I tried to explain why I needed to make the excursion. She quickly pointed out all the potential dangers. 

“No one will be able to reach you,” she argued. “Did you consider that your family and friends will be worried sick about you?” She debated this and several other valid points, not too subtly implying that my personal needs might be selfish in this light. Her argument did not fall on deaf ears, though. I had already considered these and agreed. That’s why I’d omitted a few details, like the fact that I would be fasting the entire time. As for Taz’s argument, I understood the truth behind her words. She had a sense of adventure rivaling my own and didn’t like being left behind. After all, since we’d met, we had been rock climbing, sport cycling, mountain biking, hiking, and camping together. That competitive spirit was what I loved most about her. 

A rustling sound caught my attention, and I turned to see an eddy of leaves swirl into the firelight and out again. Flames fluttered, and something howled in the distance, sending a cold shiver along my spine. Suddenly thinking I needed a more robust fire, I scooped up the rest of the chopped wood and placed it in the pit. A pot of water with herbs that sat near the fire began to simmer. That blend of chicory, licorice, and bancha twig tea was supposed to curb hunger. I’d read that somewhere. I called the concoction “The Brew.” 

While the tea steeped, I went to my pile of gear to retrieve the one companion I did bring along. The zippered bag was roughly the size and shape of a rifle case. It contained no weapon of destruction, though. Knowing there was bound to be a lonely moment or two, I’d brought my backpacker’s guitar along to keep me company when the silence became too loud. I called it Onyx because of its black lacquered finish. After a quick tune of the strings, my guitar and I began to get reacquainted. Strumming softly and sipping warm Brew, I sat beside the flames until they burned to glowing embers. Eventually, weariness took hold, and my hands stopped moving of their own accord. Before I called it a night, I placed my feet firmly on the earth between the roots of that twisted stump. I closed my eyes and grounded myself in the tangible reality of the material plane. The night was still and peaceful, and I breathed it in. 

When the embers cooled, I rose to my feet. With Onyx in tow, I crossed the clearing to the tent. I was almost there when I felt a tingle at the nape of my neck. I whirled around suddenly to peer into the trees. Although my eyes could not penetrate the darkness, I knew something was watching from the depths of those shadows. 

Roderick Priestly is a martial arts teacher and owns a fitness studio in
New York City. He writes a fitness blog, “My Studio In The Heights.”
Once a year, he travels into the mountains on a solo sojourn for
inspiration and insight. He has worked as a professional
singer/songwriter/performer, studio owner/manager, private personal
trainer, and master trainer at New York sports clubs. He attended The
Ohio State University for music, The Fashion Institute of Technology for
computer design, writing workshops at Manhattanville College, and
writing groups. His work is forthcoming in Freshwater Literary Journal,
Perceptions Magazine, SLAB, and Umbrella Factory Magazine. He writes
using the pen name R.V. Priestly.