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Backpacker Magazine – October 2012

Worst Nightmare: Breathless

A hair-raising tale of wilderness terror that will haunt your backcountry dreams

by: Rachel Zurer


Then the edges of his vision started to darken, and he lay back as the stove roared next to him, a hunk of snow melting slowly in his pot. He knew he shouldn’t leave the stove unattended, knew he ought to clean up before dozing off, knew he ought to get out his list of pros and cons. But just a moment couldn’t hurt. Maybe sleeping on it would help. He finally felt tired, for the first time in a week.

It seemed like the dream started right away. He was underwater, sinking slowly through a bluish-green sea, as fish nibbled his toes and waves crashed above him with a faint whoosh. It was hard to breathe. A deep dread pulled him even further down.

He awoke with a start. The cave smelled of burnt metal; the water in his pot had all boiled off. That feeling of drowning stayed with him, each breath not enough. He reached to turn the stove off, and tried to sit up. Somewhere, from an underground, muffled corner of his brain, the word “monoxide” bubbled up. He struggled to locate its meaning. Bio class. Diagrams of blood oxygen being replaced by carbon molecules. Odorless, colorless gas. Corpses still looking rosy and alive.

A doctor would have known better. He needed to know better, do better. He’d be more help to the world with some actual skills. If he could ever get out of here.

He swiped at his pack, too dizzy and weak to do much but flail his arm. His finger caught on one of the straps, and he managed to rock the whole thing a couple inches toward him as his hand fell. He hoped the gap he’d created was enough; he thought he could feel fresh, cool air seeping in.

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Reader Rating: -


Star Star Star Star Star
Jul 11, 2014

You all are dimwits. Read through the story real closely again and see if maybe you just don't get it. I would suggest none of you should ever go camping.

Great piece by the way!

Star Star Star Star Star
Jul 11, 2014

You all are dimwits. Read through the story real closely again and see if maybe you just don't get it. I would suggest none of you should ever go camping.

Great piece by the way!

Star Star
PW Mahlow
Jul 11, 2014

As he pulled his backpack away from the cave opening, his carbon monoxide filled brain registered the sad fact that the rushing wave in his dream was actually an avalanche seeling forever in his snowcave. As he drifted off to eternal sleep, he realized he wouldn't need to choose between medical school and the peace corps...

Star Star Star
Apr 30, 2013

I hate stories where you have to guess the ending.
As the snow cave collapsed he lay there thinking this is quite a dream, as he faded in and out. (Next)

Oct 31, 2012

Maybe this is a way to get more subscriptions

Oct 29, 2012

(Well if he won't finish it we can I'll try for a bit anyone else is free to add on)

Maybe it would have been better if the CO had finished him. Astor he lay there dazed the combined heat from thety stove candle and his body was quickly rising and melting the ceiling of his cave. All at once it collapsed. (Next)

Jerry G
Oct 26, 2012

Another BROKEN LINK!!!!!! No page 3. VERY FRUSTRATING!

Oct 26, 2012

I think the writer was experiencing CO poisoning as he wrote this.

Oct 26, 2012

He's done


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