Leaves crackled crisply under the soles of Matt Moon’s hiking boots. He crested a small hill and paused for a moment to take in the view.
A gentle slope rolled on ahead of him down into a small meadow bordered by pine trees on three sides and a mostly dry creek bed on the fourth. Early-evening dew bowed the tips of the long wild grass, which cast swaying shadows in the light of the sinking sun. A pale crescent moon was peeking up just above the tree line, signaling the onset of dusk.
Matt inhaled a deep breath of cool, sharp air, as refreshing as a brand-new set of double-As. Actually, he could use a couple of those… He reached into the side pocket of his day-hike backpack and fished out a couple of loose batteries, at the same time sticking one finger into his ear and pressing gently. Click: a rechargeable double-A slid out of his ear canal and into his hand. He replaced it with a new one and repeated the process with the other ear, then dumped the old ones into his pants pocket for recharging when he got home. Newly reenergized, he stretched his arms up and out and sighed in satisfaction. Springtime in the north-Island rainforest… Could it get any better?
Of course, almost anything would be an improvement on where he’d come from. Why had he ever moved to the Yukon in the first place? Sure, the outdoorsy life had always appealed to him, and he’d been able to escape from a little bit of personal history he had no interest in ever facing again, but the Yukon? He’d never needed to run quite that far away.
Oh well; live and learn. He had certainly learned some very useful things during his few months in the north. First lesson: when you are a battery-powered human being, always use rechargeables. Second lesson: when body heat is your most precious personal resource, don’t live somewhere cold. Third lesson: well, the third lesson was still a work in progress.
To continue that progress, Matt had made what seemed like his first good decision in years: he’d come back home. Well, not home, exactly—not all the way back to Nanaimo—but back to Vancouver Island. Big-time climate upgrade, and he didn’t have to worry about old troubles catching up to him out here in the Island’s sparsely populated northern reaches.
He hadn’t told anybody he was coming back: he was perfectly content with nobody knowing where to find him. Even the government was somewhat in the dark, thanks to the clever little mail relay system an old friend had helped him set up years ago.
It all added up to a perfect sense of comfort in solitude. And that gave Matt the context he needed to keep working on that third lesson…
Matt slipped his backpack off, unzipped the main pouch, and pulled out a coil of jumper cables. One end of the cables had standard handles with metal teeth, but the other end had been spliced and taped over with electrical tape, so that two flat, rubbery clamps with exposed copper patches in the middle had replaced the existing grips. Matt slipped the flat clamps onto his ears, adjusted them until they were comfortable, then grabbed the standard set of handles and clipped them onto something inside the open backpack.
A faint hum drifted out of the backpack. Matt grinned as the hair all over his body tingled and stood slightly up on end.
Easing the backpack onto his shoulders again and tucking the exposed loops of the cables away, Matt breathed deep, leaned forward on his toes, and took off like a cannon shot, pounding inch-deep footprints into the path and across the meadow.
It had taken him three hours to hike out this far.
He was home in fifteen minutes.
Author’s Note: For more about Matt Moon, read his previous appearance, Out of Fuel.