Chapter 55 - Survival of the Fittest

Chapter 55 - Survival of the Fittest

It was too late for regrets. Guo Pingan had reached the last stage of dehydration. His unmoving eyes stared upward at Shen Yu, as if he was trying to say something to her. In the end, his lips remained still and nothing came out.

One can always see a person’s true character in the face of adversity. Guo Pingan had let his comrades drink his last half canteen of water and went without himself with a smiling countenance. In the end, he died face up in the desert, forever still.

Shen Yu wept silently. In these past two days, she had already seen too much death. Nature was much too cruel. The weak flames of life often could not withstand nature’s brutal winds.

Mazha sobbed loudly and hit himself in the chest continuously. Had he had known the truth earlier, he would have left some water in the canteen for Guo Pingan. In fact, maybe that bit of water would have saved his life!

But it was too late.

Tang Can silently flipped through Guo Pingan’s remaining items. The deceased soldier only had a small notebook and ballpoint pen. Inside the notebook were Guo Pingan’s daily writings about what he had seen or encountered. The last entry was dated for today. In addition to his journaling, there was a portrait drawn in ballpoint pen of a young woman. The fine details clearly depicted that the subject of his art was Shen Yu!

The young officer’s heart trembled. He suddenly remembered that Guo Pingan looked at Shen Yu in his last living moment. Seeing that the young woman was still quietly crying and hadn’t noticed the dead man’s journal, Tang Can hastily hid it away. He turned towards Shen Yu and Mazha and said, “No matter who survives out of the three of us, whoever is able to get out of this desert alive needs to make a trip to Comrade Guo’s hometown. We need to make sure his belongings get back to his family!”

Mazha vigorously nodded his head in assent and swore an oath to Guo Pingan’s corpse, “Brother! Close your eyes in peace now! If I am able to get out of this desert alive, I swear to you that I will view your mother and father as my own parents!”

After hearing the soldier’s promise, a weird feeling crept up on Shen Yu. Although his words were touching, their futures were all still uncertain. Hopes were always optimistic. But it was hard to say if any of them would be able to survive their trip in the desert!

The three of them dug a hole with their bare hands and buried Guo Pingan after they conducted a small ceremony. They stood in front of his grave afterwards, all unwilling to move away. All of them knew that as soon as they left, it would be saying farewell forever to him. There was likely no way for them to find their way back in a year to add more dirt to his grave. The desert was a harsh place and finding an unmarked grave would be like trying to find a needle in a haystack!

Regardless of their sensibilities, they all had to eventually leave, if only to find water. They dried their tears reluctantly and set off again while it was still light. With the sun still shining and no storm in sight, they likely would not get lost again!

Where there was water, there was life! Next to the tiny creek was a small tree. Tang Can said that this creek was probably running on a new bed. When the water was running through earlier, it must have deposited a seed of this tree down. The seed sprouted next to the bank of the creek and grew from the water nearby. However, because streams often migrate in this area, it would be difficult to tell if the creek would still be close to this tree in future years. However, this type of tree was tenacious and often found ways to hang on. Even if it had to wait a thousand years for the water to come back, it would still hang on.

Shen Yu immediately understood what Tang Can was trying to say. He was trying to hint that people should be like the tree. He hoped that they, like the tree, could be resilient and patient in  the face of adversity!

Mazha was less refined compared to the other two. Half of the profound meaning in Tang Can’s words went over his head, and he had no interest in thinking more on it. Instead, his eyes shone as he stared at the running water. “I wonder if there are any animals who come here to drink water?” he wondered idly.

Shen Yu knew what was on Mazha’s mind: he wanted to eat! He was hungry. In fact, she was also hungry.

That evening, some birds flew down to drink some water from the stream. Seeing the birds, the male soldier let out a sigh of regret. He said that it was a pity that he didn’t have a sling with him. Otherwise, he’d be able to shoot down the agile birds with some rocks, and they’d have some meat to eat! With meat, they could gather their strength and extend their lifespans in the desert by a couple of days.

No other animals came by later that night. Just as Shen Yu was about to give up from disappointment, she suddenly heard an unfamiliar sound in the distance. Mazha had sharp eyes and was able to pick out what was making the sound.

“It’s a desert fox!” whispered the soldier.

Shen Yu squinted and tried to see what it looked like, but she couldn’t spot it at all. However, the two men were able to see the fox. They signaled each other with hand signals and split apart to stalk their prey.

Before long, Shen Yu could see the two men tussling with something in the distance. Within moments, they had a sand-colored fox struggling in their hands. The fox had large, wide ears and it yelped incessantly. Its cries echoed through the desert air and punctured the relative silence.

Tang Can later informed Shen Yu that the fox they caught was called a Fennec fox, and it was a specific type of desert fox. They were often seen in the Tengger Desert, but he had never thought that they would live here too.

Mazha added that desert foxes were considered to be very clever and nimble little animals. Had this fox not been relatively young and inexperienced, it wasn’t likely they’d have been able to grab it so easily.

Her heart felt weak at the thought of killing a juvenile creature. Shen Yu wanted to plead with Tang Can to let the animal go.

However, the young officer refused her request and had Mazha take the animal away to the side to be butchered. He gently explained, “Now is not the time to be merciful! We need to eat in order to survive!”

Shen Yu naturally understand their circumstances but she still felt sad at the thought of killing something so young.

“Desert foxes live in areas with food. There must be other creatures in the area!” Tang Can suddenly said. Using his military knife, he started to dig in the sand around them, as if he was looking for something in particular.

Shen Yu couldn’t figure out what he was doing. “What do you mean?” she asked, perplexed by his actions. What was he looking for?

“Desert foxes are very agile and can run faster than dogs bred for hunting. In the sand, they’re one of the best hunters. Birds, lizards, snakes, gerbils, spiders, scorpions and insects - they’ll eat anything! They also have a particular habit: they like to store their food, kinda like dogs burying some treats for later. They’ll dig holes in the sand and bury their prey in there for later, when there is a famine. So, if we look around, we will likely be able to find some caches of meat for us!” Tang Can explained as he continued to search.

The young woman frowned. “Even if we find what the fox has buried, is it really safe four us to eat that meat?”

Tang Can replied, “The desert is very dry. Most animals will dry up very quickly after death, and without moisture, it can’t rot. The meat should be fine!”

After searching a bit, the young officer managed to find some buried caches of food. His loot: a couple of dead birds and dead snakes. At first, the corpses of the dried up snakes scared Shen Yu. However, she was only squeamish for a brief moment. After spending so much time in the wilderness, she had more courage than before. She readily helped Tang Can peel the skin off of the dead snakes so they could eat them. The desert epitomized “survival of the fittest”, and it would be folly to think otherwise. As long as they could survive longer, all of them would be willing to do almost anything.

With the meat from the fox, birds and snakes, the three of them managed to ekk on longer. A few days later, they had finally stumbled across an oasis. In the oasis, there were lots of other animals congregated there, including a herd of wild camels.

Where there were creatures, there was food! Tang Can and Mazha utilized their strengths and slowly sneaked up on the wild camels that night. They wanted to grab a few and use them as modes of transportation. However, the animals were more fierce than expected. During the fight, the camels kicked both Tang Can and Mazha heavily. In rage, Mazha angrily stabbed one fighting camel a couple of times with his dagger. With that, they no longer had a mode of transportation left, but they ended up with plenty of food. The meat from the camel would last for a few days!

They skinned the camel and let the hide dry out in the desert. At night, they were able to use the camel’s hide as a warm blanket.

After spending so many days in the desert, cut off from the modern world, Shen Yu felt like she was slowly turning into a desert savage. While she was praying one morning, asking to be led out of this desert sooner, Mazha somehow came across a wooden crate in the sand. The soldier hollered in shock, and excitedly told Shen Yu and Tang Can to come to where he was!

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