I found this letter written inside the cover of a worn paperback copy of Lost Face. At first I only noticed the unspoiled supplies inside the cabin overlooking Crystal Lake, but once I had satisfied my roaring stomach and built a fire against the savage winds rolling off the mountain before me, I saw the book on the mantel.
I am writing this one hundred days since I landed, underdressed and unprepared, along the railroad tracks north of the highway. God only knows how long it will be before you read it. I hope the cache of supplies I left you are still usable.
The whole time I trekked through the snow, fending off wolves and searching for shelter day after day, I knew I wasn't the only person left out here. I kept finding bodies, stashed food, burnt-out campfires, and half the time I wondered if I was just going crazy because I never saw another single living person no matter how far I traveled. This used to be such a nice place. People camped and fished and lived here with their families, and now it's as if the Earth suddenly decided she was tired of us all. Maybe that's what happened.
I don't know who you are or what your objective is. Maybe you're searching for other survivors. Maybe you're lost. Maybe you're part of a rescue team. No matter who you are, I believe in you, no matter whether you've found a way to contact the outside world or you just need a place to stay. I built up this cache from nothing. When my man-made clothes wore through I harvested the carcasses of animals to make my gear and stitched the hides by the last dying embers of campfires from here to Desolation Point. I calculated which portions of food were the oldest and prayed they wouldn't kill me as I scraped the mold off and boiled the hell out of them. It was the best I could do. I counted the minutes until dawn and added only enough fuel to my fires to keep them going until the sun came up and I could travel by the light of day. Every time I found an abandoned house or car I turned it upside down looking for supplies and drank the water out of every toilet I found. I barely felt human.
Those first weeks were rough. I got frostbite early on while I waited out a blizzard in a snow cave. I suppose I'm lucky I woke up at all after I dozed off, but I was so tired, and eventually I opened my eyes to find my clothes and hands frozen solid. They weren't the same after that. It took longer to warm up, and every fall and wolf bite kept me down for much longer than they would have otherwise. I underestimated just how lethal this place is.
Not a day went by that I didn't work for my survival. I learned to fish and find medicine in the wild and break tin cans open without losing anything inside. I learned to fight off a pack of wolves in succession, and when they slunk away to bleed out, I skinned and butchered them and made the coat you'll find folded on the workbench. I even killed a bear once, but his hide was too heavy to carry, and I had to move on. It didn't get easier, but I got stronger. By the time I found this cabin, I feared only one thing.
Death will be the end, no matter how long you manage to survive. You could be a grizzled survivor who camped out for years in the mountains, living as comfortable a life as anyone can make for themselves, and one day you eat a fish that finishes you off for good, and it'll all be over. Or your roof caves in under the weight of snow while you're sleeping. As for myself, I do not fear death any longer, only the dread and suffering of slowly wasting away when the packaged supplies run out and the deer move on in search of food. I saw myself stumbling through the dark, becoming weaker and sicker and colder, finding nothing until I expired somewhere in the endless wilderness, forgotten.
I had a rifle, but I didn't want to use a cartridge that you might need more. Likewise, I had a stash of medicines that I could swallow before bed and never wake up, but believe me, sometimes a single aspirin makes all the difference between making it back to shelter and collapsing where you are. On the 101st day, I made the decision to hang myself from a tree just up the hill from here. Please know that it is such a relief to have died on my own terms, on the shores of this beautiful lake in a place that for all its cruelty is truly magnificent. Please take my supplies and be strong, and know that you have never been alone, no matter how empty the world has become.
I read the letter three times, momentarily unsure how to handle feelings other than hunger, exhaustion, and fear. At last I closed the book, placed it next to the survivor's fur coat on the workbench, and sat by the fire to mend my socks.