Chapter 8 Summary

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Brian is awakened in the middle of the night by a low growl accompanied by a terrible smell. Although he can see nothing in the impenetrable darkness, a stench of rot permeates the shelter. Brian then hears a slithering sound near his feet. Terrified, he throws his hatchet at the source of the sound and kicks out as hard as he can. The hatchet misses its target and instead strikes the rock wall, inducing a shower of sparks; Brian’s leg is simultaneously “torn with pain.”

Screaming and backing against the wall, Brian thinks he can make out a “bulk in the darkness” moving away from him and back out through the door of the shelter. When it is clear that the creature is not going to return, Brian examines the source of pain in his leg and discovers

a group of needles that have been driven through his pants and into the fleshy part of his calf.

Understanding that his attacker must have been a porcupine, Brian notes how situations can change quickly. He had just gone to sleep with a sense of satisfaction and peace, and now, a few short hours later, everything is different. Brian hardens his resolve and begins the odious but necessary task of removing the painful quills. There are eight embedded in his leg, and he bravely jerks them out, one by one.

When the job is done, Brian’s leg throbs with an intense, aching pain, and he is overcome once again by waves of self-pity. He begins to cry. This time, when he is all cried out, he looks back on the time wasted and realizes “the most important rule of survival.” Brian understands that feeling sorry for his self just does not work; after he had finished crying, not one thing about his situation had changed.

Brian finds that his physical patterns are already being altered as he adapts to the requirements of his new environment. He falls into a light sleep, not dreaming until right before daylight. In the initial segment of his dream, he sees his father, who is trying to tell him something, but Brian cannot comprehend his message. He then sees his friend Terry, who is making a fire at a barbecue pit. Terry, too, seems to want to communicate something to Brian, but again, he does not know what it is.

Brian awakens to the dim light of morning. As he eats some raspberries, he sees his hatchet on the ground where it landed after he threw it at the porcupine. Reflecting that the hatchet is his only tool and that he should take care of it, Brian takes it outside with him. He stretches luxuriously, raising the hatchet over his head, where it catches the first rays of the morning sun. It suddenly occurs to Brian what his father and Terry had been trying to tell him in his dream—he must have fire, and the hatchet is the key to acquiring it. Remembering that when the hatchet had missed the porcupine and hit the stone wall instead, it had caused a shower of sparks to rain down, Brian goes back inside the shelter to examine the wall and strikes it again with the hatchet. The black rock of the wall explodes with sparks, and Brian knows that somehow, with the rock and his hatchet, he will soon be able to have a fire.

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