Becoming a Survivor in The Long Dark

I feel sorry for her. I feel sorry for her because she’s a survivor and now, placed in my care, her time is short. Her time is short because I am not a survivor and have never thought of myself in that way.

Because I am not a survivor, there is no way for me to become the character in The Long Dark. Because I am not a survivor, I am removed from the experience of navigating the deadly conditions of the tundra of Canada as my own. Instead, my position is one of guilt-ridden possession. My inhabitance of this woman will be her unmaking. If it were someone else inhabiting her, maybe she’d have a shot at surviving. Maybe she’d better ration her supplies, maybe she’d actually find a way to kill the vicious wolves, maybe she’d stay warmer, maybe she’d know better when to push forward and better when to rest up. Maybe she’d live longer.

But, guilt-ridden as I am, and stuck together as we are, I do my best to get this survivor as far as I can, through the landscape and through time. I’m giving her my best effort. I’m not a survivor, but it’s the least I can do.

Our time together begins on a roadway that runs alongside a lake. In my previous possessions, I’ve taken her west first and lasted only a measly three days – killed by wolves leaving a small cabin. This time, having learned a lesson about traveling at dawn when wolves still prowl, I move her east.

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A small way up the road I come to a cluster of cabins. I let her enter the first on my right and head straight for the kitchen. Initially, I make her eat any food above 50% fresh until her calorie intake is over 1900. I make her drink enough fluid to rid her of dehydration. Stomach full, I have her continue her raid of the cabinets and let her store anything fresh, or mostly fresh, in her backpack. Next, she hits the bathroom. I make her bottle the water from the toilet bowl. These are tough times, and that’s potable water. She takes antiseptic, antibiotics, and bandages from the medicine cabinet, and matches from the tub. Next, I move her into the bedroom. I have her check every cabinet and every chest of drawers. I make her upgrade her clothing. If it’s warmer than what she’s wearing, I let her put it on. If it’s tattered or less warm than the clothes on her back, I turn it into scrap fabric that she can use to repair the clothes she has on. Warmer and still with a full belly, I turn her attention to the bed. I let her sleep, but not for more than 4 hours. She needs to keep her calories up and her fluid levels high. I wake her, she eats, she drinks, and she rests again. We repeat this schedule until daybreak.

In the morning, I guide her to the living room, and there we do a sweep of the house collecting wood. In one last sweep, we find lighter fluid. Having plundered the house of its useful contents, we head back out into the cold and toward another house in the small cluster. We repeat the same process in each house. Though the backpack becomes fuller, we sometimes loiter more than a day in each house. We spend the time repairing clothes, sleeping, eating, and drinking until the resources in the backpack are down and necessitate a move to another cabin in the cluster. We do this for 7 days.

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After a week of living amongst the cabins, the resources they offered have been depleted. It’s time to move on. We exit the cabin and scan the terrain. Back toward the road, there is a corrugated metal structure, but from the back, it’s hard to tell what it is. When we reach it, we can see that it’s actually a gas station. I’m skeptical, but we go in.

The gas station is the biggest structure we’ve been in. It has a series of rooms: a store room complete with food shelves and glass-faced refrigerators with drinks, there is a bathroom, a large car repair room stocked with tools we’ve not see in any of the houses, and a back room/office. In the office space, there is a cot and a steel trash can that’s been converted into a makeshift fireplace. Someone tried to survive here before us.

The gas station isn’t homey. It’s industrial and cold, but I prefer this. There are no family pictures on the walls to remind me of those who likely died before I came. There’s no weird feeling as I lay on the cot – this wasn’t someone’s real bed. Whoever was here before me was transient too. With all the food in the store room and the tools in the car repair shop, I could subsist here for awhile, at least another week. I settle in. I make the gas station my own.

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I light fires here. I never lit fires in the cabin fireplaces; it felt too invasive. Here, I light a fire and, standing beside it, start to mend the clothes I’m wearing. In the service repair area, I use the tools to repair my can opener; a value survival tool in and of itself. I search all the drawers and cabinets, but I leave the food where it is. If I’m staying here awhile, there’s no need to put it in my backpack. As in the cabins, I spend a lot of time sleeping in the gas station. When I’m not sleeping, I roam the same four rooms over and over again. I search and research the drawers. There’s nothing else to do. I begin to become aware of the tedium of simply surviving. What I wouldn’t give for something to read. I am just so bored. I sleep again. I wake in the darkness, fill my belly and just sit in total darkness. I am alone. I become acutely aware of how long the dark really is and how deeply it lingers when you’ve nothing to do to speed along its passage.

After 10 days in the gas station, not only are my resources finally depleted enough to urge me to move on, but my need for a change of environment is growing stronger too. Yet, while I’m tired of looking at the same walls and through the same drawers, I realize I’m also hesitant to leave.

I realize that, in the gas station, it stopped being me vs. her, and it stopped being “we.” In the gas station, it had become “I.” I had staked a claim on the gas station. I’d survived here for 10 days. I’d endured the boredom, the tedium, and the long dark. I’d become the survivor.

Still, it was time to move on. So, I threw the backpack over my shoulder, opened the gas station door, scanned for wolves, and headed west with the rising sun on my back.


*This post was written for the November edition of Blogs of the Roundtable “Home Sweet Home” theme. Other submissions can be found here:

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