He allowed himself to sleep in. A kill like he had the day before was exactly what he needed, and not having to wake up to an alarm was even better than that. Stephen opened his eyes at his own leisure and laid in the blanket of sunlight which was sneaking through his window shade. These ones his wife had hand sown out of deer hides, they were thick and meant to keep the light out. They had been useful at previous homes when he needed a mid day nap and he couldn’t bare to part with them. Ripping them down and moving them to the new cabin with him. Today they were pulled apart just an inch and a beautiful stream of light shown in and warmed him so kindly, as a friends long awaited hug would.
The light also warned him that he needed to do a thorough house cleaning, the amount of dust floating in that thin ray of sun was almost too thick to call transparent. His bedroom was small, his bed even smaller. He was unsure if it was even a single, it had always forced him and his wife to sleep so close to each other they would breath each other monoxide as they exhaled. Marlana had always complained about that, the ‘used’ air she would have to breathe in. Stephen would laugh at the complaint and kiss her rosy cheeks.
He sighed out loud from the morning memory of his wife. He loved being reminded but it hurt just as equally, to relive the fact that her love had been ripped from him. He rolled away from the warmth now and landed on the cold side of the bed. His wooden bed side table held the silent clock, his reading glasses and a plastic water cup for a bedside drink. He enjoyed life being simple, and that meant little belongings as well. He knew he still had a lot to do today, the list was growing in his mind even now as he slowly woke. Staring at the small hand ticking reminded him to also enjoy the little things in life, he was aware of how too quickly it can be gone. He climbed out of his comfortable bed and plucked the reading glasses off the table. Deciding he would finally sit and read his month-old newspaper and sip slowly, his first cup of coffee. It’s always the first cup that’s the most enjoyable, and most days he was too tired from hiking or working to sip it slowly.
The kitchen was cold, the fire had a habit of going out over night. No matter how much wood he stuffed in the black cast iron wood stove, it was still always a mere glowing amber in the morning. Some days when he would be out all-day hunting, his front door would be so cold that it would be frozen in place. Luckily, he had a backdoor that seemed to always be warmed just enough by the sun to open. Stephen wasted no time restocking the fire and putting his pot of water on to boil. He readied his regular bowl of dry oatmeal for the steamy water. The thick black grounds went into the coffee press and he waited.
He opened the kitchen blinds all the way this morning, to allow the full sun to shine in and onto his kitchen table. He was quite proud of this rustic table, he so wished Marlana was still around to see it. He had made it after she was gone, after a night of a massive thunder storm. The lightning had woken him in the late hours, the rain smacking the windows as if hands themselves were clapping to wake him. Not a whole lot scared Stephen, but that night he had pulled the blankets higher to cover his face. It seemed that the devil himself had come upon the earth to reek havoc in his backyard, maybe penance for some wrongs he had done previously.
Either way, he had to fight to keep his breathing steady as the itself shook from the thunder. The white lightning blazing through his tight squeezed eye lids, forcing every corner in the room to turn instantly bright. Like an x-ray he could almost see the room through his closed eyes with the sudden brilliance. In his half-asleep state, he felt the room was on fire and the blanket would burst into flames as well just from the white light in that half a second snap of lightning. The thunder followed with an earthquakes’ bang, Stephen had thought his cabin to collapse from the rumble. Then suddenly it was silent, yet it took hours for his nerves to cool and sleep to return to him.
The next morning examination of the carnage from the storm made his ranch look as though a tornado ripped through. The fence around his small garden was laying on it’s side, metal siding had landed in the middle. Ripped off from one of the retired grain silos and crumpled up into the middle of his carrots and pea shoots. The worst spring storm he had ever seen or heard. The biggest shock was the 50-foot-tall tree laying not even 20 yards from his cold storage wood shed.
He remembered feeling such deep fear, he could have lost everything if that tree had landed on his shed. Not only would it take him months to rebuild, but all the meat would be ruined; he would have lost his life line.
The tree was massive, he had spent over a week trying to cut it up small enough to burn. The root ball that had ripped out of the ground was larger than his old Chevy truck. He began cutting the tangled roots off to dispose of into the woods, when he noticed a type of intriguing pattern emerge. It seemed there was an incredibly flat part on one side (from where he had stopped the wood cutting up to) and almost a perfect lay out of legs on the opposite. He left the monster to sit where it had fallen for several days. Planning and thinking of what to make of it, it was massively heavy but stunningly beautiful at the same time. If Marlana was still there to have her word, she would say; ‘repurpose’. Everything happened for a reason according to her, and this tree falling, landing so near his last belonging was a meaning.
After several weeks of the roots drying, he began to envision a beautiful wood table. He had to chop the root ball up into quarters as the solid wood chunk was far too heavy for himself to move, or place any for that matter. With only two cans of varnish from the local town, he turned the root ball remnants into a perfect size kitchen table. The flat bottom perched perfectly to the ceiling of his cabin, rubbed down with sand paper and varnish clean. The root legs dried and cleaned to produce an entanglement of 20 or so roots for the base. The old table was instantly chopped up and burned in the wood stove that evening.
Sitting at the table he silently nodded to himself, rubbing the top smoothness of the table. The horrors of that night seemed to be worthwhile for the work of art he ended up with. Everything happened for a reason Marlana, he thought to himself. Except losing her soul, he knew no reason for that. Stephen shook the depressing cycle of thoughts out of his head and completed brewing his coffee and oatmeal. He knew better than to keep dwelling on her, it only dragged him down and he had to stay on top. Or risk drowning.
He smoothed the flimsy paper in front of him, almost as a child would be excited to read a comic; he had his newspaper. The paper had been purchased on his last trip to town and he had yet to open it. Sometimes weeks would go by without him knowing what was occurring in the outside world. He mentally added a new paper to his list of items required from town for his next trip. It should be planned soon, it was getting closer to the dead of winter, however the trip was hours long. He not yet required enough supplies to justify the trip, and for just a paper to read was ridiculous. The closest town was Lemoray, but the newspaper had come from a larger town named Chetwynd. Unfolding the newspaper, he was disgusted to see the front-page picture.
An old man sitting in a wheel chair and his wife standing at his side. Neither were smiling, the background was a hospital setting and the man had no arms. White bandages covering shoulder stumps stood in place where his arms once had been, the wife had he hand on his shoulder. Her hand too was bandaged. The man looked to be at least 70 but still appeared young in the face. He had several facial wrinkles, but his hair was a salt and peppery gray and he had much more of it than Stephen did. Stephen was aware of looking much older than what his drivers license said. He could feel the stress wrinkles growing larger and he imagined them causing all sorts of distorted shades on his face. He no longer cared, there was no mirror in his house to worry over what he looked like. It had been removed when he first moved in, they only caused more distraught feelings.
The woman standing beside her husband still had jet black hair, surely it was easily died that colour. Her face wrinkles were much closer to another than her husband’s wrinkles. Her face looked tired and worn, possibly just from the stress of the hospital visit reasoning. She had bright red lipstick trying to create a look of ‘I’m okay, we’re okay’ but the bags under her eyes told readers, she was not okay. Her face echoed the heart ache of the newspaper heading. Which simply stated ‘Local couple attacked by savage dogs, man looses both arms’. Reading on into the article it tells you they were not wild dogs, they were domesticated household dogs that had been beaten and mistreated. The journalist of the story determines that the dogs had escaped their torturous house and took their wrath out on a sweet couple living down the road. Making the reader almost want to feel bad for the dogs, yet the picture still shows the horror of what those two animals did to an innocent, lovely old couple. Who’s lives would never return to normal again. The story goes on to tell how the couples front door was open, so the old man could enjoy fresh spring air. Allow the house to ventilate from after the winter.
The man was dozing in his arm chair while his wife was in another room showering. The two dogs had no one to stop them as they strolled directly into the house. Reading on, Stephen’s stomach began to turn, not for the gore of the story. Describing how the beasts chewed the arms to shreds, no the part that was making Stephen feel sick was the sheer lack of human response. After these dogs had been raised for so many years by their best friends (beaten or not) and for them to turn on man like they had was disgusting. The two dogs went on to eat the man’s arms almost completely off. The tissue damage was so severe that the doctors had to completely amputate both arms. The man almost instantly transitioned from waking up in an attack to full blown shock. He had slumped back into his chair with one arm on each side of the chair and continued to be chewed on by the dogs. Almost as a raw hide bone would be chewed. Several minutes in the wife emerged to find the carnage. Blood was sprayed halfway up the walls, she immediately thought her husband to be dead.
The woman screamed and ran at the dogs, one did turn and attempt to attack her as well. She kicked and fought back until the animals finally retreated from the house.
Stephen refolded the newspaper, yes, he thought, I do need a new newspaper. Hopefully the next trip to town would produce a good story paper, however they were few and far between. Typically, the media only swallowed up sad, depressing stories.
He stretched his sore arm muscles; the hunt had exhausted more from him than he expected. Maybe he was getting too old for this, but then again; living in town got you attacked by local dogs. He figured taking his chances in the wild was still a better idea. With a warmed belly full of oats, he decided it was high time to start his morning chores. With having heard so many sounds of wolves the day before, he needed to ensure his pig bard and cold storage shed were safe. The last time he heard wolves following him back to the ranch he had lost a whole pig. That had cost him a few hundred dollars to buy a new sow. Standing up to stretch was risky business, he usually ended up hitting the cupboard doors or the light fixture with his long arms.
Stephen’s homey log cabin was petite, almost on the scale of ‘tiny house’. At only 600 square feet, he had just enough room for his bedroom, kitchen and bathroom. All laundry was done by hand and hung to dry; outside in the summer always produced such fresh clothing. The backdoor was located through his boot room, which was just opposite his bedroom. The boot room was just large enough to store his guns, hunting equipment, folded clean clothing and of course, his heavy hiking boots. He also kept Marlana’s old boots. He loved looking at them each morning, not yet accepting to toss them away. It brought him comfort to see the two sets of boots sit beside each other, reminded him of their hunting days together. Stealing his eyes away from her boots, he threw his on quickly and puddled to the front door.
He exited the front door of his cabin, left the wood stove blazing to keep the space warm for today. He was met with a brisk late morning chill, it had to be minus 35 degrees Celsius today. The moisture from breath immediately freezing to his 4-day whiskers, reminding him today he needed to shave. His foot prints breaking the fresh crust of snow, sounding like cracking being crushed by a toddler to be put into soup. The only sound echoing the serene landscape and it followed him as he ambled toward his cold storage shed.
The tiny wood building sat parallel to his pig and chicken house. The front door to the meat room still locked and did not appear to have been disturbed through the night. The even smaller barn to the left appeared to be peaceful as well. The door still closed, and the heavy wooden latch pulled down to secure it. He turned to return to the storage shed for his chores when a small hole caught his attention. It appears an animal had burrowed to the wall of the pig barn. He tipped his head to the side, contemplating what created the hole as he walked closer. He saw a wolf or coyote track through the snow taking off into the woods, spots of blood exposing the animal for being a thief. He ripped open the door to his pig and chicken shack and did a quick head count. The two pigs were happily huddled in the corner, staying warm. The chicken coop looked less happy. It was sitting above and behind the pigs, he always had to climb over the pig pen to access the chickens, but he figured that kept them safe.
Not this time, now the wire mesh had a large hole in the side, directly leading him to the two wood planks that had been separated by some greedy animal’s nose. Must be some mighty hungry animal to force himself through those solid planks, thought Stephen. He did a chicken bum count, since all he could see was the ball of feathers from each coop. He was missing three chickens, out of only 12 chickens that was devastating. His anger made him forget about the hole in the wall, he fled to the house and retrieved his 243 Winchester rifle. Perfect size for killing thieving wolves or coyotes, possibly even a raccoon could have created a hole that size. He threw on a toque, to keep his head warm and he began his frenzied hike. No thieving animals would get away with stealing his prize chickens! He followed the trail left by the stealthy feet, but it was also peppered with blood droplets from his chickens.
He spent hours searching, the sun risen high in the sky did nothing to warm the surroundings. Nearing lunch time, he found a spot where the animal that had stolen the chickens obviously had finished the job of eating them. Blood was splayed everywhere, along with small white feathers sitting neatly on the snow. Almost marking the grave spot for his birds. The animal tracks continued, in circles almost seemingly that the animal was food drunk. The blood pools were frozen, bright red almost cartoonish red. With no warmth left telling him the animal was long gone now. He never liked giving up, but he still had lots of work at the ranch. It was clear the chickens were dead, and whatever snatched them was unsure which direction it wanted to leave. Knowing too he could spend all day searching for this animal that would possibly end up back at his ranch for seconds before his own return. In his furious haste leaving his house, he had not even grabbed water. He had no snacks to retrieve more energy from to continue chasing the ghost creature. Reluctantly he turned to head back to the cabin when a small dip in the snow caught his eye.
The snow seemed to be collapsing in on itself, maybe the animal was a fox and had burrowed itself under the snow. He refused to give in if he was that close, leaning forward he snatched both arms quickly into the snow. Stephen half heartedly expected to bring his arms back up full of red thieving fox, instead his fist smacked hard into the ground. He pushed the snow back further, creating a large opening to reveal the cellar hatch.