Katarina was never one to warm up to a stranger straight away, but the smell of fresh pine trees coming from this man’s jacket was so inviting. The fact that she was somewhere other than the hell hole she had been buried in for years was so invigorating. She couldn’t help slipping off to sleep occasionally, she suddenly felt so safe being carried in this strong man’s arms. Her mind did not dream during the hike, but it slipped somewhere a little more peaceful. Stephen tried his best to not jostle her too much, but occasionally, his arms would get tired and he would scoot her up a bit. Her hair was breath taking, he couldn’t help but stare at the wild red tousled ends. The way it fell around her face she looked like an angel. He almost tripped a few times while carrying her, he was so engulfed in the look of peace that settled on her face.
Kat would open her eyes suddenly, as if she forgot she was being carried. She woke jerk as you do in a beginning dream of falling. Her left arm would flail slightly but she would be reminded by the sea blue eyes on her savour that she was rescued. She couldn’t seem to produce even the smallest of smiles; her stomach was too far past hungry that her mind wouldn’t respond. She felt as though they were walking for an eternity, in circles she imagined. The trees moved past but still held her fascination. Even through squinting eyes she stared at the sun, glorious to see its full release of angelic rays. Even the brightness of the sky was warming the cold horrors that were embedded in Kat.
Stephen continued his hike, never saying a word to her. He could sense that the last thing she needed was words to overwhelm her. Her big green eyes already looked lost when they did open. They were taking in the whole landscape at once and she squinted hard as if the sun was burning her retinas. Stepping into his already broken foot prints through the snow, that made the hiking easier anyways. After several hours he finally carried her up to the cabin.
He could smell the air was too clean, which meant the stove fire had gone out. He did not have the arm space to grab fire wood currently. He walked straight past the 2 cords of chopped wood and set neatly in the middle of his property forming a teepee. Kat opened her eyes as he slowed his pace, he had to plan this part correctly. She finally looked straight into his eyes, they held the gaze silently for a moment. There was a glint of something in the greenness of her pearl eyes, like she was reading his soul. Trying to determine his intentions, he smiled softly at her to soothe her panic that he was sure was rising quickly. Kat looked away then and saw the cabin they were approaching. She wanted to say something to him, she wanted to ask if this was his house, to say thank you. Anything but her throat was so sore it felt it was sand paper scratching itself just from breathing. She resorted to leaning her cold nose into his warm jacket instead.
She swayed to his movement as he stepped up out of the deep banks of snow to stand on the front landing. He shifted her body weight to be leaning more against his chest to free up his hand and opened the charcoal steel latch. Stephen knew he would have to accept some snow on his floor, there was no way he would put her down to stand upon entering. She looked so frail that she might fall over and pass out. He stomped his feet on the door jam as best he could without hurting the woman’s arm and walked straight into the cabin. Thankfully there was just enough heat left in the small space that it warmed the outside chill off you right away. He inched carefully past the large kitchen table and walked her straight into his bedroom. Since he had only one room, the bed would of course be commandeered by her. Her face was pale, and her red lips cracked and bleeding.
Stephen placed the broken shell of a woman onto his bed gently. The movement as he pulled his arms from under her limp body did cause her to open her eyes again. Wide with fear she looked as a deer would just prior to being hit. Her left hand smacked the top of the bed next to her body and Stephen could see the panic over boiling now. Her mouth was wide as if she wanted to scream but only a soft coo was heard. He took a step back right away to prove he meant no harm.
Katarina could feel her heart quicken she was suddenly in a new strange place and although she had felt safe in his arms, the warmth escaped her. She suddenly felt dread bubble up her throat, but the emotion quickly turned to vomit. Kat turned her head off the pillow and threw up the last remnants of food all over the floor. Her body began to shake violently, and she felt fever creep into her cheeks. She refused to slip into unconsciousness here, she was yet to be proven if this man was a friend. Although he did just smash through a wooden door hatch to rescue her, hiked her hours through the cold, to place her into a warm bed. She watched him back up another step and she laid her head back on the pillow. Staring up at the wood rafters she gave in to sleep, her body had been screaming for it.
Stephen stepped out of the room as quietly as possible, he had watched her eyes close and did not want to disturb her first sleep, she obviously needed it badly. Even first dozing off she was still shaking so hard it was moving the bed frame as well. He picked up his pace to return to the front door, the cold air was filling the small cabin quickly. With the door solidly closed now, he removed his heavy snow boots. The amount of snow, now water puddles, that he had tracked in was disturbing. The snow must be extra sticky for that quantity to track in. Although he is usually very meticulous about not allowing any in his house, he still did not want this snow to ruin the floors by staying.
He made quick work of wiping the clear puddles up with a soft red towel. Then he stood in the middle of the kitchen, trying to prioritize the tasks that needed to be completed. He had get the fire roaring again, clean this woman’s vomit off his floor and fix the hole in the chicken coop to prevent another theft. He decided the messiest chore first, cleaning vomit.
Katarina woke, the room was dark, and she was unsure how long she had slept. One thing she was sure of; her hands were no longer hand cuffed. She felt a well of joy grow inside her and then fade quickly from the pain emitting in her right arm. She sat up very awkwardly in the bed, her head was pounding, and her tongue was glued to the roof of her mouth. The room smelt sweetly of burning lumber and coffee. She looked to her left and saw a green mug, ‘Shoot for the Bucks’ on the table. It had thick tails of steam spilling over the sides. To her right was a window, completely covered by thick beige curtains. The material looked to be made of tanned hide. She could only imagine how thick the nails must be to keep it in place. Then she remembered she had vomited, a quick survey of the floor told her it had been cleaned up already.
Crawling out of the bed, she was pleased to find that her thin nighty was warm enough in this cabin, she left the room through the open door. But not before picking the mug off the night stand table.
“Hi” Stephen said to the woman as she emerged from his room.
“Hi” She whispered back, her voice coarse and jagged. She took a sip of the coffee and exhaled the soreness from her throat. The heat had an instant healing effect on her throat, but her arm still hung broken and crocked at her side. She was sure coffee would not help that. She sat in a chair next to him.
“What’s your name?” Stephen asked simply. He had to get to the bottom of this.
“Katarina.” She replied with an inch more character in her voice.
“I’m Stephen.” He held his hand out, then thought better of it and pulled back. He placed both hands on the table to show he was no threat to her. “I’m not going to ask you anything, until you’re ready to speak. Do you need anything right now?” His eyes were full of concern, Kat almost thought they looked glossy as if he had been crying. He was potentially so soft at heart this was tearing him apart.
“Pain killers.” Kat replied with a small chuckle, her adrenaline had worn out long ago and the pain was submerging any other need in a pool of black hurt.
“Yes. We need to deal with that” He replied, motioning towards her right arm.
“Unfortunately, I have no pain killers” He began but than seemed to remember something, “but I do have this”. He jumped up from the table and only needed to take one step to the retro style cabinet above the fridge. Opening the white hinged door, he pulled out a too large of a bottle of Jack Daniels Whiskey. He pulled two crystal glasses from the same cupboard and sat back at the table. His chair next to hers, and on her right side. He could tell she was weary about him being so close to such a horrific injury. Her right hand still stuffed under her left shoulder gave it some protection but not enough. He had yet to examine the arm fully but could assess that it would be painful to bandage. He twisted the top off the bottle and poured too heavy-handed drinks. Kat gratefully accepted hers, not hesitating the least bit before downing half the brown liquid.
“Huey” Was the sound that escaped her lips and Stephen couldn’t help but laugh from the face she wore. Her eyebrows furrowed, and her lips puckered, causing them to crack more, but she looked as though she had just bit a lemon. Or shot back half a glass of whiskey and was fighting the inevitable gag reflex of the alcohol.
“Yeah, it’s a little rough” He chuckled, “but it will help with fixing your arm” He poured more brown liquid into her glass and downed his own. The thick liquid burned on it’s way down, but he was grateful for the drinking buddy. It had been too long since someone sat at a table with him, come to think of it; no one had ever sat at this table with him.
“I know, maybe just one of two more of these,” Kat held the beautiful crystal glass up “and I’ll be ready.” She was not looking forward to him having to place her arm. Her stomach screamed angrily at her for the thick drinks of alcohol with no food to absorb it, however she remembered her teen years. It kicks in much faster on an empty stomach. Her stomach growled loudly.
“Would you like some food?” Stephen was eager to help her return some colour in her face. He knew her arm was a priority, but she wavered even just sitting in the chair across from him.
“Yes” Kat replied, her mouth salivating just at the mention of it. Stephen got up from the table and disappeared from the room, he figured he should have the first aid equipment ready as well. He feared leaving the swaying woman too long in the chair, she would fall and hurt herself. Especially with booze running through her veins now, coursing the blood thinner and her head lighter.
“Thank you” He heard her say as he rifled around in the bathroom.
“For what?” He called back, just as he found the large red first aid kit. He returned to the small kitchen and placed the steel box on the table. Kat looked at him, she didn’t have to say what for; they both knew. He may not have seen the room that she was chained in, he may not have known the full extent of the nightmare she endured. She didn’t feel the need to tell him anything yet, her mind was beginning to fuzz from the alcohol.
“Thank you” She repeated and put her glass down, instinctively she pulled her right arm out of its hiding place. She hadn’t planned on it, it was one of those things that happens once the pleasure of alcohol takes away the edge.
Her hand now in full view on the kitchen table, her fingers were pale and shriveled from the lack of blood. Her holding the hand up higher than her heart had helped keep the pain at bay, by draining all the blood out of it. The arm itself had a dangerous bow in the centre, about 3 inches back from the wrist the arm created a dangerous dip, a ‘U’ where it should be straight. Traveling up the arm, Kat looked to have saved the humerus, unlike what she originally feared but the shoulder dipped in the wrong direction as well. A rainbow of purple and blue blossoming out from her arm pit.
“I think your shoulder is dislocated as well” Stephen said, not touching, but fully examining the arm. He was turning his head in one direction then another to get a good look at the damage. It looked worse than he originally thought. When he wrapped her up in the blanket he had thought it to be maybe the wrist, a sprain at the worse. She had hardly winced or cried in pain, possibly she was just stronger than he anticipated.
“Of course, it is” Kat replied, humour in her voice and a slight slur from the alcohol. She could feel the full hit of the whiskey since she had no food in her stomach to cut any of it back from her. She almost felt like picking the dead hand up off the table and making a show of it. Her left hand instinctively reached for the right hand, Stephen gently stopped her from making such a huge mistake. She looked up at his strong face, the alcohol erasing all her fear from earlier she had a sudden desire to reach out and hug him. She attempted to move her right hand again, and once more; he gently stopped her. Resting his own hand on her shoulder.
“This is going to….” He began but did not finish the sentence. He only needed her eyes distracted from his hand before he slammed her shoulder back into the socket. Her scream bolted through the air nearly shaking the window panes to shatter. Kat’s head slumped forward from the surge of pain. She had passed out, Stephen made quick work of lining up the radius bone while she was unconscious. He had to pull her arm back from the wrist, it had jarred up into the hand bone structures and cracked the radius bone. He had had lots of experience dealing with bones and injuries from living off the grid for so many years. Even before his wife was gone; they lived together in the wilderness. They had had their share or injuries to fix without medical doctors.
With the arm straight-ish, he wrapped it tightly with the tensor bandage from his first aid kit. Finishing the handy work off with the cotton sling tied up around her neck. She was still out cold but stirring slightly when he pulled the sling tighter. He picked her up, once more, and carried her to the bed. This time being sure to pull one blanket off for himself. Since he had brought her with the quilt she had been using as a jacket, he was lucky enough to have an extra blanket. The second pillow however went to prop her arm up, he tucked her in the bed and left the door open. He had a sneaky suspension she would not liked closed doors for some time.
Stephen went about ripping the top cushion off one of his chairs, he did have four anyways and had never had company the entire time he was here. He used the cushion from the chair as his pillow and he laid on the solid wood floor on the small space in front of the wood stove. This would be his sleeping arrangement for the time being, he might as well make it comfortable. It was either next to the stove or head sticking in the boot room were the only two places there would be enough room for him to lay. He was well over 6’4”, there was no way he would fit nicely in the kitchen. The boot room was always quite a bit colder so sweaty wood stove it was.
Kat woke first, or so she figured since the house was silent and beginning to grow cool. She could see no fire glowing through the open bedroom door. She could see the burly woodsman’s body laying underneath the cast iron stove. His feet just barely covered by the blanket, his toes looked cold and slightly red from exposure. Her own toes were numb but with the size of blanket covering her she was sure they were good. She felt a slight pang of guilt before the arm pain stole that thought away. Her arm now freshly bandaged and held in a sling, throbbed as never before. The blood was freely flowing into the extremity and refreshing the broken bone with a heightened pain sensor. She looked her right arm up and down and settled on the fact that Stephen had done a decent job.
She turned herself in the bed, the first time in years she was free to get up when she liked and move off the bed. The notion seemed strange to her, yet she knew there must have been a time it was the norm. She just couldn’t dig past the piles of lurid memories to find the good ones yet. Glancing at the hardwood floor, she noticed there was a pair of thick wool socks folded neatly on top of plaid red and blue thick pants. She clambered into the clothing, welcoming the change and tucked her nighty in so it appeared more of a t-shirt. It would never actually pass as a shirt however, it had white curly stitching around the neck and sleeves, plus it was covered with dirt and bits of blood from her head.
Remembering her head bump, she felt up through the entangled stacks of hair, she located the tender spot and inspected it with her equally sore finger tips. There was only a small cut in the middle of a plum sized lump, she decided it was just fine. Her fingers came away with only minute traces of dried blood. Leaving the room, she quietly tip toed into the kitchen and sat on a fully assembled chair. She didn’t have to wonder long why one chair was ripped apart, the man sleeping under the cold wood stove had the cushion wedged between his head and the beige mantel surrounding the stove. The tile work looked exquisite, there only to protect the hardwood from lighting on fire yet it was a work of art in its own. Small white flower imprints in the creamy rectangular slabs boasted a pricey billet.
Looking around the kitchen she saw Stephen was a man of little possessions. No microwave, no toaster, one small fridge and even smaller cook top range. There were two sets of cupboards, one encased the small fridge and had multiple small doors; the second boasted a counter top in the middle. The counter was a retro red, contrasting nicely with the white cupboards above and below it. The one window in the living space was to the left of the cupboard and on the other side of the kitchen table was the front door. She could fell the breeze from the backdoor without even looking at it, on the opposite side of the room from her.
It was a nautical feeling, knowing she had two exits from this place if need be. She had pondered for a while about leaving, but return to whom? She couldn’t seem to procure a single picture of a previous friend to call. She must have parents but couldn’t seem to remember their names or the town they lived in. Kat settled on the idea that the brutality of what she survived must have jarred her memories, she will have to wait for them to take shape again.
“Did you sleep well?” Stephen caught Kat off guard, and she jumped slightly in her chair. Causing a sharp outcry of pain from her arm.
“Are you okay? Oh, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to startle you!” His voice was deep and raspy, not the type of hoarse you could achieve from cigarette smoke; but the solid testosterone laced voice. He spoke softly and evenly, his smile made her feel comfortable, but his spoken words made her welcome. He was half way up, leaning on one arm and she awkwardly waved her hand at him. She felt unsure how to pursue this man, he seemed so old and wise and strong. Almost a little intimidating to Kat.
“No, I’m okay. It’s just my arm. Yes, I slept well. Best sleep I’ve had in a very long time” She gently s rubbed the side of her right arm, trying to ease the shooting nerves. Stephen settled himself back down on his back and remained in front of the wood stove a little longer.
“Is there a police station nearby?” Kat asked, she was confused what course of action to take next. She was elated with being free from the damp cellar but where was she supposed to go next?
“I will send a letter to the local sheriff department today.” He stated simply. Kat looked to him, she wasn’t sure what to respond to that. Of course, the police needed to be notified, but she had never seen what her capture looked like. She had no idea where he was located or how far Stephen had even walked to rescue her. Her eyes must have been wide and filling with tears since Stephen in one swift motion was up and at her side. He knelt at the chair like an adult would to a child.
“No rush, we will take our time. If you are not ready it’s okay.” He gently laid a hand on her shoulder, she sniffled softly at the show of compassion. She felt he was a strong role model at heart, the type that naturally takes the lead in any situation. The one everyone looks up to and aspires to be, the manly man that women swoon over. He presented himself as so sturdy, yet he had such a gentle ambience as well, she decided not to offend the well-mannered man by prying to ask if he was alone here or anything to that extent. He would offer the information if it was hers to have.
She studied his features for a moment, with his face so close she realized how deep his eyes really were. They had wrinkles around the corners, she guessed his age at 50 and although she couldn’t quite remember her own age she was sure to put herself around 20. Maybe 25 at the most. Her hands looked pinched and haggard, but she had also just spent years in the dark, she suddenly had a deep desire to see a mirror. Her head shot in the direction of the small pocket bathroom.
“What is it?” He asked, startled at her quick movement.
“Do you have a mirror?”
“A mirror?” A look of bewilderment crossed his face, she felt embarrassed for asking. Of course, a mountain man such as himself never bothered to be vain enough to examine himself in the mirror.
“What do you need a mirror for?” He pressed on.
“Oh, I don’t know” Katarina was sure she was blushing now. She dropped the request. “Never mind” She forced a small smile.
“Are you hungry?” Stephen stood up and put on his reliable pot of water on to boil.
“I’m famished!” Kat exclaimed, just the word alone made her stomach growl in anticipation.
“I usually just have rolled oats and pressed coffee” He offered, trailing the end of his sentence as if expecting her to not be content with the simple offer.
“That sounds divine” Kat sat patiently at the table, watching Stephen busy himself around the kitchen. He poured two heaping piles of oats into two white bowls and twice as much ground beans into the press. Her tongue already tasting how strong that coffee would be. The taste buds stood erect and waited to black liquid gold.
“Do you need anything else?” Stephen stopped suddenly in the middle of his cooking, almost as if he had forgotten she was there.
“Pain killers?” She chuckled, he pulled the bottle of whiskey out of the cupboard again.
“Maybe less this morning though.” She smiled softy at him, he nodded and tipped the bottle just a fraction into each mug.
“I need to collect more wood today.” He stated as the boiling water was poured into the French coffee press.
“I would love to come, if it’s not too much of a burden” Katarina felt her heart swell with the idea of venturing outside. To see the wilderness again after so long, even if it was cold; she needed this escape.
“Not at all, I have an old dog sled that will fit you and the wood” Stephen pushed the seething bowl of oats in front of Kat and sat down across from her this time. The steam from his own bowl swelling up around his bushy whiskers, even the baldness of his head was beginning to darken from the stubble. His smile told her he was young at heart, but his feature showed a different story. One of hard work, long cold lonely days even. She wondered again if he had a wife, or children maybe that had grown and moved out. She shook the inappropriate questions from her head and turned her attention to breakfast.
“Do you have any honey?” She asked through the mouthful of bland oats.