Kat sat at the kitchen table watching Stephen through the deer hide blinds. She had been sure they were made from some type of animal and thankfully he confirmed that over breakfast. It seemed fascinating the sheer number of belongings he owned made from animal skin. He had almost looked sad explaining the story, she was unsure why but still chose to keep her questions to herself. Surely, he must be proud to have such authentic hand-crafted items.
She watched him trudge around his ranch. The snow was so deep he sunk at least two feet with each step. The fresh fall was thick to have covered his foot prints from just the day before. Or at least she thought it was just the day before, suddenly her chest felt tight again. She couldn’t even remember how long she had been here. A sudden feeling of her sinking into the chair forced her to stand and walk away from the down fall of panic. Kat shook the thoughts away, even so much as shaking her left hand as if there were water droplets on it, disposing of the negative thoughts.
She examined the pristine tree line in front of her. The sun was making its way up, breaking between two tall evergreen trees. It appeared as an orange gem wedged between the trunks, lines of stars spewing out towards her line of sight. Looking back to Stephen, she saw him pull a long wooden sled behind one of the humble shacks. The leather straps that would have once held dogs were shortened and tied together to slip perfectly over his chest.
She saw no signs of dogs but did notice a second building, larger and it appeared there was steam coming out of the top. Possibly a heated barn, she thought. She watched the experienced man approached the log cabin with the heavy sled attached to his back. His toque was dark blue and his breathes were coming out in large steam puffs. He was wearing a large camouflaged jacket that matched his pants, she guessed he had at least three layers of clothing on. He looked like the sasquatch walking, his legs bowed out from the amount of material pressing against his thighs. Kat couldn’t help but chuckle from his sight, plus the whiskey was kicking in a little bit.
The door opening brought in a large blow of snow with Stephen, he stomped his boots hard at the entrance but still left foot prints as he entered.
“Right, so, you need more clothes to wear.” He looked her up and down and walked off into the back-boot room. Kat could hear him grumbling to himself as pieces of material were tossed into the middle of the living space. She saw a blue toque which matched his own, black gloves that were possibly too thin for this weather and a heavy red jacket lined with grey fur. Two camouflaged boots came tumbling out of the room as well, they peeked Kat’s interest since they had pink trim on them.
“Who’s are these?” She asked curiously picking them up.
He grimaced at Kat and instead lifted the jacket to show, “This should fit you. It’s my; scare away night critters, jacket” He draped it over her shoulders, it was much too big but thermal and the fur felt nice caressing her skin softly. She slipped her feet into the boots, they fit snug with the thick wool socks. Her toes were numb anyways, so she couldn’t tell if they were being smashed at the front of the boots or not. She admired the cuteness of them for a moment until Stephen directed it was time to go.
“We have a long trek ahead of us if we want to be back before nightfall.” He stuffed two round logs into the wood stove. Hitting the first one hard with the second log to ensure it was packed in. “Hopefully that’ll keep her warm for the day.”
Kat followed him to the sled positioned just outside the door for her. The front of the sled bent upwards towards the sky slightly and held a leather hammock type netting. Just behind the leather hammock was the first standing position of the sled. The wooden handles came straight up and then dipped for a secondary seat. The seat was made of wood and rawhide lacing but also had a solid back lead into the second person standing position. She imagined in it’s day, this must have been a top of the line dog sled. She pondered how neat it would have been if he had the dogs to pull it.
“If you sit here you will stay warm.” Stephen motioned to the front leather hammock. It would be more of a lounge, laying position rather than sit.
“I can walk, it’s okay” She replied, too warrior womanish to accept an easy off.
“When was the last time you hiked two hours?” He replied, a little sly humor in his deep rich voice. He motioned again towards the leather hammock and this time Kat climbed in with no contest. She nestled easily into the nook, almost meant for her bottom. She could feel the coldness of the ground below her, but the leather was just high enough to keep her off it.
“I’ll have to pull the sled until we get out of the deep snow, then I can push from behind near the lake” He lifted the heavy rope ties up over his head and placed them gingerly on his shoulders. He looked like a lumberjack, his thick beige gloves holding steady on the rope as he began to pull.
The sled started off with a jerk but smoothed out once it popped up on top of the snow crust. Stephen kept a steady pace, he hardly jerked or moved drastically. Kat basked in the queen like treatment she was receiving, it was a feeling she had not had in a long time. To have someone care about her well being, instead of chaining her to a bed frame and stealing her humanity.
She leaned back and took in the scenery. It had been years she thought since she had seen the outside. The snow blanketed the area, creating hills and valleys that possibly weren’t there without the snow. The trees were tall and dark, contrasting dramatically with the light blue of the sky. Appearing to be men standing with sunken shoulders from the weight of snow on their branches. Their arms falling heavily towards the earth, burdened with mounds of white. The golden yellow of the sun peeked through the still tree men and lit the snow up like white fire. Kat used her hand to shadow the whiteness of it all, it was so perfectly bright, it tore through her eye lids even when she closed them. The sky was painted with pastel colours, soft pinks, blues and yellows. Almost the colours you would only ever purchased for new born babes, it had such a soothing effect.
The path they followed into the forest appeared to be well used by Stephen, and possibly animals as well. It had dirt speckled in so many areas you could see it pop out for several meters ahead of you. The trail was mostly straight, but occasionally would tip to the left or right and Kat would always see the turn coming. She got used to turning into it as well, easing the work load on Stephen’s shoulders.
She watched him pull the sled for hours, he never once looked back at her. She watched birds fly over head and land in nests, building and prepping for the spring chicks to come. She watched squirrels scurry up the trees and straight into old wood pecker holes; their mouths full of winter nuts. Stephen traipsed on, never complaining, hardly even struggling with the load. He had a job to do and he was carrying out this work as a true huntsman would.
After several hours the sled finally stopped.
“Here, I think” Stephen looked up at the tall spruce trees. The black bark gave the tree a complete dead look, but right at the very top Kat could see a small spring of green poking one way then the next. The trees groaned as the wind nudged them to sway. Almost sounding as animals avoiding the hunter, they cried and wined from the movement.
“This one, right here. She looks good.” He beheld the tree, pointed at it for Kat. It had to be over 30 feet tall. Kat looked around, unsure which way he would fall the tree.
“Do I need to move?” She asked, he simply shook his head no and pulled the orange chainsaw off the sled from behind her. The black letters boasting ‘Husqvarna’, strange name, Kat thought. Sounded neat in her head so she repeated the word several times. Husqvarna.
“No, you’re good” He replied half a second before ripping the cord and the chainsaw roared to life. It putted occasionally, trying to warm itself. As you would warm your hands by rubbing them together before working, the saw buzzed and putted to warm. A steady purr sounded, and it suddenly seemed to find its steam. Hasty tuffs of black smoke followed Stephen as he walked 20 yards away from the sled. Kat readied her feet to jump out of the way if need be, she was still just learning to trust what this man told her.
She had never been so near a tree falling, how did he know which way it would go? She watched in quiet anticipated fear as he stood with his back to her and notched out a chunk near the base. The tree wavered dangerously in the gently breeze. Kat’s heart was in her throat, but Stephen was cool as he walked around to the opposite side and began cutting furiously. The snow fell off the tree branches, creating a miniature blizzard with only his blue toque visible. He appeared to have his whole body contained in the snow fury until a sharp cracking sound broke the turmoil. The chainsaw growling stopped, and the barrage of wood breaking grew louder as the tree tipped and crashed into surrounding trees.
It fell perfectly, no where remotely close to the sled. Katarina was mesmerized watching it fall, her knees not even flinching once telling her to move. She sat in peace and watched Stephen walk up and down the lumber to examine it. He motioned towards her with a thumb up and began to cut the trunk into smaller pieces. She felt slightly useless sitting so far away, she knew her arms were little help, but she could at least keep him company. She climbed gingerly out of the sled, it was a bit of a show with her legs swinging out over the wood side beams first, then her left arm before the rest of her body. She was grateful when she stood and wiped the snow off her pants that Stephen had not witnessed her klutzy exit from the sled.
He continued cutting the wood as she approached, he could hear her gentle foot prints even behind the whir of the saw. Seeing the pink camo boots on her feet made him happy and sad at the same time. He was sad it was not his wife, he was happy they were being used once more.
“That was neat” Kat yelled over the saw, he never looked up. There was lots of work yet to be done and he knew he couldn’t ask for her help. Her arm needed to heal, then maybe she could help but not with a broken wrist. He grinned silently thinking of her wanting to help him one day. Maybe there was something she could do now. He turned the saw off and looked up at Kat, her hair had soft white wisps of frozen crystals sticking to the red stands. The toque was the only piece giving her hair some uniformity, otherwise it was in every which direction. Adding to the chaos of her wild face looking at him. Fear had driven hard into her features. The red fur jacket made her look larger than she was, but he could still see the feminine outline between her shoulders. He felt guilty that even in her hurt state she aroused him, she was a beautiful woman. There was no arguing that.
“Hey, you know what you could do?” Stephen said to Kat, her face seeming to light up at the idea of having a task.
“You could stand on the end of the tree over there and hold it steady while I cut it.” He pointed to the cut bottom end, nearly 10 feet away. He had propped the middle of the tree up with another piece of fallen wood. Kat nodded and walked, not easily through the trees and snow and dead wood, to the end of the fallen tree. She climbed up on the cut end and realized she did not have a good balance, so she wrapped her good arm around another tree next to her.
Hugging the standing tree and stepping on the fallen tree she gave Stephen a painful thumb up with her right hand. He brought the chainsaw back to life and continued his work. When he pushed down on the tree it caused her end to travel upward and slowly she was lifted towards the heavens. Once the chainsaw completed its journey through the lumber, the tree slowly came back to earth and to her surprise a giggle escaped her lips. Stephen took another step in her direction and did the deed again, pushing down causing her to teeter up into the sky and pulling away allowing her to float back to the snow bank. After about the third teeter tooter ride, Kat was full heartedly laughing. She lost herself in the see-saw Stephen had created and the smell of the fresh cut wood was mesmerizing. She was transported to another world, the wood smelt of turkey roasting in the oven, with bantam sprigs of parsley and thick grease intertwined with the rustic ambers and charcoal.
The laugh had caught Stephen off guard, he stopped the cutting of his tree and looked up to the woman standing a mere 4 feet from him now. Her smile was genuine and large. The snow falling off the flimsy tree she held had almost completely covered her toque and her hair. Mother Nature seemed to be putting life back into her, her eyes were glowing luminously, her skin a fresher pink than before and her eyes were sparkling. He was enthralled by the bliss she was emitting. The natural red she boasted on her lips suddenly seemed fuller and made her teeth appear whiter than the snow falling around her. He could sense love behind her laughter, the subtle tones of agony were dissipating, and he could feel the warmth of her happiness in that moment blanketing him. Her thin legs clocked in the thick plaid pants he had provided her. He couldn’t help but linger his vision for another moment on her before turning the chainsaw back on. Her whole persona in that scene was ravishing to Stephen, he secretly took a mental picture of her.
Stephen allowed a smile to replace his own grim features, he kept the sound of her true laugh in his mind. Held onto it, it had been so long since he heard anyone laugh. Even going to his silly movies occasionally in the theatres at Lemoray; he never heard genuine laughter such as this. He continued his work on the fallen tree until he was only a few feet from where Kat was standing on the log. It was nearing the line of dangerous to keep cutting with her standing there. Sadly, he turned the chainsaw off and her smile dissipated with the smell of gas and oil mixture.
“Oh, are we done?” Kat suddenly snapped out of her delight and was serious again, looking at him with her large green eyes. The gray bags under her eyes returned quickly. Stephen had no words for her, he wished to repeat the whole scene. Maybe he could fall another tree and start over, bask in her alluring glee for a while longer. He knew though he would be doubling his work for no reason, possibly not even be able to stack that much wood near his home. Stephen realized he had been staring for too long but was unable to tear his eyes away.
“Are you okay? Do I need to move now?” She persisted, unsure what this look on his face was. He seemed to be looking straight through her, maybe there was an animal behind her? She quickly darted her eyes to the opposite side of the tree, scared suddenly something was lurking. Stephen blinked to stop the flood of emotions he was surprisingly feeling.
“Yeah. We’re done” He replied and helped Kat down from the tree stump. He had only a few cuts left to make and then the tree was all bucked up and destined for his wood stove. Kat clambered back into the sled as Stephen went to work piling the cut wood.
It took him only a few short minutes to have the rounds piled neatly behind Kat’s leather hammock on the old dog sled. She could feel the sleigh burden down harder into the snow now, she feared he would not be able to push, or pull it, with her in as well. She sat silently, thinking maybe she should offer to walk but not really wanting to take on that far of a hike. Her stomach did not feel right, maybe she was hungry. It had been several hours since she ate, but then it felt queasy not quite hungry.
Stephen said nothing as he positioned himself behind the sled to push. He had already made a good trail into the woods, it should be easier to push on the way out. Occasionally he had to change up the way he moved this sled, or he would risk throwing out his back. He was young enough his back should take it, at just 43 years old, it should be a breeze. If something were to injure his back though, he would have no future in the wilderness any longer. He eased into the first hard push and off they went. The sled thankfully stayed in its original tracks and the direction back home did appear a little more downhill. The weight in the sled helped it move along as well. Kat seemed overly silent on the trip back, maybe he had made her feel strange by looking at her. He couldn’t help himself, he tried to break the stare but only found himself admiring more of her features.
Her head dipped a few times on the hike home, he realized she was probably still tired and recovering. He made no attempt to wake her or disturb her until they arrived at the foot of the cabin. When he came up around the side of the sled to wake her, he realized her face had turned a little pale again. Possibly too much excitement for one day, it might have been exhausting for her stand on that log and weigh it down. She only half woke up when he picked her up and walked her into the cabin. The wood stove still glowing just enough to keep the living space warm. He laid her in the bed and pulled the large red jacket off her one arm. The right arm still neatly bandaged in the sling against her body. He left the boots on fearing he would completely wake her. This time he closed the bedroom door.
A sound stirred Katarina from her sleep, she was unsure is she had been dreaming but she was awake now. The room seemed to be in a fog, her head was pounding and there was another noise pounding with it. She searched the dark room for any clue, the silver alarm clock on the table next to her sat silent. She could not read the face due to the lack of light. The pounding in her head came harder and faster, her arm throbbed, and her feet joined in on the pain stabbing. She couldn’t handle the pounding in her head any longer, she swung her feet out of the bed and stood. The boots on her feet felt so tight, suddenly it was as if they are cutting the circulation off completely. Pins and needles stabbed through her numb toes and straight up her calves, almost forcing her to sit back down on the bed. She swayed where she stood and thought too scream into the darkness, that never helped her in the past however. Why would it help her now?
The hammer in her head came again, almost pulsing through her body; into her injured arm straight down to her feet. It felt as though the sound was forcing all the blood from her head to drain and pool in her lower extremities. Both her right arm and her feet now had red hot burning sensations. Her feet turned to cinder blocks as she tried to walk towards the door, the sounds behind the door almost coming to life in front of her eyes. Daggers of music was smacking her, choking and threatening to force all the oxygen out of her as she reached for the door handle. Her head pounded harder as she turned the door handle. She swung the door wide, it even smacked off the log wall behind it and she was met with a partition of hell it seemed.
The glowing red fire from the wood stove lit the whole room with a mystic shade. Stephen was sitting at the kitchen table with his crystal glass, full to the brim of whiskey. He had music playing from a small radio, Sweet Emotion by Aerosmith. A classic, just the type of song to really brighten his soul. He was celebrating a virtuous day, a day that he got to hear a beautiful woman’s laughter. A day that he got so much wood he might not need more for a week or more. A day that brought a smile to his face, the first real smile he had experienced in such a long time.
The bang of the bedroom door hitting the wall behind him made him almost jump off his chair. The woman stood there dripping in sweat. Her face was painfully scarlet, and the wildness of her hair added to the insanity she represented in the moment. Her eyes wide with horror she looked to the wood stove then to Stephen’s radio.
“Turn it OFF” She screamed, a blood curdling scream that would have told neighbours someone was being murder if Stephen had had neighbours. He quickly snapped the radio off, but she remained standing in the door way. Her boots still on her feet she swayed dangerously, she slammed her left arm out and leaned against the thick door frame. Her eyes swimming over the room she appeared she was about to faint.
Stephen jumped up from the table and caught her just in time before she fell. It would not have been a graceful fall, considering she was so close to the wood stove she would have done some damage. Stephen doubted her body could afford much more damage. He gently lowered her to the floor and brushed the hair away from her cheek. Her skin was cold, too cold for how flushed she was. The sweat was beading underneath her hair line and pouring into her eyes. Her lips were so bright they had turned purple and he realized there was a problem. He looked over her body; her right arm never had an external wound for infection to creep in. Underneath the nighty appeared to be all one piece, he had seen no blood markings on her clothing.
He glanced down at the boots, he had not seen her don the wool socks earlier. He untied the boots and had to jimmy them off; her socks were so full of sweat, or melted snow he was unsure. Once the boot fell to the floor, the smell that slammed him in the face was indescribable. He could smell the rot before he had to even look under the sock. The flesh decay scent filled the room and even the red-hot wood stove would not kill that for some time. He sighed heavily and knew what he had to do. Stephen picked her body up off the floor and put her back into the bed. Making sure her feet were uncovered he left the cabin and headed straight for his tiny two-seater Chevy truck.
He needed Antibiotics, and he needed them immediately to save her life.