The sun had long set by the time Stephen ran from the log cabin. The yellow on his old 1964 Chevy truck had also long faded, it hardly boasted a dampened white now. Half buried in the snow, Stephen lost precious time getting the truck unburied. He knew by the time he reached town the stores would be closed, it was still a 4-hour drive away. He figured if he could at least make it there tonight he could be back before lunch with antibiotics for the sick woman in his bed. She was crying and hallucinating from the gangrene that was spreading in her feet. For the few short moments he watched her before leaving, she would reach toward the empty ceiling for nothing before passing back out.
The truck turned over on the first try, thankfully Stephen wouldn’t have to mess with it today. About half the time he started the truck it would fail, causing him to spend hours under the rounded hood trying to map the issue. The main road was over 5 kilometers away from his cabin, he would have to risk the deep snow drive in the dark. He silently prayed the sled tracks were wide enough to keep his small truck out of a snow bank. He doubted Kat would improve on her own. The moon lit his way as he pushed the gas pedal to the floor to get through the empty field towards the cut line of the trees. Nestled between the slow flowing river stream and the edge of the forest, his sled track was unusually visible through the dusk grays. His headlights catching the dirt that had been exposed from the heaviness of the wood load on the dog sled.
He kept the radio off, it would be a solid hour or more before he could pick up a station anyways. With the Kat reacted when he was playing music, he doubted he would be doing much of that in the cabin now. Music was always the only thing keeping him real, he could recite lyrics to such a wide genre it impressed himself even. For now, however, it would only be static. Glancing at the flashing clock on the dashboard, he had only been driving for 15 minutes. He knew better than to believe the time to be 2:15am, but something told him it wasn’t that far off. He began counting down the minutes until he could click the life saving music on, he finally turned onto the main road. It was a relief to see it had been plowed. He wondered some days how he never heard a soul, never saw one yet they plowed this road a mere 20 minutes from his humble abode.
With the radio finally singing sweet tunes to Stephen, he spaced out and made his drive to town. The drive was uneventful, he saw only a single other driver this late at night. He drove just below the speed limit, not knowing the road well since he had only driven it a handful of times before. He had bought the log cabin just over 6 months ago and moved in after his wife was gone. He couldn’t bare being in the larger houses he had before when she was still around. The last time he drove to town was about a month ago to sell some of his farm fresh eggs, funds run low quickly when you have no steady income. Living off the land and hunting with some old family money would only stretch so far. He supplemented his life style with selling eggs, meat and furs.
The sun was still no where near breaking the horizon as he approached the green signs boasting Lemoray; 15km away. He made the decision to take a nap in the truck. The heat was cranked full boar and in no time at all his eye lids became too heavy. He pulled off the road onto an old logging road and turned the music down to sleep mode. Leaving the engine running to prevent the engine from seizing or his fingers getting too cold, he leaned his chair back and closed his eyes.
A loud bang woke Stephen, his eyes shot open and he quickly made a survey of his surroundings. He was parked off the highway, only a few hundred meters into a pull off. There was a light dusting of snow covering his windshield, but the truck was still running and toasty warm. He flicked the windshield wipers just in time to see a young deer limping past the front of his truck. He could just see the main road from the back windshield and saw the tail end of a large semi fish tail out of sight. The truck must have hit the deer. The doe was remarkably still alive; however, she wouldn’t be for long by the looks of her. The sun was up now, his clock radio blinking 9:35am putting the real time at possibly 7am but the status of dawn. He watched the deer for another minute, his heart breaking as she limped out of view of the truck. Her rear end was completely smashed up, entrails protruding out of a large gash that started on her top back above her hind leg and continuing underneath her belly. The amount of blood pouring out was chaotic. Surely, she would die within several hours.
Sighing heavily, Stephen knew that was a horrible ending for such a beautiful animal. Yes, he hunted them, for meat and survival. Never a doe though, and never would he condemn any creature to such a torturous ending. Looking through his glove box he produced an 8-inch hunting knife and got out from his warm truck. He hadn’t really dressed appropriate for the hike but then again, he hadn’t expected to go into the woods. With only comfy jeans and an old Harley Davidson hoodie, he knew he would be could instantly. His old truck did not have an external thermometer reader, but the truck emission length told him it had to be below minus 30 again. Luckily, he had at least thrown on his hiking boots.
The morning air was bighting at his skin through the thin sweater. He pulled the hood up over his exposed scalp, but that did not much to warm him either. He was cold within a few minutes of following the blood trail into the woods. His fingers going numb after being toasty warm for so many hours. He quickened the pace but also stepped gently to prevent scaring the deer off if she had laid down nearby. The trail zig zagged through the trees, she was losing her battle quickly and hopefully she would lay down soon. He followed her foot prints, not stepping into them however since the blood coming down from the animal was increasing. He preferred to not get blood on his jeans, that was only for his hunting gear which was drying neatly in his boot room at home.
Next to a sick woman dying in his bed. The conscious reminder forced him to pick up the pace, no longer worrying if the footprints disturbs the animal. If she made it this far into the woods she must have not much blood left. Stepping around a large spruce tree, he saw her only 10 yards in front of him. She was laying down in the snow, in a heap of hurt and suffering. She was crying softly, as only a dying doe could. Her cries were of a sick cat softly howling, but the howl stifled by blood gurgling in the throat and only came out as a cry. She turned her head to look at Stephen as he approached, he moved slower than sap falling from the tree. He knew if she bolted again he would have to leave her to pass on her own time.
Her eyes were sad, long years of avoiding hunters to die from a sympathy stab after being hit by a truck seemed the wrong way to go. She jerked slightly as he took another step through the deep snow. She brought her two front legs up and growled a little hard determination at Stephen and before she had the chance the charge him; he lunged. He slammed his arms around her neck and in one swift movement stabbed the knife deep into her heart. Only half a growl emerged from her mouth before the tongue fell loose and her head slacked backwards.
“Sweet dreams” Stephen padded the back of her head and with sadness he turned to leave. Another woodland sound startled him though, something stalking the injured animal in the trees had now turned its attention to him. He stood and held the knife out in front of him, he had never taken down a wolf with a small knife before. But he wasn’t about to let such a dirty animal down him singly on the fact he didn’t have a gun. The sound came from the side of him now, a clicking of an animal’s tongue. He turned to face a large red fox, his black eyes staring the man down.
Stephen knew the fox would never attack him, yet he was curious as to why it was interested in this dead doe. Possibly the fox had a litter that was near starving. He knelt in the snow to the majestic animal and pulled a small granola bar from his pocket. Unwrapping it carefully, the fox watched him intimately. He held the nut treat bar out on his flat palm in the direction of the fox. Her coat was heavy, and her black tipped ears pointed straight back. She was overly large for a fox, closer to the size of a wolf. He wanted to distract her with an offering, so he could sneak past her back to the truck. He was losing time, quickly. The sun warming on his back was now telling him it was time to go.
The fox took one half step towards him, then snapped the treat from his palm. Stephen stood and walked past the fox, happily munching on the peanuts and raisins mashed together with honey. He doubled his pace back to the truck; the gas was potentially running low. He could hear the struggles of the fox behind him pulling the deceased doe to her den. Circle of life, at least the deer did not die in vain. She would feed a family of foxes now for the remainder of the winter.
Stephen could smell the exhaust of the truck long before he arrived. It filled the fresh northern air with a sticky sweetness. The burning of oil mixed with his combusted gas fumes made his nose tingle. It smelt almost as good as fresh elk cooking on the barbeque. He drove maybe a little too fast the remaining 15 kilometers to town, and thankfully a gas station was open this early in the morning. His tank was pushing the red line of empty from the extra idle time.
The blue and red Esso sign of the station came into view, decrepitated and appearing deserted. It was his only life line to continue his way of living. He was unable to produce things such as milk, wheat, bullets, first aid equipment and today; antibiotics if there was no gas in this station. His cabin was too far from town to hike for the necessities he lacked at his ranch. The next town from Lemoray was an additional two-hour drive further into the Pine Pass. Without this small wooden building that looked to have survived the cowboy and Indian days, he would not be able to drive back and forth. Stephen pulled up next to the first pump and made quick work filling his trusty Chevy truck.
The front door swung open and a door chime charm sounded through the empty mountain pass, only remnants of passing semi’s resounded in these hours. An old man emerged from the worn-out Esso, in his hand a solid green mug which Stephen could only assume contained the man’s coffee and good morning Kahlua.
“Morning George” Stephen called to the half stranger. He knew his name from his trusty name tag. The friendliness he offered each time Stephen came through was warming, although he was unsure if George knew his name in return. He could only imagine the number of people stopping at this one gas station, the only one within 8 hours in either direction.
“And a good morning to you sir!” The old man tipped his hat back and went about filling his newspaper box and pulling out the sandwich boards for the day. One said 50 cent cold drinks, Stephen doubted it was any type of decent drink like a bottle of beer or even a crisp Coca Cola. More likely to be a year-old water bottle that George had found at the back of the store under his plastic milk crates of expired merchandise.
“Is the local pharmacy open?” Stephen asked the old man as he hobbled closer the truck. George was wearing a blue baseball cap, all shape was bent out from the cap, too many sweaty days. He had old beat up jeans, potentially the same brand as Stephen’s as there was only one clothing store in town. His shirt was neatly tucked in with white buttons going down the centre and old man gray suspenders holding the jeans up. His shirt was nothing close to be called a dress shirt, only a pale reflection of one that had seen much too many years to still be in existence. The number of stains, holes and rips should have ended it in the garbage can at least a decade past.
“No sir, no local pharmacy here. You need to go straight to Dr. Dan for medication” George replied and filled the windshield squeegee stations with tap water, brown tap water to boot.
“And where is Dr. Dan?” Stephen inquired, not recalling ever seeing a local doctor’s office. He knew they had a grocery store, a clothing store, book store and what resembled a strip mall. He had never ventured in the strip mall but that was where the theatre was located. On the far end of the crippling building, with an old-style cinema sign boasting which two movies they were playing that day.
“Well at the horse vet sir” George replied and tipped his hat as he walked back into the store. Stephen followed the old man into the store to pay for his gas.
“Where might I find the horse vet, George?” Stephen was irritated with the simple replies, really it could have all been told in one sentence. He unfolded a stack of blue bills on the counter, making sure there were a few extra to get more information from the old man.
George picked the bills up and meticulously counted them one by one, even recounting a second time before he opened his whiskery white mouth again.
“In the back of the grocery store” The cash register resonated a classic clang as the drawer popped open and Stephen exited the gas station. He made his way through the one-road town, it was all centred around the highway. Radiant mountain scape was surrounding the ghost town. Half the buildings were boarded up or just left vacant for glass to be broken and wooden steps to start rotting. Once there had been a hair salon on the strip, Stephen doubted anyone had entered those doors in longer than George had changed his dress shirt. The grocery store was on the opposite end of town, it took Stephen a solid 90 seconds to drive there. He turned into the empty parking lot and turned the truck off to wait for the doors to open. His estimate was that the store opened around 9:00am and knowing that it had to be close, he assumed the owner was sitting in the backroom still brewing his coffee.
He envisioned the man that was usually at the front check out. Impatiently waiting to over charge for every single item in the store. He imagined him sitting back there looking at the clock, reading that it is past time to open the store and the man thinking ‘these people will wait’. Just as he the same as he thinks ‘these people will pay anything for my products’. He overcharges for everything from his bottles of whiskey right down to the dollar store quality tooth brushes. There isn’t another store for hundreds of miles and he can easily get away with it. No locals would ever tell him it’s the wrong thing to do, no one would ever say they would purchase the item from Amazon to ship direct to their door. These locals, they pay the over priced ticket to support each other from starving, to support each other’s business’ from going under. They even purchased Stephen’s farm fresh eggs for $5 per dozen when he brought them to town. When the store clerk was already overcharging at $4 per dozen, people still bought Stephen’s eggs at $5.
No one really knew Stephen in this town, a few residents knew his name. One girl even smiled at him every time he attended a show at the theatre. She had in fact, one day asked to join him.
“That’s a mighty large bag of popcorn for yourself sir” She looked at him with large brown doe eyes. She was a decent looking girl, above average for such a hick town. She looked to be mid twenties and he had been shocked at the attention she was giving. Her large breasts pressing hard against her button up flannel shirt. Her jeans overly tight he could almost imagine it would press on sensitive parts when she sat. He had pictured she would cross her legs tightly just to press harder the soft flesh between her thighs.
Even while she stood and spoke to him, her legs were one in front of the other. As if she were containing a wetness in the material. Stephen had a vision of pressing himself against those legs, so thin in those jeans that he imagined he could rip them right off her. He would expose her panties and stick his fingers between the cotton folds. Right there in the middle of the theatre he imagined himself mounting her and breaking the flowery buttons off her shirt. The thin wires of the brasserie she was possibly wearing would not hold up to his strong hands. She had traced her finger down the side of his thick jacket arm.
“Maybe you want to share?” Her smile was full of perfect white teeth and her long chocolate brown hair fell almost too perfectly around her face. Her finger tip tracing the top of his hand had shock the whole dream state violently. He suddenly was bursting with guilt for picturing himself taking this girl. The ghost image of his wife who once was perfect as well haunted him and prevented him from entering the movie theatre with the girl. He had brutally denied her invite and he was sure she would remark to more people in town how brash he had been. No woman had approached him again after that. Few men gave him the curiosities of every day commodities, mainly the gas station owner, grocery store owner and local clothing store owner. Other than that, he kept to himself, refusing to allow himself even a daydream of pleasure from elsewhere.
The grocery store open sign blinked on, his truck radio read 11:55am, telling Stephen it was well past 9am and the store was opening later than he suspected. With a full tank of gas, he was confident to leave the truck idling again and approached the store to bargain for the medications required.
“Morning sir” A dove like voice greeted him as he entered, and he looked up to greet the eyes of the brown-haired doe from the movie theatre. His face instantly flushed with red stabbing heat and guilt flooded his chest. He felt as though he was breathing through a straw suddenly, shocked to see the girl again whom he coldly denied in public. With such a small town, refusals such as he made do not go off lightly. She was smiling easily however, telling his posture to relax; she was not angry.
“Morning ma’am” He nodded back to her and for lack of knowing where else to approach he strolled right up to her at the cash register. Possibly she didn’t remember their encounter, hopefully it had rolled off her shoulders like no big thing.
“What can I do you for, this beautiful day?” She was overly cheery, it made the guilt press harder on his chest. He should have given her some explanation that day, he should have told her how he lost his wife. Maybe she would have been understanding, maybe she would have still attended the movie just for that one day with him.
“I need to speak with Dr. Dan” Stephen tried his best to juggle through the shaken nerves, but they were persisting on agitating him.
“You are” Her smile grew, and she put her elbows on the counter to lean forward. Causing her two un-buttoned shirts to burst her breasts more in his face. Her hair was pulled up today in an exquisite bun. Not a single strand out of place, her name tag (which Stephen was hardly looking at) boasted her name to be Dani.
“Dr. Dan?” Stephen was confused.
“Dani, at your service” She held her hand out to introduce herself. “I’m just a veterinarian for the local’s live stock, but residents here insist on calling me Dr. Dan” Stephen accepted her petite warm hand into his own.
“Well, Dr. Dan; I am in need of some penicillin for a pig that’s gone and gotten an infection from giving birth.” He was shocked sometimes how these stories would just come to him and roll off the tongue so easily.
“Oh, such a late birth? This is the wrong season for little piglets, they will die surely.” Dani came around the side of the counter and led Stephen to the back of the store. He reminded himself he was on a time restraint as she sauntered her back side purposely from side to side as she walked.
“It was unintentional.” He replied simply, hoping she would not question the story further. He did indeed breed his pigs, but every farmer knew to plan the piglets for only spring or summer births. He was sure he was doing nothing to add to his character in her eyes; in the theatre he would have appeared arrogant and now he just seemed stupid.
“Of course, no problem at all.” Dani pulled a set of keys out of her pocket and unlocked a back-room door. The door opened to an over stuffed examining room, with cabinets, a small counter and even an X-ray machine tucked in the back. Her vet clinic operated out of the grocery store, he thought to himself in amusing revelation. Unlocking the tin cupboard, she rifled through several line ups of bottles before producing a blue lidded glass vial.
“How much does the pig weigh?” Dani pulled a few syringes from the drawer and a plastic bag of normal saline which a doctor would hang for fluids at a hospital. Dani easily held between two fingers to withdrawal some liquid and then inserted it into the vial.
“About 150 pounds” Stephen replied, watching her methodically reconstitute the vials.
“For a pig, you will want to give this drug subcutaneously. So just pinch a good thumb of skin and inject one dose.” She pulled a few more vials out and continued making the powder turn into a milky liquid. Rolling the vials gently between her palms, it was amazing how she turned everything to look sexual to Stephen.
“For a human,” Her eyes catching his own, “it should be intravenous twice a day for seven days” She placed a large handful of completed vials and syringes into a bag and handed them to Stephen. Never letting his eyes go, he was unsure what to think of her later remark. Surely there was no way she knew about the failing woman in his bed. Possibly she could read through him that easily? Was it written all over his face? He handed her a handful of bills and turned to leave the store.
“I would never have questioned you.” Her words followed him as he walked through the isles of canned goods. “Even if you did have someone at home, we still could have enjoyed that movie”
Stephen stopped dead in his tracks at the exit of the store, deciding suddenly he needs to move to a new town. He turned back to her, he didn’t know what he wanted to say. A million words floundered his mind, he tried to sort through the feelings she brought up in him, but instead replied, “I’m taking this newspaper too” He held the paper up for her to see and exited the store.