Chapter 9

The truck bounced dangerously in the deep ruts down the path next to the winter mountain stream. Stephen had not anticipated the weather to warm so drastically, within just the 12 hours he’d been gone the temperature had risen near melting. Causing the snow to soften slightly and then begin to refreeze as the cold returned. The highway had been freshly covered in dirt to help improve friction when driving but once he turned off to head directly to his cabin, the roads got a little more cowboy. He even hit his head on his own truck roof; he was bouncing around so badly. The clock radio now read 4:55pm, putting the real time at almost 3pm he was trying his hardest to get home quick. He would not want to be stuck in the snow when the sun sets and have Kat still feverish in his bed for another night by herself. Who knows what had even happened while he was gone, she may be lying in the snow outside tempting hypothermia now.

Turning the last bend in the makeshift trail, he could see the cabin windows. The chimney had stopped producing smoke and the windows had spider like crystals forming in the corners. Large enough he could see it from the beginning of the farm land. There was a new layering of snow covering his foot prints from the day prior and suddenly his heart sunk to remember he had not stoked the fire before he left. His foot slammed hard into the gas peddle to force his old whiny Chevy to travel the last hundred meters faster. But the plan back fired, his back tires spun out on the slick ice that had formed on the trail. The tires no longer co-operating with his steering wheel he fought to keep control of the truck.

The centrifugal force of the truck spinning forced Stephen to stop, hood first into a tree. No more than 50 metres from his log cabin the tree ate his engine up and crumpled the hood. He cursed loudly and punched his fists onto the dashboard, the truck had betrayed him. After years of babying this truck and giving it good services, this was how it would end itself? Against a tree, just in front of his own home? He exhaled the frustration and exited the vehicle. Slamming the door and causing the tree to spit a heavy mound of snow onto the hood as well. Half burying the crumpled steel but also stopping the plume of steam that was emitting. He turned and trudged the remainder dozen feet to his home. Dreading he would find Kat half frozen in the bed, her lips blue and unmoving he would have nothing left to look forward in this life.

The front door was almost frozen shut, he could see the crust of ice preventing it from opening. He tried to slam his body weight into the door several times before giving up and walking around the cabin. The blinds for the kitchen and bedroom were both still pulled shut, there was no light at all coming from the wood stove from what he could see. The bedroom window was completely encased in ice crystals, seeming that you could touch the middle and it would shatter; it was utterly frozen solid. There were even perfect triangular piles of dusted snow in the corners of the window sill.

Thankfully the backdoor opened easily, and he entered his house, knowing full well it was pointless to call out. Even if Kat was awake at this moment, it would only frighten her. He could still picture her wild eyes the night before when she was deep in the clutches of fever.

The hand cuff dragged dangerously into the flesh on her wrists. He had left her, with two hand cuffs on and face down on the bed to lay there in this position. All the blood had rushed out of her arms, they were cuffed to the top bar of the bed frame. Even the pins and needles had stopped in her palms, leaving her arms numb and lifeless. She struggled for quite some time to pull her knees up under her body to be able to sit cross legged, but slightly bent forward, on the bed. The blanket had gotten knocked off the bed from her struggling. Her legs were cold and the new position on the bed put her dead centre to a rain drop forming from the ceiling. She could hear it collecting above her head and sat frozen on the mattress until it lost its war with gravity. Slowly it came crashing through the air, she could hear the frigid drop slicing through the eternity of darkness above her until it landed smack on her forehead. Like a ball of sand exploding on her face, her eye lids were covered, it dripped from her nose and sunk into her mouth. It was suddenly suffocating her, and she couldn’t breath. She couldn’t scream or even claw the liquid off herself, she struggled with her hands cuffed as she drowns in the depths of despite, overflowing from the single rain drop.

Kat’s eyes bolted open, the sweat dripping from her forehead and running down her cheeks even covering her throat. She tried to scream but her voice was lost, her body felt like it was pinned down by tonnes of sand bags. She could no longer feel her feet, she vaguely remembered screaming at Stephen and then all had gone silent. The house had grown cold and the sounds of the animals howling through the night disturbed her sleep. She had unrelenting nightmares about the man that had held her captive. Or at least the faceless outline of a man. Her fits of mania through the night only causing her more pain. At one point she had woken from flailing her arms so hard that she had ripped the arm sling off her right arm. She had ended up curled in a ball crying in agony. Her arm had renewed throbbing from ripping the sling open and the sweat slowly dried on her skin making her shiver violently.

She could hear a rustle at the back door and failed catastrophically at processing her thoughts; was it a fever hallucination or maybe she was still dreaming. She rolled onto her left side and peered at the clock, the numbers meant nothing to her. Kat’s eyes were so blurry she could hardly focus on the light fixed to the ceiling.

“I’m back” Stephen’s voice filled the living space of the cabin. She could only see his outline in the darkening of the cabin. She wanted to respond but suddenly her body was covered in a sweat again. She tried to kick the blanket off from the swamp of heat, but her legs failed to move. Her head refused to lift off the pillow from lack of energy. She was again a prisoner, this time of her own body.

“Kat?” He stuck his head in the room, “are you awake?” She managed a nod in response and a tear fell from her eye. She did not know what caused the tear; pain, fear, loneliness? Possibly joy that her saviour returned to her once again.

“I got medicine for you” He walked closer to her, laid a gentle hand on her forehead. Her hair was drenched and clung to her neck from sweat. Her lips cracked from fever, all she could do was look at the man. His face overgrown with dark thick stubble now, he looked to be a true mountain man. She tried to roll back to lay flat again, but the blanket was now crumbled behind her back. Stephen slid a solid arm under her chest and assisted her to fix the blanket flat.

“I guess it was good the fire went out.” Noting she was still sweltering hot to the touch. He produced a cool cloth and wiped her face, the wet cotton loops so refreshing to her burning skin.

“It prevented your fever from going too high” He pulled the cloth over top her lips and the dampness was like fresh rain storm in a hot summer refreshing her. The overwhelming joy of pleasure with the liquid touching her mouth, her mind began to dance in circles. Bubbly words escaped her mouth as she felt she would vomit and her chest heaved upward. Stephen backed up and gave Kat space for the violent tremor, her thin body jostled by fever he didn’t wait for the convulsion to stop. He a pulled a syringe from the bag and quickly drew up an initial dose of penicillin. He doubled what Dr. Dani had instructed, he couldn’t risk Kat going any more down hill.

Kat’s eyes were just beginning to tip into the back of her head when Stephen grasped her left arm. The brightness of her green iris’ darkened as he produced the needle and stuck it deep into her vein. Before he could even push the plunger, she lost consciousness. He wasn’t sure if it was the fear of him holding her arm down or the added pain the needle had, but she was now slack and laying easily on her back. Stephen slowly pushed the antibiotic into her vein and went to work reattaching her broken sling. She had forced it to come undone at some point during his departure. The ties hung loosely around her neck, but the tensor bandage still appeared tight around the broken radius. He placed the blanket over top of her upper body, tucked neatly below her chin but left her toes bare to the dry air.

With the fire relit, Stephen settled at the kitchen table to drink himself a cup of coffee. His stomach was overly hungry, and it had been a long day. He was not prepared to jump right up again to make food, he sat and allowed the coffee to return some warmth to his body. Watching the flames in the wood stove was hypnotic. The silver legs perched on top of the tiles that protected the hardwood. The blackness of the stove and chimney heading up to the ceiling, with just a small glass window through which the fire devils danced to allow heat into the room. The split logs he had piled in were spilling flames between their cracks. Allowing soft wisps of fire to touch the glass then disappear back between the split logs. Life was peaceful in this way, to sit quietly in your own log cabin and watch a fire dance behind steel and glass protection.

These were the reasons he turned away the beautiful town girl. Yes, she might be throwing herself at him, but she would never be content in this life. A few times he had contemplated letting go of his wife’s memory, her soul so far gone it was useless for him to even pretend to mourn any longer. Still, the image of her smiling face would come to mind and take over his body. The way she would never complain while holding a hind quarter of the animal he was gutting. Her giggle being so silly as the guts would slop out onto the dirt ground. She involved herself into his lifestyle knee deep, she jumped without thinking twice. Just for her husband.

When they had met she was a city girl, like the beautiful Dani in Lemoray. Although Lemoray was not a city, all these girls had the same ideas. Work an above minimum wage job, pay over priced bills just to wear the same clothing every other girl wore. Pay a week salary to have your nails coloured and your hair dyed so you wouldn’t look like you. Stephen had swooned Marlana, he had bought her flowers on a weekly basis, he insisted on cleaning the small apartment for her. He would take her shopping to buy expensive steaks and cook them for her in rather than a dinner out. She slowly fell for the simple gestures, choosing to go for a quiet drive into the country rather than the shopping mall.

They had been together for a mere two years when he asked her to marry him. Their wedding was beautiful and simple, close family and friends under a flowery arch just as in books you see. Quickly there after they moved to the country. Bought themselves a quarter section of farm and taught themselves to live off the land. Hunting, farming, gathering. Marlana even learnt how to sew better and began making their own clothes and drapes for the house they owned. He could still see the pride on her face when she produced a pair of slacks for him. How the legs were not even the same length, but her smile was so genuine, so loving he wore those slacks everyday for months.

A loud crack from the wood stove broke Stephen’s day dream. He was pulled back into the cold log cabin and the reality that his wife was gone. They had been married for 20 years when her soul slipped from his grips. He looked down at his steamy mug sadly, the vapors coming up as wisps around his face. The coffee image facing him back was a reminder that he was past due for a good shave. He poured a dab of whiskey into his handy mug and headed to the small pocket washroom.

He had no door for the bathroom, it was too small to be fitted with a door. He merely had a large bear pelt that he had nailed to the top frame above the entrance. It was private enough, from whom he didn’t know. Privacy was more a knee jerk reaction when you lived alone. Pulling the black bear cape to the side he entered his two-square foot bathing space. His toilet was average size, squished between the standing shower space and one small sink. There was no longer a mirror on the wall above the sink, just an empty dark spot in the wooden cabin wall. The mirror had been removed long ago out of necessity and he saw no reason to replace it now. Stephen gulped down half his alcoholic coffee and turned the hot water on to start a straight blade shave.

The morning broke through the curtains earlier than Stephen was ready to accept it. He had possibly sat in the bathroom with too much whiskey for too many hours. His head stung slightly, and his cheeks felt cold from the sudden nakedness with no hair. He had cleaned the stubble off the sides of his head as well. Stephen was long used to being bald, his hair had begun thinning when he was not yet even 20. He had been lucky his wife still found him attractive, he felt an ogre; no woman would want a bald 20-year-old man. He lifted his hand out of the warmth of his blanket and felt the softness of his scalp. He had to admit it does make for easy grooming. No arguing with a barber about the style you want, no disappointment when it looks wrong. Just Bic it and go.

He rolled out of his warm cocooned blankets and went about his morning duties. Restocking the fire, brewing himself some coffee and boiling water for breakfast oats. He could see through the sliver of bedroom door that Kat was still sleeping, better that way anyway. He had heard her moaning and crying through the night and felt sad for her. The initial dose of antibiotics had not worked as well as he hoped and was not looking forward to pinning her down for a second dose. Shortly after breakfast however, he swallowed the lump that had formed in his throat from listening to her moan in fever and entered the room for a second injection.

“You” Her eyes were open and darting from side to side of the small room, “you saved me” She smiled, sweat glistening on her top lip. Stephen nodded and held her arm down, she looked at his hand and smiled again. Oh, to be in a feverish stupor, he thought.

“You appeared from no where. You stole me away from hell” Her chin lifted towards the ceiling as she enunciated the word hell. He slowly inserted the needle tip into her arm as before, she hardly flinched this time. Maybe the antibiotics were starting to help, ease the jump of pain from her anyways.

“This will help you more” He pushed the sweat soaked hair from her face and stared at her features. Even pursed and pained in sickness she was still ravishing. Chunks of hair clumped together and clung to her forehead, covering her forehead making her appear more youthful.

“I don’t even want to leave” She went on ranting, now with her left arm free to move as well she swung it in the air. Stephen wondered if she could see tracers from her hand moving the way she watched it so intently. Her hand dancing through the air so delicately as she cooed at her own movements.

“Live in the woods with Lumberjack Dundee” Kat sing song her words. Stephen double checked the vial he was injecting her with did say ‘Penicillin’ and not some psychedelic pain killer.

“With the moose and many deer” Her voice was trailing off and her eyes closed softly. Stephen took the hint from her slow nod off that it was time for him to exit. He pulled the door almost closed, he was sure to leave the door ajar enough that she would not have another melt down.

He busied himself through the day, and the next several days; with household duties. He still had meat to butcher and wrap from the elk he had shot. The meat nicely hung now had turned a deep purple and was ready for cooking and freezing. He had brought a few steaks into the house and had hoped Kat would emerge from the bed to join him one night. He brought her soup each night and helped her eat, but still her strength wavered. He was beginning to doubt the drugs were helping much at all. That night he decided to build himself a small barbeque in the house, he brought in an old metal bucket and filled it with wood chips. Setting the bucket on the tile floor next to the wood stove to prevent damage to his hardwood floor, he lit the chips on the fire.

The cabin filled with the smell of apple smoked wood chips, a bag he had purchased during the summer. He had considered a few times inviting a townsperson to come join him for a barbeque but never came around to it. The summer had been too busy as it was with tending a garden by himself and setting the ranch up for his first winter here. Plus, a hot dinner during the mid day heat seemed redundant. Now it ended up being in a make shift barbie in the middle of his living space. Place a small grill over top of the open flames his cook top was ready. He stood and moseyed to the fridge, pulling out the lean sirloin elk cut he had made himself. He placed the meat on a plate to add salt and pepper to the purple flesh. Nothing, his father had always taught him. Salt and pepper is all a steak is meant for.

“Something smells good” Kat was standing in the doorway, first time he had seen her stand in almost a week. He felt a wave of relief to see her easy stance, not even leaning against the doorway. She stood shoulders square and legs straight in the last light coming through the window panes. Colour had completely returned to her face, even the gray bags under her eyes had dissipated. The flesh on her toes even appeared pink again, she drummed them happily on the cool hardwood floors. Stephen had refused to give her socks, even when she screamed and cried in fever to have some put on. He would turn on his heel and walk away. He was tough love like that, wanted to be sure she healed properly the first time. He wouldn’t be able to afford an infection like this again in his house.

“They’re elk steaks” He held his plate out for her to see the glistening red meat with black flakes. Her eyes had a flash of recognition to the tantalizing steak, so he pulled a second plate out of the fridge. There were four more overly large cuts of meat pilled high. He plopped one more on his seasoned steak and returned the plate to the fridge. He was quite proud of his butchering skills, he had to teach himself after his wife was gone. An old-style butchering map of a pig outline complete with lines showing loin, chops, hams etc. was a decent stencil to go by. It was made of aluminum; his wife had purchased one year from a famers market. It was currently nailed to the wall in the cold storage were the remainder of his meat cuts were now frozen. Once frozen it takes a solid three days to thaw in the fridge and with a second mouth to feed again, he will have to plan meals more thoroughly.

“What’s the side dish” She smiled boldly and walked towards him.

“Does a baked potato suit your fancy?” Stephen opened a cupboard beside the fridge and pulled small red potatoes out.

“Sounds perfect.” She stopped directly in front of him. They stood staring at each other, unsure of what the energy was that filled the air. Kat examined his face, seemingly for the first time up close. Stephen had coincidentally shaven again this morning, so his jaw now appeared strong and clean. Not a single length of stubble attached itself anywhere on his chin, neck or head. His eye brows were dark and bushy, framing his ice blue eyes and his nose strong and straight. Not even facial scar it would appear, possibly one of the only head shapes in the world that should be sported bald. His features were that of a baby face, perfect, symmetrical, nice cheek bones all of it. It was topped off with such a manly rustic look that he looked quite handsome in this light. Kat couldn’t help but look at the push of muscles against his plain white t-shirt he wore today. Usually he had long sleeve work shirts on, or plaid lumber jack shirts, today was a soft white lazy day shirt.

“Thank you” She laid a hand on her forearm.

“Don’t mention it” He smiled and held her eyes until she finally looked away.

“Such a fancy dinner, I should have a shower!” Katarina full well knew she must stink, after sweating and rolling for a week in her own filth. She even had her blue nighty on still. Stephen directed her to the shower, gave her a towel and some fresh clothes. His own clothing of course, but he did dig down to the bottom of the piles to find the smallest clothes he could. One was an old long john, red with a blue button up bum patch. Another was gray faded sweat pants and a couple over sized shirts. Grateful for the stack of fresh cottons, Kat immersed herself in a steamy shower while listening to the sizzling of the steaks on the indoor grill.

“Do you want to eat in bed?” Stephen asked as she emerged from the small pocket bathroom, a towel wrapped around her hair and clean clothing boasting a perfectly feminine silhouette.

“I’ve been in bed for long enough” Kat replied the heat of the shower caused her head to swim again from fever, but she wanted to be sitting out here, with him. She felt a strange calm with being in the same room as him. She watched him pull the charcoaled steaks off the small make shift grill and place them on a plate beside the oven baked potatoes. They sat in comfortable silence while they ate at the table.

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