A Winter’s Night – a short story

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The solar security light was triggered as he crossed the yard.  He paused for a moment and then regained his sense of purpose as he approached the cabin.  Out here things like cellular service, electricity and phones didn’t exist.  Out here, a certain level of respect was garnered for those who chose to live out here.  But this was someone who did not live out here.  This was someone surviving.  And if you survived out here, you were at a whole other level, that few lived to tell about.
She slept soundly, like she hadn’t slept for weeks or months.  The cabin was as they had left it in early summer.   They had come out for a weekend, a chance to get away before it all began.   The start of school, new jobs, new town, new life gave them a chance to begin again and renew what had been lost.  The cabin, an investment property, something that perhaps they could retire in part-time, a place they planned to visit on the weekends, something that they could afford.  It was all that was left in six short months.
His steel blue eyes peered into the window of the cabin.  A plush cabin built for endurance and for the weekend warrior.  It disgusted him, these people who invaded the land and built these structures, no respect for nature or the life around them.  These people who came and didn’t respect, he hated them all.  He would teach them a lesson.
Her breath was shallow, like she was barely breathing.  But it was only a deep sleep, something she hadn’t experienced for a long time.  She came for the peace and tranquility of the snowy mountains.  She thought as she had drove up that perhaps this would be the place that she could feel again something other than anguish.   She had filled up the car on her way up when it had started to snow again.  There was nothing more peaceful than falling snow but it did not give her the peace she was looking for.  Instead, conflict over what she was doing and why she was there.  It was too soon, or it wasn’t too soon, it was irresponsible or reckless, people would wonder, people would worry, but she had gone and wasn’t coming back. 
The living room hearth had embers of a fire, a big braided rug and long couch.  The walls were decorated with old snow shoes and old tin pots, as though someone were trying to decorate it to look older than it actually was.  The exposure to the elements made him older than he actually was.  At 38, his sandy blonde hair had started the graying process when he was stationed in Iraq.  By the time he returned, it was hard to distinguish which was blonde and which was white.  He had no interest in talking to anyone about what he had experienced.  He had no one to return home to except the mountains.  He felt at one with the wild.  The cold of the winters were harsh but he survived.  He had survived much worse than a little cold.  By this time, his hunger was taking over and he hoped that the cabin had supplies that would get him through the next few months.  As he crossed around the corner of the cabin he saw the small glow of a nightlight.  This small foolish notion only incensed him more.  If these people were so scared of the dark they had no business being there, and he was going to give them an actual reason to be scared.
She stopped at the little store at the base of the mountain.  The few provisions she had, she knew she needed a little more in case of more snow, in case her stay lasted longer than a day or a week.  But she didn’t really want to make any future plans.  Her future had already been decided in a freak accident, taking them all, one by one, slowing, over weeks at the hospital.  He was the last to go, hanging on until one day, after sleeping for weeks next to his side; he stopped breathing for the last time.  But really, she had stopped breathing long before that.  
He peered into the window of the bedroom to see the light source, a Minnie Mouse nightlight illuminating the bedroom.  It was a child’s bedroom, with a small twin bed frame, complete with Minnie Mouse bedding, a large trunk overflowing with toys and a small, child vanity with mirror.  He sneered at the luxury of it.  Most children he had seen had nothing but rocks and barely a roof over their head and lived in a place where everything had been destroyed.  He thought of the effort it took to get something like this to this cabin and how much effort it took those he left behind to just get some water and shelter.   He then noticed the figure in the bed.  Upon closer inspection, he saw it was a grown woman.   The darkness began to cloud his thoughts. 
The snow clouds continued to release their bounty as she approached the cabin.    She pulled the car up to the garage and got out to open the door, nearly jumping out of her skin to discover the family of raccoons living there.   They scurried off and she parked the car, quickly unloading and getting into the cabin.  It was much colder in the winter.  Luckily they had supplied the cabin with lots of firewood, anticipating much more use, many more weekends, the fun and joy that adventures in the wilderness would bring.   But today, this was a refuge, a memory and nothing more than a place that she would decide whether or not this was a life worth living for.   The grief counselors had suggested she get away, maybe spend some time with friends or family.  The prescription for prozac had gone unfilled.  Grief was the word used, but almost felt like a stupid word, as it couldn’t contain the emotions she was feeling.  She wasn’t even sure that it was emotion, as it resembled nothing she could compare it to.  It came in waves, in came in sharp pains, and it just kept coming.  
When she unpacked the food she had brought, she almost laughed, marshmallows, chocolate, cupcakes, bacon, eggs and a bag of salad, a box of wine.  She made a fire and thought she should eat.  She hadn’t eaten much for months, nothing fit anymore and she had little interest in clothing or anything else.  She didn’t force herself to do much, except eat once a day.  Coffee, a bagel was most of the faire she could keep down and keep going with.   She found an expired package of graham crackers in the cupboard and decided to make a smore.  She burnt the marshmallow but ate it anyway, watching the snow fall.  There wouldn’t be anyone around to stop her if she decided to do what she wanted to do anyway.  It was then that the fatigue hit her.  The fatigue of six months of making an impression at the new job and driving the kids to soccer and ballet, of making late night dinners and early morning meetings, of making an impression by attending all the meetings and events and fundraisers.  And when the accident happened, the sleepless nights at the hospital before gripping hands and turning off of machines, of hoping and praying and giving up hope and resurging hope and losing it all anyway.  She wanted to sleep.  And never wake up.
He saw her dark hair frame a small face.  Small curls and a bare shoulder stirred him in ways that he hadn’t allowed or experienced in a long time and was looking forward to it.  Alone, she was alone and there was nothing to stop him.  And he wasn’t planning on stopping.  But her face, something familiar about it, he held it in his gaze searching for what was detracting him from his intentions.
There was a big house ahead, she walked along the path in her dream and approached the window of the house, looking in she saw a man staring back at her, eyes wide and frightening, a peak of sandy hair under a wooly hat.  She froze, unable to move, fearing for her life and yet unable to run, her legs would not move her eyes unable to break their hold of his gaze.
He had seen that face before, too many times.  It was that pained, pinched face, with wrinkles around the eyes that were earned before the body had aged enough to earn them.  It was that face that so desperately wanted relief that looked to him as if he could do something, rescue, respite, relieve and he never, ever could.    He knew that face.  He knew that sleep, of someone who had barely slept and so desperately needed sleep.  He saw it in the face of his buddies, long ago gone, in the faces of people who he couldn’t help.  He saw the sliver of relief that sleep was giving her.  It was enough to make him disappear into the woods and never return. 
She opened her eyes.  The light of the nightlight illuminated the room.  She looked out the window seeing only darkness, the peace of the night.  She knew snow was falling but couldn’t see it.   She thought for a moment of all of the creatures that lived in the woods around her and wondered if she was safe and then squashed those thoughts. She closed her eyes and pulled the blankets tight before she fell back asleep.    
@ Jennie Olson Six 2012