Authors: Stephen Jones
Tags: #horror, #Horror Tales; English, #Horror Tales; American, #Fiction
Table of Contents
My father said something to me this one time. In fact he said a lot of things to me, over the years, and many of them weren't what you'd call helpful, or polite - or loving, come to that. But in the last couple months I've found myself thinking back over a lot of them, and often find they had a grain of truth. I consider what he said in the new light of things, and move on, and then they're done. This one thing, though, has kept coming back to me. It's not very original, but I can't help that. He was not an especially original man.
What he said was, you had to take care of yourself, first and foremost and always, because there wasn't no one else in the world who was going to do it for you. Look after Number One, was how he put it.
About this he was absolutely right. Of that I have no doubt.
I start every day to a schedule. Live the whole day by it, actually. I don't know if it makes much difference in the wider scheme of things, but having a set of tasks certainly helps the day kick off more positively. It gets you over that hump.
I wake around 6:00 a.m., or a little earlier. So far that has meant the dawn has either been here, or coming. As the weeks go by it will mean a period of darkness after waking, a time spent waiting in the cabin. It will not make a great deal of difference apart from that.
I wash with the can of water I set aside the night before, and eat whatever I put next to it. The washing is not strictly necessary but, again, I have always found it a good way to greet the day. You wash after a period of work, after all, and what else is a night of sleep, if not work, or a journey at least?
You wash, and the day starts, a day marked off from what has gone before. In the meantime I have another can of water heating over a fire. The chimney is blocked up and the doors and windows are sealed overnight against the cold, so the fire must of necessity be small. That's fine - all I need is to make enough water for a cup of coffee.
I take this with me when I open the cabin and step outside, which will generally be at about 6:20 a.m. I live within an area that is in the shade of mountains, and largely forested. Though the cabin itself is obscured by trees, from my door I have a good view down over the ten or so acres between it and the next thicker stretch of woods. I tend to sit there on the stoop a couple minutes, sipping my coffee, looking around. You can't always see what you're looking for, though, which is why I do what I do next.
I leave the door open behind me and walk a distance of about three hundred yards in length - I measured it with strides when I set it up -made of four unequal sides. This contains the cabin and my shed, and a few trees, and is bounded by wires. I call them wires, but really they're lengths of fishing line, connected between a series of trees. The fact that I'm there checking them, on schedule, means they're very likely to be in place, but I check them anyway. First, to make sure none of them needs re-fixing because of wind - but also that there's no sign something came close without actually tripping them.
I walk them all slowly, looking carefully at where they're attached to the trees, and checking the ground on the other side for signs anything got that far, and then stopped - either by accident or because they saw the wires. This is a good, slow, task for that time in the morning, wakes you up nice and easy. I once met a woman who'd been in therapy - hired a vacation cottage over near Elum for half a summer, a long time ago this was - and it seemed like the big thing she'd learned was to ignore everything she thought in the first hour of the day. That's when the negative stuff will try to bring you down, she said, and she was right about that, if not much else. You come back from the night with your head and soul empty, and bad things try to fill you up. There's a lot to get exercised about, if you let it. But if you've got a task, something to fill your head and move your limbs, by the time you've finished it the day has begun and you're onto the next thing. You're over that hump, like I said.
When that job's finished, I go back to the cabin and have the second cup of coffee, which I keep kind-of warm by laying my breakfast plate over the top of the mug while I'm outside. I'll have put the fire out before checking the wires, so there's no more hot water for the moment. I used to have one of those vacuum flasks and that was great, but it got broken. I'm on the lookout for a replacement. No luck yet. The colder it gets, the more that's going to become a real priority.
I'll drink this second cup planning what I'm going to do that day. I could do this the night before, but usually I don't. It's what I do between 7:30 and 8:00 a.m. It's in the schedule.
Most days, the next thing is going into the woods. I used to have a vegetable patch behind the cabin, but the soil here isn't that great and it was always kind of hit-and-miss. After the thing, it would also be too much of a clue that someone is living here.
There's plenty to find out in the woods, if you know what to look for. Wild versions of the vegetables in stores, other plants that don't actually taste so good but give you some of the green stuff you need. Sometimes you'll even see something you can kill to eat - a rabbit or a deer, that kind of thing - but not often. With time I assume I may see more, but for now stocks are low. With winter coming on, it's going to get a little harder for all this stuff. Maybe a
We'll see. No point in worrying about it now. Worry don't get nothing but worry, as my father also used to say.
Maybe a couple hours spent out in the woods, then I carry back what I've found and store it in the shed. I'll check on the things already waiting, see what stage they're at when it comes to eating. The hanging process is very important. While I'm there I'll check the walls and roof are still sound and the canvas I've layered around the inside is still watertight. As close to airtight as possible, too.
I don't know if there are bears in these parts any more - I've lived here forty years, man and boy, and I haven't seen one in a long time, nor wolves either - but you may as well be sure. One of them catches a scent of food, and they're bound to come have a look-see, blundering through the wires and screwing up all that stuff. Fixing it would throw the schedule right out. I'm joking, mainly, but you know, it really would be kind of a pain, and my stock of fishing wire is not inexhaustible.
It's important to live within your means, within what you know you can replace. A long game way of life, as my father used to say. I had someone living here with me for a while, and it was kind of nice, but she found it hard to understand the importance of these things, of playing that long game. Her name was Ramona, and she came from over Noqualmi way. The arrangement didn't last long. Less then ten days, in fact. Even so, I did miss her a little after she walked out the door. But things are simpler again now she's gone.
Time'll be about 10:30 a.m. by now, maybe 11:00, and I'm ready for a third cup of coffee. So I go back to the cabin, shut and seal up all the doors and windows again, and light the fire. Do the same as when I get up, is make two cups, cover one to keep it semi-warm for later. I'll check around the inside of the cabin while the water's heating, making sure everything's in good shape. It's a simple house. No electricity - lines don't come out this far - and no running water.
I got a septic tank under the house I put in ten years back, and I get drinking and washing water from the well. There's not much to go wrong and it doesn't need checking every day. But if something's on the schedule then it gets done, and if it gets done, then you know it's done, and it's not something you have to worry about.
I go back outside, leaving the door open behind me again, and check the exterior of the house. That does need an eye kept on it. The worse the weather gets, the more there'll be a little of this or that needs doing. That's okay. I've got tools, and I know how to use them. I was a handyman before the thing and I am, therefore, kind of handy. I'm glad about that now. Probably a lot of people thought being computer programmers or bankers or TV stars was a better deal, the real cool beans. It's likely by now they may have changed their minds. I'll check the shingles on the roof, make sure the joints between the logs are still tight. I do not mess with any of the grasses or bushes that lie in the area within the wires, or outside either. I like them the way they are.
Now, it's about midday. I'll fill half an hour with my sculpturing, then. There's a patch of ground about a hundred yards the other side of the wires on the eastside of the house, where I'm arranging rocks. There's a central area where they're piled up higher, and around that they're just strewn to look natural. You might think this is a weird thing to do for someone who won't have a vegetable patch in case someone sees it, but I'm very careful with the rocks. Spent a long time studying on how the natural formations look around here. Spent even longer walking back from distant points with just the right kind of rocks. I was born right on this hillside. I know the area better'n probably anyone. The way I'm working it, the central area is going to look like just another outcrop, and the stuff around, like it just fell off and has been lying there for years.
It passes the time, anyway.
I eat my meal around 1:00 p.m. Kind of late, but otherwise the afternoon can feel a little long. I eat what I left over from supper the night before. Saves a fire. Although leaving the door open when I'm around the property disperses most of the smoke, letting it out slowly, a portion is always going to linger in the cabin, I guess. If it's been a still day, then when I wake up the next morning my chest can feel kind of clotted. Better than having it all shoot up the chimney, but it's still not a perfect system. It could be improved. I'm thinking about it, in my spare time, which occurs between 1:30 and 2:00 p.m.
The afternoons are where the schedule becomes a tad more free-form. It depends on what my needs are. At first, after the thing, I would walk out to stock up on whatever I could find in the local towns. There's two within reasonable foot distance - Elum, which is about six miles away, and Noqualmi, a little further in the other direction. But those were both real small towns, and there's really nothing left there now. Stores, houses, they're all empty and stripped even if not actually burned down. This left me in a bit of a spot for a while, but then, when I was walking back through the woods from Noqualmi empty-handed one afternoon, I spied a little gully I didn't think I knew. Walked up it, and realized there might be other sources I hadn't yet found. Felt dumb for not thinking of it before, in fact.
So that's what I do some afternoons. This area wasn't ever home to that many vacation cabins or cottages, on account of the skiing never really took off and the winter here is really just kind of cold, instead of picturesque cold - but there are a few. I've found nine, so far. First half-dozen were ones where I'd done some handy work at some point - like for the therapy woman - so they were easier to find. Others I've come upon while out wandering. They've kept me going on tinned vegetables, extra blankets. I even had a little gas stove for a while, which was great. Got right around the whole smoke problem, and so I had hot coffee all day long. Ran out of gas after a while, of course. Finding some more is a way up my wish list, I'll tell you, just below a new vacuum flask.