Photo Credit : Glenn Carstens-Peters on Unsplash.
Alone in the silence of the forest he searched for it. Memories of happier times. A memorial made in nature, to remember them forever. The few sounds, the branches and mulch, leaves crunching and melting and giving way under his feet.
After some time searching he came across the memorial nature offered. His mind journeyed to those times, they had all enjoyed here. The laughter and picnics they had shared, at this place. His hand lightly touched and traced the heart shaped indent in the tree, and the names enshrined within. He thought of them both, but not for long, as it was too painful. He lifted the whiskey bottle from where it was now a permanent fixture, forever close by, just inside the shabby coat, that had seen much better years.
It was his way of dealing with what should not have been. The alcohol offered some very brief temporary relief, until he sobered up, and then he would follow on that pointless road, of sorrowful drunkenness, much regret, and yet more alcohol to numb the pain. A never ending crazy pointless circle. But as a method to block all memories, good and bad, there was none better alcohol.
‘I’ve watched you’, the voice startled him. But it was soft, gentle and compassionate.
‘I watched you from afar many times, but sensed you wanted to be alone with your hurt and sadness’.
He turned to see the owner of the voice. She had a softness, a calm strength, and quietness about her. He was embarrassed and ashamed of how he must had looked to her. Unshaven, dirty, with unkempt clothing, and badly in need of a bath. He found it hard to focus, but managed to make out her outline.
‘You must be hungry. We have a cabin, not far from here. Will you join us for some food’.
He had not eaten properly in days. But nourishing sustenance was of little matter to him anymore. Nothing really mattered to him anymore. Living had lost its luster. He did not look at her, but turned away from her, as he held one hand on the heart shaped indent on the tree. How can this person be so trusting of strangers, he asked of himself.
‘No, I don’t want or need anything’, he answered quietly. Preferring his solitude, and freedom to think and come to terms with what had happened, if he ever could.
‘Ok’, but if you do change your mind, we are just over the other side of the big oak tree, on that hill. We’re the only cabin for miles around’.
With that she slowly sauntered away, without looking back. He watched her go. Unsure of what to make of her. But he certainly did like her non neediness, and thankful for her acceptance his wish for privacy, and the desire to be alone.
After she had left him, and when sure he was alone, he spoke quietly to his lost wife and young daughter, and asked then what he should do. Would they question his loyalty. The very idea of some decent food, an opportunity to clean up, while certainly not a priority, would not go amiss either.
The loud sniffling and noise, and the sensation of being watched caught his attention. He was very big when stood on his hind legs. Salvia dripping from it sharpened teeth, bigger that any man he had ever encountered, and the loud growling. The fur was dirty, and ragged, the claws on the feet and paws, frightening. Never had he encountered such an animal at close range, and was surprised at the stench emanating from it. He slowly backed away from the approaching animal. To run was to play to the animals instinct to chase. To climb high, was pointless as bears can climb as higher and faster, that nay man.
He tried vainly to remember what he had ever read, or seen about what to do when confronted by an angry, hungry animal. But his mind was unable to function under such stress. His breathing rapid, his legs shaking, and heart beating strongly in his chest in response to his body’s adrenaline. Any chance of clear thinking was minimal. He did have the fortitude to pick up a large heavy branch of a fallen tree, but guessed success against such an animal, was unlikely.
One fact he wished he did not recall, was how a bear on his hind legs can stand up to seven feet tall and larger, and are capable of tearing a mans head from his shoulders, with a wave of their arm. The bear began to run toward him. He stood his ground, aware that his last moments were soon to be, and in his semi drunken state he welcomed his own demise, so he could soon be with his departed loved ones. He just briefly wished it was not in such a brutal manner. But he briefly prayed to Jesus, and asked for it to be swift.
The perspiration dripped from his forehead, his breathing more rapid than he had ever experienced, he closed his eyes, and awaited the impact.
The shoot that rang out seemed so close, he wondered if he had being hit. The following shoots rang out in rapid succession. The large brown bear stopped, stood up on his hind feet, and growled loudly, before turning on his tail and scampering back into the woods, towards the riverbank. He searched among the trees to find the source of the rifle.
He watched the trees for a few moments before the three figures, dressed in combat uniforms emerged from the forest.
‘What the hell do we got here, eh boy’,
With that the large leader of the group spat some dirty brown chewed tobacco onto the ground. The southern twang, was just like it was in all those movies he had seen over the years. His two sidekicks laughed at the revered leader. He held an automatic rifle under his arm, cradled lovingly, just like a child. The two others, held long barrel shotguns down by their sides.
‘What the hell kind of fool comes out into the woods without a goddamn fire arm. Were going to fight that bear, with a piece of wood. Well were you boy’, and they laughed.
He could sense their aggression, and bad intent.
‘You just gotta be a dumb ass city boy, he just gotto be, dont he Wendell’.
‘Well he sure must, cause he has got the brains of a dumb ass’.
‘Why don’t you just turn round and start running back towards the city, dumb ass, and we’ll see if we can’t shoot you in the rear. Go on boy, run’.
Again the men in combat laughed at the power there weapons gave them, and the predicament the disheveled city man found himself in. The men ducked quickly as a shoot ricocheted of a nearby tree. More shoots rang out in their direction. They searched the trees for the source of the bullets, but could not find it.
The voice was firm, it was strong.
‘Okay boys, you’ve had your fun, now you git along and leave that city boy be, da’ all hear. ‘Go oonn, now scoot, afore I get real mad, and set my dogs on you’.
‘Show yourself, Godamit’, the leader of the men in combat gear demanded.
There was no response from the trees, that hid the unseen shooter. He also took the opportunity to run for cover, and headed in the direction he hooped the shots were coming from. More shoots rang out, pinning down the men in combat gear.
‘Alright Godamit, were going, but don’t you worry Missey, we’ll be back’.
The men stood up, put their hands skyward, and slowly moved back from where they came. They argued loudly among themselves, until the leader angrily kicked and punched his two companions into silence.
‘Are you okay’, he looked at her, from his position low on the forest floor’.
‘I am now. That was some crazy set up’.
‘We get it from time to time, out here in the backwoods. some times survivalists, high on weapons, illicit drugs and alcohol. Sometimes, drug gangs build chemical factories hidden on the woods, and want to keep strangers at bay’.
‘How good dose a hot meal and a nice bath sound like now’.
‘Yeah’, I’ll take it’.
With that, they headed towards her cabin, just behind the large oak tree, just behind the hill, that she had pointed out when they first meet earlier that afternoon, as she was watching him grieve for his loved ones.
With the excitement, the new events that happened that afternoon, he felt a sense of awakening. A sense of being alive. A feeling he had not encountered for quiet some time. A possibility that perhaps there was more to life, than living full of regret and remorse. Maybe this was a new chapter to his life.
They made their way to her cabin, beautiful in its remoteness, and tranquility. As the evening sun began to set, the sky turned from bright blue, into a golden expression of colur. Soothing orange and yellow hues. The crickets croaking the only sounds from the forests. As they made there way onto the wooden porch, the blonde young girl shyly emerged from inside, and ran to and hugged her Mother. Her Mother lowered her rifle to the floor, and picked up and kissed her daughter.
He was quickly sobering up, after such an eventful afternoon.
‘Are you not afraid, living here alone. Is there no man around look after you’.
‘No, we make do. We do fine, don’t we sweetheart’, addressing the young girl. ‘In any case, I’ve got my dogs, and my rifle, and know how to use it’.
‘What of those men, from today. They said they’d be back’.
‘We’ll see. But for now let’s get cleaned up, and lets eat’.
They entered the cosy cabin, lit by wicker oil lamps, and a low kindling fire. She quickly set about preparing a nourishing meal for the three of them, humming happily to herself.
He took a sat by the fire, in the rocking chair and slowly rocked back and forth, enjoying the creaking sound. The young girl studied the stranger intently, as children do, undecided whether she liked or trusted him enough, but given a few moments of serious contemplation, she decided he was safe. She approached him, as he sat by the fire, and handed him her colouring book, and showed him what she had being working on. It was long time since he had being round human company, especially children. It took some moments for his sense of unease to subside, but the young girls wide eyed innocence and open acceptance and trust of him, helped sooth his mind. Soon she was standing close to him, and helpfully showing him previous drawings she had completed.
Her Mother watched from the kitchen, as the stranger began to interact and slowly enjoy the young child’s company. With the meal soon prepared, they ate mainly in silence. Never had a warm nourishing meal being so welcome, and he greedily scoffed the food at speed, and did not refuse a second helping. After dinner she showed her guest where he could clean up, and wash himself, and gave him some male cleaning utensils, used by a previous man.
She set about putting her daughter to bed. In the low light of the bedroom she tucked her child to rest.
‘I like him’
‘I’m glad to hear that honey, now you go to sleep child’.
She bid her daughter goodnight, unsure whether she liked the stranger as much as her daughter. Sitting by the warming embers of the fire, contemplating the earlier interactions she had with the survivalists or drug runners of earlier that afternoon, she considered to herself whether they would return at some stage to cause havoc. She decided to double lock all the doors and windows tonite, and to take an extra box of shells for the rifle, which she was planing to keep in close proximity to her, through the night, should it be needed.
He reentered the lounge area of the cabin. Gone were the ragged clothes. The unkempt hair, washed and trimmed, although not expert, not a bad attempt. The face now clean shaven although still malnourished. The ravages and damage of excess alcohol more than evident. But perhaps she allowed, as she studied him, underneath all that dirt and grime, that maybe there was a fine looking, but certainly troubled man underneath.
‘My, my, my. Why don’t you look just fine.’
He smiled shyly at the compliment, and just briefly caught her eye.
‘Draw up a chair, and join me by the fire’, which is what he did.
They both stared into the burning blue and yellow embers of the fire. The warmth was comforting. He could barely look at her, and especially not catch her eye. For fear she could see into his dark and twisted soul, and the secrets it held. The malicious, cruel and sordid thoughts that he tried hard to keep at bay, but seldom succeeded.
The thoughts that troubled and plagued even more so since he had stopped taking the medication he had being prescribed. It had been some time since he had been in close proximity to a woman. The scent of soft perfume, entrancing. Her gentle feminine energy, soft, palatable. He thought of touching her, and holding her so, but he let those thoughts pass. She waited patiently for him to speak, if he choose to. Allowing him the psychological space, to be as he was.
They sat in silence listening to the crackling of the burning firewood, and the occasional howling of a far off wolf in the distance.
‘Well I’m off to bed, you sleep here on the couch. You’ll find some blankets over there’, she pointed to a corner of the room.
With that she left the cosy lounge area, and left him alone with his thoughts. In the quietness his mind started to become agitated, as though some higher power, some demon, some evil part of himself he did not want to listen to or acknowledge, began to call to him. To speak to him. To fill his mind with wild ideas, and suggestions that were too terrible to listen to. He quickly went to the small hallway, where he had left his shabby coat, and retrieved the saviour from one of the deep pockets, and greedily drank from the bottle, wrapped in the brown paper bag. Anything to drown out the voices in his head, which were becoming progressively louder, urging him. screaming at him, to do what he must. Again and again he drank quickly and heavily from the bottle of raw alcohol that burned his insides as he ingested it. But he knew that soon, very soon, his mind would find, if not sleep, at least some form of peace, until he sobbered up. He thought of his departed wife and daughter, and how he loved them, and never ment to hurt them. He had begged for their forgiveness and understanding many times. But they never answered.
The sound of breaking glass, was loud in the quietness of the night. Hushed voices, swearing and foolish laughter, audible. She was half expecting some visitors and was soon out of her bed, rifle by her side, and loaded. She made her quickly towards her child's bedroom, to find her not there. In panic, she lowered her rifle to the floor, and searched frantically under the bed, in the wooden cupboards, for her daughter, and then noticed the open window, that led into the woodland. In the low light of her daughters bedroom, the three figures silhouetted in the darkness blocked the doorway.
Alone in the barn, he layed the sleeping child on some hay, staring at her young innocent face and body. He sat alone fighting the desire. The voices in his head, urging him, willing him. It was Gods wish, it was Gods way, they promised. He despised himself for what he was about to do.
He thought of his Mother, and how he hated her, for her suffocating, overpowering love.
He thought of his father, and how distant he was, never on hand, nor interested enough, or perhaps unable to offer guidance. He recalled the numerous women who had refused, or never encouraged his advances.
He thought of those in the religious fraternity who abused their power, and secrecy.
He remembered how those in authority, paid him little heed. He hated them all. But mostly he hated and despised himself, for what he had become. He blamed everyone and anyone for how he was now, as a man. Blamed everyone but himself. At times, he acted in ways which sickened and frightened him. His breathing became rapid and loud, the excitement further igniting the already lively adrenaline within his body. She opened her eyes, wide and innocent, and smiled as he hovered over her.
The screams from the cabin pierced his consciousness. Imbued by the alcohol, and wishing to retrieve some semblance of self respect, and self love, he ran like the hero he always wanted to be toward the cabin, and what lay within. The three intruders laughed as they overpowered and brought her to the cosy lounge area, and shoved nearby furniture out of the way, laying her in front of the dying embers of the fire in the grate, and they like wild animals began to paw at, and ravage her clothing. She screamed again, and the leader of the group kicked her hard in the stomach, which quieted her.
He didn’t stop to think, just came crashing through the porch door, into the darkened lounge, widely thrashing and swinging his fists at anything that was standing. The intruders were caught off guard, and they fell like skittles to the floor. Amid the noise and confusion she quietly slipped away from the melee. They turned on him, and managed to grab hold of him, two holding him upright as the leader of the group, still dressed in the combat gear, of the pseudo solider, began with relish to beat and pummel his face and body. The blood tasted warm in his mouth. His vision was dimming as his consciousness was near to blackout. Regret loomed large in his mind, for ever even coming back to this place. Still the hateful blows rained onto his face and body. A never ending assault, that would not stop until the leaders anger, and thirst for revenge was satisfied.
The light from the rifle briefly lit up the room, the noise deafening in such a small area. He slumped slowly to the floor, they were unable to hold him upright any longer, as the cartridge entered his body, at chest height. The pain indescribable, the heat, searing. They let him fall and rushed the woman with the rifle, who stood in the door frame of her daughter’s room. Angrily disarmed her, and again pulled her down in front of the fire.
Like wild animals, yelping, laughing and screaming they pulled at and ravaged her clothing. They beat her about the head severely, when she used what little physical strength she had to resist. She lay silently on the ground and in the darkness of the room lit only by the crackling wood in the fire. With the blood and perspiration slowly trickling down her once attractive face, she too began to regret getting involved with a stranger she barely knew.