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Jul 18th, 2018
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  1. >Your alarm is ringing.
  2. >Beep beep beep.
  3. >The led on the face of it is just barely illuminating your room, throwing a flashing red tint to the dusky surroundings.
  4. >The edges of things are suffused with red, but the middles hold onto their shadows.
  5. >Dresser, computer and desk, bed.
  6. >You turn your head slowly and go to turn it off.
  7. >The alarm flashes 4:45AM in your face one last time before you hit the off button.
  8. >Back to darkness again, but you can just see by the little bit of moonlight filtering through your window.
  9. >You push your covers and your blanket off and roll out of bed.
  10. >Both feet down on the carpet, you let out a yawn and stretch as you get up and walk over to your dresser.
  11. >Jeans, black leather belt, white t-shirt.
  12. >You pull on all your clothes, then grab the other necessities from your desk.
  13. >Strap on your knife, pocket your little rough and tough cell phone, tuck your wallet into your back pocket and hook your keys up to your belt loop by the carabiner you had them all on.
  14. >You grab a red plaid shirt as you walk out of your room, button it up striding down the hall and into the kitchen.
  15. >The whole place is pretty simple fare, soft colours on the walls and a few pictures of family here and there.
  16. >You keep your house tidy, no stray objects, everything is where it is for a reason.
  17. >Snatch your lighter off the counter and grab a bottle of water out of the fridge on your way to the mudroom.
  18. >You reach down to the chest of winter wear reflexively, but you only manage to grab air.
  19. “Hm.”
  20. >You frown.
  21. >There’s something out of place.
  22. >Your cigarette pack isn’t where it’s supposed to be.
  23. >Eyes down, you peer in the dark.
  24. “Weird.”
  26. >You spot the pack on the other side of the chest, but that’s not the only strange bit.
  27. >There’s a piece of paper on it.
  28. >Sighing, you take a seat on the chest, right beside your cigs and stick your steel toe boots on.
  29. >Lace em up and brush em off, then you pick up the cigs and that random bit of paper, whatever the hell it is.
  30. >You just want to get outside right now, get your smoke and plan things out.
  31. >The early morning breeze whispers in your ear and slaps you on the cheek with a chill when you open the front door, carrying the tinge of frost and a whiff of smoke from the fire your neighbor’s lit in their wood stove.
  32. >Shame you didn’t get to do much work junking wood for your neighbors this year.
  33. >You rub your sore shoulder regretfully.
  34. >It was the right shoulder, ‘course.
  35. >That was the sort of luck you had.
  36. “Fires are good money after all, of all kinds…”
  37. >You could definitely go for a good forest fire right about now, shame the season for them was far past over.
  38. >Clomp down the wood steps and onto your paved driveway, over to your shed.
  39. >Eyes up, you can see the sun coming on in the sky.
  40. >It hasn’t broken the horizon yet, but the twilight is paling and the moon has lost most of its luster.
  41. >Everything around still has that ethereal midnight quality to it though, ghostly birch trees stretch on all around your home and your green pickup truck stands like a spectre beside your pale white shed.
  42. >Your lawn is frosted over, ice crystals glistening faintly.
  43. >You grasp the lock on your shed’s double door and unclip your carabiner full of keys, pick out the right one, stick it in and turn.
  44. >Then you unlatch the top of the right one and swing it open.
  45. >No point opening the other this early in the morning.
  46. >You’d always thought of it as “The Shed”, but it was more like a second porch.
  47. >It was close and cozy, no carpet or any sort of real comfortable furniture, but it had a couple of chairs inside.
  49. >A good solid floor with space to spare for friends and beer coolers, there was even a little stove you’d installed a few years ago, to keep the place warm when you took breaks in here clearing the driveway.
  50. >You grunted and sat down in your plastic patio chair, tossed your pack, paper and lighter down on the workbench beside you.
  51. >Got a good twinge out of your shoulder for that one, it always started up late in the morning, never just when you got up.
  52. >Fucking thing.
  53. >Still grunting, you poked your satellite radio to life.
  54. >There’s a stutter and click of the speakers coming to life, the screen lights up, bright blue flooding the shed.
  55. >”I don’t want to set the world on fiiirrrreee~ I just want to staaaaart a flame in your heeeaaaaartt~”
  57. >The first smile of the day starts to break on your face.
  58. >You rub your beard and tug a cigarette out of your pack, light it up.
  59. >And then you reach around your back to flick the shed light on, left arm to avoid the pain.
  60. >You flinch a little in the sudden brightness, blinking a bit to habituate yourself.
  61. >Then you grab the strange paper you’d found.
  62. >It’s a package notice, Canada Post telling you something’s been delivered and is waiting at the post office for you.
  63. “Don’t remember orderin’ anything though.”
  64. >You toss it aside and get back to smoking, taking a swig of water every now and then.
  65. >Kick back and listen to tunes, watch the day come on and think.
  66. >Have to grab groceries and ice for camp, fill up on gas too…
  67. >Get beer of course, plus some more G2.
  68. >…
  69. >Ah, you could pick up your package while you’re at it.
  70. >No work to do down at the office, no patrols up and down the Ten Pound Road for poachers either, since you were on leave for your shoulder.
  71. >You smiled.
  72. >Just you, your rifle, the camp and hopefully a deer.
  73. >Beer too.
  74. >Chuckling, you butt out your cigarette and snatch up another one to light.
  76. “I’ll find something to work on over there anyway, guaranteed. Hell, I betcha the propane’ll be out or something stupid.”
  77. >Your thoughts went to the ceiling you’d painted.
  78. >If anything was to go wrong, then it was that.
  79. >The girl who’d sold you the paint down at the hardware store in town didn’t seem too knowledgeable about painting.
  80. >But she’d assured you that it should match the old coat and that it’d hold its colour.
  81. >Another laugh.
  82. >Yeah, like you had any sort of luck.
  83. >The morning passes like that, smokes and water, the light creeping up your driveway as the sun rises.
  84. >Finally it hits about 7:30 AM and you get up.
  85. >Grab all of your stuff and step outside again.
  86. >The sun has officially risen, it’s looking to be a chilly but fairly nice day.
  87. >Not too many clouds above right now, but you can see some coming over from the north.
  88. >Might get a little dusting of snow later, but the weather reports say otherwise.
  89. >You walk over to your pickup truck and get in, humming tunelessly.
  90. >Stick the key in the ignition and turn the engine over, get it roaring out its morning salutations.
  91. >You smile and pat the top of the dashboard before driving off.
  92. >Down the driveway, onto the road.
  93. >It’s fairly empty, which is good, don’t have to pay as much attention to the road then.
  94. >Focus on the view, watch the valleys, mountains and tree stands whisk by.
  95. >The whole drive is about half an hour, plenty of time for the stores to open up.
  96. >Traffic picks up a little too as you get closer, not that Mustad is a real busy town.
  97. >It really isn’t.
  98. >Just a tiny little speck of life out in the woods really, has a grocery store, a gas station, a dollar store and a hardware store all right next to each other.
  99. >There’s a Tim’s a little ways before it and a liquor store past both.
  100. >But other than that it’s just a few houses, two churches and a Salmon Museum.
  101. >You skip the Tim’s, you’re not really looking for coffee right now and breakfast can wait.
  102. >You skip the Tim’s, you’re not really looking for coffee right now and breakfast can wait.
  103. >Down in “Downtown Mustad” as you call it, you pull into the grocery store parking lot.
  104. >You dig out your list of things to buy from the center console and get to it.
  106. >It all goes by smoothly, and quickly.
  107. >You’ve been doing this since you were nothing but a tyke after all, had 40 some years of practice.
  108. >It’s running around 8:30 AM when you finish your business Downtown and drive on towards the P&L liquor store.
  109. >Pretty unique in design, only liquor store in a big log cabin that you know of.
  110. >Probably the most happening spot for miles that doesn’t have a cross out front.
  111. >Paul the Moose, the store’s mascot, is out front instead in all his glory.
  112. >Big statue of a moose, packing a comically large set of balls and wearing a hunters orange vest.
  113. >You laughed and shook your head, thinking back to the hunting season five years ago.
  114. >Back then, Paul didn’t get a vest.
  115. >Paul, the owner, not the moose, never figured Paul the Moose would need one till that fateful day the Hood brothers thought they’d bagged the big one.
  116. >Took quite a bit of work to get poor Paul’s face all fixed up, but the real Paul never stopped teasing the Hoods about it.
  117. “Pair of good old lads now, hard to imagine...”
  118. >You ran your hand through your hair, you knew there were more than a few gray ones in there.
  119. “We’re all good old lads now…”
  120. >Another shake of the head with a hearty chuckle, you pull into the parking lot and hop out of your truck.
  121. >Easy steps to the front door, tingle of the bell when you open it up and stride inside.
  122. >”Pay or get the fuck out.”
  123. >You whip your head around, Paul’s sitting at the counter.
  124. >He’s a man gone to seed, used to be the roughest and toughest around.
  125. >Still tough, but Paul can’t get as rough anymore, beer belly caught up to him.
  126. >Right now Paul is glaring at you, eyes narrowed with his fists clenched on the countertop.
  128. >You match his glare, arms out to your sides and biceps bulging.
  129. >Brawler’s stance.
  130. >You growl out an answer.
  131. “How’s about I grab what I came for and then walk out? Huh?”
  132. >Neither of you stop staring.
  133. >Then Paul’s face breaks and he guffaws loud and hard, pounding his fist against the counter.
  134. >You grin back and toss in a chuckle.
  135. >”You fucker. What can I do you fer?”
  136. >Waving your hand in the general direction of the freezer, you answer easy.
  137. “Ah jus’ get me my usual, two cases of Premium Dry and a Gibson. Toss in a two liter of Pepsi while you’re at it.”
  138. >” ‘Four.”
  139. >Paul fetches your drinks while you mill around a little, looking at everything and nothing.
  140. >There’s license plates all over the walls in here, old ones donated by truckers and lumber drivers alike.
  141. >Moose heads too, most of them were catches by Paul himself.
  142. >He’d always been a lucky fucker.
  143. >That and a big time prime time poacher.
  144. >Those were fond memories, running through the brush with a pack full of moose bits on your back, Paul dashing beside you whispering obscenities rapid fire about the “fuckin cocksuckin wardens on us Jesus fuck get moving James you dumb fuck”.
  145. >That was before you became a forest ranger of course.
  146. >”Here yare.”
  147. >Paul sets your beer and whisky down on the counter for you.
  148. >You pull out of your reverie and saunter over to the counter to pay for the booze.
  149. >Pay Paul and tuck your bottle of Gibson Whisky into a plastic bag.
  150. >You put your wrist through the carrying handle so that you can take it and the two cases of beer in one trip.
  151. >Your shoulder gives you a heady dose of pain for the effort of carrying both cases, one in either hand, but you ignore it.
  152. >You give Paul a quick nod before walking out.
  153. “See you round.”
  154. >Paul smiles and shakes his head.
  155. >”No you won’t.”
  156. >You laugh and leave.
  157. >Sounds like he’s taking his young lad out for a hunt then.
  158. >And you know that neither of them got a license this year.
  159. >You set the beer in the back and your Gibson in the front before you hop back in your truck.
  160. >Wasn’t your problem anyway, you weren’t on duty this month.
  161. >You’d just catch Paul some other year anyway.
  162. >Last stop, Tim’s.
  164. >You get the old standby, two bacon and egg on maple biscuit with a double double and a hashbrown.
  165. >Keep on driving, eating en route to your place.
  166. >Now I just need to pack the wheeler, the cooler and the gun…
  167. >Satellite radio t-
  168. >You come crashing out of your thoughts.
  169. >Post office, you’d just driven by it.
  170. >Sighing, you pull into the nearest driveway to get turned around.
  171. >Rumble into the post office lot, toss it in park.
  172. >You finish up your hashbrown and take one last sip of your coffee before snatching up your package notice to head in.
  173. >Donna’s at the counter today.
  174. “H’lo Don.”
  175. >She smiles genially.
  176. >Donna’s always been a nice girl.
  177. >”Good to see ya James. How’s the shoulder treating you?”
  178. >You smile sarcastically and rub the offending joint.
  179. “Same as usual.”
  180. >Donna shakes her head and tuts.
  181. >”Shouldn’t have been lifting the things you were dummy. Big old logs. Tsk. Fer Pete’s sakes, ya’ve always worked way too hard fer your own good.”
  182. “And I’ll never learn. Got a package apparently.”
  183. >That brings Donna’s eyebrows up.
  184. >You hand her your notice.
  185. >”I see. Alright, jus’ a sec.”
  186. >Donna walks out into the back mail room.
  187. >You can hear some cardboard being moved around as she rummages about for your package.
  188. >After a minute or two she comes back out with a cardboard box in hand.
  189. >Donna stares at it a little funny before she hands it over and you can’t blame her, every inch of the damn thing is covered in tape and stickers of all kinds.
  190. >Loads of em with “Express Shipping” in both French and English, along with “Handle With Care”.
  191. >There’s a ton of stamps too, you feel bad for the person who got stuck paying postage on this thing.
  192. >It’s not too big, about the size of a tissue box, a little wider maybe.
  193. >You peer all around at it, checking every corner and face, but you can’t find a return address.
  194. >Law enforcement instincts kick in.
  195. “This thing was checked out right Don?”
  196. >Donna nods and shrugs.
  197. >”Yep. Security folks were jus’ as suspicious as you are. Ran every check on earth for it, hell, you woulda gotten it earlier ifn it weren’t for them holding on to it for a whole week.”
  198. >Huh.
  199. “Well. Have a nice one Donna.”
  200. >”Will do. Don’t you dare work today you buffoon.”
  201. >You smile and wave as you leave.
  202. “No promises.”
  204. >The drive home goes by pretty quick, you’re a bit more intent on the road this time with the traffic picking up.
  205. >But every now and then you can’t help but peek at that package sitting in the passenger seat.
  206. >You pull up into your driveway and park right next to the front step so it’ll be easier getting everything in and out.
  207. >Grab a cig and light it before you hop out with the package in hand.
  208. >Clomp up the wood steps and into your house, eyes on the box the whole time.
  209. >You take your boots off and set them in their usual spot beside the doormat before taking your package and walking sock footed through the kitchen and into the living room.
  210. >Getting comfortable, you lay back in your recliner and set the box in your lap.
  211. >A quick eye over shows that you definitely aren’t getting this open with your bare hands.
  212. >You reach around to the knife on your belt and get it out.
  213. >A few quick cuts and you’re well on your way, you tuck the knife back in its rightful spot.
  214. >Your excitement is building as you tear away the tape and tug at the flaps, your smile brims with curiosity.
  215. >Finally you get the cardboard box inside open.
  216. >First is a silk pillow, you pull it away.
  217. >Well.
  218. >Inside is another white silk pillow, with a glass ashtray and a folded sheaf of parchment resting on top of it.
  219. >You marvel at the ashtray.
  220. >It’s a fine piece of work, well-wrought and beautifully shaped like a bowl held in an eagles’ talons.
  221. >Inside you can see feathers suspended, pure white, ashy grey and the occasional dusky blue.
  222. >You’ve never seen anything quite like it.
  223. >Burning with curiosity as to who sent this and why, you set the trinket aside and pick up the parchment.
  224. >You grab your glasses from the table beside you and put them on to read the message.
  225. >It’s written in a beautiful flowing golden script, with defined and stylized capital letters.
  226. >”Here’s to the Hunt. Hope this little piece really adds to the camp.” –PC
  227. “What?”
  228. >You flip the parchment over and over, looking for more messages, but there’s no such thing.
  229. >Just that pair of vague little sentences and a signature you’ve never seen before.
  230. >You had a thing for recognizing handwriting, this definitely wasn’t written by anyone you knew.
  231. >No one you knew had the initials: “PC” anyway.
  232. >Frowning, you set the page down next to your new ashtray.
  233. “Mighty strange…”
  235. >Kicking back farther in your recliner, you take a few drags off of your cigarette before tapping away the excess ashes into the feather ashtray.
  236. >That brings a satisfied look to you.
  237. >You shrug and get up.
  238. “Never look a gift horse in the mouth.”
  239. >The ashtray would be great for the camp anyway, right next to your chair.
  240. >The paper did mention the camp after all, maybe they were just some benefactor who wanted to stay nameless?
  241. >You head back through the kitchen, into the mudroom and down to the basement to get your thirty ought, taking it slow down the steps.
  242. >That’s still odd though, your camp wasn’t well known at all.
  243. >I mean sure, friends and family and all that.
  244. >But it wasn’t like word had spread throughout the whole nation let alone the region around you.
  245. >You flick the lights on and stride over the cement floor to your gun cabinet.
  246. >Carabiner unclipped, you get the cabinet key out and open the thing up.
  247. >A little bit of browsing and you pick out your thirty, take it in hand and over to the dresser where you keep its carrying case.
  248. >There were people in Mustad who didn’t even know your camp existed, you got people walking or canoeing down the river past it every now and then who were surprised to find it there.
  249. >Your frown deepens as you pack your gun away.
  250. >So that discounts the benefactor theory.
  251. >It can’t be someone you know, it just can’t.
  252. >Not with that handwriting.
  253. >And the ink too, who the hell did you know that would have GOLD ink.
  254. >It was practically royal.
  255. >You zip up the carrying case and lug it back up the steps.
  256. >A quick peek at the stove clock shows it’s 12 PM.
  257. >Running on time then.
  258. >You set the gun down safely on the chest of winter wear while you go grab the bag you packed full of clothes last night from your room.
  259. >Toss it down alongside your gun.
  261. >What else?
  262. >…
  263. >Satellite radio.
  264. >You head back into your room and gather up the bits and bobs for your second satellite radio, the one you carry around.
  265. >The radio itself is in the living room waiting for you.
  266. >You take all of that over and pack it in the front of the truck, safe and sound.
  267. >Then you start on everything else.
  268. >Thoughts of who might have sent you that package come floating through your mind every now and then, but for the most part you’re focused on packing.
  269. >You’ve already pre prepared everything to be packed anyway, so it doesn’t take long.
  270. >Food is sorted into the coolers, beer is set on ice into their separate coolers, and hunting gear is put behind the seats.
  271. >One way or another, everything gets put away and is ready to go.
  272. >So you take a quick lunch and smoke break, tossing together a black forest ham and cheese on white bread.
  273. >Tastes great with sparkling apple juice.
  274. >It’s 12:48 when you start to get your four wheeler situated.
  275. >Grizzly Bear was the model name, and it more than lived up to it.
  276. >Damn thing could and did plow your driveway and the camp yard clear again and again every year.
  277. >It was that dark forest green like your truck, and just as pristine.
  278. >A machine that isn’t it good working order isn’t a machine at all.
  279. >You backed your truck over to your trailer and hooked it up, then drove your wheeler up onto the back of the trailer.
  280. >Fit like a glove.
  281. >It took some effort and some protesting from your shoulder to get off the wheeler and back down on solid ground, but you managed.
  282. >The pain was a bit rougher carrying jugs of gasoline over to put in the trailer though.
  283. >By the end of the whole ordeal you had to take another break, kneading your shoulder and muttering curses as you crossed the driveway to go sit and smoke in your shed.
  284. >1:05 PM.
  286. >Nearly done, just have to keep the pace up.
  287. >Sitting in your stool, you chug away like a chimney listening to Willie Nelson sounding out Blue Skies.
  288. >Idly, you scratch your beard.
  289. >Pulling your hand away though, you notice something.
  290. >Your thumb nail was all black.
  291. >You frown at that at first, but then you ease up.
  292. >Probably just stubbed it.
  293. >What you don’t notice is that the nails on your other hand all have black spots on them too.
  294. >Up you get.
  295. >You turn off the radio and lock down the shed, then you head inside the house to grab the last few things you’ll need before going to the camp.
  296. >You spare a glance at the sky while you walk across your driveway, noting that the clouds are still moving in from the north, heavy and grey.
  297. >Looks like snow after all, especially with that chilly breeze.
  298. >In the house, you grab a G2 to drink on the way.
  299. >One last double-check on the list of things you need.
  300. “Wheeler, check. Burgers, check. Steak, check. Salmon, check. Radio, check…”
  301. >On and on, down all the way through the list.
  302. >If you’re one thing, it’s thorough.
  303. >Finally you come to something you’d forgotten.
  304. “Ah. Gotta shave.”
  305. >You’d been putting it off for a while, the new beard had really “grown” on you.
  306. “Ha.”
  307. >Shaking your head and chuckling, you set your G2 back in the fridge and walked over to the bathroom to get it done.
  308. >Looking in the mirror, you figure you’ll keep the mustache like you usually do, just needed to shave off the chin and the sides.
  309. >You get the shaving cream out, applying it in good dollops, rubbing it in.
  310. >Lean over the white stone sink to make sure you don’t get it all over the tiled flooring.
  311. >You flick your razor out.
  313. >An old fashioned one, none of that reusable nonsense.
  314. >If you were going to get a job done, you were going to get it done proper.
  315. >Steady and practiced, you bring the edge to your cheeks and start.
  316. >Pull.
  317. >Stop.
  318. >Up and pull.
  319. >Again and again, being sure to keep it at just the right angle.
  320. >You take a break every now and then to let your hand quit shaking from the delicate work.
  321. >Unfortunately, no matter how long you wait, your shoulder won’t quit stinging you.
  322. “Bah.”
  323. >You press on, getting both sides finished.
  324. >The chin and around the neck was the hardest part, things could get deadly if you made any serious mistakes.
  325. >Ease into it, slow, deliberate movements.
  326. >The razor passes easy down over your skin, a few times over.
  327. >Done.
  328. >You smile and wash your face off.
  329. >Then your brows furrow.
  330. >There’s still something white stuck to you, so you try rinsing again, but the white spot doesn’t budge.
  331. >Curious, and a little frustrated, you examine it closer.
  332. >A feather, a little white downy feather.
  333. >You try to pull it off, but it’s a no go, your skin comes right up with the feather and goes right back down when you let it go.
  334. >It’s stuck in there, like it had grown on you.
  335. >…Ha, yeah, right.
  336. >Chuckling at the absurdity, you grab hold of it and tug it off.
  337. >No real pain, you ignore the fact that your skin still came up a little with it when you pulled the feather off.
  338. >You pat your cheeks, chin and neck down with some aftershave, then towel them off a little so the smell isn’t too strong.
  340. >After a quick check in the mirror for any missed spots, you head on out.
  341. >Through the hallway, you’re sure to turn the lights off in your living room
  342. >You’re nearly about to keep on walking, but your eyes fall on the glass ashtray.
  343. >Almost forgot.
  344. >You pick that up and take it over to the sink, a few quick rubs with a washcloth and you have the ashes from before all out.
  345. >You admire the ashtray in the sun a little, seeing the golden rays spark the glass and send out a corona of rainbows, making the feathers inside almost glow.
  346. >It really was a masterpiece.
  347. >There’s a strange tingle in your back at the sight of it, a flutter.
  348. >You roll your sore shoulder and sigh.
  349. “Damn thing is catching up again.”
  350. >You walk on through the kitchen, grab your G2 from the fridge and head outside where the truck is waiting.
  351. >Jump up into the drivers’ seat and you set the glass ashtray into the glove compartment.
  352. >The key is already in the ignition, you just turn it and get the truck in gear and rolling.
  353. >Down the driveway, up the highway a few minutes and a left at the Foot Long Pipe Road.
  354. >Also known as Welfare Avenue, a dirt road lined with shabby shacks in the woods, all inhabited by the laziest sons of bitches east of Parliament Hill.
  355. >You suck down your G2 and drive easy though.
  356. >The trailer follows along like an obedient little puppy dog and the truck radio starts belting out Tom T. Hall, Faster Horses.
  357. >It gives a little jump for you when you hit the titular Foot Long Pipe, about halfway through.
  358. >Eventually you get past all the ugliness and into the real woods.
  359. >The clouds have finally come in too.
  360. >It’s sort of surreal in a way, the sky was all a slate grey, and the clouds cast a shade on everything.
  361. >Hardwood was what it was mostly, down these first few roads, birch on the outskirts, maple and beech going in.
  362. >All of it steadily turned to softwood as you went on though, birch became scraggly jack pine, maple and beech was now black spruce and tall red pine.
  364. >And then it would shift back to hardwood, again and again as you drove, till they all seemed to be there at once.
  365. >You got to the half hour mark, three cigarettes in, when you decided to take a piss break.
  366. >At your usual spot of course, there was a turnoff spot meant for lumber trucks here.
  367. >You parked in it and got out to do your business, still puffing on your cig.
  368. >You unzip and start clearing out your bladder.
  369. >Towards the end of it, you grunt and flinch, damn thing stung a little.
  370. “If I have cancer of all things…”
  371. >You’re frowning all the way back to the truck.
  372. >Your family didn’t have any sort of predisposition to cancer that you knew of, your only worry really was a heart condition.
  373. >And the doctor had already gotten to poke you.
  374. >…
  375. >No point dwelling on it then, you grab a beer from the back and get in your truck.
  376. >On the road again.
  377. >John Denver on the radio seemed to agree.
  378. >”Country rooooaaaddss, take me hoooooooommeeee…”
  380. >The rest of the trip was uneventful, couple turns, your beer went down slow and you smoked enough to stay buzzed.
  381. >Finally you found yourself at the entrance to the camp driveway, a winding, smaller dirt road that went right through the woods.
  382. >It was just wide enough for one truck to pass.
  383. >You had to take it slow going, the gnarly old trees beside the road struck out with their roots at some junctures, usually when you were going up or downhill.
  384. >Eventually you came to the camp gate, a cable strung up between two posts on either side of the road.
  385. >Out of the truck again, you walked over to the lock, noting the cold in the air.
  386. >Winter was coming awful quick this year, December had hardly even started.
  387. >Quick turn of the key and you had the cable free, you picked it up and tossed it aside to drive the truck through.
  388. >Just past the gate was the bridge.
  389. >It was a sturdy construction, solid wood pillars and good lumber.
  391. >A favor from a friend of yours actually.
  392. >Beer Brook gurgled happily underneath it, carving a path through the woods and into Abel’s River just a minutes’ walk downstream.
  393. >You drove on up over the hill and into the camp yard proper.
  394. >A smile instantly lit up your face at the sight of it all.
  395. “Good to be home.”
  396. >Simple, strong, yet idyllic in some way.
  397. >Perhaps it was the position, the camp sat at a horseshoe in Abel’s River, facing out towards it on an elevated cliff face.
  398. >Mayhap is was just the horseshoe itself, the river and its essence.
  399. >But somehow, someway, this place was perfect.
  400. >It was the epitome of home, a place you could call your own.
  401. >The camp was built out of sturdy logs, painted burgundy, and you’d been here for two years building it.
  402. >Every single log there was hefted by you, you’d hammered together the beautiful porch out front alone, done the roof alone.
  403. >And your son…
  404. >Your daughter had done her share with you, when you and her had worked together you’d gotten more done in two weeks than you had with the crew of ten friends you’d brought over for a month.
  405. >She really was a work horse now.
  406. “Heh.”
  407. >Have to save that one for the next time you saw her.
  408. >You’d built the shed behind the camp yourself, along with the stand for the water tank next to it.
  409. >You’d built it all and the forest had done the rest.
  410. >A collision of man and nature to form something more perfect than either could ever conceive of.
  411. >You drew a cigarette and lit it, leaning back in your seat.
  412. >Without even realizing you’d gotten out of the truck, you were already sitting in your lawn chair on the porch.
  413. >Watching the river.
  414. >It had a tempestuous temperament today, rushing calm and clear but glistening not.
  416. >The hard gray from the clouds above seeped down through the air and soaked into the water it seemed, threw a veil over the black leafless maple trees and the already dusky softwood on the other side of the river.
  417. >On the left, this dusk was a bit nullified by the more open view.
  418. >The shale circular cliff face there was cold, but the open patches of tall grass on either side of the river weren’t.
  419. >Rather it was the right side that wallowed in happy darkness, tall dark pine trees went all up around the bend, rapids rushed without any shimmer and reeds blew in silence and shadow.
  420. >That side was where moose and deer roamed, you knew.
  421. >The other was a favorite for birds of prey to fish, and beavers and otters loved to swim up the river towards the camp from there.
  422. >Watching the pool made you wish it was still fishing season, it had been a real dry year on that front.
  423. >Ah well.
  424. >You butted your cig out in the metal ashtray you kept on the stool by your chair and stood up.
  425. “Time to unpack.”
  427. >You walked across the porch, over to the right side of the camp.
  428. >There was a breezeway here in the middle, splitting the camp in two.
  429. >You unlatched the screen door and stepped up into it, walking down to the end.
  430. >On your way, you unlocked the doors on either side, the glass patio door that led into the left half of the camp and the sturdy wood door into the right half.
  431. >At the end of the breezeway, you unlatched and pinned the screen door back before stepping out at the back of the camp.
  432. >The truck was parked right there, ready to be unloaded.
  433. >Despite your shoulder’s complaints, you got the unpacking done in double time, with only a couple breaks.
  434. >The cold was coming on in your bones, you could tell the snow would be here soon.
  435. >Food was stored in the kitchen in the left half of the camp, clothes in the right half, since the lounge there was easier to keep warm than the rooms in the left half and you had a bed set up already.
  436. >You got a fire burning in both wood stoves in either half before getting the fourwheeler off the pack and parked inside the shed behind the camp.
  437. >Each minute ticked by with the temperature dropping steadily, and it was 4 PM by the time you got everything in its right place.
  438. >Sighing, you meandered over to your chair in the lounge, glass feather ashtray in hand.
  439. >You set the ashtray down gently on the coffee table beside you, turned on the satellite radio beside it, then sunk down into the comfort of the recliner.
  440. >Your chair was set up just right of course, by one of the two large windows in the front of the camp, with a good view of the river.
  441. >Not as good as your lawn chair on the porch, but the lounge was much warmer.
  442. >You lit a cigarette, taking some drags while Kris Kristofferson complained about Sunday mornings on the radio.
  443. >Idly, you rubbed your shoulder.
  444. >It didn’t hurt all that much, funny enough.
  446. >Maybe it was starting to heal?
  447. >…Yeah, sure.
  448. >Took you a while to stop laughing at that one.
  449. >Stifling the last few chuckles, you knocked the ashes off of your cig and into the feather glass ashtray.
  450. >Among all the stuff you had in the lounge…
  451. >The stuffed owl hung on the wall above and behind your head, the burls on the logs that made up the supports for the roof and the old logging equipment strapped to the back wall above the sofa.
  452. >Among all that, the new ashtray slotted right in, but it still shone, particular in its own style.
  453. >That PC whatever their name was, was right.
  454. >It was a great addition to the camp.
  455. >You smiled and smoked some more, every now and then you’d get up to stoke the fires.
  456. >You got the steak out to thaw too, for supper later.
  457. >Mostly you watched the river, eyes flicking up to the clouds as they came in thicker and thicker.
  458. >It was around 5 PM when it started snowing, just big fluffy flakes, barely visible since the sun was set.
  459. >But by the light of the propane lamp you’d hung up on the corner of the porch overhang, you could see them falling.
  460. >For another hour or so, you sat in silence, smoking.
  461. >Nothing but the lamp on the porch and the soft flickering blaze from the fireplace for light.
  462. >There was hardly a sound, your radio had shut down automatically and you saw no reason to start it back up again.
  463. >Just crackling embers and dull whistling breezes past the windows.
  464. >Then a final sizzle as you butted out your cigarette, ashes covering feathers.
  465. >You decided it was about time you got the food cooking and past time you got yourself something to drink.
  466. >So up you got.
  467. >You grabbed the mushrooms and onions out of the cooler in the breezeway on your walk over to the left half of the camp, then you fired up the propane oven in the kitchen and the propane light fixture above it.
  468. >You set a pan out on one of the burners, and you were about to start dumping mushrooms into it when you remembered that you hadn’t washed your hands.
  470. >Straight to the breezeway cooler, you grabbed an ice cold bottle of water and took it back with you to the sink, shutting the patio door against the chill.
  471. >You started dumping the water on your hands, rubbing, when you spotted something on your arm.
  472. >It was yellow, and it looked like uhh…
  473. >You squinted, and tried to get a good look at it, but it was just small enough and your vision was just as farsighted as ever.
  474. >Drying your hands, you reached into your pocket and dug out your glasses.
  475. >It was a scale, a tad bit smaller than a fingernail.
  476. >Frowning, you scratched at it, trying to get it off.
  477. >The scale didn’t budge.
  478. >You got more forceful, digging at it with your nails and tugging it upward, but your skin came up with it.
  479. >Just like it did with the feather.
  480. “I don’t remember any skin problems in the family...”
  481. >It had always been heart attacks that you’d been worried about, not skin cancer.
  482. >Well, if this even was skin cancer.
  483. >Your brows furrowed as you tried to get the scale off one last time.
  484. >No use.
  485. “To hell with it then.”
  486. >Back to cooking, wasn’t like the scale was hurting you any.
  487. >It did bother you a bit when you saw it though.
  488. >Things that needed to be done and weren’t getting done usually got you a little riled up like that.
  489. >You forgot all about it though, once you got the steak frying in with the mushrooms and onions.
  490. >Smiling at your handiwork, you kept an eye on it for a minute or two, then you set it on a low burn and walked over to the patio door.
  491. >Sliding it open, the cold outside rushed around you.
  492. >There was a light dusting of snow forming on the ground now, looking out from the breezeway door.
  493. >Ignoring the chill, you opened the liquor cooler and dug out your two liter of Pepsi and a whisky glass.
  494. >You set the both of them on the shelf you’d screwed into the breezeway wall.
  495. >Then you reached inside the bag hanging off the hook by the patio door, pulling out your bottle of Gibson Whisky.
  496. >One part Gibson, three parts Pepsi.
  497. “Hello again, simple.”
  498. >You smiled and whistled, walking back to your chair with your glass in hand.
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