Saturday, 28 September 2019

Chapter Eight: Sam: Day 37

Dear Chloe,
I can appreciate the way animals hibernate now. I'm fed. I could sleep, full of food and warmth. It’s possible I may never move again. I’d be very content.
I started singing last night. Sounds crazy, I know; but I started to sing ‘Let it Snow’ by Dean Martin. I didn’t realize I knew all the words. Outside, the snowstorm was raging like a wild animal gone insane. And yet here, in my little house; the cold couldn’t touch me. Tell you the truth; I was cozier than I’d ever been. I haven’t felt this luxuriant… ever. Not even back home. It’s five star. It’s The Ritz. I’ve slipped in and out of a Food Coma all day.
And the weather outside is frightful; but in here it’s so delightful. I don’t know if my ears have extra energy now, or if it really is worse outside; but the wind is howling something fierce. I remember back home, I used to love stormy nights. I’d be behind a thick window pane, with a hot meal; and a view of the lightning. It was exciting then. It was terrifying in the Firewatch Station; it was death incarnate while I was hiking. It’s now a great excuse to take the day off. I take my socks off and warm them by the fire; and then I put them on again; feeling decadent. Come to think of it, this is the first home I’ve ever lived in that had a fireplace. Always wanted one, though.
I’ve even washed my clothes. The pot let me heat some water; and since I’m not going anywhere; there’s no problem doing that twice; three times. Enough to scrub my clothes with a piece of stiff rabbit fur. More water to wash it out again, and then leave it to dry. Clean clothes, clean hands, clean face, warm feet; full stomach. I’m actually wondering what’s about to go wrong, it’s all so comfortable. I actually forgot what comfortable feels like.
I don’t even have to worry about sleep. The entrance is fortified by a foot or two of snow on the far side; but I’m not afraid of being buried, because my ‘chimney’ extends almost two feet above the rock wall, let alone the ground. I have a house with a snorkel; and a soft, thick mattress of cedar and hemlock under this blanket. The snow outside is just keeping me warm at this point.
And since we’ve no place to go… Let it snow! Let it snow! Let it snow!
Dear Chloe,
Snowstorm still raging; but I don’t care. I’ve got enough food for weeks. The wind died down enough for me to dig myself out and fetch some of my firewood. I also grabbed the cattail reeds, and some of the beaver meat. I don’t really need more of the meat; but if the storm closes in for a long duration; I’d rather have it buried in snow just outside; rather than a ten minute hike.
I woke up this morning feeling good. Rested. My legs and ankles aren’t hurting for the first time, ever; and my toes haven’t been black and blue for a whole weekend. I think, weekend. Not sure; I can remember how many days; but I have no idea what day it is. You know what; I just declared it Sunday. Heck, make it my birthday, too!
Last night, I sang. It just hit me: I’ve said about ten words out loud since the accident. I remember, when I got the beaver; I shouted “Yes!” and promptly set off a fireworks show in the middle of the wilderness. Every living thing out there ran away screaming. The nature scene had been so perfectly still and silent one minute; and then everything was bolting. Things that I hadn’t known were there. Five weeks in the wild, and I’ve never seen an explosion of noise and movement like that.
I don’t know why I haven’t been speaking. There hasn’t been anyone to speak to since my recorder went flat. I used to think out loud back home, argue with the TV; sing along with the songs coming through my headphones. But out here, it doesn’t feel right to talk. Or to sing, shout; yell. The sounds of this place are so omnipresent. The wind is always blowing, the trees are always creaking; the ice is always cracking and groaning as it refreezes. There is always the sound of my heart beating in the quiet; and there is always the sound of my breathing.
But it’s more than that. The crunch of the snow under my feet tells me everything about what’s underneath now. I used to need a long walking stick; but now I just need to listen. I can tell when there’s something in the area; because the air grows more alive. The sound of animals going still as something passes by. Like fleas digging foxholes. I just read that and I realize I’ve clearly gone crazy; but that’s the only way I can think of to say it.
Chloe; I remember feeling awkward when I was visiting up here; trying to keep the conversation going, like in the city. I realize now just how much you were humoring me. It’s amazing how much of me I’ve left behind; and how much I don’t miss. Warm feet, full stomach; and a pile of leaves under me. It’s worth more than my car; my TV… And now that I think of it; this place didn’t cost me a dime. I sold my time and labor to my job; and in exchange I got an apartment that’s full of stuff I can barely remember buying, a rented Jeep that’s a twisted pile of ashes; and some health insurance that did everything possible to avoid paying for the care my dad needed in his final days.
I have less than two weeks until the lake freezes solid enough to walk. I have no idea what happens then; but I’m already getting teary at the idea of leaving this little house I’ve built. It’s the only thing I’ve ever owned, made; or lived with that really feels like it’s mine.
Out here it’s a lot simpler. I’m working all day to keep the plates spinning. Heat, water, food. If I leave any of those plates alone for too long; they fall; and so does everything else. And yet, I’ve got the measure of it now. My body has acclimated to the cold enough that I can go for a scrub in the snow; and be back in front of my campfire again. My body has stopped craving corn-syrup and all the other chemicals that keep me stuffing snacks in all day. I’ve expelled all the ‘civilization’ that was in my system. And I don’t miss it.
I miss you, Chloe.
I’ve never written that down before. It’s funny, of all the things you’d think I miss; the only one that stays on the list all day long is you. Food hovers close behind, my old bed when I can’t sleep. Other stuff I don’t miss at all. But you stay on the list all the time.
I mentioned that I haven’t spoken aloud much since becoming a Castaway? I’ll say your name tonight; before I go to sleep. I’ve just decided it’s Valentine’s Day too.
Dear Chloe,
Well, I laid my fist fish traps at the beaver dam like I said. I have no idea if it’s still occupied; but I’ll know by morning. A beaver could gnaw his way into this thing pretty easily; and I’ll know to hunt here again. Either fish, or more beaver stew.
No wind and snow today. It will come again. But it gave me the chance to observe the woods. It’s funny, but I’ve kept my head down all this time, looking no further than ten feet at a time. It was all I could see, when pushing through the snow and debris. But here at the lake, it’s a little more open; and without having to hike; I can actually look.
You told me once that you liked the ancient places. You said they had roots. Deep ones. The woods are like that. I never really considered, but these trees were here since the Pyramids were a hot new form of modern architecture. If they’d stay upright, they’re big enough I could hollow one out and build an apartment complex inside it; that’s how big they are.
The woods are so I saw an exhibit in a museum once, where they had a felled tree and they marked the rings. One ring for each year. They had marked significant years in human history. When Lincoln was shot, when we walked on the moon. It was less than six inches, measured in tree rings. To these trees, I’m a fleeting daydream. Gone before the snowfall stops.
These trees are so old and huge; I feel like I’m in Lord of the Rings, like the trees are whispering to each other in some ancient incantation; while a mayfly like me struggles to hold out one more day. There are no deals to be made with the wilderness. If I lived till old age in these woods; there’d still be no real dent made in the world to show that I was ever here at all.
My shoes are starting to really worry me. They’re wearing thin; and my feet are in terrible shape when I strip my soaked socks off every night. My toes are blackened again from bad circulation; and it takes longer every time, perched by the fire to turn them pink again.
But there are always things to do. Firewood is the priority if I have a larder with food in it. I know I should be foraging, but I don’t know much about winter plants. Last time I was up here, it was summer. You were trying to teach me how to forage; and I only half learned it. But half would still be better than nothing at all.
I was right to keep my meat supplies hidden away from my shelter. I went past the hollowed tree trunk earlier today; and saw plenty of animal tracks around it. The tracks were deep, but not numerous. The animals were walking slowly; probably trying to figure out where the smell of beaver fat was coming from.
While hauling firewood; I got the idea for a deadfall trap near my meat. There’s only one way in to the tree. Every other direction is still tree-trunk. If the opening rotted into the side could be protected; or better still: Protected Offensively, then my fridge is actually providing more food for me.
Making a deadfall is harder than the rabbit snares. Similar trigger, but it needs to be perfectly balanced to drop a heavy log on whatever sticks its snout into my food supply.
Dear Chloe,
Well, that got my bowels nice and regular again. I went back to check the larder (and add two fish to my supplies) and found that the deadfall had been tripped by something. Something that had gotten away clean.
Something that left Cougar tracks.
Dear Chloe,
It’s been a few days since my last entry. My shoes finally gave up this morning. They weren’t really meant for hiking in the snow. I know you’re meant to treat your boots with some form of varnish or something; but the tube they gave me in the store went with the Jeep.
To be clear, the shoes haven’t fallen off, or anything; but they have holes in them along the stitching now, along the sole. So of course; going knee-deep in show snow is a delight with these things.
To be honest, I appreciate the excuse to stay in my shelter, with my bow across my knees and my back to the fireplace. Seeing that paw print scared the stuffing out of me; and even after almost a week of regular meals; I don’t have that much stuffing to spare. Life was so easy a few days ago. The shift from well-fed hunter to stalked Prey is immediate and total.
I have a week left before I plan to try hiking the lake. There won’t be deep snowdrifts on the ice; but I’m still not game to try it in shoes that are coming apart. Plus, I have no idea what I’m going to find on the other side. I remember the path we took from your cabin to the lake and back; but the geography of this valley changes every time the wind blows for longer than half an hour.
So I’m going to need some shoes. Fortunately, the beaver fur is all nice and dried out, still pinned to the walls of my house. I’ll have to try my hand at making some moccasins.
Of course, I’ll do that tomorrow. Today is devoted to some very important paranoid staring out of my shelter, watching for the Demon Cat.
Chloe, I remember looking at cave paintings on the National Geographic channel. I understand how they came about now. I understand how people could worship the sun; or think animals were avatars of Gods. I know, because I spent my first night peering into the dark; hearing monsters and demons in every tiny sound. My first night with fire was like holding a cross up to the vampire. And certainly, the Cougar has become my own personal hell-beast. I feel like the thing is hiding in every shadow; listening to me think; just waiting for the moment.
One way or another; I have this absolute sense that I won’t go home until the Cougar and I have faced off again.


A Note From The Author: I hope you're all enjoying 'Dear Chloe' in its serialised format. If you'd like to read the whole thing at once, and take it with you, you can buy the whole book here in eBook and Paperback Format.