“Quaint, my ass. What about rundown? Decrepit? Creepy?”
Sharon ticked off each adjective on her perfectly manicured fingernails from the passenger seat of their Range Rover.
“Let’s just hope it’s nicer on the inside,” Roger said calmly. He wasn’t eager to start a fight the first day of their romantic getaway.
“If you think we are staying here…”
He hated when she used that ‘born in Connecticut’ tone she’d learned growing up. Her mother had the same shrill tone when she criticized the maid’s cleaning skills. Roger shook his head and threw the car into park. Tone or no tone, she was right: the cabin was definitely not as advertised. The picture on the vacation rental website had promised a luxurious log cabin nestled at the foot of a mountain. A roaring fireplace with a bear skin rug, hardwood timbers throughout. Stunning views of the lake from a private dock where he could fish and she could relax with a bottle of something old and red. The building at the end of the pine needle covered trail in front of them could have been all of those things a hundred years ago. It was in a forest, at least that part hadn’t been a lie. Thick vines covered a front porch badly in need of repair. The roof sagged in multiple, obvious places. What little paint remained on the walls was faded and peeling. The front walkway was made more of weeds than of the original stones. Even the front door seemed like it was tired of being here and was in the middle of an escape attempt. Or a suicide. Despite being a bright and clear day he could barely make out the outline of a far-off mountain range mostly obscured by the thick forest. A squirrel bounced its way up the porch railing with a series of short hops. It froze when it noticed them, bushy tail held out stretched for balance. In an instant it disappeared into a hole in the roof.
“Hello neighbors,” a friendly shout rang out from the doorway. “Find the place okay?” The owner of the cabin had called himself Bear in their emails, but neither of them had expected him to be one. Bear was huge by any measure, at least 7 feet tall and as broad as a grizzly. A wild, unkept beard covered his face and hung down to his chest where it blended in seamlessly with a thicket of chest hair covering his large belly. Unlike most bears, this one was wearing nothing but speedo sized jean shorts that left little to the imagination.
Sharon said something decidedly unladylike and shielded her eyes with the magazine she had been reading. Safely behind it she shot her husband of ten years another accusatory look. Bear didn’t seem to notice. Roger stepped out of the car with a greeting.
“Come in, come in!” Bear waved them inside. “I’ll give you the grand tour!”
“Can the tour include a shirt and pants?” Roger asked quickly.
“Ahh, sorry! Don’t get much in the way of visitors. Back in two shakes of a squirrel tail.” He ducked back into the cottage.
Roger unloaded the heavy Louis Vuitton suitcases from the trunk. How one woman could fill an entire suitcase for a weekend trip in the woods was a mystery he had never managed to understand.
“This isn’t going to work,” Sharon said flatly. “Don’t bother taking anything out. I’ll call the company on the way back and get a refund.”
“You wanted a spontaneous trip, honey. No refunds on last minute bookings.” Technically it had been her idea to come out here, but he didn’t think she would appreciate his understanding of cause and effect. “He seems nice enough. Besides, aren’t you the one who is always asking for some more adventure?”
He didn’t need to see her face to know she was doing another one of her famous eye-rolls. “In what world is mountain man dick adventurous to you?”
Roger balanced his fishing pole precariously on top of the bags and wheeled them up to the door. It had taken two weeks of alternating cajoling, begging, and pleading to get the weekend off from work. Even then it had been a close thing, only made possible with a stern promise to have his phone on him at all times. Driving up here they had both been ecstatic to find a great place at such short notice. Extra coat of paint or not, they weren’t going back to the city for anything.
“I’ll check it out and let you know when its safe.” He called over his shoulder.
Inside the cabin wasn’t much better than outside. There was one main room, barely bigger than their guest bedroom back home. Snowshoes and heavily used fishing gear covered the walls, each hung haphazardly on rough hewn wood pegs. One full-size bed sat in the corner. Roger could already feel the back pain setting in at the sight of it. A single wooden chair was the only other piece of visible furniture. An obviously hand made wooden door led off to a small room on the side. Bear had found a red and black checkered flannel shirt. Un-buttoned it hung down far enough to cover the most important parts of the jean shorts he hadn’t bothered changing. He quickly dipped his fingers into the cast-iron pan and picked up a piece for a quick taste test. From here it smelled vaguely like fish, but with a heavy undercurrent of burnt rubber. Roger dropped the bags on the floor with a thump.
“Roger Stone,” he said reaching out his hand. “Nice to meet you in person.”
Bear crossed the room to the door in a single stride and grabbed his hand in a vice grip. “Glad to meet you too. Always better to talk to a man face to face. ”
Roger winced with pain and shook his hand out when they finally broke the handshake. Looked like a bear, dressed like a bear, he was even strong like a bear. “Great name,” he said with as much charm as he could muster. “Native American roots?”
“Nope. Not even hippie parents if you can believe it.” Bear gestured out towards the forest with a wave of his giant hand. “Had a guest catch me shitting in the woods once and the nickname stuck.”
Sharon picked that moment to push the door open with a foot and gingerly peek her head around the doorjamb. “Did you find some pants?”
“And this must be your lovely wife!” Bear bustled over to the front door and picked her off the floor in a crushing hug. “You folks are going to love it up here, I can already tell.”
“Great,” Sharon said in a voice that indicated the exact opposite of that. “How about you show us around a little.”
Bear dropped to her back down the floor abruptly. “Oh, where are my manners, the tour!”
He spun in a wide circle with his arms outstretched. “May I present, Chez Bear!” He said proudly. “Sleeping quarters are here,” he pointed to the bed in the corner. “Extra blankets underneath for the cold nights if you guys don’t like to cuddle for some reason. If you’ll just follow me outside I’ll show you to the bathroom.”
“Outside?” Roger said quickly. He could feel the anger starting to boil off of Sharon in waves. “The listing said the rental came with indoor plumbing.”
“Of course it does!”
“Then why is the bathroom outside?”
“Because the plumbing is inside the outhouse. Where else would it be?” Bear sounded confused they’d even asked. “If you’re up to it we can take a short hike out to the dock. Not more than ten or fifteen minutes, but you’ll need to bring better shoes. I don’t think those will do well with the mud.” He looked pointedly down at Roger’s loafers.
“Oh, we thought — Sharon, honey, can you grab my laptop bag out of the car?” He tried to keep his tone light.
Her face was a mix of cold calculated rage and violent disappointment. She tried to shut the door with a loud bang, but it bounced back open.
“So that means the private chef included with the rental is — “ Roger asked. He already knew what the answer was going to be.
Bear gave a nose hair rattling experimental sniff. “Mmm, fresh fish with local veggies harvested this morning. Just smell that char. Delicious.”
Roger gave a polite sniff as well. From this close the only thing he could smell was a skunk that must have recently attacked Bear in a fit of anger. This romantic weekend trip was looking less and less relaxing by the second. The faster he could get Bear out of here, the faster he could start damage control. Maybe with enough wine they could still salvage something. He let out a yawn and made a big show of stretching his arms.
“Thanks so much for getting it started, but I think we can take it from here. Long drive up from New York,” He said with his most charming smile. “Should we lock up if we go for a hike or something?”
Bear waved him off. “Nah, no need for any of that.”
“Probably not many people up here, right?”
“Well, that is true, but I’ll be around anyway to look after things.” He reached over and pushed the interior door open with a squeak of rusty hinges. Inside was a cot piled high with blankets and a fluffy pillow. It looked barely large enough for a man, let alone a bear. “See? Nothing to worry about. I’m the only bear that’ll be poking his nose around.” He let out a guffaw at his own joke. Luckily it was loud enough to cover the shocked silence from Roger. “I’ll stay in here most of the time and let you folks have full run of the cottage. You’ll barely notice me, I promise. I got one of them Mario things last time I went into town. Been meaning to putz with it for a while.”
Roger knew he had to do something. He didn’t do well with confrontation, as his boss was fond of telling him in excruciating detail, but the idea of explaining all of this to his wife seemed infinitely worse.
“The listing said this was a full rental. As is no one else would be here — ” Roger cut himself off. “No, you can’t be here.” He said with conviction. “I booked this for some nice, quiet time with my wife and we aren’t interested in having a third wheel.“
Bear slapped his forehead with a meaty hand. “Bear, you numbskull,” he muttered. “I apologize, I get so excited to meet new visitors…” his voice trailed off. “No problem friend. If y’all need me to clear out for some ‘private time’, just give me a holler and I can skedaddle off for a bit.” Somehow the air quotes he added made it seem even creepier then should be possible.
Roger made a grab for the suitcases and was back in the Range Rover before he finished the sentence. The fishing rod he left on the floor. Forget the cabin, there was a motel 6 they had passed not 45 minutes ago. At least that had wifi and a hot shower. Sharon would have to understand.
Bear followed him out the door. “Wait, where are you going?” He called out. “Dinner is almost ready!”
His only response was the roar of the engine as the Range Rover sped away. Bear sat down heavily on the front porch of the cabin with a contented sigh. That had been close. Most people didn’t stay long enough to even come inside. They sure made them persistent down in New York. Jessie, his pet skunk, waddled up and pushed her head into his leg, begging for scraps. Somehow she always knew when it was time to eat. He let her lick his fingers clean from the fish before wiping them on his shirt. Two hundred bucks for a five minute conversation wasn’t a bad deal at all. If he could manage to get a couple more groups up here before the next rainy season he might not even need to sleep under the tarp! From his pocket he pulled out his cellphone and started the process of re-listing his cabin for rent.
Romantic, luxury cabin with private dock available for short term rentals. New opening, this week only!