A Christmas Guest — Timberland
A short story of a visit by an uninvited guest of unique nature while stranded in a cabin in unfamiliar woods.
The howling wind makes me uneasy. It always has, as if mother nature decided to scold me.
The power outage follows me in with the last of my baggage, adding to the worry of discomfort and harm. Coupled with the total darkness brings me to the brink of concern.
Moments like this make me consider what it would be like to be the single entity remaining on earth. It’s a hard contrast to the typical Christmas season, but then the last few years have been anything but typical.
I manage to stack the logs in the fireplace by candlelight without incident; if you ignore tripping over the footrest, then the table — twice. The darkness enhances the smell of oak, even before it burns. Normally nimble, I was in new surroundings, feeling uneasy, cold, and vulnerable.
The rental cabin was intended to provide escape and relaxation, not anxiety and fear, so I decided the situation required immediate improvement. I could think of nothing better than a roaring fire since it was now obvious my intended guest would never make it out of the airport.
Seems mother nature is the jealous type wanting me all for herself this Christmas eve.
I was exhausted after the long drive from Chicago to Tahoe. Magically, I avoided the bad weather until shortly after I arrived. I had no sooner gotten my gear inside before the wind began tormenting me, and the snow fell intensely. The windows seemed draped solidly by flakes in dance, suspended outside the pane.
My parents thought me insane driving instead of flying. But I needed time to myself to think, and driving gave me more than enough of it to tire of my voice. The vastness of the open space compared to the city gave me a false sense of distance. It seemed time stood still, and the woods were without end.
The cold was seeping deeper into my bones as the first flame shyly licked the logs nested within the fireplace. Knowing it would be some time before any serious heat was generated by my amateur efforts.
I looked for my just-in-case-of-emergency bag. Just the thought of it brought a smile because of the whimsical labeling. I had brought along a hefty jug of homemade Glögg. One of the advantages of driving instead of flying.
The other thing that made me smile was the chainsaw-carved bear I had purchased at a roadside stand.
I’ve mastered rocket fuel in a jar, which tasted dangerously close to spiced wine, claiming many an unsuspecting victim. The single clue to take caution was that the warm drink’s fumes cleared the sinuses — before the cup met the lips. After a sip or two, the nose no longer speaks to the brain, clearing the way for an adventure unlike any other.
A wonderful warming agent doubling as emergency fuel for the automobile. I thought it best to eat something before I drank any of it, so I headed into the kitchen to check out my options.
Surprisingly, the cabinets and refrigerator are barren. All I see remaining is an ancient bottle of catchup in the fridge and a box of tea bags in the cabinet. Thankfully, I travel with freeze-dried beans for my morning coffee. Just in case of a disaster. Just as I face now. Okay, I may have overstated, but you must admit an inconvenience and poor timing.
Taking a closer look, I notice the cleanliness of the appliances and cabinetry. Even the cabinet liners look new. It is as if the steward was interrupted just short of stocking both cabinet and refrigerator.
In looking for the phone to find out the particulars of the supply void, I notice the blinking light upon the cabinet near the entryway to the living room. The voice on the message is pleasant enough. It informs me the supply truck has slid off the road and restocking necessities will have to wait until tomorrow.
Looking out the window, I have doubts about the time estimate. Then a second message begins. Same voice, stating apologetically that she will be dropping off some must-haves before nightfall.
Things are looking up as I grab a few coffee mugs to contain the jet fuel for heating.
I assume the must-haves will not encompass food, so I look through my luggage for the box of protein bars and shake. Ripping open a chocolate bar, I sink my teeth into it, savoring the flavor. I haven’t had anything to eat for most of the day, so this is the closest thing to a steak I will have any time soon. Oddly, the protein is filling me up, so I polish off the bar and check out the microwave.
Safety first. I heat up a cup of water to make sure the exhaust is working properly. Pulling out the hot cup, I notice how clean the inside of the microwave is. Not even any popcorn splatter.
After pouring out the hot water, I use a fresh paper towel to wipe the exterior of the cup dry. Just as I finish, the doorbell rings. I make my way to the front door. My surprise is more than obvious upon greeting the gentlemen.
“Hello, my wife left you a message? I’m dropping off a few things to hold you over.”
When he extends his arms holding the box, I notice bread and peanut butter waiting to be ravaged. I ask if he would like to come in. He tells me he has 15 more stops as he waves goodbye.
After a mere seven steps, he is no longer visible through the snowfall.
I love fresh snow, but this was a little intimidating. I take a moment to look through the items and then take notice of the cut wood near the fireplace. I had forgotten to ask where I’d find the woodpile.
I walk back to the kitchen to pick up the phone, dial 9, then the number listed on the charger for the office. After several rings, a familiar voice answers and awaits my response.
“Hello, this is Stephen Chase in cabin one.”
“Hello Steve, how may we help you?”
“Thank you for the must-haves. I appreciate them. I forgot to ask your husband where the woodpile is. Should I require more?”
“You are quite welcome, sorry for the inconvenience. Husband? Oh, that’s my older brother and his sick sense of humor.”
I explain, I am not trying to be nosy or start any trouble.
“No trouble at all. I’ll have my husband bring more logs for you,” then she hangs up abruptly.
I could tell from her tone I struck a nerve and hoped it wouldn’t cause an issue. The wind was growing stronger, and I wondered if it was safe to continue the fire which had finally begun to spit out some BTUs.
I called the office to check and see if it posed any danger.
“Stephen, the additional wood has been delivered. Is there anything further we can do for you?”
“Oh, how prompt of you, thanks. I was wondering if it was safe to keep the fire going during the high winds?”
“Perfectly alright. All of our cabins have extended chimneys above the building height in consideration. Have a nice stay.” Again, she ends the call.
Deciding I will retrieve the wood from outside before I begin drinking anything. I open the exterior door to discover a log wall five feet high. A strange sense of humor indeed.
I lay down a large plastic bag off to the right side of the fireplace to house the new logs and keep the floor dry. The snow buildup will defrost and make its way down before evaporating. The logs take less than forty-five minutes to relocate, but in the meanwhile, there exterior absence begins to be replaced with a snow wall.
The wind, the snow, and now his strange sense of humor gnaws at me, so I decide the time has come for that warm drink.
I toss another log onto the embers and put down a blanket in front of the hearth to enjoy the warmth once I return. I hear a soft scratch at the door but choose to ignore it. I have had enough of Mr. Strange, so I head for the kitchen.
The coffee cup of fuel only takes a few seconds to warm. I must be careful not to ignite it by overheating. Walking back to the fireplace, I hear the scratching loader now — along with soft kicks, like someone is spasming.
Time to nip it in the bud.
I pull the door open forcefully, and I am hit with blowing snow. Wiping the white from my eyes, I do not see anyone in front of me. Then I notice motion…
at my knee.
To my surprise and terror, a timberwolf has brazened by me. It lays upon my blanket drinking my Glögg. I can’t decide which is the lesser evil, running out the door or closing it remaining inside.
I’ve dealt with a sneaky coyote, but wolves have always run from me. I close the door and walk to the kitchen, grabbing a mixing bowl and fill it halfway with water.
Returning to my visitor, I try approaching, only to be met with a new sound.
I suspect a warning.
I freeze in my tracks but don’t retreat. Slowly, I shrink down to place the bowl at the blankets edge. The last thing I need is an intoxicated wolf.
Then I return to the kitchen thinking screw drunk, I bet it’s hungry. I find a can of tuna fish and a box of crackers, compliments of the management.
I crunch up crackers and add the tuna over the mess into another bowl. I know how I feel comparing steak to fish and can only hope this will appease my new friend. I slowly manage to get the food near the wolf alongside the water, but it only lasts a minute. I’m not sure, but I believe it to be a female because of the size and face.
What the hell is she doing this far south?
I’m frightened but more tired, so I sit on the couch for a moment to ponder my situation. What a Christmas. I would need to put in a good word for Santa since he had gone above and beyond duty this time. I am just amazed at her presence. Photos do no justice and you have little concept of size until one is near, very near.
What to do I wonder?
I really don’t care to call the office to report I have a wolf staying overnight. Who knows what new adventures Mr. Humor might whip up.
I return to the kitchen for a glass of water and as I polish it off; I feel a weight against my side. Damn, she is big. I thought the females were smaller. She’s pushing at me and whining like a K-9.
“Are you ok?” I ask, but she just stares through me with tundra blues. I look in the box finding an eighteen pack of eggs. I look for a frying pan while she pushes at my hand. This makes no sense. In the wild, she would have nothing to do with me, yet here she acts as if she knows me.
I find a pan but no butter, so I search the box further. A small bottle of vegetable oil. It will have to do. How many eggs do you make for a mammoth wolf, anyway? I decide more is best and break each into a bowl to whip. After they’re fully cooked, I set them aside to cool a little, so she doesn’t burn herself. I have seen her eat and dainty doesn’t come to mind.
I wash the bowl and dry it. She’s becoming impatient, but the pan is still too hot. I make myself a cup of coffee. I’m starving, but committed to getting her fed. I place the pan in the refrigerator on the metal shelf for cooling.
As I turn around…
She leaps up and pins me against the sink, licking my teeth. I push her down slowly in fear.
She wines — again. Great wolf spit and coffee. Doesn’t get any better than that.
After an eternity, the pan is just warm, so I place it on the kitchen floor. She stands there staring at me as if she will speak. I grab my coffee and head for the couch. I’m beat and if she intends to eat me, it won’t matter if I am awake or asleep.
I notice the winds have stopped as well as the snow, but the damage has been done. Solid white up to the cabin windows with only a few feet remaining open. Oh well, we all die sometime, I need some shut-eye.
I lay back on a forty-five to rest my shoulders against the arms of the couch. My visitors rubs along the length of the couch, returning in front of the fireplace. Her strength moves it with me as she passes by.
When I awake from the sound at the door, I notice sunlight has arrived and I am still in the presence of a timber. I manage to get up and make my way to the door.
I open it to find the sound was snow collapsing against it.
Fresh air enters across the top of the snow. My visitor walks over, making short work of the blockage digging her way out, and never looking back.
I had finally had a Christmas dreams are made of. But who would believe me?
I head back to the couch.