One

The wind whistled through the treetops, its icy fingers making an eerie wail above Peter’s head as he paused to consider his situation. He had been walking for days and nights and knew he could only go on for a few more hours. His food was mostly gone, all he had left was a bit of peanut butter and it was as frozen as his water supply. His steps had been growing shorter and shorter. If he did not find the refuge today, he knew the cold of the night would take him.

But better the cold than the disease he thought.

Peter had read that freezing to death was blissful in the end, a warm inviting dementia to the final sleep. Unlike the sick, who would blunder around, not knowing they were already dead and terrorizing the living.

Peter glanced down at his compass one more time. “Head due north out of Cantwell,” the voice on the radio had told him and that was his path, the path that would lead him to the cabin. The compass arrow pointed north, he flipped it closed and resumed his trek, due north out of Cantwell.

Not a young man, he had to focus on the present, step by step, each step carefully placed across the bitter frozen wilderness. But he moved with alacrity, knowing that his supplies were about exhausted and he had to move to live. This push forward would be his last chance effort at life, six more hours or so of daylight. Like a diver who knew there was a cave full of air deep under the surface if he just kept swimming down and down, Robert was almost out of air and gasping for life but kept pushing forward, step by step.

When he had left Cantwell he was fully rested and geared up. The ATV he found and fueled carried him easily for miles, but when the gas finally ran out and he had to carry his load, he quickly began to question his decision to travel here.

/// Peter backstory, not too much, three paragraphs ///

As the snow brightened underneath his struggling feat Peter realized he was close to a clearing and stopped moving to chance a look up. His first impression caused him to exhale a great breath as he realized he had finally arrived, but upon a quick second glance his hopes of finding peace and redemption faded. The cabin itself was beautiful, if snowed in, but behind it sat an unfinished and frowning windmill, with only two blades in place, both pointed down and wrapped with frozen icy disappointment.

He stepped forward, without looking down, step after step until he was beyond the tree line and into the clearing around the cabin. His right hand began to pulse in anticipation. After walked countless miles in the frigid wilderness he was finally at his destination, but it was not at all what he hoped for. The cabin was almost completely snowed over and the wind turbine looked like it had never been completed in the first place.

Peter coughed and choked, realized he was breathing too quickly behind the layers and layers covering his face. He pulled down the outer most layers and took a cold breath.

There was shelter at least, he thought. Shelter at least.

He trudged forward, back to focusing on his footsteps, one after the other, marching along.

The front of the cabin was completely snowed over but this did not concern Peter, as his instructions told him to proceed to the rear and enter the cabin off the deck, through the door to the right. He made his way around the house, noting the lack of foot prints and every so often looking up at the huge, unfinished inverted V which hung above him.

With one more look at the turbine he launched himself onto the back deck and lunged toward the door. Snow drifts confirmed that no one had been through this door recently and he kicked feverishly to remove the snow.

With a final push the door slid open and Peter stumbled forward hooking his foot on some plastic. As he pulled it loose it exposed a generous wood pile gathered on the deck outside the door. He noted the wood but longed for shelter and went inside, quickly closing it behind him and scanning the shelter he had after days of walking, finally found.

The room opened up before him as his eyes adjusted from the blinding snow white glare to the calm, dark welcoming interior. He scanned the large central room, which had a kitchen and a lounging area with a large couch in front of an equally large fireplace. Peter desperately wanted a fire and seeing the cold fireplace and knowing there was ample wood caused him to shiver from his very core. The fireplace stood tantalizingly in front of him. He could focus on nothing else. The days of walking, the freezing ice and wind, all promised to be steamed away by fire and flame.

Teeth chattering, he was determined to at least do a quick walk through the cabin before settling in. He tossed his mittens onto the plush couch and then slouched off his backpack and guns with a relieved groan. He then pulled his hood pack and removed his goggles and sunglasses, blinking to adjust his eyes to the lighting in the room.

There was an open door to his left and he walked over to take a look. The cabin was full of shadows but he didn’t take the time to dig out his flashlight from his backpack.

The room beyond the door was a large, dark bedroom. The first thing that caught his eye was a heavy blanket on top of the thick bed. He moved into the room and snatched it, pulling it over his shoulders. It was mink, and warm, but the prospect of a fire stopped him from exploring further and he turned back to the main room of the house.

“I’ll look at the rest when I am warm,“ he mumbled to himself. “Have to find the radios, but first. . .”

Peter marched deliberately back to the outside door and pulled back the plastic covering the firewood on the deck. He tossed a nice pile of cut wood into the house and when he thought he had enough he followed it through the door.

After days and weeks in the cold he was so anxious for the heat of a fire he had to pause and calm himself down. Peter kicked the coffee table out of the way and it slid toward the kitchen.

He knelt down before the fireplace and with his heavily covered hands he cleared away the old ashes from the grate. When he was finished he stood and then piled the driest wood he could find onto the metal grate.  He turned to his backpack and unzipped it, digging deep inside and spilling some of the top items onto the floor, he searched around until he found his fire starting kit, a Zippo lighter,  some small scraps of kindling and an ignition candle.

Peter pushed the ash under the grate away and places the candle under the wood as steadily as his shaking hands would allow. The Zippo would be problematic, he knew, with all the layers still covering his hands. He was loath to remove them but the promise of a fire prevailed.

His thick outer mittens were already off and he began to peel away the other layers, thick black gloves over brown gloves over fancy women’s tight gloves. He stopped when he got to the latex surgical gloves, leaving them on; he tried the Zippo and got a flame on the first strike.

He lifted the flame to his eyes for a moment, mesmerized by the potential and then came to his senses, lit the ignition candle and snapped the lighter shut.  He pushed the candle directly under the grate, beneath the wood. It would burn for ten minutes or so, igniting the wood and starting the fire without any kindling.

Shuffling back against the couch he swung his feet in close contact with the emerging fire. AS the wood caught be began to shrug himself out of his outer layers of soggy clothes. When he was down to just two or three layers the fires was roaring and steam rose from every item he had brought into the cabin.

Peter pulled the mink blanket around his shoulders and slid up into the couch. The warmth pulled his eyes down and he dropped away from the world quickly, unaware that he was not alone.

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