Writer’s Block Ch. 02

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Annika Albrite

Winter ended and spring took over leaving the cabin’s surroundings awash with colour like being in the changeover scene in the Wizard of Oz. The muted white and greys of winter gave way to the luscious greens of new grass and pine needles with the odd burst of vivid colour from tiny wildflowers.

Maria stood outside breathing the fresh woodland air, while Rance finished packing all their belongings. The past six weeks had hardly been a chore with a good store of bear meat and dried fruits, and although Maria wasn’t looking forward to taking her life back to reality she was looking forward to eating a different meal. Bear meat and plain pasta or rice followed by dried apricots gets old, fast.

As she stood enjoying her final moments at the cabin, the sounds of the woodland animals filled the air. Birds tweeted, squirrels chirped and a woodpecker could be heard somewhere close by digging into a tree for insects to eat. “You ready to get out of here?” Rance called.

“Not really. I wish it wasn’t so remote that we could keep the place.” She said sounding remorseful.

“We’ll find a better place that you’ll enjoy just as much.”

Maria’s fractured femur mended well over the past six weeks. Rance removed her cast the day before with some tin snips. It wasn’t as high tech as the vibrating saw they used in hospital but it was just as effective. Maria hadn’t put much weight on her leg in the six weeks since she’d almost died, so her leg was weak, the muscle had wasted significantly and she had a noticeable limp. The deep laceration on her back had also healed very nicely leaving a healthy pink curved scar near her right shoulder blade. She wore it with pride as a visual memory of the day her hero rescued her.

“So how far will we be walking?” She asked before they set off.

“The trail should be almost completely snow free now. It’s about 10 miles to the road and the truck. Hopefully it’ll start without too many issues. I’ve never had many problems with it, so I’d say half a day to get to the truck and an hour spent getting it running. Then an hour’s drive to town.”

“What if the truck doesn’t start at all?” Her concern growing.

“Then we walk. You’ve learned a lot in your time up here. Once we’re at the road, walking is easy. Even if we have to camp out we have everything we need and more.”

Actually Rance had never carried so much. Their clothes alone were more than he’d usually carry out. Rance took the big bag full of stuff and objects while Maria used her crutches and carried the rifle. They’d had a close call when Rance shot the bear; they needed to be ready just in case anything else came their way. After a final look at the cabin the couple were ready to leave.

The cabin was now completely quiet. The stove was cold as it had been for a couple of days. The weather had warmed enough that they no longer needed the heat. They’d cooked outside on Maria’s fire pit. The kettle they used to make coffee and fill baths now perched on top of the stove, empty, kept company by the three pans. Rance’s bookshelf still held the fifty or so books he’d brought to the cabin to keep him company while he lived there alone. The desk was bare, no more laptop, no more paper, no more writer.

The bare wooden floor was scarred from more than forty years of boots, rifle butts, baths and chairs being moved across it. The window shuttering had been dropped so there was very little light entering the space. The bed was clean and made up in case Henry wanted to use it for visitors. He’d be sending Rance payment in a few days for the land and cabin.

Rance locked the door and dropped the key in a pot next to it, where he and Henry had agreed he should leave it.

Picking up his pack he steadied himself adjusting straps, and they left. The day was a balmy 38°f, balmy compared to the temperatures they’d been experiencing. The going was tough for Rance. The heavy pack slowed him down but then Maria wasn’t moving particularly fast on her weak leg. He stopped a few times over the course of the hike to strip layers off as he heated up with the exertion. “Are we making good time?” Maria Asked.

“We’d be faster if we hadn’t bought all the clothes in that outdoor shop six weeks ago.”

“Good. As long as I’m not holding you up. How much longer do you think?” Her leg was hurting and her arms were aching.

“I’d say another hour and we’ll be there. It’s only 1pm now, if we stop for a drink at the next creek we can have a fifteen minute break then push for the truck.”

Another hour and they’d be given a good rest. Rance might need to do a little work on the truck but Maria could put her leg up.

The scenery was stunning. A number of times Maria found herself smiling at her surroundings. This new life she’d fallen into was perfect. The peaks of the hills in the distance and the snow atop them, the wide expanse of the meadows in the valley sprawling like the bed sheets they’d left behind in the cabin, just on a bigger scale.

Rance was kazan escort mostly quiet, thinking about their future. No decision had been made on their permanent residence. It was something they needed to sort out before they got too far south. “There’s a small creek just few hundred metres up this track. Well rest and catch some breath then there’s no other stops until the truck.”

Maria had been thinking about getting back to civilisation. “Why don’t we drop south into Minnesota, stop a few days in your home town and then continue to Burlington? That gives us both a chance to see each other’s places and maybe it’ll help us make a final decision on our next move?”

Rance had been thinking almost the exact same thing but wanted to give themselves a couple of weeks at each place. “There’s no rush is there?”

With a large smile she said. “No rush at all. I’ve really enjoyed spending my time up there and I’m really looking forward to meeting your family and friends.”

“And I’m sure they’ll think you’re delightful.” He said in a strange tone she wasn’t sure of.

“Meaning?” She asked.

He sighed. “I don’t exactly have any family there, I have very few friends and the ones I do have, think I’m strange. I’m sure they’ll like you just fine.”

“You are strange honey! Of that there is absolutely no doubt, but I like how strange you are. At least you’re not boring!”

He smiled as they came to a stop by the creek. “Drink as much as you can. If you need to bathroom, pick a tree, any tree. There’s unlikely to be anyone out here so just let it flow.”

“Let it flow?” She shook her head as the dropped her pants and squatted there and then.

Rance gave a quick chuckle as he went to fill bottles from the stream. He knelt with his hand dipped into the cold water and his mind drifted back to the afternoon he found Maria, his eyes fixed deep in the water as it rippled and bubbled below him, the sound of the water taking him back to the river the next day when he found Martin, the guide. His feelings bubbling to the surface like a hot spring. He wasn’t an emotional man but he was leaking tears. Maria came over and sat next to him without saying a word, just looking him over and rubbing his back.

As soon as she touched him he snapped out of his daydream, but continued to pour his feelings out through his eyes. He shook his head as he looked at her. She knew he meant he couldn’t speak. After a while he got himself back together, and again without speaking about it they carried on along their way.

After forty five more minutes they arrived at the truck. A rusty beaten up pile of bolts and what might once have been considered panels. “Seriously, this is the truck? It looks like it was dumped here 20 years ago and hasn’t been touched since.”

“Actually…” Rance replied. “This truck was only dumped here 7 months ago when I left it. Let’s see if it’ll start.”

He pushed the key into the ignition and turned it. The engine turned over but didn’t start. He opened the hood taking the distributor cap off, pushing a rag he found in the cab into the cap and turning it to mop up any dampness and debris. He put the cap back on, trying the ignition again. It fired up almost immediately.

“No way!” Maria squeaked as she did a little dance.

Rance threw their stuff and objects in the back of the truck. “Get in.” He called as he jumped in to the driver seat.

Maria got in and away they went. The road was rough, full of potholes and ruts, loose gravel flicking up underneath the car and in through the holes in the wheel wells. Inside the cab was dustier than outside. They both had to lift their T-shirts over their noses so they didn’t breathe too much of it. The day was bright and fresh. The windows were down and although it was chilly it was liberating. After around 40 minutes of driving they approached a ford in a pretty deep river. “This is as far as we’re going until the water level drops.” He said.

“How long will that take do you think?”

“A day or two, maybe a week. If it rains we’ll be here while. All depends on how much melt is coming down from the mountains. It’s been warm recently so it might be passable soon.”

It wasn’t a great start to their trip but she knew things out in the wilderness could be hit and miss. Rance took out a tarp from one of the outer pockets on his pack, shaking it open. He had the .45 tucked in his belt leaving Maria with the rifle. She’d become quite the markswoman in the time they’d spent together. If any bears came their way, Rance was confident she could deal with it.

He found a fallen tree leaning in the fork of another tree. He pulled down on it to see how sturdy it was, unwilling to sleep below a tree that was likely to fall on them. With his full weight bouncing on it the tree didn’t move, so he chose it as their temporary home. The tarp was thrown over the tree and secured out to the sides. It wouldn’t hold heat but if it rained it would keep them keçiören escort dry. With the floor cleared of debris and made mostly flat he rolled a second tarp to stop moisture from the ground getting to them. Comfort wasn’t going to come easily but it was a means to an end.

He walked back to the truck and Maria. “You’re up, fire girl!”

Maria’s first experience of a real fire was six weeks ago when Rance created one at the river side from nothing but wood he found lying about. It had awoken her to a new way of life and new possibilities. Before that, all she’d known of fire was igniting the gas burner on her hob in her home. Fire is widely taken for granted in the modern world sadly. Few people know the process of lighting a fire in a survival situation and Maria had been no different. After seeing Rance create a friction fire with relative ease her eyes were opened and her outlook on life turned 180°. Practicing at every opportunity gave her the knowledge of what worked and what didn’t work so well.

First job, collect good dry wood and pile it where it was needed. Her leg was slowing her but not enough that she couldn’t function. Large dry branches, smaller dry branches, large sticks, small sticks and lastly fine sticks were all stacked in neat piles. The final items were dry leaves and if available grasses. There were grasses near the road that were perfect. She didn’t have a lighter or matches, Rance held on to them as emergency backups. Her only available choices were flint and steel or friction. After all the practice she’d had over the past weeks it was simple enough for her to create a friction fire but in the word of Robert Burns “Even the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry, no matter how well a project is planned.” And in Rance’s words “Do it the hard way first, leaving the easy way as the last option.”

The cast on her broken leg had stopped her using the bow drill since she couldn’t kneel to do it but today she was going to try. She’d seen Rance do it that first night so she knew what she needed. A lower bearing block with a dimple and a notch to collect the hot dust, an upper bearing block to hold the drill in place, a straight length of dry wood as the drill, a hearth to sit under the lower bearing block to hold the ember when it ignited, and a bow to turn the drill. She found all the component parts and tidied them into their useful pieces. She began trying to turn the drill with the bow. Something was missing because each time she tried the drill moved and fell from the bearing blocks. “Rance, can you tell me what I’m doing wrong here?” She called.

Rance walked over to her. “Show me how you’re trying to do it.”

She twisted the drill into the shoe lace she’d used to create the bow, placed it between the bearing blocks and slowly tried to turn the drill until again, it popped out of position. Rance watched her failed attempt. “You need to create a solid structure for the drill to stay in place. You have the basic concept but you have both knees on the ground and the top bearing block is floating as you’re trying to hold it with just your left hand. Kneel on your right leg with your left foot on the back end of the lower bearing block.” He showed her the position he was describing.

“Now your left forearm should be braced hard against your left shin giving stability to the top block. It’ll still take practice but I’m sure you’ll find it easier now.”

With the additional information she put his teachings into practice and found that the structure was far more stable. She turned the drill quickly with light pressure to create a pile of dust in the notch of the bottom bearing block as Rance watched with a smile growing across his face. Once a healthy mound of dust collected he simply said. “Now!”

She applied pressure to the top bearing block pushing down on the drill causing more friction and heat. After a short while smoke started to whisp, then billow from the pile. “That’s it.” He said. “You have an ember, now carefully transfer it to the grass and leaves.”

She carefully removed the lower bearing block leaving the ember on the hearth while she collected the grass and leaves from her side. Carefully she breathed life into the ember as she lifted the hearth to the tinder, tipping it in and wrapping it up as she blew to feed the glowing lump with oxygen. The grasses caught and fizzed slightly before she began to blow harder. After a few strong breaths the fire almost exploded into life and she placed it into the fire pit feeding it with fine sticks, then small sticks, larger sticks and plenty of good sized fuel until it was fully ablaze. Her first bow drill friction fire success. She stood smiling, proud of her effort and Rance stood next to her feeling the same pride. “You did great! You’ll never be cold again.”

The words made her feel warm without need of the fire. Actually the day wasn’t cold enough for a fire but it would keep wildlife away and if they managed to ankara escort find food they could cook it.

The day was almost at its end. The sun had already dropped behind the hill and the air was cooling. They were thankful for Maria’s fire at that moment. She’d collected plenty of wood for the night so they would be warm at least. Her stomach growled violently sounding like an injured wild cat. “You hungry?” Rance asked realising the stupidity of the question as he heard it fall from his mouth.

He was hungry too. All they’d brought with them in the way of food was the dried fruit. The remaining bear meat had been warming for their last few days and was of no use to anything but flies. Rance moved it away from the cabin to keep bears away as much as possible. He’d rendered some fat from it though, he scored a pine and took some of the thin inner bark adding it to the fat in a pan on the fire, fried it. It was hardly a hearty meal but Maria had come to enjoy the taste of the bitter bark, and after being fried in some fat the flavour improved making them a great wild snack. “We can find some better food in the morning.” She said as she snuggled into Rance. “Do you think we’ll ever come back up this way?”

“I hope so. I spent the first eight years of my life out here. My father taught me all the skills I needed, the same ones I’ve taught you and hopefully one day I’ll pass them on to my…our children.”

“So you want to have children with me?” Her voice sounding a little shocked that he’d thought about it. “You’d be willing to do that?”

His eyes were focused deep in the fire as it spat and crackled blowing sparks upward. “To be honest, I always thought I’d die alone up here. The fact that you’ve become a permanent fixture in my life, my heart and my soul, has made me think twice about lots of things. I always hoped I’d have children but I was never going to find a woman with my lifestyle, until you dropped into my lap.”

“We should think seriously about it when we get back to civilisation. I hope we aren’t stuck out here too long.” Her eyes also mesmerised by the fire.

“The river might drop enough by the morning to cross. We’ll have to see, but for now we should try and get some sleep.”

It was still early but with darkness all around there was little else to do than sleep. Rance fed the fire and lay back with Maria. His mind was alert to the sounds around them cautious of the possibility of bears or moose wandering close. Neither was to be taken lightly, both were aggressive and fully capable of killing them both. Maria found sleep easily enough so he just lay with her enjoying her proximity and the smell of her hair. Periodically he fed the fire to keep the chill off as they spooned under his big coat.

At around 2am Maria woke to see Rance sitting by the fire, nudging at a piece of wood causing sparks to curl and whiz around like waltzers on a fairground ride. “You ok babe?”

He nodded. “Just thinking about what may be, making plans that might happen or might not. Considering our options and trying to figure out our best path.”

“Have you slept yet?” She asked.

“No. I’d rather not sleep out here just in case a bear comes calling.”

“So you sleep a while and I’ll keep watch. If I hear anything I’ll wake you. You need sleep too.”

He had no reasonable argument. After a quick kiss and a tight squeeze he got his head down feeling happy that she’d be a good lookout.

The night wasn’t cold but it was chilly. Maria sat by the fire watching the flames lick up and dance around like sprites. The glowing embers of the logs pulsing as the gentle breeze blew through the spaces between them. She added another log to keep the fire burning likening it to life, adding new experiences to keep it interesting. This recent experience was probably the most important of her life. Giving her the opportunity to change her outlook and alter her perceptions. Her internal fire was glowing strongly with the fresh fuel of Rance and his attitude towards life. He hadn’t told her much about his home. She knew about his town and the people but he hadn’t said much about the place he lived.

She imagined he lived in a rustic wooden house with views over rooftops and down a valley. He’d have a wood burning stove similar to the one in the cabin but a bit bigger and a single bedroom with a ladder up to it. Maybe a deer skull complete with antlers mounted on one of the walls, overseeing the activity of the small dwelling. The image she painted in her mind was wonderful, almost as real as a memory.

After a few hours of staring at the flames, Rance began to dream. He was talking as he slept. Maria found it amusing laughing at some of his words. “No Helen, not there!”

She laughed out loud as he said it. He continued in the vein, sometimes repeating the same words. It was the first time she’d noticed him do it. For around 30 minutes he was calling out. “No Helen, not there!” Interspersed with other less intelligible words and phrases. After the first few she began to worry about him, feeling that the dream might be causing him pain. Rather than wake him she let him have his dream for a while but after those 30 minutes she decided to wake him. “Rance,” She said softly rubbing his shoulder. “Rance are you ok?”

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