What follows is, as usual, an unedited selection from the book I am currently writing. This comes from the first half of chapter 4. If you want to read chapter 3, you’ll have to buy the book when it’s finished. Chapter 4 picks up where chapter 2 left off.
Chapter 4 (a selection)
Richard reached across the seat and opened the passenger door. Brady practically flew out of the Jeep, excited to be free from the confines of the moving metal cage. It had been a long drive and Richard was proud of how well he had behaved. He watched for a moment as Brady took in the thousands of new scents in the air and struggled to decide which one to investigate. He opened his own door and took the first few steps around the Jeep toward the cabin he’d be sleeping in for the next seven days. Nature. Solitude. Peace and quiet. He felt ready, and took a deep breath of mountain air. He slapped his hands to his chest, re-enacting something he’d seen actors do innumerable times in the movies. Even on his own, miles away from prying eyes, he was putting on a show. His performance was brought up short when he heard Brady growl.
The dog was hunched over, his hind-quarters raised and his snout near the ground. Brady made a low, guttural noise; a sound Richard had never heard him make. Brady’s growl grew in volume and intensity and Richard looked to see what might be spooking him.
“What is it Brady?”
A chill ran down Richard’s spine, carrying with it a realization – at first just a feeling, but coalescing soon into a thought. He was alone in unfamiliar territory. Who else might be out here? What else? He felt suddenly claustrophobic, as if the trees were closing in on him. He had never liked horror movies, but the few he’d seen came racing back. Flashes of masked killers and severed limbs. He turned around to look into the woods. The trees were old and tall. Little grew on the forest floor. Despite the sun, it was dark in there. Richard shut his eyes. He was being irrational and he knew it. He cleared his throat loudly, and the ghouls retreated. When he opened his eyes again he was back in a warm forest retreat.
Except for Brady, who continued to growl. At what? Richard followed the dog’s line of sight but couldn’t see anything the matter. Perhaps he smelled something he didn’t like. Richard knew there were bears in these woods. Was there a bear nearby? Kevin said no one had visited this cabin in a decade. No one in the family, anyway. That is to say, no one he knew of. Could a perfectly livable shelter really sit empty for so long and not be an invitation to occupy? These mountains may not hold a large population, but there were plenty enough hunters, naturists and hillbillies that, chances were, this cabin had been happened upon, especially given its age. How could he be sure he wasn’t walking into a cabin full of squatters, hell-bent on preserving their home?
Richard back-stepped to the open passenger door of the Jeep. He reached in behind him, his hand fumbling blindly for a moment before finding and pulling out a brand-new green, soft gun case. Without taking his eyes off the cabin, he unzipped the case and dropped it to the ground, holding the just-as-new Winchester Model 70 in his hands. Richard had never owned a gun in his life until three weeks ago. The idea of gun ownership had only crossed his mind once before that. When he and Kristine first married, all sorts of new worries and fears manifested, and protecting his new wife and home was very near the top of the list. At the very top was his performance in the bedroom. He was twenty-two, and had been with only two women before, and even then his experiences could be counted by removing only one glove. Kristine was an old-fashioned girl and wanted to wait until they were married to enjoy, and these were her words, amorous congress. Richard didn’t mind most of Kristine’s old-fashioned ways; in fact many of them he found very endearing. But on this one matter he tried again and again, without success, to change her mind. It wasn’t even religious conviction as neither was particularly spiritual, least of all Kristine, who viewed organized religion as a dangerous vestige of humanity’s superstitious past. All she would ever say on the subject was a lady does not open her bed to any but her husband. Where was she from, Victorian England? When he found the courage to ask her that very question, he learned first-hand that no, she was not, as no one from Victorian England could speak with the vitriol that proceeded from her thin-lipped mouth. So the matter was dropped from conversation, but not his mind. Despite this contention, he still loved her and wanted to protect her and their new life together. A few of his acquaintances suggested owning a gun would grant him the peace of mind he was after. He mulled the notion briefly before dismissing it, opting instead for a quality home alarm and surveillance system. And a sturdy, wooden bat within arm’s reach of the bed (as a show of machismo to try and impress his wife. It didn’t work).
His transition to gun owner was part of his master design for his week at the cabin. It served a practical purpose to ward off any predators he might encounter, as well as being a measure of security and comfort during the lonelier moments he knew he would suffer. It is one thing to be alone in your alarmed and surveilled home at the center of a gated community, and quite another to be alone in a shack in the mountains. But Richard had further plans for the weapon. The man had never fired a shot in his life, not even from a BB gun or a sling shot. He had even turned down the offer to test his new rifle at the shop’s firing range.
“Are you sure?”
The portly man behind the counter looked quizzically at Richard. He knew his type the second he walked into the shop. That was a man who never held a gun in his life. You could tell by the way he stood just inside the doorway, slightly befuddled by the sight of all the weapons on the walls and in the glass cases. Were there really so many different kinds of guns? The man laughed to himself. Here we go again. Same routine with all these clowns. He’ll wonder around the floor a bit, trying to make it seem like he was looking for something in particular. Eventually he’d tap on the glass and ask to see something from the case, nine times out of ten it was a revolver. A lot of ‘em went right for the Colt Single Action Army, also known as the Peacemaker, due to its familiarity: it looked like every revolver from those westerns movies they’d seen as kids. And it wasn’t a bad gun, just not the most practical for home protection, and that’s usually what they were after. Eventually he’d get their attention away from the six-shooters and onto something a little more in-line with the twenty-first century, like a reliable Glock 17 Gen4. This guy, though, surprised him. He did wonder around the shop for a few minutes, but instead of ending up in handguns he stopped over by the rifles. The salesman sauntered over and asked, in his most polite voice, if he could be of any help. The guy said simply
The man turned around and lifted the rifle off the rack and handed it to the customer.
“The rifleman’s rifle. You going hunting?”
And there was Richard’s ulterior reason. He wasn’t so daft as to expect to hit anything, but he was sure as hell going to try. He was pitting himself against nature, after all. What better testament to his dominion over nature than killing his own food? And that’s as far as Richard took the idea. What he would with the carcass in the off-chance that he managed to shoot and kill an animal hadn’t occurred to him. He had no earthly idea how to skin and clean game. This was a man who bought frozen, pre-cooked meat. But Richard was too concerned with the first part of the equation; hitting his target. He planned to use empty cans of soup and hash for target practice. He’d brought 5 boxes of 30.06 rounds, 100 in all. Plenty enough for practice, and then, the real thing. He had day dreams of being startled by a bear in the woods and killing it with one expertly place shot. He’d hang the bear’s head in his home and regale party guests with the tale.
All of that went right out the window now that he held the gun in his hands with the very real prospect of using it. The closest he’d been to firing it was reading about firing it, and that’s quite a gap, even for non-life threatening situations. Richard hoisted the gun up to his shoulder. It felt cumbersome and uncomfortable. He took one step toward the cabin and then realized the gun wasn’t loaded. He looked around in embarrassment, and then quickly walked around to the other side of the Jeep.
He opened the rear door and searched through his pack of supplies, glancing up nervously at the cabin. Finally he found a box of rounds and snatched it from the pack. He pulled the bolt back and loaded the rifle. Six rounds, and he only dropped two while loading. He pushed the bolt back in place and rose up. His hands shook while training the rifle on the front door, and his feet hesitated to carry him forward. He told himself he was being paranoid, that the cabin was empty and he’d feel like an idiot once he got inside. But the gun didn’t lower an inch. Finally his brain won control over his feet and he crept towards the cabin. Slowly he said to himself. If anyone was inside, they had to know he was out here. But there’s no one in there he argued. Still he approached the cabin, cautiously. His stomach burned. His muscles ached. He tasted bitterness at the back of his throat. I could leave. Get a hotel. Drive back down the mountain and stop at the first hotel I see. This far out, it would still be roughing it. I could pit myself against the army of roaches that no doubt infested the room. He stepped forward. I could hold up in the bathtub, fight them off with the plunger and a rolled up towel. Richard’s last stand. Another step toward the cabin. The hotel manager will write a book about it and put copies in each room next to the Gideon’s Bibles. If I die, they’ll display my corpse outside, propped up in a coffin, and charge a nickel-a-person to see Richard, the Cascades Cockroach Killer. His left foot reached out and kicked the cabin’s front porch. He snapped back to reality, and his heart tried its best to jump out of his chest, or at least beat fast and hard enough to make him drop the gun. He took a breath to steady himself. Then another, exhaling slower. What was his plan? What did they do in the movies? Kick the door down and shout expletives. He looked at the door: padlocked. The cabin was old enough; the door frame might just give way. Or he could use the key Kevin gave him. It was in an envelope in his pocket. He stepped up onto the porch. The wood creaked and groaned in protest. He froze and listened for any movement inside. He looked again at the lock. If there was anyone inside, they hadn’t gone in through the door. The door looked suddenly to him so much like any other door that before he realized what he was doing, he reached out and knocked. Three solid raps against the door with his knuckles. Adrenaline surged through his body at the sound. He gripped the rifle with renewed fervor and readied his body for anything.
Thanks for reading!