For those of you who have so patiently waited
As he lay sleeping, the world around him began to change yet again. Clouds fled from the sky, abandoning their posts to the encroaching Arctic cold front. The fire, so carefully banked was winking out as the last coals evaporated into the chilling night. He lay there dreaming of summer, of barbecues and potato salad, ears of corn and vege’s wrapped in aluminum foil, left to cook in their own juices. Of ice cold beer, cold enough to give you a shiver, even though it was 80+ degrees out. In fact he was shivering now, just as though he had just drank one!
The shivering grew worse, and now it was winter, with snow drifting about. It seemed he was trapped in a blizzard, with no sense of direction and no discernable terrain to guide him. One extremely large shiver woke him, confused and disoriented from the remnants of the dream.
“Shit!” he thought, his teeth chattering. ”Fires out!” He moved slightly and the icy tentacles of the cold reached into his bedroll and gripped him. Another mighty shiver shook his body and prodded him into action.
He stirred up the last few embers from his fire and with the addition of some tinder he had gathered the previous day, soon had a small blaze restored to the fire pit. He built it up until the flames were leaping and his face felt almost too hot.
“Front side bakes, back side freezes.” He wryly thought. He twisted around under his bedroll until he had his back side facing the flames. Soon, even that side was hot and he sat up facing the flames once again. Looking off into the night he thought he saw the gleam of eyes, belonging to a denizen of the night. “Probably a coyote or perhaps a bobcat.” he thought.
Checking his watch, he discovered that it was only 3:14 AM, with hours to go before daylight. Since he no longer felt tired, he decided on an early breakfast, utilizing more of the rabbit and slices of cattail rhizome. He added one of his last four remaining bullion cubes to the pot and sat back to wait for it to cook. The aroma of the boiling food reminded him of the dream he had been experiencing before the cold had awaken him.
Family barbecues were a tradition during the summer months. He and his two sons would feast upon the bounty of his grill. He felt a sharp pang of loneliness at the thought of his boys. The days leading up to his current situation had not lent much free time for reminiscing about his little family. His attention had been demanded by the event of the moment, as well as the need to be constantly alert to his surroundings.
As he sat with knees drawn up to his chin, staring into the fire, he began to feel drowsy and slipped back into light sleep. He dosed for about an hour during which time the rabbit became cooked to perfection, or at least it was to his hungry senses. He roused himself, brought back to reality by a popping branch.
Retrieving his cooking pot, he set it out to cool a bit before he dug into its contents. He wished he had a second pot to heat water for his drinks or to boil drinking water. As soon as the opportunity arose he would add something to alleviate the problem, perhaps by recycling a discarded beer can or what ever else he may chance upon.
In the east, the sky began to lighten, signaling the dawn of a new, albeit cold day. Today he must decide to move on or find more food and firewood should he decide to stay one more day. While waiting for his food to cool, he dumped out the contents of his ration pack to check his inventory of foodstuffs.
Remaining contents of his Ration Packs:
1 packet of hot chocolate,
1 instant coffee,
3 hot ciders,
3 bullion cubes,
1 granola bars,
3 books of matches,
9 pieces of Jolly Rancher hard candy,
2 quarters of the rabbit
Approximately 2 Lbs of cattail root
He stared glumly at the small heap in front of him. There really was no choice, he must move on and find more food. The thought of slowly starving to death had absolutely no appeal. Returning the jumbled mess to the ziploc bag, he then turned his attention to the adequately cooled rabbit soup that was breakfast.
Daylight came stealthily on frozen feet, laying a crust of ice over small seeps of water and branches which previously sported droplets of water were now bedecked with diamonds of ice, glittering in the rising sun. He sighed heavily and began to once again break camp. While he packed, he added some of the remaining dry tinder that was left, and thus save himself the search later. Completing this task he shouldered his load and headed once more down to the creek to seek out a fording place.
After searching a bit, the shallowest place he could find to ford was still a couple of feet deep. This left him with a problem. He had no desire to get wet in crossing as it would force him to build a fire immediately after to avoid freezing to death. He decided to utilize his last 2 contractor bags to fashion waterproof leggings.
He untied his shoes, slipped the bags over his legs and feet, and then carefully retied his shoes. Taking a piece of para-cord, he fashioned a pair of suspenders that wrapped around each leg and tied off to a small knot he created in the bags. Once he had this adjusted to his liking, he began the crossing of the stream.
He used his spear to help keep his balance during the crossing, and it went uneventfully. Reaching the other side, he removed the bags and stowed them in his pack to avoid any snags that might puncture them. He then set off, consulting his compass and the clear day sky to confirm his direction.
Travelling thru the underbrush was a laborious task, and it seemed that he was making little headway. Noon had come and gone and he needed to find a place to camp soon. Up ahead he could make out a small clearing that might hold some promise. As he drew nearer, he could make out some old fruit trees, apple most likely.
There! To the left, nearly covered with brambles he could make out an old stone chimney. “This must be an old homestead!” he thought to himself. Indeed it was, nearly seventy years ago. The once sturdy pioneer structures now cowered before time, humbled nearly to the ground by the unrelenting seasons with no maintenance.
Carving a path thru the brambles, he soon stood next to the collapsed structure that was the house. Even though time had ravished it, the roof was still intact in many sections, promising the safety of a dry patch of ground. He found the door, and crawled inside where to his surprise, he could almost stand.
The area nearest the chimney appeared to be the strongest, so he set about clearing an area to make his bed. He then gathered what he hoped to be enough wood to last the night in comfort. Daylight was fading fast outside, and it was very dark in under the roof. He quickly started his fire, and soon had a nice blaze going. For whatever reason, the chimney was clear of obstructions, unlikely as it may seem, so the small amount of smoke generated by the dry wood found its way freely up the smokestack.
He began to prepare his dinner of rabbit and cattail roots and decided to explore the cabin while it cooked. His initial impression of the structure led him to believe it was a 2 bedroom cabin with the kitchen, dining and living area sharing the un-partitioned space. Going first into the kitchen, he was rewarded by finding an old rusty skillet, approximately 9” in diameter. He felt a thrill of elation, and promptly took it back to the fire, where he placed it in the coals to burn off decades of encrusted foods, and prepare it to be re-seasoned.
Returning to the kitchen area, he began to explore the counters and cupboard where he found a few more items worth salvaging. An old enamelware plate with several large chips that had rusted thru, a fork, and a mouse chewed potholder were his latest treasures.
In the dining area, he found an old glass oil lamp with a nearly full reservoir. He lit the lamp after trimming the wick and was rewarded with a glow which threw back the night that crowded so closely about. His soup was ready to eat and so he decided to put off any further exploration until the morning. After eating his dinner, he retrieved the cast iron pan from the fire and set it off to cool.
The fire had done its job and except for a few rusted areas, was quite clean of the decades old crust. Now, if he could just find some sand to scrub off the rust, he would be ready to re-season the pan and put it to use. Feeling good about his current situation, he curled up in his bedroll and was soon sound asleep.
During the night, the fickle Northwest weather once more began to change. A warm front was moving in from the Pacific Ocean, bringing with it many inches of rain which it would drizzle onto the west side of the Cascade range. The resulting snowmelt would cause streams and rivers to overflow their banks, a common occurrence most years.
Something roused him out of his deep slumber; a noise like something shuffling thru the leaves that had accumulated in the dilapidated structure over the years of vacancy. He sat up and surveyed his surroundings, playing his flashlight’s beam of light across the suspect areas. There it was again! He chuckled to himself and then relaxed. It was just the wind picking up, shuffling about the dead leaves in its path.
He lay back down and listened to the sounds of the morning as nature began to awaken. The creaking of the branches from the old maple outside the house as the wind began to increase its gusts. Then came the patter of rain on the exposed areas of the roof, those areas not covered by moss or snow.
The coming of the rain was going to be a problem for him. He had no desire to travel in slush up to his ankles, and if it warmed up enough there would be flooding that could prevent his travel for days. And then there was the ever present hunger that occupied his belly. Food was at a critical stage and if he didn’t get some soon, starvation would accomplish what his pursuers could not.
He poked the fire back to life, and set out his cooking pot to heat some water for his last package of hot chocolate. He knew that he must be close to the outskirts of town. If he could just find some food somewhere, he should be able to make to C1 in less than a few days from his current location. He could hear trains as they passed by, and the infrequent highway traffic, so he knew he was not far off from town.
As he sat sipping his hot chocolate and eating his last granola bar, he studied the collapsed structure around him. Daylight illuminated previously hidden details about the building that the oil lamp had not, such as the rough sawn boards that comprised the walls and floors.
The walls and ceiling near what he assumed were the two bedrooms had collapsed around the doorframes, effectively sealing them off from all but the most determined effort to gain access to them, unless you were a small rodent.
He noticed that the wind had picked up considerably, and the rain was becoming heavier. He decided he did not want to travel in those conditions, so he began gathering fuel for his fire from the areas where the walls had collapsed inward. He decided to further ration what food he had left by having only 2 meals per day. The rabbit and cattail roots would last at most three very lean days and then he must get food from somewhere else.
Having secured his supply of firewood, he decided to try his luck at getting into the bedrooms to see what might be worth scavenging. He chose to enter what appeared to be the larger of the two bedrooms. Since the doorframe was basically supporting the roof, he began to peel away the boards that formed the wall. He soon had a hole large enough to crawl through, and so lighting the oil lamp, he crawled into the once dark room. He could hear a small scurrying as mice fled his intrusion into their domain. There was no room to stand, so he made his inspection in a crouch. There was nothing in the closet other than several mice chewed garments, nearly unrecognizable in their disrepair.
In the center of the room was an old bed, nearly crushed to the ground from bearing the weight of the roof. The mattress had long ago been requisitioned by armies of rodents to furnish their nests. He kneeled to look underneath but found nothing of interest. Next to the bed stood a three drawer night stand. He pulled open the top drawer and startled a family of mice as well as himself. “Hang around here long enough and you will become dinner!” he said to the fleeing rodents.
The drawer held nothing other than the nest so he braced himself to open the second drawer. The drawer was stuck forcing him to yank it open. Of course the contents of the drawer flew out as soon as it let go, prompting a string of curses from his lips. It appeared to be a junk drawer, filled with the odds and ends such as every household seems to accumulate. Finding nothing of use, he turned his attention to the last drawer.
This drawer yielded easily to his effort and he caught his breath at what he saw therein. A half of a box of .12 GA shotshells, a small folding knife with three blades and a small leather pouch. He gathered up the loot and crawled back out through the hole in the wall.
He sat in a patch of daylight and examined the shotshells at length. They were paper shells, and several were deteriorating beyond the point of use. After picking out the bad shells, he was left with 15 good shells, ones that he would trust firing. He then placed the bad shells into a Ziploc bag for later use. The small knife was a nothing special brand that looked to be made of carbon steel. The blades were all in good condition but sorely needed to be sharpened before use. That left the small leather pouch to examine. He opened the pouch and dumped its contents into a small pile.
Clinking and clunking, out fell 6 silver dollars, tarnished and worn but silver none the less. Chuckling, he placed them back into the pouch and then into his pack. He now had currency to purchase food if he chose. He was unsure of the value of the coins, but he knew it was more than face value. The last silver dollar he had bought cost him $20.00, and that was years ago.
Looking at the .12 GA shells, he thought that anyone who had shells must have a gun. But he had seen no signs of one so far in his search. He remembered reading a story where the hero had found shells in a drawer, and after searching had found the shotgun behind the mantle of a fireplace, put up to be out of the reach of children. Looking at the fireplace in front of him, it appeared to have a fairly large mantle, but the roof was resting almost upon it, preventing him from further visual examination.
He reached his hand into the space and felt around to see if there was anything but dust. There, towards the back was something that felt like leather. He could not get a grasp on it as his forearms were too thick to push through the gap between mantle and roof. He looked around a bit and found a sturdy piece of wood to pry with. Gathering some boards to use as blocking, he pried up the roof creating a much larger gap in which to insert his arm.
His heart began to beat a bit faster as he reached into the gap and grasped the leather case he felt in there. He wriggled and pulled and wriggled some more, all the while pulling with all his strength. There! He was rewarded for his efforts with what appeared to be an old rifle case, covered in dust and gnawed on by mice. Sitting down he unzipped the now green brass zipper and removed the old shotgun from its protective case.
Taking his flashlight, he inspected the shotgun in detail. It was a hammerless Stevens Springfield Model 5100 12ga. It had several severely rusty spots near where the barrels joined the receiver as well as a speckling of rust on the barrels themselves. None of it would affect the function of the shotgun; it was just unsightly and objectionable to those who loved firearms. On a hunch, he went back to the mantle and groped around in the dark recess. There! His hand touched a small box which he drew forth. A cleaning kit in a dilapidated box was his reward for exploring again that dark space.
It was a standard cleaning kit with the exception that the oil and solvent were stored in glass bottles rather than plastic as modern kits have. He assembled the rods, and ran a patch wet with solvent through each barrel. He then ran a bore brush up and down, dislodging accumulated dirt and rust. That step completed, he ran a lightly oiled patch through each bore, to protect against the dampness.
Now that the gun was clean internally, he turned his attention to the exterior. Using an old sock, he dampened it with the gun oil and then dipped it in some old cold ashes. He then used this mild abrasive to remove as much of the rust as he could. The gun would never win any beauty contests, but it was functional and that was most important. Picking out the two best looking shells, he loaded his “new” shotgun. The barrels were longer than he liked, but that couldn’t be helped. He then wiped the gun down with an oily rag made from another old sock.
Satisfied with his efforts on the shotgun, he placed the oily rag in a Ziploc bag for later use. He then stowed the cleaning kit in his pack. Pleased with his discoveries so far, he decided to explore the other bedroom, who knew what it held. Once again he had to pull the boards off the wall in order to gain access to the bedroom. After about 15 minutes he had a hole big enough to crawl through. Once thru he lit the oil lamp and surveyed the room. As in the other bedroom, the roof had crushed the bed nearly to the floor and the mattress looked liked something had made a den of it.
He could see daylight trough a hole in the closet wall, not large, but big enough for a large housecat to pass through. There was a smell in the room, again like the den of an animal. There was nothing in the room of any value, and he was preparing to leave when he heard something, something muffled. Looking at the bed, he saw movement in the torn up mattress; something was in there!
He scrambled out the hole he had made and retrieved the shotgun, heading directly back to the hole. He got there in time to see two raccoons emerging from the den they had made of the mattress. One was quite large, the other smaller, apparently being a yearling. He aimed the gun at the larger one and squeezed the trigger.
“Damn!” he said. The safety was on!
He flicked off the safety and aimed once again at the now angry coon. This time he was rewarded by the blast from the left barrel. The sound was deafening in the enclosed space, but it knocked the coon against the wall, ending its threatening chittering. The smaller coon seemed stunned by the blast, unmoving from where it had emerged.
Booom! Went the shotgun once more.
He now had meat for a few more days! After gutting and skinning the two coons, he estimated he had about 8 lbs of meat between the two of them. He had enough for good eating for perhaps three more days. He retrieved the oil lamp and extinguished it, saving the oil for later use.
Sitting around the fire, he cleaned the shotgun and reloaded it, while the fire cooked a hind quarter of the smaller coon. He took fat from the larger of the two, and used it to re-season the frying pan. Tomorrow, he would fry up some cattail rhizomes along with the last quarter of the rabbit, a small feast for him. But still, he needed more staples, those from C1. As he ate his supper, he watched the evening shadows blot out the failing sunlight, a little bit at a time.
He built up the fire and picked up the shotgun, its weight giving him comfort. The wind and rain howled about outside the ruined house, but sitting next to the fireplace he was as comfortable as could be under the circumstances. Once more he banked the fire and then rolled up into his bedroll, warm and well fed. Only a few moments had passed before he was fast asleep.
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