A special thanks to Ol' Remus and the Woodpile Report for his mention of this story and a link to it on his blog.
He was once more visited by dreams of his family. He dreamed his sons were travelling together in an automobile, his oldest son driving. Up ahead he could see a bridge that had been damaged by a storm, the middle of which had a large gap through which the car would plunge if it didn’t stop in time. He tried to tell them to stop the car, but the music was playing much too loud and they could not hear. Instead of watching the road, they were talking to each other, having to look at each other to make out what they were each saying, rather than turn down the music. He yelled at them to stop, but they continued on until the car plunged into the gap.
He sat up wide awake, with a cry choked back into his throat, and beads of sweat forming on his forehead. He was shaken by the realism of the dream. Was it a premonition of disaster for his sons? Or was it just a bad dream dredged up from his sub-conscious to rid himself of the stress he was under.
He could hear the wind whipping around the chimney, making a low moaning sound as it drove the rain in sheets against the roof of his shelter. He checked his watch and noted that it was a little after 4:00 AM. He was still tired but he forced himself to rebuild the fire as it was nearly out. He stirred up the coals and soon had a healthy blaze going once again. He had been using boards from the walls and floor to feed his fire, and the dry wood burnt faster than he liked. Lying back down, he drifted off into a dreamless sleep.
When he woke once more, it was daylight. Such as it was with the dark rain clouds filling the sky and the driving rain blowing in sheets, limiting vision to a few yards. He decided that he would stay put until the weather improved or until the issue of food drove him forth once again to search for sustenance.
He raked the now plentiful coals into a pile between some bricks he had found near the fireplace, and then placed his newly found and seasoned frying pan over the coals. He took the remaining quarter of the rabbit and deboned it. He added some fat from his store gathered from the two raccoons and then dropped the meat into it. The smell of the sizzling meat nearly made his mouth water as his stomach complained about its emptiness. Pouring the last of his water from his canteen into his cooking pot, he began heating water for his last instant coffee.
As the water was heating, he added the sliced cattail roots to the pan with the rabbit. If only he had some onions! He sat back and waited for the food to finish cooking and the water to heat. While he waited, he let his mind wander, mulling over the events of the past weeks, wondering what tales the house would tell if it could only give up those secrets that it alone was privy to. Although houses can not talk, they can tell a tale if you know how to listen.
If this house could talk, it would tell him how a young man had come out west to build a home for he and his bride to be. It would tell how the man found this land and bought it by working for another man for 5 long years. It would tell how he spent each free moment of his day, clearing the land and building the house from logs taken from the woodlot at the back of the property. It would tell how he built the house timber by timber, board by board until it stood ready for his bride to be. It would tell of that joyous day that she arrived at the train station in the nearest town, ready to become his bride on the following day.
It would tell of the young couples struggle to make ends meet, and their dawn to dusk labors to care for their livestock and tend to their garden. It would tell of the joyous birth of their two daughters, and the love that filled the home as the family grew older. It would tell you of the happiness that filled its walls.
And then it would tell you of the sorrows. The sorrow of losing a child to a roaring river as the undercut bank gave way. The joy and sorrow of having the youngest daughter marry and move away. The sorrow that came years later, as the old man lost his wife to cancer.
It would tell of the daughter moving even farther away, of her losing contact with her father, of him growing older and lonelier each year, until one spring day he passed on to be with the wife he had loved more than anything. It would tell of that day that he sat on the porch with his old coon dog and a cup of coffee he would never finish. It would tell that when he died, the dog howled for three days until the neighbors came to see what was the matter. It would tell that they buried him next to his wife in the orchard. Then it would fall silent, for it stood empty with nothing to note, nothing to tell.
But houses can’t tell these kinds of stories, so the history passes on, unheard and forgotten.
But the houses know. As long as they still stand, they know.
He wondered why the bricks were by the fireplace since there were only four of them. The house knew that in the winter the family had heated the bricks by the fire and then wrapped them in towels to place under the covers at the foot of the bed to keep you warm at night. But the house could not share this with an outsider, so he just shrugged it off and chalked it up as a mystery.
In short order the food had cooked and his water heated, so he began his meal while drifting deeper into his reflections of the past…
He had been caught and set free by the guard named Charlie, who told him of the patrols behind him. He had eluded the patrol and had hidden from the chopper, and then holed up waiting for dark as the weather turned against him.
With the rainstorm came early nightfall, the clouds choked out the last feeble rays of the winter sun before they could penetrate their dark cloak. He was comfortable where he was and hated to move, but he needed to get through this area of town while he had the cover of night. Reluctantly, he packed up his gear and moved out on down the tracks.
He wondered what Dusty was doing, if he had killed the sniper, whether he was alright. Walking on the railroad ballast was always tiring with the rocks constantly shifting under your feet, your ankles flexing from side to side. As he walked along he felt something change on his right foot. He pulled out his flashlight and saw the sole was beginning to separate from the top of the boot.
The cheap Chinese boots were literally coming unglued! He sighed, and then checked the left boot. It too was coming unglued. It seems that in order to cut manufacturing costs, they skimped on the amount of glue used to hold the shoes together. Heaven forbid they actually stitched the lowers to the uppers!
This was going to be a problem but hopefully they would hold out until he reached C1. He had a newer pair of the same style of boot, but made by a different company. C1 lay approximately 4 miles from where he was now, perhaps a 2 day journey if he travelled at the pace that he had been. He would just have to be careful that he did not stress his shoes any more than necessary so that they would last.
He moved through the darkened town, following the tracks. Upon occasion, a dog would bark at him for a bit, until hushed by its owner or retrieved into the house so as not to draw more attention than it already had. As he passed by different homes, he could see families gathered around their dining tables, eating their dinners. He could even smell the food from some of the homes, making his mouth water and his stomach ache with hunger. No matter how hungry he might get, he could not stop to eat until he cleared the other end of town.
He passed the last house without further notice by the canine guardians in the town, making good his escape.
He moved along the edge of the tracks ready to duck into the brush at any sign of patrol activity. Walking in the loose gravel was very tiring and his shoes kept threatening to fall further apart at the slightest wrong step. He decided to take a break in the brush off the track and was soon rolled up in his bedroll and poncho. Tuckered out, he fell asleep. The rain and wind continued their tango, drenching the underbrush and slicking the rocks, unmindful of the fugitive left in their care.
He heard a rumbling in his sleep confused mind. “What was that? Thunder?” he thought. And then it was upon him, crashingly loudly and with a wind that blew and sucked at his being relentlessly. Then came the long, drawn out wail. It was a freight train travelling west about 60 miles an hour. It clattered and rattled at him for about five minutes and then was gone, the clattering fading off in the distance.
Totally awake and wholly unnerved, he left his erstwhile resting place and set out once more down the edge of the tracks. He traveled this way for about an hour. Up ahead, the brush faded back from the tracks on both sides leaving an area about 200 yards long to traverse with no cover or concealment on either side. To his right, it dropped off into the river and the left side was rip-rap and railroad ballast. Beyond that was a wall of blackberry bushes.
He stood there for about ten minutes, listening for telltale sounds of patrols or another train. If he was spotted by a train engineer, they would radio his position in as a trespasser on the railroad right of way. He nervously started out but soon relaxed as he neither saw nor heard anything. Then, as he was at the halfway mark, he heard it! It was the thrumming of a chopper as it thrashed at the air.
He began to run.
He was about 50 yards from the first bit of concealment when his right shoe let go. His foot tore through the side and came down on a sharp rock. He howled in pain and tumbled to the ground. He looked at his foot and could see the bright crimson blooming in his sock. The thrumming grew louder and panic shot through him. He jumped to his feet and began to run again, favoring his injured foot as best he could.
The savage rocks tore at his foot, further lacerating it. He grimaced as he limped along as fast as he could. Then, unbelievably, the left shoe repeated the failure of the right and sent him to the ground once more as the sole folded over and caught on the ground, tripping him up. Cursing and sobbing in pain, he leapt up and looked around him for escape.
There, up ahead! He could see a spot where a group of young alders created a thicket of underbrush next to the tracks, about 50 feet away. With the chopper about to break over the tracks from where it was following the river, he once more launched himself forward, each step agony as the sharp rocks cut into his already damaged and bleeding feet. And then he leaped as hard as he could, landing in the thicket, into the nest of blackberry vines hidden therein. No sooner had he landed in this personal hell than the helicopter crossed over the trees and began following the tracks as they wound to the southwest.
It was soon out of sight and sound, but he could not move because of the searing pain in both feet. He was feeling faint from the effort and the pain and wanted nothing else but to let the darkness that was gathering around the edges of his vision to take him and blot out the agony. Slowly he pushed back the blackness and its solace, realizing he needed to tend to his wounds and get situated for the night. He wasn’t going to be traveling for a while.
He slowly unhooked himself from the greedy blackberry vines that clutched at him and crawled out to the edge of the track. Faced with no options, he took some 550 paracord from his pack and tied the soles of his shoes to the uppers. He then painfully got to his feet and began walking slowly down the tracks, leaving a trail of red footprints to be slowly washed away by the now light drizzle that haunted the rest of his day.
Somewhere down the tracks, a hundred, perhaps two hundred feet he found what he was looking for. He followed a deer trail which led off the tracks to a low area on the river bank. He stopped there and removed both of his boots, surveying his shredded socks and lacerated feet. He found a semi comfortable rock to sit on and dangled his aching feet in the cold river water, letting the current bathe the injuries and numb them with its chill.
After about an hour of this he had become too cold overall and crawled back up the bank to a small grassy area where he decided to make his camp. He set up the poncho and laid out his ground cloth. He then folded up his bedroll for something to sit on while he doctored up his feet. He spent the next hour drying his feet, cleaning bits of gravel out of the cuts, coating his injuries with Bag Balm and then wrapping them with gauze from his first aid kit. He gingerly pulled on a clean pair of cotton socks over the gauze, and then a pair of wool socks over them. Then he took 2 prescription Vicodin and washed them down with water.
An hour passed and the pain receded to a tolerable level thanks to the Vicodin. He then decided to make himself something to eat. He chose Oatmeal since he hadn’t any breakfast and he wanted something that would stay with him for awhile. He finished his meal and cleaned up his meal preparations, stowing everything back in his pack. Exhaustion now began to take hold, and his eyes keep creeping shut. He crawled into his bedroll and sighed in resignation, delivering up himself to the darkness of dreamless sleep.
Pulling his attention back to the present, he saw that the fire was burning down once again to coals. How long had he been zoned out? A quick glance at his watch showed him that four hours had passed since he had finished his breakfast and had lapsed into his reflections of the past. His half drank coffee had gone cold long ago so he poured it back into the pot and waited for it to heat up once again.
While waiting for the coffee to reheat, he decided to go relieve himself. He had picked one corner of the living room where the roof had leaked and rotted away the floor. After breaking up the rotting wood he had cleared an area in which he dug a small, deep hole with his trowel, piling the earth to one side to use for covering up his bodily waste after each use. He was running out of toilet paper also. Another reason he needed to get to C1.
He sat back down and retrieved the now hot coffee. His mind drifted back to that place on the river bank where he nursed his wounded feet.
He spent two days in that spot, changing the bandages daily. By the morning of the third day, he was able to move around well enough that he felt that he could now travel. He carefully lashed the boot soles tightly to his feet, making sure that the cord would not be subject to extreme abrasion as he walked. He looked around his camp for any misplaced gear and finding none, shouldered his pack and limped away up the trail.
He knew he wasn’t far from C1 now. Perhaps a day barring any slowdowns, perhaps less. He had traveled for a couple of hours when he decided to stop and rest. His feet were throbbing so he decided to take more of the Vicodin. This time he only took one, more than that made him drowsy and he wanted to remain vigilant.
He decided to move off the right of way as up ahead the track began to parallel the highway and gave scant concealment for the next two miles. He felt a kind of excitement, an exhilaration at being so near to his goal at last! Being so close to the highway made him nervous so he began to spend more time pausing and listening as he advanced.
There! He heard a voice just over the tracks by the highway. Slowly crawling up to the rails, he peered over and saw a roadblock just across the road from him! He slowly lowered himself back down to the safety of the underbrush and began moving away from the roadblock in the direction of the cache. His progress was painfully slow but he dared not move faster for fear of being heard moving about in the brush.
It became apparent that he would have to wait until dark to cross the road. So he picked a likely looking spot that would hide him from both aerial and pedestrian view and waited.
Occasionally he would rise up, and from cover spy out the highway. It was starting to get dark when he noticed the 2nd roadblock just down a ways from the 1st. They were placing them within visual distance to be sure no one slipped thru the gap. He could see the spotlights and could hear the generators as they fired them up in preparation for the night operations.
As he was watching a Humvee approached from the west. It stopped at the first roadblock and a man got out. He spoke briefly with the man who seemed to be in charge and then re-entered the Humvee. A different man got out and … he had a Dog!
“Oh Shit! Oh Fuck! God Dammit!!!!”
He was totally screwed now! The Humvee moved up the road to the next roadblock where the same actions replayed themselves. One dog barked, causing the other dog to respond. This went on for a few minutes as the handlers struggled to regain control. Thoroughly disgusted, he retreated back into the brush where stray breezes wouldn’t betray him to the dogs. He wouldn’t be crossing this road, not tonight. Maybe not any night!
He dug out a granola bar from his pack as well as a bottle of water and had a cold supper. Resigned to this latest turn of events, he rolled up in his bedroll and poncho and lay there waiting for sleep to come. And it did.