Header image  
    Table of Contents
Terry Sanville


        What the hell am I doing?
        At Red Bluff, Eddie steered the Honda off the interstate and onto a two-lane highway that headed east into the Cascades, toward the town of Chester. Tall snow banks bordered the road dappled with icy puddles and slush. He clicked on the headlights and thought about chains, but decided against them. Front wheel drive should pull me through.
        “We should reach the turnoff in about an hour,” he said and glanced right, startled to find the seat empty, thinking for a moment that he’d forgotten Vicky at the last gas stop. But he knew better and pushed her and the kids out of his mind, pushed them into the snow heaps along the highway that boxed him in, shoved him toward Drakesbäd. Everything had happened at the last minute: their son’s decision to enlist, his wife moving in with her sister, an ominous call from his urologist.
        Eddie clicked on the radio and searched for something other than country or Sunday preachers delivering God’s word to lazy Bible-thumpers. Giving up, he inserted a Robert Johnson blues CD and sang along as the little car bounced over potholes. When the music stopped, he shook himself and drove the car into a service station in Chester. After filling its tank, he entered the mini-mart. A high school kid sat with his feet propped on the counter. A space heater glowed orange.
        “Say, do you know if the road into Drakesbäd is open?”
        “Yeah, my Pop just drove outta there this mornin’. You gonna drive in?”
        “I think they’re shuttin’ the place down today or tomorrow…and the road is iffy. With that little car of yours, I wouldn’t try it.”
        “It’ll be okay and we’ve…ah, I’ve already paid for the cabin. You guys sell beer?”
        The boy pointed to a cold case at the back of the shop. Eddie grabbed two six-packs of Moose Head and moved toward the counter. He liked the animal drawing, made him feel “woodsy,” like the guy pictured on the paper towel package. Outside in the cold afternoon, ice had formed on the windshield. He cranked the defroster and searched for the road into the Warner Valley. Finding it, he turned down a rutted track that wound through a dark forest. Under the Douglas Fir, waist-high snow covered the ground beneath a gray sky. Christ, there’s more of it up there.
        Twice on the seventeen-mile drive, the Honda hit bottom hard. Eddie got out to make sure the pan hadn’t been scraped off the car. The road climbed steadily. He tried following tire tracks in the snow but got sideways a couple times when he struck icy patches. After more than an hour bouncing and sliding, he pulled up to a two-story lodge and meal hall surrounded by steep-roofed cabins. Smoke poured from its chimney. He stepped from the car.
        “Are you the Meadows party?” a man called from the porch door.
        “Ma name’s Rick. Come on in outta the cold.”
        Eddie moved into a wood-paneled room with a fire blazing at the far end. He could see his breath.
        “I tried callin’ you folks,” Rick said, “but you musta been already on the way.”
        “I left before dawn…turned my cell phone off…don’t like to fool with it while I’m driving.”
         Rick stared at him. “I had you down as a party of four.”
        “Yes, things changed. My wife and kids couldn’t make it.”
        “Sorry, but I coulda saved ya the trip. This damn snow is makin’ us close up early. You’re the only one here. I’m drivin’ to Redding in about an hour.”
        “Huh.” Eddie frowned.
        “Look, I can refund your money or reschedule you for the first part of next season.”
        Eddie thought about the long drive he’d made, about their quiet split-level home…dying roses in a vase on the dining room table… a closet full of empty hangers…an oil spot on the garage floor where Vicky’s car had parked.
“What if I wanted to stay for a few days?” he asked.
Rick looked him up and down. “You can try…but the kitchen’s closed and I can’t have anybody messin’ with the stoves when I’m not here.”
        “What if you left cold food in my cabin?”
        “I don’ know, mister. I had a fire going past midnight here in the lodge and it still got as cold as a witch’s tit. That wind really screams down the valley.”
        “But my cabin has a fireplace, right?”
        “Just stack a load of wood inside and a couple boxes full of food. I’ll be fine.”
        “You spend much time in this kinda country?”
        “Not really…but don’t worry, I’m not going to wander off.”
        Rick shook his head, stepped into a side office, and took a key from the board. “Stay here and warm your bones while I go stock your place. It’s the duplex unit next door. You’ll have a great view of the meadow – and the deer should be comin’ outta the woods any time now.”
        “Does the cabin have electricity?”
        “Hell no.” Rick laughed. “It’s the kerosene lanterns that give this place charm.”
        “But my computer…”
        The innkeeper scratched his head. “Well look, I’ll leave the outer door open to the side porch. There’s a power outlet in there. But it’s gonna be damn cold.”
        “I got it.”
        Eddie sat on the stone hearth with his back to the flames and studied the empty room, picturing it full of summer families, a balmy breeze blowing through the screen. He remembered his vacation with Vicky and the kids years back, three weeks in a coastal village north of Guaymas. They ate beans and fish tacos, smoked some world-class weed, and watched sea lions and pelicans lay claim to the endless beach. I should have headed for Mexico. But with all the drug wars, I could get killed…for no good reason.
        Rick returned and handed Eddie the cabin’s key. “Okay, you should be set. There’s matches, kindling, the last of the firewood, and a couple boxes of food. Hope you like apple pie…we had a lot left. The lanterns are full and I put a can of fuel outside the door.”
        “Thanks. You leaving now?”
        “Yeah. I’ll stop at the ranger station in Chester and let ’em know you’re holed up here. They’ll probably drive back and check on you, if the road’s open.”
        “Doesn’t the National Park Service keep it clear?”
        “Not after the lodge closes. If it starts to snow heavy, you’d better get out.”
        Eddie nodded.

        What the hell am I?
        Eddie listened to the sound of Rick’s truck disappear into the powdered landscape. He grabbed his suitcase, computer and camera gear from the Honda and hustled inside. Rick had started a fire and the cabin felt toasty. He unpacked his clothes into a dresser and laid the Beretta on the nightstand, the gun’s oiled metal catching the firelight. From the window, he stared across the meadow at a patch of turquoise. What the… He zipped his jacket and left the cabin. Staggering though hip-deep snow, he stared up valley at the near-black trees and at Mt. Lassen. The volcano glowed pink in the twilight.
        As he approached, the patch of bright blue resolved into a standard-sized swimming pool, smoking in the cold air. A stream cut across the meadow and passed the pool. Eddie dipped a hand into it and yelped; the scalding water smelled like rotten eggs. The stream ran through what he guessed was a heat exchanger because a pool thermometer showed 104°. The wind died and the last of the sun’s rays shone between silver-edged clouds. Shaking, he stripped naked and slid into the pool, the hot water attacking his tight muscles until he let out a sigh and floated on his back.
        A coyote barked in the distance. A doe and two young mule deer emerged from the forest and slogged their way to a clear patch of grass. A buck with a beautiful rack joined them. Eddie cursed himself for not bringing the camera. He laid his head against the side of the pool and watched the rose-colored hills turn gray, felt Vicky beside him, whispering in his ear, their young kids in bed, a TV muttering in the background. She slid a soft hand inside his shirt and stroked his chest. He reached for her as they slipped to the floor. But the living room dissolved into a flaming oilfield in northern Kuwait. Eddie crouched behind the Bradley. His unit pressed forward against the Republican Guard, all the way to Baghdad their CO told them. The chemical smoke burned his eyes and nose. Sniper fire pinged against the vehicle’s armor.
        He stepped into the open…hobbled along the jumbo jet’s aisle and up the ramp into LAX. Vicky, the kids and her parents greeted him, pointedly ignored his bum leg, hustled him away to that real estate job, working for his father-in-law pitching overpriced homes, all good, all in the family, all neat and tidy, except for the drugs – to take the leg pain away, then to ease Eddie’s growing fear that his life was as good as it would ever get. He fell in love with three-drink lunches and with the new secretaries, each one prettier than the last, sympathetic about his disability. He knew he could have them, have them all…and he did. But Vicky caught him fooling around in his office.
        “What is this place,” she yelled, “the bimbo of the month club? Every time I come by, there’s some new babe sitting out front and you with that Cheshire cat grin.”
        “They don’t mean anything to me, honey.” It had sounded like a cliché.
        “You just wait, Eddie boy. The universe is gonna even things up between us.”
        Eddie opened his eyes to blackness and the cold light from a gibbous moon. He struggled out of the pool, his muscles tightening like steel bands as the frigid air hit wet skin. He groped for his clothes, gathered them up and charged through the snow toward the soft glow coming from his cabin. This is fucking crazy. I’m going to wake up with pneumonia…as if it matters. By the time he staggered inside, he couldn’t feel his feet or much of anything below the waist.
        After toweling off and stoking the fire, he climbed into bed. Picking up the pistol, he checked its load and stared at the flames. Another cliché…stupid…what the hell am I trying to prove? Dumping the gun into the nightstand drawer, he retrieved his flask and sipped brandy until the wind came up and shook the windows. Shivering, he pulled the covers over his head and slept. 

        What the hell?
        Eddie awoke to a quiet dawn with ice on the inside of the glass. He dressed, started a fire, and ate crunchy apple pie. The window facing the meadow stayed dark, as if an invisible curtain had been drawn across it. He filled a tin cup with water and set it on the coals. I’ve got some instant coffee in the car. Need something hot.
        He pulled on the cabin door and an avalanche of snow cascaded inward. The drift covered the outer wall. Eddie cleared the threshold then donned his jacket and Ray Bans. Outside, the sun shown like quicksilver on deep white powder. He fought his way through the drift to his almost-buried car and slid a trembling hand inside his jeans for the keys. Nothing. In a panic, he patted all his pockets, returned to the cabin and searched every inch. Still nothing.
        Shit…shit…shit! This ain’t good. He stared across the meadow at the swimming pool. The snowfall had erased all evidence of his naked dash the night before. But he pushed through it anyway, hoping to find the keys near where he’d stripped down. At pool’s edge, he stood bent at the waist, his chest heaving. He knelt and dipped his hands in steaming water. The fingers turned pink slowly and stung. His bad knee throbbed and he paced back and forth, rubbing his knuckles and muttering. Lines from one of the Cream’s blues songs dogged his thoughts:

        If it wasn’t for bad luck
        I wouldn’t have no luck at all...

        He searched the pool’s apron but found nothing. Back in the cabin, he let the fire steam his pants dry and thought about the time he and Johnny tried to steal old man Gorman’s Chevy. John said he knew how to slim jim a door and hotwire the car. But with neighborhood dogs howling and their flashlight blinking on and off, Johnny had chickened out. Jeez, the one thing that punk could have shown me that’s useful.
        Eddie flipped open his cell phone but couldn’t get a signal. He retraced his steps to the center of the meadow near the pool and tried again. Nothing. A gust of wind tore at his jacket and he hauled butt back to the cabin. The sky darkened. Wet snow fell in clots. He stayed inside all day, played games on his old laptop until the batteries died, and munched stale biscuits spread with Velveeta. By the fourth day he’d emptied one food box and neared the bottom of the second. His woodpile dwindled to a few meager pieces of green fir. After clearing the snowdrift from the window, he stared hard at the meadow, willing the park rangers to pull up on their ATVs and offer him a ride.
        A massive buck appeared at the edge of the forest and charged across the flats, the snow up to its shoulders. It climbed a rise and looked back toward Eddie, as if saying – a little snow is nothin’…ya don’t see me freaking out. A distant crack and a fountain of red sprayed from the buck’s neck. It fell onto its side, kicked a few times, then lay still. Eddie bolted from the cabin and clawed his way through the snow. He scanned the surrounding valley but saw only whiteness and trees.
        He screamed, “HELP ME! I NEED HELP!”
        The hills soaked up the noise. He waved his arms madly and dropped to his knees, coughing up phlegm. “Please help me…I don’t wanna…” The sound of the poacher’s snowmobile faded into cold silence.
        That night in his fever dream, Eddie’s small kids played in the surf, splashing each other and laughing. Vicky wore her two-piece, still slim, still able to turn the heads of the Mexican men surf fishing along the endless beach. I felt happy, headed in the right direction, and God, she was sexy. As she stood beside him, her body gathered age spots, crow’s feet, wrinkles under the eyes and chin. Her hair turned gray at the temples. Veins stood out on her calves. Eddie ran a hand through his thin hair and across a bald pate. Had it just been that? Another cliché? Getting old and kissing his libido goodbye? Vicky smiled and came into his arms, pressing herself against his body. Her warmth aroused him and he lowered her onto the hot sand.
        Eddie jerked awake. A rattling cough shook him and he stumbled to the bathroom and spat green mucus into the sink. His chest hurt and he felt hot. Pocketing the pistol, he dragged the cabin door open and forced his way through the latest snowdrift, the cold feeling good against his burning face. He found the open door to the lodge’s porch and lurched inside. His breath exploded in clouds and a shiver racked his body. He tried a solid wooden door. It didn’t budge. He aimed the pistol and squeezed off a half dozen rounds, the shots sounding muffled, distant. Kicking the door open, he walked into the kitchen but found the cupboards empty, except for half a bag of stale Fig Newtons that he devoured.
        He moved through the main room and into the tiny office, but came across nothing useful. Sitting at the desk, he sucked in frigid air, each breath painful. He lifted the receiver of an old rotary phone. The line crackled. He dialed 911, then tried 0, got nothing, scanned the bulletin board for emergency numbers. But his vision blurred and wouldn’t clear. He struggled to his feet and made it back to the cabin.
        Grabbing the half-full can of kerosene, he slogged through the snow to a lone fir tree at the edge of the meadow, doused its trunk and lit it. The bark smoldered, giving off clouds of smoke that rose into the dove gray sky. He moved into the open to watch it burn, but the smoke faded and the sodden needles failed to catch. Back inside, Eddie placed the remaining pieces of firewood on the coals and removed his shoes and socks to dry them. His toes looked blackish and had no feeling. He filled his canteen with the last two bottles of Moose Head beer. At least this stuff has calories…and the alcohol should kill the bugs eating my guts.
        He picked up the Beretta and checked its magazine. The gun felt comfortable in his hands. Two rounds left...enough. He stuffed two pairs of socks into his jacket, keeping a third to wear as gloves over his numb hands. A massive gust of wind slammed the cabin, shaking its walls. He stared into the distance and searched for the dead deer that stained the snow red, above the shimmering blue pool. He thought about the burning oilfields in Kuwait, the snipers picking them off, the beaches along the Gulf of California, and Vicky – her crooked smile, the creases in her forehead when she got mad, her quivering stomach when they made love.
        Eddie stepped outside, leaving the cabin door open. He pushed through deep snow and followed the road cut, heading toward that funky mini-mart with its glowing space heater. As he pressed forward, mounds of snow-covered boulders looked like frozen waves. He squinted and tried to focus, tried to ignore the chest pain. He felt the hot Mexican sun beat down through the trees as he stumbled toward Chester. I…I’m the last one leaving, he thought.

        From the tree line, the dark eyes of the doe followed him until his plunging form was small as a flake in the white distance.