The Cabin

by Ron Puskarich

Preface

The story of a young man alone on a cold winter night, stranded in a cabin in the Colorado Rockies.


Morningville, Kansas was a small town located between what the young people described as here and nowhere. It was one of those towns so small that someone could drive through it and never realize that they were ever there. This cool autumn morning found Ben Johnson drifting through thoughts as he passed by the old ball bearing factory. "Goodbye, old factory full of rats at night and unhappy workers during the day," he said quietly to himself. This was the morning Ben decided to change his life. His father, a twenty year employee at the plant pulled strings to get Ben a job two years ago and Ben has regretted it since. Sure, the money was good, but the job left Ben unsatisfied. He felt a shame that he had taken a job so minimal that a monkey could do it. That was the line his mother always used during an argument with his father. Ben remembered many times hiding behind his bedroom door listening to his parents belittle each other until his father, in a fit of anger, left the house and headed for Teddy's Bar, a getaway bar where all of the unhappy factory workers frequently hung out. It wasn't the job that made Ben decided to pack up and leave his hometown that morning, it was the pressure to do better than his father. Not so much from his mother, but from himself.

Ben found himself smiling as he saw the town getting smaller and smaller in his rear view mirror. He congratulated himself for saving up enough money to buy the old Toyota van, and enough left over to keep his head above water until he got to the West Coast, find a job and start a whole new life style. It would have been a nonstop trip, if not for the letter he sent to his Uncle Tom in Colorado, explaining his circumstances and wanting to borrow his one room cabin in the Rockies for a few nights. Ben's father always had plans to take Ben there on a father and son fishing weekend, but it was Ben's mother, or the demands of the factory that always postponed his father's plans. Tom was definitely Ben's favorite Uncle, and Ben always thought of patterning his life after Tom's care free life style. Ben's mother thought differently. She never hesitated to bring up Tom's name during one of the many family squabbles. He still remembers her screaming at the top of her voice, that no one in Ben's father's family had the brains and ambition to hold down a good job. It bothered her that Ben looked up to Tom, and Ben knew it.

It was around noon when the old Toyota hit the foothills of the Rockies, chugging and burning black smoke, as it inched it's way up the incline, just outside of Denver. I could walk faster than this, he thought as a stream of cars effortlessly passed on his left. He shifted down into low gear and settled back into his seat, wondering how his old clunker would handle the snowy roads that laid ahead in the higher elevations. The Rockies at that time of year have a tendency to surprise travelers with gentle flurries of flakes, drifting like a picture on a postcard, into a howling, where in the hell is the road, snow storm. Ben was hoping that this would not be one of those times.

It was late that evening when Ben pulled off of I-70 heading for Glenwood Springs. The air seemed much cooler now. Snow clouds could be seen lingering on the distant peaks surrounding the small town. It wouldn't be long before he would find himself outside of Follansburg, a town located about fifty miles down from Glenwood Springs. Ben's eyes caught the flashing lights of a nearby diner. Better stop for a quick bite before I head out of town, he thought. "Hello," greeted the lady behind the counter. "Grab any place you like, and I'll be right with you." Ben slid into the booth overlooking the parking lot. Can't believe the old van made it this far he thought. Ben ordered coffee and a special helping of meatloaf. "Always eat something that sticks to your ribs," his Uncle Tom would always say. "You'll never know when the next meal will come along." To Ben, Tom's advice always seemed so logical.

The road up the mountain to the cabin was gorged with ruts and boulders, causing the van to shudder and shake. He could hear the protruding stones grinding against the undercarriage as it crept along the narrow ruts. Ben had no problems following Tom's direction to the cabin, but Tom could have mentioned something about the condition of the road leading there. He also should have told Ben about the distance he would have to walk after parking his car at the base of the mountain retreat.

The sun was slowly settling behind the mountain when Ben caught first sight of the cabin. For some odd reason, Lincoln Logs jumped into his head. Just like the Lincoln Logs he got from His Aunt Mary on his fifth birthday. Brown logs and a green felt roof, not quite like the green slats of wood that came in his kit. The place wasn't much to look at, he thought, but it will serve the purpose. The wind was beginning to pick up, blowing leaves around Ben's legs like a welcoming committee of little wood elves. A glance to his right caught the nicely stacked pile of firewood left by his Uncle a few months earlier. The old wooden door squeaked as Ben pushed ever so lightly against it. The inside of the cabin was more or less what he expected. One room filled with all of the necessities of life, if someone was a hermit or a homeless person. He could tell that Tom hadn't spent much time there. There was an over abundance of cobwebs across the hearth reaching out in different directions like veins in an old ladies legs. The lighting consists of two partially filled oil lamps on the wooden table in the center of the room. The only heat would be supplied by the fireplace on the far wall. The darkness was drifting into the cabin windows when Ben decided to lay the fire for the evening. A rush of cold air slammed into his face as he opened the front door leading out the wooden porch. Glad I don't have to any further than the porch for the wood, he thought. Ben couldn't help notice his uneasy feelings as he reached for the first log. He could feel the hairs stand up on the back of his neck. Whoa, I don't want to go down that road, he thought. That road in his mind, was all the scary tales about cabins in the woods on cold winter nights. He was surprised to find himself a little unnerved, and moving a little faster than he intended to, causing him to drop a few pieces of wood as he headed through the front door.

Earlier in the day, on his van radio, the weather man called for gusty winds with heavy snow accumulations in the higher elevations. The glow of the kerosene lamp, combined with the flickering fireplace, cast a yellow glow on the cabin walls, causing a hint of security in Ben's mind. The wind was blowing hard against the old cabin windows when Ben heard a loud thud coming from the porch. Maybe the wind blew down the last piece of wood leaning against the cabin wall, he thought. Ben was startled by a quick movement across the window in his peripheral vision. What was that, Ben thought as he moved towards the window, wanting, yet not wanting, to stare out into the vast darkness. Reaching subconsciously for the fire poker as he crossed the wooden floor, Ben pressed his face against the window. The window pane exploded, causing Ben to stumble backward and fall against the back wall of the cabin. He could feel the warm blood running down his cheeks as he tried to return to some sense of sanity. The wind was now howling through the open hole in the cabin wall. The flicker of the Kerosene lamp caught the last gleam in Ben's eyes as he slid into a false security of unconsciousness.

The first light of dawn through the broken window, found Ben slowly coming out of his painful situation from the previous night. His first concern was the front door latch, which he saw was still intact. Whatever slammed against the window must have found the opening too small to enter the room. Maybe it was just a tree limb. Yea, just a tree limb blowing wildly in the wind, he thought. He slowly pulled himself up from the cabin floor, feeling a bit nauseous from the pain in his back, caused by the impact of bone against wood. Ben opened the front door and was greeted by the sun's blinding glare off of the freshly fallen snow. Got to look around, he thought. The log was still leaning against the cabin wall and there was nothing noticeable that could have made the loud noise from the night before. Ben slowly made his way around the cabin to check out the broken window. There were no tracks in the snow from the previous night. It wasn't until he saw the broken panes of glass lying on the ground that he realized the tinge of pain coming from his face. Oh man, he thought. Just what I need is a ... Ben stopped in mid thought when he realized that there was no explanation for the broken window. No tree branches, no signs of a dead or injured bird. Birds don't fly at night he thought. At least that's what he was always told. "I got to get out of here," he said, as he leaned against the mold covered wall of the cabin. Ben knew that leaving was not an option. The main road was a mile hike down the mountain. A hike he barely made when he felt one hundred intact. I'm in no condition to go that far now, he thought. Maybe with a days rest, I'll be able to attempt it. "That means staying here one more night," he said, realizing that he was now talking aloud to himself. Ben smiled. One day in seclusion, and already going off the deep end. Ben made his way back into the cabin. At least I have one more night's supply of wood, and a blanket stuffed in the window will keep out the cold night air.

The next day found Ben lying around the cabin, pampering himself from his aching back. I have to be better by tomorrow, he thought. He cringed while trying to find a comfortable position on the old lumpy mattress. Sleep was Ben's only escape from his previous situation, but sleep only brought the night sooner then he expected. Ben awoke in time to find the evening slipping into the night. Stiffness and pain had settled into the small of Ben's back, making it difficult and painful for him to rise from the bed. I've got things to do before nightfall he thought. Luckily, he brought enough wood in the night before. The window needed tended to, and the lamps needed to be lit. All of the scary stories, all of the scary movies, eventually seem to become reality in the right situations. Ben couldn't help keeping these thoughts from his mind. As hard as he tried, the morbid tales of gore and slash movies had saturated his memory for way too long. He had no idea what the weather would bring that night. More snow would make it harder to get back to the road. It was only then that Ben decided to search the cabin for anything he could use for protection. But, protection from what, he thought.

Follansburg was a small town located deep in the forest of the Colorado Mountains. On summer nights you can lie awake and hear the distant train slowly making its way through the valley. One could almost hear the clatter of the trains wheels as it moved down the tracks, but tonight was not one of those night. Tonight brought howling winds and heavy snow that covered the town with a threatening promise of downed trees and power lines. Tom Chanie could be found on a night like this in front of a cozy fireplace at the Fallen Soldier, a well known bar and grill, located at the end of town. The towns people knew Tom as a laid back type of person who was always ready to spin a yarn about mountain folklore. Some true, some false, like the night Tom saw the strange lights coming over the mountain slowly moving towards his cabin. He should have ran, but his feet, were no longer under his control. Tom could feel the heat from the huge craft as it slowly passed overhead. He never told that story. That's the one story that had no ending. His memory of that night to this day still eluded him. Tom raised his empty glass in a gesture that attracted the waitress, Linda Spear, from across the room. "Linda," Tom said, "tonight is one of those nights a man needs to reflect back on his life, to get an idea of where he's been, and where he's going. "Well one thing for sure," said Linda. "You're not going anywhere on a night like this." She laughed, slowly poured Tom's beer and walked back to her empty bar stool. Tom found his thoughts drift back to his only serenity, his cabin in the hills. He smiled when he thought of the letter from Ben, asking to use the place for a stop over on his way to the West Coast. Tom had always known Ben as a shy young man who refused to follow in his father's footsteps. A self made man, Tom smiled. Maybe that's why he felt sort of close to him. "Reminds me of someone I knew years ago," he said softly to himself. He could have picked a better time of year, he thought. He could have picked a better time of year.

Ben found the fire in the fireplace a little harder to control than the previous night. The wind was blowing down the flue, causing smoke to intermittently fill the cabin. Ben massaged his lower back as he stood near the hearth. The heat on his back from the crackling fire made the smoke in the small cabin tolerable. If only he could feel the same about the impending night, he thought. Ben made his way over to the wood pile that was stacked neatly in the corner near the broken window. The blanket seemed to keep most of the cold night air out, but didn't do much for Ben's security factor. As He bent down to pick up a log, he noticed the corner of the blanket slowly being drawn upward from the floor. Just the wind blowing at the blanket, he thought. Ben's eyes couldn't help but follow the direction towards the window. There was no doubt in his mind now that something was pulling the blanket back through the open window. Ben Lunged forward, hoping to grab onto the cloth, but it was too late. The blanket was pulled through the window with such a rush that the wind came howling in before Ben hit the wooden floor. Fear mixed with pain invaded Ben's mind as he rolled to the center of the room, searching for the last bit of safety in the old cabin. The room became pitch black as the wind extinguished the kerosene lamps, leaving only a flicker of light coming from glowing embers of the fireplace. The sounds of heavy thuds coming from the porch floor boards and the crash of the wooden door would be the last sound Ben would ever hear.

Late afternoon found Tom's old Ford truck slowly making it's way up the snow covered road to the cabin. Tom pulled behind Ben's van and noticed that the snow did not seem to have accumulated on or around it. He walked past the Toyota to climb the path to the cabin with his thoughts, still puzzled by the condition he found around Ben's car. When Tom reached the cabin, he was horrified by what he had found. The cabin seemed to have been pulled off the foundation stones, causing it to teeter, on the brink of collapsing. Tom neglecting his own safety, climbed onto the porch and ran through what use to be the cabin's front door. The interior of the cabin was completely trashed. "Ben," Tom screamed. There was no answer. Tom's eyes searched the destruction. What in the Hell happened here? He thought. Tom ran from the house to check the nearby woods. After hours of searching, his hopes of finding Ben slowly diminished. Ben could not be found. It was on the way back to the cabin that Tom again noticed the lack of snow around the place. This seemed so weird, yet so familiar, he thought. It wasn't long before his memory of that terrifying night, he saw the lights in the sky came rushing back. Tom sat in deep thought on the porch steps for hours, neglecting the falling snow, neglecting the time, and neglecting the strange lights coming through the trees as the sun slowly settled behind the mountain.

                                                                      The End

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