He disliked the idea of heading home without the dog.
He stood at the crest of the mountain for a long while, facing south.
The lonely distant drone of an aircraft reached him and he looked up, just in time to see a black silhouette float through a hole in the increasing cloud cover; a charcoal triangle moving slowly across the sky, a Stealth fighter.
The image was surreal, as always,the sense of the quiet savagery of the wild, undeveloped mountains so indifferently conquered by cold technology. He had lived here for years, and still felt the chill of isolation, the science fiction sense of being stranded on an island of wilderness in the midst of a bustling world. To the north, the brooding beauty of the mountains virtually disappeared under a colorfully clashing world of tourist attractions. To the far east, the mountains weakened and broke into long, sloping plains of tall, yellow grass. To the south, a barren expanse of Army appropriated land met the concrete desert of a combined metropolitan population of 3 million souls. And to the west lay the home of the black falcon now floating through the high desert sky; an Air Force nerve center of legendary importance and secrecy.
Yet here he dwelt, in the comfort of his self-imposed exile in a land where you could walk for miles and miles through the forest and never find any more definite signs of civilization than an occasional boulder-strewn logging trail, invariably made impassable to anything other than pedestrian travel by a heaped-up burm of soil and rocks.
When he'd first moved here, the solitude, so long sought, had quickened his spirits in a hundred different ways. Now it had become a way of life, a routine that suited, not excited.
Yet some peculiar propensity for loneliness carried him quickly through the years in a pleasant fog of contentment, and the affection he harbored for his way of life and the contempt he held for the general population grew each time he was forced to leave his nest and rub shoulders with reality.
At length, and still not bearing in mind any particular course of action, he stirred and took a look around.
And took in a sharp breath.
Ten feet away, underneath a wretched, drooping pine, stood Ebenezer, watching him, head held high, gaze inscrutable.
A knifing wind froze on the trees, and Joshua felt a prickling numbness in his cheeks
A pause, and Joshua shuffled one foot forward.
The husky's shoulders hunched and his head lowered, still watching.
Joshua stood completely still, fascinated.
Until a sense of humor touched him. This was ridiculous. The pitiful excuse for a graveyard, probably some long gone backpacker's attempt at cryptic immortality had flung a smothering mantle of melodrama over that was now wearing hot and prickly.
He squatted and scooped up a handful of snow, molded it and hurled it at Ebenezer, who sprang aside deftly and landed in a playful crouch, the spell broken.
They got back to the cabin an hour later, after an uninterrupted beeline from the top of the mountain to the front steps of the cabin.
David Copperfield stirred lazily from his post on the back of the chair in front of the fireplace, shook his head, and sprang lightly in front of Ebenezer.
They greeted casually with a quick whiff, the animal equivalent of a brief nod, and Ebenezer proceeded to his water bowl, leaving an idly curious David Copperfield to watch Joshua shed his boots and coat.
This accomplished, Joshua scooped up the cat and slumped in the same chair.
Copperfield appeared to be done with sitting for a time, however, escaped and bounded toward the utility room, where he shared his eating quarters with the husky.
Joshua closed his eyes for a minute.
He opened them to behold a decidedly late evening hue of sunshine streaming through his bedroom window, spilling out into the hall, bathing the living room floor in an orange glow, and splashing over the stone fireplace in front of him.
The unscheduled length of the nap disoriented him for a few moments, as he leaned forward and rubbed his face in his hands. He looked toward the kitchen, trying to remember what he'd planned to eat.
A pot of stew, made yesterday.
Joshua dined largely on stew, soup and chili. His array of spices, measured and applied in precise amounts, were of an eclectic variety, gleaned from various cooking sources and magazines. He'd even taken to online foraging for recipes, variations on vegetable soup, and odd herbally-influenced concoctions of cider and tea. He took a great amount of care in food preparation, with special attention to appearance. If the coloration or consistency displeased, he scarcely bothered with discriminating taste, he threw it out. In this manner, he'd avoided belonging to that tired stereotypical subculture of bachelors to whom fine dining was Buffalo Wild Wings and good home cooking was Hungry Jack's.
He removed the pot of stew from the refrigerator, placed it on the stove on low and went to check his e-mail.
Book Review: Peace for Today
10 months ago