Saturday, March 03, 2007

conscience kills the cat

He ate slowly, a laptop open on the kitchen table behind the bowl of soup and a mug of Chai tea.
He quickly forgot the intrusion, or thought he had, until he finished eating, when, as he arose to place bowl and spoon in the dishwasher and glanced outside at the mounting drifts, he was struck, reluctantly, by the improbability of it.
His nearest neighbor was twelve miles away.
Where did the boy come from?
He stood frozen, capitulating to the hateful notion that someone was intruding in his personal space.
David Copperfield sat upright by the leg of the table, regarding him with a kittenish cocked head. Joshua made his decision in a decisive, sudden movement toward the sink, causing Copperfield to attack his leg and Ebenezer to sit up quickly, ears pricking forward.
It was no good not knowing.
He'd constructed and sanctified this universe of his too long and too jealously to ignore the intrusion.
Neighbors, with kids, this close, was as the introduction of sin into the garden of Eden.
He shrugged into his coat and began lacing his boots, leveling a stern gaze at the eager Ebenezer. The dog was definitely staying. He'd have the intruders sought out and befriended before Joshua made it out of the yard.
He slipped out onto the porch and shut the door firmly behind him.
The tracks of his visitor were softening in the continuing snowfall, visible now as slight depressions in the deepening banks.
He followed quickly, but watchfully, not wanting to be seen before he saw.
The tracks continued down the road for a good mile, ricocheting off both sides of the road, sometimes detouring off into the woods a few steps, where gleamed the fresh wood of a broken branch or once, a partially assembled miniature snowman, lacking a head and sporting one arm.
The trail continued so, until at an upward left-hand curve in the road, the tracks followed instead a logging trail that forged straight ahead off the main road.
Here, the tracks began to straighten and the stride seemed to lengthen.
A destination seemed imminent.
The trail dropped off suddenly down a steep grade, leaving Joshua to wonder how a logging truck would possibly manage.
The snow was steadily consuming the forest, piling on the slenderest branches three and four inches deep, clinging to the rough pine bark like cumulus moss, creeping up the tree trunks, slowly obscuring any color or depth-perception.
The world closed in around him. The drooping clouds were impenetrable. Visibility was limited by the deepening drifts and the clustering puffs of snow that grew inexorably on every horizontal, diagonal, and vertical surface. Every color save white was being blotted out. He was going snow-blind.
A stiff breeze accompanied the storm, whirling the flakes into a maddening flurry, brushing his cheeks, resting on his eyelashes, blurring his vision.
He wasn't fond of hats but was wishing for once he'd neglected his wardrobe preferences and thought of comfort.
He frequently reached his hand up to brush the snow from his bare head before it had a chance to melt and then freeze again in his hair.
He almost walked right past it.
A little ways off the trail, a horizontal angle flickered at the corner of his blurred vision.
In the chaotic honesty of nature, the curves and crooks and spider-webbed branches, the tiny glimpse of man-made uniformity jumped out at him.
He stood very still, squinting into the wind, straining to see the now barely visible tracks and where they led. Tracking the boy was quickly becoming guesswork in the deepening snow.
He couldn't be sure.
Afraid of being spotted, although he had no proof as yet this was where the trail ended, he stood in his tracks for a long while before finally deciding to backtrack a little and get off the trail into the trees where the snowfall would be limited by the obstructing branches.
He found a spot under two crowding pines and hunched down, and studied the structure before him.
He'd seen it before, knew it was here, and if it hadn't appeared (possibly) that the tracks led to it, he wouldn't have considered looking here.
It was a very small, extremely rustic A-frame cabin, probably an old hunting headquarters, framed with odds and ends of lumber and particle board and supplemented heavily by young pines with the bark still remaining. The door was a sheet of plywood. A strip of rubber, formerly functioning as a hinge, hung cracked and dry on the four-by-four doorjamb and swung freely in the wind. The door was, however, apparently fastened or braced from within, as it fit snug against the doorjamb revealing only a half-inch crack at the top.
A drift obscured his line of vision to the bottom of the door, the sight of which would no doubt tell him if this were the unlikely end of the trail. If snow had drifted up on the door, he could move on, if it were swept back, the trail ended here and he would have no choice but to investigate. Neighborly he wasn't, but neither was he cruel. If the boy were here, he obviously couldn't stay, and if he wasn't, well . . .he'd cross that bridge later.
The whiteout was beginning to make his eyes ache. He opened them wider, straining. Multi-colored spots blotted his vision.
He shut them for a moment, tightly. The spots multiplied, bursting fireworks fading into blackness.
He kept them closed, wondering how long he could wonder around out here before the storm became a real blizzard and he became more lost than the boy he was looking for.
The wind gusted, nudging at the plywood door.