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Adventure Sad Fiction

“In an instant, everything can change.” I say as I close the door to the truck and start the engine. I look over at the recipient of that answer, Penelope. Penelope is first and foremost, to try and avoid any type of confusion, a dog. A rather special dog. She is a faded cream color spotted with auburn speckles. On her back sits an acorn shaped spot, directly between her two hind legs. She growls at some deer as we head down towards town, about a twenty minute drive down forest service roads with a full load of freshly cut douglas fir in the bed. Sawdust coating my jeans and shoes as I navigate the roads while shifting in and out of first and second gear, the engine groaning with each and every shift. Penelope looks concerned and is shifting all of her weight into the bucket seat she is sitting in, tattered and torn up from years of abuse. As we turn around the bend right past the makeshift shooting range Penelope begins howling and barking with a tone that I’ve not heard her use before. I slow down the truck and try to calm her down. Before I can realize it, not ten feet from the side of the truck is a large Black Bear, with two cubs at her side. I sit and watch them for a few moments. The sow was not taking her eyes off of the truck as we sat there. The cubs whining and swatting at her to get on with it. The bear didn’t budge. It didn’t take its eyes off of us. At this point Penelope's barking has lessened into an inaudible growl, accompanied by a very visible shake. As If every molecule in her body knows that this is not safe. I take my foot off of the brake, and start heading down towards home. 

“You don’t always have to make a scene.” I say as we reach the bottom of the hill. “I mean, I get aggressiveness with the bear, but I wanna talk to you about the gas station earlier. That guy was just trying to say hi and you were acting crazy.” She stares at me with a blank stare. I say to myself out loud “Maybe I'm crazy, I'm the one trying to have effective communication with a dog.”  As I head down the two lane highway, firewood in tow, I come upon the lake to my left and I decide to take a break there for a moment and let Penelope get some of that bear energy out. As I pull into the parking spot I get a much better view of the mountains hanging high above the lake in the foreground, icy and cold, deep and forgiving. The reflection looks like glass as a bird flies across the sky, making a spectacle of itself and its impossible partner reflecting back into the endless depths of the water. I open up the door and she bolts out, throwing the blanket up and tearing towards the water, where a perfect stick floats, waiting to be torn to shreds as Penelope picks it up and shakes it around. She runs towards me, drops the gray and red stick on the ground and I pick it up and before I can even try to identify the type of tree this branch came from, a loud ear piercing bark, echoing throughout the lake, bounces off of its glassy surface. I throw the stick and with little to no hesitation, she bolts off, throwing her back feet in the air and ripping her front paws against the dirt below to get to the stick as fast as she can. I throw the stick a few more times and then I get her to load up into the truck and we head home. I shift into first gear and slowly let the clutch go, something I was completely unfamiliar with until a few months ago. The truck lurches forward and dies. She  looks at me with her trademark blank stare on her face and i say “Everyone stalls don’t judge me.” I finally get moving and get back on  my journey home.

As Im driving up the highway I take note of the marvelous mountains that sit not so far away. Large, towering mountains capped in snow, making a rare winter appearance due to a break in the clouds. I think about how different things are now, how just six months ago I was surrounded by concrete, and people. Two things I don’t come across too often in this place. A place nestled between the pacific ocean and towering mountains, spiked for endless miles with  some of the tallest trees you’ll ever see. There’s a near constant mist in the air, especially on a December day like this one. As I come to the entrance to the farm I see Caleb riding his tractor through one of the fields, prepping the beds for a winter's rest, until spring when they can bring new life upward, down from below, an endless collection of root systems, effortlessly communicating with one another. Again, something I was totally unfamiliar with just a few months ago. I keep my eyes on the road due to Cosmo, the delightful Australian shepherd who will run right next to any vehicle coming down the road. He gets close enough to scare you, but never close enough to get hurt. And just as I take my eyes off the road, I see him, his beautiful red coat caked in mud and dirt, hurling itself towards us, anxiously awaiting the arrival of his best friend, Penelope. I open the door and Penelope hops out onto the ground, and before I can even say anything, they both take off into the fields, bounding and wrestling with no cares in the world. I pull off behind the shop, a large red building made of wood that has stood the test of time, and is held up by logs that are older than time itself. It's a sturdy workshop illuminated with just one simple light outside of the door. I turn the corner around the shop and pull up in front of home. Home is a 1986 Bluebird School Bus measuring 40 feet in length. It has been stationary for about twenty years. Its yellow shell is now covered with army green paint, chipping away and revealing its history underneath. I get out of the truck and walk towards the bus, careful to not get too much mud on my shoes, which is almost an impossible task these days. I walk up to the bifold door just Like i did when I was 7 years old, catching the bus for the first time with my brother. Except this time, I'm all alone, and nobody is there to open the door for me. I have it figured out that if you hit the door at just the right spot, with just the right amount of force, you can pop the door right open. “Works everytime” I say to myself as I walk in and pull the lever to close the doors behind me. A chill fills the air, and I can see my breath. “Time to get to work” I say to myself as I grab a handful of kindling and open the door to the wood stove. It’s dark here this time of year, almost eerily dark. Sunrise is typically around 8 am and sunset is a little after 4 pm, but with the cloud cover, it feels dark all the time. The light is shining in through the windows of the bus, which is nice, but allows for the bus to get unreasonably cold. I get the kindling situated in such a way that guarantees me a successful fire. Something I’ve become exceedingly efficient at in the past few months. It takes awhile for the fire to get to a point where the bus is warm enough. I decide to go outside and unload all of the wood from the back of the truck and try to get a fire going out there to make sure I have more than enough light to make it through the job. Light is fleeting, and i’ll take any substitute I can get. I break up a pallet and lay it down on the fire pit and douse it with gasoline. I drop a match and in an instant, light is roaring all around me, illuminating and warming me as I begin unloading the rounds of wood from the bed of the truck. I toss them indiscriminately onto a ratty tarp that lays on the ground in front of the truck. The firelight glowing and embering next to it. The mist is staying steady at this point, but the fire is burning. I remember my indoor fire and grab a few pieces of cured firewood from my stack next to the door.  The fire inside has got some good coals as a base and I look adjust the dampers and load a few logs into the fire. The bus has warmed up slightly by this point, so i decide to hangout in there for a little bit.  I light my candles and the lantern and sit down and the photograph that hangs above the windows is reflecting just enough light to make out the smiling faces. Faces I was once so familiar with. A face of my own, smiling next to the face of my brother, Paul. I take the photo down and look at it with warm memories. Tears begin to drip down my face as I think of all of the good times we had. Times that up until a year ago, were slated to continue happening. I gently turn the photo over and inscribed on the back In Paul’s handwriting I read “In an instant, everything can change.” How proohetic. I look at the calendar and it didn’t occur to me until this point. “A whole year? It can’t be.” I say as I pour my jug of water into a pot on top of the wood stove. I need some tea to warm my body from the inside. The fire in the stove at this point is crackling and replacing the chilled wet air with warm dry air.  I light up a cigarette and walk back to the bed, being guided by the candles that line the walls. I fall back on the bed and think back on the past year. How I ended up at this point, with no electricity, no running water and no way to heat except by burning wood. It has shown me the true beauty of everything. I gave up a life of luxury for this, I had everything I had ever wanted, and more. Then one day, exactly one year ago today, everything changed in an instant. 

When I got the call I was driving my Black 2018 Acura down the highway, with a Starbucks coffee sitting in the cup holder, steam billowing from the tiny hole where the black coffee leaves the cup. “Your brother passed away this morning.”  Were the words on the other end of the phone that forced me to pull the car over and vomit. At that exact moment, my priorities shifted. I spent the next few months trying to figure out how to make sense of all of this. I had to make a decision to strip myself of every single convenience I could so I could focus all of my energy on the process of understanding the scope of that exact moment. That cold December morning, snow falling from the sky above Cleveland, blanketing the concrete, almost hiding it entirely.

As I’m laying in my bed, looking still at the photograph of He and I, Penelope comes galloping towards the bus. The sun has been setting for quite some time and like clockwork, she runs and barks one time at the door. As she comes up the stairs I stop her and wipe the mud and oil off of her paws and legs. She gives a good shake to get the water off of her and heads directly for the bed. She jumps up and curls up in a ball in the corner where the emergency exit door sits. I head outside to put out the last of the fire that is slowly billowing smoke into the sky. It is a clear night, and without cloud cover there is no insulation to hold the heat in, so it’s bound to be a chillier than normal night. I grab a few more logs from the wood pile and head inside. I click off my headlamp and blow out all the candles and lanterns as I walk towards the bed. I am immersed in total darkness.  Tomorrow I will split the wood, stack the wood, and repeat what I did today. The rain taps away on the painted steel roof of the bus, and the fire is crackling in the stove as I drift slowly to sleep, clutching the photo in my arms. As I fall deeper into the twilight between sleeping and awakening, I lose grip of the photo and it slides onto the floor and rests there. I am content. I am warm, I am grateful. 

February 09, 2023 19:33

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1 comment

Wendy Kaminski
22:41 Feb 14, 2023

Enthralling story, Jeremy. We never know quite what happened, and I think that was very effective for the story. It relates the feeling of what I suspect is the narrator's, in the face of that tragedy. I love the simple, back-to-basics lifestyle he's built for himself and Penelope; very comforting, and I thought your final line just nailed it. Thanks for sharing this, this week, and welcome to Reedsy!

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