Mention of actual events that involve the taking of lives.
It all got a bit too hard. I had to retreat to heal. She was killed by snipers in 2002 while driving in her car in the D.C. area. Just a simple outing hoping to find a special gift for our anniversary. The same route taken daily to go to work. Nothing extraordinary about the day other then the fact that she was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Two snipers, a man and his pseudo son took to shooting random victims as a ploy to cover a murder scheme. My wife was killed along with several others during a 3-week reign of terror.
Finding a cabin in the back country became a welcomed distraction. The only distraction where I found comfort. Searching the northeast, I came across a sweet cabin in the Appalachian Mountains. Miles of unoccupied and seemingly uninhabited land. Humans were not privy to this celestial spot close to the heavens. Reaching up with my hands I could feel the pull of the galaxies. I felt close to my beloved.
Monthly I would stock my cabin with supplies limiting my exposure to human contact. Over the last 2 decades I have accumulated hundreds of manuscripts, keeping my mind sane. I learned to be self sufficient living in the wilderness. A set of astonishing skills that never entered my mind before they became a necessity of life.
Each winter morning, I would awaken to the sounds of nature, earthiness, innocence. The radiant sun sending it’s beams of warmth and sparkle over the purity of the clean fresh snow. I would collect wood for my fire at the suns first light and look forward to my morning cup of Joe resting alongside that toasty fire. It warmed my cabin and felt more like a home then I could ever have imagined.
My mind so at peace with this lifestyle choice. If I could undo the tragic events of that day, perhaps we would have found this holistic satisfaction together. I wonder about that. I wonder if Caroline would have taken to such a life. I talk to her constantly and imagine that she is here with me and that we at the very least have this in our lives as a getaway. Maybe if we were to have had children, they would love escaping to this magical spot, on school breaks. I write and write dreaming of all the possibilities of the different types of life we could have shared. But that’s all I can do and that reality hurts so much, I choose to live in my fictional dreams.
On one of my trips to the nearest town at the base of the mountain, I was followed by a dog. He was ratty looking and dirty. A wild dog? I was afraid to reach out and touch him as he was so mangy and hangry. His persistence forced my attention. As I brought my purchases to the truck and placed them in the bed, he watched from a distance. I made several trips to the truck dropping off, and each time, he was eyeing my movements. I asked one of the store owners if they were familiar with this dog. He replied, “Oh yes, that’s Maverick. His owner passed a few years ago, and each store puts out bowls of food. He’s been living on the street now for several years and with the help of the merchants, he’s managing.” “Can I pet him?” “Is he tame?” “Oh, sure the merchant replied, he’s a sweet dog. He just looks awful.”
“Hey boy, hey… (I make a ticking sound while holding out my hand). Maverick was not moving closer, he just kept watching. Heading over to the pet store, I picked up a box of Milk-Bones and went back enticing Maverick to come. “Hey boy, look what I got,” as I held the milk bone protruding through my fingers. Slowly Maverick started to gain trust and made his way toward the treat. He stopped short as if to say, meet me halfway, and I obliged him and threw it. He ran, picked it up and ran back to his bird’s eye spot. “Okay, I’m off. Nice to meet you Maverick,” and with that I left.
The ride to town was always several hours between the shopping and the trip itself. I was two hours from a large shopping municipality.
Upon my return home, as I was unloading the truck, I noticed the cabin door slightly ajar. I grabbed my rifle (one of those items I never knew I would need in my lifetime) and slowly pushed the door open with the muzzle of my gun as I peered in, standing off to one side. My concern was that it might be a grizzly. They are usually fine if you don’t bother them but if he was in the cupboard, he would be plenty annoyed that I’m disrupting his find. My one room cabin made it difficult to hide. I definitely did not see a bear. But I did see a human sleeping on my sofa. I put down my gun and entered the cabin. Hello. Hello. This person was clearly either hurt or exhausted. Facing against the back of the couch, I couldn’t tell if it were a small man or a woman or even a child. They were covered in heavy ski clothing and covered by my fur blanket. Again, I said, hello, but much louder this time. He turned over. It was a young boy. Sleepy and rubbing his eyes, he jumped up and said,
I’m so, so sorry. I just needed to get warm, and I fell asleep. I’m so sorry. He stood terrified and started to run.
Wait, Wait a minute. It’s okay. I get it. You needed a place to crash. But how did you get here. I mean, I am so far off them beaten path. How did you manage to get this far into the woods atop this mountain?
I was skiing with my mom, and I wanted to check out the back country. My mom and I ski often, and I usually wander off the slopes to find fresh snow, but I have never gotten lost before. My mom must be frantic. I don’t have a clue as to how long I’ve been searching for a way back.
You must be starved. Let me get you some food and then I will drive you back to town where there’s phone reception and you can call your mom. Can you feel your fingers and toes? Does anything feel numb? I want to be sure you’re not experiencing frost bite.
No, I’m okay. I have these gloves and socks that hold my body heat. I feel fine, just tired and hungry.
What’s your name? I’m Jack.
I’m Jack also!
Really, so ironic.
Yes. I’m named after my dad, I’m Jack Jr. although no one refers to me like that. He was killed in Afghanistan by a sniper.
I’m so sorry, Jack. That’s truly awful. How old are you? I’m 13. Where do you live? I live in Ellijah.
Oh, okay, not too far from here. Here’s some tomato soup and a grilled cheese sandwich. I’m making you hot chocolate. The bathroom is over there, and you are welcome to make yourself at home.
Thank you, Mr. Jack. I feel so much better but I’m so worried about my mom.
We will get you reconnected with your mom shortly. Don’t worry. You’re safe now and we will get that news to your mother as soon as you’re all set to go.
Honestly, I’d like to go now. Can I just take the sandwich in the car?
You got it Pal, let’s go.
Jack Jr. fell asleep in the truck, he was exhausted. I suppose the warmth and the food, helped him to relax a bit. I was concerned about hypothermia, but he seemed okay. Perhaps only a bit confused.
As I am driving into town, it occurred to me that the local police station would be the best place to try and make contact with his mother. Just a phone call to her from a random place might be suspect and I wanted to be sure that I was not accused of anything concerning this boy.
Dusk was upon us, the very worst time to try and make it down the mountain. I knew we would be okay, but I also knew it would take much longer as the temperature dropped and the roads developed black ice. My ride back tonight would be extremely dangerous on the ice-covered mountain roads. But this was an errand of mercy and I was up to the challenge. I didn’t realize how much I missed having someone to talk to until I had Jack in my cabin and really enjoyed the company. He was my first and only visitor in 20 years.
Finally, around 7 pm we were arriving at the closest precinct. The police saw us entering the building and surrounded us immediately. They took the boy away and asked me to sit down and to remain, they had questions. Jack was no where in sight. I assumed they had been searching for him. They seemed to know who he was so they must have had a picture. Before I had a chance to explain how it came to be that we were together, they brought me into an interrogation room. I kept trying to say that I’m returning him, that he was in my cabin, but the more I spoke, the more defensive I sounded prompting them to be more suspicious of me.
Please listen officer, please, I am innocent bystander. Jack wandered into my cabin. I gave him something to eat and brought him here to reunite him with his mother.
Well, Mr.?, what did you say your name was again?
I didn’t. You never gave me the chance to say anything. My name is Jack Sommers. I live atop the mountain in a cabin and have done so for more than 20 years. This boy was exhausted and lost. I am just helping him. That’s all.
We will have to confirm your story with the boy before we can let you leave.
Okay. Please do. I’m sure that will not be an issue.
I sat on that cold, hard bench for nearly 2 hours while they debriefed the boy and hopefully phoned his mother.
I was not handcuffed but, I was being watched carefully through the glass. This was so frustrating. The good feelings that I had connecting with someone after all these years, is now being overwhelmed by this injustice. I understand that they have to be sure that the boy wasn’t taken but this really speaks to, no good deed goes unpunished.
Finally, the desk sergeant calls me over and says, you are free to leave. We have confirmed your story. So sorry Mr. Sommers for keeping you but we had to be sure.
"I understand," I said. But in my head I'm thinking I'm kind of happy to head back to seclusion where human drama doesn’t touch me. I think I ‘ve had enough for one lifetime.
Just then, Jack comes beaming out and throws his arms around me and says, "Thank you Jack. You were so kind and made me feel safe. I was so frightened that my life was over, and I credit you with saving my life. My mom really wants to meet you. Can you wait for her arrival? She’s on her way and will be here in an hour."
I was losing my faith in humanity but his sweet ask and sincerity softened my doubts. It’s probably a good idea not to drive back up the mountain at this hour.
Yes, I will find a hotel for the evening and wait to meet your mom.
Thank you, Mr. Jack.
The officers asked us if we wanted anything while we waited. They inferred that I was able to leave and come back but Jack was unable to go with me. I remained with Jack and a pizza was brought in. Jack and I sat in the interrogation room, with Pizza and cokes and enjoyed talking and getting to know each other. He’s a great kid. Good student and on the varsity tennis team. Loves and deeply cares for his mom. We talked and talked. He really misses his dad. I hesitated in telling him about my wife. I felt his trauma was significant enough that hearing that I lost my wife in the same way that he lost his dad, might frighten him more then he needed to be.
I discussed my wife and that we married young, right after college. We were married 3 years before she passed away. That was more than 20 years ago.
We heard a commotion in the background and Jack recognized his mom’s voice. She was crying and loudly asking for her son.
"Where is he? Is he Okay? Please take me to him."
The door opened and Jack flew into her arms. She was sobbing. She and Jack just hugged and hugged.
"I’m never letting you go. What happened? Where did you go? I’m so grateful you’re, okay."
I’m okay, Mom. Thanks to Mr. Jack. He took care of me and warmed me and fed me. He brought me to the police station so we could contact you. I’m really okay and I’ve met someone I really enjoy talking to.
She looks up and sees me just observing quietly. She let’s go of Jack with one arm but holds onto him with the other. She reaches out her free hand and looks straight into my eyes and thanks me with the most heartfelt words. I felt those words penetrate my heart. It was the way she looked at me that melted me.
I hid from the world for so long. Perhaps I’m ready to go back into society and once again re-engage.
She thanked me profusely and so did Jack. We vowed to see each other again.
As I exited the station and walked over to the motel, I saw Maverick sitting and watching.
I went into my truck and grabbed a milk bone.
Hey, boy, come mere…come boy.
Maverick remembered me or the milk bone. Perhaps both and came running.
Come on boy, let’s give you a bath and if you smell good enough, you can sleep in my bed tonight.
Come’ on Pal, I think it’s time for you to have a home again…
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Nice story! A bit fast paced I'd say, but overall it was enjoyable. The prompt was taken in an unusual way, I never expected the protagonist to find Jack at his house. Great work!
Thank you so much for reading- I love the feedback- I’m going to take a look with the pace in mind and see where I can make adjustments. I watch my word count like a clock, perhaps I should look turn off the alarm!