Outside, where the fire grows hotter

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Status: In Progress  |  Genre: Other  |  House: Booksie Classic

An unstructured short story about facing the incomprehensible. Based on a photograph I used as a visual prompt

I was used to it, almost. It happened enough that I almost expected it now, when he used to be a disturbance.

 The kettle whined and sputtered, a plume of steam sent to the ceiling as I delayed the moment, put off the final act until the comfort of a full mug warmed my hand. I took my time, filled the french press with slow, controlled movements. The cabin was just cold enough to warrant a sweater, just chilly enough to allow the comfort of wool on my skin. Usually, the scratch of the fabric caused anxiety. This morning though, it felt like a necessity.

Finally, I could wait no longer. It was apprehension I felt now. Hair on end, the shudder travelled down my arm before stopping somewhere near my hand, the coffee hot enough to ward off the nerves in the realm of my wrist. I made the couple steps forward, toward the front window. Outside was the lake. Behind me lay the entirety of the cabin. One single room that was broken in two by the small step towards the large bay window that faced the world outside. I took the step and then I was there, behind the curtain, the window dormant beneath the 50’s style duck pattern. I gripped it with my hand, a small breath inward before I slid it sideways.

The dock lay in glass, the early morning fog colliding with the still body of water that encompassed the darkened wood. At one point, the wood had been green, a dark sort of forest green that had faded and chipped away from the base layer over time. That was years ago now, when I was a child. Long before him.

And there he was, in his usual spot.

His perch was the single Muskoka chair. It sat on the left hand side of the wooden rectangle, sideways, facing the opposite side of the dock in a cement, orderly sort of way. I had long forgotten the origin of its position.

Had I placed it there, like that? Or him? Either way, I had never moved it, not after the first time.

That morning had been similar, although more painful. I had left the curtains open that night, the pinpricks of pain behind my eyeballs an indicator of how fucked up I had been. I had dragged myself from the bed, its position facing the window in the lowered area of the cabin. The priority was the bottle of wine that sat on the kitchen table, the cork gone but the darkened glass a tiny bit of hope in the death of a new day. And that’s when I saw him, standing at the table, raising the bottle to my lips. He caused me fear then. Pure, adrenaline soaked fear that made me jump, a small sound emanating from my wine soaked throat.

Today the bed had been moved, tucked back behind me, sheltered from the window by the slight jut of the cedar in between the two sections. That was the only difference, that and the absence of wine.

He looked the same, even after all this time. Each time he showed up, the fog provided backdrop, his hunched form framed by the vertical sky behind him.

He struck me as outdated, the blue plaid of his shirt and the orange khaki pants remnant of the grunge era, a Nirvana vibe reinforced by his long, shoulder length hair. He was young, always had been. It made me nervous, how little he had changed. He came once a week, at random intervals, each time wearing the same clothing, sitting the same way, hands deep in his pockets, legs tucked slightly beneath the chair, eyes staring straight ahead. That’s the part that scared me, the way his head sat there, unmoving, his gaze centred on something beyond the window, something far off to the right, somewhere down the lake.

That first time, I had retreated. Simple as that. I watched him for a moment, the wine bottle clenched in my hand. I could feel my heart beneath my ribcage, the way it beat irregularly, disturbed by the alcohol and the sudden dread that dragged me into a place of paralysis. And then it broke and I was at curtain, closed it with finality and dragged myself back to bed, the wine tasted over and over again with new desperation. At some point, I had come back,to the window, sometime later when the fog had lifted and the sun felt warm again. By that time he was gone and I could justify the whole episode as a irrelevancy. The lake was small and the cabins few. But there were cabins, and a campground. That first time was easy enough to write it off as a mistake.

But then he came back. A week later. And then a month later. And then it became a routine, my morning broke up into the appearance and disappearance of the man on my dock. He always left just as the fog began to dissipate, the outline of the mountain behind the lake beginning to show through the grey, its silhouette easier and easier to make out. I had never watched him long enough to see him stand. It was always in that moment that I moved away from the window. A sudden urgency to use the washroom, or pour myself a drink, or replace the contents of my coffee mug. A glance away from the window and at some point he had left.

 Even the surreal becomes routine.

I watched him as always. The morning looked like it always did. The fog and the dark and the undisturbed depth of the lake that stretched on either die of him. But something had changed. I felt it rise up, somewhere in the depths of my stomach, a sort of entertainment or notion. It was an idea that grew until I understood it. By that point it was impossible to let it go. It nagged at me with a force that rivalled my contentment.

How long had it been now? A few months? A year? It was impossible to tell. One thing was certain. It had lasted long enough without explanation. Without even the decency of action. And so I moved, before the fog lifted.

 I placed the coffee mug on the tabletop, used it as a ritual of finality, pried my eyes from the man and found my boots in a blur. They were on my feet before I cared to leave but it was happening and I rode that lack of control as long as I could.

I could control the screen door, keep the silence, but on some level I understood it as pointless and felt the vibration of sound clatter through the still air.

Alongside the outside of the cabin now, one hand trailing along the wood as the dock lay beyond the wall, hidden from view. I felt the solid world beneath my skin. Even on this side of the wall, it was enough to drag me forward, that temptation fuelled by the existence of the shelter beneath my fingerprints. But then I reached the end.

As the wall ended the dock came into view, the fog was there and the chair was there and there he sat, facing away from me at this angle. I felt the morning dew in my nostrils, an intense scent of wet soil invading my senses. It felt heavy, all around me. And there was something, a sort of burning scent, similar to sulphur but more metallic. It got stronger as I moved down the stone steps, walked forward with a robotic heaviness. My limbs were on autopilot, but unnatural as if even they knew something was off.

 I could see him now, his face staring straight ahead as I moved towards him, the slight gurgle of voice rising up from my throat. But it stopped there, its presence unnecessary. I knew it even more so, now that I was close. He knew more than I did.

Voice was pointless.

He sat on the end of the dock, a short distance of ten feet to cover. And still he stared, eyes deadened and unblinking. I hit the wood, felt the dock move slightly beneath my feet as I stopped.  

 And we stood there, frozen together his eyes staring forward into something that lay far beyond him, even further beyond me. And then He turned his head.

And the scent of fire began to overtake the air.

And I stared into his eyes, two pools of black that held no colour, only depth. And in the ink of his gaze I saw the reflection of orange, and felt the warmth at my back.

 Everything had changed.


Submitted: August 28, 2018

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