Family tragedies, knives, deserted, wintry forests, wolves, and, well, the stuff of fantasy.
This is yet another story I don’t remember writing, and was written in the early years (1989), but as I stumbled upon it, it just captured my fancy as such an odd little story. A cool one, so I moved it up in the line-up…especially since we just had a blizzard dumped on us (March 23rd), two days later, another eight inches. And this week? A couple more days of fast moving snow squalls. It’s still snowing outside my window….
This story has never been published.
© F. P. Dorchak, 1989
“No! Don’t do it! Please, don’t—”
The shrill screams pierced through the frigid, moonlit night, originating behind the closed doors of a mountain cabin. Behind tattered, backlit curtains forms moved…jerked…flickering images engaged in a heated argument. Yelling. Pleading. Crying.
Outside, smoke from the chimney mixed with blowing snow.
Out from the door dove a dark form.
The shadow was far from maturity…short in height and small in frame…and it plunged directly into the several-foot-deep accumulation of snow. Behind the small-framed shadow—her—the door was left open.
Shelain collapsed face-first into the snow.
“Mommy! Why? Daddy—why?”
But her cries only fell upon the hushed ears of a snow-packed forest.
Blood on her clothes.
Shelain lie face down in the snow, arms covering her head, and sobbed….
She looked up. Into the woods before her.
She didn’t need moonlight to see. She knew what was out there. Snow. And trees. Lots of both and little respite from either.
Shelain had grown up in this forest. She had always been a fast learner. In better times her parents had remarked at how good she’d been in finding her way back home while out hunting. That she could survive in the snow if she had to (she’d built her first igloo at the age of five), and that making fires and snaring food was now quite commonplace to her. Her parents knew she could survive, and so did Shelain. She was a tough little girl, and now she would be put through her right of passage.
Shelain didn’t understood what had happened between her father and mother, only that it had happened…and that was all that mattered just now. But she also knew she couldn’t live here anymore. This had been a home, now it was a tomb—and the living didn’t live in tombs.
She did not want to go back in there.
The woods were her only option. Yes, she would go there. She would go to the woods and find a new place. But before that was to happen, she needed things. And that meant…
Going back inside.
And she did not want to do that.
As soon as she got back up to her feet, she felt her head pound, like the outsides had moved too fast for the insides, and her insides were ready to explode…her heart….
Shelain stood. Wiped snow off herself, and turned.
Entered the cabin.
On the floor were—
She moved around them.
She was unable to take her eyes off what now lay on the floor.
But her father’s woods training and her mother’s practicality took over and she immediately set upon collecting what she needed. She grabbed food and clothes. Water wouldn’t be too much of a problem this time of the year, but she took a flask or two anyway. Putting on as many pieces of outer wear as she deemed practical and useful, she slung the pack over her back and
The floor still mocked her. She couldn’t ignore them.
Stooping, Shelain went to her father…unable to look directly at him. She searched around him before she found what she was looking for. Removing it, she put it into her jacket.
His hunting knife. Now it was hers.
Shelain went to her mother.
She was also unable to look directly at her. She went to her hand. Shelain removed the wedding band. Like gutting a trout or cleaning a rabbit, her emotions suddenly seemed turned off.
That was enough.
Pocketing the band she strode out the door, not bothering to close it.
She felt the crunch of the snow beneath her feet, and headed around to the side of the cabin, adjusting her pack. She pulled her snowshoes out from their snowy groves alongside the building and put them on. She’d gotten these two birthdays ago. She was very adept in them, even able to run in them, dodging in and around trees….
“It’s going to be a cold winter,” she said to no one. She stood back up and looked off into the moonlit night.
Off she trekked, into the dark tree line of the forest.
Shelain felt as if she was living one of those fairy tales her parents had so often read to her as a child.
But she was a child no longer.
As prepared as she was, she had forgotten two very important things. One was that she might not be as energetic about things after the shock and the jolt had worn off. Two, she had completely forgotten that she had not yet eaten that night.
She figured she’d been walking for several hours (this she did by the movement of the stars), and though she was young and strong, she needed food and rest, and now was as good a time as any to stop. Unloading her pack, she collapsed against a giant snow-covered fir, careful as to not knock any of the snow capping off. She might end up needing the tree as shelter and would need the snow for insulation.
Fishing through her pack’s contents, she removed a small salted slab of venison, immediately digging into it.
She watched the stars.
Then heard the noise.
Only moving her eyes, she surveyed the dark…through the trees and back from the direction she’d come.
She’d been followed.
How stupid of her! She knew better!
The moon lit her trail, but that wasn’t all it had lit up. It also lit up a second trail which had veered off on its own into the woods mere paces away. It didn’t take an expert to know that she was being followed.
Shelain slowly placed the remainder of her venison on the snow.
She sat. Listened.
There came the low, throaty rumblings again….it was all around her.
She positioned her pack firmly in front of her; held it with both hands.
All her training had not prepared her for this. She was alone now, no father to get her out of this one. No mother.
The rustling came closer, the growls no longer muted.
Shelain saw the wolves emerge from the darkness. She could actually see their eyes.
Four of them.
Slowly coming to a stand, Shelain kicked the chunk of venison toward the advancing pack. That tiny morsel wasn’t going to satisfy anything. She stayed close to the tree. Shelain felt her mind beginning to go limp…lose its focus.
Fear was taking over. She’d felt this once before.
The wolves closed in…formed a semi-circle….
Three went for the venison…but the fourth charged her.
Pack forced firmly out before her, Shelain managed to deflect the wolf off to the side, but it quickly got back up and resumed its attack. Shelain was only vaguely aware that the other wolves were fighting over the venison—but, how long would that last?
The attacking wolf again leapt at her.
For several minutes they faced off with each other. There was no stopping this beast…and soon the other three would also be upon her.
She was alone, snowshoes strapped to her feet, and mentally and physically exhausted.
There was nowhere to go. No one to turn to for help.
This was it.
What would her father do?
Her hand fell to her side.
Yes. The knife.
She unsheathed the gleaming blade.
The wolf lunged.
She missed the first time, but connected on the immediate back swing.
She was soon lost in the frenzy of teeth, claws, and blade when she felt the knife plunge deeply, she felt something hot spray her face, and her attacker suddenly fell on top of her.
She was bleeding.
Three more! There are three more!
“No!” she screamed. “Oh, Father, why did you do it? Mother, I miss you!”
She so desperately wanted things to go back to the way they had been…to the way they’d been before….
Why couldn’t we turn back time when bad things happened to us?
She’d been mauled pretty good by the dead wolf and her grip on her knife was no longer sure, but her survival instincts again kicked in. Shelain was again on her feet. As she saw the three wolves approaching her, she grabbed her pack and dumped it out in an arc before her. More venison and fruit and bread sprayed out before her…and she ran.
She’d never had to run on snowshoes to save her life before.
All she could do was what she was doing.
She dropped heavily to her knees in knees deep snow, heart beating up and into her throat. She was tired, wet, had lost much blood, and was about to lose much more if she didn’t change her situation…
But she no longer cared.
She’d been foolish to believe she could make it on her own, no matter how smart she thought she was. There was nothing to make it to. Nowhere to go. She’d lost her family, lost everything. And the wolves
(where were they?)
would be on her in—
Her hand hit something.
Dragging her knife through the snow to the object, she poked it through to the surface. It unraveled just enough for her to see it.
It was cylindrical and
Made of paper?
A paper calendar…and there were days marked off.
Well, great, at least she would know what day she died.
The calendar was dated last year…but not all the days were marked off. What a stupid thing to find in the snow…out in the middle of nowhere…a pack of hungry wolves chasing after you—
And why hadn’t the wolves caught up with her?
Her curiosity got the better of her, and with bloodied and freezing hands, she began unrolling it.
The year on the calendar shifted before her eyes.
One moment it read 1830…the next 1700…but always it showed past years, nothing current. And the marked-off dates remained the same. The calendar unrolled, she tried to turn the pages, to see other months, but she couldn’t…none of the pages would yield. She couldn’t unstick the pages. As she looked at the crossed-out dates (what day was it?) she noticed how some of the crossed-out dates looked more messed up than the others. Smeared. In fact the very last crossed-out date was really smeared and blurry and anything but neatly crossed out.
She heard the rustling.
They would nearly be upon her!
Good, let them come…put an end to her misery….
Shelain traced her bloody knife tip along the weeks and stopped at the next open day after the really smeared and soiled and blurry crossed-out
date. Wouldn’t it be nice, she thought, if she could go back and change things…make what daddy did never happen. Turn back time? Wouldn’t it be—
The wolves broke through the snow-covered trees and leaped upon their prey…but only ended up landing upon one and other, instead. Confused, they shook the snow from their lean bodies, sniffing around the indentations in the snow before them.
There were blood stains…her scent…but no meat.
All that was before them was a snow crater of someone who used to be there.
The wolves dug, but never found Shelain. They did find, however, a useless pile of paper in the snow. They sniffed at it—it was not a good smell—and hurriedly left the area, one less member to their number….
Deep in the woods of the north rested a small log cabin. The smell of hardwoods permeated the air as the smoke mixed with falling snow. Inside the soft glow of the fire’s light filled windows, and there resided a small family of three. It was a meager birthday, but it would turn out to be the best birthday Shelain would ever have….
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