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Lucas Weismann

Another Winter Gone – 17

Marcus woke up to a layer of winter snow 8 inches thick covering the land as far as the eye could see.  Some cold had gotten into the cabin, which he chased out by stirring the coals in his fire and adding some wood from the pile nearby.  He had a propane heater of course, but the company didn’t come by often enough to fill it for daily use and besides, he liked the exercise.

Seeing the pile had dwindled to the last two or three split pieces, he put on his coat and hat, his boots and mitts and went out to the wood pile.  The snow gave his footsteps a muffled quality that seemed to absorb sound rather than make it.

Marcus unfurled the canvas log carrier he’d made from an old Duluth Pack that had done it’s years of service and was now enjoying a mostly dry retirement by the fire.  He conscientiously knocked the snow off each one before before placing it into the sling.  It was this noise in the otherwise silent forest and the snow that muffled the approaching footsteps behind him.

Someone cleared their throat.  “Mr. Marcus?”

He turned around.  There in front of him was the girl who he’d rescued from the Snowmobile accident on his land at the beginning of the winter.  She was dressed in a red fur-lined down parka, snow pants and snow shoes and had a small green canvas back on her back. and “It’s-“

“Jessica, yes.”

“Even at my age I’m not likely to forget.”

“I suppose not.” she said.

“Well, what can I do for you?  I don’t see any downed snow mobiles, nor do I see any wolves chasing you.  To what do I owe this visit Ms. Jessica?”

“Well actually, I wanted to thank you for your help the other day.”

“No need for that.  I just did what anyone did.”  He hoped his voice wasn’t too gruff but wasn’t sure.  He attempted to put a twinkle in his eye under the stern expression.

It must’ve worked, because the tension broke with her smile and Jessica asked, “Can we go inside?”

Marcus nodded his assent and they headed back in muffled silence to the log cabin with the smoking chimney.

Once inside, they stamped off the snow from their boots and hung the coats on the back of the door.  Jessica pulled up a footstool by the stove and warmed her hands.  Marcus gave her time to get settled before either of them spoke.

“Thank you Mr. Marcus, I really don’t know what would’ve happened if you hadn’t come by.”

“You’re welcome,” he said.  He very kindly did not point out that they both knew what would have happened if he hadn’t happened by.

“Well, I know it’s not much, but I brought you this.”  From her pack she brought out a pie and a thermos.  The pie appeared to be still warm, having been wrapped in a box and a towel to keep out the cold.

Marcus raised an eyebrow in pleased surprise.  “Well this is a surprise.  Usually, isn’t it the grandmother who receives the goodies and is saved by the woodsman at the last minute?  Not that I’d mind being rescued by a grandmother, assuming she was a stout handsome woman.”  He held his grave expression before breaking into a grin.  “This is very kind, but unnecessary Jessica, you didn’t have to go to the trouble.”

“It was no trouble, I needed to use the last of the Rhubarb we froze this summer and there wasn’t enough to make preserves.  Besides, I heard it was your favorite.”

“From who?”

“From the waitress over at the Chocolate Moose.  She says you come in once a week when they have it and order a a coffee with cream and sugar and a slice of rhubarb pie, with a side of ice cream.”

“hmph.” he said and then immediately brightened as she brought out a small container of ice cream.  He got up and set to the task of setting the table, bringing out red and blue Fiestaware dishes, saucers and mugs.  The forks for the pie and spoons for the coffee were real silver, old, but serviceable.  Out of the drawer, he pulled a second place mat and cloth napkin and set it down opposite his own.

After they’d eaten, he wiped the last crumbs out of his beard and focused on the girl.

“That was the best pie I’ve had in a long time.” He said, “Do you know why?”

“Lard in the crust?” she asked.  He smiled.

“Good company.  But yeah, the lard in the crust helps too.”  He sat back quietly for a moment and thought a bit before getting up to stoke the fire.  “What is it you really want Jessica?”

“I’m sorry?”

“Well, it occurs to me that you’ve come some way out here with something on your mind and it’s more than just bringing an old man some pie.  So, what’s on your mind?”

“Well…  I’m not sure how to say this, but I’d like to be like you.”

“What do you mean?  Old?  Cantankerous?  Keen on pie?”

“No, it’s just that most people I know wouldn’t have known how to help me, or might not have noticed that any help was needed.  I feel like it makes sense that if I can learn how to be that person, I should be that person.”

This opened a wound in Marcus that he’d managed to ignore most days.  It was Jack’s words coming back to him from the mouth of this girl.

“Oh I don’t know about that.  Lot of meddling foolishness helping people.  I was just being neighborly.  I don’t go out of my way looking for trouble.” he said.

“I’m not so sure that’s true.  And even so, I want to learn the skills it takes to help people who are stuck in the woods, or need help somehow.  I’m not taking about becoming a cop or joining the army.”  Another pang.

“Hmph, that would put you in the role of young apprentice and me in the role of old hermit.  Not sure I relish becoming the old hermit.  Too many of them die before the hero is properly trained.”

“Then don’t die,” she said.  “I’m sure you had no plans to before I came by this morning.  I don’t see why you should change them just to give me drive to accomplish things on my own.”

“What’s your dad think of all this?”

“He hasn’t said anything against it.”

“Because he hasn’t heard anything about it, am I right?”  Jessica looked away a bit sheepishly.

“I did raise kids of my own, you know.  I’m older and meaner and craftier than you, so don’t think you can pull one over on my missy.”  he remembered to but the ‘kindly old man gleam’ in his eye at just the last minute.  “Normally, I believe that it’s customary to make a would-be apprentice wait outside in all weather for three days and nights to test their resolve, but as it’s winter in Minnesota and you’ve just brought me pie…”

“Yes!”

“… I’ll have to meet your dad and get his approval.  I’m not so sure most dads would like their daughter hanging out with some old guy they’ve never met.  If- and I mean if, you get his approval, you’ll start out helping me around the place and I’ll pay you for your work.  If you can handle the work, you might just learn what it is that makes me, me.  Do we have a deal?”

“Yes sir!”

“Good.  Now I have one more question for you,” he said gravely.

“What is it?”

“Would you like another slice of pie?”

Another Winter Gone – 7

Marcus approached the truck and found Amos and Jessica chatting away inside.  He smiled.  Amos wasn’t a bad sort, and his talkative nature would help make the ride go more quickly (for Jessica at least).  Seeing them getting along made Marcus decide to invite Amos to keep the girl company.  He took off his snow shoes, slid them behind the bench seat and got into the driver’s side of the truck.

Then he passed Jessica a small wet lump.

“Your clothes,” he said by way of explanation.

“Oh yeah, thanks!  That’ll probably make things easier after I’m done at the hospital.”

“Amos, you want to drop your Snowmobile over at my place?”

“Yeah, sure Marcus.”  He got out of the truck and went over to it.  “See you later!”  Amos was practically wagging like a golden retriever.  Then he paused.  “Say, why don’t I just take my truck and meet you in town?”

Marcus sighed, but it was no surprise really.  When had he ever invited Amos (or anyone really) to help him or join in anything?  Well, not in the last 50 years, and it doesn’t really count when it’s your own son.  He’d worked with people sure, told them what to do, commanded them and told them what they were going to do, and it had worked.  But when had he last asked, requested, or invited someone to join him.

Hell, even at the Ely steam, he just nodded and moved aside to let someone in.  He’d have to think about that.  After all, there’s no reason to be unkind, when kindness will serve just as well.

“Let’s just meet at your place Amos.  It’s on the way to town and I’m sure we could use your company.”

Amos swelled.  “you got it!  you won’t have to  worry.  I’ll be right behind you.  Okay! Well….” Marcus rolled up the window as the man outside nearing retirement dithered in excitement.

Oh right, that was why.  I mean, there’s not being unkind and then there’s inviting this sort of foolishness.  He grunted slightly in what might have been a laugh.  A few yards down the road, Jessica spoke.

“You don’t really like him, do you?”

“Him?   He’s alright.  He just,”

“Talks a lot.” she finished.

Marcus nodded.  He knew she could see him.

“My dad’s like you.”

“I doubt that.”  he said with a half-smile.

“Never has a word kind or unkind for anyone, but when there’s trouble people bless their lucky stars that he’s around.”

“hmph.”

“He tries to be all stern and stone, like he’s trying to be The Man With No Name.  But underneath it all, he’s a good guy.”

“hmph.”

“Thank you, by the way,” she said.  “It really was stupid of me.”

“Yes.  It was.” he said and did not ask about the wolves.  The truck pulled up to the driveway and just afterward, Amos pulled up.  Apparently being deprived of an audience hadn’t affected him, and he seemed to have been monologuing on the snowmobile.  Jesus the man would talk when no one listened.

“I don’t want to be rude,” Jessica said, “but is there any way we could have him not come with?”

Marcus was surprised for a second.

“what?”

“I just need some time to think and some quiet to do it in.  Oh, is that rude of me?”

“You think I’m gonna argue?”

“Great can you… …oh, you mean I have to tell him.”

“Hey, you’re old enough to get chased by wolves into a ravine, you’re old enough to tell the nice man who helped rescue you that you want him to go away.”

“err…”

“You’ll get no argument from me mind, but he did make it possible for you to get back to the road and I wasn’t exactly sure how I’d get you back to the truck before hypothermia set in.  Again.”

she inhaled through her teeth.  “Okay.”

“Besides, the man works for the city in the permit office, making sure people fill out paperwork properly.  This is probably the most exciting thing that’s ever happened to him.  He is a hero after all.”

“What?  But you…”

“Did what needed to be done.  Same as him.”  Damn my overinflated sense of fairness.  Outside the truck, Amos’s face was starting to go from smiles to concern.”

She opened the door.  “Hi Amos!” she smiled brightly, “Thanks for rescuing me.  I don’t know what I would have done if you two hadn’t come by.”

Amos’s big round face reminded him of the Parsee man in the Just-So story about the Rhinoceros and the currant cake.  “…and he smiled one smile that ran all round his face two times.” In the book of course, it had be an ominous portent, but Amos was smiling a smile as bright as the sun who shone in “more-than-Oriental-splendour.”  Hmm… I should re-read Kipling, Marcus thought as they drove on to the Hospital to find treatment for the girl.


 

Meeting Jessica had been thirty years ago and Marcus still remembered her whenever he read Call of the Wild.  She had grown up and gone off to have kids of her own.  She even visited during the summers for several years, the gap between each a visit longer than the last.  Eventually he’d learned that the wolves chasing her on her snowmobile- that’s right.  She’d been on a  snowmobile not snowshoes- the wolves chasing her on the snowmobile had been a group of local teens who’d fancied themselves tough.

Later Marcus found out that one of the boys had been the one to alert Amos that the girl had fallen off the ridge.  He’d had a crush on her, but didn’t have the status to openly stand against his friends.  When Jessica fell, they’d all scattered and marcus even managed to track them down because of the paint from their rides one or two had left on the trees in their haste to leave.

Jessica and the boy (Thomas, was it?) had been seen together in town for awhile, but eventually it was clear that his bravery had been temporary and she had no desire to be saddled with a man who couldn’t hold his own and stand up for what is right except in extreme circumstances.

It was good, Marcus thought.  That girl had been pretty brave, and had gone on to do good things.  Even working as a Wilderness First Responder for awhile during college.  She saved several people during that time and whenever the writers at the local paper got wind of it they printed an article.

Marcus kept every one in a binder, though he never showed any outward sign he was aware of her work when she visited.

Eventually Jessica went and moved to the city, where she did something laudable with bringing city kids out to the wilderness to show them the stars or something.

Of course, he never thought about it in these terms, but there were a good number of people who wouldn’t be alive today if he hadn’t been there to save the girl.


 

These were the types of stories and rumors that circulated around the Iron Range about Marcus, the last of the old-time trappers.  A guardian of the woods who appeared in town for supplies every few weeks in the guise of a grumpy loner.

These stories were the real reason that the Journalist had sought him out.  It was a good story.  A man who did what needed to be done and didn’t much think about the consequences; a man didn’t ask for a reward, or attention and had mostly gotten what he’d asked for.

Such a shame, thought Janet.  Everyone should get to know the effect they have on people.  She paused outside the door of the house and was about to knock, when she saw the curtains twitch and the door opened to reveal a man of about 75 or 85 who was all smiles and joviality, and whom retirement seemed to have agreed with.

Another Winter Gone – 6

Once dried, Jessica re-dressed and they wrapped her foot as best they could.  She would still be cold, but at least she was alive and would likely keep all her extremities.  Marcus remembered when he was a boy, meeting a farmer named Al who’d lost lost fingers to the cold and other accidents.  He remembered the farmer describing the aches and pains or just tingling that would sometimes occur in the fingers that were no longer there.  It still gave him a shiver almost a century later- though he’d gotten better at hiding it.

He remembered the story he old man told him, saying that as a younger man he’d played the guitar until he’d lost the tips of a finger or two in a threshing accident.  At that point he’d switched to the accordion, until he lost fingers to the cold.  When he couldn’t play the accordion anymore, he switched to the hammer dulcimer.  By the time Marcus met the old man, the only instrument he could play anymore was the Harmonica.

He admired the stubborness and tenacity of the old man.  He unwillingness to let any accident or fate prevent him from partaking in his love of music.

With any luck, this Jessica would be alright.  Of course, they weren’t out of the woods yet and the shadows already stretched long over the land.  But at least the girl was hydrated and responsive.  Marcus had melted some water for her from the snow and given it to her.  It was a mercy she hadn’t hit her head on a rock or broken her neck with a fall like that.

Remembering what he’d seen in terms of destruction of the branches and the dislodged trees on the way down the ravine reminded him about her story of being chased by wolves.  It was such an obvious prevarication that it almost didn’t seem worth asking about.

He shook his head to clear his thoughts.  Now that the immediate danger was past, there was the very real problem of what to do to get the girl back to the road and the relative safety of his truck.  It had been a 10 minute walk, plus some odd switchbacks, but that was with snowshoes and the girl only had one of those left.  Plus, she’d be hopping on one foot.  That wouldn’t do.  

Marcus realized he’d left his phone in the truck.  The damn thing barely got reception anyway, but still.  Minor chance was worth more than no chance.

“Jessica, you got a phone?”

“Yeah, I…” she grabbed her pants and went through the pockets. “Yeah, I’ve got it.”

“Great.  You got reception?”

“No.”  It figured.  They probably had the same carrier.  

“Well, we’re going to have to figure out how to get you out of here.  I don’t have time to be bringing firewood all night and I don’t want to risk you going into shock or dying of exposure.  Lemme see your ankle.”  It was swollen, purple and angry.”

The whine of a small gas engine became more apparent as it approached the ridge above them and then from up top a voice cried out, “Hey, Marcus, you okay?”  Christ.  That was all he needed.  That darned Amos was here, and he’d probably want to… wait.  

“Down here Amos.”

“You injured?”  

“No, but there’s a girl who is.  Heard a scream.  She’s got a busted up ankle and we have no reception here.  Help me get her to the truck.”

“Sounds good”  Sounds good?  Marcus had never heard Amos say so little at one time.  The engine whirred to life in that fly-buzz register that snowmobiles seem to share with squadrons of mosquitos.

A few minutes later, there was Amos dismounting his snowmobile and digging under the seat for his spare helmet.  Well, for once the man’s insistence on doing everything by the book might be of use.

“What’re you doing here?”

“Snowmobiling and I saw your truck with the emergency lights on and the door open on the side of the road.  Then I saw tracks and thought… “hey!  If marcus is running in the woods, either he’s in trouble or someone else is.’ And then…”

“Good job.” Said Marcus.  “I’m sure you have more you want tell me about it, but let it wait until we get her back to town and in some clothes.”

Amos seemed to just notice the girl next to them covered only in an old saddle blanket.  He reddened.  Internally, Marcus face-palmed.  Amos had to be what, 55?  65?  And here he was blushing like little  kid.  This provoked a similar reaction in Jessica, who up till now had been too concerned about survival to worry about propriety.

“Alright children, let’s get back to the truck.  Amos, keys are in the ignition, so start it up and make sure she stays warm. I’ll be there when I can and will put out the fire.”

They fumbled their way on to the snow mobile, with Jessica’s feet still in Marcus’s mittens.  The heels hung out a bit and looked silly, but at least it wouldn’t take long to get back, he thought as they rode off toward the truck.

Marcus took one of his snowshoes and used it as a shovel to extinguish the fire, using the tail of it to stir in the ashes and make sure it was completely out.  He’d seen what could happen if a fire went underground, or cinders whipped up and wouldn’t leave anything to chance.  

Afterward, he put the snowshoes back on, clenched and unclenched his now-chilly fingers and and started back to the truck at a brisk trot.

Another Winter Gone – 5

In times like this, Marcus knew that talking and keeping people alert was one of the best ways to avert disaster.  He went to talking her though the task at hand.  Namely hypothermia and how to avoid it.

“There are four stages of hypothermia” he said as he wandered around and started gathering branches and sticks.  “Mild, moderate and severe.  mental confusion, shivering.  This is the part where you feel cold.”  He took out his steel and set it on a flat rock nearby so he’d be have it to hand.  

“Ok-kkkay” said Jessica.

“Now, you’re past that, because you’re having trouble controlling your shivering.  If you weren’t, I’d be less concerned.  you’re probably a bit confused and your lips and ears are turning blue, which indicates at least moderate hypothermia.”  Marcus dug through his pockets seeking something.  He pulled it out.  “Aha! wait, damn.” he said.  That’s not what I wanted.  Well, here, eat this.”

“A film canister?” She said confusion on her features.

“No, what’s inside it.”

“What is inside it?”

“Crushed potato chips mashed with dates”

“What?”

“Calories kid. It’s an easy way to transport them.  You need fuel to burn; speaking of which” he pulled out a film canister wrapped with several layers of duct tape.

“More chips?”

“nope.  Waterproof matches and kindling.”

“W-wwwere you a boy scout?”

“Nah, but I like the books.”  Marcus started making a rat’s nest of the duct tape- first tearing it into small strips and then making it into a loose bundle.  “I like the Civics lessons, but I never went in for the ‘God’ part of the whole ‘God and Country’ part of the scouts.  Seemed silly to exclude all those Atheists, Buddhists and others who might want to go camping.”  He struck a match and set it to the bundle, which now hung loosely underneath a pile of kindling on a flat rock.  The smell was bitter and acrid.  The burning plastic of GI Joes who’ve met a magnifying glass at noon on a summer’s day.

“Now, the stumbling and difficulty that you’re having moving might be because of the log that fell on your foot, but it might also be because you’re in wet clothes and nearing severe hypothermia.  How long were you in the water?”

“A few minutes-s-s-s, I think.”  Marcus blew the flames gently to give them life.  They grew and Jessica found almost dove toward the small bit of heat.

“Careful there.  Don’t knock it over.  I’m going to add bits of wood.  I need you to lean over and blow on the base of the flame.  Think you can do that?”

“Y-y-yeah”  she said.  Good, giving the girl something to do would keep her occupied and might lessen the effects of shock.  He got up to get the wood and brought it back.  

“Not bad.  You already figured out you have to coax the fire out of the wood.  Lotta people try and blow like its birthday candles and cause no end of trouble.”  Marcus placed the wood next to the fire and started adding some.  Then he grabbed the blanket and his mittens from the ground and gave them to her.

“Alright, next step.  You’re gonna strip down outta those wet clothes and wrap up in the blanket.”  Jessica nodded dumbly.  “Next, you’re gonna wear mittens on your feet and we’re gonna try to prevent frostbite from getting more than just a little bad.  If something turns black, chances are, it’ll have to go.”

“O-okay.”  She said.

“Now me, I’m going to keep myself occupied with the fire here, so you don’t have to worry about me sneaking a peek and remembering things I’m too old to be thinking about.”  She actually guffawed.  Marcus couldn’t remember the last time he’d heard a guffaw, and certainly not from a chit of a girl who had no business being this far out by herself, being chased by wolves.  That was an oddity he’d explore if it seemed important when-

“Umm, Mr. Marcus…”  She sounded worried.

“Just Marcus, no Mister.  What’s wrong Jessica?”

“I can’t get my boot off.”  Of course not.  Why would he think it would be otherwise?  

“What’s wrong?” He asked.

“I think it’s t-t-too s-s-swollen.” She said.  Marcus moved to the boot, took it in his hands and cut the laces and the tongue with the multitool he kept on his belt.

“Hey!  Those were expensive boots!” She said.  Anger pushing the shiver out of her voice.

“Yeah?  They worth more than your foot?”  She mumbled something.  “Didn’t think so.  Listen girlie, so far I’ve been kind to you.  Don’t take that kindness as weakness.  When I want to know how to get lost and nearly kill myself of hypothermia and a broken ankle, I’ll ask you.  Until then, you’re in my woods, so you’ll do as I say and you might just get out of here in one piece with only minor extremities lost.”  She winced and made a controlled exhalation, as he pulled off the boot.  To her credit, she didn’t whimper or cry of fuss too much once it was off and she got to the business of removing her frozen, soaking clothes.

Marcus busied himself with the fire until it was a roaring blaze.

Another Winter Gone – 4

The sound came from the woods.  A scream, someone in pain.  Marcus looked up from his book and immediately put on his coat and boots.  Mittens, hat and scarf went on as he walked through the door.  He tossed the old horse blanket in the back of the truck and started to head down the drive.  The voice called again for help and he pulled over the truck.  It must be coming from the creek bed near the ravine.  Who the hell would be stupid enough to be down there this time of year.

Marcus grabbed the blanket and tossed it over his shoulder. Then he pulled the snow shoes out from behind the bench seat in the truck and put them on before heading off the road and into the woods.

A short 5 minutes later, he crested the ridge of the ravine.  Giant disturbances in the snow on the other side gave him an idea of what had happened.

Someone had been jumping down the hill in the deep snow, like a skiier doing a mogul run.  Based on the broken branches about a third of the way down, it was clear that he (it was almost certainly going to be a he, and almost certainly going to be a young “he”, Marcus knew) had lost control of his descent and would be found somewhere below.

“I’m coming,” Marcus cried out.  “I need you to tell me if you can move.”

Whimpers met him from below.  Marcus swore a bit and worked his way down the ridge as safely as he was able.

“Tell me if you can move your arms and legs.” he said again, then remembered his voice was deep and sounded like someone who had been interrupted in his reading of Jack London to tend to an idiot in the woods who had fallen down.

“My name is Marcus, I’m here to help.  What is your name?”

“J-j-j-jessica.” came the reply.

“Huh, 95 years on the planet and surprises abound,” he thought.

“Okay, Jessica.  Can you move your arms and legs?”

“I can move my arms, but one of my legs is stuck,” she said.  Then she whimpered again with the pain.

“Does it hurt?” He asked.

“What?!  Are you crazy, of course it hurts, I f-fell down the hill after being ch-chased by wolves.”

“I’m sorry, what?  No, never mind.  we have more important things to get to.  Where are you?”

“I’m in the s-stream.

“on the ice?”  He asked.

“Well, part of me.  I think I must’ve knocked a tree loose when I fell because the trunk is on me.”

Jesus, that was bad.  Being wet, even in February could be a death sentence with no appeal in minutes.  Okay, I’m working my way over.  Just then, he rounded the corner.  Sure enough, it was a teenage girl half submerged in the water and pinned under a tree.  He looked around and found what he needed.

“Okay, the good news is, you probably didn’t break your back or you wouldn’t be able to feel your legs.  The bad news is that the hypothermia will still kill you quickly if you don’t do exactly as I say.  Do you understand?”

“Yessir.”  She looked small, cold and wet.   What was her name?  Jessica.  Right.  Jessica.

Taking a 10 food section of ash, he found a gap to wedge it under the trunk of a tree and used an exposed rock by the shore to lever the trunk off of the girl. Marcus realized how little he was used to talking this much.  When was the last time he’d said this many sentences to someone?  10, 15 years ago?  Well, no matter; he had more to say before the evening was over.

“Okay, on the count of three, I’ll lift the tree and you move back as far toward shore as you can, okay.  One, Two…  Damn.”  He noticed the snowshoes tangled in the branches of the tree.  “One second.”  Marcus walked around the tree and saw the buckle was bent.  Damned metal thing.  He removed his mitts and whipped his knife out of his belt and one motion and started to cut through the nylon strap.  She screamed once or twice as he finished each cut, but the work was over in less than a minute.

“Okay, on the count of three one, two, three.”  Marcus lifted the tree using the smaller branch as a lever and Jessica scooted out of reach so it could come back down.

“Alright, first things first. We need to get you back to the truck.  Can you walk?”

“n-nnnn” she shook her head.

Damn.  Mumbling was already setting in.  This wasn’t good.  What they needed was fire, and fast.

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