05 January 2010

Into the Maw of Winter

Henry David stifled a whimper, muscles tensing as he struggled to keep his bowels from ejecting what little contents they contained. He was not a clean man by inclination and circumstance, but pride ran a nose length ahead of fear. The mountain man had never messed himself in any fight, and he was not going to start now.

For being so cold, the hinges made no noise as the rough-hewn door swung into the dank cabin. Henry dimly recalled having slathered some grease on them not so long ago. The grease had come courtesy of an old male bear Henry had stumbled across at the bottom of a ravine, hurt and barely moving. The bear had snarled at Henry halfheartedly, waving a bloody paw at him, and Henry had seen the other front paw appeared to be broken. Henry had used a precious cartridge from his rifle to put the beast out of its misery. He couldn't bring himself to eat the bear, but the fat and hide was too valuable to waste.

Images of the bear flickered rapidly across Henry's mind and faded, as he drew in a sharp breath. His knife he held in front of himself like a cross before a vampire. The expected assault did not come, and the door bounced gently on its hinges in the icy breeze wafting through the door, bringing with it the scent of minerals and animal scat. The snow was piled up in a ring in front of the door, an accidental igloo. In the shallow snow immediately outside the entrance, Henry could see tracks. Big tracks. He gulped.

Two quiet strides brought him to the door. There was a thin sliver of sunlight beaming through a gap in the snow-shrouded pines up the slope from the cabin. It shone on the tracks like God's lantern, as if He did not want Henry to miss them. The mountain man swallowed hard and squinted: Cougar spoor, he grunted softly, and a big 'un. Damnation, what am I to do?

Henry felt the hand holding the knife begin to ache and quiver. The cold was brutal, it felt as if his fingers were freezing around the handle. His bowels were shaky, shivering made it worse and he had to fight off the urge to urinate. Henry thought for moment that if freezing wasn't so bad he might be tempted to piss on his hands for the sake of warming them up, but the idea seemed so absurd he quickly shrugged it off. Instead, he risked a quick look outside the door by sticking his head out, moving it rapidly from side to side. It was all blurry gray, the shadows not much different from the sunny spots in the hazy breath of winter. He saw nothing moving except for some branches in the wind. Satisfied, he stepped back quickly. As he did so, there was a muffled thump at the rear of the cabin. Henry whipped around, slashing air with the knife.

Wan light was shining through the rough hole that served as a window at the rear of the cabin. A cloud of fine snow and dirt drifted slowly through the viscous air, settling toward the floor. Henry felt a spike of fear lance through him as he saw the snout of a cougar poking its way into the cabin. It was enormous, the largest cougar muzzle Henry had ever seen. The spike turned red-hot when Henry realized that with a little pushing and shoving, the cougar could probably get all the way through the opening. To his further chagrin, that was exactly what the beast was trying to do. 

The snout inched into the room, and stopped. The nostrils flared, drawing in a deep sniff. It must have smelled Henry, because the lips drew back in a snarl. With a loud growling grunt, the cougar surged downward, the wood of the roof beginning to crack and snap. Henry felt too weak to move. The combination of beauty and graceful violence was mesmerizing. His feet felt as if they were taking root. The cougar pushed harder and oozed into the cabin, furred molasses poured from a cold porcelain jug. Hunger incarnate, the golden brown eyes fixed on Henry, intent on the feast.

A blast of icy wind shot through the open door, spraying Henry with a fine powder of snow. It was so strong that it tore through the room and kicked up a cloud of ashes from the hearth. The cougar was close enough that the embers and dust landed on its face. The beast coughed and snarled, blinking its eyes furiously while trying to advance toward Henry, who was beginning to back up to the open door. The startling cold galvanized Henry David and he awoke from his trance. He did the only thing he could think to do: he turned and took off running through the door.

The cougar howled and coughed, Henry running like a man possessed, awkwardly up the slope of snow and heading for the treeline. That devil won't slow for long, Henry thought, and I ain't no saint nor Jesus, neither. The trees seemed another country, reached by a long, hard trek. Henry redoubled his efforts, breathing raggedly in the thin icy air.

Behind him, Hunger bared its fangs, shook its head and sprang through the door, implacable and ferocious. Henry David risked a glance over his shoulder and choked on a sob. Shitfire, I'm in a world o' trouble...


  1. Are you Henry David? You are ALL man!

  2. Damn. You are getting a lot of writing done, and winter's just begun.

  3. How cool!

    I read "Mountain Man" -- later made a movie with Robert Redford starring -- as a child. This very much reminded me of that...


  4. "hunger bared it's fangs"

    never cease to amaze

  5. Nice! We just had a cougar attack near here the other day. Furry bastards.

  6. I can't wait to read more. It is like something out of Jack London.

  7. I love and hate it...all at the same time.

    The writing is amazing. The story makes my intestines...well, feel like Henry David's.


"Let your laws come undone
Don't suffer your crimes
Let the love in your heart take control..."

-'The Hair Song', by Black Mountain

Tell me what is in your heart...