A young woman and her puppy drop in to a writer's winter retreat.
|What the Wind Blew In
The blizzard raged to a screaming wail that made me gasp in surprise. There was an eerie, unearthly tone to that howl, as if all the wolves of all the worlds were crying in loss and sorrow. It was a moan of death and disaster, of pain and anguish. A shiver ran down my spine and left me half-standing, poised to flee in fear.
The sound of footsteps on the porch almost stopped my heart. Disturbed and uncertain, I rose from the table and the laptop where I had been working. I scratched a hole in the frost on the window of the door and peered out. There was only the empty white of whirling snow. Imagination must have turned lashing branches into footsteps.
The blizzard had all but buried my car, leaving me isolated in the old log cabin. The frost glazing the windows kept out the darkness and hid the whip of snow lashing the world into shredded wounds of white. My writer’s retreat had turned into a prison of frozen solitude.
Feeling a sudden chill, I went to the pot-bellied stove that heated the place and added more wood. The house shook to a powerful gust that rattled the windows and made the stove belch a protesting puff of smoke. The lights went out, leaving the silvery glow of my laptop screen to illuminate the cabin in a dim and ghostly light. Despite the reassuring crackle of fire in the stove, I couldn’t seem to stop shivering.
Again I heard the sound of footsteps on the porch, and could have sworn I saw the doorknob begin to turn. I rushed to the door and snapped the deadbolt. I held my breath, but heard only the pounding of my heart and the relentless growl of the wind. I gulped and backed carefully away from the door. Darkness and solitude and storm, I told myself, played tricks on the mind.
I found the propane lantern that came with the cabin (power outages were clearly not uncommon) and managed to light it with shaking fingers. While keeping a wary eye on the door, I considered my situation. I had plenty of food. I could melt snow, so even with the pump out, water was no problem. The composting toilet might be dead, but there was a chamber pot under the bed. The bin had enough wood for the night, with more just outside the door. The historic cabin had been well-restored--the logs were firmly chinked. Blizzard be damned, I was safe for at least a week.
My smug confidence was shattered by the crunch of snow on the porch, audible over the roar of the wind. Who--? I peered through the window but again saw only the twilight swirl of snow drifting onto the porch. I was about to return to the warmth of the stove when a furious blast of wind threw open the door. A lash of snow pounded and blinded me. I finally wrestled the door shut, leaned my forehead against it, and stood gasping in the sudden relative calm. Dang, I could have sworn I locked it. I carefully snapped the deadbolt to be certain.
At length I straightened, brushed snow off my body, and turned to the stove to warm up. I was startled to see someone there--a pale, slender figure, a girl in her early teens, her back to me, holding her hands to the stove. She wore corn-silk hair in two braids and a white dress with puffed sleeves and a pink ribbon at her waist. Her hair and dress steamed in the heat.
“Thank you for letting me in. It was frightfully cold out there,” she said without turning around. She bent to pick wood from the bin, opened the damper, and stuffed the stove full. The fire roared its approval.
I stared in mute fascination. A writer may be good with words on a page but have nothing to say aloud.
There was the scamper of little feet on the porch, and a thump on the door.
Seeming not to see me at all, the girl brushed past, a cold draft in the over-heated room, and tugged open the door. A knee-high swirl of white tumbled in and dumped itself on the mat. For her, the door closed gently.
“Darien, poor puppy! You have found your way home. What a good dog!” It shook itself, spraying a flurry of snow, and danced happily on its hind feet. “How wonderful it is to have you back, and to be warm again!”
She went back to the stove, the white spaniel trotting at her feet. She opened the stove and wedged in more wood. I could feel the heat like a pressure, and sweat dripped from my face, yet my teeth began to chatter, and I shook like a man in fever. Steam drifted from both of my spectral visitors.
“It is so good to be warm again, Papa. It seems that I have been frozen for ages and ages. You know, I was only going to step outside to call Darien. Mama had told to me to wear a coat and scarf, but I ignored her. And when the door closed behind me, the wind and snow came so suddenly, and I couldn’t find my way back to the cabin. Oh, Papa, I felt so lost and alone. I walked and walked and walked, through the dark and the cold until finally I saw the light from the windows and came home.
“Oh, drat! I feel stiff and cold, just like Darien was when I found him, poor doggie, so stiff and cold and buried in the snow and his little tail would never wag again and I cried and laid down beside him to keep him warm.
“And finally I realized he was gone. Even though I felt so cold and stiff, I got up go go home and tell Mama. But I couldn’t find the cabin, couldn’t see the lights in the windows, only the white and the snow. And I called to Mama and Papa and Bess but the wind blew my voice away, and I walked and walked....
She looked around, as though seeing the place for the first time. “But where are Mama and Papa and Bessie, and what has become of all our furniture? And who on earth are you, and why are you in our house?”
“I’m Ben,” I began, but before I could go on she slumped to the floor in a faint. The little dog whimpered and crouched by her head.
The stovepipe had begun to grow red, and the roar of the stove rose in volume to overwhelm the wind. Chimney fire! I thought, and grabbed the chimney bomb off the wall by the door. Ignoring my desire to help the girl, I wrenched open the stove and threw in the bomb, which hissed and fizzled and quickly strangled the fire.
When I recovered my wits and looked for the girl and her dog, I found myself alone. There was only a puddle on the floor in front of the stove, and near it a smaller damp spot. Even as I watched, they dried in the warmth of the room.
The wind settled to a sigh, and a branch skittered across the roof like a burst of girlish laughter. I finally stopped shivering, bemused at the thought of a lost frozen girl and her puppy coming home, out of the cold and warm at last.