In which Steve the Hermit leaves his forest home of 15 years and has an unexpected visitor
|Chapter 1 – In Which We Learn of the Man of the Forest, and his Unexpected Visitor
Steve had thought himself a sensible young fellow. He had retreated to the woods when the troubles started, and had subsisted on the fruits of the forest for many a year.
But now at the age of 35, he now felt ready to re-emerge from his hiding place, and see if humanity had at all changed its ways.
The man emerged from his hut. In circumstances other than that which would require his many years in the forest, he would have looked both ordinary and unimpressive. He would scale a height of about 6 feet. He would be of slight, yet not scrawny, stature, and would own a slightly long face that squared off at the chin. A face that would perhaps invite female attention with the right combination of stubble and hairstyle. But his fate had lain in the forest, and its harsh environment had changed him accordingly.
Steve exited his home with a slight hunch. The years of chasing down deer and other such beasts through the forest had caused him to instinctively duck downwards when running, then when walking, and eventually even when standing.
Perhaps more alarmingly than the hunch was the great dark mass of hair that sat where his face should have been. He had an enormous spiky beard that extended about four inches from the assumed position of his chin. His head hair was of greater length, the ends of the strands reaching as far down as his shoulders, although these were mashed and melded in all sorts of directions and not as the relatively ordered spikes of the beard.
His clothes suffered from similar fashion faux pas. A modern, casual observer would not be able to tell the material that this hermit wore, except that it blended in with the surroundings, and that it appeared to be coated in an ad hoc pattern of leaves and other such similar foliage. In fact, maybe so unusual as to be acceptable on the catwalk of some radical designer, I don’t know which is worse.
But anyway, I digress. Steve left the house for this final time. A simple structure of branches, lashed together with whatever rope he could acquire. A basic roof tilted either side from the middle, the downward slopes covered in leaves so that rain would not sink in through the top.
The whole structure was perhaps 10 feet by 7 feet long, a modest accommodation indeed if asked of anyone from Western society, but Steve had never needed more.
He took one last look at his long-time home before he left. His reams of writing that so often cluttered his desk halfway to the ceiling were now neatly stored in the desks and drawers underneath. His simple mattress was well made – tidy. His worn tools festooned the wood grained walls, all hung perfectly straight. The house was ready, and so was he.
With a sentimental sigh, Steve hauled the heavy bag upon his back, and edged the door closed behind him. It took a few seconds for him to gain the courage to finished the job, but eventually courage won through and the door shut with a strong CLUNK. Turning to his home one more time, he gazed at it fondly with his piercing blue eyes, honed by the forest so that he always looked with a slight squint. He silently wished his home of 15 years farewell, then began his trek down the hill.
His path took him past many magnificent conifer trees, their mighty trunks soared 30 metres into the air and beyond, a green explosion sheltering the ground beneath from the harsh sun, wind and rain. Steve touched every trunk that he walked past as if touching the shoulder of an old friend.
Playful squirrels bounded in all directions, deer stood stock still, apart from their mouths chewing incessantly, a good way further off. Their cautious eyes held the traveller to account as he made his way through their territory.
Down to the bottom of the hill he went, and arrived soon at the dirt track. He took a second to look back at his home one last time. It was well hidden, you would not notice the hut unless you were to stumble upon it while wondering off-track. Only one person had ever managed that, one person in the whole 15 years that Steve had resided there. Just 2 months ago today.
The woman had been walking along the track one day when she spotted, completely by chance, a very rare bird in the trees slightly up the hill, the bald eagle. Being an avid- nature spotter, she had bounded off up the slope before you could say jiminy-cricket, her hands outstretched with excitement, and her feet causing such a tumultuous noise over the forest floor that many small birds fled their tree homes in confusion.
Steve, of course, had heard the episode from the comfort of his little room, and was infuriatingly interrupted from his latest chapter of ‘Why You Don’t Need Anyone’, the latest episode in a long running series of exciting short stories that Steve had prepared for his readership, currently consisting of just the one person.
Needless to say, the young woman somehow discovered his hidden den, upon which, as luck would have it, stood the very eagle that the woman had been chasing.
There was a short pause as the woman assessed that someone was indeed living in this tiny hut, then a polite ‘knock-knock’ on the door. Steve was both angry and embarrassed at this undignified intrusion into his solitude. He didn’t know quite what to do. Fuming quietly in his chair, that old sense of bitter annoyance only intensified as the intruder had the cheek to knock again. ‘knock knock’, this time accompanied by an annoyingly light hearted “Hello!” as if greeting an old friend.
Steve placed his faith in the ‘sit and wait’ tactic of turning away unwanted attention. But this girl was made of hardier stuff. She spoke again, this time questioningly “Hello??”
Steve could not stand this interruption for a moment longer. He kicked back in his chair hurriedly and stood up straight. He stomped to the door and yanked it open.
It was indeed a woman. Decked out in a dark green t-shirt and shorts, combined with her dark tanned appearance, reminded Steve somewhat of a tree. However this somewhat pleasing image was ruined by a garish grey and yellow backpack that assaulted her shoulders from both sides. The sight of such consumer products made Steve mentally retch.
Her face was bright and cheerful, her light brown eyes somehow shone though there was no light source to grant it. She had a cute button nose and mirrored pigtails either side of her head that twirled dark brown hair masterfully almost all the way down her neck.
The woman shifted uneasily in the silence, re-adjusting her horrendous pack and eyeing the floor. He must have been staring at her without realising it.
While shifting his gaze, her happy demeanour must have returned, because after a couple of seconds she spoke, lightly and clearly.
“Hello there! I’m Jenny, who are you?”
Her hand was extended forwards in what Steve recognised as an attempt at a handshake. Unfortunately Steve had not been asked a question in a long time, and so was confused enough by the occurrence of one directed at him, let alone the added complications of a physical aspect in the handshake. It was very almost too much for him, but after some great mental effort, he answered with a long – unused tongue.
He outstretched his own hand and lamely gripped onto her waiting fingertips. ‘That’ll do’ he thought ‘Just keep it up’. But Jenny continued her verbal onslaught, Steve could almost feel his brain sweat.
“So what are you doing up here then? You look like you’ve been staying… a while…”
Steve noticed the momentary grimace on the girl’s face as she spoke. It was true that he had given up shaving for a number of years, which could possibly (Only ‘possibly’ in that he didn’t have a mirror with which to check for himself) have led to a full face of rugged hair that may be considered unattractive to a stranger. Or maybe it was the fact that he hadn’t washed himself in a number of days. Steve had to retain a constant ‘earthy musk’ about him so that he would not unnecessarily alert prey to his presence.
Jenny obviously objected slightly to the manly scent, her long fingers guarding her nose closely. After a few seconds, Steve made another effort to reply. The old rusty cogs of conversation inside his head, so long untended, began to creak and turn again.
“This… this is my… home…”
The last word fumbled its way out of his mouth like a fruit seed, unpleasant and an effort to extract.
Jenny looked a bit puzzled, or at least that’s how Steve read the upturn of her eyebrows. Her head cocked to the side and her eyes narrowed slightly.
“You live here, all alone? For how long?”
Her eyebrows rose even higher. He quickly added
“It’s… quiet here…”
as if that made the whole situation understandable. It didn’t, when he looked at her again, Jenny was staring at him incomprehensibly.
“But there’s not even anyone here?! How can you have lived in a place like this for so long?? You don’t even look that old!”
Steve grinned smugly to himself, his natural diet made such an obvious impression on his looks. Take that processed foodstuffs! But, back to the talk at hand…
“I just got bored of people.”
Again, that look of disbelief.
“What? How can you get bored of people I don’t understand…” and almost muttering to herself “Hmm, I think I’m gonna have to help you…”
Steve glanced down at the floor in case there was a third creature hiding down there that Jenny was speaking to. There was nothing, although you can never be sure how far invisibility technology can progress in 15 years.
“Can I asked you something??” and without the required pause for the response “Are you a escaped convict, a killer, something like that??”
This one was to him.
“I mean, you’re not here because for example you murder people, or you’re on the run from the police etcetera…”
Steve was slightly bewildered, two minutes in and already the accusations flying past. These pointless questions were beginning to irritate. He strongly debated slamming the door right now in front of her pretty face and being finished with the whole episode. But curiosity stayed his hand
“Why do you ask that?”
“Well I just want to be sure that I’m safe here first of all, its just a leading question.”
Steve didn’t have a clue what she was talking about.
“No, I have never killed a person, and I am not on ‘the run’.”
She squared up to him across the doorway.
“OK, can I come in then? I’m going to tell you about the outside world.”
And leaving no time for protest she pushed confidently past Steve into the small hut. He was powerless to stop her, his exclamations limited to an almost silent “Oh…”
Chapter 2 – Where Steve hears of the outside world
Jenny wasted no time in making herself at home.
To be continued...