by Fred H. Schuetz
That lone thunderclap ended my nap. I lay still, listening to the rain
thrumming on the roof while trying to orient myself. Then, determining that
sleep would not come back, I got up. The sudden freak weather had driven away
the summer heat and I turned on the heater, then sat with its single red eye
glaring at me in the gathering darkness and insinuating the sort of company I
did not want. City-bred, I was not accustomed to raw weather and the thought of
being exposed to the elements out here in the wilderness made me apprehensive.
The man who had brought me to this place would return with fresh provisions at
the end of a week, and until then I would be alone.
The rain gathered volume as the afternoon wore on, coming down in torrents that
limited my view through the lone window. The forest was a featureless dark mass
beyond the curtain of rain, individual trees indistinguishable, while pools of
water, black in the failing light, collected on the ground outside.
Then I heard the muted roar of water gushing in the distance. I remembered
crossing a creek as we came here, a mere rivulet then, but the man had said it
could turn wild when there was too much rain. There would be dirt and all
manner of wild things carried along in the rushing stream, and that meant I
would have no water if the pump failed.
The thought triggered a need for action. I went and made a pot of coffee in the
electric urn, then, on reflection, threw the meal package in the microwave
oven. I would live on TV dinners and coffee for the duration of my stay.
Night fell hours before the scheduled sundown. At the same time, with a brief
rattle of hailstones, the rain ceased. The ensuing silence was eery.
Not an hour later, the power failed. After a seeming century of terror
threatening in the darkness, I heard the generator in the shed outside tucker
to life, and the lights came back on. But, seeing their weak flicker, I decided
to save energy and went around turning switches until only the bedside lamp
remained on. Better to have one good light than a dozen failing, and, besides,
I would be saving fuel.
The red eye of had gone out when the power failed. The power the generator
produced was not strong enough to keep the heater going. After a while I
noticed the chill creeping around my feet, and I made the round once more,
collecting pillows and blankets from the other bunks to heap them on my bed.
They would provide a nest for me to crawl into and so preserve body heat.
The night outside my window was a black wall pushing in, or, if you want, a
bottomless well of darkness. I spent a restless night, dropping in and out of
sleep and haunted by nightmares of black monsters threatening to devour me. At
the first gray light of day I took stock of my situation. The generator's muted
tucker had stuttered into silence sometime during the night. Without power, I
had no means to make coffee or heat meals. The pump yielded a thin trickle of
water before it ran dry.
No birdsong had greeted me with the first rays of light, and a glance outside
told me the reason. The clearing in front of the cabin was covered with a white
blanket and snow had collected hip-high against the cabin wall. A thick layer
of clouds pressed low, presaging more snow.
When I opened the door for a survey of my surroundings I was greeted by a blast
of icy air that rushed inside and swept out what little heat had remained in
the cabin's single room. My cell phone proved useless; I could not even raise a
dial tone. I was cut off from civilization - if there was any left.
This was June 21, and what should have been a pleasant summer day was the
beginning of a new ice age ....
Copywrite 2004 Fred H. Schuetz
Back to the main party!