It was twenty degrees and he felt it before he even opened the door. With every change in the wind’s direction, the cabin dropped a degree. He was layered now: hoodie, jacket, fleece, long johns, gloves, hat and a bottle of water in his pocket. He stood on the front step to examine the window before his hike. The hole was covered with duct tape that he had criss crossed into a new flimsy pane.
“This will have to last until Monday, “ he said aloud to himself
Standing on the front porch, he could see the holes where he didn’t affix the pieces together correctly; pin-sized and almost tiny but enough for air to freely flow back and forth. Every time a breeze blew he felt it. It was Saturday afternoon. He had two more days before he was leaving
“This can wait until Monday.”
Looking at it only a few seconds longer, he nodded to himself to confirm that was true and began walking west towards the boulder with the blue paint mark. He would light a fire later, put on the kettle, run a hot bath. There may be another sudden gust this weekend and he just wanted to stay warm. There may be more windows to patch depending on the direction of the storm. For now, all was still.
He heard a couple crow calls, around eight am, and then nothing. There was no wind or sound or movement in the woods.The cabin stood at the edge of the lake in the middle of a trail, not the mouth of the hike. Because he only hiked when he visited the cabin, Milo was always forced to start with The Blue Trail. If he was feeling up to it, he would cut north and wander the three miles through the Red Trail and decide later if he was game for the Black Trail. He was tired and hadn’t slept well because of the shattered window at 1:00 am so he doubted he would make it there. He never ruled it out though. The Black Trail was a beautiful hike through the middle of the forest. In the summer, it was lush and colored by unidentified evergreens, pines, full blue spruces, oaks, and fir. In summer, it was littered with people and birds: sparrows, blue jays, cardinals, finches, hawks, owls, the occasional eagle, and tons and tons of goldfinches. Milo loved birds. He loved listening to them during his days at the cabin with his dad.
“Look!” He would nudge his father every time they saw a cardinal. “Look!”
“Cardinal,” his father said.
Milo would nod. His father would walk in front of him.
“And what’s the black and white bird and the long tail that sang to us this morning?”
Milo would look sheepishly at his shoes as they hiked, feeling like a girl.
“Good son,” he would say without turning around.
There were other animals too: deer, beavers, frogs at the edge of the lake, squirrels, chipmunks, mice, the occasional fox, and even the occasional coyote. Wolves roamed the perimeter but he never saw any. In winter, the hunters abandoned the area and all animals moved south to eat or north to hibernate. It was lonely. Milo watched himself tread the snow-covered floor and he wanted the sound of the morning birds: the magpies and the sparrows, the coffeemaker and his father’s cough from the living room. The lake was covered in ice. He cherished the couple of spiders nesting in the corners of his bedroom. He was completely alone again. Whether he was in the city or not, he was alone.
About two miles in and past the tree he always noticed, the one with the X carved neatly into it from some bored hunter’s buck knife, he suddenly couldn’t remember if he locked the front door. He was overcome with this sensation; something unfamiliar, the sensation, and a thought pattern he had never had to soothe before.It started at the bottom of his spine and traveled upwards through his shoulders. Ominously, he turned back but all he could see were trees: brown trunks and white ground. The cabin was out of sight and would him take him too long to circle back, yet he stood there, frozen, waiting for the door to answer. He thought to himself: I didn’t lock the door and the thought reverberated all over his body. It seemed strange to even question it and he doubted anyone else was here but it was on his mind and gripping his mind. He felt anxious. He patted his pocket to feel for his key. I must have, he thought. He turned back around to face the X.
“I must have.”
Yet, he couldn’t remember doing it: actually taking the key out of his pocket and turning the lock, checking to make sure that the door was locked. Milo stood silently on the trail and thought about it. He remembered standing on the front porch to examine his window. He remembered taking the bottle of water out of his pocket to drink. He remembered walking towards the boulder. He did not remember locking his door. Milo waited another few seconds for something to interrupt: a rogue squirrel or light breeze or ice droplet from a branch, but nothing shook him. He held the key in his pocket and stared at the X. Let it go. There’s no one here. A crow called in the distance. It must be noon, he thought and kept walking forward.