Authors: Nate Gubin
Tags: #Fiction & Literature
A Boy in the Woods
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events or locales is entirely coincidental.
Copyright © 2012 by Nathan M. Gubin
All rights reserved. This book or any portion thereof
may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever
without the express written permission of the publisher
except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.
Printed in the United States of America
First Printing, 2012
Nate Gubin Publishing
303 Columbus Ave.
Boston, MA, 02116
In the late fall of 2010 I locked myself away in a wilderness cabin for a week to work on my first book, a breezy romantic comedy titled
Halloween is for Lovers
. I had a desk facing a window that looked out on acres of deep dark forest. I was supposed to be writing about a clumsy ghost who has one Halloween night to find the girl he loves. Instead I spent the week writing this.
“The worst lies are the lies we tell ourselves. We live in denial of what we do, even what we think. We do this because we're afraid.” Richard Bach
arold had locked himself away in a remote wilderness cabin to write a book. He had tried his entire life to write this book but he kept starting and stopping, creating and deleting. Now, at the center of a 1,400 acre forest, he had all his notes in neat stacks on a large table facing a picture window. He had a laptop and enough supplies to sustain him for three months before he’d have to drive the two and a half hours to the nearest grocery store.
Getting laid off with a year of severance was a lucky break for him. Of course he didn’t see it that way at first. Losing a job he had faithfully served at for seventeen years scared him numb. With two, maybe three, years off from work he was going to fulfill his dream of writing a great American memoir. Distractions were hundreds of miles away from the two bedroom one bath cabin settled low into a valley of thick pines. The sun hardly ever pierced the swaying canopy and the forest floor stayed cool and moist. Harold was glad for the dark, he wanted to sit and write in the shadows.
The cabin rental was a deal. He had paid $800 a month back in the city for a townhouse style apartment just off the interstate. This knotty pine cave was just $250 and that included heat. The electricity was extra but he kept its use to a minimum, never paying more than $14 a month, less than $7 in the summer.
He did his best to live a monastic life. Up early he brewed a pot of coffee and ate toast with peanut butter. The chest freezer in the garage had dozens of loaves hard as bricks. The peanut butter came in half gallon tubs which he kept stacked three high in the cupboard. Lunch was canned soup with some more toast. Dinner was a frozen pizza. At last count he had more than sixty pizzas filed away in the freezer. His daily budget for food was $4.33. His life as a reclusive writer should have cost him less than $500 a month. With his 401k cashed out and the ninety-nine weeks of unemployment, he could afford to live like this for years. Just sitting, staring out the window, writing. But there was the whiskey.
He had always drank. Most nights back in the city he’d have a bourbon on the rocks, maybe two, before he made himself dinner. The plan was always to write after eating, but his work days wore him down and a few more cocktails in front of the TV was so much more relaxing than facing the book.
He didn’t spend too much time budgeting for how much Jim Beam he’d need in the woods. He bought the 1.75 bottles by the case when he was in town. He was pretty sure a bottle would last more than a week. Six to a case and ten percent off, three cases would be more then enough until his next trip to town.
He sat staring out the window at the endless rows of pines. His mind was wandering and between 8am and 10am he had only written sixty-three words. It just wasn’t coming easy. He was tired, his head was foggy. Maybe another cup of coffee would get him going, he thought, but he was in the kitchen and decided a little drink would help just as much. He rinsed out his glass from the night before and poured himself an inch of bourbon. His spirit lifted as he returned to the writing table.
He was happiest alone. The nearest neighbor lived more than forty miles to the south. An old widow he met once when he was taking his garbage to the dump. She sold eggs from her chickens, a buck a dozen. Harold didn’t buy any. He didn’t have any butter or salt and he didn’t want to interrupt his routine with cooking and cleaning. The toast was served on a paper towel, the soup was microwaved in a bowl that he quickly rinsed after lunch. The pizza was eaten off it’s cardboard disk that was then burned in the fireplace with the days crumpled paper towels.
He opened a file on his laptop titled Chapter 7. He tilted the glass back and let the brown sweetness slip in. He typed.
We spent the afternoon at my aunt Judy’s house. She had a nice house with a pool but it was late autumn and the leaves had blanketed the water’s surface. There was no one to play with, the women were inside the house talking about me, discussing what should be done about me, so I grabbed a stick–
Harold looked up from his laptop. A flash of something in the woods caught his eye. He searched the dark spaces between the tree trunks.
The first few months after he moved into the cabin he had a hard time adjusting to the isolation. He had this constant nervous anticipation that someone would suddenly drive down the road, or worse, he’d be woken in the middle of the night by a knock at the door. It was a ridiculous fear. Nobody, not even the house’s owner, had a reason to make an unexpected visit. Just to be sure, the last time Harold came off the main road and onto the property he stopped and stretched a chain across the dirt road, a plywood sign hanging from the center of it read no trespassing.
His fear of an intruder and the dread of a surprise visit had only gotten worse over the past few months. Harold would lie awake in bed at night expecting there to be a knock at the door. Why someone would knock at his door in the middle of the night was a constant source of anxious speculation. Kids had been drag racing on the main road, they got into an accident?Broken and bloody they would limp the mile down the cabin’s road looking for help. A drifter looking to rob the place? He would knock first, if someone answered he’d have a story, he was looking for yard work, or a lost dog. If nobody answered, he’d break in.
There was one possibility for a knock at the door that Harold tried not to entertain too often. Whenever the thought of this person’s knock entered his mind he quickly shooed it to the back of the room. Replaced it with other possibilities. A trucker broke down on the main road, needed to use the phone. A drunk at bar time lost and out of gas.
His train of thought had wandered. The flicker of something in the woods had sent him far away from Chapter 7. The distraction seemed like a good excuse to get up and stretch. While he was up he figured another drink was in order. The first one was so small and he was having such a hard time getting into the mood. Another drink he thought, and then right back into the pages.
The bottle was almost empty. Hardly a drink left in it, just a drip. His plan was to take it easy on the booze today. That’s what he promised himself the night before. But the little taste of whiskey just wasn’t enough to fuel the writing he had to do, so he cracked the white plastic cap on a fresh bottle.
He always felt good opening a new bottle. There was so much safety in there, so much promise of comfort.
He sat back down with his glass and woke up his computer. Chapter 7, his aunt’s pool full of leaves. He had a stick, his mother was inside with his aunt. They were talking about him. He remembered that day clearly, his mother had been asked to pick him up from school. He sat outside the vice principal’s office and waited for her station wagon to appear out front along Capital Avenue. Harold put his fingers to the keyboard but again something in the pines caught his eye. A flash of white moving sideways through the trees.
His heart beat hard and fast. This wasn’t a bird or a ray of sunlight glancing through the canopy. This was someone in the woods wearing white. One hundred yards out, moving sideways at a steady pace. Harold ached, his head hot with fear.
Why is there someone in my woods? Who are they? Why are they trying to hide?
He gulped a full inch of bourbon down, closed his laptop and scanned the pines for the intruder. There was nothing. The trespasser was crouched down hiding out there, or maybe he had gone. Harold got a breath in and started to fabricate reasons, answers. He was seeing things, cooped up too long, his mind was playing tricks on him. Maybe he should rest, put the book away for the day, have a cocktail on the couch, relax.
He poured himself two inches, clicked on the only radio station that would come in and plopped down on the frumpy red plaid couch. Listening to oldies, he put his feet up and sipped. He stared at the fireplace, the half burned cardboard circle from last night’s pizza. He tried not to look out the window. Out of the corner of his left eye he could see the light from it; he turned his head to the right, trying not to notice anything out there. He wasn’t settling down, he could feel someone out there. From deep in the woods he could feel their stare aimed on him.
He turned to look and the person in white moved quickly into hiding. A little closer to the house now, maybe 80 yards out. Someone in a white hoodie ducking sideways behind a tree. Harold shook. It was real. Trembling, he swallowed two inches. His first thought was to check that the door was locked. He looked, the patio door had a three foot pole wedged in it’s track, the front door was dead bolted. He always kept the place locked, he always checked to make sure the two doors were locked every night when he turned off the radio and stumbled from the couch to the bed.
Someone was in the woods sneaking up on him. This was real.
No, it couldn’t be.
Harold shook his head and tried to generate a reason. It’s a burglar he thought. They parked out on the main road. They saw the no trespassing sign hung across the driveway and thought the place was vacant, closed for the season. They’re sneaking up on it, trying to see if anyone is here before they break in. They’ll peek in all the windows, see if there’s anything good inside, anything worth stealing. Hunting rifles, stereo equipment, alcohol. They’ll kick in the lower panel of the front door and climb inside... or break out a window.
Harold impatiently shook an inch of the bottle into the glass and swallowed it. Liquid courage he thought as he slammed the glass down and looked out the small window in the front door.
He was hiding out there, Harold could feel him. Unlocking the door he took a deep breath and yanked it open. He took a half step onto the front porch and yelled into the woods, “Get off my property!”
He closed the door and locked it. He was safe now. The person in the white sweatshirt would retreat back to the main road he thought. Harold watched out the window for a flash of white getting smaller, the burglar’s hasty retreat through the thick forest. He didn’t see anything.
Yelling into the woods had woken him up. He hadn’t used his voice in weeks. He couldn’t remember the last time he yelled. The fear, the blood pounding in him had shaken something loose, gotten the blood in his head up to its operating pressure. He sat down and opened his laptop. His muse pulled up a chair alongside. He clicked away on Chapter 7.
I would never see the inside of my grade school again. There would be no punishment or suspension like there were previous times. No emergency parent teacher meetings. The vice principal gathered my things out of my desk and placed them in a paper grocery bag with my name written on it. I wasn’t allowed back in the school and my mother was too embarrassed to pick it up. If I had a friend he could have brought it home for me. He could have left it on the front porch of our duplex. There was nothing valuable in the bag, some pencils, a ruler, a plastic protractor. I’m sure my teacher put it on the highest shelf of the coat closet where it sat until the end of the school year. The summer janitor probably saw my name on it but tossed it without even looking inside.
Harold was in the zone, two thousand words without a break, without a struggle, without a drink. He had some fight in him. For the first time in a long time he had pushed his fear away, far away, at least to the main road and the edge of the property. He pushed himself away from the table and decided to treat himself to one of his better cans of soup. He reached over the shrink wrapped flats of store brand chicken noodle and grabbed a can of extra thick New England clam chowder. He poured it into a bowl and set it in the microwave without pushing start. He wanted to toast some bread first and then cut it into cubes, poor man’s oyster crackers. The toaster and the microwave were on the same breaker so he needed to wait for the bread to pop up before he could start the soup. While the soup cooked he’d chop the toast into squares. He had developed dozens of efficiencies living alone in the cabin. While he waited for the toast he poured what was left of the morning’s coffee into a cup. He thought to himself, this was going to be a good day. He’d get a lot of writing done, maybe go for a walk to the main road, make sure the no trespassing sign was still up, check for mail.
The toast popped up and he reached to start the microwave. A shadow moved across the window and he froze. There was someone just outside the cabin. He trembled and listened for the crunch of footsteps. There was silence. The burglar in white had heard him, he must have heard him, Harold thought. If I didn’t scare him off, he must be armed. He’s going to break in, rob me, or worse.
Harold looked at the phone on the kitchen wall. The ambulance and county Sheriff numbers were written on an index card above. He lunged across the kitchen floor, picked it up and dialed. It rang three times and a woman picked up. “Sauk County Sheriff’s office.”
“There’s someone on my property,” Harold’s voice trembled.
“Where are you calling from sir?”
“East two nine five four county road WW.”
“And there’s someone trespassing–”
“I shouted at them to leave, but they’re still here.”
“Do you know the person?” She asked calmly.
“No. I live alone...” Harold scratched at the side of his face. “I think he’s right outside the house.”
“What would you like us to do sir?”
“Send someone. There shouldn’t be anyone on the property.” Harold’s voice cracked.
“I can send the Sheriff but he’s quite a ways away, almost an hour and a half at least.”
Harold’s voice hushed. “Please send him.”
“If you have any dogs please make sure they’re tied up–”
“I don’t have a dog,” he blurted. Just then he remembered the shotgun. The owner had left a twelve gauge single shot and a box of shells in the front closet. It was for varmint. If the raccoons tried to chew their way in over the winter Harold was supposed to shoot them. “Please tell him to hurry,” Harold hung up the phone and walked quickly to the closet.
He untied the canvas gun bag and slid the rifle out. Pushing a latch on top of the barrel he cracked the gun in half. A spent shell ejected into the air and Harold dropped the gun in a panic. He bent over heaving, trying to breath. He picked up the gun and loaded it, bending it back together with a snap.
His nerves were frayed, he needed a drink he thought. He poured a generous inch of bourbon into his glass and tipped it back. The Sheriff would come, scare the burglar away. He calmed himself but the stress had taken its toll on his stomach. With the shotgun in hand he made a dash for the toilet.
For the past three months Harold’s diarrhea had been constant. He blamed it on the well water that he never drank. The owner said it was clean, even left a copy of the well test in the cabinet above the refrigerator. Harold didn’t believe him and he didn’t trust the test.
Pants down, sitting on the toilet, he kept one hand on the shotgun. The bathroom window was cracked open to let the stale air escape. He sat there quietly, his stomach twisting out the sick inside him. He hoped the burglar had seen him on the phone, knew he had called the cops and ran. It was quiet outside. If the burglar was still out there he was motionless, hiding around the back of the house, crouched under a bedroom window. He pulled up his pants and flushed. He felt better.
There was a scuffle of leaves and sticks outside the bathroom window. Harold froze, unable to look outside. There was just a wall between him and the intruder, worse, just an open window. Harold quickly shut the window, locking the latch.
Looking out the window he saw a squirrel foraging in the leaves. He let out a sigh of relief. Maybe he was overreacting he thought, his imagination had gotten the better of him. He blamed the book, the writer’s occupational hazard of letting the imagination run wild in the middle of nowhere.
The squirrel was making a lot of noise, hopping from spot to spot in a carpet of dead leaves. It would be easy for anyone to imagine that noise coming from a person sneaking up on the cabin, Harold nodded to himself. He wasn’t that crazy, this stuff was normal. He needed to clear his head, he needed another drink he thought.
As he turned away from the bathroom window he saw him. Thirty yards out, next to a dead poplar, a boy wearing a white hooded sweatshirt. The boys head was lowered, his face hidden up in the hood.
Harold screamed, “I called the cops!” The boy just stood there, eyes to the ground.
“Get off my property!”
The boy didn’t move.
Harold lost control of himself. He charged across the kitchen and unlocked the front door. He stepped out onto the front porch, cocked the gun and fired into the air.
“Get off my property!”
Back inside with the door locked Harold freshened his glass of bourbon with a generous pour. The gun was reloaded and leaning in the corner of the room. Harold walked from window to door with his drink, scanning the woods. “Just a jerk kid. Some stupid kid snooping around,” he said to himself.
Harold wasn’t often drunk. For the most part he was steadily buzzed and a little sleepy during most hours of the day. The day’s events had forced him to double his bourbon intake, plus he had skipped lunch. The soup sat in the microwave and the toast stood in its slots. Harold was reclined on the couch, half asleep and hammered. He kept his glass of bourbon propped on his stomach as he slouched, pushing at the rug with his dirty socks. His head bobbed forward and back, rocked side to side. His vision blurred and he dreamed. He was chasing the boy through the woods, the shotgun cradled in his arms. The boy was running along a freshly cut trail and Harold was gaining on him. Ahead the boy stopped in a small clearing surrounded by oaks and stared down at a low pile of rocks. Harold slowly walked up behind the boy.
There was a knock at the door. It only half raised Harold out of his drunken stupor. The knock was replaced by a heavy banging and a muffled voice, “Sheriff's department.” Harold startled awake and the drink on his stomach tipped pouring several ounces of bourbon across his lap.
“Sum-a-bitch,” Harold drooled as he got to his feet. The room was dizzy, the pounding continued.
“Hold on a sec, I’m coming... Hold on.” Harold steadied himself along the wall and unlocked the front door.