The Cabin in the Clearing
Like a miner of ores and gemstones standing at the mouth of cavern, Albey peered into the doorway of the cabin in the clearing. The warm glow of the rising sun flitted around his shadow and painted the treasures held within his new home: shelves built from the planks of the floor to the planks of the ceiling, some stocked with jars, others stocked with books; a blanketed bed with a thick bundle of gray stuffed beneath it; steamer trunks, one at the foot of the bed and one chocked between two jar-lined shelves; a chimney of stone with an immaculate hearth framing the fireplace at its base; in the center of the room a table hosting a lantern, a jar of herbs, and a smoking pipe.
At Albey’s feet was the sheet of papyrus with the runes. He took that up and placed it delicately on the hearth, then dragged a finger across its rough, stony surface. No dust.
“They must have been clean,” the Mad Poet mumbled to himself as he rubbed the tips of his thumb and pointer finger together. “Must have walked off rather recently, too.”
In the jars on the shelf to the left of the chocked steamer trunk were reddish-brown flanks of meat, dried and seasoned with salt and dark flakes. Deer meat, from the taste of it, the seasonings likely the herbs and roots from the jars on the other shelf; Albey emptied an entire jar of jerky into his mouth after taking the first bite, unable to control himself. It had been so long since he tasted the pleasantly gamey pallet of venison (or whatever meat this was); in fact it felt as though he had never tasted it before, as though this was the first time in his Life he had eaten real food. He simply couldn’t help himself.
In the trunk between the shelves of jarred meats and herbs were more jars, these containing a clear liquid.
“Could be spirits,” Albey hoped, taking one up and shaking it. “Or water, more likely.”
Only one way to find out; Albey spun the lid clear off and chugged starvingly, ready to be felled to the burnwood floor by the punch of the alcohol, but it was merely water. He continued to drink until the jar was empty, spilling great dribbles down his cheeks, into his beard, onto his ashy tunic. He put this jar next to the other empty jar: on the floor by his feet.
Between the second shelf and the back wall of the cabin was a long cubbyhole of sorts, a tall and slender cabinet without a door to conceal what it held. Here Albey found plentiful weaponry – a dagger, a longsword, a spear, a hatchet, a battleax, even what appeared to be a halberd – all with handles of burnwood and blades of stone chipped to visceral and jagged edges.
“These could be useful,” he said to the weapons, taking out the halberd and giving it a once-over. He grasped it by the sturdy pole and swung, fully expecting the head to fly off and gouge the wall, but it stayed firm. He put it back, failing to notice the ‘manlike footprint carved into the handle, carved into the handles of all the tools of War. “Yes, very useful indeed.”
Inside the trunk at the foot of the bed was clothing and a fuzzy cloth, one likely meant for drying. The Mad Poet could bathe, then, and bathe he would. In good time. He closed the trunk and moved across the back wall, ignoring the bed for the bookshelf beside the hearth.
Lining the shelf on the other side of the cabin were many and many’a tome, pages of papyrus bound between leather covers, few of them containing blank pages. Albey flipped through a select few of them, just to get a gist of what they were about; the previous tenant of this cabin was very interested in the hidden world of nature which lurked omnipresently in the burnwood forest around the clearing. There was a book about the burnwood trees, about the many herbs and shrubberies and weeds which sprouted from the needles at their feet, about the smaller denizens which scurried up and down their lengths. About the predators of the endless wood, from the coyotes to the skunks to the raccoons to the bears. In his selection Albey found mostly books about the wolves, gray, white, and black; it seemed to Albey that the wolves were the main focus of the ‘man who called this cabin home before Albey woke up in the firepit and claimed it for himself.
“At least I know it was not me who lived here in the past,” Albey said as he flipped through detailed sketches of the black hounds of the Calla. “I’ve no talent for the sketch, and my calligrophy is much neater than this.”
Indeed it was; where Albey’s lettering was thin and precise, the scrawling of whoever made these books was not quite messy, but not neat either; it seemed to be done in a rush, as though they had so much to record they couldn’t dare to slow their stroke. The lines were thick and graphic, with many smudges around the words. They could have been done in charcoal, and probably were, as Albey did not find any pencils or quills sitting on the shelves of the bookcase.
He put the book back on the shelf and looked about the cabin. Smelled deeply of the dry and homey air. Stretched his arms, bumped his knuckles on the low ceiling. Yawned mightily, despite the fact the sun was still rising.
“They were studying the wolves,” Albey said, bringing himself to a conclusion. “I am not trapped in a cycle, I have merely been placed here in this strange and random location with the convenience of arriving after the last inhabitant had left.”
Albey looked at the bed, at the thick wool blanket, at the bulge of gray beneath it. He crouched down and pulled the bundle out – it was soft yet slightly bristled, like the fur of a wolf; same color, too – and then unrolled it, then dropped the thing and leapt back in shock. It was the pelt of an adult wolf after all; head, tail, even the paws were preserved. Shock bleached his face until the color slowly returned.
“Yes, they were studying the wolves,” he said again, most sure of himself. “And they somehow managed to kill one. Mayhap a member of the pack of that loner I saw this morning.” Albey nodded at himself, as if to confirm this. “Yes, it’s all very clear to me now. The ‘man who raised this cabin learned the ways of the lunar wolves, was able to study the hunters of the Calla and the Halla without being slain and devoured; surely they were capable of felling one of the grays. The one with the gimpy leg was likely injured by him. Mayhap that wolf was a sibling of this slain wolf. Mayhap even a parent.”
Albey sat, crossing his legs as he lowered to the floor, and began to roll up the wolf pelt.
“Surely that would explain why it was so afraid of me. The hunter had become the hunted, a feeling entirely foreign to it. It feared not I, but the fate it believed I would bring unto it. It feared Death.”
Albey leaned to shove the pelt back under the bed, then stopped, squinted, and pulled it back out. There seemed to be an irregularity in the boards, but… gah, ‘twas too dark to see clearly. He would have to use the lantern, and so he rose and got the lantern off the table and returned to the side of the bed, lighting the flame and recoiling at the ghastly smell of burning oil. He placed the lantern down and got down on his belly and yes, there was an irregularity in the flooring, a single unbolted board floating awkwardly amongst its kin. Albey fingered the board out and threw it aside, then reached into the hole and struck dirt with his fingertips.
“A shallow divot,” he reasoned as he felt blindly around. There didn’t seem to be… “Oh.”
Albey’s hand wrapped around what felt like a leatherbound book, and when he took it out, he realized that’s exactly what it was. The last ‘man to live in this desolate cabin was very practical, had enough food and drink stored up to last braud strates on end… so why would they hide this book? Why not keep it with the others?
“Only one way to find out, I suppose.”
Albey opened the book, read the entry filling the first four pages, and the understanding dawned on him like the sun rising into a sky overcast with ambiguous gray clouds.
This has been the thrid subchapter of the sixth chapter of The Face of Fear, a novel about bigfoot written by the writer in Untitled Bigfoot Project. Here is everything you need to know about it:
I’ve written a few other books, too. Click here to see the list.
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