'Tatters' is my latest story. Yes, it's another word challenge I wrote for an Uxbridge Writers' Circle meeting!
The words we had to use are in italics. They are: flurry; lantern; power; cave; mountain; tanked.
The story is longer than I usually write, but my fellow members told me they enjoyed it, so I hope you do too!
I follow it with a couple of photos of our barn cats with an update. (I introduced them to you in a much earlier post).
The mountain’s silhouette loomed over Clive as he crossed the slippery boardwalk that spanned a swamp. He knew this part of the wilderness park well, even in the hazy moonlight. He’d spent many days camping along the river when he was growing up. He loved the clarion call of the Redwinged Blackbirds as they clung to bullrush stalks, and the chirpy songs of the frogs. But nothing punctured the silence, and nothing mattered to him anymore. His business and, in fact, his whole life had tanked.
This hike into the world of his youth was an attempt to escape harsh realities. He’d suffered some knocks and the last blow had bowled him over. He didn’t think he had it in him to pick himself up. But he held onto the feeble hope that taking some time away from it would help.
He’d carefully stocked his enormous backpack with supplies including a propane lantern since he wouldn’t have access to power to recharge batteries. His phone was for emergency use only.
Clive had a specific camping spot in mind. But as he neared his favourite patch by the river, he heard chatter and smoke tingled his nose. People had invaded his space. He should have guessed this could happen. Housing was being erected at phenomenal speed, closing in on his paradise.
A small bell tent was lit up like a beacon. They were wasting power. Two campers were crouched by a fire with hotdogs pierced onto sticks.
“How about warming the buns?” One of the campers stood and walked towards the tent, opened a cooler, and pulled out a bag.
Clive circled around them through the trees and changed his plans. There was a small cave close by. The entrance was hidden by an immense granite boulder and looked like a giant mousehole chewed into the base of the mountain. It was a squeeze to get behind the boulder. He had to breathe in and hold his backpack above his head.
There were snowflakes in the air as he stooped down to enter his haven. He switched his flashlight off as soon as he’d lit the lantern. An empty whisky bottle lay on the gritty floor and the acrid smell of urine assaulted his nose. He was shaken to the point that his hands trembled as he pushed his way out.
It was as if he couldn’t escape from his pain. The sanctuary he’d hoped to find was elusive. His backpack seemed heavier and his legs stiffer. Darkness engulfed him both inside and all around him.
A scream pierced the damp atmosphere. He ignored it.
Another scream. It was high-pitched and shrill. He wanted to pretend he hadn’t heard it. No one would know if he kept on walking. He’d remembered another spot he’d found solace in as a teenager. It was under a large tree further along the valley.
A third scream.
He turned towards the tent, back the way he’d come—almost as if he was an automaton and programmed to respond. The snow flurry had morphed into a blizzard. He pulled his hood up over his toque. His flashlight didn’t help much since it caught the myriad of snowflakes in its beams creating a white wall in front of him. He pointed it downwards and hoped his memory of the place would take him back in the right direction.
The fuzzy image of the lit-up tent appeared to his left. He’d almost passed it but a ripping noise drew his attention. The muffled sounds of sobbing caused him to quicken his pace now that he knew where he needed to go.
A black shape was clawing at the tent and, as Clive approached, it tipped over the cooler and pulled out two packages.
Clive had a storm whistle on a lanyard that hung around his neck. He always carried it while hiking. He took a deep breath and blew hard while holding the flashlight’s bright beam directly on the bear. The bear hesitated and looked towards Clive for a second or two, but then his silky black fur rippled as he resumed scratching inside the cooler. Clive blew the whistle again. He was closer now. The animal stopped and seemed undecided. Clive blew with as much gusto as he could muster and swirled the flashlight’s dazzling beam around the bear’s head. That was enough to convince the bear to take off. He grabbed two packets in his mouth and loped off towards the woods—he was packing in calories in readiness for the long winter.
The snowfall’s intensity had eased, and the devastation was clearly visible. The tent was in tatters, the battery-powered lantern cover was broken, and the cooler lay on its side, dirty and empty—the lid had broken off its hinges. But two small backpacks had survived unscathed.
Two figures came out from behind a rock. Clive reckoned they were boys in their teens.
“Are you okay?” asked Clive.
Instead of answering him, they started pushing and shoving. Clive gathered they were blaming each other for what had happened.
“Hey! Cut that out,” Clive said. “Tell me who you are and where you live and I’ll make sure you get home safely.”
“I said cut it out!” Clive blew the whistle.
The boys stopped and stared at him as snowflakes landed on their ruffled hair.
“Let’s get you home before you kill each other.”
“We can’t go home.”
“Because Mom and Dad are fighting.”
“I expect that’ll be over by now. What are your names?”
“I’m Ben. And they’ll be fighting forever.”
“Stop pushing me, jerk.” They resumed thumping each other.
“Stop that. I get it, you’re brothers. You’re Ben and your name?”
“Dan. They’re fighting ‘cause we found out Dad has a girlfriend and we told Mom. So, it’s all our fault.”
“No, it’s not. It’s your father’s fault. Look, you’re cold. We need to get you warm and fed. Will your mother worry when you’re not back at home?”
“No, we told them, well we had to like shout, we’re going to our mate’s place. We threw some stuff together and left.”
“We often camp,” Ben said. “But not here with the frigging bears.”
“I have a tent,” Clive said. “One option is for us to share my tent and my food. We can clear this up tomorrow. Grab your backpacks and sleeping bags.”
They trudged along the riverbank to the spot under the large willow and after eating granola bars, apples, and cheese, washed down with filtered water, Clive secured his backpack with a rope high up in the tree. They unrolled their sleeping bags on the floor of the tent and lay down like a row of sardines.
No one could sleep. Ben and Dan shared stories from their troubled home-life and their stressful school-life. Clive sensed that they didn’t hold much hope for the future. He’d been in their position at that age, but he’d made something of his life. They could too. But when they asked questions of him, he squirmed. He’d been successful up to a point but recently his life had been torn into tatters. His business partner had embezzled most of the company’s funds to support a drug habit. Clive knows he should have picked up on it sooner, but he trusted his friend. Then his wife left him. She said he was depressing. And his daughter took off for Australia to live with a man she’d met online. He didn’t share any of the bad stuff with Ben and Dan, except about his daughter moving to Australia.
They chatted about life and relationships, and bears and camping, all night, and eventually fell asleep at dawn. Clive woke to the sound of geese flying overhead. They must have been some of the later ones to leave. Their wings sounded as if they could do with a bit of oil. Thinking of that brought a faint smile to Clive’s lips. He wriggled out of his sleeping bag, pulled on his hiking boots, and made the slushy walk down to the river. Mist hovered over the dark green water and the sun’s rays were struggling to burn it off. It was quiet and peaceful except for some rustling coming from behind him.
When he got back to the tent the boys were gone and his backpack was missing. He patted his pockets. His phone, wallet and keys were safe. He sighed. But rather than have a meltdown and allow despair to engulf him as it so often did these days, he barely grumbled as he folded up his remaining gear. He wanted the boys to be okay.
He walked back to the site where he’d found the teens, gathered up the shredded tent, and wrapped it into a bundle to carry. Nothing else was there except a little garbage that he cleared up. He was about to leave when he heard runners. The two boys slipped and skidded to a halt in front of him. They had his backpack.
“Sorry, we shouldn’t have taken this,” Dan said.
“You helped us a lot,” Ben said. “No one is ever kind to us. You’re decent.”
“Thanks for my backpack.”
“I hope your daughter comes back,” Dan said.
“You should go see her,” Ben said.
“Funny you should say that. I’ve decided that’s what I want to do. Talking things through with you helped me to sort things out. Who knows, perhaps I’ll stay there and start up a new business.”
“Cool. Promise you’ll hire us if you do.”
“Perhaps I will.”
Vicky Earle Copyright 2023
Our Barn Cats!
The cats were named by our grandsons, by the way. This one is called Cricket: I can't do him justice. My camera, the lighting, me - the combination of all three produces a photo that requires the viewer to use their imagination.
I took this picture this evening.
As you can see, he's a black blob. But he has lovely eyes (take my word for it!).
He tells our dogs off if necessary. (He's the boss) but he also plays with Raven (our large black dog). Raven adores him.
Cricket loves to be stroked and fussed over.
This is Brownie. He is the shyer one but he now runs over to me and stands on his hind legs to be stroked!
He's larger than Cricket and, as you can see, they don't look alike, even though they're brothers.
He's not very vocal but will call to me sometimes when we're outside.
He doesn't play with the dogs, but he will greet them by rubbing against them. However, he's capable of telling them off just as Cricket does!
We adopted Cricket and Brownie as feral kittens when they were about five months old, they're about 2 1/2 years old now.
Thank you for reading my post.
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