Though Hant’s circumspection had proved to be a help round morning. It became a hindrance as noon began to roll on into evening.
Jim wanted one thing.
To establish a hearth was to establish a heartbeat. The instinct for flame was as primordial as the fear of that which lurked beyond its perimeter.
He needed fuel. There were trees a plenty but where was the chainsaw? Where was the axe. Why were there no split logs? Why were there no splinters. Why were there no stumps?
He’d run through the grounds. He’d run through the house. He was exhausted.
As he slumped down at the kitchen table his eye fell on an irregularity in the wall.
It was a door.
A door so similar to the wall in which its wooden handle sat that he’d have missed it had his subconscious not called his pupils to sentry.
Nearly leaping from the chair, he traversed the space to the mysterious threshold.
As hinges creaked and the aperture swung inward, he beheld stairs leading down into inky blackness.
“The basement! Thank fuck.”
He fumbled for a switch. There was none.
So, he procured the lantern from the porch.
The stairs led deeper than he expected. To a depth that was nearly as tall as the cabin itself.
‘God I can’t imagine digging this out with just a shovel.’
But that must have been the way Hant did it. What did they helicopter in a tractor?
Jim recalled the iron in his uncle’s grip. Iron that had remained even on the sick bed. He felt a surge of waxing respect.
His surprise at the dimensions of the place dissipated.
There were fluorescent lights above him. Or at least there seemed to be.
He raised his lantern. Yes. There were those long tubes hanging seven or so feet above.
Jim smacked himself.
He trotted back up the stairs. And sure, enough the switch he was looking for was in the kitchen. It was almost as adeptly disguised as the door itself.
‘What is the fuckin point of a camo door?’ Jim cursed internally. ‘And a camo switch…’
But his annoyance turned to joy. For in the large rectangular cellar beside a set of stairs on the opposite corner was at least a month’s supply of logs.
The cellar seemed to serve as a sort of hybrid toolshed and storage space. Naturally, everything was fastidiously arranged.
There was also a worktable. On which many oak branches were carved into fantastic patterns and implements.
‘No wonder Lizzy is cranky. Old Hant must be one lousy lay if he pours this much energy into craftin knik knacks.’
Jim laughed out loud and began the happy work of conveying the logs to the fireplace.
Where they had come from, he did not know. He’d searched several miles of the nearby forest and found no stump.
Maybe they’d been ATV’d or horsed in from Reed.
These thoughts while interesting were merely background.
He’d looked up the chimney and found it clear. Clear enough to sully with the happy tickling tongue of flame and the warm breath of smoke.
All the doors had been fastened. The windows shuttered. The .38 test fired and fully loaded.
Soon these assurances would be joined by warmth.
There were plenty of kerosene vessels about.
So it was that a flick of a half-finished cigarette started the heartbeat of Jim Cleary’s new home.
Though he was still a touch distressed by the clammy grip of isolation he’d begun to wriggle free.
The soft strange song of the Whippoorwill and Owl was a soothing lullaby. The warm crackle of the fireplace and the warmer glide of whiskey were a blanket that lulled him back to deep strange dreams.
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