In the Dying Light
I smell the woodsmoke only in memory now and the laughter of my little Molly in the dying light. Such days have long gone when the cabin we built nestled cozily under the overhang of many branches.
Hewn timbers snugged their fellows with dark mud plugging the ragged gaps and today still hold Molly's tiny fingerprints. She tossed her head back and giggled and such a stab of joy struck my heart! Side by side we built our world, forsaking sad remembrances as each day arrived and departed and memories of her mother became the echo of shadows.
Many dawns and twilight curtain-falls have now passed from somewhere north of nowhere.
That particular winter came much too early, catching us unaware.
I smiled and touched the angel of my deepest love whose upturned face was all the heaven any man could believe. At the first chill of the North wind, I sent her inside. The scent of winter is unmistakable. What must be done carries much urgency.
We’d need lots of wood when the approaching storm arrived.
Trudging toward the timber I set off; as the first lazy snowflakes tossed and curled in mad cascades, scarcely whispering a hint of the deadly thunderhead beyond those hills.
The heft of my heavy ax bit deep and tore the fleshy bark. “Hack-hack-thump” in the bitter whoosh of vanishing daylight.
“There’s still time,” I told myself. “There’s plenty of time”.
All afternoon I sang and hummed the silly serenade little Molly learned when she was three. Her mother’s tune--a trace of that other world--another time now passed. Bitter cold and hard work coaxed her remembrance and the lilt of her gracious voice came unbidden to my mind.
I timed the bite of my swinging ax to the downbeat that song.
Whoom! Toppled timber fell.
Roped and cinched, I secured the firewood to my sled, tight and tighter, and turned to catch a fragrant smell: freshly baked bread quickening my pace. The plodding boot prints outlined in the nightfall's whiteness.
Crunching echoes swarmed between snowflakes. I rounded whitened paths and turned toward my Molly’s welcomed window light.
But there and then I stopped-- too sudden to breathe or call the name stuck sideways in my throat.
All stood still--as did my heart. I held my breath at the sight of it--that telltale clue.
The door wandered on its hinge, flapping slowly like the dying wing of a fallen sparrow.
Darkness crawled up my spine with its icy claws.
I squinted at the front porch where something damp had spilled along the floorboards. Reddish brown smeared and streaked a savage trace--stove to door--crimson and appalling to my eyes. Something bleeding had been dragged off and swallowed into a blinding white flurry.
Suddenly somebody was screaming in my voice as half a mile away another voice and another joined tunefully. Voices not human.
"A-wooooo," the voices called...
"A-woooo," the others answered...
I fell to my knees--all strength gone from my legs. My mind left me--somewhere north of nowhere as the storm plunged into that terrible night like a cold blade. Dear God, it came rioting in to spin and whistle through this empty cabin. Only then my arms let go the firewood--Whoom!
This chorus had sung once before. The late September when dear Abigail gathered mushrooms in the thicket beyond the treeline and never came home again. And never will.
I smell the woodsmoke only in memory now with the laughter of my little Molly in the dying light of evening. Such days have long gone where our cabin crouched as hewn timbers snugged their fellows, and where dark mud packed the ragged gaps still holding Molly's tiny fingerprints. Somewhere north of nowhere. Nowhere at all. A bitter year has passed. The thick blanket of winter clouds is back to taunt me. There is no need for firewood this time. No need at all. The cast iron stove is lit and the pungent aroma of stew will work its lure. The redness of twilight is fading and a half dozen yellow eyes blink out beyond the timberline. The door is ajar and my back is turned toward the entrance. Only enough room for one visitor at a time.
There's just enough room to swing an ax.
In the dying light.
By Terry Edwin Walstrom