The wheels of the cart were made of old slats of wood and they were turning and dirty as they traveled the rock and dirt trail. Jack pulled the cart full of freshly fallen and trimmed small trees as the sun was setting. The trunks bounced on each other over the rocks in the road and rumbled dully as they settled back into place. He walked to his cabin and he saw the sunlight flatten over the hills and into the valley that was his home. And the orange light carried the wind through the tall and flexible pines of the forest and warmed the air.
The cabin was made from the forest. Pine trunks two feet wide lay on their sides on top of each other building up windowless, to the roof. The sides of the thick pines were round and their bark covered them. The roof pieces were milled flat reaching up to a point in the back for the rain dropoff and the roof was varnished dark. The cabin sat in the woods as something that had grown there naturally. The only door to the cabin was in the front and was heavy, and Jack unlocked its two deadbolts and pulled it open. The first cold of the night had filled the large single room and he built a fire in the metal-lined fireplace in the center of the space. He sat in a big padded wooden chair in the growing warmth in the dim light of the fire, shining through the grates, and he watched the flicker of light bounce on the walls until he fell asleep.
Jack woke up quickly.
CLANG! CLANG! CLANG!
The gunshots rang outside. He counted four and they sounded as if they were about a mile away. The old man, Henry, was the only one who lived near and he religiously had no guns.
He stood up still shaking the sleep out of his body.
His grandfather’s Winchester 12 hung on a rack near the shelf. The meticulously milled stock shined with oil and the barrel was thick and heavy in his hands now. The gunshots had stopped and Jack could only hear the dry golden pine needles crunch under his boots. The early morning sun poked through the tall pines in the dense woods and Jack could see the clearing ahead to the road.
Two weeks ago Jack had made the monthly two-hour drive down that road to get to the old five and dime to restock. Gary would have his order boxed and ready to load in the back of Jack’s truck. The remote woods of central Saskatchewan had nearly everything he needed to live and sustain. But leaves are dry and sharp, and water does not make your body tight. But the last trip yielded nothing. There was no filled box, and Gary had told Jack that there was little inventory coming in, and what did make it, was sold out the same day. He had told him that people were getting sick in the town, and maybe even further out. They were sick, and scared enough to hoard supplies and food.
“They have fear in their eyes, Jack.”, Gary had said. “Fear and greed.”
Jack could see Henry’s house by the road and through the woods, and a white SUV with one of those rental trailers hitched to the back, sat in the driveway with its back doors open. A heavy man with light blonde hair stepped out of Henry’s front door carrying a box full of food and brought it to the back of the trailer. Two other men, one heavy-set with dark hair and one short and bald, followed with more filled boxes. A tall man with slick dark hair appeared now from behind the trailer holding a rifle.
Jack then saw him. He saw the old man lying on the ground, still and flat, with his head on its side.
The men closed the trailer door and got in the SUV and it pulled back and out of the driveway, shifting forward towards Jack’s home. Jack needlessly ducked from his view deep in the woods as they drove away.
The long old road from town came to a fork near Jack’s home. After the sale of the sixty-two acres from the province to Jack four years ago, he had built a gate on the portion of the road that only led to his property. The other direction at the fork began a six-hour drive to Montana. The gate, and the signs that read PRIVATE PROPERTY and NO TRESPASSING, were enough to discourage the seldom driver from heading in his direction.
The large SUV passed the fork and the locked gate that Jack had spent three days building, exploded into splinters and the signs spun on their poles and down onto the ground. Jack whipped around and burst into a sprint.
The shed was six feet tall and sat on raised boards twenty yards to the side of the cabin. It was prefabricated and Jack had lived in it for the year he was building the house. Now, he had it filled with water jugs that he had carted up from the stream that was down the hill, and venison jerky from a deer he had shot, butchered and cooked over a low, long and slow fire. His axes and tools hung on the inside walls. And his emergency supplies sat in the back. He had brought enough non-perishable food and supplies to last him three months if he ever needed them. They were dusty and had been untouched.
As Jack rounded the hill that surrounded his cabin he saw the SUV parked next to his shed. He heard mutterings and a WHACK! every time they hit the lock of the door. The two heavy men stood by the shed making easy work of the deadbolt on the cheap prefab door. However, the door that Jack had built to his home, was only bruised in the center and by the locks, unopened. Closer now, Jack could see that the tall man was lean with a mustache and goatee that were both black and slick like his hair, and the short and fat man had greasy hair on the sides of his temple. They were walking around to the back of the cabin, looking for another entrance or window that wasn’t going to be there. The tall man carried a shotgun and the short man had a pistol. Two long rifles leaned against the white aluminum siding of the shed where the other men worked. They began loading the trailer.
The men by the cabin came around the front corner and they muttered to each other quietly. The short man went to the SUV and returned to the cabin with an ax. The tall man had begun climbing up the large round sides of the pines. His long body maneuvered the rolls of the wood up to the roof. He stood there tall, and the fat man threw the ax up sideways. The short man slowly reached for his gun out of the back of his pant’s waistline and looked around him, training his pistol on whatever might be there.
A wave of crows flew out from the tall trees and their chorus of caws echoed the explosion of Jack’s gun. The tall man on the roof stood frozen with the ax above his head. He looked down at his chest, now open with blood soaking into his shirt and dripping down to his legs. He collapsed and landed on his back on the edge of the roof, his head and chest now hanging over the edge, the blood pouring out of him onto the ground below. The short and fat man started shooting at nothing frantically, and the two men working clumsily grabbed their rifles and stumbled behind the SUV. Jack circled back behind the cabin. The fat man was hiding at the corner of the cabin with his back to Jack. Jack threw a rock over the man and onto the ground in front of him, and as the man startled in that direction, Jack pulled a knife out of his belt on his way to him, and cupped his hand over the man’s mouth and nose, and slowly but strongly slid the sharp edge of the blade through his throat, buried in the soft width of his neck. The blood sputtered and shot out in bursts and his hand muffled the last sounds of the man.
“Steve!”, one of the other men shouted with a crack in his voice. “Where are you?!”
Jack waited still and silently. After about thirty seconds of only occasional mutterings from the scared men, one of them rounded the back of the SUV, showing his back and legs unknowingly to Jack, as he crouched looking in the opposite direction.
Jack shot his knee quickly and the other man flew up above the front of the car’s hood and his head exploded at the sound of Jack’s gun. Jack stood up and away from the cabin, with his rifle on the bleeding man behind the car. The man whimpered and stretched for his gun that had been strewn across the ground. His lower leg lay bent in the wrong direction, under the red and soft knee.
As Jack towered above him, the final gunshot of the day ended the man’s life.
He loaded the back of his truck with the limp and lifeless bodies and drove them deeper into the woods and buried them in the dirt, and covered any evidence of their grave with fresh ground and dead needles. He used the jugs of water in his shed to rinse the blood from his roof and to run it into the dirt.
The trailer of the SUV was nearly full with supplies. He loaded it all into the back of his truck and emptied his shed. He drove the SUV and trailer back to Henry’s and Jack saw him again, lying in his driveway, his old face on its side drooling blood. He left him under the front yard and under a crucifix that had hung above the old man’s table. He walked home.
And in his truck, he drove down the long road, past the old man’s home towards the town.