Slade stepped out of his forest home and breathed in the crisp air of late September. The sun was just rising over the low hills to the east and thick tendrils of morning mist curled and writhed across the ground like so many ephemeral serpents. Closing the heavy door behind him, he carefully drew the curtain comprised of military-surplus camouflage netting and carefully-chosen clusters of natural brush across the portal. Striding a short distance forward, he turned to survey his cabin with a critical eye. Even to he, who knew it was there, the opening was all but undetectable. He smiled with satisfaction.
In point of fact, his dwelling was not actually a cabin. Over the course of a decade he had built his refuge into the living side of a low mound indistinguishable from any of dozens of others in the gentle rolling terrain. Its natural insulation made it unnecessary to trouble himself over such matters as heating or cooling the spacious living area. Being a cautious and thorough man, however, he had installed an efficient wood-burning stove for cooking as well as heat. He had tunneled through the earth behind his hillock and ran the exhaust from the stove almost a quarter mile away where it emptied below the waterline into a deep, wide tributary of the Columbia River.
It had been a…productive summer but he was decidedly glad when the days had begun to shorten again and nature returned the land to him without the fumbling attention of outsiders. Twenty five years ago, he had turned his back on the urban rat race of career and prestige and corporate in-fighting for a simpler, less frenetic existence that allowed him freedom to appreciate the natural beauty that surrounded him. That it also provided him ample opportunities to exercise his more…salacious nature was a wonderful additional benefit.
During the verdant, hot months of summer the children of the very Yuppie bastards he had fled a quarter century before…invaded his solitude. Grown now to adults themselves, they felt obligated to re-establish a closer relationship with the natural world their unenlightened parents had so fattened themselves exploiting. This meant that for three interminably-long months his solace was marred by their clumsy tramping about in his land. While they gave lip service to such concepts as nature and sustainability and communion, in reality they were too loud and too sloppy and too inexperienced in the ways of the wilderness to truly appreciate the majesty they defiled by their mere presence.
For his part, Slade was content to live and let live, avoiding their encroachment and remaining unseen and unsuspected within the comfort of his sylvan domain. And yet, there were also some…a few…a select number who intruded too far into his space. And for that they paid a price…the ultimate price. Never one to be overly concerned with material possessions, he nevertheless had devoted an unused corner of his lodgings to a makeshift trophy case. Within it, he’d carefully placed a single item belonging to each of those unfortunate interlopers in memory of the hours, and in some cases days, of prurient enjoyment they had provided him.
He was circumspect in his indulgences and fastidious in his methods of disposal so as to draw no untoward attention to himself. The wilderness was, admittedly, not without its hazards and dangers and, of hundreds of hikers and weekend naturalists, it was foreseeable a certain number would meet with an unfortunate or unexplained end. That their end had been at his hands did not need to be a matter of public record.
He did a slow turn, surveying the land about him and taking note of the first seasonal changes brought on by Autumn. He breathed deeply, noting the dry, acrid tang of fallen leaves and drying grasses. The earthy aroma of the forest loam mingled with the moist kiss of the first morning frost to enervate and enliven Slade in a manner that so often surprised him even after so many years. To the senseless fools entrapped in their pitiless concrete wasteland, Fall was a time of dying…of withering…of decay but not to Slade.
He knew it was the season of preparation…of seasoning. For the land to survive, it must be fed, be nourished, be renewed. In the endless cyclic rhythm of nature this took place as the days grew shorter and cold seeped into the world. The wondrous, insulating blanket of leaf mulch and deadfalls of cold rain and deepening mud created the impetus for the forest to endure and to thrive through the heartless cold of the Winter. It was as if the land drew a blanket of comfort over itself before it slept.
This time of year always came to Slade with a bittersweet, mixed bag of emotions. While he relished the solitary anonymity of his respite and embraced the wisdom by which the planet governed itself, he would miss the infrequent…diversions offered by those who violated his borders…disregarded his boundaries. There would be fewer and fewer opportunities offered up to him and they would be, predictably, far harder to capitalize upon.
Though he considered himself a consummate woodsman, falling leaves and downed limbs and sticks made even his measured footfalls through the woodlands more likely to be detected. He would have to be more assiduous…more stealthy in his choices of cover and concealment if his prey were to be taken truly unawares. Still and all, he mused, his first years without the false comforts and artificial crutches of civilization had not been easy ones and yet…he had survived, had prospered, had thrived.
This story was written for the Fall Flash Festival sponsored by my friend and fellow flash fiction fanatic, Eric Martell. The Festival continues through Oct. 3rd, so feel free to stop by and contribute your own offering and enjoy the works of the other participants.