fiction

Sung Home: Chapter Fifteen. {fiction}

Summer faded as fall descended and the nights turned chilly again.

I decided to spend a couple of days hunting in the higher elevations, hoping to bring down a deer or elk. An elk, along with the smaller game and fish I had already dried and stored, would give me enough meat to last through the winter and probably well into spring, especially if I could hunt some fresh meat now and then too.

I had been practicing shooting the crossbow for several weeks, since I first found it, and I was eager to test my skill on something that moved and could make a significant difference in my winter diet. Early one cool morning, I packed up Burl and we headed out.

There were plenty of deer and elk fairly close by, but I kept going deeper into the mountains, following the east fork of the Gila river, enjoying a vacation from the valley. We stood high along a ridge-line, the mountains undulating to each horizon like a giant’s chenille blanket tossed carelessly down.

The high-altitude conifers created a soft fuzzy effect, making the whole world seem more comfy and welcoming to me than it had been in recent memory. The high desert fall sun shone gently down now, no longer the harsh burn of the August. I lay in the thick meadow grasses that were already wilting some from the cold nights, and napped while Burl browsed.

I didn’t even bother looking for elk or deer sign after I woke from my nap. I decided I would just take the rest of the day off for a change.

The third day out, we headed back towards home, and though we did cross paths with a herd of deer in the morning and spotted some elk just before dusk, I decided that the closer to home I bagged my prey, the easier it would be for Burl and I to carry it home. The excuse I had made to take a trip had worn through, and I knew I had just gotten a little cabin fever, despite the lack of a real cabin.

On the fourth day, I hunted in earnest and was rewarded for my practice by bringing down a buck on my first try. I could hardly believe my luck. Burl and I had been hunkered down in a stand near a lot of deer droppings, and the buck just walked out right in front of us as if it had never heard of a predator.

I wish I could say I got that deer because I was such a great shot, but it was so close and stood so still I would have had to try to miss to not hit it. Right through the heart. It just dropped like a sack of grain, eyes rolling and legs thrashing for a minute. Then it went still.

It was nearly dusk, so after a prayer of thanks to the deer for giving its life to me, I worked fast to get it gutted, skinned and cut up into pieces for the walk home. I packed the meat onto Burl and we made our way by moonlight a couple of miles so we wouldn’t be too close when the scavengers came for the entrails and other remains.

Once we found a place to camp, I hoisted the canvas bag of meat high up a branch by first tying the rope to the bag, then tossing the rope over a sturdy branch, then pulling the load up, well off the ground. I built a fire underneath the meat too, not close enough to cook it but close enough to discourage any interest from other animals.

I slept fitfully next to my treasure, occasionally hearing some rustling in the forest, but nothing came close enough for alarm.

I awoke to the realization that we were closer to home than I had thought. High above our valley, I saw the Gila river snaking its way down and around the curves of the hills. I saw the burned-out village, so I knew my little shack was there too, tucked into the trees.

As I ate a bundle of lamb’s quarters and some dried rabbit for breakfast, I saw something moving down there, near the village, just past where my shed would be. I was too far away to see for sure, but it looked a little like a person. I stared, trying to make it out, but it disappeared into the trees before I could see it clearly.

I decided it must be a bear, though the bears in the neighborhood usually stayed farther upstream.

It was early afternoon when we rounded the curve in the road near the shed. The sun was high and hot and I looked forward to taking a quick dip in the river before taking a nap in my shed home. It wasn’t much, but I had grown fond of it. I felt secure and comfortable there. I smiled to myself at the realization that I did think of it as home, not just a fixed-up shed.

I turned the knob and knew something was wrong even before I opened the door. The smells were wrong. I had cleaned the cabin thoroughly before leaving, using soap and vinegar I had brought from the Gunderson’s to scrub the counters and floors. Now I smelled animal urine and feces. I heard scurrying sounds and squeaks.

In the two seconds it took for me to sense that something was wrong to standing in the open doorway, I knew exactly what had happened. The stacked suspended wooden shelves I had built to hold my precious hunted and gathered stores lay askew on the floor.

One edge of the shelf unit had caught on my table so the whole thing lay partially propped, slanted so that the contents of the shelves had slid onto the floor.

I looked up at the one rope that connected the four corner ropes and saw the bit that remained at the top had been chewed through, dropping the whole unit down where it could be easily reached by the many rodents and other scavengers who had burglarized an entire summer’s worth of hunting, gathering and drying.

I had worked hard to make the cabin fairly animal-proof, and except for the occasional mouse, had mostly succeeded. I examined the walls all the way around and then saw it on the south side, under the counter-top, at the base of the wall.

Something, perhaps an industrious badger, had dug a hole under the wall and chewed and scraped its way through a bit of loose flooring, making a hole big enough for a medium-sized dog, and of course, anything smaller than that.

All my carefully constructed bags were strewn all over the floors, torn and chewed to uselessness. Every bit of food had been eaten or taken, and many of the marauders had left excrement in its place. So not only did I have no food, but I had a lot more cleaning to do before I could even go to bed.

I saw tiny marks in the debris, signs of scampering animal feet. I imagined mice, packrats, skunks, squirrels and at least one badger partying for all they were worth here. They must have gotten in on the first or second day to have absconded with so much before I got back.

I walked over to my bed, shook out the top blanket, sat on the edge, took off my shoes, pulled my feet off the floor, curled up into a small ball, and cried myself to sleep.

I awoke groggy and puffy-eyed. I’m dead, I thought. I think I would have filled my pockets with stones and walked into the river to drown if it had been deep enough to do so.

I remembered poor Burl, tied up outside the door, still bearing the deer meat. Feeling like a human-shaped bag of sand, I dragged myself out to unburden the poor burro, who stood with resentful patience, awaiting my return to my senses.

Feeling as if I was watching someone else instead of doing it myself, I set the meat on the table and commenced scrubbing the counter with the precious vinegar. By sundown I had the meat cut into strips and hanging from the latticework drying rack, which still remained suspended from the ceiling. I stuffed some rags into the hole in the floor and wall for the time being.

The animals were usually disinclined to harass me as long as I had lit some of the beeswax candles I had made. I would keep them going all night and repair the hole more carefully in the morning.

That night I dreamed of Daddy, Mama, Grandma Sita and Seth. We were sitting around Grandma’s big round kitchen table the way we had countless times before the virus.

The table was piled high with all our favorite foods. Green chile cheese enchiladas, jicama salad, and pinto beans cooked to near disintegration and topped with a thick layer of melted cheese. There was vegetable korma, saag paneer, basmati rice and a large plate holding steaming hot garlic naan covered with a clean dishcloth.

Assorted garnishes and condiments — chopped onions, tomatoes, lettuce, cilantro, and mango chutney in a small ceramic dish — sat tucked between the larger dishes of food. We were all smiling at each other and taking turns dishing out the delectable offerings onto our plates. The smells alone were nearly intoxicating.

Around us sat all of Grandma Sita’s friends from the surrounding area, each with a big plate in front of them and reaching in turns to serve themselves too. There were also lively conversation and laughing. There was so much love in that big kitchen, so much happiness, and most of all, so much food.

This is an ongoing series from a forthcoming fiction novel by Laura Ramnarace.
Tune in weekly for the next chapter in ‘Sung Home’.

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Laura Ramnarace, M.A. was driven to earn a master’s degree in Conflict Resolution while on her quest to find out why we can’t just all get along. She has published a book on inter-personal conflict, ‘Getting Along: The Wild, Wacky World of Human Relationship’, published a newspaper column also titled ‘Getting Along’, and submits regularly to Rebelle Society. Since 1999, she has provided training to a wide variety of groups on improving personal, working and inter-group relationships. ‘Sung Home’ is a work of eco-fiction set in southwestern New Mexico.

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