You can also hear me read this story on: Episode #36 of R.B. Wood’s “The Word Count” podcast.
The prompt for this podcast is “The snow drifts covered the door and the windows of the cabin…”
* * * *
On that cloudless day, the sun shone brightly in the sky. Flecks of white flew off the tops of evergreens and landed on the part of my hair not covered by my hat. My goose-feathered coat kept me warm, but I had forgotten to wear a scarf. I curled up my shoulders and tucked my hands under my chin, pulling the collar tighter around my neck. It was magical here compared to civilization, if you considered where I parked my car by the service road to be civilization.
Like a dragon puffing smoke, I walked into a fog of my breath with each step. All I heard was the sound of my breathing and the crunch of hard-packed snow beneath my boots.
My sense of direction was poor, so I had started the day early. The sun was my compass, and for whatever reason, I had no fear of being lost. I stopped after walking for nearly half an hour at a brisk pace. With my hands shielding my eyes from the sun, I surveyed the area and looked for the marker. According to the diary, the first thing to look for was a lone pine tree with two hearts carved into the trunk. I stood in the middle of a heavily forested area. How could there be a lone tree here?
I pulled out a piece of paper and unfolded it. The map I sketched had no indicators for distance, but this first stretch from the road was supposed to last at least forty minutes if walking at a steady pace. I returned the map to my pocket and ventured forward, trying hard not to let doubt enter my mind. After proceeding with greater awareness for another couple of minutes, I saw the pine tree with the hearts.
It stood on its own, with a circumference of twenty feet or more around it where nothing else grew. I approached the tree and brushed away the snow on the trunk, uncovered the hearts, etched side by side, overlapping in the middle. The initials HL and EY occupied the area where the hearts joined. My heart leapt at finding this first marker. From here, it would be trickier.
Veering off the beaten path heading eastward, I walked in a densely treed section. The path was difficult to enter at some points, with low hanging branches and sections that had no footing. At one point, I had to sit on my bum and slide down a patch of ice to move ahead. The question of how I would climb up the slippery incline when coming back crossed my mind, but it did not stop me.
I had come too far.
Five minutes later, I walked in a clearing where the forest split like the parting of the Red Sea. In the middle sprawled a frozen pond. It reminded me of a rink I used to visit as a child, a rink where Elaine and I learned how to skate. We were not even ten at the time. God, she was so beautiful, even then. This second marker brought tears to my eyes. I knew it would lead me to what I came for, and yet, a part of me almost wanted to turn back.
Elaine had stipulated in her will that I get her diaries. In them, I discovered my best friend had a secret I never knew. The pain of not knowing was almost as traumatic as her death. I took it personally that she never confided in me. Why did she keep this a secret? It took me sometime to get over my self-pity, to realize she had lived the life she wanted in those final years. Perhaps, I would have judged her, and maybe she knew that.
Snowflakes floated like feathers toward me. The warm air brushed my face as noontime approached. I slowed my pace, unsure of what I might find, not even sure if I wanted to find it. This was the shortest part of the journey. From the pond, I had made a right, which connected me to the curvy trail that led to my destination.
Set back in an enclave of trees, an ordinary structure stood. Snowdrifts covered the door and windows of the lonely, abandoned log cabin. Nothing about it stood out, except for the fact that I now knew about it.
After I swept away the snow from the door to expose the handle, I unzipped my jacket and pulled out the key nestled in the breast pocket. It took several tries of jiggling the lock but it finally opened. I pushed the door ajar to a faint smell of cinnamon and burnt firewood. I choked up from the scene inside, knowing that at one time, Elaine was happy here, that she breathed, and laughed, and loved here.
Yes, she loved here, which is something I never knew about her.
She met her lover and spent the winters here. She never spoke of it to me, but theirs was a forbidden love. This was their sanctuary together, not one she could share with anyone else.
Her final entry in her diary before she said good-bye to the world read:
“I could not breathe in the outside world anymore. There were too many things that kept us apart. I needed a place to escape, a refuge. I ask forgiveness for ending it this way, but as much as I love you, my friends and family, I cannot go on. The sanctuary I knew is gone, and I will never be the same. It’s time for us to be together.”
I searched everywhere in the cabin, but could not find any hint of who HL was.
Perhaps, it was better left unknown.
Thank you for reading. ♥
Feel free to leave a comment or question. Feedback, whether good or bad is always welcome.