The Odyssey of the Lodge: A Short Story
The little lodge was a quiet place. William sat idly on his phone. It wasn’t like there was much of anything else to do. Perhaps he could read a book. He did, of course, bring several along, although he’d never been able to fully fool himself into thinking he’d get through more than one or two. It didn’t take long after he picked one out, however, that a buzzing phone brought him right back to the blinding screen. A text.
“whats the move for the weekend my guy”
“I’m up north,” William replied, “hunting with dad. Or, at the moment, waiting around at the lodge as he goes fetching some supplies he forgot to bring. Man has the memory of a goldfish with dementia.”
“well you aint never say anything about going up north before”
“Perhaps I like to keep a bit of mystique about me.”
“perhaps you text like an old British aristocrat talks”
“Them be fighting words. But I’ll catch you next weekend.”
“aight good luck up there”
William looked out the window. December was still a few days away, and snow had not yet descended upon the world to blanket it in white. It had obviously recently rained; mud and little puddles were just as ever-present as the endless trees. Everything was some shade of orange or brown. Everything, of course, was an oddity of a term to use – only barren trees, shriveling grass, and occasional rocks dotted the dirty landscape. Never did he even see a single squirrel, bird, or bug. The typical bustling of the great outdoors was gone. An unnerving stillness had replaced it.
“Thanks. I’ll need it.” He set his phone down and returned to his book.
An hour passed. The sun was commencing its descent beneath the horizon. Clouds covered most of the reddening sky – dark, ominous things, even though the forecast hadn’t predicted any precipitation for a couple more days. William wouldn’t have that much time until the world was plunged into darkness. He’d already done everything else he could do, anyway. Thus, he got up and got himself bundled up.
It was oddly lovely outside. He had never been the kind of guy to go outside and walk around in nature for fun. He was a suburbanite, for Christ’s sake; where he was from, there was no nature to walk around in. And yet, there he was, just wondering around without an aim in the world and having the grandest of times doing so. He was like a child wandering outside the house alone for the very first time. The lodge behind him was a modest thing; wooden and one-storied, even if it had imposing log pillars in front of its entry and lavish decorations aplenty inside. He had always complained about it. Not big enough. Not enough to see. Not enough to do. No one else around. Looking at it then, though, he thought it perfect. Nothing could’ve ever fit better into its surroundings.
William explored more. The sporadic woods right around the lodge broke into an unending forest in the distance. Pretty evergreen trees were sprinkled in with their skeletal deciduous neighbors, giving a hint of green to the muddy brown and orange of the scene. A creek, distant but present nonetheless, cut across the forest with waters not yet frozen. Even the black and brooding clouds seemed right at home in the unfiltered outdoors. He was simply vibing outside, and there was nothing in the world he would replace it with. Naturally, however, he had kept his phone on him. One could never know when something was going to go wrong. And, as it seemed, it’d been wise of him to take that precaution. It relentlessly buzzed in his pocket as he did his best to fish it out with his oversized gloves on.
Surprise flashed across his face. It was a call. From his father. Something was wrong.
William hesitated before he answered. Typical teenage anxiety came rushing in. There were, of course, a million things that could’ve gone wrong, and every single one of them flashed before him. He was a city kid at heart – much to his father’s shagrin – and that fact was not at all lost on him. He’d be utterly useless if his dad needed him for something too outdoorsy. At long last, he answered the call, but not without a generous pinch of dread.
“Heya, kid,” came his dad’s voice. It was admirably gravelly, giving off a sense of weathered masculinity William couldn’t hope to copy. “I’ve gotten myself into a pickle here.” William winced.
“The truck got stuck in some mud. It’s nothing too terrible – I’m not going to have to have it get towed or anything – but I’m going to need some help, and I’m going to need it right this instant. Temperatures are dropping quick, and the clouds are coming in quicker. They were saying at the store that we’re in for a freak storm. If the mud all hardens and we have to go and chip away at it, we’re going to be embroiled in a hell of a fight.”
“Is there any good news to go along with this?”
“Yeah, I suppose,” his dad replied in the midst of a laugh. “You know where we keep the four-wheeler and the snowmobile, right?”
“I think so.”
“Well, I’m going to go ahead and gamble that the four-wheeler’s what you’ll need. Get it out and get on going down the trail. I’m pretty far away still – maybe ten miles – but keep your foot on the gas and you’ll get there in no time. If nothing else, you get to go out and zoom your way around the world for a bit.”
“You want me to pull you out with a four-wheeler?” William asked. He wasn’t even used to taking strolls outdoors. Going on a reconaissance mission in the middle of nowhere was going to be a whole other ball game. The nervousness was already kicking in.
“Oh, she’s just barely stuck. I guarantee you we’ll get her out ourselves. So long, that is, as you get there before this mud turns as solid as a rock.” His dad sighed. William could only imagine him pacing around in helplessness where he was used to having complete control. “I’m gonna let you go, though. You got work to do. I hope I’ll see you in a bit, kid.”
“Yeah, I’ll see you.” He hung up.
Already, the clouds had grown in number and blackened even more than before. Biting winds came crashing into him. Not even the innumerable trees had been enough to break the bitter breath of the wild. Any mud left lying around was going to be frozen in the blink of an eye. The time to dawdle was already long past.
William rushed back inside. He went around and grabbed every extra article of clothing he could get his hands on. There was no doubt the trip was about to be a nasty one. His eyes bulged and his face was hardened, though even he himself couldn’t tell if it was all excitement or just anxiety. His stomach whined in its emptiness, but he was not about to waste any time eating. He may not have had the experience of a hardened outdoorsman, but at least he didn’t have the cluenessness of a typical city kid. Instead, he pulled out his phone again and pulled up the weather.
Snow. Snow as far as the eye could see. Snow for hours on end with not a rest or lightening up anywhere in the relentlessness. Winds so fearsome they could pick him up and fling him a thousand miles away. The sun was going down. The moon and stars would all be obscured. A rescue mission had a very real possibility of turning into a nightmare trip. He rushed out the door without another second’s hesitation.
The four-wheeler was sitting idly in storage. A little shed next to the lodge housed it and a whole host of other tools, toys, and trinkets. William headed straight for it. He didn’t even take a peek at any of the natural wonders he had been blissfully enjoying mere minutes earlier. The barren beauty of the open world was as meaningless as it had been when he was back rotting away in the suburbs. Of course it was. Since when did any good thing ever last longer than a split second? He shook his head. Never had he chosen a worse time to get indignant.
His mechanical steed was revved up and ready in record time. William pushed all thoughts but those of his mission out of his mind. He hopped on, and without so much as a moment spent remembering the bliss of minutes past, he left.
He barely knew the way. The bumpy trail would eventually turn into a full-blown dirt road, which would itself eventually hook up with a paved road somewhere long down the line. If he hadn’t slept most of the way there, perhaps he would’ve had more bearings, but as things stood, he only had the vaguest of ideas. It was a blessing from the heavens that the trail made for an easy trek; keep straight the entire way there, and he wouldn’t have a problem in the world. He let a deep breath loose. All would be alright.
The endless forest was just too beautiful as it shimmered in the sunset. Not a bit of the massive expanse seemed bothered by the impending storm. Brilliant bits of brittle leaves blanketed him as he rocketed across the landscape. Every inch of green left in the shivering sea of foliage looked like an emerald in William’s eyes. There was no substitute for the welcoming wondrousness of the wild. The only negative he could find in all of Mother Nature’s endless perfection was the intrusion he felt like his presence had made for.
He had filled the four-wheeler up with gas before he left, so he had not a worry in the world about that. Still, the perfection with which the thing ran really was wondrous. After nearly a year sitting in silence and disuse, when it was needed most, it ended up running like it was new. It was as if there was some benevolent deity up above rooting for his success.
William couldn’t help but grin. He was not at all oblivious to the fact that he remained in a dire situation. Everything just seemed to be so perfect nonetheless. The trees were swaying like a crowd of people waving welcomes. The leaves were blowing about like a slow-mo fireworks display of all fall colors. The wind was whipping, but not enough to cause discomfort. The clouds were gathering, but not enough to cause alarm. It was all he ever needed – himself, a noble steed, an adventure, and a danger – and perfectly packaged up into one exhilerating scene.
He finally arrived at the creek he had seen in the far distance from his earlier stroll outside. Rainfalls had swelled it into a titan of running water. Fish swam freely in grandiose swarms. Little waves crashed upon rocks and splashed with surprising ferocity. The trees surrounding the creek all seemed to look down contentedly upon it like a happy family would a precious child. William could barely keep his eyes on the trail in front of him with such bustling beauty next to him.
All of his distractedness ended in a split second. He only saw a flash of an animal before he spun out of control. He had, of course, only gone so far north to find some deer. And a deer he found, indeed; just not how he’d hoped. The spooked animal must’ve been drinking at the creek before leaping out in front of him. The four-wheeler went spinning out of control and tumbling down the decline beside the trail. The creek flowed horridly close. William scrambled to escape. His helmet cracked against the ground. His frantic fingers grasped at the grass. Innumerable objects fell out of his pockets. The creek continued to rush right beside him. He finally got to his feet and leapt back onto the trail. A single sigh of relief was the only rest he was going to get.
He turned around to see his four-wheeler tumbling down into the unrelenting water. His heart and jaw simultaneously dropped. There was no stopping what was already in motion. The hungry creek ate up his vehicle like it was nothing. Despair paralyzed him, but he had little time to cry. Life refused to stop to take pity on his shattered self. A red trickle wettened his leg. He looked down, wholly expecting the worst. He was right to do so. His pants had been torn right open. His calf had been gifted a massive gash. Blood went streaming down beneath his pants and into his shoe. Within seconds, a puddle of menacing red started forming around his foot.
His dad wouldn't be happy, but nonetheless, he had to know. William reached in his pocket for his phone and patted around the pocket. The empty pocket. The unfortunate phone was nowhere to be found. He screamed. Of course, no one heard him. The closest soul on that damned day was probably his father, who himself was still several miles away. William looked around in utter desperation. There was some sort of drastic action he could take. Of course there was. There had to be. His heart beat ever faster. He thought of nothing.
A glimmer of hope illuminated his whole world. His phone was not yet lost. It sat tantalizingly idly on the dying grass just next to the creek. Occasional droplets of water sprinkled its surface from the spraying edge of the villainous creek. William moved slowly. The slope was steep. Whoever had made the trail must've had menace in mind. He kept his eyes on the prize as he inched closer. His boots clenched the ground like a bear's claws. His goal got so close. He could almost reach out and grab it.
The blood pooled in his boot made his foot slip. The boot jerked to the side. William went tumbling down. He screamed yet again. Nature answered his cry with a smug silence. His helpless body crashed down the rest off the decline. His flailing feet kicked loose a rock. The rock, in turn, hit his phone and pushed it into the creek. William stopped himself the very second before he fell in. He pounded his head upon the ground. He could hear his helmet cracking from the force. Pain of a million different kinds pummeled him all at once. Still, his father waited somewhere in the disance. He would reach him. Even if he had to do so empty-handed.
A lonely flake of snow drifted down from the heavens and landed on his hand.
He got back on his feet. No petty misfortunes of a temporary world were about to beat him. He grabbed a fallen leaf up off of the ground to try to use it to wipe the blood off of his worsening wound. It crumbled the second he pressed it to his leg. Now, he had bits of leaf stuck in his gruesome mess of gooey blood. He winced and threw the rest of the leaf to the side. Whatever. The biting cold sunk its teeth deep into his gaping gash. He thoroughly ignored it. The injured leg lost its resilience for a second and plopped down in protest while he was walking. He simply set it straight and carried on.
More snow came falling from the skies. Soon enough, it was like a blanket of white being tossed down toward the Earth. William whispered a curse at whatever god could be cruel enough to inflict so many tight-knit tortures upon his poor soul. But curses wouldn't get him anywhere. He kept on walking. His four-wheeler was gone. His phone was gone. His leg was ripped wide open. If all of that hadn't been enough to stop him, then no amount of snow would have any semblance of power against him. He may not have had anything else, but he had himself.
His grit paid off. A rustle went through the ever-whitening world. He stopped and looked around. At first, nothing. And then, a cat. It was a tabby, slinking through the forest with unending stealth. But, oddly enough, it didn't seem to mind when he obviously saw it. In fact, it raised its little tail and came trotting over toward him. His prior single-minded determination meant nothing to him now. All he cared for was the lovely little critter. It purred as it approached. His heart could not help but melt. He picked the little thing up as it foraged around his coat in a vain hunt for food. Its unmatted fur was wonderfully warm. He needed some warmth.
He set the cat down and patted its head whilst he walked on. It seemed more than happy to follow along. The two of them thus set out for the vast unknown. The wind whipped at them worse than it ever had before. It was as if Mother Nature herself had tasked it with bringing him and all who dared associate with him down. The snow started pelting the forest like a volley of arrows from an endless enemy army. The tiny flakes slowly grew into massive messengers of menace. The multicolored world of a bustling fall turned into the whitened world of a warring winter.
William and his newfound friend kept on walking, no matter how much it exhausted the both of them to do so. The ever-dropping temperatures did a number on his untreated leg. The blood became caked and black. It pained him beyond belief. The snow stung it and made him twitch in discomfort every time it managed to squeeze into the tear in his pants. Still, he hadn't the faintest clue what to do other than continue. The discomfort would be nothing compared to the wrath of his dad if he just turned around and surrendered to the elements now.
The skies grew so dark so fast that it was almost more impressive than it was unnerving. Nighttime came upon him quicker than he ever would've anticipated. His fate was seemingly suddenly sealed. He had no flashlight, for he had no phone. He had no speed, for he had only his failing feet to travel on. He had no warmth, for the tear in his pants and the unrelenting wind were more than enough to chill him to the bone. The cat maintained its steady carelessness, walking along and meowing every so often whenever it wanted to be petted. He, meanwhile, saw the shadows lengthening on the trees and grew uneasy. Any number of things could've been lurking in this foreign forest.
The trail grew darker every second. The snow started piling up. The ground around it had leveled out significantly since the incident with the creek. Now, no creek was in sight. Only trees. Neverending trees. It was getting harder to see. Weeds and bushes dotted the sides of the trail. It still hadn't widened out into a road. Soon enough, the world would be wholly covered in blackened white, and William would be wholly lost. If he had brought a shovel with him, perhaps he wouldn't have been bothered. But, as things stood, he was wholly alone and woefully unequipped. The anxiety spread like wildfire within. There was nothing else to do. He broke into a run.
A blizzard was upon him. Of that harrowing fact, he soon was certain. The winds were howling like a pack of wild wolves. The mountains of snow being released upon the forest were blown around to no end. The clouds killed any stars that might've illuminated the way and sunk the scene into unrelenting inkiness. William could barely feel his fingers or see a thing. He shook his head in dismay at how suddenly his fortunes had taken a turn for the ridiculous. A blizzard wasn't upon him. It was already smothering him, and it would continue to do so for as long as it liked. He was in the thick of it, and there was no way out but forward.
His little tabby cat refused to leave his side, even if it had to frantically jump to keep up. He could not have even guessed why it would make such a plainly poor move. Still, make the move it did, and all while time blurred into eternal confusion all around them, the stubborn beast jumped and struggled through the snow right next to him. The two of them charged around for what could only have been hours. The snow thoroughly blurred the line between trail and wilderness. Perhaps they were already traversing the dirt road. Perhaps they were already deep in the middle of the wild woods. The blizzard was too all-consuming for them to tell either way. William was hopelessly lost.
The blizzard reached the peak of its fearsomeness. Every square inch of the sky was covered in falling snow. The irresistible winds knocked him and his cat over whenever they pleased. It was like a morbid game to see how quick they could collectively pummel him into hypothermia. He would've buckled to his knees and drowned in tears if he could've. But, as it stood, there was nowhere to buckle down without being covered in snow, and any tears would only immediately freeze on his face. It was hopeless. All of it. Oh-so hopeless.
Shapes and shadows danced among the pitch-black trees of the titanic forest. Some of them seemed harmless enough; figures from a childhood William had just begun to emerge out of. Others, meanwhile, were the manic manifestations of madness. Only the most disturbed of men could ever even imagine seeing such nightmarish things. They crept sneakily and danced tantalizingly in every direction. Every so often, they lashed out at him. He yelped. He cried, even though he knew it’d only end in ruin. He even stumbled and crashed into piles of bone-chilling snow. They never stopped. They never considered mercy. They just kept haunting and taunting him until he was ready to bolt into the distance to escape the craziness. It was like a midlife crisis put into images. But he was much too young to be thinking about the nearing of his mortality. Right?
His feline friend must've noted his sorry state. William's fingers froze into fleshy blocks of ice, and he became increasingly incapable of doing anything but stumbling forward like the living dead. The cat was overjoyed. It scratched at his open injury in what seemed like mere curiosity. He was barely able to swat it away. The incessant creature came back to lick the wound. Apparently, it had a taste for caked blood. It continued licking. William had to put all of his energy into pushing it away. Still, it kept coming back, and he was much too weak to stop it.
At first, the cat retreated into the snowy darkness. William let a wave of irritated relief wash over him. And then, the cat came back, its sharp claws out and its knife-like teeth bared. It sunk into his leg with an animalistic ferocity that had been completely absent from it minutes earlier. He couldn't do a thing. The attack barely even pained him. He just stared in utter befuddlement, for his weakness had long since surpassed his sensibilities. More and more blood came pouring out. All of it immediately froze. The cat had for itself a feast. William, meanwhile, had nothing but dizziness and all-consuming confusion.
The commotion around his leg faded into his distant memory. He stumbled around in snow that refused to stop piling up. He had to walk on - that much he knew - but for what or for how long was a mystery. He stumbled. And fell. And got up. And fell again, and got up again, each succeeding slip-up filling his clothes with more and more of the white death that so existentially threatened him. He was cold. After long enough, that was all that he could say for certain. He was unbearably cold.
He collapsed yet again from the nighttime tortures and fatigue. He landed on the snow with a thud of finality. The cat knew an opportunity when it saw one. It leapt atop of his wounded leg and tore into it like never before. He had not the strength to fight its feasting. The innocent little creature ate him like a mighty lion would a finished kill.
Snow seeped through his helmet and into the space around his head. The cold seized his brain and refused to let go. Slowly but surely, he succumbed to the wishes of the cold. He relaxed and let his eyes wander. The shapes and shadows of before enveloped the entire world. His vision was a black canvas upon which a great painting was waiting to be made. A figure emerged; a strikingly real one, like that of a living person who had just been conjured up right before his eyes. But no. He shook his head. The figure disappeared. But another hastily replaced it. And another. An entire family of entirely imaginary people popped up to bid him welcome to a weird world he could not help but enter.
They invited him to get up. He obeyed. And then, he fell back down. And got back up. And fell back down. For that was what he did. He was simply meant to get up and fall down. For all eternity. For all eternity? No. He had a mission. He had to keep on walking. But for what? Regardless, the need was deep-seeded, and so, he satisfied it and continued on his quest. Where was he even headed, though? And why did it even matter? And why was his leg so covered in blood? And why didn’t he just get some sleep? The answers all evaded him.
The world around him offered no relief from the insanity. It was far too dark outside, and the snow smothered any and all differences between the little curiosities of the nighttime. The winds’ whispers turned into unstoppable symphonies. The clouds turned into monstrous puppet masters, pointing and laughing at every misfortune thrown William’s way. A multitude of increasingly inhuman visions visited him. Hundreds of whole movies made of his maniacal imagination played out in front of him. Sights and sounds flashed past like a film reel cut from a million different scenes. His eyes rolled back into his head and he let loose a ceaseless series of bloodcurdling screams.
He fought through the darkness for countless more hours. Sometimes, he collapsed and contemplated. Other times, he trudged forward like an inanimate robot. Occasionally, he even tried to run before tripping and being devoured by malicious mountains of snow. The cat kept coming back in short bursts of vitreous violence. Or, perhaps, that was just a dream. His injury kept reopening, smothering him with evermore blood, and closing again due to the sheer force of the freezing cold. But it didn’t seem real. It couldn’t have been real. It was ridiculous. All so ridiculous. All too ridiculous. Any onlookers surely would’ve seen a mangled Yeti wherever William stood.
A light in the black. Red rays streaking across the entirety of the horizon. The sun had come to save him. The snow seemed to retreat the second the storm noticed the coming of its mortal enemy.
The voice sounded so distant it might as well have drifted in from a different dimension.
William looked up at long last. A truck was sitting just off of a snow-covered road. A truck. A road. He smiled. He’d been right all along. Never had he strayed from his course, nor ever had he really been lost. A ping of pride hit him. He was satisfied. He was done.
His dad slammed the door of the truck and dashed toward him. The snow was piled much too high for any man to run with any semblance of speed, though. His sprint was reduced to an exasperated jog. His cries continued. William didn’t listen. The snow was unusually comfortable. He snuggled in and closed his eyes. Warmth returned to him for the first time in what felt like an eternity.
Peace. At long last. Uninhibited and complete peace.