Nov 8, 2021

If summer comes

A boy with blue lips was smiling at him through the blizzard. The storm roared through the woods, fighting with the trees, and this kid showed up out of nowhere and was in front of him pointing at something. The tips of his fingers were black and sticky, and with two of them he was guiding him back. The man turned to look, and through a brake in the wind he noticed a stone hut. It sat there small, square, with a single window and drawn shutters, facing the weather for centuries.

In the absence of a path, any refuge was impossible to find, and tonight the hike had turned into an adventure where the protagonist becomes an example from which others can learn. However, the traveler did not panic, he meticulously continued his search even in the absence of a foot path. Where others would have turned around, he was walking forward with experienced steps. The traveler was on a mission, and the bad weather did not steer him back to the safety of the path, on the contrary. He was looking for his friends, lost in the mountains, far from any path in the dark depths of the forest. He had been a few steps from the cabin and had missed it, but luck had been on his side.

The kid was sitting in the middle of the storm with a torn T-shirt over his stomach, shaking from every joint. The traveler grabbed the boy's hand and dragged him into the cabin. The boy burst into tears trying to free himself, but nothing slowed the traveler, he pulled the boy firmly and safely inside.

"Michael? Is that you? Were you behind us?" he heard this from inside.

The traveler looked up and right in front of his eyes was the reason for this whole adventure. His two friends, Julian and Andrea, who had disappeared, were now well and good, looking at him amused and slightly puzzled. They had that look of  "what a coincidence to find you here". Michael looked at them uncertainly, they seemed to him like a mirage. Was there such a thing as a snow mirage? The cabin had been a fortune, but to discover them inside was truly miraculous.

"I found the little one outside, put a coat on him."

At the sight of the child, Andrea took off her jacket and jumped to help.

"Where did you find him?" Julian asked.

"He was outside by the cabin."

"In this weather?"

"Yea, just look at the way he's dressed."

Michael was visibly tired, breathing heavily after each reply.

"I'm glad we came across this shelter, can you imagine trying to pass the night in this weather," Julian mused contentedly.

"And where exactly have you two been? We've been looking for you for the past two days."

"Two days? Come on, you're exaggerating, we got a little ahead of you guys this morning. We climbed the Furor before you did, that's all."

"And why didn't you come back?"

"We went down the other ridge, maybe no one saw us."

"But that was two days ago."

"What are you even trying to say? We got a little lost and ended up here. What's the problem? Why do you keep saying two days? Today man, we reached the peak today."

A chill passed through Michael and he turned around with a strange presentiment. The cabin had a single room divided according to use, each wall was assigned a purpose. The wall that carried the front door had on the right a small table with cutlery for two and a bowl that announced it as a kitchen table. There was room for one person to sit. To the left of the door was a wooden hanger, made from a single white tree, it was resting on the floor on what seamed to be its roots. On the right wall, as you entered, sat the stove and next to it the bed covered with a simple blanket of faded gray. On the wall opposite the stove was a workbench with grinding and carving tools for wood. The table bore the marks of abuse, being chamfered and hollowed out by clumsy blows. The little cabin had only two chairs, each guarding its place in front of the tables.

Andrea put her coat on the boy and pulled him next to her, where he was completely numb.

"Honey, what were you doing all the way up here?"

The boy, in shock, remained silent. Michael was looking in his backpack for a flashlight.

"I'll hang it outside, if anyone else comes looking, they will find us."

Michael went out in the storm again with his flashlight and a cord ready. The snow caught his feet like a trap. At only 4 inches (ca. 10 cm), the snow seemed to cling to his legs and pull him back, making him move cautiously. "I would like to find an Eskimo and ask him what the hell they call this swampy snow," Michael thought as he clung to a tree. He secured the flashlight on a branch at one end. The wind seemed to be pulling on it in all directions, so Michael roped it tight on the other end, hoping it wouldn't be picked up and thrown in the middle of the forest. The wind seemed to intensify with every second spent fighting the branch. The howling wind was cutting his face with blades of ice, just sitting outside began to hurt. He covered his face and walked back blindly to the cabin.

He opened the door and heard Julian cursing.

"What happened?"

"Someone's pranking me," Julian said, sucking on his forefinger and thumb. "I was trying to light a fire and this match ... look, it went off in my hand like a firecracker.

Julian took the next match and propped it on the abrasive strip, then flung it with a flick into the stove. It ignited in the air and fell over a few yellowed papers where it began to burn tempestuously. Julian closed the stove's cast iron mouth.

"What did I tell you, someone's idea for a joke."

"You are the one to talk. At least I found you. How's the boy?"

"He fell asleep," Andrea replied.

"The next time you two wonder into the woods, let some else know, ok?" Michael controlled his tone, trying not to disturb the child.

"I really don't see what the problem is."

"Reckless," Michael murmured, "People get lost on this mountain all the time. We'd better be more careful."

Andrea put the boy by the stove and began rubbing his hands and feet. She wiped his fingers, but they remained black.

"What is that? that can't be ...", but Michael stopped, remembering the sharp wind outside.

"I don't think so," Andrea replied, taking the child's hands and pressing them to her own cheek. "They're warm", she smiled. "I think they're just stained."

"Strawberries and blackberries in this weather?" Julian mused.

The child was white as a ghost and had fallen asleep with his mouth open. Between the eggplant shaded lips even the boy's teeth seemed to have a bluish tinge.

"I have penicillin with me if he needs it", Michael turned to search in his backpack.

Andrea pulled her hand from the boy's forehead and motioned a "no".

Julian was staring out of the cabin through the small window.

"It's clearing up outside, it must be earlier than I thought. Do you have a watch?"

Michael took out his phone, it blinked "low battery" and turned black. Andrea tried her phone.

"It's dead."

"It's the cold," Julian shrugged. "That happened to the camera, while we were up there."

After a few moments of silence, Andrea took the two chairs and placed them next to the bed, fashioning a place for all four of them to sleep.

"We should try to rest," she said. "We have to get the little one back home tomorrow morning."

Lying on the side of the bed with their legs outstretched on the chairs, dressed from head to toe, the three closed their eyes and joined the boy in a dreamless sleep.

***

It was dark and cold when Michael woke up. The fire seemed to have been extinguished for a long time, and the position in which he slept had turned him crooked. He cracked his bones trying to rearrange himself proper. All in all, he was well rested. He took a kettle hanging from a nail and went out as quietly as possible to gather firewood. He let the others sleep.

"Psst morning", Julian gently stroked Andrea.

With her tousled hair, Andrea wiped her eyes and answered with a yawn.

"Should we wake up Blue Tooth?" he asked.

The child slept between them with a smile on his face. The boy's skin had regained its pallor, but his teeth retained a bluish tinge.

"Give him some time". Andrea put her hand lightly on his forehead. "It's fine. We just have to figure out what to put on him when we get out of here."

"I'll give him my jacket and wrap myself with the blanket. I'll be fine until we get back to civilization," Julian assured her.

Michael entered the cabin with a kettle full of snow in one hand and a load of branches in the other. He had a strange grimace on his face, half frowning, half constipated, he looked ridiculously serious. Michael scanned them from head to toe. He set the kettle and the wood next to the stove and took out a piece of rusty iron out of his pocket.

"There is something very strange going on here," he said.

"What?"

"This is my flashlight."

"How can that be your flashlight?

"I tied it to that mountain-ash just outside. It IS my flashlight."

Julian approached and looked at the rusty flashlight like at a wounded animal.

"Are you sure?"

"I tied it with my own hand."

"And it rusted, just like that, overnight?"

"Yes, while we slept."

"That's just great, what type of Chinese crap is this?"

Julian took the flashlight from his hand.

"That's not even the weirdest part. While I was out gathering wood ... I saw the sun rise twice.

"You saw what? How?"

"I don't know how."

"You mean the sun changed it's mind? Maybe it forgot something and went back to get it."

"It's not a joke, if we wait ... I think it will happen again."

Julian sat down on a chair studying the flashlight. At his back the day turned to twilight, and then to night. Andrea approached Michael and asked him in a whisper.

"What does this mean?"

"It means another day has passed," Michael said looking outside unnerved.

"What do you mean another day has passed? We just got up. How long now? Fifteen minutes? and it's already the next day?" Julian mocked them.

"That flashlight has been outside for weeks, maybe even months ..."

"That's nonsense," Julian said as he hurried out the door.

"Jules noo", that's all Andrea managed to say, but Julian was already out.

The two looked at him from the doorway.

"It's nothing, it's just cloudy. Michael buddy, I think you got that disease, what's it called ... "cabin fever". And you, dear, you got it from him. It's that type of crazy you can catch. Just one day in the wilderness and you've both lost your minds. What the hell are you looking at me like that for? Did my beard start to grow or something? Come on, really, it's nothing.

Andrea joined him looking around. There was nothing unusual around the cabin. Michael was looking at the cloudy sky. Suddenly the clouds dissolved, revealing the black heavens.

"Look, Julian, stars."

"What are they doing ..."

"Revolving around the Northern Star."

"They can't be moving that fast" Julian continued aghast.

"Inside!" Andrea ordered.

The three of them entered and Andrea slammed the door, putting her body in front of the entrance.

"Are we ok in here? What's going on outside?"

"I don't know," Michael replied. "I need time to think. Let me think ..."

Julian put two fingers in his pocket and took out a matchbox "Bean & Sons - Guaranteed to light up even after weeks in humid conditions". The guarantee was written, on the package, larger than the company name. Julian took out one of the camping matches and pressed it to the abrasive strip.

"Time outside is clearly fucked up, let's see if it's  equally fucked up inside, and saying this he struck the match over the wood in the stove.

The wood instantly turned into torches and then began to glow as embers. Michael looked bewildered at the speed and violence of the fire.

"We need to wake the kid and leave. Now!"

"Boy, we have to go," Andrea snapped.

Andrea picked up the boy and dressed him. Michael took his backpack, tightening the belts close to his body. Julian pulled the blanket over his shoulders, while Michael tied it around his waist. The child tried to resist, but to no avail.

"I don't want to go out, I don't want to go out anymore," he managed to say.

"We don't have a choice kid, if we don't leave now, we may never leave," Julian insisted.

"Are we ready? Come on ... don't ... leave the fire," Michael said.

Julian glanced out through the small window above the working desk, and stopped. He swallowed hard trying to find his words.

"Too late," he said at last.

In front of the cabin, the snow seemed to come out of the ground. It grew flooding the forest. Wave after wave, higher and higher, up to the knees, then up to the hips, higher and higher without stopping. The cabin sank into a white sea that frothed all the trees wave after wave.

After a few tense moments, Michael dropped his backpack from his shoulders and deflated. Julian fell in a chair and sat in amazement watching the show outside.

"Aren't we going to leave?" Andrea asked.

"It would bury us alive" replied Michael, staring blankly.

"If we had been faster..." Andrea began.

"If we had been faster, we would have ended up as Popsicles", Julian cut her off.

Michael reset to a previous state avoiding looking outside. He checked the stove with his unmittened hand, and decided to undress. He rummaged deep in his backpack and pulled out a can of meat and a few single serving instant coffee packets. He picked up the kettle with snow and watched in amazement as it began to bubble with boiling water in a matter of seconds. He poured the coffee into the water and contemplated the fate of the can. He unwrapped the branded paper and made sure it touched the stove for just a moment. After that he motioned for the others to approach. Michael was searching for a piece of bread, when Andrea stopped him.

"Wait, we might have something", she took out four black biscuits as thick as a finger from her backpack.

Michael took something resembling cooked meat and spread it on each biscuit in equal proportions. Andrea found some polished metal cups in the cupboard under the kitchen table and dusted them off.

"Should I give him some?" She asked, tilting her head toward the boy.

"Yeah, he deserves some too."

The child gaped at the coffee and nodded. Julian couldn't take his eyes off the snow. Andrea brought him a biscuit to eat at the window.

"What's going on outside?" she asked.

"It's snowing," Julian said. "That's what it looks like when it snows."

They ate their biscuits softly, letting each bite last as long as possible. Their food was the only normal thing around them. Morning came once again outside and now the dance of the snow dunes was fully visible.

"Thanks for the grub", Julian said, then, looking at Andrea, he continued. "Remember when we said we would get old and fat together? One of those things might come sooner than you think."

Andrea looked at her hands, counted the cuts and wrinkles in her skin, considered the places where her veins came to the surface. Even with all the paranoia, they still looked fine. But who really looks that closely at their own hands, maybe they were changed, maybe not. They didn't feal any different. "The nails, yes ... shouldn't they have grown?", she thought.

"Time seems to pass us by. I don't think we're aging, but possibly everyone else is", Michael supposed.

"You have no way of knowing until we get out of here ..." Julian reckoned without waiting for an answer.

They calmed down, the first instinct to flee had passed. The cabin was protecting them, they were safe inside. They were silent, thoughtful, and pondered the issue of escape. Sitting still, they listened to the sounds from outside trying to understand them. They looked around for an explanation, hung their eyes on every detail, the tools, the chairs, the stove, the strange coat hanger. They were looking for a button that would stop all of this. Julian began to feel the carving tools, sharp metal rods that did not reveal their purpose to a layman.

After investigating the whole room, Michael was now studying the boy. Andrea approached the child.

"Can you tell me your name?"

The boy was silent.

"I'm Andrea, he's Michael and that's Jules by the window."

"Peter", he whispered.

"What a serious name you have Peter. Can you tell me why you're dressed like that?" Michael tried.

The coffee helped the child's shyness, he was eager to talk.

"I don't know," he snapped.

"Do you remember how you got here?"

"I came ... I came with my parents on a trip."

"What happened to them?"

"I got lost... I don't know."

Peter wanted to start crying, but Michael looked at him unemotionally, there was no place for crying in this discussion, so he refrained.

"I kept looking for them, but I didn't find them, I lost them ..."

"He couldn't have gone that far on these slopes." Julian turned his attention back towards them.

"I walked for a long time," the child reproached him. "I got tired, I fell asleep, but it wasn't cold. When I got up, it got ripped," and the child pulled on his T-shirt as proof.

"It's okay, we can sow that up. How did you get to the cabin?"

"It got cold, I was frightened, I was running ... and then I found it."

"That's when you saw me?" Michael continued.

"Aha".

Michael smiled and patted the child.

"Okay Peter, I understand".

Michael looked outside and then looked back at the boy. An idea sprouted in his head, a possible exit.

"Pete here got lost in the woods when it was still warm."

"I would think so, the way he's dressed."

"And he didn't stay out for too long, he couldn't have. For him, winter landed just yesterday. This weather wasn't even in the forecast when we went climbing this damn mountain."

"That's usual mountain weather for ya, but who knows how things work in this little corner of heaven," Julian shrugged.

"I don't think things work that differently. Things move faster, yes, but otherwise everything is the same. The stars are in the sky, the weather is changing and the seasons are flowing. We shouldn't hurry, if we wait quietly for two or three days, we will leave this place in the summer.

"Time flies and the best thing to do is not to hurry", contemplated Andrea.

"Oh the irony, but I think he's right," Julian agreed finishing his coffee and continued cheerfully, "that's our way out".

***

"Can you imagine the look on their faces when we get back. What are we going to tell them? Oh the ground ate us up for a few months, but we're fine. And the boy? Well, we found a boy in the woods", Julian was amusing himself.

Peter was sitting in a corner, looking morose and wanting his parents to come and pick him up. Andrea turned him toward her.

"It's not your fault Peter, I'm sure your parents will be very happy to see you no matter when we come back."

Peter didn't seem very convinced.

"Do you think people know about this place?" Julian continued.

Michael spun a finger in the air.

"Someone knew," he replied, "Someone built this cabin, and it wasn't aliens."

"Maybe it's a refuge," Andrea said.

"A refuge for strays like us?"

"Maybe for the locals. Someone spent a lot of time here. I think someone lived here. Look at the kitchen, look at that work bench."

"Maybe they hid here," Michael added.

"Hid from what?" Julian asked.

"I don't know, their problems. How old are these things? Maybe the russians were invading, or the french, or the germans.

"What about the mongols" Julian continued, as the three of them smiled, "I can't quite figure out, how can anyone live here?" 

"It's simple, you plant your tomatoes today and pick them tomorrow," explained Andrea.

"And when you finally go pick up some vegetable oil from the store, you'll find people driving flying cars," Julian added.

"We shouldn't tell anybody, we should leave this place hidden."

"You think the mongols will be making a come back?" Julian was pulling his leg now.

"No, not that, I was thinking maybe we keep this place for ourselves."

Julian flicked a copper still and listened to the strange high-pitched ringing it produced.

"Nobody would believe us anyway."

"And now? What are we going to do now?" Andrea asked.

"Now we wait and see if summer comes." 


Photo by Polina Barinova @LOOP12098
Versiunea în română: Daca vine vara

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