Craig sat in a chair with a needle stuck in his vein on his right arm receiving his chemo treatment while smoking a joint with his left.
“You know you can’t smoke that here, Craig. It’s against the law,” said Dr. Lynch, who had hooked Craig up to his chemo machine not three minutes ago.
“It’s legal to pump me full of alkylating agents, abolites, antibiotics, inhibitors and any other poison you can scrape off the shelf and siphon into my body but not to ingest a little Mother Nature to offset the puking, diarrhea and boob enhancement caused by said chemicals,” Craig replied in a sarcastic tone. “Louisiana needs to stop living ten years behind the rest of the nation and catch up!”
“I don’t make the laws, Craig; I just have to abide by them so we can stay open. So please…”
Craig had already wet his tongue and was putting the joint out on it with a sizzle before the doctor could finish. Then tossing the remainder of the joint in his mouth, Craig swallowed hard. “There, are you happy?”
Dr. Lynch shook his head. “Isn’t smoking what gave you the cancer in the first place?”
“It was the non-filtered Camels I smoked for twenty five years that did it, doc, not weed. The jury’s still out on that one. So, how long do I have now?”
“Six months maybe less. I would suggest you start thinking about moving closer to town. I know you enjoy your solitude but I just don’t want to get a call that takes me to your cabin in the woods and have to pronounce a two week old corpse deceased at God only knows what time. I don’t want to remember you that way either,” said Dr. Lynch.
“I appreciate the concern, doc, but damned if I’ll die in a hospital or a hospice. I’ll die in my own bed or cabin. If I’m lucky I’ll go sitting by the creek in front of my house with a pole in one hand and a beer in the other out in the fresh air as opposed to that stifling hospital ammonia and piss smell. I’m sure I won’t look any skinnier than I do now when you come to pronounce me dead.”
“Obstinate as always,” Dr. Lynch said as he pulled the needle out of Craig’s arm. He placed a bandage over the drop of blood that oozed from the needle prick and applied tape around his arm to hold the bandage in place. “You could at least compromise and get a cell phone.” Satisfied with the amount of tape placed on the bandage, Lynch tore the tape and patted the tail end gently on Craig’s arm. “There, now try to remember to rest when you get home and hold off eating for a couple of hours.”
“I’ve made it to sixty nine and a half without a device that shoves microwave emissions into my brain. As to the resting and eating, I’ll be fine,” Craig said as he flipped the half-smoked joint from behind his teeth and placed it between his lips. Dr. Lynch just shook his head.
With a scrape and a rusty pop, Craig slammed the driver’s side door of his Jeep closed and walked through the front door of his modest one room cabin, as long as you didn’t count the bathroom. The room, sparsely furnished, housed a cushioned chair, a breakfast table for two, a double bed, small refrigerator, potbelly stove for cooking and a long worktable. He walked over to his worktable that sat alongside the back wall where he kept his tools, shadow boxes, and materials for mounting wings from the variety of birds that lived in his woods. He finished mounting the Red-winged blackbird wings in a shadow box then pasted a picture of the bird with its scientific name, Agelaius phoeniceus, and its behaviors at the bottom right hand corner and closed the glass door. He hung the shadow box on the wall with the others that housed wings from sparrows, ospreys, hawks, cardinals and other birds with unique colored wings.
The sun was setting stretching shadows from the oaks and pines that stood tall shading his cabin from the heat of the summer months. With the chemo robbing him of an appetite, he decided to hit the sack. After running a brush through his hair, he looked down and noticed the more than usual hair attached to the bristles.
“No need to jump ship all at once, guys.” He pulled the hair out of the brush, released the tangled nest floating into the trash can, and placed the brush back on the sink. He smoked half of a new joint he had pulled out of a metal Secret box that he kept in the medicine cabinet in the bathroom, and crawled into bed.
The next morning the sun’s rays beamed through the window waking him with a warm kiss on his cheek. He decided to forgo breakfast and brush his teeth, grab a canteen of water, load his 14-gauge shotgun, and head out to the woods in search of a new pair of wings. He crossed over on the arch bridge he had built over the creek in his younger years. He used river stones for its foundation on the banks, 2×6 planks for the flooring and 2×4’s for the railings that he screwed to 4×4 posts. The only upkeep it needed was sanding and painting every five years or so.
A half of a mile into the woods Craig sat at the base of a tall pine tree and began whistling several bird calls. After some time, the only responses he received were too far away. Feeling the poison from the chemo still coursing through his veins he wasn’t up for a long traipsing through the woods. He had probably walked too far as it was. He closed his eyes and listened to the teasing chirps from far away. He felt the coolness of the breeze that navigated itself through the woods looking for an easy passage brush against his face. He wanted to soak up every comforting nuance Mother Nature had to give with what time he had left. Behind his eyelids, a darkness passed in front of him then quickly went bright again. He opened his eyes but saw nothing. He searched through the boughs for a cloud that might have speedily drifted by blotting out the sun but saw none, only a clear blue sky. He shrugged his shoulders and rose up.
“I’ve overstayed my welcome and you birds are getting too smart for this old fool.” His growling stomach convinced him that it was time to head back for a light lunch. “I think I’ll have a cold plate; half a sandwich, and some chips.”
He had walked no more than twenty yards when he spotted something white protruding out of a thicket. Nearing the undergrowth, he saw that it was tips of feathers. Parting the bush his eyes grew as he peered down at two slender wings at least four feet in length folded and had pine needles stuck between some of the feathers. Picking them up he noticed how light they were and that fresh blood glistened on the humerus bones where they were attached to… ‘what were they attached to, an unusually large eagle?’ he thought.
Looking up he saw small white feathers scattered on the branches of a pine tree. “The bird must have hit the limbs as it flew through the trees snapping them off. But how and why?” he said aloud. He took fifteen minutes to walk around the tree widening his search with each complete pass in an effort to find the bird the wings belonged to but with no luck. With the shadows growing on the forest floor, he decided to continue home.
Entering the cabin exhaustion overtook him. He put the wings on his worktable and decided to clean them for mounting the following day. For these wings, he would have to build a custom shadow box. After cleaning the wings, he would drive into town and buy the materials needed for the shadow box. For now, a bite to eat and a nap were in order. After eating a half turkey sandwich and chips, Craig laid down for a nap.
As he slept, Craig dreamt the strangest dream. He was back in the woods walking, not searching for new wings, but just walking aimlessly, a casual stroll. In the distance he heard Bob Dylan singing, “Knock, knock, knocking on heaven’s door…” He thought it strange that only the chorus sang repeatedly with no verses. Suddenly a loud banging broke into his dream. Clearing his head, he realized that someone was actually knocking on his door. Thinking back to the song in his dream he laughed. The knocking came louder and more frantic.
“For the love of God give me a sec, will ya?” he yelled at the door.
He opened the door with the intention of giving whoever had disturbed his sleep a piece of his mind but was suddenly taken aback by a naked woman collapsing into him. He quickly gained his footing before they both went crashing to the floor. The feeling of dead weight in his arms let him know that she was unconscious. He dragged her over to the cushioned chair and laid her in it. Exhausted, he grabbed the comforter off his bed to cover her. Before he did, he looked her over. Her thick silver hair curled downward covering her breast. Her skin glistened with a sparkle as though someone had sprinkled silver glitter on her. Her form, perfectly curved. ‘She couldn’t be more than twenty years old,’ he thought.
As he laid the comforter over her, he noticed there were red blotches on it. Turning his hands palm-side up he saw they were covered in crimson. ‘You’ve got to be kidding’ he thought. He pulled her forward and, as he suspected, saw what appeared to be two lacerations about one foot long at the shoulder blades.
‘There are no such things as fairies, faes, pixies, or nixies. What’s going on here?’ He thought for a quick moment. “The doc will know what to do.” As he went to pick her up to take her to his Jeep, she released a loud painful moan.
“That’s not going to work.” He gently lifted her and pulled her onto his bed. After rearranging the comforter to ensure she was completely covered, he headed into town.
Pulling into the hospital parking lot, he saw Dr. Lynch getting out of his car and walking toward the building.
“Doctor Lynch,” Craig yelled.
The doctor turned to see who had called his name. “Morning, Craig, everything ok?”
“You’ve got to come to my cabin, doc. A naked woman showed up banging on my door this morning bloodied and badly injured.”
“Bad enough that I couldn’t move her to my Jeep and bring her here without her wincing in pain. Please, doc!”
“Ok, ok. Let me text my assistant and let her know she’ll be making the rounds without me this morning and I’ll be right there.”
“Thanks a mil, doc. See ya soon.” Craig jumped back into his Jeep and peeled out of the parking lot.
Hearing the screeching from Craig’s tires on the pavement, Lynch looked up from his phone. “Jesus, Craig. It must be pretty urgent. I’ll text later.” Lynch jumped back into his car and followed close behind Craig.
“Atta boy, doc,” Craig said looking in his rear-view mirror with a smile.
“She’s right over here,” Craig said, directing the doctor to his bed. The bed was vacant. “I swear she was right here when I left.”
“She must not have been injured too badly to get up and walk out on her own,” Lynch said. “Better look around and see if anything is missing just in case she was playing you.”
Craig started searching his cabin for missing items, not that there would be much to steal living a simple life as he did. “I don’t understand, doc, how she could’ve just…” Craig stopped in mid sentence when he noticed the two white wings were missing. “Damn it!”
“What is it, what’s missing?”
“Yesterday I went out searching for more wings to add to my collection and…”
“It’s so nice to know that you adhere to your doctor’s instructions, Craig. You were supposed to be resting.”
“According to you in six months I’ll be resting plenty. I found two white wings that were at least four feet in length. They were right here on my work table.”
“Why do you think she would take those?” asked Lynch.
“More than likely because they belonged to her.”
“Pardon?” Lynch asked with a perplexed expression.
“The blood from her injuries came from two lacerations on her back that were about one foot in length. Look,” Craig said as he pulled up the comforter. There was no blood. “What? This comforter had blood all over it. There has to be blood on the chair.” They both peered over to a perfectly clean chair.
“Craig, between the chemo and pot…are you sure you actually experienced all this?”
“Don’t be condescending, Lynch. I know what I saw and experienced,” Craig said louder than he intended.
“I don’t doubt you, Craig. I’m just trying to explore all avenues with your interest in mind,” Lynch said in a calming tone.
“No, I apologize, doc. First, a bloody woman shows up at my door, I rush to get you only to find her missing along with the greatest find I’ll ever make with wings.” Craig took in a deep breath. “I’m just really upset right now.”
“I understand,” Lynch said with a concerning look toward Craig. “If you don’t need me for anything else, I’ll head back to the office. But if she returns or anything else happens, don’t hesitate to call me, ok?”
“I will. And thanks for coming out all this way, Lynch.”
Later that evening, Craig took a long walk into the woods in search of the mystery woman that had disrupted his life. He found no white feathers, footprints, or blood trail. Sitting in the chair that he had set her in earlier, he stared at the bloodless comforter on his bed wondering if he had really imagined it all. He felt exhausted, both mentally as well as physically. His eyelids grew heavy as sleep was coming over him. ‘No weed tonight,’ he thought. ‘I’ll sleep just fine without it.’ He rose and staggered over to his bed and fell immediately to sleep.
During the night, a moist, sweet taste on his lips awakened Craig. Opening his eyes, he saw her hovering over him giving him a kiss. In shock, he pushed himself back against the wall. “You’re not real. Please leave me in peace.”
“I’m as real as you are, Craig. Reach out and touch me if you like. Or should I pinch you so you’ll know you’re awake?” she said smiling.
He stared at her. Once again, she was naked. The only difference was the white wings on her back. Noticing him looking at them, she spread them open. They were magnificent. In his amazement, he became more relaxed.
“Touch you where?” he asked, still staring at her wings.
“Wherever it will convince you the most that I’m real.” Her voice was soothing and her breath smelled like the sweetest bee pollen.
He reached out and took her curly silver hair into his hand. Rubbing it between his fingers, it was the softest he had ever felt. With both hands, he then caressed her shoulders, smooth as silk. Turning his palms toward him, he saw the silver-like glitter sparkling on his skin. “What are you?”
“We go by many names. Most are hard to pronounce in our language. You can call me Fae.”
“Faye as in Faye or Fae as in Fae?” he asked, looking into her eyes. They were yellow with black pupils. “Your eyes look like an eagle’s. Now I know I’m dreaming.”
“And if you are, is it such a bad dream?” She then blew a light cool breath over him causing his eyelids to grow heavy again and he fell back to sleep.
“Sleep well, my prince,” she said as she kissed him lightly on the lips. “We’ll see each other again.”
Walking into the cabin, Dr, Lynch and his wife, Sarah, looked around. Craig’s bed and cushioned chair were still where they’d always been. His worktable was gone as well as all the wings in their shadow boxes. By the look of the faded outlines where they once hung, Lynch figured Craig had taken them down long ago. Knowing Craig’s love for the rare and unusual, he wasn’t sure why he would depose of them.
“No wonder he bequeathed this place to you in his will, it’s only one room,” said Sarah.
“He had no one else to leave it to. There is a bathroom behind that blanket. We can add on to it later if you like,” Lynch said rubbing his hand across the top of the cushioned chair.
“What a strange man he was, to live out here all alone. It seems sad somehow to me.”
“He definitely enjoyed his solitude. What baffles me is that his cancer was so advanced that I gave him six months to live and it seems only the time frame was right on the money. Because when the doctors at the LSU Medical Center in Shreveport performed the autopsy, they were surprised to find all his organs in perfect condition and his lungs in perfect condition. So it wasn’t the cancer. It was like he was tired of being here and just gave up the will to live.”
“Look, an envelope,” said Sarah, picking it up from the breakfast table.
“Who is it addressed to?”
“No address, just your name.” Sarah handed Lynch the envelope.
Opening it, he pulled out a single sheet of folded paper. Unfolding the paper Lynch noticed the stationary had a silver sparkle to it. It read:
Thanks for all you’ve done for me, Lynch. A better friend I couldn’t hope to find. I hope you enjoy the cabin as much as I have. All the best, Craig and Fae
Bruce Rowe was born and raised in Shreveport La. where he gained an affinity for wildlife. His curiosity of how life would be in the forest if animals behaved as humans prompted him to write, The Chrysalis and the Creatures of the Highlands. He has had short stories published at Spillwords.com, Dastaanworld and Cafelit. ‘The Rider’, his first short story, was nominated Publication of the Month at Spillwords in October 2018. As well, ‘Grandfather’s Clock’ was a featured piece at Spillwords. ‘The Lonely Traveler’ received a special mention at Cafelit. He has been nominated twice as Author of the month at Spillwords. His poem, 'Twiggy Thin', is published in Clarendon House Publication’s, Poetica. His story, 'Hair of the Dog', is published in Zombie Works Publication, Monsterthology 2. He presently lives in Oceanside California where he spends his time writing, body surfing and playing guitar.