By: Lynne Phillips
"Are ya sure this is the way to ya grandpa's place?" Artie asked peering through the dirty windscreen at the two thin tracks masquerading as a road. "There's a blizzard predicted, we betta find thet cabin soon."
"Cos I'm sure, I've got this 'ere map me pa drewed 'aven't I? It's just a bit fur along 'ere. We'll be there before Santa comes tomorrow if thet's what ya is worrit about," George said, laughing until a coughing fit forced him to stop.
He opened the window and spat a great glob of black phlegm out. A gust of wind blew it straight back at him. As it dribbled down his beard he drawled.
"I gotta quit chewin' bacca or I'll be in me grave 'for long. I learned it offa me grandpa, he always chewed 'bacca."
"What 'appened to ya grandpa anyway?" Artie asked as he fought to control the wheel.
George clung onto a strap hanging above the door to keep from being flung around.
"Dunno, he gist disappeared. Pa thinks maybe the silver wolves he was always 'unting finally got 'im. He was an ornery old bugger, neva kept in contact. He 'asn't been seen for years. Last time Pa went to the cabin the ol' fella wasn't there."
The old rattletrap truck bucked and rocked as it attacked the rutted track. Artie hung onto the wheel tightly as he struggled to keep it from sliding off into one of the large trees that dwarfed the narrow trail.
As the road took them around a sharp bend an enormous black form filled the windscreen. Artie swung the wheel frantically trying to avoid it and the truck slewed off the track and slammed into a giant redwood. Everything went black.
Steam rose from the ruptured radiator, the truck wasn't going anywhere. Artie and George were knocked unconscious from the impact.
Artie recovered first shaking his friend,
"George wake up, are ya okay?"
The only answer was ragged breathing.
"At least he's still alive," Artie muttered. He felt his own body, no broken bones, just a cut on his cheek where he had hit the glass and sore ribs from the impact of the steering wheel.
"What 'appened?" George slurred as he opened one eye and quickly closed it again. Blood trickled from his right temple and a large lump had appeared above his eye.
His head throbbed and he tried to focus his eyes but they refused to cooperate. He closed them again.
"What got into ya, swervin' like that Artie?"
"Didn't ya see that monstrous black shape thet appeared in front of us? We woulda been a gonna if we'd hit it," Artie said.
"Are ya sure you weren't gist imagin' it. I neva seen it.
"What eva it was, its gorn now. I thought ya was gonna for sure when I couldn't wake ya"
"Na, it'll take more than thet to finish me off. A swig of grandpa's moonshine will soon fix what ails me. Looks like our truck is a gonna instead. Anyways we can't stay here we'll freeze to death, come on the cabin can't be fur away."
Artie nodded in agreement. The wind the temperature was dropping fast. As old woodsmen they knew they had to find shelter or they wouldn't see Christmas Day.
The driver's door was jammed up against the tree so George heaved the passenger door open and they both scrambled out.
The wind buffeted them as they staggered and stumbled. They retrieved their supplies and hunting rifles from the back of the truck. George fell twice, and Artie helped him to his feet. They followed the ruts which were rapidly filling with snow.
"Pa's map said the cabin was just around the bend from a giant redwood. Guess thet's the one our truck's huggin' so it can't be fur." George said.
The snow stung his face and his usually long flowing beard and bushy eyebrows were frozen solid.
They rounded the bend.
"Grandpa's place," gasped George, first to see the log cabin. It was set in a grove of pine trees which thrashed above it, driven by the gale.
Sapped of their last bit of energy they staggered and fell several times before they reached the cabin. The door yielded as they fell against it. Exhausted they crawled inside gasping for breath and shivering from exertion and the cold.
Artie finally managed to stand, fasten the door and help George up. Safe from the elements they started to thaw and assess the situation. The cabin was icy cold but well equipped. A wood burner with a cooking griddle and a great stack of wood took up most of the far wall. Two camp beds, piled high with blankets and furs ran along the right side. A night pot poked out from under the bed. A collection of cooking pots and utensils and a row of tinned food filled shelves on the left. A rack held an assortment of rifles, fishing rods, hunting knives and various tools. Oil lanterns hung on the wall and two battered armchairs and a small table with two chairs filled the space in front of the fire. At the end of the beds a large barrel of water sat beside eight ceramic jars on an old wooden stand, grandpa's moonshine!
"I told ya we'd have a merry Christmas," George crowed forgetting the lump on his head and the ordeal they had just endured. Artie rubbed his hands together, to warm them, as he searched around for matches.
"We gotta 'ave a cuppa to warm us up before we sample grandpa's special elixir," he said as he filled the kettle, lit the fire, and heaped sugar and coffee into cups.
George rummaged around in his backpack and found a fruit cake his wife had packed, cut two generous slices and placed them on the table next.
"Grandpa's moonshine woulda warmed us up quicka," commented George as he lapsed into a coughing fit again. "I gotta give up thet bacca soon or I'm 'eaded for an early death.
"Ya a bit old fer an early death," laughed Artie.
With the fire roaring, coffee and moonshine consumed the two old timers made themselves comfortable in the armchairs. George produced a pouch of chewing tobacco and they sat, not needing to talk, as men who have known each other a long time, do.
Eventually, too tired to eat dinner the decided to hit the sack. They crawled into bed, fully clothed and fell asleep assisted by grandpa's liquor and exhaustion. The wind in the trees increased its song to a loud moan while they slept safely cocooned in the cabin.
Christmas day dawned, not that they could tell as the windows were blanketed by snow. Artie woke, got up, stoked the fire, put the kettle on and made coffee.
"Wake up George, Merry Christmas,' he said handing George a steaming mug. They drank the coffee and toasted some bread in front of the fire. George slathered the toast with lashings of his wife's marmalade.
Bang, bang! The door shook and rattled on its hinges.
"Help, oh please help!"
"Did ya 'ear thet?"Artie asked.
They both listened but all they could hear was the the wind as it whistled and roared like a train through the trees.
"Help, please let me in," a weak voice pleaded at the door, barely able to be heard above the noise of the blizzard.
Artie flung the door open. A figure fell into the cabin. It was a man, although it was hard to tell it was human. Great swathes of flesh hung off his face, lacerated by what looked like claw marks. His was shredded and his intestines bulged between his fingers. The stranger collapsed on the floor, grey with shock and blabbering about a giant demon wolf that had attacked him and killed his friend, Dave.
George grabbed a blanket, wrapped it around the quivering man and helped him over to the fire.
"What's ya name?
The man managed to gasp "Joe," before his eyes rolled back in his head and he collapsed unconscious in front of the fire.
Artie and George had seen animals injured like this and they never survived.
"Ya know the kind thing would be a bullet, he aint gonna survive them injuries and there aint nuffin' we can do for 'im,"
Ashen faced, Artie agreed, but he was hesitant to kill a man in cold blood.
"At least he's out of it for now. Let's 'ave some breakfast, we'll decide later."
Not knowing what else to do, George piled furs onto the unconscious man and said a quick prayer.
Artie cooked up a feast, eggs, thick slabs of greasy bacon, and grits. They had another mug of coffee, this time with a slug of grandpa's moonshine to improve the taste.
After breakfast they checked on Joe. Mercifully he had slipped away, the shock had taken him.
"What'll we do with 'im?" George asked. "We can't put 'im outside, the wolves will eat him."
"I saw a trapdoor under me bed," Artie said pulling his bed away from the wall. "What do ya think is under it?"
Together they heaved the trapdoor open. George got a lantern and peered into the dark hole. He reeled back in shock. They had found grandpa. He was as far back in the space as possible, his right hand held onto his rifle. His left hand covered the blackened remains of his intestines. A rat which had been feasting on them scampered across the floor and hid under a row of barrels. The cold had preserved his body but dried blood encrusted the great claw marks which laid the whole of the left side of his face open.
"Holy Shit," George exclaimed unable to articulate anything else as he turned and heaved up his breakfast. Artie jumped down into the space, pulled the barrel aside and whacked the rat with a piece of wood.
"Take thet, yer bastard,"
Two other rats emerged and scuttled before he could get them too.
George looked at his grandpa.
"He was a ornery old bastard an' many a time he whipped me tail, but he didn't deserve ta end up like thet."
"I'm sorry George. I'll look after 'im, pass me down thet oilskin 'anging on the hook near the fire.
George retrieved the oilskin. It smelled of smoke. He threw it down the hole. Artie gently wrapped grandpa up tightly, and placed his body next to the row of ceramic bottles stacked in one corner. The oilskin would protect grandpa from the rats. There was plenty of room for another body.
George picked up a blanket, wrapped Joe tightly in it, opened the trapdoor and dropped him in.
"Can't do much about the rats but thet space is cold, they'll be okay there until the blizzard blows over and we ken give 'em a propa burial." George said philosophically as he crossed himself and said a quick prayer.
The discovery of grandpa's body, Joe's dramatic arrival and death had dampened the two friend's Christmas cheer but they were hardened by the ways of the wilderness. They both tried not to think about the demon wolf Joe said had mauled him and his friend. Obviously that had been grandpa's fate too. Artie checked the locks on the door, slid the pad bolt across and added a long iron bar as an extra brace.
"Thet orta hold it."
George nodded and pored a slug of moonshine into the coffee mugs "Come on, we've seen worse in the trenches. Let's try to enjoy Christmas."
He had hung up their socks near the fire the night before and placed a few treats in them. Artie laughed as he extracted a candied orange, a whistle, a handful of candies and a bonbon with a paper hat and a joke. They shared the bonbons, placed the hats on their heads and read the jokes. Artie produced a pack of cards and they played poker on the table in front of the fire for several hours, stopping only to stoke the fire and fill their mugs with coffee or moonshine.
Eventually hunger overcame them and they stopped for lunch.
"It's Good ta get away from the wife for awhile. I love her, but wimmen will talk too much." George said as he put cold chicken, crusty bread and plum pudding on the table. His wife had packed enough food to keep them happy for the week they planned to be away and probably longer if they got snowed in
A stew, they had prepared after breakfast, with thick hunks of meat, loads of vegetables and rich gravy was simmering on the stove for Christmas dinner.
George added a splash of moonshine.
"Thet will make it even betta," he guffawed. "Everything tastes betta with a bit of moonshine."
George unpacked a chess set and they filled the afternoon quietly playing chess, drinking moonshine and enjoying each other's company until dinner.
After dinner Artie brought out his harmonica and played Christmas carols. George sang along, off key.
Despite discovering grandpa, the stranger's death and their unfortunate crash they tried to enjoy themselves. They stoked the fire and sat around for awhile before agreeing to call it a night.
George checked the door. He peered out the window but all he could see was snow. A long mournful howl could be heard nearby, followed by several responding howls.
"Shit, I hope thets just silver wolves, I'd hate to think them demon wolves are thet close." Artie said as he turned the oil lamps down low, so only a soft glow illuminated the cabin.
George just shrugged,
"Not much we can do about et. We should be safe in 'ere."
They climbed into bed and pulled the furs around them. Lulled by moonshine it wasn't long before they were both snoring.
Just before daybreak the door shook and rattled on its hinges. A wolf howled and a second one answered. Artie leapt out of bed, bleary eyed and half asleep. The door bulged inwards but held.
"Wake up George, we got trouble,"
George woke and stared at the door which was splintering and breaking off its hinges. The iron bar bent and flew across the room. He scrambled out of bed and moved near the fire.
Artie moved across the room and grabbed a rifle. The door imploded and a monstrous black form with blazing red eyes burst through the gap where the door once stood.
"Shit," George exclaimed. On the wrong side of the room he had no weapon. He grabbed a poker from beside the fire and swung it at the black form but he was too slow. The creature leapt at him and ripped at his body with its enormous claws exposing his intestines. The beast's giant jaws tore at his throat. Stricken, George looked towards Artie. Artie fired three bullets from his rifle into the beast and it fell to the floor, dead.
In shock and immense pain, unable to talk because his throat had been ripped out George pleaded with Artie to end his life. Artie hesitated but the bond of friendship was strong. He knew George couldn't survive. He would die a slow and painful death. Artie looked at George. They locked eyes. George nodded and closed his eyes and Artie shot him.
Artie wrapped his friend in a blanket and placed him gently on his bed. He looked at the beast that filled the floor of the cabin. It was some sort of mutant wolf with red eyes, long matted black fur, and long claws. Its yellow fangs glistened with George's blood. Artie heaved and pulled until he managed to get the beast outside the cabin.
He retrieved the splintered door, pushed it into the door frame, stripped planks off the table. He grabbed a hammer and nailed the planks to the door and across the two windows in case there were other mutant wolves around Exhausted and shivering with shock he turned to his old friend. He got an additional blanket and made George a shroud. When he had finished he dragged the bed away from the wall and opened the trapdoor.
"Ya 'ave been the best friend George, if I eva get home I'll look after ya wife and tell her ya love her." he said as George's body fell into the hole next to grandpa and Joe.
Artie closed the trapdoor, poured a large mug of moonshine, added wood to the fire, sat down and stared at the fire.
He looked around at the devastation in the cabin. He had no idea if he could hike out after the blizzard finished, whether George's wife would report them missing or if anyone would come looking for them but he was alive and had enough food and moonshine to keep him going for a while. He poured himself another large slug of moonshine and started to clean up the cabin.
He picked up the sock George had hung up for Christmas for him. It had a small square shape in the toe he had missed before. A framed photograph of them as young men on a hunting trip fell out. A tear trickled down Artie's weathered old face as he raised his mug and toasted his best mate and seventy years of friendship.
The wind whistled and rattled the windows. He poured himself another mug of moonshine and spooned some cold stew into his plate. After he finished eating he lifted the harmonica to his lips and played a mournful song, one he knew George always enjoyed.
Above the music he could hear the demon wolves howling to each other. Sharp claws frantically scratched at the door but he kept on playing.
The cabin doors crashed to the floor and two enormous black shapes lunged at him. One gripped his throat. The other clawed at his body. Artie closed his eyes as the last notes hung in the air.