” Ain’t never heard of no blizzard in these parts!” Garrett grumbled as he stockpiled loose wood, tossing some on the struggling fire. With any luck at all, the fallen tree would soon catch fire, giving him and Jake enough heat to see them through the night. They’d been caught too far from the cabin by this storm, but he knew as long as they had a good fire, they’d be all right. It had only been by chance that they’d found this spot when the wind kicked up and started blowing the heavy snowfall, leaving them walking almost blind. They had enough brush, limbs, and this beautiful, fallen tree to keep a fire going, and the mound at their backs was blocking most of the now-howling wind. Jake huddled close to him, as much out of fear as just to keep warm.
” Don’t worry, buddy. Be okay now. Here,” Garrett told his friend as he handed the no-longer-slobbering dog a piece of the jerky that he carried in his coat pocket just for such emergencies. Jake gently took the food and then greedily devoured it, nearly swallowing it with any chewing at all. “I’m hungry too, but this is all we got till we get back to the cabin. Just rest.” Jake curled up next to the sitting Garrett, and appeared to be asleep while his master covered himself the best that he could and tended the fire that would keep them alive.
Garrett fought back the need to sleep, worried that if he allowed the fire to go out, they might die. As he looked out into the blackness, a continuous bombardment of snowflakes dropped into view through the firelight. The only sound that he could hear throughout the night was the wind through the trees, and the sizzle as the snow landed on the hot embers of the fire and boiled quickly into steam. The wicked cold battled the fire for possession of the two lives throughout the night and into the early morning hours when the snow finally stopped just before daybreak.
The fire was still burning strong when the wolves arrived, at about the same time the clouds thinned out enough for faint sunlight to finally begin illuminating the area. Garrett had begun to lose his personal war with his need for sleep, but was roused wide awake by Jake’s movement into a defensive position and deep guttural growling. As his eyes widened, he saw was the depth of the snowfall, more than he’d ever seen, and then he saw three figures standing about fifty feet on the other side of the fire. Their bared teeth and desperate appearance was enough to stiffen his muscles. He raised his rifle with one hand while he tightened his grip on Jake’s lead. Garrett was fairly certain that the fire would be enough to keep the wolves at bay, but if they were going to leave for the cabin, then these wolves had to leave.
Garrett slowly wrapped Jake’s lead around his left leg and spoke to him firmly, but softly. “Stay boy.” As the wolves continued their approach, he steadied the rifle with both hands and then fired three shots in quick succession. The loud report from the rifle startled the wolves, but it was too late for two of them. They lay dead in the snow. The third retreated as a bullet just missed his head and quietly disappeared into the snowy ground. Garrett then took pity and fired two quick warning shots that sent the third wolf running off through the trees. “I hate to do that!” he said aloud. “They got a right to live just like the rest of us. Come on, Jake. Let’s get out of here before he comes back, maybe with a bunch of friends.” Jake shook the snow from his back as Garrett kicked snow across the fire until it was doused. Then, they headed back to the cabin, keeping a constant watch for any trailing wolves while they struggled to walk through the deep snow which had drifted in places up to five feet high. A half mile from the cabin, Garrett spotted smoke coming from the direction of their home. “Better hurry,” he said aloud to Jake as he picked up the pace.
The smoke curled skyward from the chimney as Garrett made his way around to the front of the cabin. There he found a wagon covered in snow, so he made his way over to the barn. Inside there were two unfamiliar horses standing in one of the stalls; their ears perked up at the opening of the door. He just as quickly closed the door and made his way back to the cabin, rifle cocked at the ready as he stepped up on the porch. Just as he laid his hand on the door, a woman spoke weakly through the door.
” I got a scattergun here. What you want?” she asked in a rasping, coughing voice.
” I ain’t of a mind to hurt you woman, but this is my cabin and it’s terrible cold. Me and my dog been stuck out in the woods during the storm last night, so we be needing food and fire. Keep your scattergun, but let us in,” Garrett replied in a surprisingly gentle voice.
After a minute, the sound of something falling to the floor was followed by a scream. Garrett forced open the door only to find a woman lying a few feet inside the door, and a young boy leaning over her, trying to comfort her. Without saying a word, Garrett closed the door, removed his coat, and picked up the woman, carrying her to his bed. “Get a bucket of water, boy,” he instructed. “Ma’am, what’s wrong? You ain’t got the fever, does you?”
The woman, dressed in what must have been a very old skirt and blouse, was pale and shivering. Her skin was drawn as if she hadn’t eaten in weeks, and her hair was matted and wet from sweat. Garrett covered her with an old quilt and wiped her face and hands with the cool water brought to him by the young boy. As he looked compassionately into her eyes, she spoke again.
” I’m dying, soon be dead. This here’s my boy, Isaiah. Be eight in May. He ain’t got no family but me. Only thing I ask is that you take care of him. He’s smart, a good boy,” she said slowly, her eyes never leaving his. “Boy,” she said, turning her head and holding out her hand to her son. “This here man is gonna take care of you now. It’s time for me to stand afore the Lord. God bless you Isaiah, and …God bless you mister.” As she spoke her last words, the light faded from her eyes, and all the strength in her body seemed to evaporate in an instant.
Slowly, Garrett turned his eyes from the woman and toward the young boy, now quietly weeping, his head resting on his mother’s limp arm. Garrett reached down and picked him up and held him to his chest, comforting him the best that he knew how. Then, he got to his feet, pulled the quilt over the woman’s face, and carried the boy over to the chair in front of the fireplace, and sat down, the boy now on his lap with his head leaning against the big man. Only the sizzle and pop of the fireplace were heard until once again Garrett spoke, in his softest and gentlest voice. “Well, boy. It’s just you and me now.” He paused and then said, “We’ll be fine. You’ll see.”