Monday, December 23, 2013

Breeding Water, Part One

The crisp air of the high Colorado Mountains was dry and smooth, the sky a marvelous shade of midnight blue with a few errant strands of white, wispy clouds dotting it here and there. A lone figure, a young man barely out of his teens, sat atop a grassy hill with a loosely rolled cigarette hanging from his lips, gazing skyward at nothing in particular as he took in long, slow drags of smoke, before billowing it out through his crooked nose. With messy black hair pulled into a loose ponytail and a lean frame, he was hardly what one would call a lady killer.
But then again, that’s how he preferred it.
“Kevin!” A voice, high and feminine, called out over the hills catching his attention. Sitting up with a grunt, he looked over his shoulder back towards his friends.
And the cabin.
When Jason had first invited him to come along for a trip to the wilderness, Kevin had been hesitant to join. After hearing that John and Jake were going as well, Kevin had finally caved and agreed to it, thinking that this was perhaps a time where he could catch up with his old friends and, maybe, get a chance to draw some scenery.
No such luck.
Jason, the stocky fellow with sun tanned skin, had come along with his girlfriend, Ashley. The short and busty blonde had immediately put Kevin on edge with her endless yammering and seemingly random series of personal questions. Kevin, unlike his friends, was a rather reclusive and shy individual that did not appreciate being asked by a near stranger “So are you gay, or what?”
Jake hadn’t been much better, coming with at least a month’s supply of weed, along with two beer kegs full of what he called the manliest drink around. If Kevin knew Jake, and he sadly did, then he was certain that the kegs would be full of the cheapest beer conceivable. The sandy haired man was, just as he had been in his youth, a slave to his passions apparently, and had done little else since high school save get drunk and/or high.
Kevin smiled a bit as he watched Jake wheel in one of the bright aluminum kegs into the ramshackle cabin that Jason had borrowed from their fifth high school buddy, Boon. While Kevin was surprised the jolly bearded friend of his hadn’t been able to make it, he was at least appreciative of the fact that his old friend was letting them use the cabin. It was high up in the mountains, in the midst of a beautiful forest and adjacent to a deep lake that Kevin could not wait to go fishing on.
They even had a boat!
… well more like a pontoon, but still a boat.
Leaves crunched beneath feet causing Kevin to turn even further, smiling as he caught sight of John ambling his way towards Kevin’s position. A philosophy professor at a nearby college (nearby meaning two hours’ drive), John had probably been the most successful of them all since his graduation. Kevin was a starving artist, living from commission to commission while Jason was a night manager for a small office. Jake was, well, Jake; and Boon… well, nobody was really certain what Boon did for a living. All he seemed to do was travel, the main reason he hadn’t been able to come to this little gathering.
“Yo,” John said, squatting down to be eye level with Kevin, one hand resting on his knee the other pushing his glasses up his nose.
“Hey, we all settled in?” Kevin asked, leaning back with a smile as he caught the long black hair of John’s fiancée, Jeanine. With a tall, slim figure and long black curls, Jeanine almost looked like a model, at least in the traditional sense. While not beautiful, she was definitely cute in a way that made Kevin smile; her laugh was contagious and light, unlike the cackles of Jason’s girlfriend that seemed only to grate on Kevin’s last nerve.
It’d been a long drive up here, all of them cramped into one van, and Kevin was understandably a tad bit more dour than usual.
“Yeah, we got everything unloaded and into the main room, you should come check it out.” John said, pulling the package of cigarettes from Kevin’s pocket and sliding one out. “The whole place is amazing.”
“How so?” Kevin asked, pulling his lighter from his pocket and sparking up the pilfered cigarette for his friend.
“Well, you know how Boon travels everywhere doing… whatever it is he does?” John asked, holding in his first puff of the cigarette with a contented look on his face.
“Jake says he deals drugs,” Kevin said with a smile.
“And Jake is in idiot,” John says, releasing the cloud of smoke in one long sigh. “But I digress; the whole place is decorated with the weirdest stuff man, you gotta check it out.”
“I have all weekend to check it out, why hurry?” Kevin raised his eyebrow in question at John as he began to bounce up and down in his squatted position, obviously excited.
“Because if you don’t hurry you won’t be able to get the room your choosing, and one of them just so happens to have a drawing board in it.” John sing-songed, bouncing to his feet before extending a hand down to Kevin.
Smiling, Kevin grabbed it and pulled himself up. “You know me so well. But why would Boon have a drawing board here, he doesn’t draw? Does he?”
John merely laughed, shrugging his shoulders as the two of them made their way towards the cabin.
Two stories high and constructed from timber from the surrounding wood, the cabin was both beautiful and hideous at the same time; obviously once a well-kept summer home, the structure had fallen into disrepair for quite some time. The windows were dusty and opaque, and the doors were weathered and worn. The wood that covered the exterior was just as worn and moldy as one would expect from a lakeside cabin, and a small shed in the back looked like more of a pile of broken timber than anything else. A small side cellar made from concrete seemed to be the only addition to the old building, and it was in remarkably pristine condition when you compared it to the rest of the structure.
As they approached, Jeanine turned from Ashley, adjusting one of the straps to her tank top before settling her hands on her hips, a baleful glare etched on her face and aimed at John. “Just what are you doing smoking?”
John at least had the decency to look sheepish, rubbing the back of his head as he smiled at his fiancée. “C’mon babe, this is a vacation remember? Shouldn’t I be allowed to bend the rules for once and indulge a little?”
Jeanine smiled for a moment before snatching the cigarette from John’s lips, breaking the glowing stick in half before dropping it to the dirt below. “Not for a cancer stick. It took you months to quit those things last time, and I expect you to stay away from them, you hear me?”
“Yes ma’am…” John agreed sullenly, earning a sniggering laugh from Kevin, who merely made whipping noises as he cracked an imaginary lash overhead. “Shut up!”
Kevin laughed walking past the two, looking over his shoulder. “Sure thing babe, I’ll get right on that!”
Jeanine laughed lightly, dragging John into the chuckles as she directed him to gather their combined luggage, ordering him to take it to “their” room. Kevin picked up the pace and moved through the door into the dimly lit cabin, determined to find the room with the drawing board.
The main room, illuminated only by the sliver of sunlight filtering in from the doorway, was pulled directly from the imagination of a mad taxidermist, scores of crudely stitched heads mounted on the wall, their glassy eyes glimmering in the wane light as if they were watching Kevin walk past them. A large wolf head, far larger than any wolf Kevin had ever seen, sat with mouth wide open, dozens of yellowed teeth displayed in profane glory as the stuffed object parodied what the creature looked like in life when on the attack. Directly next to the wolf head, posted on a long dusty board, were a dozen squirrel heads.
Looking at the dusty little skulls, Kevin huffed a bit; the very thought of hunting was a foreign one to the artist, who preferred to create while observing life in its natural state. Whoever did… these things… were clearly not artists, Kevin thought morosely as he walked past a mounted skull of something with a long snout.
Turning into a darkened hall, Kevin felt along the walls as he made his way towards the first door on his left. Pushing it open, Kevin heaved a sigh of relief as he saw an illuminated room thanks to a dingy window. Paintings hung from each wall, each one depicting hounds and shadowy figures on horseback, chasing down small game with the sort of vengeance one saw from victims. Shaking his head, Kevin smiled when his eyes landed on an old drawing table in the corner of the room, an ornate oil lamp sitting next to it on a small stand.
Walking over to the table, Kevin ran his hands over the smooth wood, wiping away the dust from years of neglect to reveal a shiny coating of rich lacquer. Reveling in the silence of the surrounding wood and the creaks of the house, Kevin pulled up the wobbly stool adjacent to the table, leaning on it slowly to make certain it could hold his weight. Smiling as the stool merely groaned at the undue labor, Kevin continued wiping away the slanted top of the table. Blowing the cobwebs from his hands, Kevin was startled to find a crude etching on the slanted tabletop, a large ring with a small X carved along its edge. Looking at it for a moment, Kevin could only stare in puzzlement as he ran his fingers over the etched wood, along thin lines leading up to the X, and the myriad of closely bunched triangles surrounding the mark.

“Strange… is this a map?” Kevin mumbled aloud, one finger lightly following the curved contours of what he could only guess would be a representation of the road they had traveled along to reach the cabin, which could only be the mysterious X. “Wonder why a map is carved into this thing?”
“No idea,” Jeanine said from the doorway, leaning against the frame with her arms crossed. Kevin looked over at her, smiling wanly in greeting.
“What brings you to my humble abode? It better not be about me smoking.”
“No, as much as I’d love to ride you about that, I just came for the oil lantern you have there.” Jeanine nodded at the bronze and glass item in question sitting atop the stand. “Jake and I are gathering up the lamps in the house and lighting them all in the main room while Ashley tries to get a fire going in the main room.”
“The fireplace working?” Kevin asked, half worried.
Jeanine nodded. “Jake found a note from your friend in the kitchen, thing said the fireplace worked fine. Also told us about the fishing here and the good areas to swim.”
“Not much of a swimmer…” Kevin muttered, earning a light laugh from Jeanine.
“No, but I am.” Jeanine said with a grin, flexing one of her arms as she spoke, her solid frame swelling from the effort. “Water polo in college made me something of a fish really.”
“Well the lake is supposed to be a big tourist attraction during the summer months, so I imagine the waters are nice. Might be a tad chilly now.”
Jeanine shrugged. “Cold water’s never stopped me before, and I’ll drag John on in for some fun. I bet Jason and Ashley will go if we talk to them, leaving just you and Jake alone on the beach.”
Kevin gave Jeanine a cool look at the veiled remark. “Jake will swim with ya’ll, no question. Me? I’ll just stay on shore and draw. Maybe have a smoke.”
Jeanine narrowed her eyes slightly before stepping into the room, grasping the lantern by the upturned handle. “Well make sure you don’t lose any cigarettes to John again, or you and I will have words.”
Kevin merely shrugged, getting up from the stool to follow Jeanine out of his room and into the hall. Jake, spiky blonde hair and chubby cheeks in a sleeveless gray shirt came around the corner from another room, three lanterns held between him.
“Found another.” Jeanine said simply, raising Kevin’s lantern up as evidence.
“That makes seven.” Jake chirped, foisting one of the balanced lanterns off into Kevin’s waiting hands. “And I found a bottle of lamp oil in the kitchen, so we should have all the light we need until Ashley gets the fireplace going.”
“Which I have, by the by.” Ashley called out as we entered the main room, the beginning of a small fire crackling to life in the large fireplace. Ashley, kneeling before the smoldering flames with a stack of faded newspapers which she was slowly feeding into the flames, looked over at us with the widest smile she could manage. Jason stood beside her with an equally wide grin, arms crossed over his broad chest as he looked on in pride.
“Good thing too,” Kevin replied as he walked closer, setting the lamp on a wide table covered in the fur of some great beast, “Because the nights up here are supposed to be freezing.”
“That’s why we brought the space heater,” Jason reminded him, nodding towards the kitchen, “Just in case.”
“And the beer should keep us plenty warm!” Jake smiled, setting his lanterns down next to the other, followed by Jeanine. “These should make the whole place light up when the sun sets.”
“You sure you know how to work them?” Ashley asked her voice full of doubt.

Jake waved her off. “They’re easy, no worries. I’ll show you all how before bed tonight.”

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