A Man on an Island Ch. 04byTaLtos6©
More time went by, and she found herself in her office in Toronto one day two months later. It happened to be a dress-down Friday at the beginning of December, and she'd worn jeans in contravention of the unstated policy that executives at her level just didn't take part. Well she'd gotten back early from California with another success story for her masters, so what the hell? What were they going to do, fire her?
The place was emptying out fairly quickly because of an approaching early winter storm. It was shaping up to be a rather hard winter – there had already been a few dumpings of snow even in November. Now it was the beginning of December and it was already cold and the forecasters had nothing good to say about the approaching system. She knew that if the prediction was accurate, there'd be a whole lot of no-shows the next day for the trip debriefing, and it would be a pain trying to get anything done. A look at her agenda showed her as amazingly clear for the next week or so, and she knew that her superiors would likely dream up some threat of impending doom that they needed her to quell.
She decided to head off that nonsense and called her boss for some time away. She'd emailed him the debrief report and with no doom-ish threats in his mind, he told her to get some R&R, but to check in often. Kate left right after that.
As she drove out of the underground parking, she thought about seeing Sylvia and headed north. Sitting at a traffic light just before she got on the highway, Kate knew that her phone was going to be a leash around her neck, so she pulled it out and turned it off.
She felt better immediately.
A couple of hours later, the storm was beginning to show its teeth. Visibility was slowly getting worse, and though Kate had thought she knew the way to her cousin's home, things looked a whole lot different in white with a strong crosswind. She finally admitted to herself that she'd gotten lost and grabbed her phone to call for directions. When it came to life, Kate was a bit dismayed to see that it had trouble finding the network in these hills.
She slowed even more when she saw a home set well back from the road. In between gusts of white flashing past her window, Kate noted that there was at least one light on and visible. She turned into the driveway and thought to ask for directions, but found that she had at least one more problem.
She was stuck. The snow bank had been hard to see until the last second, and then she heard the soft sounds of deep soft snow under the floor pan of her car. She tried to back out, but found it hopeless. The all-wheel drive hadn't been designed for snow this deep.
She sat looking at the house, what she could see of it anyway. Under the circumstances, it looked to be a lot warmer that what was outside her door at the moment. She tried again to get the car to back out, and then wondered if she ought to just walk up and try the bell. She felt a bit nervous about that, and kept trying to catch a cell signal.
In the hour that she sat in her car, the snow was piling up around her. Eventually, it began to block the exhaust pipe. The car's computer noted the change at the oxygen sensor, and compensated as much as it could, but its firmware hadn't been set up to include the tailpipe getting covered, and so it leaned out the fuel mixture, but then the temperature rose, and it could only handle that by enriching the mixture again, making it worse. The result was that carbon monoxide began to work its way forward as the exhaust looked for other paths.
Kate smelled the half-burnt fumes, suddenly had a headache to beat the band, and was thankful for these separate warnings. She knew that carbon monoxide by itself has no odor.
She pushed hard to get her door open and got out, her mind made up. The wind bit into every small gap in her clothing that it could find, but her head began to clear at least. She noted that the drive was marked with small poles, and the way that the poles wandered a bit as opposed to being in a straight line. With the wind and snow chilling her now, she tried for a more direct path. The effort to keep her coat closed up was made worse since she hadn't taken any gloves along.
The wind seemed to keep wanting to push her from her course, and in the whiteout conditions, she lost sight of the horizon from five feet away. Whenever the wind slowed enough for her to see, she was usually far from her chosen path to the door. The drifting snow made things worse as what often looked to be a smooth course hid a sudden drop in the ground and that made walking hard – especially in her fine leather boots – the ones made more for fashion than actually walking on anything other than smooth and level ground.
After a few yards off the drive, she lost her footing and fell down, landing face first in the snow. As much of a shock as that was, she now found that she had a lot of difficulty in getting back to her feet. Kate sighed as she thought that it would be good to just rest where she was for a few moments to catch the breath that the wind was stealing from her every time that she lifted her head. She gave it up a minute later.
Cale had turned off the radio as soon as he'd left the beaten path and gotten off the main roads. He had no need of snarled traffic updates and listening to the ever-lengthening lists of which roads had been closed. It didn't matter now, and there had been no mention of the ones that he'd be taking anyway. Conditions were worsening, he knew, but he was set up as well as anyone who lived out here could be, he reasoned.
Turning right onto the county road that would take him almost all the way home, he noted the small momentary increase in engine revs and the slight fishtail that told him that whatever lay under the inches of snow that he was traveling on, it would make him slow up a bit more.
Well that was fine, he thought. That's why he had the shorter stick coming out of the floor under the dashboard. He reached down and eased up on the accelerator for a second as he selected the high range on the transfer case, and settled in to listening to the comforting whine of the four-wheel-drive to the rhythm of the wipers.
He smiled to himself. A week's vacation and the holidays just over the hill.
So he'd be hunkered down under the soft cold blanket that covered the landscape, he didn't care, and he'd gotten his groceries the evening before, anyway. Thirty-three minutes later, he was on the last lap as he turned onto the concession road that he lived on.
He slowed as he approached his driveway. There was a half-covered car not far in. That was odd.
He wondered about it as he pulled alongside. It was deserted, but he saw that the snow on the top of the hood was wetter. It couldn't have been there more than maybe an hour at the most, judging by the snow around it, and he doubted that it had been switched off for longer than thirty minutes. He looked ahead, and saw a line of footprints that the wind was doing its best to erase.
Only one set, so whoever this was hadn't come back out - yet. The driveway curved around a hill and out of sight at this point. He'd had to lay it out that way when he'd had it put in. He could see his house, but not the last section of the drive. He pulled ahead slowly.
He was a bit alarmed when he noticed that the footprints had left the clearly staked drive and cut the corner to head directly to the building. You sure couldn't see the reason for the curve, but it had not been put there for artistic reasons.
There was a bit of a small marsh there. He quickly looked along the line of prints, and was mystified that there was nobody in sight. It was a bit hard to see clearly, but he was certain that whoever this visitor was, they hadn't reached the porch either.
Then he saw a slight, dark bundle of leather rise out of the snow to stand uncertainly. His sense of alarm went up a notch as he noted that it was wavering in the stiff wind. He followed the road along to a point nearest the person before putting the truck into Park. He stared a second more, and then turned the heat on full and reached to the passenger door to unlock it. He grabbed his work gloves, opened his door and headed out, calling to the person.
Kate knew this was now past bad news. She found her thoughts clouded and muddled. It was getting very difficult to think clearly at all, and her toes were screaming in pain to her. Her hands weren't quite so bad now, but they still burned. She thought she'd heard something, but in the wind, she'd thought that before.
She looked to the house and didn't think she could make it the rest of the way. Someone was there, she could see them moving a bit, but they didn't seem to be making an effort to come out to her. She lost her footing and fell again. She didn't think she had much left to get up again with, and just thought to rest.
Cale was almost to her when she fell the second time. The thought of going through the ice into the marsh came to him, but he was more worried about the stranger banging their head against the surface of the ice since in the middle he knew it to be frozen hard. This was either a small man or a woman. The style of the coat said female to him just as she began to fall again. He lunged, but missed.
Kate had only a second to think about resting before her view of the world flew and spun. There was odd pressure under her armpits from her coat, and then something large had her and was lifting her up. The suddenness of the motion felt as though she was on an amusement ride that had shifted direction violently.
She looked up and got a glimpse of a man's face. His beard was gathering snow as the flakes that hit him just stayed there, mostly. She found it difficult to speak, and the best that she could do was to mumble that she was just resting.
Cale had a bit of a shock as he saw her face. She was lovely, so that meant that she had absolutely no business being in his arms. He tried to smile in as friendly a fashion as he could, but knew at the same time that right now, he could probably give his own mother a fright, if she were still among the living.
"Not here, Ma'am" he said, doing his best to smile. "You can't rest here. Can you walk?"
The question confused her, "Sure, - sure I-" and then she began to fall backwards.
Cale caught her and lifted her up, "Maybe not," he said as he turned around and began to walk.
He looked for the reeds that marked the edge of the marsh, and tried to follow his own footprints back out. The ice near the reeds would be thinner, he knew.
Just as he got near the shore, he heard the ice crack and felt the beginnings of the sag. His next step got them a foot from the shore, but the ice gave up and he almost dropped her as he sunk to his calves. He tried to brace for the cold, but it took his breath away all the same. His exhalation came out as a hiss from between his teeth.
Kate had no clue what was going on, but knew that she couldn't do much about it, whatever it was, so as he shifted her higher, she leaned her head against him. There seemed to be less wind there anyway.
Cale reached the truck, and fumbled for a second to get the passenger door open. He yanked it open wide and struggled to get her into the seat. He didn't bother belting her in, but closed the door carefully and stumped around to the other side. When he'd gotten the driver side door closed, he gave in to saying some words acknowledging what his feet were telling him. He looked over to see her looking at him curiously in a dazed way.
He shrugged, "Sorry for that."
He reached over to try to get the dash vents on her side aimed at her a bit more. Sitting back, he looked at her again, and answered the question that he guessed she was about to vocalize, but he didn't feel like waiting for her to struggle it out.
"We're going someplace warmer than this, if you can hang on." He wiped at the snow on his beard with his gloves, before pulling them off, yanking the selector into Drive and they drove to the doors of the shed within another minute.
Kate felt as though she were watching a television show as she looked at him fumble for the key to the shed padlock. He got it open, and then grabbed the snow shovel that had been leaning there to clear enough snow to be able to get the doors open before walking back to the truck and pulling forward into the building.
He pulled the doors closed behind them, and walked to unlock the French doors that led into the old house. A huge dog came out to welcome him happily. After their meeting, he opened her door and she looked at him as he seemed to puzzle over what to say to her as the dog strained to get a better look at her around him.
Cale shrugged and tried to do his best not to frighten her, "Look Ma'am, if it wasn't snowing like a bastard, and if we hadn't just gone through that little adventure back there, I'd like to assure you that I'd be doing my best to be charming and polite, but it's not a day for that, frankly, all things considered. So I'm going to be skipping a lot of social correctness here, and I'd ask for your indulgence."
He looked at her curiously, "If you can even understand me, since you look like a human Popsicle. The way it is outside, nobody's going anywhere for a while. I'm going to try to get the place warmed up and then we'll figure out who you are and where you need to be, and I'll help with that if I can.
I'm sorry, I know I look pretty rough, but I don't get many visitors here, and in the winter I let my beard grow some. I'm just trying to tell you that right now, we both need to get warm and dry in a hurry."
He looked at her hands, "And those hands are going to really hurt very soon.
My name's Cale, and this here is Rufus. I keep him around for comedy. He won't bite. If anything, he'll drive you nuts being an idiot. I trained him, so he gets that from me."
He reached for her, and she recoiled slightly.
Cale sighed, "I was just going to carry you into the house and put you in a chair by the woodstove since that will get heat sooner than anywhere else. I meant nothing by it. I won't hurt you, but I'm afraid that you'll fall down if you try to walk."
Kate's feet felt like painful wood, she thought. "Ok," she said, and reached out for him slightly. He smiled and carefully picked her up. She looked a bit put out, but put her arms around his neck loosely as he carried her inside.
He set her down in an overstuffed chair, and after closing the door, he grabbed what looked like a fur blanket.
"I - I'm allergic t- to f-fur,' she said.
He shrugged, "Then it's a good thing that this is from a department store, I guess. You're not allergic to department stores are you?" He couldn't imagine that there was such a thing as a woman who was allergic to one of them, though he supposed that it was possible.
He looked at his dog, "Rufus, you might want to change your coat. I'd suggest that tweed smoking jacket of yours, buddy."
The dog tilted his head at him.
"Yeah," Cale said, "just trust me."
She wasn't sure that she'd heard him correctly. "Y-ou just t-told your d-dog to put on a smoking jacket."
"Well yeah," Cale sighed as he turned to Kate and indicated the red plaid work jacket that he wore, "I'm sure you can tell that I'm the only one here with any fashion sense. It won't make any difference anyway."
He shook his head sadly, "He never listens to me."
She smiled at him as he wrapped the fur around her before opening the woodstove to stir hopefully at the ashes while Rufus sniffed and fawned in front of her. Cale smiled as he found a couple of embers that still glowed and stuffed in a bit of newsprint followed by some kindling. Inside of a minute and a half, she heard the stove begin to roar softly. Cale disappeared, but came back with another blanket for her.
Before Kate could protest, he had one of her boots off and was tugging at the other one. She still wasn't really with it, but she did manage to begin to sound indignant.
He smiled at her, "Tough.
I'm trying to get your feet warm. I did tell you that some niceties were going by the boards here. Don't worry; this is about as forward as I'm going to get. Now get your hands inside that blanket and rub them together for a minute. I think you'd prefer to keep owning all of your fingers and toes so we need to get some blood moving. Pardon me for this, ok?"
She almost yelled as he began to rub her feet with his rough hands, but she settled down after a few seconds. Besides, she thought, it wasn't as though she'd had a lot of men line up to rub her feet so far, and he seemed concerned for her, though he was obviously trying to cover it with a bit of banter.
After a few minutes, he pulled a sock over each foot. "Just go like this for a bit until I can get your boots warm and dry. I'm sorry about the socks, but I don't have your size in stock."
"Thank you, um,.. I'm sorry, but I've forgotten your name." she said uncertainly.
"Cale," he smiled, as she began to feel the first of some heat from the stove.
"Ok, Cale, thank you for all this."
He shook his head, "Like I said, never mind the niceties until we've warmed up some, at least. There'll be less teeth chatter, for one thing,"
He looked out the front window as the wind picked up even more, "It looks like it's going to be one of those 'saying' nights, Rufus."
Kate looked at the way that the huge animal looked at Cale. She could almost see him nod, it was a little weird, but it was almost enough to make her want to laugh as she found herself waiting for him to agree. "What 'saying' nights?"
Cale looked at her as though he was a little surprised that she'd heard his comment, but he smiled, "Sometime while I was a kid, I must have heard this line spoken. I have no idea who the actor was, and none about the movie either. But somewhere in it, I heard this line and I get to say it up here a lot when the weather turns to crap.
It's not going to be a fit night out for man nor beast tonight."
Kate laughed, "I've heard that line too!" She tilted her head a little quizzically, "I don't think I've ever heard it said with an accent like that, though. What the heck was that supposed to be?"
Cale chuckled, "I've worked with all sorts of people in my line of work, and after a while I can hear the different ways that they speak in my head. When I was just starting out in my apprenticeship, I got thrown in with a bunch of men who had worked together for years – Scotsmen, Irishmen, Cockneys, a Jamaican, damn near everybody. Because of their past together, they understood each other implicitly. Me? It took me over a week to figure out the directions that they gave me to find the washroom. I could only understand this one guy from the Isle of Man, but he had such a dry and razor-sharp wit that I just knew that he as skinning me alive with his veiled insults but I couldn't say anything because I was too dumb and trusting to figure them out.
Anyway we got to where we could say that we were sort of friends, and by then, I'd developed an ear and I understood them all. I thought that it had been a major accomplishment, but the Manx guy brought a friend of his over one day to meet me, and I couldn't understand a word. He had one of those voices that always sound as though he'd been screaming five minutes before, you know? The two of them laughed their asses off at how I must have looked. You can only say 'pardon me' so many times.
It turned out that the guy had come from one of those little backwaters in the heart of Scotland, and his mother was Scottish – right from there, and his father was Irish, from where they have their thickest brogue. I try to say that line in my best imitation of that guy as I remember him."