The words were pouring out of her like milk from a breast; each image and phrase had to be suckled, but was readily there to nourish. Kat's fingers dashed across the keyboard swiftly, having a hard time keeping up. She did not bother to check for errors as she typed; there would be many, editing would come later.
This unabashed flow was a new experience to Kat. It was what she had come out to the cabin to find, and find it she had. In the past month of utter isolation, Kat had spilled out as many, if not more, pages than she had in the 23 years prior. It was refreshing.
As fat snowflakes whipped into a dance outside the frosty window, Kat sipped her cup of tea between pages. For once, she felt the world to be at peace.
The cabin was in the middle of the Sawtooth Wilderness of Idaho. Nothing, no one, existed for many miles around. This gave Kat exactly what she needed: a space free from distractions.
The cozy two-room cabin belonged to the parents of her best friend, Rachel. Eyebrows were raised when the question was posed.
"But, honey, you'll be stuck out there all winter until the roads clear. Don't you think that's dangerous?" Mrs. Freedman had asked.
But the good woman eventually acquiesced. They had once spent a month up there during the winter, and knew if she was smart, no harm would come. The Freedman's had known Kat since she was a toddler; she was nothing if not smart.
Maybe another person would have felt trapped, but not Kat. Her life had been thus spent in the congestion of Chicago; a dull gray place that hustled with empty strangers. She was an extremely sensitive girl, and all that muddled energy felt oppressive to her muse.
In Idaho, Kat felt more alive than ever before. The ring of mountains surrounding her whispered their secrets in the night. The lake, now frozen over, held the steady pulse of life in its watery depths. The pine trees and foxes and deer all bundled up for winter, surviving. Kat would survive, too.
It wasn't as if she had it all that hard. On the contrary, the cabin provided exactly what she needed. The entire set-up was off-the-grid with solar panels and windmills to power the space. A well on site provided water, running water, even hot water. There was a limited amount of sunlight, so Kat had to be very careful with what energy she used, especially on windless days, but for the most part, it made for comfortable living.
The cabin consisted of two rooms and a porch. The bedroom was cozy and painted in rusty reds and orange tones, with indigo accents. The Freedman's "summer bed" was finer than anything Kat had ever slept on. She always dozed soundly on "the cloud" as she thought of it.
The main room was a kitchen/living room combination. The kitchen was small but well designed, with a bar-stooled countertop that overlooked the living room. The living room consisted of a loveseat, a small television that Kat had covered over with a tapestry, and a large kitchen table that Kat had pushed against the wall and turned into a work desk.
She'd turned the back porch into storage; it held the winter's supply of firewood and food.
Ah, freedom! Kat thought as she pounded away at the computer.
Her novel was taking shape and a life of it's own. She had spent the first month developing characters, setting, tone and plot. This morning, she'd sat down to begin the actual story, and the voice of her narrator felt like a comfortable sister.
She had to pause when her tummy started rumbling. She'd forgotten to eat since that bit of cereal she'd had for breakfast. It was well past lunchtime.
Kat got up and rummaged through the enclosed porch. Though the screens had been replaced with windowpanes, no heat got to the space and she shivered through her layers.
There were so many boxes of food that Kat felt like a squirrel. Sighing, she looked for something appetizing, extracted a heat-and-serve box of curried vegetables and rice, and quickly scurried back to the cabin.
Before she could even set the pot of water on the stove, a pounding at the door startled her out of all action. She shook her head. I must be imagining things, she thought, as the pounding came again.
Setting the pot on the flame, she padded over to the door. Maybe the Forest Service, she thought, but why? Undoing the latch, the heavy door swung with a creak.
Outside stood a shivering, blue-lipped man huddled in a heavy navy parka. The hood was pulled so tight over his head that she could not make out his features. "Please," he said, "I need warmth."
Bewildered, Kat let the man in. He stood tall, nearly a foot over her, but it was clear he was not out to harm her. If anyone was in danger, it was him.
She led him to the small fire she kept burning in the wood stove. He was dragging his left leg as he walked. She retrieved a few logs from the porch to make for a brighter flame. He was rubbing his hands vigorously over the fire, the ice crystals began to droop and puddle.
In the kitchen, she made him a cup a tea and he took it gratefully, drinking the near-boiling liquid in fast, thirsty gulps. She had more water on the stove ready for a second cup.
"What happened to you?" she asked as she replaced the tea in his hands.
The man shook his head, "Later," he said. "Do you have anything dry I could change into?"
Kat had brought only a handful of clothes for her stay, isolation not being a fashion show. But still, she had the foresight to pack a handful of thermal shirts, sweatshirts and sweatpants. She rustled out the largest of these items tossed them near the man. "I'll be back in a few," Kat said, giving the man the warmth of the fire to change in front of.
Kat paced inside the bedroom. What was going on here? She would soon have some answers, but she was getting a sinking feeling that she would not like them.
If the situation weren't so awful, she would have laughed. This tall, thick hulk of a guy looked quite silly in her clothes. Her pink sweats barely reached his ankles, and the white thermal looked about ready to burst the seams. He was sitting on the rug now, with his bare feet extended to the fire. His left ankle was badly swollen and looked twisted out of place.
What could she do? She handed him the plate that was supposed to be her dinner. Sighing, she started another pot for her.
Sitting near him on the rug, Kat examined his ankle as he swallowed the food whole. She was no expert, but it looked serious.
When he'd finished the dinner in record time, he set the plate aside, wiped his mouth with the back of his hand, and said, "Thank you."
Kat nodded. "Who are you? What happened?"
The man turned to look at her, and for the first time she really saw his face. Color had come back into his cheeks, she could see now that he was an otherwise healthy creature, rather handsome with a strong jaw line, a perfect nose, and pale blue eyes. He wore his blond hair short, but his face was covered in stubble. He could have been 18 or 40, she wasn't sure.
He cleared his throat. "I'm Gabe," he extended his hand. His grip was strong, but his fingers still felt icy.
"Kat," she said.
He nodded. "I was driving back from school," he started, "in Seattle, to visit my folks for Christmas. They live in Santa Fe, so I wanted to enjoy the snow for a while. I rented a snowmobile back in Stanley, early this morning. And I was zooming around, wild and free," he turned his mouth up into a grim smile, "and I flipped over a tree stump, I think. Going too fast."
Kat rubbed her forehead but allowed him to continue. "In the process, I bent my ankle around, and demolished the snowmobile." Kat let out an audible breath. It was exactly what she'd feared.
Gabe continued, his voice blank, "I knew I was already a good deal away from Stanley. I was, luckily, on the top of a hill, and I spotted the smoke from your chimney. And here I am." He shrugged. "What are you doing out in the middle of nowhere?"
Kat gave a half-smile. "I'm writing a book."
"I hope it's not The Shining," he said with a light-hearted grimace.
Kat chuckled. "I think not."
There was a heavy silence as Kat felt herself being examined. Surely, she was not at her best, all bundled in layers of fleece and thermal. She only bathed on bright and windy days, it had been...well, she'd lost track. She grimaced when she imagined how she must smell, but pushed the worry away. What did that matter?
As if reading her thoughts, he looked back to the fire. "Do you have a phone or something?" he asked.
"No. Nothing." It was her greatest point of contention with the Freedman's, they wanted her to pick up a two-way radio. She grumbled that she couldn't afford it, and was kicking herself now.
Gabe grunted. "A snowmobile?"
Kat shook her head. "Sorry."
"How do you...?"
"Shit is right... I wanted seclusion. I wasn't expecting visitors."
Gabe nodded, letting the thoughts sink in. "How far away is the nearest town?"
Kat pushed a heavy breath out of her nose. "Eighty some miles."
They sat in silence for awhile. "Do you have anyone checking up on you?" he asked.
Kat shook her head. "I have a friend coming to pick me up when the roads open."
"When will that be?"
Kat shrugged. "They say anywhere between late March and early June."
Gabe brought his hands to his scalp and gripped his hair, wincing. Kat felt the same way. Her splendid isolation seemed shattered beyond repair.
For a moment she brightened, "doesn't anyone know you're here?"
Gabe shook his head. "Just the guy I rented the snowmobile from. But I paid cash, he doesn't even know my name."
"Didn't you have to sign something?"
Gabe shook his head. "Nah. It wasn't a company, just a guy I found with a snowmobile in his garage."
"Don't you think he'll wonder why you haven't returned? Maybe he'll send out a search party."
Gabe let in the glimmer of hope. "Maybe."
"Well, you can't stay here," Kat said in even tones, secretly only half-joking.
Gabe turned to glare at her, ice crystals forming in his eyes.
"I'm kidding," she said. But he only looked a half-measure brighter.
There wasn't much they could do for his ankle. Kat found an elastic bandage in the first aid kit and wrapped it up for him, then helped him into a pair of thick thermal socks. He was dethawed and didn't appear to be frostbitten, but still badly exhausted.
Kat helped him into the bedroom and he fell into "the cloud". She said, "I'll take the loveseat. Tonight." But he was already sound asleep.
Kat tried to get back into her writing, but the worries hit her brain harder than her storyline. She fell into a shallow, fitfill sleep on the loveseat.
At some point exhaustion must have overcome her, for she slept well into the morning. Gabe was already awake, she could tell by the running water in the bathroom. She sat up, waiting her turn to pee.
But the gush of water would not quit. After several minutes, she realized he must be drawing a bath. A surge of anger flushed her cheeks. She tried to push it aside.
Waiting, waiting until her bladder could take it no longer, she took off her leggings and pulled on her long, thick skirt, and squatted in the snow outside, cursing him silently.
Gabe emerged from the bathroom some time later, looking pink and warm and almost happy. He was still wearing her clothes, and had found her spare hoodie in the closet and helped himself to that, as well.
He hobbled over to the loveseat and sat next to her. "Good morning," he said.
"Morning," she grumbled. "We have to talk." His gaze was silent, so she continued.
"First of all, there's the energy issue. This place is run on solar and wind power, but it was built for summertime use, and the reserve tanks aren't large. That means we need to conserve energy, especially on cloudy, still days. Like today. Your bath means we won't have hot meals today unless we forego lights in the evening." The chill in her voice was evident.
He looked sheepish. "I'm sorry... my bones were still chilled, and..."
Kat shook her head and felt the anger slid from her. She wasn't much for holding grudges, especially undeserved ones. "It's okay, you didn't know. Maybe we'll get some sun later."
He nodded enthusiastically, as if his hope could push the clouds aside.
"Okay, that said, the next issue is food. I have brought exactly enough to feed one person, three light meals a day until early June. We won't starve," she said, "but we won't have much to go around."
The smile dimmed from his face. He nodded. Kat continued, "I came here specifically to get away from the distractions of people, to get some writing done. I still intend to write as much as I can. So I need to ask you to disturb me as little as possible. Got it?"
His face was long and drawn, now. "I understand, but what do you expect me to do with myself?"
Kat shrugged. "I've got quite a few books with me, you're welcome to read them. I have paper and pens if you feel like writing. After that, you'll have to use your imagination."
Gabe nodded, looking dismal. He struck her as the jock-type, not much of a reader.
"And the last point. Sleeping arrangements. It was impossible for me to get comfortable on this little thing last night. I'm sure it wouldn't be any more pleasant for you." She'd thought this over many times during the night, pushed a breath out and continued her speech. "The bed's big enough to share. But, I expect there to be a clear line drawn: if you so much as stray a hand, you'll be on the couch. Or out of the cabin." She didn't disguise the threat in her voice.
Gabe nodded again. He was beginning to feel more and more like a prisoner; his hopes for getting along with Kat slipping away.
They shared a meal of cold cereal and Kat turned to her keyboard. Gabe selected a book from the shelf, and made himself cozy on the loveseat. Thus, the tone was set.
Kat did her best to ignore his presence, and Gabe did his part to follow her rules. As the weeks stretched by, they learned a little more about each other, during meals and Kat's writing breaks.
Gabe was a few years older than she. He had been a massage therapist for several years before he realized it wasn't what he wanted for the rest of his life. He was back in school to learn outdoor leadership. He wanted to be a wilderness field guide. He chuckled over the irony of the mess he'd gotten himself into.
Kat told him bits of her life story. An unhappy, lonely childhood with kind but distant parents, she thrived in her imagination. She excelled in school but was a social outcast. Rachel, her best friend, was her only friend. After high school, she'd gotten a waitress job and a place of her own, and tried, unsuccessfully, to write.
By the end of the second week, Kat found they could talk comfortably, and was grateful Gabe was not the dumb jock she'd first assumed. He offered his help around the cabin, but with his ankle still recovering, she did most of the cooking and fire-tending.
One morning Kat woke to find Gabe already out of bed, which was unusual. A quick search of the cabin she found his parka missing and no man to be found. She shrugged, thinking he must have gotten antsy and gone to explore. He was a little steadier on his feet these days.
When afternoon rolled around and Gabe wasn't back, she began to worry. Maybe he fell, she thought. And a bear found him. Pushing her laptop aside, she began to bundle for the outdoors, when the front door burst open. Gabe held something wrapped in newspaper.
"Merry Christmas," he said.
"Christmas?" she said, then confirmed with the calendar on her laptop. Yep.
Gabe pushed hung his parka up and limped into the kitchen. "I was rummaging through the shed out back, and I found some fishing gear. So we can have a nice dinner." As he unwrapped the newspaper, the smell confirmed his catch. "I actually had quite a bit of luck, I've buried a few more in the snow out back."
"Wow, thanks. Do you wanna lie down? You must be tired?"
"Nah, I feel great. I need to move around, and the ankle's feeling better. Let me cook dinner, you get back to your writing."
A few hours later, Gabe announced that dinner was ready. He'd marinated the trout in wine and spices, baked fresh rolls and sautéed (canned) green beans with sunflower seeds. "Well, it's the best I could do," he shrugged.
The smells from the kitchen had been making her mouth water. For weeks they'd subsisted on meager meals, this was a real treat. She moved her laptop off the table and set it.
"Hope you don't mind I opened one of the bottles of wine," he said.
"Yeah, out in the shed. There's a dozen of 'em."
Kat shrugged. The Freedman's would be forgiving. Then she looked at the bottle. The label read 1977. She didn't know her wines, but guessed it was expensive.
"This is delicious," Kat said, savoring every bite. Gabe chewed slowly, too, in sharp contrast with his first meal in front of the fire. "Thank you."
"Your welcome. It's the least I could do, to return your kindness."
"To be honest, I didn't have much of a choice. I couldn't kick you out to freeze to death."
"I guess not. But, still, you've shared everything with me. I know you don't want me around."
Kat shrugged and sipped the old Merlot. It was complex, starting with a spicy tang and slipping down the throat with a heady sweetness. "You've been respectful, and you've given me the space to write. It hasn't been hard."
"Well, then, let me thank you for having fantastic taste in literature. I would have gone stir crazy long ago without it." He wiped his mouth and sipped the wine.
Kat smiled. He hadn't mentioned liking what he was reading. She hadn't even paid attention to what books he chose. They discussed his selections at length, and she suggested what he might like to try next.
"So, when are you gonna let me read what you're writing?" he asked.
Kat shook her head. "It's got a long way to go yet."
"Well, if you ever need an outside opinion, just let me know."
Kat nodded. She felt the flush of the wine in her cheeks. By the time her plate was clean, she was stuffed and a bit tipsy. She started clearing the table, but Gabe stopped her.
"No. You've been doing all the work for weeks now. Just relax."
She nodded slowly and sat at a bar stool to chat with Gabe as he did dishes. "I have another Christmas present for you, if you'd like it," he said.
"But I have nothing for you," she protested.
"Bull. I'm alive and well, and if that's not a present... Anyway, if you want, I'll give you a massage. I've noticed how you get all scrunched up working at the computer."
It was true. She took stretching breaks throughout the day, but the tension always came back. But, still, she was shy about touch. He caught the weary look, and said. "Don't worry, I'm a professional."
Gabe had her lay down on the bed. He'd placed the pillows side by side, with a slight space between, so she could rest her spine flat without suffocating in the pillow.
The day on his feet was taking its toll on Gabe; besides, the bed was too short for him to work effectively hovering over her. Silently, he straddled her backside, wondering if that would draw protest. She stiffened, but said nothing.
Kat had shed her layers but for her thermal. He began at her lower back, gently working his way up the muscles around her spine. When he got to her middle back, she let out a stifled moan.
Kat melted and dissolved under his expert touch. It was as if he knew all the intricacies of her body, where to touch, with what pressure and direction. He began gently with his fingertips, but as she loosened he used more force and palm to knead her muscles into jelly.
Her eyes were closed, her thoughts stopped. She abandoned herself to his ministrations, openly sighing and moaning without a care. Behind her eyes, she saw swirling patterns of light and color, like watching her brain's hidden kaleidoscope.