The Woodsman
SUNY Jefferson
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The Woodsman

Scott Lowry

            Everyone is still sick. It has been over a week since their symptoms started: my wife, daughter, and son. I have been the only one fortunate enough not to be affected by this germ or whatever it may be. It first started late in the night; my son would wake up crying in bed. I would rush to his bedside to comfort him – then shortly noticing the sweat and heat emitting off his shallow and frail body. His excessive perspiration pooled where he slept. The fever, which had engulfed his body since the first round of nightly disturbances, seamlessly passed along to his sister. Soon enough and with haste, their mother would succumb to it as well. The rest of my family exhibited the same symptoms shortly after he fell ill; burning fever, moans from sore and aching muscles, uncontrollable shakes, vomiting, excess of mucus, and endless sleep. It frightens me greatly to see them in so much pain. What could have caused them to suddenly fall ill with so much violence of action?

            All of them except me, of course.

            As I rock back in my leather chair by myself in our living room void of light and consumed by darkness, I take advantage of the silence that I have been given to ponder my thoughts and retrace the events that led up to this dreaded moment. From my seat, I pour myself a quarter glass of scotch. On second thought, I decide to make it a half glass. I then proceed to light a cigarette to ease the emotional pain and to gather more of my thoughts. There is still time to calm myself and think, preferably in a clear fashion, before their cries and moans of agony linger down the hallway into my senses, at which time I would tend to their needs; bringing them water from the well to drink, replacing their vomiting bowl, and running a wet rag across their foreheads. My daughter doesn’t like to wake up alone, it is why I check on her the most. As if I were in a slow-motioned trance, I pick up my glass and urgently take a drink as if it were water and I was dehydrated.

            I quickly slam the glass to the stand and backhand swipe the excess from my lips. Slowly, I retreat further back into the chair as I inhale another round. As my lungs burn, I tilt my head back and close my eyes.

            We live in the woods; our home is a three-bedroom log cabin. We reside on many acres of land and a lone dirt road that leads to the nearby village. Years ago, when we purchased the materials and hired the labor, before our children were born, my wife decided that it was time to leave the stresses of the village and its politics behind and reconnect with nature—together. She had always been a free and independent soul; one who did not want others to define and narrate her existence. To her, those details were up to nature and myself, she had always said that. Once the cabin was built and we had settled in. . .

            I quickly open my eyes to the sound of an agonizing man.

            Gurgling of saliva and mucus can be heard as the moans grow louder in urgency and pain. Instantly, I am up from where I sat in an erect, instantly knocking over my drink and sprinting down the hallway to the sound. In the process, I drop my still lit cigarette and reluctantly have to turn around to stomp it out or else risk burning our family dwelling to the ground. It is my daughter, who rolls over in her bed in the fetal position while holding her stomach as if severe abdominal cramping afflicts her. I approach her calmly and place my hand over her stomach and begin to rub her in a soothing motion as to desperately relieve her pain. The moaning stops as I pull myself up into her bed. I whisper a lullaby that she enjoys close into her ear in an attempt to put her back to sleep and temporarily relieve her of the pain. As minutes pass, her vocal cords recede and silence takes over. She calmly goes back to sleep with the face of an angel. Before I depart her cold room, I wipe the sweat off her forehead and clean up the excrement left around her linen.

            A deep freeze had crept its way throughout every square foot of the cabin while I had lightly slumbered for that period. The woodstove was nearly out and dimly lit. As a result, I ventured out into the white cold protecting my face from the volley of frozen snow with one arm and holding the last of our cordwood in the other. Once inside, I slam the front door behind me and hurriedly lit our heating source in a desperate attempt to give my family some resemblance of comfort. During this time, I had hoped nobody would awake – as a cold, dark, and empty cabin symbolizes abandonment. Once finished, I checked all the rooms to make sure everyone was still sleeping and not awake and fearful. Now relieved, I return to my chair and pick up where I had left off while ignoring the spilled glass of rare and hard-to-come-by scotch on the floor.

            Years have gone by. The battles have inched closer to us from town to village and so on. The hangings and retribution on those who stayed loyal made their way onto every paper we had read. Food became scarce when the village store shelves ran empty and medical doctors were hard to come by. We hunted for our food with the children, oftentimes as a family, but only when the soil turned sour and we could no longer grow our own food. We fished when we could, and oftentimes were successful. However, the source was not reliable as the creek that ran through our property downstream made its way through the village first, where others had beaten us to it. Fortunately, I did not have to leave my family for the militia as I was over the age threshold. In times of war, one may have thought of neutrality as a good thing. However, when you are not on any side, you are always at the back of the line.

            It was how the village viewed us. Not as foes, nor as friends.

            Our family hunts grew longer and more costly as the wildlife had been caught and depleted. We began venturing further out to find sources of food to bring back to our home so everyone could sleep with a full belly. However, often enough, this was not the case. As winter hit and grew colder, so did our bodies. No longer did we have proper clothing to keep warm on the hunts; and this is the reason why the germ is here, in our home as we speak, ravaging my wife, my son, and my beautiful daughter.

            All of them except me, of course.

            I awake to sounds of multiple violent screams and fluid discharge splatting to the wooden floors from the bedrooms. As I enter the hallway once again in a panic, I see my wife walking towards me, limping with both of the children under her arms. She enters our dining room area and carefully sits them down at the table across from each other. She then proceeds to place herself down slowly in her seat at the end of the table. To my surprise, there are plates filled with food in front of everyone. My wife points to my chair, and in shock, I take my seat in silence.

            “Nature girl, where did all of this food come from?” I asked my wife in confusion.

            They are silent. I am now completely perplexed. Before I can gather my thoughts and muster another sentence, our front door is suddenly kicked open. Members of the militia storm into our dining room and surround us with their weapons. One of them, covered in white snow with what appears to be dirty rags underneath, leans up to me.

            “What have you done?” the bearded man yells. “Answer me!” as he draws his weapon up to my head.

            “What do you mean? I am just about to have dinner with my family!” I respond, still in confusion.

            One of the militia members turns away and starts coughing.

            “Are you insane? They are dead! Do you not smell them?” He yells at me in shock.

            One of the militia members behind the bearded man pulls him away from me and drags him outside while he begins to make a wailing sound.

            In horror and shock, I turn my head back to my family. They sit there silent, calmly staring back at me, with wide grins on their faces.