The large man stomped through the house in a quiet rage, berating himself with every murmured salutation against unforgiving gods, rambunctious dogs and lost souls. The silent night reverberated with urgency as doors slammed, cupboards creaked, and anger organized itself into a posse.
"Damn it, Bear," he groused to his attentive sidekick, "I screwed up and it's all your fault."
The large, black Newfoundland whimpered, fully aware of chastisement when it touched his master's voice. Berringer knew the country up here. The edges of Turtle Ridge were precarious, treacherous walls of black drop offs, almost invisible against the solid thickness of night. Only experienced lodgers of the Ridge ventured out for evening strolls and Cody Blade made a greenhorn look like Special Forces. The somber, reflective soul, turning himself off could not dodge disaster in a rote mode...disaster that the disheartened boy would see no reason to avoid.
Grabbing a coil of rope, an extra jacket off the rack, a flashlight, and a small first aid kit, he stuffed them into a nylon backpack. Nate donned his own thick-leather jacket and pushing Bear back into the cabin, he slammed the door.
Taking only a few steps away from the cabin, Nate froze in his tracks as one hundred and some pounds of determined mutt slammed against the wood door. It rattled and shook. He waited. Again, the dog must have backed up adding a leap to the lunge. Desperate mewls sent shivers up Nate's spine. Interspersed with angry barks, it had an unnatural quality to it, like demons arguing. Nate had never seen Bear act this way.
Fearing for the dog's safety, he opened the door. Grabbing the yellow collar just in time as the furry form tried to take off into the night, he pulled back.
"Whoa, boy, can’t spend my time looking for two of you."
Pulling the dog back into the cabin, he grabbed the yellow lead from the wall hook and clipped it on the dog's collar. Bear pulled towards a rag on the floor near the door, nuzzling it and throwing it up in a frenzied display of aggravation. Reaching down, Nate picked up the cloth recognizing the kid's silk boxers. Bear was playing with the scent and Nate realized he had underestimated the pup.
"Let's hope that nose of yours is good for more than finding food at a hundred yards."
Making a second exit from the cabin, this time with Bear pulling him
out into the darkness, Nate closed the cabin door with a promise, "This
time, boy, your butt is paying the price but good."
Cody came out of the cabin. Not having thought things through, he was following some instinctual calling that had nothing to do with homing or survival instincts. The hollow vacuum in his soul, when it kicked in, washed away all reasoning, all hope and desire. Like an empty chamber, he concentrated on putting one foot ahead of the other, no direction in mind save movement---the reassuring, constant movement.
Walking out into the thick foilage, barely aware of the commotion staged a few yards off---man, dog and skunk in their routine of avoidance---he turned right. Just lose yourself into the night, the mantra played out in his head. Away, away, lost and gone, just go away.
However, as he moved along the ridge, the briars and weeping branches
pinched and pulled, scraped and tugged. Hardly aware of the pain, his tired,
fog encrusted memory thought of the car. He needed to find the car. His
driver's license, wallet, keys, all remained in the glove compartment.
He could leave here, find another place to rest, ease into the night and
that long and comforting sleep.
Bear was determined to head off to the right. This realization turned Nate's stomach sharply, releasing enough acid inside to cause his lips to grimace at the bitter taste in his mouth. The boy was heading for the river. Tourists and vacationers knew the large rapidly moving river that eased itself vengefully down a waterfall into the lovely and peaceful confines of Turtle Lake. The small rapids were used for training runs for those planning on the Colorado and Pennsylvania trips, a small micro world of adventure and daring. However, an inexperienced, pampered city boy could well meet his demise along the craggy flow. The river could be heard for yards upon approach, but once caught up in the sounds and roar of the falls, a hiker could well fall into the river under the dark tent of night.
Partly walking, partly being dragged along through the thick foilage, Nate concentrated on keeping his footing. Keeping the flashlight beam ahead, lest he trip over the fallen branches and thick undergrowth, Berringer mentally berated himself in a steady stream of regrets and self-recriminations. How stupid to forget about the boy, he thought to himself, as he tried to relive the last hour, wishing he could go back in time and do things differently.
The large dog lumbered along with the weight of a solidly built tank.
His sure-footed paws carefully stepping over branches, rocks and thicket,
barreling along with the determined force of puppy love. Nate focused the
small beam on the huge head, saliva hanging like a thick vine as the happy
head shifted in its search for scent, the one it sought. Nate thanked God
that the boy had captured the huge heart, for he didn't doubt that Bear
knew the urgency with which they sought their escapee.
As Cody walked along, a fine mist had started to pepper the forest. The cold, airy spray brought his mind to the forefront and as a person being awoken from a deep sleep, he became cognizant of a loud roar that seemed to blanket the area. Disoriented with the night, he could not place the sound. Was it in front of him or behind? Unable to distinguish its origin, he pushed along moving forward. His tired brain couldn't even remember which direction the car was in, try as he might to place the cabin and the small road leading up to it, he couldn't remember. The sluggish slide of depression wiping away the simplest of memories had buried him in the muddy cove of the moment.
Bear was becoming decidedly agitated, Nate thought, as the huge mutt started pulling frantically towards the right, veering off the clearly open path. The roar of the falls had consumed them in its resounding thunder yards back and now, Nate too, realized how deceiving the sound could be in the darkness.
"Easy, boy, go easy." Nate tried to reassure the dog, realizing he was in need of some comfort himself.
Bear whimpered, pulling all the more determinedly. Suddenly, the heavy
body lunged forward and Nate lost his grip on the lead. The dark mass moved
forward into the foliage and melted with the night.
Cody's hand sought something solid. He was moving along, slowly, when suddenly he placed his foot in mid-air and his body rushed down and out into the fine mist. He felt himself falling and the roar and wet spray seemed to engulf him. It was several moments later, shock hitting his body with a vengeance, that he became aware of how wet he was. He was tumbling along in a whirlpool, cold and dark and angry.
Instinct kicked in and Cody started stroking out, fighting the current
that was taking him in and pulling him along. Not a very good swimmer,
not being allowed the privilege of his cousins and half-brothers, Cody
could thread water, just barely. All he knew was that he was fast losing
As Nate rushed forward, his small beam catching the tail end of large, black, and totally determined dog, lifting off into the air---caught in time and space like a gallant steed off to the wars---Nate realized the dog had jumped into the raging river below. It was the turbulent section before the rocks and rapids, but Nate knew he had very little time to get the dog out before he was pulled into the hard, rocky rapids.
Dropping the backpack and shedding his leather jacket, he tied one end
of the rope to the tree, the other end around his waist and quickly jumped
down off the steep bank. Swimming out towards the dog, he didn't even bother
looking for Cody. Newfs, with their webfeet, were known as instinctual
saviors of the water. Bear had long ago spotted the boy and now, with the
surety of a practiced rescuer, Bear was doing what came naturally to his
breed. He was playing lifeguard.
Cody floundered; a second wave of weariness came over him. Why fight it? His tired brain tried to reason. This is what you want, go peacefully, and just flow along with the tide. As Cody relaxed, stilling his striving arms and flailing legs, a huge body bumped him. Cody turned slightly with little interest to see the large head, mouth gaping open, tongue lolling off to the side, dark eyes shining in the pale moonlight.
"Bear," Cody said it like the 'amen' to a long and uncertain credo.
The dog was having none of it. Clamping his huge jaws around the boy’s
upper arm, he practically pushed the kid onto his back, a technique that
forced his head up into the air.
Cody, barren of any real desire to survive, just let go and was pulled along by the dog that outweighed him.
Nate could see the rescue by the lambent glow of the moon as he swam out, still secured by the rope, to the pair of swimmers. Anger heated his resolve as he watched the boy stop swimming, giving himself up to the rage of the river. Thank God Bear fell into his routine. Knowing the dog would not release his prize, Nate struggled forward to bring them both into shore.
Reaching the pair, Nate secured his arm under the boy's neck. He yelled loudly into the uncooperative boy's ear. "Grab Bear's collar, Cody. The dog saved your sorry ass; you'll help me help him. NOW!" Cody's eyes flew open and his hand shot out grasping the huge neck with both hands he found the lead with one hand and hooked the other into the yellow collar.
Nate, confident the rescue would be a duet of success, concentrated on pulling the trio back to the bank. They had drifted enough down the river to near the rapids where a small, sandy beach harbored itself in a cove. It would do to give them a moments rest before the hard and arduous climb up the steep bank.
As Nate dragged the boy onto the soft sand, the large dog broke from
the boy's grasp and shook himself. Water splashed Nate's face and Cody
raised a tired hand to cover his eyes. The thick coat shed the water
off of it like a mackintosh, well oiled and treated to resist the elements.
As Nate opened the door to the cabin, he stepped back allowing the happy pup to lead his prize home. Cody was shivering uncontrollably and Nate's first objective was to get the boy out of the soaked clothes and into a hot shower. The boy had been sullen and quiet, especially after Nate tied his hands behind his back and secured him to a thick root extending out from the riverbank. Not trusting the boy as he climbed back up the steep bank to retrieve the rope and his backpack, he had done the only thing he could think of to keep the young man safe.
As the trio entered the quiet kitchen, Bear was the only happy, contented soul. Pleased with his two favorite people following along, Bear had gaily scampered ahead of them pulling on his lead, seeking out rabbits and night creatures to romp with. Nate, bone weary and spirit broken, could barely find the energy to proceed as scheduled, but Bear was re-energized, black instead of pink, but just as indefatigable as any bunny could be.
"In the bathroom," Nate ground out, holding the reins of his temper by a small, compassionate thread. The boy was on the verge of shock if not in its throws, as well as being on the verge of pneumonia.
Following the forlorn figure, Nate glanced back as Bear picked up his favorite squeaky toy, a red fire hydrant, and settled down under the kitchen table cheerily filling the quiet night with the repetitive sounds.
Nate pinched his temple, not up to the serenade, but assured that the dog would soon get tired, he concentrated on Cody Blade.
"Strip," Nate kept the commands simple. The lost look in the shallow, mossy pools didn't promise much comprehension.
While Cody took of the jacket and slowly unbuttoned the blue flannel shirt, Nate started taking off his own clothes. Reaching into the shower stall, he adjusted the water and steam soon filled the room. Completely naked in several seconds, Nate realized the boy was still fumbling with the buttons on his shirt. Brushing away the numb fingers, Nate had the boy bared in no time. Cody shivered and wrapped his arms around himself.
"In," Nate said, pointing to the stall. The bathroom, a good-sized one, contained both a large tub and a glass-enclosed shower stall. Considering the Wild Bunch's aversion to phones, it was the only luxury spared in the re-modernization of the cabin. Something Nate hoped to remedy, what with Internet research and computer connections, his cell phone alone couldn't cut it.
Cody backed off into the corner of the stall, still wrapping his arms around his body. His teeth were chattering now and Nate stepped in under the hot and steamy spray. Adjusting the water a few degrees hotter, Nate turned and pulled the trembling boy hard against his chest. Cody's eyes flew open, raising his hands to push against the massive chest, but the blue eyes, pearled and glittered with droplets of water, warned him not to try.
Both men, cocooned within the hot stream of reviving spray, relaxed. The hollowed areas of Cody's soul began to fill, slowly at first a small contentment eased into his tired mind, shutting off all doubts, guilts and feelings of worthlessness. He deserved to be warm and alive and held. The thought seemed strange and slowly raising his eyes he looked up at the taller man. The orbs widened as though seeing the figure for the very first time.
Nathaniel Berringer stood at least six feet four inches. His chest was
massively proportioned and thick, golden hair curled along the front. The
sun burnt, golden hair that was a tad too long, thickly curled around his
ears now in wet ringlets and tendrils. Viking lord at the helm of his ship
came quickly to Cody's mind.
The blue eyes were closed, content that the object of his search was well nestled in his arms. Moments passed and slowly the eyes opened and gazed directly into the peridots below him.
The small mouth petulantly jutted out, harboring warm droplets of spray like pink rocks in a stream, directing each rivulet to cascade over the petaled font. Nate was trapped in the small garden, watching the pink tongue snake out to push past the spray.
Cody looked down as Nate responded to him. A self-satisfied smile played upon his lips as he caught the blue gaze again.
Angered by his own response, Nate pushed Cody back, holding him by his shoulders lest he lose his footing and fall. Then, as though reason were a garment to be discarded, he pulled the startled boy back against his chest, lowered his head and captured the teasing lips.
Cody melted. Save for one appendage that rose to the occasion, Cody Blade molded, shaped, and structured himself into the large, hard arms. Never in all his young life did Cody feel such a rage of desire, a need and hunger that soon had the complacent arms wrapped around Nate's neck. He came alive, hollowed out corners of his soul seemed to fill and burst as he tried to enter the soft cavern of Nate's mouth.
Realizing the reaction he was getting, common sense finally finding its way back into Nate's world, he peeled the clinging young man from him. Gently easing him back, Nate watched the closed eyes, the seeking lips still hungering for the kiss, and he smiled in self-satisfaction.
Missing the passionate embrace, the green eyes flew open just in time to see the smug look of the conqueror. Appalled by his interpretation of events, misreading everything in his vulnerable state, Cody eased himself back against the tiled enclosure. Shame and humiliation reddened his face.
Seeing the hurt look, Nate shook his head slowly; negating appearances and reaching out a gentle hand he stroked the flaming cheeks.
"It's not what you think," Nate said.
"Isn't it?" Cody said hostilely.
Realizing the futility of arguing, knowing more pressing matters needed to be dealt with, he switched off the flow of water and stepped angrily out of the stall. Grabbing two white, thick towels he threw one at Cody.
"Towel off." Then opening a small linen closet he threw a large, thick red terry cloth robe at the boy. "And put this on."
Nate dried himself in a matter of minutes and stopping off in the bedroom he was out in seconds dressed in sweats. Cody was just wrapping the robe about his shoulders, when Nate entered, hung the wet towels on the rack to dry, and hooking an angry hand under the boy's arm he dragged his unwilling guest with him out into the kitchen for some reckoning time.
If you want to hear more about Nate, Cody and Bear, you have to tell me. We have a relationship here, and I need to know expectations are being met. firstname.lastname@example.org
Note to Special “K” – In the darkest hour, close your eyes and remember the stars. Hope alone can hang a moon on a starless night. I know. (Bosephus)
I've hugged the night in warm embrace and tucked myself away
In dark creases I've screamed my loss within the silent maw
For life has no color, no fresh scents, my world is black and gray
My soul is laced with guilty threads and I am bound and flawed
You think you know me, you think you recognize my pain
How can you know me when I've gone away again
I'm hollowed out and vacuum whole a shell that walks upright
I'm shadow gray and slowly fading as I melt into the night.
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