~Chapter 2~
The furnishings are Spartan. We are strong.
Elk Puts Things in Perspective

Drive to Ward, park a hundred yards past the general store, and walk up the hill past the gutted automobiles. You'll find yourself in a clearing. In the center of this clearing is a charred, steaming square of earth with a black chimney standing up like an arthritic middle finger. These are the remains of Strapping Danforth's home. The clearing is surrounded by a stand of blue spruce, pine, and the rotting wood frames that evince Ward's 19th century gold boom. At the back of the clearing is a crooked carriage house that has been converted into a tool shed. Just east of the tool shed is a tent. It's huge, the size of a two-car garage. We've been staying in it since father was released from the hospital.

Actually, he wasn't released from the hospital at all. He escaped. Don't ask me how a comatose man escapes from a hospital. All I know for certain is that when I found him in his gurney gaining speed down a steep grade on I-70 just outside of Central City, I was incredibly relieved. I hurried my pickup past the runaway gurney, parked, and stood on the shoulder. As the gurney rolled past me, I reached out and grabbed the bar on the back. I heard a loud pop from my shoulder and felt a sudden elongation of my right arm but I held on tightly, digging my heels into the warning divots on the side of the road. After sliding only a few feet, the gurney and I came to a complete stop. Unfortunately, Father obeyed Newton 's second law of motion. He shot off the end and into the ditch where he tumbled in the snow until his progress was arrested by a large boulder.

After spending half a dozen heartbeats frozen in horror I sprinted toward Strapping only to trip over my own feet and land roughly on my right side, relocating my shoulder with a clunk of pain. For some time, I lay in the snowy ditch, sweating self-pity. I may have remained there all night had I not heard my moans echoed by my father.

“Fool!” I berated myself, “How dare you wallow in your suffering when your own father wimpers?” Summoning up the last of my strength, I sprinted/slid down the hill, lifted father over my good shoulder and staggered under his weight up to my truck where I deposited him gently in the bed among a smattering of beer cans, shoes and hay. I considered driving him back to the hospital but the last shreds of my cogent mind reasoned that if he wanted to be in the hospital, he would still be there. So we drove to the house, which by this time was spitting flame out of every window, and warmed ourselves until the last coals were gray.

___

We fell asleep under the cold, clear stars, cuddled in the back of the pick up. We awoke in the light of day covered with a dusting of snow. “If this continues, we'll surely freeze to death,” I said, rubbing my hands together.

What happened next can only be described as a miracle. Father, who all this time had been sleeping peacefully, snorted “There's a tent in the old tool shed, you shit.”

I creaked the door open and by Jove, there it was; tucked into the corner amongst the clutter like a sleeping giant in a bazaar! With much huffing and scuffing, I dragged the canvas leviathan out of the shed and unfolded it. Then, remembering Father, I rolled him out of the truck and tucked him close to warm remains of the house. I patted his sleeping forehead and said, “I'll have you inside in no time.”

Rather than bore you with the details, let me just say that I did not have him inside in no time. The weather conditions quickly began to resemble a blizzard. Before I had even figured out which side of the tent was the top, the snow had risen to my knee. Had I not entertained myself by pretending that I was a member of a traveling circus, I fear I would not have completed the task before nightfall.

As I pounded the last of the stakes into the earth, the storm took a recess. I stood back and admired my handiwork which glowed orange in the last rays of the sun, who had crept from beneath the clouds on its journey into the mountains. A little saggy but, in spite of my emaciated state, I felt aglow. Strapping would have been proud of my work.

I felt in the snow until I found Father. I wiped the snow off his face and dragged him into the tent. Quickly, I ran to the tool shed and rummaged through the piles of dusty leather until I found enough essentials to keep us alive through the night: two cots, numerous candles, a week's worth of wool blankets, and a pistol (in case of bears). The grand discovery was a propane heater that, with very little coaxing, roared to life. Within minutes the tent, in spite of the moth holes, was a cozy womb. I'm wary of gas heat, for obvious reasons, but we must survive.

I melted snow in a tin bucket and trickled water into the sleeping man's mouth. He gurgled, gagged, and, finally, swallowed.

As darkness fell, I watched Father in the candlelight. The falling snow, tiny dry flakes, hissed against the walls of the tent. It was here that I began pondering the final request of Strapping Danforth. And it was at this time that the shelling began.

And so that pretty much brings you up to date. Dad is threatening me with a pistol and, although I'm dead tired, I'm about to risk the cold and the bombs so I can paint a target on the roof of our domicile.

----Elk Undercarriage, April, 2005

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