Summary: Seeking shelter in a line shack during an early spring ice storm, Joe encounters a family of moonshiners he doesn’t stand the chance of fighting. He can do nothing but hold to the thin hope that his family will reach him in time.
Rated: T Word Count: 25,000
*While Joe is the focus of attention, Hoss has a bigger on-stage speaking role and Adam has more of an on-stage action-scene presence, so the ‘credits’ should list all three of the brothers equally!
This story was written for the mega challenge. Each chapter represents one month; and for each month we were provided with five words or phrases to incorporate. Pre-planning what might happen next was almost impossible. I had to follow wherever the words took me. The result was a true challenge, indeed—and a bevy of unique, original characters; but it sure was a thrilling ride!
Index of Pages:
- Chapters 1 through 12 = Pages 1 through 12
- On Page 13, find an Original Character Round-Up, to help you keep track of the OCs in this story.
- On Page 14, see old reviews from BB’s original library
January 2012 BB Challenge Words: Wolf, Oak, Ice, Doorway and Stove.
Ice pelted the windows. It scraped at the door like claws; Joe imagined a hungry wolf slashing at the wood, as determined to get in as he had been moments earlier. The incessant wind that had been whooshing and whistling through the small line shack even seemed to growl now and then, making Joe almost believe his wolf might not be entirely imaginary.
The turn of his thoughts made him shiver. It was bitter cold, even in there. The line shack had nothing to insulate it from the chill outside. It had also been hastily constructed with wooden planks that fit poorly together, leaving cracks and crevices for all that wind to seep through. Truth be told, being indoors wasn’t much better than being outside, if all you cared about was the temperature. But Joe cared a whole lot more about the wind and ice he’d come in to escape. He preferred the idea of being cold inside over being blown around out there and getting wetter and more frozen by the minute.
Sure, the shack was breezy. But it was sturdy. Those planks were solid oak. It would take more wind than what was blowing around today to tear it apart. The shack also had a stove. If Joe could find enough wood to get it started, he might be able to chase away at least some of the chill.
But when he looked in the bin, what he saw made him as angry as he was cold. He could get a fire started, all right. But it wouldn’t last. It would burn itself out so fast it was hardly worth starting at all.
If Joe really wanted to warm up, he would have to go back outside. He shivered again just thinking about it. His jacket was wet, nearly soaked through. Much more of that ice and his shirt would end up wet, too. And then what? What if he couldn’t find enough dry wood to start a fire?
As if in answer, a heavy gust rattled the door and sent a wave of frigid air through the shack. A loud crack outside told Joe that same gust had also broken a limb off of a nearby tree. The storm was getting worse. If it didn’t stop soon, Joe would be stuck there through the night; and it didn’t look like it was going to be stopping any time soon.
Shivering, frustrated and angry, Joe started to pace, short, jagged step by short, jagged step. He hoped maybe the movement would help him to warm up some. It didn’t. Instead it made him anxious to do something more. Stopping, he took a long look at the cold stove. Then he turned his attention to the door, watching it bumping and bouncing around from the onslaught outside.
Almost before he even realized he’d made a decision, Joe took three strides toward the door, lifted the wooden latch, and plunged out into the wind.
“Don’t be a fool, Joe!” he could almost hear Adam yelling as he wrapped his jacket around an armload of twigs and logs. “You’ll freeze half to death!”
But Joe didn’t feel any colder without his jacket than he’d been wearing it; and he figured if he did freeze half to death, at least he would have a fire to thaw himself out. All he had to do was keep that wood from getting any wetter than it already was.
He cradled it in his arms like a living thing as he trudged back to the line shack, fighting against the wind and cringing at the ice falling like needles on his exposed skin. When he reached the door, it was a struggle to push it open, as though the wind had decided he would not be allowed back inside…as though he had only been given one chance, and coming back now was one chance too many.
He cursed, fighting with the door and nearly dropping his treasure in the slush at his feet, until, finally, the wind eased up just enough to let him stumble inside. Every muscle in his body gave out at that moment. His arms went slack, letting the wood tumble to the floor ahead of him as he fell to his knees, exhausted and struggling to catch his breath.
The wind pulled at the door again, seeming intent to lock out any other stray cowboys or wolves that happened by, but now Joe was in the way. The door pounded against his hip, determined to push him back outside while ice continued to sting his back.
He had to move. He knew he should drag himself all the way in. He wanted to. He needed to gather up those twigs and logs and finally get a real fire started. But he was tired…so very tired…more tired than he could ever remember being.
“Come on, short shanks!” he could hear Hoss egging him on. “Ya’ can’t give up now! Ya’ already did the hard part!”
“Joseph!” Pa said then. “For heavens sake! Get that blasted door closed before you give us all our death of cold!”
Sorry, Pa! Joe answered…or he thought he did, anyway as he pulled himself to his feet using the door frame for support. The door came back on him, hitting him again and again until he twisted enough to allow it to finally slam closed. And then he leaned against it, aiming to drop the latch. But that, too, seemed like too much work. Instead, he slid back to the floor and allowed himself to close his eyes…just for a little while…just until he could muster up the strength to get that fire going once and for all.
The howling he heard then might have been the wind, or it might have been a wolf locked out in the frigid air. Either way, it seeped into Joe’s dreams, pulling him deeper and deeper. It was like a living thing that saw him as its treasure and wrapped him up as tight as he’d tried to wrap the logs now abandoned on the floor…or like a wolf in the wind that already had him in its hungry jaws.
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