You'd think if a guy wanted to die in peace on the shores of some isolated lake, people would just let him do it. No such luck.
The poor schnook is followed by a student looking for an interview, a reporter looking for a really good story, and the local nut case.
Paul put the cat out about three in the morning, after stroking her gently under the chin. Then he blocked the cat doorway so she couldn’t get back into the cabin.
There was no point in the cat dying in the fire.
He staggered a bit once, as he shifted some wood around. The cabin was stuffed with wood, mostly dry tree branches. Near the middle, under the big oak table, dry grass was tied in bundles. Moving space was getting tight. He sat down and looked around, rubbing his face, then gripping his the sides of his head for a moment.
It no longer looked much like the place in which he’d spent the last twelve years.
Above the cabin, silvered in the moonlight, the Wounded Woodpecker slept in the tree that had provided shade in summer. Its bill was tucked under its one good wing and perhaps it dreamed little woodpecker dreams of thick insects hidden under the oak bark.
Paul’s cat had caught the woodpecker last spring when it had landed on the ground to catch a cricket. Paul had saved the bird, and had since made sure the feeder contained a block of suet even in summer. The bird also ate seeds and berries – downy woodpeckers are not exclusively insect eaters – and so had stayed alive. But it did not wander far from the oak, whose branches offered some protection from owls and hawks. A bird that could barely fly and had only one good eye needed protection by those still strong.
Paul thought of the woodpecker when he lit the match. His hand was steady, but one leg shook.
Over a couple of hills, in the deeper waters of Pine Lake, a large burbot tasted a perch that had been sleeping near the shore, then moved slowly back and down towards the dark heart of the lake.