He stood slowly upright on the bank of the muddy shore. Cold, shivering and contemplating an early death.
The woman, no longer at the window, had drawn the small shade. As he rose, he heard a click, the lock on the door being spun into action. Though he did not give in.
He trudged towards the small cabin, struck by its simplicity as well as the build. His brain could only handle a small variety of emotions and thought at any given moment, though his history as a local builder made him query the construction. It looked to be of the same sugar berry tree he had so many summers under, though it was rare to find them in these parts.
He reached within ten feet of the household before the voice inside rang out. Loudly, distinct and authoritative.
“You’ll find no shelter here!” harked the woman inside.
He stood quietly, hanging his head. This was no time for fucking around. He broadened his shoulders and walked with ease towards the door, scanning the hardware that made it possible to open, close and lock. As he reached within a few feet he kicked the door at its base corner, knocking out the floor latch, creating a boot size hole in its place, and then turned the handle, unlocking it all within a few seconds.
Stepping through the door he faced a rifle, pointed towards his waist, and a few inches lower. The woman holding it, steely gazed and downward brow, looking towards him with eyes that attempted to punch a wall, which they did not.
“I ain’t for sale” she barked.
He looked her in the eye, both attempting to gain trust as well as seeking some authority. He held his arms up slightly, cocked at the elbow. Settle. Settle.
She would have fired by now he thought, constantly gauging her momentary responses. She hadn’t, obviously a good sign, so he tempted some movement towards a chair behind him.
She cocked the gun.
Not even prepared to shoot.
He paused and looked her in the eye. His stare understood by the woman. Here was a man, drenched to the core, needing to sit.
He ain’t staying the night she thought as she nodded towards the chair and agreed with his next move.
He slowly looked behind him to gauge his distance, and then to her. And then, inch by calm inch. He found the chair and began to slide into it.
As he did, she barked again, “Take your jacket off at least.”
He complied, taking it off slowly. One comfort and a chair where better than the snow outside and the escape that he required.
The jacket took effort to remove. Like molasses, it was combined now heavily with his collared shirt underneath.
“Put it on the railing near the fire” she instructed him.
He did so, complying once again. Better that than the rifle.
His movements where measured and calm. He could take this woman in an instant. Her scattered requests would probably match her pace in reaction. But he chose otherwise. He chose the seat now next to him and sat calmly on it.
His heads fell into his hands. This was his first moment to pause. To reflect. To breathe warm air, even though still saturated from head to toe.
“What’s your name?” she requested.
As he looked into the floor, he realised that so soon in to his new retreat, this could be the defining moment. The wooden floorboards beneath him suddenly became the strongest structure in the place, her and himself now compromised.