steam rolled off the top of the cup and with it, the possibility of a way out of all this manifested itself, but as the steam dissipated so did the thought. the grim possibility of a self made ending felt ravenous and silly, at least in this moment.  a strong east wind hit the cabin and he felt the always present draft grow in body. the walls never finished with the second layer of caulking he thought of, remained unsealed. the floor of slat wood creaked and popped under the weight of stray feathers and as he covered the length of the house in 7 soft strides the floor moaned and bucked in unsettled agony. he stood in front of the washpan he had step up across from the door, a half inch of frozen water sat in the basin along with the only utensil he had. he begun chipping away with a bent pocket knife in a rescue mission to free the shallow ladel. ice glanced off his beard and face and soon the old spoon was freed of its frozen pit. he stirred a small pot and searched for salt. he woke the next morning to the sight of his breath pushing upward and remembered the coffee steam, the thoughts came back. he rose and stumbled past the glowing oil lamp to the set of broken antlers that he had commissioned for a coat rack. the oiled jacket was cold and stiff, the arms stained with ash and tree sap. he would hang it over the stove to warm it, once a fire was lit. he thought strong of himself, in the 26 days he had been here, this was the first he wasn’t shivering. his teeth, were unaware of his bodies recent acclimation and as he moved throughout the room they rattled in his mouth like a bag of broken piano keys. he gathered a small group of splintered cedar to use as tender, after the stove was stoked he made coffee and ate a small ration of salted meat and one of the last of the prepared biscuits. he washed his face in water he heated over the stove and as he combed his hair, he brushed over the healing cut behind his ear, the swelling and bruising were almost gone. his hands, dark and cracked, showed his age more than his other features. his frame larger than most, he was at a young age commissioned for the glamorous task of running gang planks for the North Dalva Railroad Co. until the age of 19 when he was removed for introducing another young worker to the Ouray County Hospital after a night of drinking and bullshitting. the boy he fought spent 22 days in the ward and never regained the vision in his right eye.   Sun crested the ridge just after 6am and while he had been awake for almost two hours, he took in the first real breaths of the day. he squinted one eye shut and held out his left arm attempting to gauge the distance to the east valley. he lowered his fingered rifle and smelled the wind.  his pack was light and he moved at a good pace, the only real weight he carried  was of  a sort men shouldn’t carry at all. he stopped to adjust his boots and knelt in the ankle deep snow. it was a light, dry snow, the kind footprints would collapse in on and disappear.


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