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Sean O'Keefe
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sokeefethestorm.jpg
Art by Sean O'Keefe 2019

The Storm

 

By Sean O’Keefe

 

 

 

This is a bad winter. Cold. Wet. Long. The wolves are getting hungry and increasingly brazen. Food is getting thin on the ground. I came out here for the solitude, bringing the book and the items necessary for the ritual as my only amenities. Now, I wait.

The other day while cutting some wood for the fire I could feel them in the brush just beyond the pines. With the well frozen over, I need to keep the fire going to melt the snow for water. There’s a storm coming. I thought I had prepared well enough, but I didn’t fully understand what I was undertaking and now it seems the check is due.

Last month before I began the ritual, I took what would be the last deer I would see. I’ll have to make it last. That’s what the wolves smell though they don’t dare come too close. Animals know. There has already been an extraordinary amount of snowfall. There is no going back. I wonder how long it will take for them to get desperate enough to make a try for me.

Not that there’d be any way to leave with the road being snowed over. My truck looks like a polar bear beneath it. The sky is gray and I can see the black clouds forming nearby as I go out to cut more wood. It’s so quiet. The way the snow muffles the sound is like the cold weather version of the way everything looks before a good thunderstorm, sharp and desaturated, but there is no color here. It’s coming.

The first flakes of the arriving storm are beginning to fall. It’s been a few days since my last encounter with the pack. There is no prey left, and nothing is growing out there. They’ll be hungry. Today is the day, I can feel it. The last time they came nearly to the porch as I retreated inside. I’m nearly out of deer, only a few strips remain. I don’t think it matters much at this point. It’s coming. Quietly. Violently. Maybe that’ll keep the wolves away just long enough. For what though?

I love the quiet of the snow. I only hear the crunch of it beneath my footfall. The wind is gathering. Little did I realize that no amount of preparation or will power could make a god into a marionette. I collect the last of the wood from the pile and bring it to the chopping block. I can’t feel my hands. I set the wood upon the stump and bring the ax down. My feet are stinging from the cold and the wind is freezing my eyes in their sockets. I bring the ax down on another piece of wood. The hollow clunk echoing through the landscape.

Then I hear it: a crunch in the snow. I stand still for a moment. I look around slowly through squinted eyes. Nothing. Probably just a branch collapsing under the weight of the snow. I set another block up. A howl, not a normal wind, and not far. Again, the ax falls. The wind picks up. I don’t have much time. I grab the last piece and set it on the chopping block. As I raise my head, our eyes meet. He’s thin, gray, and desperate. He is this moment. I look around quickly to find the others. There aren’t any. He’s alone. It’s him or me.

The snow is caked in his fur, but I can still make out his rib cage. There’s dried blood around the various bite marks that litter his body, and around his mouth. I grab the ax with both hands keeping it at the ready, and start slowly walking backwards toward the cabin door. He advances in pace. Our breathing syncs. I can tell by the simultaneous puffs of vapor forced out of our noses.

Neither of us is in shape for this, both half-starved and freezing. We’re both going to die, it’s just a matter of who’s first. I take another measured step. I’ll worry about getting the door open when I get there. Just then my foot slips out from under me and I crash to one knee barely managing to stay vertical. It’s time.

Huge flakes are falling now, and the wind is reaching an unbelievable torrent. I can’t even make out the tree line less than 25 feet away. What I can see is the desperate-looking wolf lunging at me. I manage to get the handle of the ax in between his jaws and my throat and push him off. I stagger to my feet in time for the second attack.

This time I’m not so lucky and his jaws find my right forearm. The frozen scream gets lodged in my throat. I release the head of the ax and my left arm is nearly pulled out of its socket by the unexpected weight crashing to the ground.  I can feel my arm getting warm and wet.  I send a knee with everything I have left into the fragile midsection of the wolf. Through the blizzard I can hear a muffled crack, and a tortured howl explodes from the beast as he releases my arm. It begins to circle around sideways, limping, but with no loss of intent.

I’m not making it to the door, and he isn’t going to leave. I reach down, keeping my eyes locked on him, and take the ax back into my hand now dripping with blood. I can barely hold it. Frankly, if it weren’t for the cold I would have to feel all the pain that bite had to offer, but as it stands, slowly freezing to death can have its benefits. Another howl. Deeper. Guttural. Echoing down into the forest.

The wolf cowers for a moment and lets out a whimper. The sky is a black smoky mass releasing a crumbling white static. It looks electric. I am mesmerized. A small broken growl and wet footsteps release me from my trance. This is it. The final pass of this jousting match. He knows it too. I can see it in his eyes. I lift the blade to shoulder height. He charges. I swing. Simultaneously we connect. Everything goes quiet and red. His jaws are wrapped around my left thigh, and my ax is buried in his back. It has gone through his spine, and likely a few vital organs. I’m no veterinarian, but I do know that wolf went limp and would have dropped straight to the ground if it weren’t for its teeth being buried deep in my thigh.

 I fall to my ass and pry the jaws from my leg. This isn’t going to be good. I can already feel my leg getting warm and sticky. The blood shoots into the air like a water fountain on one of those practical joke shows. I actually chuckle aloud, which catches me off guard since it is that moment I realize I am probably going to bleed out.

If I can make it through the next couple of hours, I might live. I start to crawl to the door. My face is on fire, it’s so cold. The wind stops. I make it to the stairs and begin to pull myself up. It isn’t snowing now. The exhaustion from the fight combined with the cold and blood loss is too much. I fall over onto my back. As I lay there on the stairs, I stare up into the storm. My field of vision starts to close in like a classic iris fade from a black and white movie. Then in my last seconds of consciousness I see him. His form grows out of the clouds. A titan.  In the eye of the storm, his red eyes look down upon me. IT WORKED! I’m not just some acolyte or priest, I am a son, and Father, it is time for me to take my place.

I will never be cold again.

 

THE END

 

 

Sean O’Keefe is an artist and writer living in Roselle Park, NJ. Sean attended Syracuse University where he earned his BFA in Illustration. After graduation, Sean moved to New York City where he spent time working in restaurants and galleries while pursuing various artistic opportunities. After the birth of his children, Sean and family move to Roselle Park in 2015. He actively participates in exhibitions and art fairs around  New Jersey, and is continuing to develop his voice as a writer. His work can be found online at www.justseanart.com and @justseanart on Instagram.

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