“Mice are not monogamous. If they were, they’d be monogamice.” – John Ritter in Skin Deep
So, exactly one year ago today, as a way to maintain reader interest during our gestating between-issues limbo, Flywheel Magazine had an idea for a contest based on a particularly creepy photograph, snapped in horror by a Friend Of The Wheel while he was relaxing in a cabin in the woods. Since then, we’ve sifted through thousands of submissions and found a fitting tombstone for the plump little critter featured in the photo. We’d like to save the image for the end this time, unless you still see it when you close your eyes. It’s a little like this though: the equivalent of a tiny Lloyd in a tiny mouse version of The Stand. Only in this version, a tiny mouse Randall Flagg does not come to let him out of jail. Or something (sorry, just read that book again). So here’s the award winning story! Okay, so we didn’t get to put up a winner between Issue One and Issue Two as planned, but between Two and Three is even better! Enjoy. He did not dine in vain…
A Room Like A Box
by Chris Deal
When he found the cabin after a day and a half of walking through first ankle, then knee, and finally hip-deep snow, Eleuterio was panicked with joy. It would be dry, he thought as he approached the front door, he might be able to start a fire. Each step was carefully planned as if he were approaching a deer thick with meat with a sharp-edged rock burning cold in his palm, but the snow crunched and if the door were that deer, it would dance away, its feet not even touching the snow.
The cabin was derelict. The windows covered by an amalgam of grime and snow. Wood rotten and riddled with dead worms stacked to the side of the portal. The handle was unlocked and Eleuterio pushed it open an inch and moved sharply to the right, expecting the door to become stricken with a stigmata of buckshot. When nothing happened and the only sound was the wind cutting through Atlas cedar, he went inside.
One room a box that shared aspects of bedroom and kitchen. A copper stove with tubing out through the roof surrounded by cabinets. An empty cistern and a soiled pallet on the wooden floor. A single chair before a table littered with paper. He closed the front door, tossed his pack on the pallet, and walked around, getting a feel of the sanctuary. No drafts, the cabin was solid. Smashing the chair against the floor, it shattered into small enough bits. The effort brought a tingling to his fingers, like pissing on an electric fence. He stuffed the salvaged fuel into the stove and balled up handfuls of paper stained with ink. It was a story, sections of something bigger forgotten in whatever exile made the writer flee this place. Something about a man in Moscow, soldiers, and a lost love. Eleuterio scanned the pages for the phantom image of a dancing cat before reaching into his pocket for the matches.
That first spark was a universe blooming into existence.
There was shelter and now heat, food was the next concern. The bark had left his gums bloody but it filled the void for a while. He went through the cabinets one by one. A few cans of beans in the first, three jars of shine and leather bag of cigarette tobacco in the next. Moldy bread and a sack of flour complete with clumps of bugs.
When he came to the final cabinet, he stopped. Breathing out through his nose, Eleuterio tampered down on the hope that there’d be something more substantial, dried meat or anything. He took a step back and scratched his jaw. He tore out a strip of paper and poured a generous helping of tobacco onto it, then rolled it together and sealed the tube with a pass of his tongue. He opened the stove’s door and bent to the fire, lighting the cigarette and blasting his face with the heat. He paced the cabin until the cherry burned his knuckle. He sat on the pallet and removed his boots, wiggling his toes. He sat the pack on his lap and looked inside, smiling so large it the cracks bled.
There was nothing but white beyond the window. He opened a can of beans into a pot on top of the stove and rolled another cigarette. The wind howled against the cabin and he kept thinking about the money that was coming to him. Once the beans were heated through, he moved the pot to the table and scooped them into his mouth. They tasted of ash but ate his fill.
He walked back to the last cabinet and before he could stop himself, he pulled it open. It was bare save for two dead mice. One was full and plump, but still dead, and the other in pieces. Tufts of fur scattered about and stained a dark brown. Tiny bones exposed, stripped of meat and fat. The tail had been nibbled nearly away. The bodies were stiff and nearly mummified. Eleuterio closed the cabinet and opened a jar of shine, taking a long sip and coughing at the burn.
The snow was halfway up the window. The cabin was being buried. He took another drink and sat on the pallet. His stomach roiled but he kept the food and shine down. He looked in the pack again but did not smile. Every moment was filled with a dread that a knock would come at the submerged door. He drank again and thought of all the money waiting for him.
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Chris Deal is a North Carolinian in Illinois. He is the author of Cienfuegos, recently republished by Kuboa, and can be found at www.chris-deal.com