When Joe Blankenship was growing up, the steep-roofed cabin had nestled in a clearing halfway up the slope of the mountain, surrounded by lush forest. The logs had settled over the decades, causing cracks to form in the mortar, which had, in turn, been patched several times over the years. A red-painted door with eight glass panes opened onto a view of the creek; the paint, much like the rest of the cabin, seemed to fight decades of atrophy and weathering, arrested occasionally by the periodic visits of Blankenship’s father, and his father before him.
His father, Lloyd Blankenship, had often brought him here, miles away from the nearest town; trips that decreased in frequency as his father grew both older and weary of disappointment in his only son. Lloyd was a loving man, but he was neither demonstrative nor affectionate. Blankenship had always turned to his mother for understanding, for affection. Later she became the buffer between them. His mother was probably the only thing that made it possible for them to continue their relationship at all.
Blankenship still remembered the first time he’d brought down a buck: the flash of movement in the woods, the white tail. With his father looking on, he’d brought the rifle to bear, let out his breath, took his time, and gently, gently squeezed. Though he’d practiced, fired hundreds of rounds at mock targets under his father’s careful eye, the recoil still shocked him. It knocked him back, right out of the blind, and he fell with a grunt.
His father laughed until tears ran down his face, but still lifted him to his feet, put his hand on the boy’s shoulder, and then they went to claim his kill.
Later, as an adult, Joe had brought his love here, when she needed a place to get away from her own father. They’d been teenagers then, and life was difficult, often frightening, but they’d loved each other.
The cabin had been part of the thread of his life for decades.
Looking out the slightly warped window now; instead of the rich forest, he saw a moonscape. The mountain had been stripped, but Blankenship had refused to sell, the only holdout. A tiny island, with two trees, the cabin, a few bushes, surrounded by the devastated, bleeding earth.
It was still his. The only thing that was his. Mandy was dead and gone, even the shock of her death wiped off the consciousness of all but her closest family by the fighting and devastation that followed from her death. What was the death of one lovely young woman in the face of a civil war that claimed thousands of lives?
It was everything. It was nothing.
It was all he had.
Her picture sat on the desk in front of him. He leaned forward on the desk, until his face was mere inches from her photo, and he studied her eyes. He’d never been a religious man, but he knew she was out there. And the one question he kept asking himself over and over was: would she approve? Would she support what he planned? Or abhor it? She was a good Christian. Perhaps she’d argue that he should turn the other cheek, and let them get away with her murder. Or, perhaps she’d say his greater responsibility was to defend his state, the freedom of his people. To follow through with what they’d all started a year before with a peaceful demonstration protesting the loss of jobs.
He didn’t know. He’d begged for answers. He’d prayed, for days at a time: he, a man who hadn’t prayed in years. He received no answers, no burning bush, and no revelations, only silence. And anger.
It was time to put the photo away. He would take it out again when it was done. For now, it was time to move forward. He would, for a time at least, close the door to the past; close the door to his love, his heart, and his life. He no longer had room for such things.
For now, he had other things to do.