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A walk in the forest

On a dark night with barely a crescent of moon hiding in the trees, the man walked slowly in the snow. He was dressed well, with thick fur covering his arms, legs, body, and even head. He wore gloves made of deer skin, boots made of fox fur, and covered his face with thin rabbit fur. his whole body was hidden except for this eyes and nose. He had a heavy pack on his back, and in his right hand he held a long staff of light pine wood.

He kept walking slowly, his strong legs lifting out of the snow with each footstep, then punching a hole in the snow again. He knew the path, having traveled this way many winters. The small village was not far away; just another ten-hundred steps.

A long cry rose in the distance: the call of a wolf. The man paid no mind to wolves, unless they got too close. No, but he was watching out for something else, something bigger, more dangerous.

The man noticed his fear; noticed that he had starting walking faster. He slowed down again. In the distance, he heard the raw call of the male deer; a deep, rumbling sound that echoed in the valley. He did not mind the deer. They could be dangerous with their great antlers; but, they stayed away from men. The path ahead was faint in the near darkness, but now stars were shining above and there was faint light to see by; enough light for a man to travel by.

As he walked, he began looking for the houses he knew would be soon near the path. Suddenly he stopped, and became very still. Just a few steps away, there was a footprint: the footprint of a very large, man-like creature. It was a long, deep, and wide footprint; longer than his forearm. The man stayed very quiet and began listening to the sounds of the forest. He stretched his ear, trying to detect any footsteps crunching in the snow.

Slowly, he began to feel like someone, or something, was watching him. He felt a shiver down his back that went all the way up to the back of his neck. Very slowly, he turned around and carefully peered into the darkness. His unease didn't leave him, but he saw nothing in the dark, under the trees around him.

He turned toward the path again, and began walking again, trying to walk silently, but the snow under his boots seemed to crunch extremely loud. He felt his fear return and his feet wanted to run, but he clenched his teeth and forced himself to walk slowly. He stayed keenly aware of this sense of danger all around him as he walked.

First, he smelled the smell of cooking, then he saw the first house. It was a few steps to the left of the path. It was low, long, and smoke lifted into the still air from a small hole in the roof. The man walked around the side of the house and found the stout wooden door he knew was there. From inside, he could hear laughter, and voices speaking. With his fist, he banged on the door, twice. The voices inside became very quiet; the laughter stopped. A deep voice from inside called out, "Who is it?"

The man took a deep breath and then answered, "I am a traveler looking for shelter!"

There came no answer from inside. Instead, a loud clang and a bang told the man they were unbarring the door. Then, the door itself opened slightly. A strong smell of cooked fish and meat came out with the low light from a fire. A head appeared: wild hair, wild eyes, rosy cheeks, and a long, scraggly beard. Below, the man of the head held a stone on a stick; a wooden axe of sorts.

The man inside smiled and opened the door wider, welcoming the stranger in by extending his hand toward the fire. The traveler stepped in, and the man with the wooden axe closed the door behind him.

Inside, around the dim light of a fire, several men, several women, and two hands of children. They were sitting cross-legged behind large, full food bowls. One of the women held a baby in her arms. The room soon became noisy again with laughter and excited speakings.

Hands, soft and slender, came to help him untie his pack and lift his hood. He turned to see and saw her. She radiated the same beauty that first struck him a hundred moons before. Without a word, his eyes and hers told all there was to say and soon, entwined, they slept under fur throws near the stone wall that kept night beasts at bay.

Written in 2013-2015.

© 2015 Christopher Mahan

Thank you to Cameron Content for transcribing this story.