Aphelion Issue 232, Volume 22
September 2018
 
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Family Crisis

by Ron Guell


Host: Our story, for your perusal, begins in a wilderness caught in the grip of a harsh and scalding winter. The exact location for this dramatic tale is superfluous. Leave it to say, it is not a locale for the faint of heart. Case in point: foot-fall in near knee-deep snow, legs and torsos cloaked and bound in animal skins, three ancient travelers, in a desperate search for food, are their families last hope. Armed only with crude weapons, they are miles from their camp, where their starving families are huddled in the much-welcomed safety of a fire-warmed cave. That safe zone, however, threatens to become their final resting place, as hunger, ever creeping, vows to hunt down and claim the life of each and every one. Weakened by hunger, the travelers clear what threatens to be their final ridge top, before collapsing in a frozen death. They spy a strange and confounding sight. It’s not what they find, but who and when they find it, that is the point of this dramatic tale.

Surprised, the primitive travelers gaze at a kind of structure that’s unfamiliar to them. What they do understand, is the smoke rising to the gods. Smoke means only one thing, warmth, and shelter from their misery. They warily approach the odd-looking hut.

Cracking open a bottle of Christmas whiskey, succumbing to the illusion that alcohol actually warms you up, three modern-day hunters celebrate before a roaring fire. Near boiling in a large cast iron pot, hanging in the fireplace, is Boss Hog’s unique blend, that he calls 'wilderness stew'. The hunters have stalked and killed their quota of one deer each. Raising a glass of his favorite nectar, Boss Hog, the self-professed king of the forest, spots movement at the window. Decked out in full camouflage gear, Hog leads his crew of two, each with whiskey-filled glasses, around to the side of the cabin. They surprisingly come face to face with what look like three strange two-footed creatures.

Startled, except for Hog, the hunters are at a loss for words. Mac nervously shoots his arms up in the air, looking like a redneck version of jazz hands. 

"Do you think they can see us, Boss?"

Boss Hog, sizing up the strangers,
"Yea Mac, they can see us alright." Sensing his dad’s calm, Hog’s son whispers,
"Crazy place to hold a costume party, hey dad?"
"Those sticks in their hands aint no party favors son."
"Dad, I’ve seen pictures of these guys in my history book. What are they doing here?"
"I don’t quite know yet son."

The tall, broad-shouldered leader of the travelers does not sense any serious danger either. He gestures the hunters past the snowmobiles towards the rear of the cabin. There he motions towards three slain deer neatly packed in snow. The leader wildly gestures the signs for eating food, and food at a distance. Their predicament is clear. 
"Say Hog, let's get inside, you know, where our rifles are." 
"Steady Mac, ain’t you ever seen a hungry man?"

Boss Hog slowly gestures the travelers towards the door, where they enter the warm cabin with cautious stares, but in a warm silence. Quietly, the sounds of the crackling fire, and the aroma of stew on a boil, soothes the nerves of everyone. The travelers are distracted from their mission for only a few moments, enough time to ravish a few bowls of Boss Hog’s wild concoction. 

"They really like it, dad."
"I told you, son, it’s the lard."

Soon enough the leader resumes his determined gesturing. In an unexpected move, he pulls a slender piece of charcoal tipped tinder from the fire. 
“Easy boys”.

The traveler looks around the log cabin and approaches the kitchenette’s three cabinets. Upon each door, with an urgent artistic expression, his desperate story unfolds with three exquisitely sketched scenes. His plight and that of his clan is communicated perfectly. All are silent as the weight of the traveler's desperation crystallizes in a single instant. While they do not understand each other's words, they understand each other completely.

A deer across the shoulders of each traveler, pausing only to look back and offer a brief gesture of solidarity, the travelers disappear over that mysterious ridge top, that dividing line between a time in history’s infancy, and what Scientists and Shamans believe is an ever-present now.

A primitive stone knife is spotted half buried in the snow. The ancient tool in hand, Boss Hog climbs the ridge in haste. A hand cupped to his mouth, ready to call to the travelers, he stops in his tracks. Now gazing at his own strange and confounding sight, the clear winter air reveals the undeniable truth. The traveler's footprints in the snow stop at the ridge-top. The travelers are gone, gone home to a family reception, a life-saving meal for all, and an account of their experience on the walls of a yet to be discovered cave. It is an account of their encounter with strangers, who provided nourishment for the joyous banquet they savored, many thousands of years ago.

Attired in a thick-hooded polyester coat, our host emerges from the tree-line, savors a drag from his cigarette, and offers us some closing thoughts.

Host: Perhaps it was some deep and ancient genetic code, a kinship responsible for drawing these desperate time travelers to meet their progeny, where the young proved their metal, and provided redemption for their elders and their starving namesake, each and every one. Needless to say, this timely family gathering, a gathering of minds and hearts across time, could only be hosted, and catered, in this an obscure and frozen corner of, ***.

THE END


2018 Ron Guell

A retired native of the Big Easy, Ron has worked in music and construction. He started writing in August 2017 and soon found his voice. While the 50-word challenge is his favorite, longer flash stories are now his focus.

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