Starry Night

This was written for the prompt “Set your story in a remote winter cabin with no electricity, internet, or phone service.” The original idea was to make it funny, its kind of funny, but a lot darker than I originally intended.

‘This is the biggest mistake I have ever made.’ He thought, as he stood beside the car staring in horror at the smoke rising into the air.

It was supposed to be romantic. 

A rustic cabin, in the middle of the woods. No electricity, no internet, no phone, just the two of the for one night and two blissful days.

Tom had even looked into the details, even though Dessy probably wouldn’t believe it now. It was a one room cabin, two if you counted the bathroom, a fireplace for heat, a woodstove to cook on. He had watched countless YouTube videos on how to make hot cocoa, and warm premade food he had planned to pack.

He rented snowshoes, and cross-country skies, and ice skates just in case the pond nearby looked particularly inviting. He had brought huge blankets along to spread out under the stars so they could snuggle up and look at the stars they never got a chance to see in their five years together in the city.

Dessy had sounded excited, he thought she must know what he was planning. It was after all their fifth anniversary. When he went to pick her up, she had two suitcases, and was fully dressed in stylish winter gear. He patted the small box in his pocket to make sure it was still there, and then frowned as he put the second large suitcase in the back of the SUV. It was a lot for an overnight trip.

As they drove he could see her shifting uncomfortably, the snow gear too warm for the car. He side eyed her a few times, it didn’t look nearly warm enough for where they were going. She however had insisted it would be fine, and having heard the stories of her childhood up north in Canada, maybe it was him who was mistaken about the weather. Had he packed too warm?

When they finally arrived two hours later, Dessy had already begun making remarks. “This better be the best cabin ever.” was the last quip she made as they made the last turn into the woods up the long winding driveway to the cabin.  

Dessy got out and immediately did a once around of the place, saying that she wanted to look around as he unloaded. He didn’t get a chance to reply as she had already hopped out, and he put it up to her being overheated. They had travelled together once or twice before, but usually tipped the bellhops quite generously to take care of this step.

He had managed to everything in the cabin, the icebox packed, and gotten a fire going in the woodstove when Dessy got in.  From what he had read online, this might heat the entire place, and he wanted to save the fireplace for when they got back in and might want to being wearing a little less. Right now though, Dessy was shivering, warming her still gloved hands over the fireplace. Weren’t you supposed to take that all off to warm up?

“Well?” He asked. “What do you think?”

“It’s small.” She said shortly, and his heart sunk in his chest. He looked around again, the place was a bit dated, but he had hoped the rustic vibe would win her over. “Honestly, I cant understand why you didn’t rent a chalet. Can you even cook on that thing?” She asked, gesturing to the stove.

He furrowed his brow, he must be remembering wrong, but he swore that a few of her stories had included cooking on her grandparent’s old woodstove, but bit his tongue before he asked. This was not the time to admit he had mixed her up with a former fling. Time to change the subject.

“What do you want to do first?” he asked brightly, pointing at the pile by the door, skate blades gleaming as they reflected the firelight. “Snowshoe to get a lay of the land maybe, go from there?” He suggested at her continued silence.

She stood with her lips pursed.  “Sounds perfect, you go figure all that out, and I am going to unpack a bit.  Not that there is much room to unpack.” She finished under her breath.

This was not going as planned, but he wanted her to be happy, so he went. Even if he did spend thirty minutes of the hour walk trying to figure out the snow shoes, and a good portion of the time left picking himself up off the ground.   While the trail seemed adequately snow covered for skiing, the pond seemed more water than ice. The recent cold snap must not have been enough to cool it. There wasn’t anything he could do about that now. 

The light was already dimming outside as he retuned to the cabin. He sighed as he realized that he hadn’t judged the length of the day well, they were so short in the winter. The skiing would have to wait till tomorrow.  When he finally reached the cabin, he stood for a minute, confused staring at it.

There was a light coming from inside, but it wasn’t the rich orange, yellow of firelight, it was…blue? When he got inside he wasn’t any less confused. 

There, sitting at the small two-person table was Dessy, on her laptop. She had it plugged into a large black box, that also seemed to be powering a speaker, which was playing some sort of dance techno mix, and another smaller black box with long sticks (antennae?) sticking out of it.


She jumped, surprised. “Oh, sorry, just answering some last work emails. And of course, posting some photos.” She popped up on of her many social media accounts on screen. “At least this place photographs well.” And it did, how did she? He stopped mid thought, as he saw her DSLR camera sitting in the floor in its case. 

Wait. “How are you posting, we don’t have any internet?” He asked, flummoxed.

She visibly brightened.  “When you explained about the cabin, I looked into it, and made some preparations of my own.  Generator.” She said patting the black box. “and a satellite modem.” She continued taping the smaller box with the antennae. “Rented of course, but as long as we don’t go overboard we should be on grid all weekend.” She looked so proud, he forced himself to smile back.

“Dinner?” He proposed. It was early, but at this point the plan was shot anyways. Maybe this way they could get in a little skiing in the morning, before they left. She sighed, sounding put out.

“I guess I will just move this all while you get that ready then.” She pulled the speaker wire before he could suggest playing some music while they ate. And they performed their tasks in silence. When he finally did serve his slightly burnt grilled cheese with salad, she all but picked at it, clearly unimpressed.

 He did suppose it wasn’t the fine dining they usually took in, and he maybe should have asked for a little more input on the meals before they left. He had hoped it would remind her of the gold old days, but now he cringed internally at the thought of the cold cereal he had packed for breakfast. Too late now, he thought as he put the snow shoes, and the skates back in the SUV after finishing his own mean. He wanted to take a minute to refocus before he continued his plan, he tapped his jacket pocket again. It was still there.

Dessy wasn’t interested in the pudding he had brought for dessert, so he suggested the stargazing, hoping that one activity he planned could go off without a hitch. He had a thermos full of hot cocoa that he had made while preparing dinner, and after he put it in the bag with the blankets, they headed out. When they got to a clearing not to far from the cabin, and he spread-out the blankets, and then peeled back a few layers crawling in and gesturing for her to join him.

He knew how much she loved the stars, she talked about vast number visible in her childhood backyard, and how much she missed it regularly when they first started seeing each other. It was why she had shown up at that lone meeting of the astronomy club in college, why they had met actually. The club fell through, but the two of them clicked. And here they were, five years later, staring up at the stars, and god they were beautiful. He ran his hand across his pocket to feel the outline of the box inside, and turned to Dessy to ask her what she thought. Before he could voice it she spoke up, asking a question of her own.


“Well?” He responded confused.

“Well, is this it?” She asked, sounding impatient. “Are we going to do something?” She demanded. He sat up, and reached for the hot chocolate.

“Cocoa?” he asked, a little desperate.

She frowned a bit, but nodded, and then brightened a little. “Is it special cocoa?” She asked.

“Pinterest said it was one of the best recipes.” He replied, too focused on unscrewing the cap to see her disappointment. He passed her a cup. He blew gently at the too hot beverage. He turned towards her again and saw he taking a big sip, and was too late to stop her. She spit it out defensively, and he was covered in it. He jumped back a bit, startled, tipping over the thermos between them and soaking the blankets.

He started to laugh, god what a mess. Dessy did not find it funny, and he discovered this by her throwing her cup and him and storming back to the cottage. He called after her, but she didn’t even slow down. He sighed, piling the now wet blankets back in the bag. He dropped them in trunk, along with the skates, and show shoes. He considered going in for the skies, but held out hope for the morning. The fingered the box in his pocket, brow furrowed for a moment as he stood outside.

When he went in, Dessy was sitting at her computer, using it as a mirror to do…her make up?  Something with her face. Hearing him come in she spoke without turning around.  “There isn’t any hot water here.” She stated.

“No, there isn’t.” He replied slowly, there wasn’t any electricity…

“Why is there a bathtub then?” She asked, condescension clear in her voice. 

“Well, uh, you can heat up water in the big pot in the fireplace I guess.” He replied, just staring at her. It was a single night, he had planned on waiting on showering until they got back to the city.

After a minute she sighed. “Well?”

“Well?” He was stumped again.

“Get to it. I am sticky.” And she turned back to the computer, dismissing him all at once.

He just stared for another minute, wondering who this person was, and where the Dessy he had been with the last five years had gone. Sure, they hadn’t lived together, but they had travelled, albeit to more upscale places. Was this just the result a very bad day? Everyone had them he figured.  Yes, he reassured himself. A very bad day. 

 He went and filled the pot with water, and struggled to hang it from the hook in the fireplace as Dessy watched frowning, but offering no assistance. He loaded some more wood in the fireplace, and managed to get it going with a match. There was a bit of smoke until he managed to figure out the damper settings but in no time the fire was roaring.

Then it got hot, really hot, really fast.  Putting out the fire in the woodstove didn’t even slow it down. Opening the windows made it manageable but he still felt a little singed from it.

“How long?” Dessy demanded.

“For?” He was once again bewildered. 

“The bath.” She stated sounding impatient.

“I don’t actually know. Uh, I have never done this before. Haven’t you?” He accused, then winced at the way it came out.

“What, when?” Now she sounded confused.

“At your grandmothers?” He said slowly.

“Oh, Nana had all this stuff, but we didn’t use it. She had electricity.” She said, implying that they should also have it now, and that it was his fault they did not.

“Wait, what? You told me about it, cooking, and laying under the stars, back.” She laughed interrupting him.

“Oh, you mean that shit I used to tell guys in college when I was trying to get laid. Ya, no, none of it was a thing. I grew up in Victoria, my grandparents had a cottage up north in Alberta, but it was like for show.  I was tying to be all manic pixie back then. I forgot about that. No, I have like no idea.  Maybe you can just bring it in boiling, so its warmer once I add the cold?” She finished with a question, as if she hadn’t just crushed her entire perception of her in two sentences.

“Ya, sure.” He said faintly, and they both watched silently as the water came to a boil. He put on the oven mitts, and struggled to get the pot off the hook over the flames.  Boiling water sloshed over as it came free, blinding Tom with the smoke and steam as it hit the hot wood below, before the burning sensation of the water hitting him registered.

When it did, his reaction was one of pure panic. He dropped the pot. It hit the wood with a deafening crack, sending hot embers out onto the floor as the water caused smoke to billow out of the fire. Tom staggered backward, coughing, and with his blurred vision could barely make out Dessy leaving the cabin slamming the door behind her.

Tom turned back and was terrified to see the water hadn’t put the fire out, in fact all those embers had caught, and now the fire was no longer contained in the fireplace. He turned and ran towards the door of the cabin, gasping as the flames spread and smoke thickened, managing to grab his jacket from the hook by the door as he stepped out.

The first step into the snow bit coldly at his sock feet, but the heat from behind him let him know he couldn’t go back for his boots. He fell to his knees a few steps later, coughing, and gasping for air.

 Dessy walked up and put a hand on his shoulder. He looked up at her, and the look of disdain on her face as she made her demand. “Tell me you have the keys. Open the doors, its cold out here.”

No concern, no empathy, nothing. He fumbled in his pocket, thanking god as he found the keys, and pressed the button to unlock the car. When he finally caught he breath, he stood and stumbled towards the car, where Dessy was sitting waiting in the passenger seat.

‘This is the biggest mistake I have ever made.’ He thought, as he stood beside the car staring in horror at the smoke rising into the air. He jammed his hands back into his pockets for his gloves, and felt the small box in his right pocket, and looked in the window at Dessy and then back to the cabin.

He got in the car and started it up. “Why are you smiling, you idiot?” 

He looked at her, and at the cabin, thinking about that box as he replied with a grin. “Because THIS.” He said gesturing at the cabin. “Is the biggest mistake of my life.” He resisted to urge to pat the box as he continued silently, and it saved me from a much bigger one.

For a look at the reedsy contest take a look here for more prompts. It runs weekly Friday to Friday!

A Breath of Fresh Air

I wrote this a few months ago, and wanted it to post it before the sensation was completely forgotten, as it has to do with wearing a mask. This one was based on my server prompt of using a season but not stating it.

She stepped out of the laundromat, took off her mask and took a deep breath in.  The chilled air filled her lungs, but she relished the crispness of it.  After months of indoors breathing stale, recycled air, it was like heaven.  Even bogged down by heavy boots, she felt light as the sun beat down warm on her bare arms.  It was too cold to stay out like this for long, but for now standing there without all the layers on, it felt like freedom.  A reminder that it wouldn’t be cold forever, and that this too would pass.

Panic at the Grocer’s

This was written at the one year mark of the shutdown for a prompt asking the author to write about the aftermath of Covid-19. Apparently I was strangely prescient, because I made the lockdowns last 18 months, and it is looking like that is right around where we are going to end up. This story is about a woman who handled the pandemic well, but isn’t handling things so well afterwards, there are descriptions of panic attacks, and anxiety, so if this upsets you please turn back now

She could feel the panic as a man bumped past her on the way into the grocery store. It surged as she reached up to adjust a mask that she wasn’t wearing. She could feel her breathing getting faster, and she tried to do what the therapist had told her: 5 things you can see, 4 things you can hear, 3 things you can touch, 2 things you can smell, 1 thing you can taste.

It wasn’t working though. Seeing all the people, hearing them milling about made her aware of just how many were in the store. Every smell she could smell was a reminder that she wasn’t wearing a mask. She flinched at the thought of touching something, the disinfectant by the door long gone. All she could taste was the copper of her own blood as she bit down too hard on her tongue.

She turned and fled the store, not stopping until she was in the safety of her car. Here the overwhelming smell of isopropyl alcohol lingered from her post gas station disinfection and calmed her nerves.

She felt embarrassed as she sat shaking in her car, needing groceries, but too afraid to go back in. She could get them delivered, but that wasn’t the point. It had been years since the pandemic, and still more weeks that not she couldn’t make it through the entire shopping process. Ironically she hadn’t had this problem during the pandemic, the public health measures made her feel safe.

It was once they started peeling them back she had trouble. At first it had been manageable. It was when the hastily installed Plexiglas had begun to crack, and was taken down instead of being replaced, that something within her broke. To be that close to a stranger, mask-less, without a barrier, it was terrifying.

The third public panic attack had prompted her to seek help. The official diagnosis was PTSD- Post traumatic stress disorder. Apparently she wasn’t the only case, but still she didn’t tell anyone. She was far too ashamed. This was a diagnosis given to people who had fought in wars, and all she had done was spend a 18 months indoors.

She was one of the lucky ones actually, able to work from home throughout. she hadn’t missed an hours worth of work. She was better off financially now than she had been before, with so many month’s of shopping taken off the table. It seemed wrong for this to be her diagnosis, when so many others lost everything they had. No one that she loved, or even knew had gotten sick. With everyone vaccinated, it was unlikely that would change, at least due to Covid.

She had thought she was handling it all well. Her social life moved on-line. She had done outdoor visiting when allowed, and she kept her spirits high throughout. She couldn’t understand why it was only after that everything had fallen apart. The only good news was that the business she worked for had decided to continue on with remote working due to the cost savings on office space. If they hadn’t, she knew she would be unemployed right now.

No one knew though, what she was going through. Her friends and family were far away, and even with the travel restrictions lifted they couldn’t just visit. The pandemic had done a number on everyone’s finances, so no one thought twice about her not being able to make the trip either. As long as she was on the phone, or even a video call, she was fine, and so they had no reason to worry.

She sighed, feeling weak and shaky now that the panic attack was over. She stayed there for 20 minutes trying to decide if it was worth trying again, but ultimately she headed home. She knew if she had another attack she wouldn’t have the energy to get home safely, and this wasn’t worth dying over. Her breath caught at the inadvertent association, and she took a few deep breaths to calm herself back down.

As she walked up the stairs to apartment, sweaty and tired, she felt like she had run a marathon. She held her breath instinctively as she passed a couple on the staircase, an practically ran the last few steps to her floor. As she opened the door and saw her landlady at the end of the hall, the panic must have been visible on her face because the woman started heading straight towards her.

Gasping she pulled the keys from her pocket, desperately trying to get into the unit before the woman reached her. She half sobbed. “Busy now, sorry” over her shoulder as she burst into her apartment, closing and locking the door behind her. She collapsed against the door, sliding to the floor, still gasping for breath. She startled as the landlady banged on the door, but it was several minutes before she had the breath to answers. It was only the threat of calling for help that made her answer. “Was late for a meeting, sorry to worry you” She said, in the most even voice the could manage.

It was even true she realized as the sound of her alarm going off finally permeated. She pulled herself up, and headed towards the computer. She dropped in the chair, and when she wiggled the mouse she could see the open video call invitation from her calendar. She pushed the button and it was only a half ring before the recipient picked up on the other end.

The other person started to say hello, how are you, when they stopped as the camera finally focused on her face. The face on the computer turned concerned. “Grocery trip?” Her therapist asked, despite knowing it to be the case.

She nodded, trying to say yes, but choking back a sob instead. “Did you try the grounding exercises?” They asked.

“Didn’t work” she replied breathlessly.

“Didn’t make it better, or made it worse?”

“Worse.” She replied, irate.

The therapist took a deep breath and let it out. “That’s okay, it’s not your fault.” I wanted to reply I knew that, but I felt a sudden knot of tension release at the statement, and so I said nothing.

“We can try something else. This isn’t the end, there is always something else we can try. You will beat this, I know you can do it.” And the last knot of tension released. I could do this.