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Almost Fiction: Cabin fever

By Sam Jones

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It was cold. It had been cold. It had been cold and rainy, snowy, windy and all together too long of a winter. It was the kind of a winter that he hated, day after day of gray, nasty overcast; which on a daily basis brought something worse than the 24 hours that preceded. It is theoretically possible for people to endure and outlive such winters. They go ice fishing, skiing, snowmobiling, ice skating, take walks in the snow; they can even contend with winter by sitting on the porch drinking, smoking and swearing. The key to survival is to get out and do something; anything. He had not left the house in days.

He knew all of this but he had done nothing. Winter was no stranger to him. Still he rejected every notion of why he should go out and test the world of fresh air. Instead, he turned up the thermostat on the furnace. For the first time in years, he had treated winter like a prison, given in to it. The longer he was its victim, the more freedom dimmed. Trading complacency for a getaway, winter was now solitary confinement. The more comfortable he got, the more contented he became with his surroundings, the longer he stayed in his cell, the further he slid from anything beyond the outside walls. A month ago he had been the new prisoner who at the beginning of his incarceration had dreamed every night of how to break out and walk in the winds of liberty. Now he was the old stir-crazy con who had given up and got the shakes at just the mention of the word jailbreak. The escape he knew he must plan became a remote idea that he had long since abandoned. Just the thought of leaving his imprisonment seemed impossible. Any conception of freedom was doomed in an argument against comfort and warmth.

In the summer he looked to the mountains and the desert, planned trips and without hesitation attacked any journey. It was commonplace for him to get up, pack his motorcycle, leave and ride anywhere on a moment’s notice.

One step at a time he could plan a trip, pack and go. However, one step at a time goes both ways. First, there had been the cold and he had not taken the step to ride. Then there was the rain, then more cold, then valley ground fog and finally snow. His excuses for immobility were lame. He had good equipment, excellent riding gear, electric liners and gloves, waterproof boots and when it came to the snow, he could have ridden his sidecar. He had chosen to do none of those. He had chosen the internment of his snug house.

With one step at a time, he had incarcerated himself behind plaster and wood, making his drugs of choice warmth, security and complacency. The result was worse than cabin fever; it was now the resignation to cabin fever.

His spirit could hear his motorcycle calling, “Ride me, ride me.” His parka and heavy boots begged for a walk, whispering, “Let’s go. That’s why you bought us.” When the umbrella smelled the rain it leaned forward toward the front door. His soul heard all of them but his body sat by the fireplace.

Like a dog that goes to the door and begs to go out; worse, like a hunting dog who wants to go into the field and retrieve birds, his inner self was embarrassed at the lethargy of his semi-corpse.

Something had to be done.

While stoking the fire he considered doing something, maybe tomorrow.

However, before tomorrow came, in the middle of the night, watching a heavy snowfall through the bedroom window, he lay awake chiding himself at his indolence. This self-scolding became so intense that he finally got up. Unlike the smoker who delays quitting until he finishes the pack or the carton, he was up and going cold turkey. Now, right now, was the time. The time of night meant nothing; the climatic conditions meant nothing.

Long underwear, heavy pants … his boots sighed as he laced them up. His parka actually smiled.

There was no need for a flashlight. The light from a full moon reflected off four inches of perfect untouched snow now awaiting his footsteps. Soft, dry, new snow made a squishy sound that was somehow reassuring. It also insulated the night to a muted murmur that quieted his mind. Watch cap, gloves, scarf, parka, boots, new snow—the moonlight was so bright he could have read his watch. He was out for a late-night walk.

Good equipment put him at ease with the worst that Mother Nature had to offer. Why had he not done this before? Why had he hibernated? He was not a bear, he was a human; a human that was used to getting out and doing things; a human that hiked, hunted, fished, rode motorcycles; a human that required active adventures; a human who prided himself on being at one with the elements; a human whose journeys were uncommon.

Watching his breath as he walked, he cursed the warmth of his bed. The world belonged to him alone. There were no cars, no pedestrians, no screaming fire trucks, no wind, no sounds. A blanket of snow negated everything auditory. “Why wasn’t everyone out walking on this magnificent night?” Why, indeed?

Knowing his habits, he knew that tomorrow’s personal frailty would approve when he slipped back into his aberrant version of winter normalcy. Similar to an alcoholic’s pledge, “Not this time,” he said aloud as the sun turned into dawn. “I’ll drag out the Harley with the sidecar, a thermos of coffee, a sandwich and a shovel in case I have to dig myself out of the snow.” Being exhaled into icy breath, his plans for the jailbreak from the prison of cabin fever were visually documented.

Four hours later, the sun woke him as it bounced off the new white groundcover. Last night’s walk in the snow with its promise of a motorcycle ride became little more than a coward’s hangover, a distant dream, the same as a liquor-twisted blackout … almost forgotten. An addict to personal comfort, he stepped away and rejected what he could only barely remember.

With the furnace blazing physical weakness, he was a failure. All was lost.

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