Cosmo fans will be happy to learn that this is a Cosmo story. 🙂 I haven’t spent any time with him in a long time, so I was delighted when he showed up this morning to tell me this story.
One Rainy Day In The Woods
by Marian Allen
It was as cold inside the ruined house as it was outside, but at least there was one room with a roof to keep the rain off. There was only so much you could expect from a coat, and Cosmo was way past ready for shelter.
Nobody had predicted this cold front to dog-leg down from Canada and turn a muggy Spring into a little slice of torrential Hell.
Cosmo shrugged out of his coat, a knee-length, many-pocketed reversible, lightweight gray wool on one side, gray oilskin on the other. The first thing he retrieved from it was a protein bar. Fighting the cold and wet burned a lot of energy.
He finished in three huge, teen-age bites, then tucked the wrapper into the big pocket he lined with a plastic grocery bag. While he was at it, he collected a couple of plastic bottles and food wrappers apparently left by other, earlier shelterers who didn’t share his distaste for leaving their marks.
He dropped the coat on the floor when a man’s voice said, from a corner,
“Good for you, son.”
Cosmo retrieved his coat, making no sudden moves, slipping his hand into the pocket where he kept his switchblade.
“I didn’t know this was somebody’s place,” he said. “I just ducked in out of the rain, but I’ll leave. No hassle, okay?”
“It’s not a problem, son.” The man stepped into what light there was and held out empty hands. “Been a long time since I was dangerous.” He made a soft, laugh-like sound. “I was just wishing somebody would come in and make a fire.” He jerked his head in the direction of a brick chimney, with a fireplace shut away behind folding glass doors. “I laid it a long time ago, but I can’t light it.”
Cosmo let go of his knife and checked out the fireplace. The yellowed newspaper, kindling, and wood were all damp from the humidity, and punky from dry rot. The tips of the matches on the mantle flaked off when he tried to strike one.
“See?” The man’s voice put more regret and wistfulness into that one word than Cosmo had heard in his entire life.
“Is there more wood?”
“In the box. I brought it in before I laid the fire.”
The woodbox was filled with split logs, riddled with bug tunnels and the occasional mouse. Cosmo pulled a half-dozen pieces from the heart of the box, dryer and more solid than the ones on the top. He stacked a couple on top of the punky ones already laid.
Cosmo had a roll of waterproof matches in one of his pockets, but he saved them for when nothing else worked. His flint-and-steel firestarter did just fine this time; after a grudging smolder, the old paper caught and flamed. Cosmo closed the glass doors until the bottom draft had sucked the fire up into the wood, then opened them and fed another piece onto the pile.
“Ah!” The man stepped closer to the fire, his palms out to the dry warmth.
“You hungry?” Cosmo carried more protein bars, some jerky, dried fruit, a canteen. “Thirsty?”
“No, no, I’m fine. You have something.”
The teen settled where he could get to the poker if he needed to and ate. When the fire got low, he added more wood, replacing what he burned with pieces from the box, up-ending them first on the hearth to dry.
“You know what you’re doing,” the mad said.
“I like knowing what I’m doing. It’s kind of my hobby.”
“Not a bad one. Not a bad one.”
The storm passed and the light strengthened.
“I better be getting home,” Cosmo said. “Mom always calls me on her break, and she’ll worry if I tell her I’ve been out in this weather.”
“Don’t tell her.”
“I don’t lie to my mom, man. That’s been done, you know?”
“I guess you gotta go, then.” Regret. Resignation. Acceptance.
“The fire’s going good, though. Just keep feeding it. Is there more wood stacked outside? I’ll bring some in.”
“No, close the doors and let it burn out.”
“You got somewhere to go?”
“No. I’m staying right here, but I can’t move any wood.”
Cosmo never asked people Why?. They either explained or they didn’t.
“See you, then,” he said.
Cosmo pulled on his coat. “Want me to leave some matches? The damp won’t hurt them.”
The man brightened. “That’d be great! Thanks!”
Making a mental note to replace them, Cosmo left his roll of matches in the center of the mantle, where they could be found easily.
As he left, he turned in the doorway for a final wave at his short-term companion.
“Thanks for the fire,” the man said. “It was heaven.”
Cosmo wasn’t surprised when the man vanished.
~ * ~
Cosmo makes appearances in most of the stories in THE KING OF CHEROKEE CREEK, one of my 99-cent short story collections.
A WRITING PROMPT FOR YOU: Someone gets caught in the rain.