I woke up cuddled underneath a stack of blankets, gazing mindlessly into a dark room. My eyes fell on the radio-clock sitting on the night table. It read 3:05 a.m. The blue neon screen informed me it was 38 degrees in the cabin, as well. I drew the covers in tighter.

     Lying around in bed at that hour didn’t feel sinful like it did when I lived off the mountain. Nature’s timetable is fluid, more forgiving of the hour and its demands, but with little to do except commune with her. The city's rhythm and tight schedules kept me on notice and offered little slack and lots of stimulation. It’s a tradeoff but I had no choice. Urban living had become unaffordable and sent me packing.

     A small mammal, probably a squirrel scampered along on four legs across the tin roof. I heard a creaking sound, too. I thought the cabin shifted on its foundation. It happened periodically. I wasn’t sure why.

     A high-pitched ringing in my ear started up again, reaching a crescendo seconds later. It dissipated and the cabin fell silent. The tinnitus I’d begun experiencing in L.A. grew worse without the white noise of civilization to drown some of it out. The move up here was a tradeoff in more ways than I’d imagined.

     I stared out in the darkness, self-consciously alone. The strange, convoluted dream I’d awakened from demanded my attention. I considered a textbook explanation, but it’s a guessing game at best. I let the dream go.

     The real world came to mind. Conversations I’d had recently took center stage.

     “I hate driving down the mountain. It’s too much work,” I said.

     “It’s dangerous, too,” he said.

     “And there’s nothing to do up here.”

     “The weather’s too cold, Jerry. You’re better off in L.A.”

     “I can’t afford it.”

     “What are you going to do?”

     “I don’t have a choice.”

     It was like picking petals off a daisy, and stripping myself bare of any reason to go on.

     The nights got awfully lonely with no distractions but for a distant whoosh of a car, strange animal sounds and the constant drumbeat of thoughts to fill the vacuum. A dating website I’d recently visited came to mind.

     “Would you like to go for coffee?” I wrote.

     “You live too far away,” she wrote back.

     “I could meet you off the mountain.”

     “I don’t think it would work.”

     Never heard from her again.

     “Fuck you,” I whispered to no one, and turned over to get some sleep. But there was no respite.

     “How long can you last up here?”

     “I have a pension.”

     “Why don’t you get a camper – travel around.”

     “I can’t afford it. Besides, it gets boring like anything else.”

     “Why don’t you kill yourself–”   

     I opened my eyes. The clock read 3:10 a.m. The neon light didn’t feel friendly anymore. That last bit scared me. It’s the hour of night that brings on despair. Sleep would get me through till the morning, I thought.

      I heard a noise. It sounded harsh, like a rock hitting a wall. Who could it be? What did they want? Where the hell’s my gun?

      I heard it again, and then something rolled off the roof. A falling pine cone from a tall Ponderosa, I thought, or a cold, dead bird. I wondered what an earthquake would be like up here. Who’d pull me out of the rubble? How long would it take paramedics to reach the cabin?

     I needed to get some sleep.

     A walk around the grounds might do the trick, I thought. I was out of bed in a flash and dressed in warm clothes before stepping out into the cold, dark night. What could possibly be waiting for me? A bear? No one’s seen any around here in fifty years. A cougar? They’re loners, out in the bush and repelled by human smell. Bigfoot? I was getting nuttier by the second.

     I began my walk and set my sights on the neighbor’s cabin, some distance away. It was nice having company of sorts, even if I had never spoken to the guy. His lights were out and I imagined he was deep in dreamland. When I got close I saw the lights go on. A few seconds later he was at the door pointing a shotgun at me.

     “Hold it right there.”

     “It’s me. I live in the next cabin over.”

     “What are you doing out here this time of night?”

     “I couldn't get to sleep. I thought a short walk would help.”

     He didn’t say anything and closed the door. Seconds later his lights were out. My adrenaline raced. What if he’d pulled the trigger? People are prone to when threatened.

     I headed back to the cabin not wanting to provoke another incident. My tiptoeing around at that hour set off panic buttons, as it would have for me. What was I thinking?

     The bears and cougars, even Bigfoot, were the least of my worries. With neighbors like him I had enough to concern myself about.

     But I had no bills to pay and the night all to myself. No good-time Charlies next door blasting out party music, or restless insomniacs watching T.V. at that hour to fear.

     Nothing wrong with that, I thought. I got back in bed and fell sound asleep.

AWAY FROM HOME by Marj Charlier

AWAY FROM HOME by Marj Charlier

A DAY WITH MISS SULLIVAN by Suzanne Saunders

A DAY WITH MISS SULLIVAN by Suzanne Saunders