On an Autumn Day at the Cabin

The start of the autumn day is translucently clear. As the mornings can still be in late September – at its best. The slow turning of the season towards a few-hour-long, sunless, gray days is only perceivable in the clusters of yellowing leaves amidst an otherwise lush, birch-painted green landscape.

Breakfast is now just a few breadcrumbs on the plate. The man savors the last drop of coffee and watches amusingly from the window as the school children reluctantly trudge up the steep road. The man’s dog snores at his feet, half-asleep. Absent-mindlessly, the man scratches the dog’s side with his toes. Soon it will be time to leave. The grocery bag awaits packed in the hall; there’s little that he needs for his overnight stay at the cabin. Plenty of leftovers remain in the cabin’s refrigerator from the previous week. ”Actually, I need nothing; but I’ll take it just in case, maybe even of necessity,” he thinks, placing the half-empty bag on the backseat of the car.

The cabin road twists like a snake in the grass, zigzagging and bending. While driving, the man whistles off-key the melody that was ringing in his head when he woke up, and plans the day’s work order. There’s a lot to be done at the cabin. But after all, he does visit the summer house throughout the long winter, at least as a side effect of a ski trip on the frozen lake, shoveling snow and making sure that everything is in order and the air heat pump hums a steady ten degrees. The water pipes mustn’t freeze. Luxury has its price…

But this visit, this time is a farewell to summer. Outdoor furniture will be carried on the porch for protection, the water tank of the small sauna in the yard will be emptied, tools left in the shed will be put away, the pump of the well will be checked, the boat will be turned over, and much more: the to-do list is long, with occasional crossed-out items on the table in the cabin.

The kitchen clock ticks away the hours of Saturday, slowly, quietly. A beautiful autumn day that started bright has not managed to last until evening, as dark clouds gather on the opposite barren shore of the lake, and droplets of rain begin to fall. Only one unfinished task remains on the list. It can wait because now he must eat. After the meal, the man rests on his bed, absentmindedly flipping through a book left unfinished during summer, having no intention of ever finishing it.

The rain pelts on the tin roof with a monotonous lullaby. The man puts the book back on the chair, closes his eyes, and falls asleep. He wakes up to the demanding paw taps of his dog at the edge of the bed. The room is dim. ”It’s almost dark. What time is it? I’ll fix you some food,” he says aloud, and he shuffles to the kitchen.

The clock shows six o’clock. The man scoops dry food into the dog’s bowl and cuts some cheese on top. The dog eagerly devours its meal without looking around. The man runs his fingers through his hair and yawns. ”I slept for almost two hours. That’s what hours of outdoor work do to you – hunger and fatigue. Now, I’ll heat up the small sauna and empty its water tank at the same time,” he decides.”

He fills the sauna stove. The summer-dried birch logs crackle as they ignite. The chimney has a good draft, which he already knows from past experience. He waits. After a moment the stove begins to clatter. The man fills the bucket with cold water and places it on the highest bench to warm up.

As he walks across the yard, he glances back. A curl of smoke rises from the sauna chimney, captured by the awakened, strengthening wind, and swept into the pine grove surrounding the yard. The majestic pine trees sway in the wind like hay on the field. The weather cock on the shed roof pulls frantically in every direction, screeching a storm. The man looks worriedly over the wind-beaten birch grove towards the lake. Black clouds, like giant beetles, race across the sky. Somewhere far away, a thunderstorm rumbles; the low, ominous growl mixes with the rustle, whistle, and roar of the humbly bending trees. ”I need to take the dog with me to the sauna,” he mutters to himself, ”it gets completely frantic in a thunderstorm, poor thing.”

The man throws a dash of water on the stove, which immediately retaliates with a lash of stinging heat. Instinctively, he crouches. As he raises his head again, he sees how a violent rain beats against the tiny sauna window. Sweat breaks out on his skin and drops from his nose to the floor. He counts the drops: one, two, three… He has time to think that only a thunderstorm is missing. At the same moment, a blinding flash fills the dark sauna room. A grating roar tears the sky apart. The dog whimpers and pants, scratches at the sauna room door in fear. The man rinses off the sweat with cold water, cautiously opens the door, dries himself with a towel, and threads the leash around the terrified, trembling dog’s neck. Together, they run across the yard, whipped by violent rain; the man, with a towel around his waist, chasing his frantic dog.

The cabin room is warm and bright. The thunder can be heard from a distance once again. The storm circulates the thunderclouds around the expansive lake. The man rummages through the drawers of the chest. Somewhere in there should be a headlamp. He finds a flashlight without searching, but it is low-powered and dim. Finally, he finds the headlamp as well. He clicks the light on for a moment. Satisfied, he immediately switches it off. The dog fawns at the man’s feet, trembling and panting. ’We have nothing to worry about. We have electric lights and the heater is keeping us warm,’ he says, sitting on the floor, embracing the dog in his arms and scratching its chest. The dog’s entire body trembles. From its eyes, one can see boundless fear.”

Following a blinding flash, a thunderous bang shakes the house. The lights die and the heat pump falls silent. The dog tugs free, running to the door, scratching at it frantically, driven mad by fear. The man places a flashlight on the table to illuminate the kitchen. He threads the leash back around the dog’s neck. In the bright light of the headlamp, the deep grooves scratched by the dog’s claws on the door become visible. The man feels helpless, caught between nature’s fury and the fear of the animal. He looks out the kitchen window into the rain and darkness. Light shines from the window of the sauna room. ”The oil lamp… left burning in the rush. Let it be, it will extinguish when the last drop of oil is burned. I’m not going out in this downpour with a terrified dog,” he resigns himself with that thought.

Outside, the storm rages. Inside the cabin, they sit on the floor in front of the stove: a panicking dog and a helpless man. While huddling the dog close, he begins to light a fire in the stove. The chill of autumn tries to creep in; the wind of the storm moans, cries, and howls through the ventilation shafts. The match flame climbs from the bark curl to the kindling. Soon a crackling, warming, light-giving fire blazes in the stove. The man switches off the headlamp. He lifts the protesting dog into his lap, speaks to it as one would a small child, pets its neck. Gradually, the dog’s trembling subsides, its panting ceases. In the light of the flames, the man and the dog sit on the cabin floor. Outside, the autumn storm continues its rampage.


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