"Something there is that doesn't love a wall, that wants it down. I could say "Elves" to him, but it's not elves exactly,"-Robert Frost, 'Mending Wall'


1

She bought the cabin on an impulse during the summer, back when she truly believed that all she wanted to do was to go somewhere cold and away from the world so that she could paint. She had been riding off of a windfall at the time. A nice chunk of inheritance plus a little extra from the two canvas landscapes that she'd sold.

At the time, she had carried a wallet stuffed with reassuring twenties as if to remind herself that she was well past the poor, newly post-college days, where debts loomed large and ravenous. But, for a time, she was free of them. And she would live for her art as best she could, transfusing every day down the length of her brush into something beautiful.

If only it wasn't so muggy.

Summer hung around her like an uninvited house guest, making her uncomfortable and giving her reasons not to paint. She dreamed of her little cabin out in the wild. Of snow falling on creaking eaves, and of the soft, white expanse unfurling outside. All the while, she pressed a cold glass of lemonade to the side of her head and did her best not to move.

During the nights she painted. At least at first. But then the habit of her days began to set concrete thick in her arms, and that tapered off.

It was okay, though. Because she had her cabin. Come winter, it would be a place of art and wonder. She just had to hold out until then.

2

This is possibly the worst idea I ever had, she crossed her arms over her chest and shivered through her sweater. It was red and wool and warm, so it should have kept the cold at bay, but she was slowly beginning to think that noting could compete with the species of freezing that lived up in the mountains. It was a whole other beast than your run-of-the-mill, put-your-hands-in-your-pockets-while-you-wait-at-the-bus-stop city-cold. She admired her sweater for the fight that it was putting up, and decided not to blame it if it lost and she became a popsicle. After all, it hadn't gotten the two of them trapped behind four shoddy wooden walls in the middle of a blizzard. Stupid. Stupid. Stupid.

Her paints and canvas stood in one corner of the cabin, mostly ignored. There were a few smears of oil on the daunting white. Smudges of brown. Maybe the beginning of tree trunks. She had put them there right after she unpacked, and right before she got distracted by making dinner. That had been a day ago, when the sky was clear and there was only a light dusting on the ground.

Now it was cold. And evening was coming on. Though there was a sheet of white falling across the cabin's windows, she could feel more than see the dark sliding in between the flakes. She hadn't managed to get the fire working yet, and this was not for lack of trying. A tidy pile of long stemmed matches burned down to the ends lay on the bricks by the fireplace. Three logs sat silent sentinels in the hearth. They were damp and forbidding. They said "you took us away from our tree. Now we're going to see you freeze."

And now you're assigning personalities to the kindling. Not even a full day in and already you're going stir crazy. Good job. What a sound financial investment this was.

With a sigh, she decided to make the best of a bad situation and went to the bedroom to fetch blankets, a book, and a candle.

3

Candlelight has a certain tone to it. Like piano music. It doesn't exist directly. Instead, it brushes at reality with bristles of flame and smoke until everything around it is only half there. For the romantic, this is a blessing. Caught in candlelight, every living inch of her is uncertain. Undecided. She might be perfect, and this is an impossible, joyous thing.

Of course, for the impressionist painter trying to decipher Danielle Steel's "Now and Forever", this is mostly just a nuisance.

She stared at the words on the page, squinting against their swimming. No good. They undulated like eels in the dark. Maybe if she held the page close to the flame and went one word at a time...?

Well, the first one was 'the.'

Or was it 'heiress?'

'Passionate,'? Maybe?

She sighed, folded the book, and set it aside. In doing so, she managed to open up a little aperture in her cocoon of blankets, and the cold got in. She shivered convulsively, wrapping herself back up and spitting out quick, frosty little breaths. It was just too cold out in the mountains. How was she ever going to get any work done?

Something boomed against the front door.

A tree branch? Maybe? Come unstuck during the storm? Or it could be—

The door unlatched and opened. A slow gust of wind rolled in through it, throwing a dash of white across her floor and extinguishing the candle. The world was dipped in pitch. She didn't scream.

The cabin door closed and re-latched.

Darkness.

There are times when childhood instincts reign supreme. This was one of those.

Gathering the blankets up around her head, she receded back into them. Became an Eskimo. An utterly safe, invincible Eskimo.

Footsteps groaned across the cabin floor. She hardly dared to breathe.

There was a flicker-flash of flame, just visible through the fabric. In the hearth, tongues of flame swelled. Logs snapped and hissed. Warm light flooded the cabin, washing across the thin frame of a man who knelt by the fireplace, rubbing his hands together and breathing steamy puffs.

If I can get to the poker, a little bit of confidence swelled in her heart, I might be able to overpower him. If not…no. Don't think. Just go.

She surged up and out of the blankets in a thunderous lurch. The man shrieked, jumped backwards, encountered her canvas, and fell in a messy sprawl on the floor. His eyes were flashing wild terror.

"I'm sorry! I'm sorry! I won't do it again!"

Um, what?