Two Strangers in the Woods During a Snowstorm
A woman approaches a cabin in a snowstorm. She’s dressed for the weather, wearing leather boots and a thick jacket and pants, and she has a bagged-up guitar swung across her back. It’s her only luggage.
The cabin’s one window glows with the light of a fire inside. It’s small - more of a shack. Other than the window, door, and chimney - along with four walls and a roof - there isn’t much to see.
The woman stops in front to gawk at its size.
There was an expectation for something more.
She walks all the way up and knocks and says nothing. At first, the wind covering her ears lets in only silence from behind the door, but then even through the storm she hears slow, strong footsteps rolling across the floor. Something stops there on the other side, covering the little light through the peephole. The light comes back, and the door, already unlocked, opens gently.
A young and beautiful man stands in the entrance. “Hi!” he says with a smile. His eyes glance behind the woman. “Are you lost?”
“I don’t think I am,” she responds sternly. “Can I come in?”
Still smiling passively, he takes a good look at her. Her arms are folded and she’s shivering. He opens the door wide. “Of course.”
The woman says nothing, and she hobbles stiffly to the middle of the room, trailing snow behind her. She stops on a large red and green rug, then gazes around the space. Like the outside of the shack, there isn’t much to see. There’s a bed, a dresser, a table, and a fireplace. She can feel the heat of the flame from across the room. Two wooden chairs face it.
The man shuts the door, and the crackling of the wood takes over the whistling of the air outside. “Would you like to take a seat by the fire?” he offers.
“I’m fine, thank you,” she says, watching it dance.
He squints at her for a bit, trying to figure her out, then moves toward one of the chairs and sits down. “Well I’ll take a seat, and you’re welcome to join me at any time.”
Once down, he looks back up at her. She stares at the fire in silence, so he turns to it, too. “I don’t want to be rude,” he starts. “But when a stranger shows up at your home, in a storm, in the night, I think it’s probably their job to clear up the reasons for their visit.” He chuckles to himself. “Especially when they don’t just burglarize you.”
The woman clears her throat. “I heard a story about a man in this forest who’s cursed to live forever.” She glances at him, giving the opportunity to speak, but he says nothing. She continues, “I also heard that he’s lived so long, he’d do anything to finally die.”
Silence follows again. They continue to stare at the fire.
“Does that sound familiar?”
The man takes a long, deep breath. He says, “It sounds like a very strange story from the mind of a very strange person. And I’m left to ask myself,” he turns to her, again with a smile. “‘Is that strange person gonna try to kill me?’”
She looks back at him hesitantly. “Maybe… only if you want me to.”
He raises his eyebrows, then lurches up from the chair. He starts walking over to the dresser. “Did you bring a gun?”
He pulls out a small glass and a bottle of clear fluid. He pours himself a drink and puts the bottle away. “Don’t tell me you plan on using your hands.”
“Then what did you bring for me?”
He laughs and points at her from across the room. “That’s funny,” he tells her, and takes a sip of the drink. “Please, go on.”
The woman unfolds her arms and carefully hoists the bagged-up guitar from off her back. She sets the bottom of its body on the floor, resting her hands on the cloth covering its head. “I know a song… it’s supposed to kill anyone who hears it through to its last note.”
The man looks at the floor. “Damn,” he says.
Outside, the wind presses against the windows. It’s louder than the flame.
The man takes another sip and goes back toward his chair. “You weren’t kidding about the ‘strange’ part.” He sits down, staring at the fire again. “And I gotta hand it to you. The guns and the knives and all those things won’t work - I know because I’ve tried - but music… never thought to give that one a go.” He chuckles to himself. “I also don’t see why I would.”
The flame’s glow grows brighter, and they share its warm sting in their eyes.
“Why should I believe you’ve got this song?” the man asks.
“I have faith that a person with a lifespan as unnatural as yours is open to other unnatural things,” the woman responds.
“Fair enough. But your credibility isn’t very high, based on what you’re suggesting. How could you learn a song like that and live to tell me about it? Shouldn’t it have killed you already?”
“It only kills you if you hear it in its entirety. I’ve rehearsed every note except the last one.”
“That’s clever,” he says, surprised. “Did you have any close calls?”
“Yeah, I’ll bet.” He thinks to himself for a moment, then turns to the woman. “So did you bring something to cover your ears while you play?”
“Well, I don’t know if you’ve had a good look around the place, but I don’t have anything to cover them for you.”
“I didn’t expect you to.”
“I’ll be damned,” he starts. “A girl I’ve never met before seeks me out on the whim of a rumor, crawls her way through a nasty storm in the dead of the night, and finally finds me in my home - all just to pitch an idea for killing us both! I’ve been alive a very long time, but I’ve never had a story like this one.”
She says nothing.
The man finishes his drink, and he sets the glass down on the floor. “For the love of God, please take a seat,” he begs, gesturing to the chair across from him.
She steps over cautiously, lays her guitar across the floor, and sits down.
“What are you doing here, friend?” the man asks kindly.
She looks up at him. The orange of the fire reflects in her eyes. “Don’t call me ‘friend.’ We’re strangers. You said that yourself.”
“Woah, understood!” he chuckles. “In fairness, strangers hardly die together. That’s usually the business of friends.”
“I guess this will be an exception.”
“It doesn’t have to be.”
The woman is silent again for a moment. “I’m not going to play the song without your permission,” she says. “So if you just give it to me we can both get on with this.”
He observes her. “Where did you get the song?”
“I won’t,” he retorts with a grin. “You made the mistake of showing your hand. You clearly don’t want to play the song without me here, and for some reason you won’t do it against my will, which means you’re stuck here. You’re stuck here until I say otherwise, so you should just answer my questions.”
“Fine,” she mumbles.
He nods at her, “Where’d you get the song?”
“Someone I love. She gave it to me.”
“Someone you love?”
“Yes. Well… maybe loved.”
“I see,” the man tells her. His face is stern now. “Did she love you, too?”
“Yes. A lot.”
They sit in more silence. The wind harmonizes with the flame. Neither rises above the other. Outside, an unwavering breeze hugs the windows firmly. Inside, the fire breathes deeply.
“What are you doing here?” the man asks.
She sighs. “I guess I have nothing to lose if neither of us are going to leave this room.”
“Right,” he tells her with a somber smile.
Looking out the window at the snowfall, the woman says, “I built my life around the people I loved. They were the reason I could enjoy anything. I could only smile because of them.” Her eyes turn glossy. “But they’re all gone now.” She shifts to face him. “They’re all gone, and so is my life - in a true sense.”
“So you’ve come here to make it gone in the truest sense?” the man asks.
“Yes,” she starts, and she gestures to the guitar. “The person who gave me this song, she said the story goes that it was written by an angel of death, who resented the pain necessary to enter the afterlife. The angel wrote the song to absolve that pain. It’s supposed to be a beautiful, gentle escape.”
“Then why haven’t you played it for yourself yet?”
“I made my life about people and being with them. When I heard that I could finish it the same way, even with a stranger…” she trails off.
“I understand,” the man says, observing her again. “Can I ask you your name?”
She opens her mouth to respond, but she can’t think of what to say.
“Is that too personal of a question?” he remarks with a hint of sarcasm.
“No, of course not, definitely not by now,” she says, grinning. “I guess I don’t see why you’d need my name.”
“I’m not going to see you again.”
“So you believe in a song written by an angel of death, but you don’t believe in an afterlife?”
“I’m just trying not to get my hopes up.”
The man reclines in his chair and thinks to himself. “Well, I’ll tell you what: if this works, I’d imagine we’re going out at the exact same time. That means whatever’s happening on the other side, we’re bound to be right next to each other in line. Once we make it that far, you can tell me your name… and I’ll even tell you mine.”
“Okay,” she says. “I’d like that.” And after a moment, she inquires hesitantly, “Can I ask how old you are?”
“Oh, I don’t know… I don’t see why you’d need to know that. I’m never gonna see you again,” he responds with a laugh.
She laughs, too. “That isn’t fair.”
“No, no, it isn’t. But frankly, after a while you stop bothering with counting the years.”
“Yeah, it has been.”
And then they share a pleasant silence. It’s the only one of the night which isn’t filled with uneasiness, or uncertainty. It’s comfortable, familiar, and hospitable - even if their circumstances aren’t entirely the same.
“Thank you for indulging me in a little conversation,” the man tells the woman. “Before you go ahead, I’d like to make sure you’re ready to do this, and I mean truly ready.”
“Do you think I shouldn’t be?” she asks, genuinely.
“It really doesn’t matter what I think. My life is full… maybe even overflowing,” he says, grinning at himself. “I wish I wasn’t so selfish, but I know that any thoughts I share with you would only serve to give me the end I’ve been waiting for. They wouldn’t be in your best interest.”
The woman thinks for a moment. She says, “My life is full, too. Certainly not overflowing, but it is full. Like I told you, it gave me the people I wanted and loved, and they’re gone now. So I’m ready for the next life. Yes, I’m ready.”
“Then please, be my guest.” He gestures to her instrument.
She opens the bag and pulls the guitar out across herself.
It’s black like emptiness.
“Are there lyrics to the song?” the man asks.
“No,” she tells him.
“Well, it’s just a thought, but I don’t terribly mind the sound of your voice. If you’d like to make some up, friend, I’d be honored.”
She smiles. “Are you certain? I’m not sure I can do it justice on my first try.”
“As long as you try at all, I’ll love it,” he tells her. “I think it’ll be a wonderful way to go.”
She nods and takes a moment to think, and breathe. The wind and the flame are quiet.
Outside, a breeze guides snowflakes gently to the ground. Inside, wood simmers from behind the hearth.
The woman plays, and she sings what follows:
I woke up with a cloud on my head.
He didn’t speak, just floated away.
Through the window I followed him,
hoping to find out where he’d stay.
He flew down the highway, the side streets to your room.
There on your grave, your guitar wondered what I’d do.
I took it, turned around,
and I started on home.
Took the side streets and the highway,
then the cloud downpoured stones.
I climbed back through the window, and I sat on its sill.
I wrote up this song, since I’m asking myself, still.
You gave me some music,
and you gave me its tool.
Isn’t this grave robbery?
Without you, isn’t this cruel?
So I’ll sit here, I’ll wait, then I will go, too.
Because I can’t be a grave robber, if I sing this with you.