Rory lived in Ireland where the winters were long, cold and bleak. One late afternoon Rory went out for firewood. He carefully closed the door to his cabin and walked into the woods. Rory lived alone. The silence was broken only by the crinkling of leaves underfoot as Rory strode toward a tree whose limbs were now dead and dry. These would make a fine fire, thought Rory.
He paused, struck by the whispered beauty all round and the peace that twilight drapes over the earth. Fond memories of family, hearth and home warmed his soul. Rory lost track of time. Suddenly, he realized the impotent sun was rapidly retreating toward the horizon. He hastened his efforts and gathered more wood. He tripped and dropped the entire lot. By the time he was able to once again recover the precious fuel, darkness had fallen. It was too dark for him to walk with armfuls of wood. It was too heavy. He needed his hands to clear the sharp branches that obstructed his path as he groped in the darkness. For a moment he felt a flutter of fear. He was lost! The thought made him shiver.
He decided to try to walk back to the cabin and endure the cold night; if he could only orient himself. After twenty minutes, with no moon to aid his trek, he realized he’d been meandering aimlessly. The birches and oaks now sported the same color; black. Rory was determined and strode purposefully in one direction, toward the clearing he sensed was just ahead, where the shelter of his humble cabin sat. He chided himself for not leaving a lamp on near the window so that he might use it as a beacon. He shook his head — anger at being so irresponsible. Suddenly, he saw a flicker through a small clearing in the woods and quickened his pace. There was light, and where there was light, there was life. In the field was a cottage not unlike his own. He approached and just as he went to rap on the door, it flew open on its own accord.
A jolly man greeted him: “Rory, how the hell are ya?” “Come in won’t you?” “You look cold.” Rory did not know the man but the warmth beckoned, and in any case, he had no choice but to accept the invitation. “Will you have supper with me, Rory?” Said the man. Before Rory could open his mouth, as if by magic, by the corner of the room where nothing had been before, a table appeared draped with a cloth. The smell of food and hot cider permeated the cottage and seduced the nostrils. They sat to eat in silence.
They ate in silence and drank in silence. After they were done, the man rose and said “You know what, Rory? In my house after we have a meal, we sit by the fireplace and smoke a pipe. Will you join me? Rory was silent. Suddenly, two chairs appeared before the fireplace and the flames seemed to intensify, radiating more warmth into the room. The man snapped his fingers and two pipes magically dropped out of the ceiling and dangled in front of them, defying gravity. As they sat in their chairs the man pulled out a pouch filled with fine tobacco and they began to smoke. Rory was befuddled but content. He said nothing.
The man said “In my house, Rory, after a fine meal and a smoke by the fireplace, we like to tell stories. Tell us a story, Rory!” Rory replied that he had no stories and that even if he did, he was not a very good storyteller, then once again fell silent. The man scowled. “Everyone has a story, Rory. C’mon now, tell us a story, won’t you?” Rory stared at the fire in silence.
The man scowled and became angered.
Suddenly, he rose. The chairs disappeared as if by magic. Rory dropped to the floor. The fire went out. The table and dishes and cups all vanished. The man grabbed Rory by the scruff of the neck and marched him toward the door that opened wide on its own accord. Rory was tossed unceremoniously into the cold night and fell to the damp ground. The door closed behind him with a thud and the lights inside all went out. Rory walked away dejectedly, back toward the woods. He sensed his cabin was on the other side but to get there he’d have to once again enter the now even darker gloom of the forest patch.
Rory walked through the forest, now demoralized by the harsh eviction from the cozy confines of the warm cottage; wondering why the jolly man had become so angry. “What did I do? I was polite and grateful. I didn’t deserve to be treated that way.” His indignation turned to carelessness as he slipped and fell, face-first, into into a bog.
Covered with slime and rot, Rory rose dripping wet and once again quickened his step. Suddenly, he caught a peripheral glimpse of light flickering through the woods. He cautiously approached and witnessed a bearded man sitting on a stool, in a clearing by a fire. Over the fire was suspended a large boar; skewered and slowly roasting. The man paid no attention to Rory and continued to turn the handle that spun the dead beast over the flames. The aroma borne by a slight breeze was pleasant and reminded him of the supper he’d had at the cottage, but that seemed a very long time ago and Rory, covered with muck, was now hungry… and cold.
“Pardon me. I’m afraid I’ve gotten lost and now I’m wet and cold. Do you mind if I sit by the fire.” The bearded man just nodded and Rory approached the pit in the middle of the clearing. The man continued to spin the carcass, evenly distributing the heat unto the slowly-roasting boar.
Not a word was spoken for what seemed an eternity. The bearded one coughed, spat and muttered to Rory “I’m going to go into the woods to do my business. You mind spinning the handle? Rory nodded. “Sure.” The bearded man warned, “Make sure you spin it nice and even. Don’t you let it burn!” Rory nodded again and the man walked away into the darkness. Rory sat on the stool.
The fire and aroma lulled Rory and comforted him. His clothes began to dry and he made an effort to remove the muck from his face with one hand as he spun the handle with the other. Slowly, evenly… The rhythm became hypnotic. The crackling of the flame played counterpoint to Rory’s even breathing. Inhale. Exhale. Inhale. Exhale. Rory’s head became heavy and rested on his chest, asleep. His hand fell off the handle. The boar stopped rotating. The flames now had their chance at a motionless target and began to lick and burn and singe.
Rory entered a dream state, or so he thought. A loud and hideous voice cried out a plaintive complaint “YOU’RE BURNING ME WHISKERS! YOU’RE BURNING ME WHISKERS!” Rory, startled, quickly awoke, smelled the acrid smoke streaming from the boar and hastily turned the handle. The voice faded away. Did he actually hear it? Was he dreaming? Regardless. No harm done. The man wouldn’t notice the seared patch of flesh.
To be continued.