Chapter One, from “Stikine”


Chapter 1
What an awful odor and her head is feeling like it has been used as a punching bag. Oh, that’s right, when George came home last night, he did take a swing at her and that was the last thing she remembered until the smell woke her up a few moments ago.
She starts to get up but realizes she is tied firmly to the bed frame she is laying on. Now that is just the last straw. If George thinks he can get away with treating her like this, he has another think a’coming.
She tries to open her eyes but feels there is something across her face that she can’t move away from. So she methodically starts trying to work her hands free and to rub her face back and forth to move whatever is across her eyes.
As she works, her hands become more loosely bound but not quite enough to pull free when she realizes she is hearing the sound of a motor slowly drawing nearer. She works faster on her hands and finally slips one free just as the motor shuts off.
The sound of footsteps coming nearer, makes her decide to pretend to still be tied and unconscious so she slides her hand back into the loops behind her back and lays still.
A door is pushed open across the space from her and someone says it looks like the woman is still out. Someone else mutters it will probably be better that way, just leave her and she won’t know anything. Some more mutters and the door is shut again.
She quickly pulls her hand out again and reaches for her face. There is a cloth tied around her eyes so she just pushes an edge up high enough to look out under without removing it entirely. She looks around the area she is in and it looks like one of the old cannery shacks near the beach where they used to process fish many years ago. This is miles from her home and no roads out here, only boat access.
She quickly checks and she is still wearing the clothes she walked in the door after work in, just before George hit her. Since there is no heat in this building and it is never all that hot most of the time in Southeast Alaska, she is glad she still has her coat on, even if it is summer.
She carefully removes the ties around her ankles and sits on the edge of the bed frame a few minutes, trying to get her body responding correctly again. There has been no sound of a motor leaving and she doesn’t know where the men are, so it might be best to just play passed out all the time they are here, unless she can see a clear means of escape. She didn’t recognize the voices, but then, she wasn’t allowed out except to work, and there were no men working there. So she really didn’t know many people around here.
George was so insecure that he kept her practically under lock and key, so she was used to having to escape from different situations. He would go through spells of allowing her some freedom, but if anyone stopped to talk to her or asked him how she was doing, he was positive they were messing around with her and then back to being locked up again.
She had loved him once, but his actions certainly didn’t nurture love or allow it to grow. Now she felt a growing contempt for his continued adolescent behavior and punching her out last night, if it was last night, was the final straw.
She slowly and carefully starts walking around the small room she is in, looking for some way to see outside and maybe be able to tell if the men were close or somewhere farther away.
Partway around the wall, she stumbles over something on the floor and finds George. The room is so dark, she doesn’t realize just what it is, until she stoops down and feels a face, then the familiar whiskers and overweight body. She smothers back a scream as it finally dawns on her that he is probably dead.
She drags him carefully back toward the bed and after many tries, manages to get him up on it in her place and ties the cloth around his face like it was around hers. Anyone just looking in quickly might think it was her, if she gained a hundred pounds and grew whiskers, but she was hoping they just glanced in and left.
She hears voices again, coming toward the shed and she moves over behind the door, picking up a piece of metal that must have been a part of a boat frame at one time. It is solid and at least makes her feel a bit better to hold it in her hands while her knees are shaking.
The door starts to open and someone calls from farther down the beach. The person opening the door just glances in and sees a shape on the bed and closes the door. There is the sharp odor of gasoline and the whoosh of fire as he walks away.
The motor starts back up and revs, then fades away and she now has to find a fast way out of this flimsy shed. The door is already leaking in smoke and too hot to touch. The window is boarded over, but fear adds strength and she manages to pull the frame loose and push the plywood off the window.
She looks around quickly to see if anything is handy that she could use, runs back over to check on George and yes, he is really dead. She pats his pockets and grabs the lighter and knife. His hat and heavy coat are on the floor so she grabs them as she goes by, and manages to only slightly scrape away some skin as she goes out the window. The smell outside is terrible and she finds sign of an illegal fish trap having been run from the old site.
There is still a fresh fish on the cleaning table and she grabs it as she goes by. Fish is not a favorite meal, but it might be her only meal for quite a while. This camp is a long way from the end of the road and that is a long way from town, for someone walking.
None of the towns around here are attached to a road system, just the short stretches of road that people live along that go a ways beside the beaches.
The only way to travel is boat or airplane, so most families have boats here. She and George were not one of them.
There is a broken handled shovel leaning against the side of the burning shed, so she takes that, too. A bit farther out and she finds a torn burlap bag that has been discarded, so she stuffs the fish into the bag and ties George’s coat around her waist, the hat on her head and she now has almost too much to carry as it is bulky, not heavy.
She moves into the heavy trees and puts her load down so she can check and see if there is anything else handy that she might be able to use, on her trek back to town.
So far, she has not seen anyone but she is not sure where they have gone and if they are coming back. Having set the fire, they must not be intending to use this site again. But she can’t be sure, so she inches along, trying to see everywhere at once.
The shed is fully engulfed in flames so she says a brief prayer for George. She might not still love him, but anyone deserves a better end than that.
She inches along, trying to blend in and become part of the scenery. She finds a fillet knife someone has dropped and a discarded pack with a broken strap. She drags it behind her as she scoots along, trying to find every little thing anyone may have dropped or thrown away. When she finds the can dump, she quickly grabs a large juice can and a couple of the empty stew cans. They can be used to cook in. Some pieces of wire will have many uses, so she grabs it, also. She might try to dig down through the pile and see what else she can find, but she hears a boat motor again, and grabs her supplies and fades back into the trees.
Southeast Alaska is the perfect place to hide, all that has to be done is hold still under some brush and there is always some brush. Just as long as no Devils Club is in the way, everything is okay.
From her spot under the brush, she watches a boat pull up to the makeshift dock. The two men in it are arguing and one is sounding extremely angry.
When he sees the smoldering remains of the shed, he gets even angrier. The shed has collapsed and is a mound of burning lumber and some timbers from the roof. The rusty tin roof is twisted and practically glowing.
One man is shouting about the woman was supposed to be left alive and turned loose, she would be the perfect one to pin her husband’s death on, since they had stupidly killed him. But he was not supposed to be killed. People turning up dead tended to bring investigators. Everyone in town knew he didn’t treat her well. Look what condition she was in when they brought her out here. Some of the people in town would probably have given her a medal for getting rid of him. Thirty years ago, she wouldn’t even have been arrested for it. Kill an illegal fish and go to jail, kill a mean husband and they helped plan a party, practically. Women were not plentiful in town.
Now, she would possibly get arrested, but they probably would let her go after listening to folks around town. He called the other man all kinds of names and the other man was slowly getting really angry. The more man #1 kept on, the more man #2 was almost steaming.
When he reached into the boat for the fishing spear, she almost yelled out a warning, but was afraid she would be next. Guy #1 must have heard something because he turned around just as the other man shot the spear and it almost missed him. His shot from his pistol didn’t miss man #2.
The spear was still sticking out of his side where it had creased along his ribs but caught in the coat fabric and didn’t do as much damage as it could have.
The wounded man stumbled a bit getting back into the boat, but he managed to get it turned and headed away again. She stayed crouched a bit longer then walked back to the can pile to see if she could quickly find anything else of use before starting her long walk back to the end of the road, if she could manage to get that far.
Anya found a couple of bottles with lids and she could rinse them out to carry water in. Even though Southeastern Alaska is a rain forest, it is hard to find clear drinking water.
A lot of the water looks like brewed tea and is colored from running through rotten vegetation among other things. It is usually foamy around the edges also and not the best flavored drink in the world. Any clear fresh water is to be treasured and carried along as much as possible. Of course there is always the ocean nearby.
It looks so tranquil and can be mirror smooth as no waves or breakers roll in past the outer islands. It is like living beside a large lake that fluctuates in levels with the water rising and lowering twice a day for the tides. In stormy weather, it is choppy whitecaps, but still no real waves.

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