Monday, January 03, 2011

Zanter Klauzen (Part 8)

Stranded in a cabin deep in a Minnesota wood, a woman and her two children face an uncertain Christmas. With their supplies dwindling she began to pray that they would survive to see the new year. Then he appeared, a strange man lurking in the shadows of the snow covered firs. How long would he watch them before making his move?

The story begins HERE

Zanter Klauzen reckoned that he had been living alone in his beloved forest for all of thirty-four years. Except for his occasional visits into town to sell his toys and firewood, he had kept his distance from civilization. The people hadn't bothered him and he had been only too happy to return the favor.

Then one day she had returned. He had been observing Norma's treks through the deep woods. Ever since she had first arrived at the cabin she had been taking daily hikes into the forested tract. He had dared to suspect that she might be looking for him. It was with heavy heart that he'd decided that any contact between them was to be avoided.

The weight of the world began to weigh heavily on him when another eleven years had come to pass. He knew then that his hermitic life would never be the same. He knew that the young woman and her two children, although he'd never seen them before that day, were his daughter and grandchildren.

He had raised the orphaned fawn after a hunter had taken its mother as a trophy. It would follow him whenever he ventured into the woods. So it was three days earlier that it had strayed into the path of an oncoming vehicle.

Marilee tiptoed out of the closet and closed the door. She didn't want the intruders to know where she'd been hiding or that her two children were there. She hoped that they would believe she was alone in the cabin.

"Come out!" Jim bellowed while his cohort took up position behind him. "Don't make me come in there after you."

"I'm coming out now," she cried. "Please don't shoot!"

At the same moment that she appeared in the doorway to the back rooms there was a loud crash somewhere outside of the cabin. She saw both of the men turn toward the window they'd broken. She stood frozen, not daring to make a move that might be considered threatening.

With his gun trained in her direction he shouted, "Billy, go see what that noise was!"

There was another loud noise and then another. Billy's hands were shaking and his eyes were wide with fear, "Jesus Christ, Jim. Someone's banging on the door!" He fell to his knees and crawled to the window. "It must be the cops! They found us!"

Jim was trying to remain calm. He knew he had a bargaining chip. "Billy, tell whoever it is we've got a hostage."

There was more banging, not at the door, but on the far side of the cabin. Beneath the window his partner was on the floor curled into a near fetal position and was sobbing. "They ... they've got us surrounded!"

"Come out where I can see you!" Jim roared at the back of the house.

The banging at the door resounded again. Jim heard the shuffle of Billy's feet and turned to see his partner scrambling to get outside through the broken window. "Billy! What do you think you're doing? Come back!"

Marilee was trembling and struggled to hold back the tears of terror wracking her body. "Go away! Leave us alone!" she screeched. She gasped when he spun around to face her.

Jim leveled the gun in her direction and sneered, "You think you're brave, eh? I've got news for you, you're one dumb broad!" He squeezed the trigger twice.

Norma heard the sound of two cracks echoing through the dense stands of evergreens. She tried to pick up her pace in the knee-deep snow. Her head was throbbing and she could feel the trickle of blood upon her forehead.

She cursed her dumb luck. Sergeant Barker had told her that the two men had run out of gas and had left their car in the road. She cursed the blizzard conditions. She hadn't seen the car until she was on top of it. She had plowed headlong into it.

When she stepped into the clearing in view of the cabin she stumbled and fell into the deep snow. She looked up and saw two men struggling to climb up the small hillock next to her home. She panicked, realizing that they must have broken into the place. Were they the bank robbers? Were those gunshots she'd heard?

She caught movement to the right of the fleeing men. Something was following them from within the ground-hugging branches of the firs. "Zanter, it must be Zanter," she muttered.

She allowed her face to rest in the snow. She hoped the cold surface would ease the pounding in her head and perhaps stop the flow of blood from the gash on her forehead.

She was still trembling after the second man had also fled through the window. Dumfounded, she ran her hands up and down her chest and abdomen. He couldn't have been more than ten feet away from her. How had he not hit her?

Rebecca and Jon had come out of hiding and were standing next to her. The tracks of his tears still visible on his cheeks, her son queried, "Are they gone, mommy?"

Marilee's nod was weak, but it assured the nine-year-old that they were safe. She turned to Rebecca and said, "You and your brother, go sit on the couch and be still." She inched her way toward the door and added, "I'll make sure it's safe."

She freed the dead bolt and swung the door open and was greeted by a swirl of snow kicked up by a gust of arctic-like wind. Her eyes fell upon the tracks of the two men. From the window, they disappeared beyond the crest of the small hill. Then she saw something moving parallel to their tracks. She was sure it was the old man. One moment he was there, and then he was gone. Moments later she heard two retorts of what sounded like a gun being fired.

Terror once again grabbing at her, she was about to close the door when something else caught her eye. Straight ahead was ... someone face down in the snow. "Mother?" she muttered. She inhaled deep to gain strength in her lungs and screamed, "Mother!"

He looked down upon the unmoving figures. When their bodies were found, probably after the spring thaw, it would appear that one had shot the other before turning the gun upon himself. Kneeling and without emotion, he positioned the pistol in the hand of the nearest body. He looked up through the driven snow and guessed that they would be completely covered beneath the night's accumulation before sunrise.

He stood within the shelter of some fir branches and looked up onthe scene below. He watched Marilee help the Norma to her feet. He felt a strange sensation of warmth within his chest as the two youngsters emerged from the cabin.

He turned away and slipped into the woods. He would not be welcome at the tearful reunion of mother and daughter. Unlike Norma, he would not be able to experience the joy of meeting the grandchildren. "Not now," he murmured, "perhaps later when they are ready."

He had chores to complete, but first he would have to retrieve the Christmas bundles from Norma's car. He would make certain that those kids awakened to find gifts beneath their tree on Christmas morning.

At least he could find solace in the fact that he'd arranged for his family to get together for the holiday. When and if they would eventually realize his part in the drama of the past few days, perhaps then, and only then could he join them.

He reached the edge of another clearing. He stopped and looked around. He knew that place. He remembered that it had happened in that very spot. He looked up. It was still there. He didn't wish to remember that day. He tried to concentrate instead on events that were more current.

His deer had stood by at the top of the ravine while he had worked his way down to the nearly buried vehicle. It had taken him thirty minutes to pull them from the SUV and up to the road. The two children riding on the back of the deer and he carrying the woman, it had taken nearly an hour to get them to the cabin.

He had put them into the beds, had lit the logs in the fireplace to keep them warm, and had maintained a vigil on the cabin for several days. On two occasions when he'd checked on them, the woman had seen him through the window. It had been unsettling to have made eye contact for the first time with the daughter he'd never known.

He'd been watching the two men. He'd felt that they were not to be trusted. They had ignored his presence but he'd followed them nonetheless to the cabin. It was then that he'd heard the sound of an automobile crash.

By the time he'd made it to the scene of the accident, Norma was slumped forward, her head against the steering wheel. As he had done with the young woman and the children, he'd pulled her from the mangled wreckage and then had made the arduous trip carrying her to the cabin. 

He'd just set her down in view of the cabin at the edge of the clearing when he'd heard the two gun shots. He'd never before acted in anger until then. He knew that if he'd stayed within the tree line, he would be able to overtake them while they struggled to climb the drift-covered hill. Although he'd been surrounded by death, he'd never killed until that moment.

His thoughts returning to the present, he continued to stare at it. Through all the years it still hung there. He had climbed high into that tree. He had slipped the noose about his head. Then he'd leapt out into space with only the length of the rope to prevent him from hitting the ground below.

"It's funny," he whispered to himself, "how one can die and yet feel very much alive." It had taken him until that very moment to realize that he'd died almost thirty years ago.

He glanced back in the direction of the cabin and thought of the woman he had loved, their daughter and their grandchildren. How long would it be before they asked him to join them in their celebration? How long would it be before they too realized that they had died in two separate accidents?

In the early hours of the morning he stepped back and admired the Christmas tree and the many presents beneath it. He knew he should not be there when they awoke in the morning.

He was about to move toward the door when something on the sofa caught his attention. It was an open coloring book. He picked it up and stared for several moments at the page that had been recently colored by one or both of the children. He smiled and nearly laughed.

Except for the bright red, as opposed to the purple of his own apparel, he had to admit that there was a striking resemblance between him and the image of the iconic jolly old man.


At the top of the page one of the children had written the words: Santa Claus. He was momentarily stunned to see what had been written beneath the picture. In Norma Jorgensen's own handwriting and in large letters, the name seemed to jump from the page: Zanter Klauzen !

He stepped through the door and closed it behind him. He didn't notice that Norma had been standing in the doorway to the back of the house. He didn't realize she'd been watching him. He didn't hear her words when she exclaimed, "It's good to see you, Zanter Klauzen."

2080

6 comments:

Hale McKay said...

Dear readers,

I'm sure this is not the ending you might have envisioned or hoped for ...

I thought I'd try to come up with a story with a sad and tragic ending and still make it appear as a happy conclusion.

I don't know if i succeeded, but i hope you enjoyed the tale nonetheless.

Jack K. said...

As did I.

You are a masterful story teller and wordsmith.

A great story.

Thanks for sharing.

Sandee said...

You succeeded. I love the story from start to finish. You are indeed a master at spinning a great tale. Thank you.

Have a terrific day. :)

Hale McKay said...

Jack,

I'm happy you enjoyed and glad that the unexpected ending didn't ruin the story for you.

Hale McKay said...

Sandee,

I would appear that the unexpected ending was okay for you also.

Pattie- MM's Mom said...

It was a wonderful story with so many twists to keep you engaged. The ending was not what I expected at all. Yet, you are right, it was still a happy ending. I know that this is a story that I will recall for years to come. You are a talented man Michael. Thank you for sharing your precious gift.

Pattie