The Fall of Man

by C. N. Pitts © 2003

Dawn broke, spearing the trees with light and setting the multi-hued fall leaves ablaze in a riot of color. Across Sullivan’s pond it came, leaving a trail of sparks dancing on the wave tops in its wake. Past the tiny boathouse, up over the shoreline and finally illuminating the one room cabin that sat nestled snugly in the embrace of the trees on the other side. It was one of those perfect postcard moments that brought tourists from around the world to Maine every year with their Winnebagos and their cameras, filled with the vain and futile misconception that they could somehow capture that beauty and take it home with them like a genie in a bottle.

A lone sunbeam found its way through two of the boards that had been hastily nailed over the windows inside the cabin and bored into Carl Deaver’s eye. He blinked groggily but didn’t move from his position on the couch facing the door. The light didn’t bother him much; he hadn’t slept in three days. Or was it four? He’d lost count. In any event, he hadn’t slept since it happened.

The memories hit him again like punches from a younger, faster boxer, but he pushed them away this time. He’d relived them enough over the last few days as it was. It was almost time for him to go and he wanted to spend a last few moments thinking about the happier times he’d had here at the cabin with Katrina and Emily. He lay the shotgun down beside him on the couch. Ears tensed for the slightest hint of a sound from outside, he leaned carefully over and withdrew his last bottle of Rolling Rock ale from the empty case on the floor. He cracked it open, drained half, and then resettled the shotgun into his lap with one finger on the trigger.

The gun and the cabin had both been his father’s. A lifelong pacifist, Carl had always sworn that he would never pick up a gun, but as he blearily surveyed the room it occurred to him that his convictions, like the cabin, had become only so much wreckage in the face of recent events. He let his mind’s eye take a last look at it the way it had been.

Over there the bed that he and Kat had shared so many nights during their college vacations, and later with Emily after she had been born. The massive stone fireplace over which the shotgun used to hang merely for decoration. (He’d kept a fire going so they couldn’t get down the chimney). The table where they’d all eaten breakfast that day, covered now with splinters of wood and shattered glass where he’d had to stand on it to nail the window shut. It had happened and they had come and now everything was broken, everything in ruins. Especially him.

The beer was gone. Kat and Emily were gone. It was time now for him to go too.

Carl stood, cradled the shotgun in his arms, and slowly made his way to the door. Through the haze of his fatigue he could hear them outside, shuffling and scratching as they prowled around on the porch. They were waiting for him, he knew, as they had been for days. Well let them wait a little longer. He had one last thing to take care of before he went outside to greet them. Hanging beside the door was a photograph of Kat and Emily in a simple, silver frame. It had been their gift to him last Father’s day. He used the butt of the shotgun to smash the glass, then slipped the picture free, kissed it, and tucked it into his shirt pocket facing outward. Taking his battered Red Sox hat from the coat rack, he perched it on top of his head, then with a deep breath he unbarred and opened the door.

The animals were there, thousands of them, every denizen of zoo and forest and home imaginable staring at him with inscrutable, marble black eyes. Carl had thought that they might attack him the instant he showed himself, after all the last time he had stood here it had been to watch in horror as his wife and daughter were dragged screaming into the woods. That had been the moment when they took back the world. He’d heard about it on his little radio that night, after he was back in the cabin and they were still trying to knock down his hasty defenses rather than outwait him. Every creature on earth rising up as one against their masters. Cities in ruins. Global chaos. Then nothing. The broadcasts had died before the batteries did.

Yet now they merely waited.

“I’m coming,” said Carl at last, and he started down the path towards the pond. The assembled creatures parted to let him pass. As he walked he began talking to them. “I was on your side you know,” he said, tears running unnoticed down his face. “In the seventies I was heavily into ecological protesting. Treehugging and all that. I always recycle, care about the environment… hell, I even voted for Nader. Dolphin free tuna!” He gave a chirpy ‘thumbs up’ to a nearby bear. It looked at him malevolently.

He finished the rest of the walk in silence. At the waters edge Carl turned to face them, placing the barrel of the shotgun in his mouth. Good, he could just reach the trigger with his thumb. The animals stood watching him like a jury.

He suddenly realized how quiet it was. No planes, no boats, no cars. And the air smelled cleaner than it ever had before. He dropped the gun.

“The thought occurs that maybe its all better this way,” he said, falling to his knees. “You know what? Come get me. You’ve earned it.”

He spread his arms, closed his eyes, and waited for them.

x x x

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