Luken peered through the brush silently wishing he’d escaped when he had the chance. Now he’d have to find a way to creep out of the old lady’s line of vision without making so much as a sound. He surveyed the piles of dried leaves adorning his escape route.
This was a fine pickle. If he took a step in any direction the crackling leaves underfoot would betray him . If she went down to the creek for water, he’d be able to high tail it out of there
Maybe this was a crazy plan. What ever made him think he could pull this off alone? Luken sat breathlessly still pondering his options as the old lady went about laying firewood just 15 feet directly in front of him. Normally, he would have been able to complete his secret mission as she snored away the mid-afternoon hours on a lumpy mattress at the back of her lean-to.
He’d been observing her from a distance for a few weeks now trying to figure out the best time to put his plan into action. It would require about an hour to set everything into place, and of course the plan would backfire completely if she ever suspected anyone knew about her little piece of paradise carved out in the deep woods just a half mile behind the clinic. She’d be hiking further up the valley in a New York minute with her one bag of worldly goods if she sensed anyone had intruded on her territory. Luken didn’t even know her name.
The biting wind sent a deep shiver rolling up his back. Winter was not his favorite time of year, but it certainly had a way of stirring his compassion. The fire pit began to sputter and spark as the old woman fanned at the dried wood with a piece of tattered cardboard. Raw heat; it certainly looked enticing. She leaned in closely to the orange flames that were now dancing wildly through the fire pit, pulling her threadbare sweater snugly around her chin. Luken felt a knot rising in his throat…she would freeze to death out here in a few more weeks.
The sound of her voice startled him. He’d never heard her utter so much as a word until now. Her song echoed through the woods, ravaging the blanket of quiet that hangs in the atmosphere just before snowfall.
“Ju-ust as I a-am wit o-out a plea…” she hoisted the water buckets over first one shoulder and then the next.
“but da-at dy blood…” She turned directly toward Luken’s position in the brush, peering intently for just a second as though she instinctively felt his intrusion. Shrugging off her intuitive pause, she turned back toward the footpath. “waaaaas sheeeed for meeeee” A pair of startled doves took flight as the off key notes of a long forgotten hymn filled the air, now heavy with the winter mix that would soon deal it’s treacherous hand. Luken knew he had to act quickly. With the sudden turn of the wind and the encroaching clouds, his entire plan had changed.
Her song paced the distance for him…as she reached what he calculated to be the point of no return, he sprung into action. An antelope could not have traversed the thicket between the clinic and the lean-to any more quickly than he did. Half spoken breath prayers spilled over his lips as he reached the wagon bed filled with life giving supplies. He wouldn’t have as much time as he’d hoped…but as fate would have it, it was now or never.
The precision was perfect as he rode back into the clearing, supplies in tow. He’d leave the wagon and the horse. There wasn’t enough time to unload much more than the Christmas tree and a few special packages to place beneath it. He listened as the weak strains of ‘Amazing Grace’ filtered through the trees, signaling her return.
The little fir tree stood proudly in it’s bucket, glimmering in the glow of sunset. Soft white flakes nestled silently into the gifts beneath it. Boots, a woolen coat, dry goods, canned milk…maybe enough supplies on the wagon to make it through winter.
“Merry Christmas, Dr. Luken!” Her voice split the silence, causing him to freeze in his tracks.
Luken cleared his throat, blinking hard. How did she know?
“Merry Christmas!” Luken chuckled as he returned the greeting and headed back toward the clearing. He didn’t even know her name.
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