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Redemption(8)

By:Amy Miles



A feed trough runs along the northern stretch of fencing, its contents frozen solid. A small barn, barely large enough to hold a tractor, sits beyond the cabin. An outhouse stands to the right of the cabin.

The homestead is quaint but uniquely self-sufficient. Katia catches his curious gaze as she stamps snow from her boots on the wooden plank porch before unlatching the roughly hewn pine door. Heat pours forth from within as she slips inside.

Gabriel closes the door behind himself, careful to make sure the latch falls into place. The winds howl beyond the wooden walls, blustery and fierce. He pauses beside a window for a second to watch the snow tornadoes that carve a path through the pasture.

“Shoes,” she says sharply.

He turns to find her stoking the fire, the embers barely glowing red beneath the ash of the previous log. Glancing down, he realizes that the snow has dropped off him in clumps, melting into a puddle on her dirt floor.

“Sorry,” he mutters as he slips his feet from his sandals. He looks around for a towel to clean up his mess but quickly realizes that the task would he hopeless as mud clings to the hem of his robe.

Apart from the earthen floor, everything in the cabin appears to be spotless. Metal pots and pans hang from bent nails along the far wall. A small porcelain tub sits on a rickety table, no doubt used as a washbasin. A small shelf, probably carved from the towering Siberian Pines just beyond Katia’s homestead holds two metal cups, bowls and plates. A curtain, made from dingy canvas, hangs at the window.

“You’ve got a nice place here,” he says, pulling his robe up over his head. The heat from the new flames is stifling as he removes as many layers as he can while still remaining decent. He can’t imagine how unbearable it will be once it’s at full burn.

Katia nods as she rises from the stone hearth, a warm blaze spilling forth. Three logs form a tepee over the metal grate. The kindling catches the lower portions of bark. She bends and shakes out of her coat, shrinking nearly half in size as she emerges from the bulky firs. She bustles about the kitchen, clanging pots together.

“Sit,” she points toward the small seating area with a spoon as she carries a small pot over to the fire and places it on to heat.

Gabriel follows her direction to a low wooden chair, covered in ratty quilts. A faint musty scent rises from the fabric as he gingerly sinks down, wary of its creaky design. The chair is far from comfortable but judging by the bench across from him, she has offered him the best seat in the place.

Katia moves back to the pot. The contents slosh up the sides as she plops a few root vegetables into the thick soup. Gabriel scrunches up his nose at the hint of decay that greets him when he takes a breath.

Not wanting to appear rude, he looks to his right, glimpsing a small bed behind a draped partition. The curtain is a patchwork of old cloth, more holey than whole. The threadbare quilt that covers the straw bed hardly looks thick enough to keep a person warm through the long winter months.

In a single glance, he takes in the entire cabin. Bedroom sweeps into living room, which flows straight into the kitchen. It would only take him thirty steps to reach from one side to the next.

Craning his head back, Gabriel realizes two lines of rope are strung across the cabin, just below the ceiling. Thermal underwear and other unmentionables drape down, drying in the heat of the fire. He looks away, hoping she didn’t notice his gaze.

“You far from home.” He can tell it’s not a question from the knowing glint in her eye. She stirs the contents of her pot a couple more times before dipping her spoon into the lumpy soup, scooping out a bowlful.

She offers him the bowl, her gaze expectant. Steam rises from the thick broth. He stares at the small potatoes, not quite coated enough to hide the wrinkly black skin. His stomach churns and he holds his breath. He offers Katia a smile, shaking his head as he moves to set the bowl on a side table, realizing too late that there is none.

She smirks down at him, shifting her weight onto her right side as she crosses her arms over her chest. “No like?”

He grimaces, trying to sign a full stomach. “Not hungry.”

“Lie.” She laughs and grabs the bowl from his hand. She moves over to the bench and sinks back against the wooden frame. Crossing her legs in her lap, she digs into the soup with her fingers, plucking out a bit of the fatty mystery meat. Juice runs down her chin and she swipes it away with her sleeve.

Gabriel rubs the back of his neck and averts his gaze, uncomfortable with the slurping noises she is making. As he looks around the sparse kitchen, he notices that Katia has two of every bowl, cup and plate. “You live here alone?”

“Seneh.”

“Excuse me?” His back stiffens as he turns to look at her, shocked that she would know the name of his guardian angel. The gruff, scarred angel doesn’t seem the type to mingle with humans much.

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