After three days of travel through the northern mushkeg, the lone trapper made his way to a small clearing to break camp for the night. The sun was fading in the western sky, clouds hung low in long dark bands on the horizon signalling colder weather to come. It was autumn and this was the second season that the young trapper was out on his own. He was out ferrying supplies for the winter, scouting out new locations, finding new beaver houses and estimating how many animals to gather and to see if his efforts could be worth it for the upcoming trapping season.

It was three days since he left the community to paddle his small birch bark canoe to this remote corner of the endless wilderness. He knew where his family trapping grounds lay and how far they stretched. His territory was 20 miles north of the nearest trapper and 30 miles south of the next and no one occupied either the west and east due to the thick endless expanse of impenetrable swamps. He knew he was on his own.

There was no rush or need to accommodate anyone except himself. He worked methodically and carefully to gather and split enough wood for the night, clear enough land for himself, start a small fire and prepare a meal. The weather was cool but not cold so he opted to sleep out in the open and laid his small canvas tent on the ground to use as a mat, his floor, his bed and his living space.

The darkness descended and the orange light of the fire lit up the bushes and the stunted short pines around him. The wilderness was quiet and from time to time a light evening breeze rustled the dense bushes. He picked up the corners of the canvas floor and lifted them up around his shoulders to keep warm. He poked at the dwindling fire and the glowing coals as his mind wandered aimlessly into his many worries. He had worked continuously all day and never had a moment to think until now.

He worried about his new fiance and if she would stay with him. He wondered if he could become a successful husband. He worried about how well he would do this year and if he could make enough money to survive and fantasized about making more so that they could start a nice life. He recounted his supplies, making sure he had everything he needed and that everything was accounted for. He wondered about his older brother who was doing the same north of him. He smiled at the thought of his younger brother who had decided to attend school in the big city. He remembered his mother who had died three years before in a house fire and he felt sad about how his father now lived alone.

He grew tired in his thoughts and he felt comfortable sitting cross legged in front of the deminishing flames and glowing embers. He looked up at the moonless sky. The clouds had cleared and the heavens opened up to a dazzling display of millions of stars. The dark sky was so complete that he could pick out points of light between the points of light. The combined glow of so many stars illuminated the forest and he could distinctly see the treeline, the bushes and the lake nearby.

As he stared up the heavens a fist sized rock scattered part of the fire in front of him.

He knew exactly what it was but could not comprehend it. It was a rock. He stoked the fire and set several new logs to brighten up the flames to shed more light. It was a rock. How did a rock end up here in the mushkeg where gravel and stone are hard to find? He also realized that it couldn’t have just fallen from a tree or kicked by an animal. It was obvious to him that a person had thrown it. There was no other way that rock had travelled through the air to hit his fire like that.

His senses grew sharp. He looked around him at the darkness. The air was still. There was no wind. He stood up and listened but heard nothing. He called out and threw sticks and logs into the dark bushes hoping to startle a hidden animal or bird but nothing happened.

Then he shouted out questions and statements asking if anyone was there but no one answered.

He checked his canoe to see if anything was disturbed. He had no flashlight and did not need a candle or flame. His vision was adjusted to the darkness and the dim blue light of the stars illuminated his surroundings enough for him to see where things had been. He felt around with his hands to check his boat, his supplies, the ropes and the equipment he carried. Everything was satisfactory and nothing was missing or disturbed.

Although he had been tired, he was now fully alert, wondering, watching and apprehensive. He admitted to himself that he was scared but he also knew not to panic. He was alone and he quickly summarized the possibilities. If it were a person, were they alone or were there others? If there was a person or people around, were they friend or foe? He had a month’s supply of food and plenty of equipment, all of which were valuable in the north. Someone could hurt him or even kill him if they were terrible enough to take his things. No one would know what happened to him for days or weeks. If he were murdered, it would be easy to dismiss his death as another unsolvable accident, an animal attack or a drowning.

He continued his investigation and circled his little camp several times hoping to find something or someone. There was nothing and no one. He stopped again and again to listen to the darkness but all he could hear was the crackling of his dying fire and nothing else.

An hour had passed and he no longer felt any more reason to do anything further. He sat back down by his fire, fed it a few new split logs, wrapped the canvas around him again and wondered about the thrown rock. Did he just imagine it? Was he hallucinating? Was he panicking because he was alone? Again, he looked at where the rock had landed and in the light of the bright new flames he could see the ashes the stone had spread on the ground. It was a thrown rock. He couldn’t deny it.

He sat in the dark and stared at the black in front of him. He kept trying to find small differences in the darks and deep shadows hoping to notice something. He replayed the event in his mind, trying to understand how and why it may have happened.

As he wondered, a new feeling began to well up inside him. He felt as if someone or something was around. He couldn’t feel if it were good or bad, he just sensed that there was a change in the air.

Someone or something was watching and waiting.

  • Track_Shovel@slrpnk.net
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    5 months ago

    Overall, this isn’t bad.

    A couple things:

    it’s Muskeg not Mushkeg.

    It’s Diminish not deminish.

    Unless it’s been freezing at night there is no way anyone would sleep outside otherwise they would be eaten alive by bugs (trust me).

    You don’t have to state that the protagonist is sad his mother died, but it’s good you communicate feelings about his fiance because we don’t know their relationship. Conversely, we can understand how someone would feel if a parent died so you don’t need to explicitly state it.

    • IninewCrowOP
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      5 months ago

      Thanks for the feedback … it’s just a fun exercise to try to come up with something new on your own these days, especially when AI can autogenerate it for you in an instant.

      I come from northern Ontario and I’ve spent lots of time in the bush camping … yes, summers in the northern muskeg is a horror story onto itself (that might be a good topic for another story). One of the worst experiences with insects I ever had in the northern muskeg was in making the mistake to step outside my tent to fix a radio antenna at dusk … in the middle of June on a windless hot evening. The mosquitos were so thick, I wrapped a blanket around my head and left a hole to breathe and to see what I was doing. Within ten minutes,I was choking on mosquitoes. The insects will drive you insane in the summer if you don’t know what you are doing out there.

      But in the autumn, the outdoors are liveable (relatively speaking) and even when it starts to become a bit cooler, there are far less biting insects around.

      • Track_Shovel@slrpnk.net
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        5 months ago

        auto-generate it in an instance

        Not necessarily the worst idea for getting inspiration. You could then tailor it to your liking and make it your own.

        I spent my 20s stomping through fens all summer, so the bug factor is not lost on me. Hence the comment about frost/cold weather.

        Why is the protagonists cannoe birch bark? Those are uncommon nowadays - a timeframe indicator might help with minor details like this

        • IninewCrowOP
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          5 months ago

          I think I might have been overthinking it too much without explanation … the idea that this was a beaver trapper using a birch bark canoe in the northern wilderness would automatically place him mid 20th century (1940s to 1960s), a period when trappers were becoming more capable with new equipment but not wealthy enough to afford a modern canoe. The whole trapping culture basically collapsed in the late 1970s up north. Not to mention, a good birch bark canoe was far easier to get, use, repair and maintain in the north than a modern freighter canoe, which are big and heavy and need specialized materials, oils and paints to fix them.

          Great to hear feedback because it gives me guidance for what to do next.

  • livus@kbin.social
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    5 months ago

    I really liked this a lot. It was really atmospheric and the tension build to the end was great.