Sam raised an arm and pointed a finger, “There it is. There’s the place.” Mark thought the little shack looked harmless enough. Sam went on, “It’s not supposed to be locked. He didn’t leave anything of value behind, except wood,” he added, “dry wood. I hope he remembered right about leaving a few pieces in there. They’ll be worth a lot to us.” “No doubt about it,” Mark confirmed. “There’s a barn around back,” Sam continued, “we can leave the horses in there overnight. Maybe we can find them something to nibble on. I’m sure they’re hungry.” Mark replied, “Yeah, I bet they are, so am I. Say, do you have any more of that jerky?” “Sure do, Kid.” Sam caught his own self in the act of downgrading, so he quickly reiterated with a congenial smile, “I mean Mark! Sorry, about that. I’ve got some flatbread left over, too. We’ll have to make do.” Mark easily forgave his forgetful boss for the minor gaffe. “Sounds good, Sam. I’m starving.”
The two men went on to get their horses into the barn. Luckily for the horses, just inside the doors they found a smallish pile of stale hay, and Mark divided it between the two famished beasts. Sam grabbed the remaining grub from his bag, and untied his bedroll from the saddle. Proudly showing it to Mark, he said, “I put a big candle and few matches in here, so we’ll have some light to start with. Of course, you know, we’ll have to sleep on the floor.” “I figured as much. No big deal,” Mark said. “I’ll need to let this blanket of mine dry out first, anyway.” With dire necessities in hand, they exited the barn, and barred the doors behind them. The drizzly freezing mix that had bedeviled the men all night finally ceased. Nothing but snow now fell from the sky, and the winds had calmed considerably. Crunching the crispy blades of dormant grass beneath their boots, Sam and Mark carefully stepped their way to the door in the back. As good fortune would have it, the door hadn’t been locked. With a sigh of relief, Sam raised his eyebrows at Mark and smiled, “Alright! We’re in luck.” Mark feigned a smile, and nodded silently. He wasn’t quite ready to declare that all was well. Not yet, anyway. Before he could even begin to feel lucky, he’d first have to see that the place was actually empty. That is to say, he wished to be positively certain of the fact that it was absolutely devoid of any and all mysterious objects, or any activity whatsoever that could be deemed suspicious.
Seeking refuge from the storm, the cold, wet, miserable men carried their belongings across the threshold, and made their way on into the dark but dry shelter. Sam knelt down, and laid his goods on the floor. Whereupon he immediately took to the task of finding a match. “Here they are, safe and sound.” Mark braced himself for the worst possible scenario. Preparing to scan the area, he stood still with eyes wide open. Sam struck the match on the floor, and sparks went flying. A glorious flame burst forth from the end of the wooden stick. Sam cupped his hand around it, and allowed the flame to take hold of the ingenious device that worked like magic. Appearing to Mark from out of the dark, came Sam’s glowing face. He was wearing a big grin, and baring his teeth. “Ah-ha!” Sam exclaimed. “Here we go!” Sam picked up the candle, and brought the wick to the flickering flame. A brighter light began to emerge, and it soon lit up the room ever so slightly. “Now we’re in business,” stated Sam. Nervously standing nearby at the ready, and on his alert for any signs of danger, Mark looked to the left and back to the right, as his darting eyes started to make a thorough investigation. Much to his relief, there wasn’t a soul in sight. Nothing was revealed that was out of the ordinary. A couple of crummy old chairs were tucked away in a corner, and a stove occupied the center of the room. A few valuable pieces of wood lay beside it. Other than that, the house was barren, just as Mark had hoped. No longer having a reason to be afraid, he let down his guard, and permitted himself to relax. Reflexively, he took a deep breathe, and fully exhaled a sigh.
Still shielding the flame with his hand, Sam stood up, and walked over to the stove. When his eyes caught sight of the logs on the floor, he was practically thrilled, and to a great extent his distress was alleviated. “Well, I’ll be. How about that? He did leave us some wood. Good for him.” Sam bent down, and opened the door. Then he brought the candle to the hole, and peeked inside. It was fairly free of ashes, and some half-burnt chunks of wood lay on the grill. “Well, okey-dokey then, we’re gonna have ourselves a fire!” He turned to look at Mark, and kindly gave him an order, saying, “C’mon over here, and hold this candle for me, while I get this thing to going.” Mark jumped at the chance to be of help, and quickly followed the order to the letter. Straightaway, Sam went to work, and in no time at all, the logs were catching fire. As soon as the flames began to leap out the stove, Sam reached for the latch on the door, and shut it tight. Then Sam did something that all men do, he took a few steps back, and proudly admired his work. “There we go,” he said, assuring Mark that everything was under control. Moving nearer once again, Sam held up his hands, and felt the warmth penetrate the skin of his palms. “Ah, nice and toasty! How you like that?” Mark blew out the candle, and set it down. After raising his own hands close to the stove, he answered the question. “Man, oh, man, Sam, that feels great! Really great! Way to go! I can’t wait to get dried off a bit. I need to find a place to hang my hat.” Mark scanned the room again, “Hey, we can use those chairs over there.”
On his own initiative, Mark went to the corner, and grabbed the wobbly chairs. “We can hang our coats on these, too.” He set one down by Sam, and said, “Here you go. Be careful about sitting on it though. They’re pretty shaky.” Sam appreciated the gesture, and looked the Kid in the eye. “Thanks, Mark! I think I’ll just hang my stuff on it for now. I’m gonna roll my blanket out, and hit the floor as soon as I get a bite to eat. Mark frowned, and with a sad voice he said, “My blanket’s all wet. It’s gonna have to dry for a little while. I don’t know if I can get to sleep now, anyway. Maybe, after I eat.” Mark took off his coat, and hung it on the chair, along with his hat. Sam did the same, and then grabbed the remaining grub. He tore the loaf of bread in half, and gave Mark his share. “That ought to help fill you up, and here, take as much jerky as you want. It gives me heartburn.” “Thanks, Sam!” Mark replied gratuitously. “Don’t mind if I do. My canteen here still has water in it, so help yourself to a drink whenever you need it.” “That’s good,” said Sam, “I’ll need it to wash this down. The bread is getting a little too dry, and the jerky is chewier than all get out.”
As the men ate in silence, the fire crackled away, and the room continued to warm. The ambiance allowed the two to lose themselves in thought. Among other things, Sam was wondering if the Deputy would show up in the morning, for his mind mostly concerned itself with business matters left undone, and how he would deal with it all come sunrise. Mark was living more in the present. His mind was on a wide variety of terrible things that might occur if he laid down, shut his eyes, and fell fast asleep. Mark knew better than to tell Sam what he was thinking. Not that anything strange was bound to happen. He didn’t want to believe in that sort of outcome, anyway. But having to deny it made him feel foolish. Nevertheless, he kept quiet, and they both finished their food without saying another word.