“The roof needs new moss and thatch,” Tomek said, yawning from inside his bunk.
“Have fun with that,” Drake replied. “I have about 40 traps to check and we still have that venison hanging, waiting to be butchered.”
Tomek grew annoyed with his brother in the years that Drake was hunting. It was Tomek’s favorite job and he loved every minute of it.
“You do understand that if we don’t get the roof completely mossed over and some more field grass growing on top of us the entire house will be visible?”
Tomek’s sarcastic tone was evident, but was met with a heavier dose of snark.
“You should probably get out of bed, then, and get to it. You know, the roof is very important Tomek.” Drake smirked while rolling over.
“You think?” Tomek replied, keeping the sarcasm at a high level.
“All the time. You should try it now and then. It won’t kill ya,” Drake said with his head buried into the soft pillow laughing.
The truth is both of them knew that today, the roof was important. Going down from three workers to two did make it harder on the boys until they eventually realized exactly how many supplies Uncle required just for himself. Scaling back on their food production, weapons and other supplies allowed them time to work on the things that mattered. Today it was the roof.
The cabin was a simple, one-room design with built-in defenses. It nested into the hillside on three sides and when the roof was properly camouflaged, the small cabin was virtually invisible to anyone beyond thirty yards away. Even the door was carved from a massive oak that had been struck by lightning several years before. It looked like a solid piece that lay on the ground, but was hollow and swung open on wooden hinges. Uncle had built it this way. His design relied on the hill for protection in the harsh winter and cooler underground temps in the summer.
Not only was their home adequate protection from the weather and casual flyovers, it was also rigged to be the ideal stronghold. Over the years they had dug a simple tunnel system that led to a room draped in rocks from floor to ceiling. This room happened to be downhill from the main living area and was dug directly under the river. Uncle used this room as both the kitchen and furnace. A simple stove was crafted from the existing rock edge and the chimney pipe ran up and into the river. This allowed them to cook inside and heat the cabin undetected.
Uncle had designed the special chimney pipe with a one-way valve on the end. The smoke would be released underwater and never become airborne. The wood stove also did a remarkable job at radiating upwards and heating the rest of the home. The main living area was small, but comfortable. Wood-crafted floors with loose limestone gravel near the door that would alert them when someone walked in, no matter where they were located within the depths of the tunnel system.
Uncle and the twins had frequently layered the walls and ceilings with birch bark over the years. The white tone of the bark gathered and reflected light from their torch lamps and combined with a natural mineral derived from gypsum called alabaster, which was taken from the river muck. The interior had fireproof, concrete-like consistency. The naturally formed walls held back the hill’s dirt walls and was strong enough to hang the handmade counters and pantries they had built. Above the door on the inside of the cabin hung a framed Band-Aid.
“No single part of the Band-Aid can do the job alone,” Uncle often told the boys. “Three parts must work together, okay?” Uncle lowered his voice. “The two sides can stick together and hold on. However, if they are joined by the middle piece, then they can not only hold on, but they can hold on together and heal. Three parts make it strong and give it reason to hold on.” The boys were not surprised when a Band-Aid reference made it into their life lessons as “Band-Aid” was Uncle’s nickname growing up as a young teen. As it was told to them by Uncle the nickname had been earned for all the hours he spent working as a medic on his father’s ambulance.
Table, chairs, pantries, cupboards, weapon racks and beds rounded out the rest of the cabin’s charm. It was all they needed. It was home.
The charm, however, was deceiving. What was built to help survive and hide was also built to kill. Multiple passages were dug that led to deep pitfall traps. They had covered the holes in the ground with ferns camouflaging the 12-foot drop onto razor-sharp spikes. The food supplies also were rigged to kill, if needed. A system was devised by Uncle that would punish anyone who happened across the cabin and decided to raid their stash. A simple storage mantra of After 5, Stay Alive was taught to the boys. This meant the first five items on the shelves had been tainted.
Uncle taught the boys about how people had become lazy on the outside and could not produce or supply their own food. They had been trained by society to grab the first thing on the shelf in a store. Tomek and Drake were taught these things about people. They were taught tendencies and baiting techniques about everything, especially humans. The After 5, Stay Alive rule meant the boys ate the stored food starting from the back of their supplies.
Uncle’s favorite elixir of toxin was readily available in the Michigan woods. A combination of a semi-tall, white, capped mushroom he referred to as “the Death Angel,” along with a sweet-smelling dark berry called Nightshade. The mushrooms were not abundant in their area, but when
they encountered it, they collected as much as they could carry. Luckily, a little bit went a long way in terms of their intended uses for it. Eating just a sliver of the mushrooms would promptly shut down the liver, kidneys and stomach organs. In less than two hours, death. Uncle knew the process could be accelerated if it directly entered one’s bloodstream.
Nightshade is a tall and bushy plant that grows abundantly throughout their home riverside area. The flowers grow in long clusters and the berries are purple, black and are flat. The entire plant is poisonous, particularly the roots. The boys knew all too well the damage the poison could do.
Uncle had taught the boys to mix the Nightshade into a stew with river water and boil overnight. The sugars in the berries would caramelize and the chemicals would draw out of the fungi, leaving them with a sappy substance of pure, natural, chemical death. The boys remembered clearly seeing it put to use the first time. It was important to Uncle that they learn this lesson firsthand.
Uncle had gone to using this type of poison on each of his arrow tips after shooting an elk one day, many years before, and watching the arrow shaft penetrate deep into the bull’s shoulder plate. The bull had taken off and made it closer to civilization than Uncle had liked. As good of a tracker as Uncle was, even he knew he could not find the elk after the shot. He was sure he mortally wounded the prize bull but could not risk tracking it into the small nearby town.
“Taking a life for no reason is wrong,” Uncle preached after each kill. He vowed to never again lose an animal he had wounded. “If you take a life, you must make reason of it in order to release the dead’s soul.”
To make the poison’s effectiveness clear to the twins, Uncle trapped a deer in a trail noose designed to hold its prey but not kill it. The boys walked upon her slowly as she thrashed and jumped, trying unsuccessfully to flee the confines of her prison. Uncle struck the deer with a sap-dipped dart from his blowgun in her rear hind quarter.
The doe spun around and dropped to her knees. Looking directly at them, she lay on her side where they could see her chest rise and fall with each breath. Then it happened. Less than three minutes had passed. The Nightshade had instantly frozen her nervous system, as it was designed by nature to do. The toxins brought her to the ground where the Death Angel shut down her organs and she died laying there, staring at the boys.
Those three were the last thing she saw. Uncle often dreamed about that doe. Only in his vivid dreams, the deer could talk. The dream always had the same ending just before he awoke. The doe stops fighting, draws her last breath, looks to him at that moment of death with two spotted fawns behind her and says,
Stay tuned till next week for the next chapter from the Twins of Prey by W.C. Hoffman. Want to buy the entire book now?