A Zen Romance
Death Has Some Fun

The Smoker

This week's prompt was a beautiful photo of autumn trees, with the sun shining through onto a path.  Out for a walk, exploring, you hear a faint cry in the distance, So, you check it out. 

Mine is 891 words.

The Smoker

Henry hadn't planned on dying early. He loved his job as a top securities trader, and couldn't see giving up its challenges, as well as the high-rolling lifestyle that went with it.

Until he died.

Twice in fact: once in the ambulance, and once on the operating table. After the bypass operation his choice had been to retire from his high-pressure job as a securities trader and live a quieter but longer life, or not.

It was an easy decision. With the huge buyout from his partners he′d bought a house with acres of trees behind it, his own little forest to explore with his new nature books and his old camera. And his new dog, Hunter, an adorable but typically wilful Lab.

Henry had thought he′d miss his old lifestyle, and friends, but had easily slipped into the slower lifestyle of his new home, even starting up a photo web page. The nearby village had enough shops for his basic needs, including a grocery, library, coffee shop, and a friendly little pub. It was there, over a pint, that a local had cautioned him about his new home..

″You have the old Spencer place? Nice piece of property, just don't stray too far into it. People have seen some strange things back there, some backwards people..″

As soon as he′d got home, he′d checked his deed. It showed a lake and some hills way at the back, so here he was, on a beautiful fall day, exploring with Hunter. He′d packed a small knapsack with lunch for them both, strapped a sharp knife to his belt, and grabbed his walking stick. They′d gradually worked their way back, with Hunter finding exciting smells to follow and Henry finding great photos for his website. Nothing strange, so far. He was trying to frame a shot through the bright reds and yellows of some maples when he heard a cry in the distance.

Hunter took off immediately, ignoring all of Henry′s calls to return. No choice but to hurry after him. As he ran after his dog, he noticed the haze was actually smoke. Was his forest on fire? Some careless hunter? He tried to dial 911, but there was no cell service back here. As he ran down the path, he passed some No Hunting signs—good to see those. The trail led down to a small clearing, filled with smoke, and beyond it, a lake. A woman stood at the foot of the hill. She was tall slim, with the sun glinting through her tousled red hair, and a rifle in her hands.

Pointed at him.

He skidded to a stop.

″Just hold it right there, buddy,″ she said. ″What are you doing on my land?″

Hunter bounded back to him, tail wagging, eager to show off his new best friend he′d just found.

″Your land? No, this is not—. ″

″It starts at those signs you passed,″ she said. ″And continues past my cabin, around the lake and back into the hills. You′re lucky I didn′t take a shot.″

″Sorry,″ he said. ″I smelled the smoke and thought there was a fire.″

″It′s my smoker. Hickory smoke, as opposed to the surrounding maples. I shot a deer this week—the signs are for trespassers, not me—and I was preserving some of the meat. Look, this is not a public trail, and some city guy bought the land you just came from. Probably a big lawyer. So you really need to find another place to hike."

Henry nodded and spread his hands. ″Sorry. I apologize for barging in like this. I'm the city guy. My name is Henry, I′m the new owner of the Spencer place. And not a big lawyer, I was only a securities trader, now retired from it. There's just me and Hunter here. But I heard a cry – are you ok?″

She lowered the gun and smiled. ″Sorry, I should be less jumpy. It′s just that being out here on my own I have to be careful. As for the cry, well, I managed to jam my finger in the smoker door. It′s okay now.″ She leaned the gun against a tree stump and held out a hand.

″Let′s start again. I′m Wendy, I live back here on some land my dad left me. I made a bag of money in software, so I also got to retire. Pleased to meet you, Henry.″

He stepped forward, Hunter at his side, and took her hand. She had a firm grip and a nice smile. ″Pleased to meet you too. And this goofy dog is Hunter. I decided to explore a bit, after somebody at the pub cautioned me about strange people back here.″

She laughed. ″That would be me, I guess. I′m a little stricter than my dad was about letting people on my land for hunting or trapping. Some of the locals got their nose a little out of joint, but they′ll get used to it, there's lots of other places around here for them.″

He shrugged. ″You don′t seem strange to me, and Hunter definitely approves. Do you mind if I take a few photos of the lake before I head back?″

″Be my guest,″ she said. ″And you′re welcome to stop in for a cool beer on your way back. I have a couple in my fridge.″


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Joyce Juzwik

Looks like Henry stumbled upon a very nice neighbor. Good thing he didn't listen to the warnings. Wendy seems like she just wants to keep to herself, so letting folks believe you're strange will certainly keep them away. She does appear to be agreeable to Henry coming to visit though. I like this story. It gives off a good feeling, but it never gets sugary. You never know what you'll find when you go exploring. Sometimes, you may even find a friend.

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