The rain was coming down in heavy, icy sheets by the time they found the cabin. It might have been a blessing that the four were already chilled to the bone, as the downpour didn’t feel quite so cutting – though their pride prevented anyone from overtly complaining about the total uselessness of the layers of overpriced hiking gear they were persuaded to purchase by the cheery saleswoman back in the city.
“This is the place, right?” Evan sputtered through the rain, his entire body quivering as he forced out the words with as much spittle, “Just tell me it’s the fucking place!”
Robert was shaking too, but was determined to not let it show it as he fumbled in his countless pockets in search of the rental keys. Beside him, Eric pressed his nose against the glass, his muffled words totally lost by the roar of the rain in everyone else’s ears. After a few agonizing couple of seconds, Robert finally managed to unlock the door with a cry of success. His triumph cut short when he was nearly bowled over by Evan and Aaron who clamored for shelter.
Once the quartet made their way inside, the rain seemed a bit more of a distant nuisance than the treachery it was just moments ago, replaced instead with the discomfort of cold and the bother of the dark. Evan was seconds away from stripping off every item of clothing on his person, apparently desperate to find solace in being dry; Aaron was not too far behind, stripping away his jacket while making a beeline for the small fire pit he illuminated in the center of the room. Meanwhile, Eric found a light switch that didn’t work and quickly ascended the creaking stairwell in silence, leaving Robert to man the torches and direct the group as they spread out across the room.
Down to his underclothes, Evan chattered through his teeth, “Somebody get that fire going, eh?”
Robert replied, irritation poisoning his tone, “Start the fire with what, mate?”
“With fucking wood!” “Well, you tell me where’s the fucking-” “I never-“
Aaron shushed the pair and hovered around the pit with his torch slowly scanning the walls. Opposite the door, his cone of light found a heavy metal hatch. “You think that’s connected to the wood storage?”
“One way to find out.” Robert bounded over, leaving Evan to shiver by himself, “Oh shit, it’s locked.”
“Why the fuck would it be locked!?” “Does the key you used-” “Would you shut the fuck up?”
“Good news – no power at all.” Following his announcement from above, Eric returned, his gear already discarded somewhere. He looked around, confused, while Robert unlocked the hatch and with a hurrah, pulled out a few hefty logs of wood.
It took only a couple of minutes for the group to assemble a sort of wood pile (“You’re supposed to make, like, a pyramid with it.” “I thought it was supposed to be a box.” “Let me do it, man.”) and light the beginnings of a fire. Evan hovered over the pit, hands outstretched as he sniffled through the smoke, while Eric and Aaron shared a cigarette. Robert was in charge of stoking the fire, but to little success.
Robert poked blindly into the smoke, “This wood is pretty wet.”
“Yeah,” Eric mumbled around the cigarette, “No shit.”
Aaron lightly punched the offending fellow on the arm before plucking the cigarette out of his frown, “That’s not helping.”
“Maybe we should put more wood on?” “That’ll smother it.” “Just leave it alone.” “What about the smoke?” “You’re standing under the chimney, you-“
Aaron again shushed everyone, passing the cigarette back to Eric before tilting his head towards the stairs, “Is everything ready?”
“To get murdered in this cabin?” “Shit, I almost forgot.” “But it’s still raining, isn’t it?”
The group went quiet, and they suddenly realized that the constant background noise of the waterfall above their head had receded completely.
“Well. What’s the time?”
Robert grabbed his bag and hurriedly began to climb the stairs, with Aaron, Eric , and Evan following in decreasing degrees of haste. The rear of the group mumbled idle protests about the weather, but nonetheless everyone was soon on the second floor and out the small door to the balcony with a certain buzz of excitement.
“I don’t think it’ll clear up in time…” Evan checked his phone, the blue light illuminating a grim expression. He eyed everyone incredulously but sighed, throwing up his hands in a ‘whatever shall I do’ gesture before unpacking the large bag he brought up with him. “Get a light on this, will you?”
The small black telescope was set and prepared by the time Robert finished cracking open and passing everyone else a beer. Content, Evan sat back and took a swig from his own bottle, only occasionally double-checking an app on his phone and peering up at the sky habitually. “It’d suck if we came all this way and couldn’t see it.”
Another phone screen illuminated the group, Aaron’s steadying tone reassuringly reporting: “Says here that was a cloudburst – the sky might still open up.”
The conversation scattered from there. Eric smoked another cigarette in relative quiet while Aaron showed Robert pictures of his son. Evan huddled his knees to his chest, teeth chattering as he continued to struggle against the cold. Eventually he retrieved for himself a blanket.
“That reminds me – did you call Fran?” “No, service is shaky. I should have done it this morning.” “She’s going to be pissed.” “She’ll be all right.” “You still married?” “Yeah, I think so.” “Dating’s no fun right now.” “I bet.” “Sucks.” “Honestly, I wouldn’t know what to do with myself.” “Yeah you would.”
Robert chuckled and lifted his beer to his lips, but abruptly stopped, “Whoa, whoa.” He pointed with the neck of his bottle, “Stars?”
“Oh shit. Turn off the screens.”
The darkness above seemed to dissipate before their eyes, and a field of lights opened up across the sky. Colors that mingled between red, blue, and purple were painted with sweeping brush strokes across a blue-black canvass, each pinpoint of light illuminating another, deeper color that seemed to resonate between reality and a perception beyond mortal ken.
“There! Below the Big Dipper!” “Where?” “Below the Big Dipper!” “I can’t really-“
“I’ve got it!” Evan pulled himself away from the lens, “It’s locked, go ahead.”
Without another word, Robert pushed Eric forward, and they all took turns to look at the icy behemoth caught by Evan’s telescope, their exchanges reduced to only excited smiles and the occasional contented sigh after a swallow of beer. Time expanded, and the empty bottles lined up against the balcony’s railing continued to multiply. Eric’s cigarettes were eventually replaced with something a little stronger, and Evan had forgotten about the cold.
Someone sniffled in the dark, then coughed, “It’ll come back around in about six thousand years. Meet here again?”
“Sure.” “Yeah.” “Absolutely.” “Right on.”