The Cabin at the End of the World(7)

“Why is it broken?”

The sounds can now be heard plainly and without them having to be quiet. Familiar sounds, feet tramping and stomping their way down the dirt road, like earlier when Leonard showed up. Where did Leonard come from anyway? She should’ve asked. She knows she should’ve. He had to have come from far away. This time it sounds like a whole bunch of Leonards (or bears? Maybe this time it’s actually bears) are walking down the road.

Wen asks, “Are there more people coming? Are they your friends? Are they nice?”

Leonard says, “Yes, there are more people coming. You are my friend now, Wen. I wouldn’t lie to you about that. Just like I won’t lie to you about them. I don’t know if I’d call them my friends, exactly. I don’t know them very well, but we have an important job to do. The most important job in the history of the world. I hope you can understand that.”

Wen stands up. “I have to go now.” The sounds are closer. They are at the end of the driveway but not quite around the bend and the trees yet. She doesn’t want to see these other people. Maybe if she doesn’t see them, refuses to see them, they’ll go away. They are so loud. Maybe instead of bears it’ll be Leonard’s giant monsters and dinosaurs coming to get them both.

Leonard says, “Before you go inside to get your dads, you have to listen to me. This is important.” Leonard crawls out of his sitting position and onto one knee, and his eyes brim with tears. “Are you listening?”

Wen nods her head and takes a step back. Three people turn the corner onto the driveway: two women and one man. They are dressed in blue jeans and button-down shirts of different colors; black, red, and white. The taller of the two women has white skin and brown hair, and her white shirt is a different kind of white than Leonard’s. His shirt glows like the moon, whereas hers is dull, washed, almost gray. Wen catalogs the apparent coordination in how Leonard and the three strangers dress as something important to tell her dads. She will tell them everything and they will know why the four of them are all wearing jeans and button-down shirts, and maybe her dads can explain why the three new strangers are carrying strange long-handled tools.

Leonard says, “You are a beautiful person, inside and out. One of the most beautiful people I’ve ever met, Wen. Your family is perfect and beautiful, too. Please know that. This isn’t about you. It’s about everyone.”

None of the tools are scythes but they look like menacing, nightmarish versions of them, with rough scribbles at the ends of the poles instead of smooth crescent blades. All three of the wooden handles are long and thick, perhaps once owning shovel blades or rake heads. The stocky man wearing a red shirt has a flower of rusty hand shovel and/or trowel blades, nailed and screwed to the end of the handle. On the other end of his handle, pointed down by his feet, is a thick, blunt, red block of dented and chipped metal, the head of a well-used sledgehammer. Now that he’s closer, his handle looks bigger, thicker, like he’s holding a boat’s oar with the paddle sawed off. Even as Wen walks backward, toward the cabin, she sees the tops of screws and nail heads haphazardly ringing both ends of his wooden handle like fly hairs. The shorter woman wears a black shirt, and at the end of her wooden handle is a pinwheel of raking claws, crooked metal fingers jammed together into a large ragged ball so her tool looks like the most dangerous lollipop in the world. The other woman wears the off-white shirt and at the end of her tool is a single blade head, bent and curled over itself at one end, like a scroll, and then tapering into a right triangle with a sharp point at the other.

Wen’s choppy, unsure backward steps become deep, equally unsure, lunges. She says, “I’m going inside now.” She has to say it to ensure she will enter the cabin and not stand and stare.

Leonard is on his knees with his great and terrible arms outstretched. His face is big and sad in the way all honest faces are sad. He says, “None of what’s going to happen is your fault. You haven’t done anything wrong, but the three of you will have to make some tough decisions. Terrible decisions, I’m afraid. I wish with all of my broken heart you didn’t have to.”

Wen fumbles up the stairs, still going backward, with eyes only for the confusing amalgams of wood and metal the strangers are carrying.

Leonard yells, but he doesn’t sound angry or distressed. He’s yelling to be heard over the expanding distance between them. “Your dads won’t want to let us in, Wen. But they have to. Tell them they have to. We are not here to hurt you. We need your help to save the world. Please.”



Small whitecaps dapple the water like little paintbrush strokes and quietly collapse against the rocky shoreline and the metal pipe posts of the cabin’s functional but dilapidated dock. The wooden slats are bleached gray and warped, looking like fossilized bones, the rib cage of a fabled lake monster. Andrew promised to teach Wen how to fish for perch off the dock’s edge before Eric could suggest everyone stay off the creaky, ill-kept structure. Eric suspects Wen will give up on fishing as soon as the first worm is impaled on a hook. If the worm guts, roiling squirms, and death throes won’t do it, then she’ll quit after she has to yank and tear a barbed hook out of a perch’s button mouth. Then again, it’s possible she’ll love it and insist upon doing everything, including baiting the hook, herself. Her independence streak is so fierce as to be almost defiant. She has become so much like Andrew that it makes him love her and worry about her safety all the more. Late yesterday afternoon, as Wen changed into her bathing suit, Andrew rebuffed Eric’s attempt to start a discussion about the rickety dock by sprinting across its length, the structure earthquaking under his feet, and then he cannonballed into the lake.

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