Chapter 11

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When she disappeared from the room with an almost magical speed, McCoy sat stunned for several minutes. After an unknown span of time, his brain re-engaged, and he contemplated everything she had said and thought he understood why she was so unhappy with her partner … or husband. Ex-husband. Non-husband.

Whatever he was, Bella was done.

He couldn’t blame her.

Not knowing what to do with himself, he took the wrappings and utensils from the MRE and tossed them into the woodstove. He checked the oil level in the lamp on the table and began hunting for a refill or maybe another lamp.

Finding two full lanterns in the cupboard above the table, along with a couple bottles of paraffin oil for them, and a box of old-fashioned stick matches, he nodded and dusted off his hands.

There were three more MREs, a few tin plates and cups, and four cans of what was labeled as “chicken noodle soup” with “easy open” tops. If she didn’t come back for a while, he’d be okay.

Feeling the need to use the facilities, and seeing it was still dark outside, he studied one of the lanterns and discovered it was like the antiques his Granny had when he was a kid.

It took some finagling, but he managed to light the wick in the lantern without setting himself, or anything else, on fire. He pulled on the parka and zipped it up to his chin, recalling Bella had said it belonged to a man named Jasper. Jasper must have been a big boy—McCoy was swimming in it.

Throwing out a plea to the universe there were no slavering, hungry beasts, and checking to make sure the door was not locked, he took his first tentative step outside the cabin and gasped in shock at the frigid air’s assault. The exposed skin of his face and hands felt like it was burning.

His excursion to the outhouse would be a quick one! It would have to be if he didn’t want to lose any important appendages. If someone had told him all of Hell had frozen over, he’d be hard pressed to argue the point.

Even if he wanted to, and knew where the closest actual town was, there was no possible way his mere human body could endure a trek through the snowy wilderness.

Still too dark for him to see, the bright lantern was a godsend. He gawked at all the wood stacked in close, tight rows on the porch. It filled most of it—wall to porch rail, and up to the ceiling. Bella had been busy while he’d slept. Or had the owners of the cabin readied it for winter?

Where were they? He wasn’t sure if he wanted them to show up or not.

Another six or eight inches of snow had fallen, but he had no problem getting through it and around the cabin, thanks to Bella being thoughtful enough to clear a path for him. If she hadn’t, he honestly didn’t think he would make it.

As he rounded the corner, he realized the cloudy sky was lightening. He also spied what could only be the outhouse—complete with crescent moon cutout in the door. It wasn’t too far from a larger wooden building with more firewood stacked beside it. Perhaps it was a small barn or a large shed?

The sub-zero temperatures convinced him to forego any outdoor exploring, despite wanting to know what might be stored within.

The coat was a good one, but it didn’t do much for his legs. By the time he finished his business and slapped the outhouse door shut behind him, his body was wracked with uncontrollable trembling, and he could barely walk a straight line.

He nearly collapsed in relief when he made it back inside the welcome heat of the cabin. “My God. How can anyone live here?” he asked the empty cabin. McCoy had never been so cold in his life.

After shaking the snow off, he hung the coat on a peg by the door, vigorously rubbed his aching hands together, and peered around the room, contemplating what he could do to keep himself busy.

With nothing else pressing, a search of the attic was called for. Who knew what might be hidden up there?

Thankfully, all that met him at the top of the sturdy pole ladder after his ham-handed climb, were a few cobwebs and some dust. Dim light coming in the windows at each end of the room revealed the sloped ceiling. He hauled himself up with a grunt, taking care to set the lantern to the side. It was no time to have accidents with fire!

He could only stand fully upright in the center. Off to one low side were four cots like the one Bella had put him on. Across the room were three wooden trunks.

Lantern held high, he was greeted with the tangy scent of cedar and several blankets in one. Various metal implements, utensils, and cooking pots were in another. Some of the knives he found appeared to be quite sharp. In the third cedar-lined chest were numerous books of different sizes, pencils and pens, and some pads of paper.

Crossword puzzles would help pass the time until Bella returned. It had been years since he’d seen one printed on paper.

He struck gold in a low cabinet. There were a few more MREs, a box of tea, and even a jar labeled “instant coffee.”  Thank the stars there were directions written on the side! Though he didn’t know if any of the spoons he’d seen could have been termed tablespoon like the instructions called for—he’d have to wing it.

Showing up on Earth in twenty-ten, with no earthly possessions but the clothes on his back, he felt positively wealthy with the soft blanket and word puzzle book tucked under his arm, and jar of coffee in his hand—even if they did belong to somebody else.

He’d have to find a way to repay the people.

An unwelcome sliver of reality intruded. What if the owners showed up and they thought he was stealing from them or had taken up residence?

He didn’t know for certain, but he didn’t think Bella had permission to be there or she would have said so.

A vague sense of unease nagged at him as he tossed the blanket and book down onto his cot through the square opening in the floor. It gnawed more insistently as he carefully navigated the ladder.

What if she didn’t come back?

Distracting himself by stirring up a cup of coffee—that was worse than anything he’d swallowed at the Academy—didn’t help with his nerves. Reading up on the Starfleet vampire recruit would be something to do until Bella returned.

If she came back.

Would she just leave him there?

Without a doubt, he wouldn’t survive on his own for very long, despite the survival training he’d had in the academy.

Shoving away those discouraging thoughts, he blew out the oil lamp to conserve the fuel. He didn’t have the luxury of descending into panic or wallowing in self-pity. He was most definitely in a think-and-survive-or-die situation, and he couldn’t afford to lose his head.

To occupy himself, he went over the supplies at hand. For the time being, he had shelter, there was snow for water and bad coffee, wood for heat, and oil for the lamp and lanterns. The tricorder made its own light so he wouldn’t need a lantern to read.

Even with the incrementally growing light outside, he couldn’t bring himself to do more than lower its flame. After staring into the golden glow for a moment—that reminded him of Bella’s eyes—he placed the lantern on the wide sill of the window he’d been staring out of earlier. He knew, with her enhanced vision, she wouldn’t need it to lead her back.

Maybe McCoy was the one who needed to see it there.

With a disheartened sigh, he set his mug of bitter coffee on the night table, kicked off his boots, and situated himself on the cot, wrapping the blanket around his shoulders. Flicking on the tricorder, he began to read all the information Starfleet made available about Bella’s race.

He ignored the loneliness that settled into him for the first time since he’d unexpectedly arrived. Bella was obviously upset and just needed to work off a little steam. Of course, she would come back.

Right?

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