Two tiny eyes, framed by such an expanse of hair I originally feared they belonged to a black bear. My fears abated as two human arms picked me up, and I lost consciousness again.
He was not there when I awoke, pulling the tucked in blankets out from under the couch cushions. There was a huge, aged Malamut, however, and beside the fireplace, a box of yowling puppies, no more than a few weeks old.
On the rough oak table in front of me was a bowl of semi-cold chili (the best I had ever tasted- messily devoured) and my pack. I dug through it, almost as hungrily as the chili, looking for my journal. The memories I had of the last few days were sketchy, but I knew I always wrote the day's events in the evening, ever since my first major marathon.
Reading back through, recollection came easier. I had begun the Iditarod, the largest winter adventure race in the world, a few days ago. My confused writing and increasingly erratic trail notes and timings showed I had erred seriously somewhere in my preparations.
I set to work assessing damage control, silently hating myself for whatever mistake I made to cause this near-catastrophe. My toes seemed the worst, still waxy and hard. I next began to evaluate my surroundings. A typical winter cabin, somewhat sore from what I believed was (at the time) disuse, yet it was devoid of the quintessential bookshelves or even a T.V. Neither had it a phone, as far as I could find.
I must have fallen asleep again, for I awoke to see a great, hairy man sitting on the floor in front of me, shovelling down chili so quickly he almost seemed to be using his hands. I extended a greeting, offering my gratitude for his rescue, but my speech seemed to startle him, and he did not reply.
He stared blankly as I ran through the little Inuit, Russian, even French, I knew but not once did I sense comprehension dawning. He chewed the chili, regarding me as one watches a street performer. After a while, I gave up, huffing a sigh. This excited him, and he began to... well, there's no other word for it; he barked.
Over the next few days, after discovering an old radio and informing race officials and my wife where I was and that I would be back once I knew where I was, we seemed to bond. I was fascinated by him. He hunted like a wolf, with his hands and a kitchen knife, and seemed more comfortable in the snow than in the cabin. He had twelve dogs, a full sled team, and we frequently went on trips to see if I could landmark where we were. He seemed to know the woods as well as another person knows their city.
Meals were many times easier than I had expected; the cellar was full of jars, roots, strange plants, and smoked meat. I can only assume he canned things himself (mushrooms, softer roots, carrots) since some were almost fresh, but the thought of this sasquatch of a man in an apron, boiling jars was a tad strange. I laughed over this image for a while; He danced around me, barking gleefully for awhile. I suspect that while most of my actions confused him (shaving being the most baffling), he understood my mirth.
The fireplace was only ever lit for my benefit. After trips, he would often blow through the door, pursued by the slobbering dogs, leaving it open to the elements. He was so discomfited, whining and roaming, when I closed the door and lit a fire that eventually I compromised; I left the door open, but built a large fire.
The first few days he would sleep where-ever he stopped long enough, but eventually he began to sleep at the foot of the bed I slept in (one I surmise his late parents used).
His most unusual characteristic was that he never spoke. After a while, he began to understand what I intended, but I believed that his vocal cordds had altered so far that they could no longer produce regualr speech. He "talked" to the dogs almost constantly, and seemed to be able to understand their replies. I began, as well, to pick up some of the more simple words, first learning the dog's "names", finally what I believed to be verbs, although the language seemed to contain a large component I could not begin to understand. The most pivotal part, much like the tones in some languages, or the clicks in others, was a series of evocative connective words, conveyed through body language and smells. Frequently in the evening, he would regail the dogs, and sometimes myself when I was quick-witted enough, with tales of his escapades; fighting with a bear, a huge moose he had tracked, when he almost captured an eagle, but fell off a cliff instead. He would often get caught up in the physical retelling of the story, and by the end was visibly winded.
Almost a month after my arrival, I mapped out the final last clues, and uncovered our location relative to everywhere else. I packed my kit, taking enough food to make it home, tried to thank him, and left early one morning.
The trip home was deceptively easy, and by the time I got home, I was breathless with anticipation to be back in civilization. I indulged myself and ate McDonalds (usually forbidden with my racer's diet), sat in the tub for two hours, and held my wife until she insisted that, no really, she had to work in twenty minutes. It took a while to regain my normal life, but regain I did, and finally everything was as usual. Or so I had thought.
I came home from work one day to find him sitting on my lawn, surrounded by his dogs. The camera crews had already been there for a few hours, coaxing him with food, but my wife was still at work. He lept up when he saw me, but I was confused. How the hell had he found me and what did he want?
I invited him in, shooing away the reporters, and fed him while I waited for my wife to return home, so I could consult her in what we should do next.
My life broke when she walked through the door, however.
I brought her into the kitchen, let her sit down, and explained everything to her, my rescue, my months with this man, his disposition, and everything we had been through, that he was not dangerous, and I wondered if she would mind if we let him stay in our basement until he was sufficiently civilized to live in our world, since I believed he keenly wanted to learn our ways, and regain the life he lost to the woods.
"What man?" She asked, slowly.
I laughed, thinking she was giving tacit approval for our new lodger. She wrinkled her perfect brow, and, in our spotless kitchen, surrounded by metal, plastic, warmth, luxury, culture, and easy, she blew away my tiny grip on reality.
"What man are you talking about?"
I could not find him. The dogs were gone. Our yard, spotless. The food I had brought back with me, and saved out of nostalgia, turned out to be rotton, foul, autumn leavings, the kind you scrounge under the snow. I could find no indication that this man ever existed.
I laughed with her, and said it was my little joke. Tried to forget it. Wrote it off as a dream. But now, everyday of my life since, I stare out the window of my 25th story office, and dream of snow, trying desperatly to ignore the blood pounding in my temples, crying out for the thrill of the hunt, the honor of the pack, and the sheer joy of earning a true life.