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Rated: E · Fiction · Nature · #2314422
Contest Entry: Writer's Cramp, Feb 19, 2024

The noise of the city grated on Janie's nerves. By Friday, she was ready for the tranquility of the mountains. She'd packed her bag and cooler the night before, so she was ready to head to the hills the moment her shift ended. Everyone must have had the same idea, because the road out to the country was more congested than usual.

An hour later, Janie left the insanity in her rear-view mirror. The road ahead was clear. She drove north, then west onto a gravel road. The pace was slower out here. While people lived in this part of the county, the houses had acres of pasture between them, rather than feet and postage sized yards. She slowed the truck to accommodate the loose road surface. No sense landing in a ditch because she was in a hurry to get to the cabin. Besides, indigo shades of dusk approached, and she knew that's when she needed to be most alert for wildlife.

The path turned and twisted its way through the high mountain plains as Janie guided the pickup along the road. She saw a lot of wildlife along the way, munching green shoots poking through the thin crust of snow. Mud coated the truck after the drive. Of course, she'd taken some of her frustration out by driving like a maniac in the less treacherous stretches. She was blowing off steam, not out to kill herself. The road was worse for wear, but she also knew that crews would be out soon to repair the winter damage. When she arrived, it was full dark. Janie grabbed her bag, left the cooler, locked the truck, then trudged to the door. She unlocked both locks, then hung the padlock on a hook inside the door.

Ah, peace at last, she thought as she went around lighting the lanterns.

Built around the turn of the previous century, Janie did what she could to renovate the old structure. She'd hired a local history buff about the origins of the cabin. The original owner was foreman of a ranch that existed back in the day. The landowner gifted him the land, and built this cabin on the property when the man got too old to work. She'd lucked out when she had the cash, and the family needed to sell the land. It was off the beaten path, but was worth the drive for the solitude.

The first thing she'd done was evict the four-legged squatters and seal the holes they'd chewed in the wood. Then she treated the logs with an advertised 'rodent repelling solution.' It seemed to have worked since she hadn't seen had signs of the pesky creatures in four years. She started a fire in the wood stove, watching as the starter gel she used ignited in a blue flame. The screech of a bird nested in the chimney broke the quiet.

"We've had this conversation before," she said to the roof. "I told you not to build your nest in the chimney."

She pulled a sandwich out of her bag and grabbed her water bottle from the side pocket. Janie contemplated her life as she stared at the fire through the window of the stove. She used to love her job. What changed? As she reflected on the last several years, she realized her career had eaten her life. It was a subtle thing, really. Tiny changes had been taking place right under everyone's nose that, alone, meant little. But together...

Well, together, those subtle changes amounted to an enormous change to the company culture. Where before a spirit of cooperation existed, the new owners began injecting bits of 'friendly' competition into the culture. That 'friendly' spirit turned serious over time, and very few noticed. Those who noticed either quit or were the first to go when the company announced layoffs.

Janie had never been good at keeping her observations to herself. She knew that if she voiced this thought to anyone at work, it would get back to the powers that be. Then she'd be on that short list of company 'undesirables.' No, thank you.

The wood finally caught, and warmth emanated from the stove. Janie chewed her sandwich. For the first time in months, she finished a meal without the sick feeling in the pit of her stomach. She knew what she needed to do. When she got back to civilization, she would look into enrolling in a graduate program at the university. It was time for a career change.

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