Uncle Ed's Surprise

by Howard Faxon

Copyright© 2017 by Howard Faxon

Science Fiction Story: My mysterious inventor uncle disappeared seven years before. He was declared dead and the will was read. I got his retreat up on the lonely Michigan shoreline. The burglar alarm sterilized the grass. Within I found folders marked "Too dangerous for public dissemination".

Tags: Science Fiction  

It had been seven years since he disappeared. His sister finally had him declared dead so that she

could get her hands on his bank accounts.

Uncle Ed was a degreed mathematician with an innate sense for electromagnetic theory. For example, he was a contributing author to the theory of the Stellarator, a plasma storage device that mimicked the flows around our sun and while he was on the team, crated a practical fusion-based electrical supply. He held several patents in audio theory and audio power transmission. He was the one that applied digital filters to the THX audio reproduction system.

As a teen I’d been fascinated with what he was working on at the time. He always seemed to have time for me. I pretty well owed my Master’s in electrical engineering to our Sunday afternoon conversations.

Aunt Inga (He used to call her Aunt Bell for the constant high volume she always emitted) finally got her comeuppance at the reading of the will. She received a land rover with a high power audio system and a broken volume control. He’d hot-wired the ignition control processor to the sound system, so that if the volume control was repaired the vehicle wouldn’t start.

Her husband received a very nice pair of noise-canceling ear plugs.

All but a quarter million of his accounts were distributed among his various nieces and nephews, except for me.

I was willed his patents, a quarter million dollars and his retirement home on Lake Superior, with all taxes and transfer fees pre-paid. Nobody knew where he went, but he sure prepared for it.

I’d never been to his vacation cum retirement home. Absolutely nobody else had either. It was waaaay up there, on the lake shore outside of Sutton’s Bay. The package I received held three keys and a rather hefty alarm dongle, along with a sheet of paper bearing a rather long and involved deactivation sequence. The dongle opened on a hinge like a clamshell cell phone to expose a tiny keyboard. It came with a very thin probe.

After transferring his patents to my name and registering my legal address to the lakeside home I began the multi-day trek to one of the few places in the lower 48 that was North of portions of Canada.

I wanted to see the place with fresh eyes, so I stayed the night in Traverse City. Since I’d not visited the area before I had no feeling for the grade of the local restaurants. I took my father’s advice and walked around the restaurant’s building of the place I chose. If they don’t keep a clean back end, and if the fumes coming out of the hood smell appetizing--not foul, then you’ve got a good bet of not being poisoned. His other advice along that line was to look for the evidence of policemen, truckers and garbage men in the parking lot. They don’t make a habit of going back to places that poisoned them or charged too much for their fare. I stayed the night in a Best Western motel and left early.

All the property the house sat on was covered by native grasses. The house itself sat alone on a hill, and was encompassed by a circular security fence. Something struck me as strange. Then I noticed that all the vegetation within the fence line was dead. I could see the house up the hill. Something gave me the feeling that it could see me as well. Every couple of minutes a dark red light rotated around the tower from under the widow’s walk. As the light passed over me I felt my teeth shake and a heard a deep “thrumming” noise. Whatever it was, it felt armed and dangerous.

I dropped the truck’s tail gate for someplace to sit, then pulled out the dongle and its key sheet. I entered the master code, which involved the current date and time. I heard a pervasive climbing whistle that got quite a bit louder before it faded out. The light beneath the widow’s walk changed to look like a yard light. I unlocked the gate, drove through and locked up behind me. The driveway was in darned good shape for not being used for over seven years. I suppose that I should mention that it was late June when I arrived.

The house was designed after an old gothic pattern with an encircling first floor porch. The entire building was supported by a maze of thick rock walls. The driveway led to a wide bay under the porch. From there a broad stone stairway led up to a double door, all of which was wide enough to easily move a king-sized bed or a tremendous piece of lab-ware. I climbed the stairs in silence, unlocked the door and pushed it wide open. The silence was pervasive.

There wasn’t a speck of dust in the place. That was spooky as hell. As a bachelor I knew how fast a place gets dirty. What was even stranger, the food in the refrigerator, freezer, bread box and larder was perfectly edible. Obviously Uncle Ed had done something rather unusual with his “burglar alarm”.

I set about exploring the first floor. I began to get nervous when I realized that every window showed a totally different environment, and there were many more doors in the outer walls than I expected--six of them on the first floor alone. I found a well set up first floor bedroom next to a modern bathroom with a Japanese plunge tub. While climbing the stairs to the second floor I noticed a dramatic drop in temperature and humidity. I found four bedrooms and four bathrooms that appeared not to have been updated since 1900. Each bedroom had a door leading out to what should have been a small walk or access to a common porch, a door to a bathroom and a door to a walk-in closet. A window sat adjacent to each door in the outside wall. The broad circling stairway led further upwards to a much smaller floor, made up of one large room a bit larger than an Olympic pool. It looked like a ballroom one would find owned by the French sun kings or by the Romanov royalty of historical Russia. It was cold as an Alberta winter morning in there. It held four more doors--one per wall. I saw a light rime of frost in the corners of each of the window mullions. At one end a locked door led to another stair well leading further upwards. Upon opening the door I saw my breath in front of me and found it difficult to breath, not only from the cold but from the lack of air pressure. The heavy door at the top was completely sealed with ice and frost rime. I didn’t open it for fear of needing an oxygen tank and an insulated mountain suit. I didn’t even approach the thing. I closed the bottom door and re-locked it.

I found a stack of some rather scary monographs in the first floor library, all neatly piled up on a table. Each one had a stamp on its cover, “Too dangerous for public dissemination”. The top one was labelled, “Theory and implementation of achronic fields”. the first line in the monograph warned against operating it while inside the radius of the field’s generator. The diagram looked suspiciously like a stellarator with some odd cyclical alternate paths. Another monograph was titled, “Obtaining power through a harmonic field power siphon”. The frontispiece read, “All theories herein acknowledged to have been derived from the working papers of Nicola Tesla.”

Yet a third was labelled, “Visiting parallel universes for fun and profit”. Yet another was titled, “Construction notes for building a man-portable fusion generator”. There were several more bound monographs beneath that but those few were the cream of the crop.

I carefully boxed them up and stored them on a high shelf, behind a locked glass-mullioned door. Someday when I was wiser I might take them down again, but combine any one of them with a raging drunk with a grudge, namely me when I got hammered, was just asking for Gotterdamung.

While exploring the kitchen for access to a larder I discovered the most dangerous place on the planet, and no doubt within the solar system. I found Uncle Ed’s laboratory.

A side door which was built like a battleship hull was covered with warning signs and required both of the keys I’d been left to open. Nobody was going to profess ignorance on going through that thing. Once inside I found a 3-D model of the house. Each floor had its own console, as did each hallway, each room, each door and each window, along with two more consoles pointing to the house itself. Another desk held several analog meters and manual dials. I noted that one of the largest gauges was scaled in hundreds of megawatts. The meters were live. This was well beyond my level of understanding so I reversed course and locked the door behind me. I felt a pervasive atavistic fear while in there. He’d done something to generate a deep down lizard-brain class of terror within any visitor to that room.

Another room held a fabrication shop with an industrial-sized doorway, apparently leading outside.

I returned to the library to see if I could find some sort of letter or journal addressed to me. The large library-style table upon which the dangerous monographs had sat possessed a drawer in front of the one chair. Within I found a simple little journal with my name written on the cover. I opened it to read,

“Dear Adam. Among all of my relatives, you have proved over time to be the least narcisstic, self-serving or psychopathic. You surprised me at nearly every turn. I found that watching you mature and helping you over the rough spots brought a breath of fresh air to my life. You incorporate several rare abilities--driving intelligence coupled with intuition, the wisdom to know where to stop pursuing a concept lest it come back to bite you in the ass and the perseverance to approach problems from multiple directions when stymied. Hence, the house and the inventions herein are yours to experiment with.

I sincerely suggest that you read the rest of this monograph before passing through any door except the main entrance. There are some caveats involved which you must comply with or you will never find your way back.

Leave the top floor alone. It contains a counterpoise that remains at a temperature almost indistinguishable from absolute zero.

I am much older than I appear. I was born well before the Civil War and worked with Edison (what an ass!), Steinmetz and Tesla. If you are reading this then boredom overcame my sense of self-preservation. I took a giant leap to hitch-hike with an interstellar explorer, one of which seems to visit us about every other generation. Yours, Ed.”

That explained where he went. Off-planet.

He left me two things--an enormous jigsaw puzzle and the biggest, baddest playground invented since Morning Star created Hell.

I had to think this through. Why did he implement and leave running such a hostile fence? Someone must have intuited about his inventions and tried at least once to steal them. That told me that the place had to look like business as usual or I could find myself at the questionable mercy of a military operation. I headed back to the laboratory to look for the security system console. I found that he’d had a sense of humor when naming them. It was labelled “Eye of Sauron”. He’d had the good sense to leave an operations manual in a drawer of the console. I read that there was a setting to restart the red strobe and infra-sound generator without turning on the achronic field. Bingo. I turned it on. Nothing adverse happened so I guessed that I’d not misinterpreted his instructions.

I continued to read the thing from cover to cover. The latter half was solid mathematics, followed by a circuit diagram. The first half made for interesting reading. I learned that the field could be configured as a hollow spherical shell around the house that did not affect the house itself. Hmm. Even better. I thought of it as a burglar alarm setting. I made adjustments to the field generator to make that configuration the default. A new key to disable it was generated. I carefully wrote it down on a plastic card using waterproof ink and stuffed into a secure pocket next to the dongle. If I went out for groceries without it I’d never get back in.

This did wonders for my self-confidence. I could do this. The instructions were written in English, nothing obscure. They were also written with me in mind.

I made dinner then returned to the library to read the rest of the monograph I’d started on, then began reading the folder dealing with travel between parallel universes.

Each door was tuned to a different site, perhaps on different worlds, perhaps in different galaxies, perhaps in different universes. The consoles that controlled each doorway could be configured to open a portal to any of several million universes, beyond which the environments would require artificial support or were incapable of supporting protein-based life at all. The universes may be infinite in number, but only a relatively small cluster of them were tolerant of man’s existence.

Universes occurred at fixed intervals from each other, much like electron band gaps. Each universe differed from the next by negligible changes in universal contents. Universes were not organized along a “line”. They were found at nodes within a multi-dimensional matrix containing some 40 dimensions, some of which became quite uninhabitable quite quickly, where constants such as Plank’s unit of distance or the charge on an electron became too odd, changing bond energies and totally screwing with chemistry.

A. I. processes were controlled by each console that could search out “Goldi-Locks” planets within individual universes. From there, choosing a portal exit location was a crap shoot. However, the “windows” were duplicated at each control console and provided a real-time view of what was outside of each doorway, allowing the portals to be “flown” to a location and locked in. Multiple locations could be recorded within the same universe on each console.

Once closing a doorway behind me, it disappeared. Only by carrying the dongle hanging next to the doorway in question and pressing the activation button would a “knock-knock” signal be transmitted, which would open the door. The dongles possessed a red triangle that would point to the location of the portal. The thinner the triangle, the further away. When the dongle showed a circle I would be close to standing on the portal I was looking for. The dongle direction finders would not operate at interplanetary distances or beyond.

A quick precis of each environment was written on a card and slipped into a sleeve next to each doorway, bearing such information as climate, dominant life form and society level. If any extraordinary resources had been discovered on that world, such information would also be noted. Later I found that most of the cards were blank. Obviously Ed hadn’t taken the time to explore them yet.

Cool! I’d have to inventory each portal. I supposed that if I so desired, I could find an Earth where man didn’t develop and visit the various gold fields or vacation in Tahiti or on the Hawaiian islands. Imagine strolling through a truly virgin forest of pines or redwoods. I could even be the quintessential tourist on Earth, manipulating portals to visit anywhere on Earth I wished. What a mind-boggling opportunity. Perhaps I should soon seek out an advanced human culture that had discovered life-extending protocols, to give me more time to explore and play.

Soon reality bit me. The larder and freezer were getting low. My bank balance showed six digits, but that wouldn’t last forever.

I had to do some research as to the locations of gold fields throughout history. I shrugged to myself. The kimberlite pipes where diamonds had been found were wonderful targets of opportunity as well. Bring a rake, a canvas bag, a canteen and insect repellent.

As I went through the portal cards I made some fascinating discoveries. For example, one portal opened onto a world with more gold and platinum than silicon, but lacking in aluminum, copper, tin and nickel. I wouldn’t be able to eat their food and their blood was a funny color but I sure could trade metals. I visited a metals recycling center to buy a hundred pounds of refined copper, cleaning them out. After wrapping it in canvas and loading it onto an ALICE solid steel military pack frame I picked up the dongle, opened the door and walked through.

The air tasted off, somehow and the plants looked a bit strange. A little walk down to the business district brought me to a metals trader, noted by a balance beam scale in the window. As I had no common tongue with them, I attempted a non-verbal trading technique, used by Europeans with the American native tribes.

I lightly drew a circle on the table with a piece of chalk, then drew a bisecting line between the agent and myself. I laid out the bars of copper on my side, then pulled a paper copy of a periodic table from my pocket. I circled the code just to the left of Gold’s place marker. It represented platinum. Upon showing him the chart his eyes grew wide. He rubbed an unglazed white ceramic tile across a bar and inspected the streak. He quickly disappeared through a door behind the counter. He returned pushing a cart filled with silvery-colored ingots. He covered the counter until I stopped him. There must have been over two hundred and fifty pounds lying there. I broke the center line, indicating a completed trade then touched hands with him. He had a remarkably low body temperature.

I considered a moment, then laid my periodic chart on the counter and offered him the chalk. His hand shook a moment, then he circled the token for aluminum. I nodded, pointed at the sun, made an arm-swinging gesture to point at the sun once more, pointed at myself then at the floor, hopefully implying that I’d be back the next day with what he wanted. I touched the place marker for gold

I had one hell of a time trying to get all my ill-gotten gains on my pack frame. I finally gave up and drew a four-wheeled cart on the back of the chart and fished out four nickels. He smiled and pushed his cart around the counter for me, then even stacked the bars on it. I waved as I left, hoping that I just didn’t insult his generative abilities or imply that his wife had four feet and crawl out from under the porch to greet him when he got home.

I located a metals trading firm down in Grand Rapids, who agreed to pick up 250 pounds of platinum alloy for analysis and sale. I asked that they bring along five hundred pounds of refined nickel, copper and aluminum ingots.

I brought back his cart loaded down with aluminum. I swear that the man almost filled his shorts when he saw it. Once again I pointed at the place marker for gold. He smiled like he was trying to show me his back teeth. He gave the aluminum a cursory test, then disappeared in back, only to return with a larger cart stacked with so many gold bars that I thought the axles would give way. I was looking at five hundred pounds of gold at a minimum.

I held out the now somewhat tattered periodic chart and tapped the placeholder for nickel, then motioned to my side of the trading circle, then tapped gold and tapped his side. He nodded frantically. I must have been giving him the deal of the century.

I laid down the chart, then circled my arm overhead again and again. He got the idea that I wanted to know what he wanted over the next few days. He alternated between copper and nickel. I nodded, then slowly reached out to shake his hand. He looked at me curiously, then smiled and nodded. We had a deal.

I called the trading firm down in Grand Rapids and arranged for another secured truck. I ordered four tons of copper, four tons of nickel and one ton of aluminum, all in twenty pound bars. I was informed that my account with them held 3.3 million dollars. I asked them to file the withholding taxes for me, for a price of course. They were happy to accede, especially when I told them that I had five hundred pounds of relatively pure gold to pick up and would be doing the same every day for over two weeks. I kept socking away the dollars, moving most of it to international banks so that it could be drawn on from anywhere in the world.

I finally realized that I’d been too focussed on investment metals. I printed off another periodic table and marked several rare earths as desired, such as tantalum, tungsten, rhenium, osmium, iridium, rhodium and palladium--the period 6 metals. Those I marked in blue. Then I highlighted iron, cobalt, tin, zinc, arsenic, phosphorus, copper, nickel and aluminum in red, noting that these I could provide in volume. Next, I visited a big-box hardware store for sample tool bits--tungsten carbide milling bits, cobalt steel drill bits and chrome-moly coated drill bits. I pitched in a few diamond-cross section hammer drill bits as well, and a small selection of tool steel knives from my collection. I also added a twenty pound box of borax washing soda to attempt to describe metal forging.

When I returned to my friend’s shop I noticed another fellow, older, wearing a fancy robe sitting in the corner to observe. I brought my cart full of nickel in, then spread my chart and “trade goods” on his counter. He picked up each item in turn, apparently as interested in the packaging as the contents. With each one, I pointed to the elements used to enhance its performance. When I touched tungsten then carbon for the milling bit he almost dropped it. Apparently it was something of a philosopher’s stone to produce. I solemnly nodded my head and shook his hand, hopefully letting him know that I’d find out what I could about its manufacture.

We’d learned the high-temperature sintering process, first with powdered ceramic while researching stronger turbine blades, then with steel formula, then with exotics such as tungsten carbide. Each step grew from its predecessors. As they’d not hit on the idea of sintering ceramics yet, they were blind to an entire field of metallurgy. I believed their technology to be generally at about the 1930’s level.

I showed off my sintered tool steel knives, including an example of Damascus.

We were very lucky that the borax I’d brought along was contained in a plastic liner. It was a deadly toxin to them, as it not only was quite reactive but their biological systems had never had experience in disposing of it. It poisoned them like mercury or cadmium poisoned us, but with even more devastating results. It was a pity for their long-term research and development in fusion, as boron in a water bath makes a wonderful nuclear moderator, just as beryllium and tungsten carbide reflect neutrons, acting as accellerants.

Finally he settled down and looked over the new periodic table. He brought out a stylus something like a ball-point pen and circled cobalt, tin and zinc. Then he circled the entire rare earth group I’d noted.

I couldn’t milk this society for much longer without causing some sort of disparity in both their culture and mine. Still, I wanted to do something beneficial for them.

Being lazy, I took the easy way out. I bought a fairly good laptop and downloaded quite a few U-tube videos on industrial processes such as ion sputtering, water table cutting, creating ceramics and alloys from sintered powder, the design and use of a 3-d milling machine, CAD-CAM integration, the production and uses of Bakelite, LED production, sintering powdered metals, and Tungsten Carbide in high-temperature ovens, the production of microchips and various types of welding. I did not neglect to include a few English language primers, a dictionary, a clone of the ‘how stuff works’ web site, a pdf of the “CRC Handbook of Chemistry and Physics” and a copy of Wikipedia. I returned with a load of cobalt, a 12-volt battery, a voltage inverter, the laptop, a car charger for the laptop, a little 12-volt generator and a MIG welding setup. I needed two carts to move everything.

The guy in the fancy robe was there again. After I went back for the second cart I demonstrated how to use the laptop, how to bring up a video using the mouse and how to bring up an encyclopedia. Then came the tedious process of pantomiming and drawing what a lead-acid battery was, how to charge it with the generator and why I attached it to the laptop. Then I plugged in the welder, cracked open the tank and fired it up. I drew a bead of nickel steel across a billet of cobalt, then shut it down. The older one in a cassock watched attentively. He was looking concerned as the lessons progressed. I accepted my cart loaded with metal billets and left town. As I hung up the dongle I thought it best not to visit that locus for a while. I was probably going to be declared Persona Non Grata.

That was perfectly fine with me. I had over eighty million in the bank after taxes, not counting the previous day’s load of gold and what I’d just brought back.

I received an interesting call from the securities and exchange commission, inquiring as to the sources of my sudden burst of transactions dealing in investment grade metals. I asked if the trace metals within the bars matched that of any other specie that they’d seen.

He said no, and that was the only thing that kept them from sending out the federales.

Things went downhill quickly from there. I gently explained, “And you won’t ever again, either.”, then hung up the phone. Afterwards I activated the burglar alarm. The light level went down to that of a very cloudy day. I’d drawn unwanted attention. No doubt I’d best not show my nose outside the front door for a while--say, forty years.

I perused my portal index, looking for an Earth-side destination where I could do some shopping. It seemed that Uncle Ed had the same idea. One console had several alternative destinations programmed into it, all terminating on the here-and-now Earth. Some were fairly exotic, notably Sibu, Borneo and Nha Trang, Vietnam. A few more pedestrian sites were included as well, such as Stockholm, Bremen, Victoria BC and Dunedin, NZ.

Victoria was only 3 time zones behind me, while Europe was six zones ahead. Vietnam lay fourteen zones ahead, Sibu lay fifteen and New Zealand lay seventeen zones ahead of Michigan. I’d have to get used to calculating when I’d arrive. For example, to catch the 7 AM farmer’s market in Dunedin, I’d have to leave Michigan at two in the afternoon--the next day. Catching the 9:00 PM night markets in Sibu or Nha Trang meant leaving at 20:00-15:00 or five or six in the morning, depending on the destination. Using military time suddenly made a lot of sense.

Curiously, each destination terminated in a small garage which contained a scooter. None of them would start, of course, as their gasoline was over 5 years old. That left me on foot, which wasn’t such a bad thing with the existence of nearly universal public transit systems in each city. Each city also had a high number of English speakers, or used English as their milk tongue. I paid a visit to Victoria to first pick up a duffel bag with straps, then visit a grocery near the portal which allowed me to buy some meat without worrying about it arriving in my kitchen still sweet. A hardware store sold specially insulated plastic food bags that helped a lot especially since I used two of them at a time, one inside the other.

I caught the reason why Ed added Borneo, Vietnam and New Zealand to the list. They were in the southern hemisphere, offering perfectly ripe local summer fruits and vegetables through the farmer’s markets during my winter months in Michigan.

After a lot of reading and a little careful experimentation I added a new locus to that doorway. It terminated inside an unused vendor’s stall inside the largest fish market of Puerto Montt, Chile--Angelmo--which happened to be possibly the second largest seafood market in the world. Nobody in the business office wanted to deal with the gringo, but they suddenly discovered they were quite fluent when I started flashing bank bundles of 100 Euro notes. I arranged to have the enclosed stall I’d chosen leased to me for ten years, with an agreement for their upkeep including a fresh coat of paint every six months. It was great! I arranged for a little office furniture, electricity and phone service, then contracted to have a small professional kitchen and bathroom installed with a shower.

The place had a back door and a paved area, suitable to use as a small sit-down restaurant. Many other vendors there ran their businesses by constructing heavy picnic tables with separate benches and setting up a service counter. I set mine up as a prep and smoke area by installing a couple stainless steel tables, a reach-in freezer, a deeper reach-in refrigerator, a prep sink with running water and buying a Texas smoker-barbecue. I’ve always adored beef jerky, and during one all too short trip as a teen to the west coast I had some salmon jerky which knocked my socks off. This opportunity goaded me to try my luck at making some myself.

Back in Victoria, BC I walked the scooter down to a automotive service station where I paid to have it cleaned up. From there, I took a trip to a dealership to lease a little van so that I’d have some carrying capacity. I had to think fast to figure out an address to use for the contract and the insurance. The simplest solution was to throw money at it. I contracted with a law firm to act as my agent, using their address as mine.

The shopping went well. I used one of the carts I received from the metals dealer to move everything to the kitchen. The living quarters needed some refurbishment. The van was just large enough to hold a new washing machine and dryer. Picking up new linens, a pillow and a mattress were comparatively easy.

Browsing through the established portal list, sparse as it was, I found what I’d hoped to find when I first learned of the multiple universes. It was a pre-set for an Earth upon which Homo Erectus never gained a foot-hold. The thought of sleeping out under the stars under an un-polluted sky made me smile in anticipation. After a trip to a camping store in Victoria and another in Stockholm I assembled a backpack, loaded up a wheelbarrow with the supplies that wouldn’t fit across my back and slung a loaded Swedish military rifle over my shoulder. I made sure that I had a decent supply of ammunition, filled my water jugs and prepared to pass through the portal. It was focussed on Victoria Island, BC at the site of Port Renfew on the west coast. The portal opened onto a broad clearing near the bay that fell off a short rocky cliff down to the water. Much to my surprise I found a long square-hewn log cabin at the tree line fronted by a wood floored open porch, covered by a shingled extension to the cabin roof. The porch alone was about forty feet long by eight feet deep and edged in poles holding up the roof beams. When I explored the place I found the grass around it to be tall and undisturbed, so it had been at least a season since anyone had visited. The roof was sound and nothing had broken out the modern windows.

I was ambivalent about my discovery. The existence of the cabin saved me a lot of work, but I didn’t get the satisfaction of having built it myself. Still, the contents saved me several trips. Inside I found some simple furniture built of hand-hewn lumber, probably made with a chainsaw mill. There wasn’t much there--a sturdy table and chair, a reclining Adirondack chair, a sturdy counter with a recessed sink and a five gallon bucket under it, a Coleman two-burner camp stove, a twenty pound propane cylinder and a propane lantern. A small metal shelving unit with latching glass-fronted doors was hung on the wall, no doubt to keep out rodents. Within lay a couple plates and cups, not much else. The bunk didn’t look too inviting as mice had torn into the mattress and pissed all over it. I tossed it outside. I’d be sleeping on my camp pad that night. I had brought along a large hammock but I didn’t have any screw eyes to fasten it to the walls.

An old metal Coleman cooler sat on a stand at the end of the counter, obviously representing the cabin’s refrigerator. The thing was old enough to have shredded paper or kapok filling for insulation. It was empty and clean yet I had to replace it--the thing’s insulating value approached zero. On the rear wall sat a Franklin stove with a metal smoke stack, sitting on a raised rock platform so that it wouldn’t be a back-breaking job to cook over. A cast iron frying pan, pot with a lid and a dutch oven sat on an open set of shelves next to the stove along with a stainless steel water bucket which was obviously used as a water boiler, a few utensils such as a spatula, a set of tongs, a big spoon and a ladle.

Drinking water had come from somewhere. I cast out in larger and larger circles until I found a couple trails. One led to an outhouse. It had been left unused for so long that it no longer smelled. The other path led to a rocked-in spring. Ed must have spent a considerable amount of time here! He’d certainly put in some labor to make life easy.

I’d be taking back the kerosene from the lantern supply as it couldn’t be useable after all that time.

I dug a little fire pit outside the cabin’s rear door, rocked it in and started a small fire. I’d brought along a nice New York Strip steak and a couple foil wrapped potatoes for supper, along with a couple dark beers. I had a great time, ate myself silly and drank my beer. The light wind barely made the trees move, but I could hear it. At full dark the milky way ruled the sky. It was amazing. It was time for bed, so I packed my trash into a bag from my kit, hung it from a nail next to the door and headed in for the night.

Good God! A bit after dawn the insects swarmed me like the Sioux and Northern Cheyenne took out Custer! I packed up and headed out immediately, dragging the mattress and garbage behind me. Boy, did I ever need bug killer! I did a little research on what veterinarians used on cattle. Permetherin. Supposedly it beat DEET all to hell and wiped out wasps as well, so they wouldn’t nest nearby.

I remembered something about a Gold Miner’s Mouse Trap for highly infested cabins or tents that couldn’t be sealed. On looking it up I considered it fiendishly brilliant. Take an 8 gallon plastic bucket and fill it 1/3 full of water. Rig a ramp from the floor to the lip, then drill a hole in the center bottom of a glass jar with a screw-on cap and punch a hole in the center of the lid. The thing had to spin freely on an axle. Run a dowel through it and set it in divots carved in the top of the bucket. Bait the outside of the glass jar near the center so that the mice would have to crawl up on the jar. Use peanut butter. At first, the sound of splashing, squeaks and tiny little claws scratching at the plastic will keep you awake all night. The surface of the water should be covered in drowned mice almost every morning for over a week. By then you should have depopulated the area. Dump the bucket in the latrine each morning then wipe the jar clean. Re-bait with fresh PB every evening. Safe, efficient and deadly. The hard part is drilling a hole through the bottom of the glass jar, but industrial diamond drills exist just for that purpose.

I had to visit a Vet to get a half gallon of 37% spray solution--the strongest commercially available.

Rather than bust my back, I bought more and more face cords of dry, split hardwood for the stove and had it delivered to the garage in Victoria. I carted it all home then relayed it to the empty Earth. To keep the wood dry I laid down a couple dead saplings in parallel rows, pounded in end stakes and stacked the wood, then covered each stack with a tarp, strung out with stakes so that breezes could get through the wood. I stacked up eight ricks. Each rick started about four feet from the cabin and ran out from it, leaving about four feet between the stacks. I didn’t want to stack large amounts of firewood in the cabin in case it was infested. Bugs love to nest under the bark of dead timber.

I didn’t dare bring in a mattress until the mice were gone, but I did install a couple heavy-duty screw-eyes across one corner of the cabin. With a foam under-mattress and a clip-on synthetic over-quilt designed for use with it I found sleeping in a two-man hammock quite comfortable, when sleeping in it “across the grain”. A new insect barrier that had been sprayed with Permetherin and hung over the whole thing put paid to the morning dive bombers. Spraying the stuff along the tops of the walls inside and out as well as everywhere in the outhouse killed all the nests of white-faced hornets that nested under the eaves. They’re quite territorial, and when attacking the will swarm from several nests at once. They’re quite capable of putting you into bed for a while, or even killing you if you’re sensitive to their venom.

Soon I smartened up, buying screen window inserts and a screen door.

I still felt the need for an insect- and rodent-proof storage cabinet in case I had to leave the cabin and not return for a while. Back to the fabrication shop. Out came my new welder. I first put together a heavy stand made out of angle iron, well-braced so as not to rack. I made it to match the depth of the counter at thirty inches and wide enough to support a forty inch cabinet above it. I got it in place, then realized that the thing’s legs might drive through the cabin floor under load. It received floor-level stretchers, front and back.

The cabinet itself was a clone of the stand with sheathing, and an addition of two shelves at eight and twenty inches, leaving the top area for taller containers. I found it difficult to set in the doors so that they would seal. Each one was cut smaller than the space by a half inch, then a one-inch strip of steel was welded over the edges, overlapping the faces around it. The seam between the doors was similarly done, then hinges were welded in place. A thin layer of synthetic cork with adhesive on one side finished the seals, and a drop bar was fixed to lower into a receiver coming out of the vertical center support. The receiver’s slot was cut at an angle, providing a bit of leverage to force the seal tight. That sucker was built. I probably could have lost it off of the back of a truck while driving down the interstate and not banged up more than the paint job. It got a good coat of white enamel, inside and out. I’d never built a gas-proof container before. I bought a desiccator tin and an oxygen getter tin to keep everything within unrusted and edible, depending on what it was. It’s where I stored my grains and starches as well as my laptop and its power cord. Mice chew on insulation. Any permanent wiring would have to be run within conduit.

I’d go crazy without being able to write.

Proving that I had more sense than the everyday dog, I checked the fireplace flue before lighting the fire for the first time. A bird’s nest had thoroughly plugged it, which would have made my experimental first fire an exercise in fumigation. I disassembled the pipe, rodded it out and reassembled everything, adding four guy wires with turnbuckles to keep it from dancing in the wind or falling off all together.

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