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by Emily Ursuliak
Walter’s cabin slumps, resigned to the earth edging up its sides, engulfing it into a stomach of soil. In a matter of decades maybe only the razor's edge of the roof will be left crowning from the earth, like a long splinter emerging from skin.
This was the only place half hospitable in the last thirty miles of riding through the mountain pass. Anne and Phyl felt their horses slowing, eager to rest, their hooves dragging lazily across the gravel road. The pack pony decided for them, dropping his head to graze, his yellowed teeth clipped the grass. Phyl confirmed it, rolling up her flannel sleeves to picket the horses. And the man, Walter, stuck his head out the front door to welcome them.
Inside the cabin, a tub huddles in the middle of the main room. Walter refers to it fondly as his rubbish dump. Empty tins and assorted garbage, eggshells and coffee grounds, spew over its edges. Anne notes the way that the calendar pages have tiled the floor. The assorted dates beneath her feet tell her the place hasn’t seen a dust pan or mop for a full two years.
Walter stoops his tall frame on a stool, passes the young travellers hot brandies.
Anne eyes the rim of the mug, checking for cleanliness. Phyl knows better and pulls a deep gulp to better deal with it all.
Walter grins, showing his occasional teeth, then starts in on his stories.
There was Ole Dusty. He and two other fellas were up in the hills hunting when the storm blew in and they couldn’t light a fire for the life of them. Either the wind huffed it out, or the rain spat on it. No chance in hell of keeping warm that way. Three darn fools with rifles. They each picked themselves a tree, walking ‘round it all night to keep warm. Well, Ole Dusty, he got tired and set hisself down. Next morning they found him froze to death. His friends hiked out and got a pack horse and come back after him. They lashed him on one side and shot a goat to tie to the other. They wanted some meat anyway. And when they got down with Ole Dusty, we planted him.
Then there’s the old boy who built this cabin. He had an awful nagging wife so’s he took to spending most of his time up in the hills. I likes to too you know. I sets up there, high as I can get just to get a good view of the situation
all around. Makes me wish I could draw or paint or something to catch all that beauty. But I just goes up there to think most times and that’s what he did too. Finally one September he came out. Guess he found hisself a solution
to his problems up there. His wife took to nagging him again, an’ before Christmas we planted him. Found him in the woodshed. He’d braided a good sturdy rope for hanging. He was always so darned good at braiding and doing
knots and things of that kind. Still, none of us could figure why he wouldn’t have just used his gun and done the job that way. But I ‘spose he was kinda known for being a terrible shot and that’d be the worst time to fire a bullet in the wrong place.
An’ I gotta tell you about the three boys who went up into the hills prospecting awhile back. Well when they’d gone a considerable distance up the trail, wouldn’t you know it but one of their damned dogs had followed them up there.
That dog would not go home and they allowed it, by force of circumstances, to follow them up to their camp. When they’d got themselves all good and settled in camp, the three of them drew straws as to who was to dispose of the
dog. The man for the job was picked and off he goes with the dog into the woods. He thought dynamite’d do the trick, tied three or four sticks of it around the poor hound’s neck with the caps on the other side, then lit the fuse and
kicked the poor thing off into the trees. He was damned happy to see it hightailing it away from him. But then he gets hisself back into camp and hears all kinds a strange noises. Damn dog went running right back for the cabin
and hid hisself under the bed. So the other two fellas were yelling and screaming and running up the trail away from the place. Next morning they came and had a look at all the damage in their camp. Not a proper bit left of that dog, otherwise we’d ‘ave planted him too.
Anne and Phyl, their cracked mugs of rum emptied, are relieved to find the stories of planting at an end. A bag of apples placed near the pillows drives away the fetid stench of the house and its half-rotten contents. The girls swear they feel the house sinking as they drift off to sleep, the foundation nosing deep into the underground.
Emily Ursuliak is the fiction editor for filling Station magazine and hosts the literary radio show Writer’s Block. She completed an MA in English at the University of Calgary where she worked on her first novel and her first collection of poems. "Planting" is born of the latter, a manuscript entitled "The Diamond Hitch," which takes her grandmother’s travel diary from 1951 as its source material.