Erica Rothert

The March Selected Writer is Erica Rothert

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by Erica Rothert

He had been sitting at the same old, stained oak desk staring out the window into the dense woods for twelve days now. The only breaks being for sustenance, mandatory trips to the restroom, and the occasional stroll to decompress. He ran his yellowed nails along the grain of wood marred here and there in the desk’s surface. He paused only to pull a splinter from beneath a nail, flicking it to the ground beside him.

With a heavy sigh, he reached over to the ash tray on the sill and picked up the last bit of his current cigarette. Pinching the miniscule stub between his thumb and index finger, he slowly brought it to his lips. Inhaling the soothing poisons, and exhaling them only a moment later. He watched as the smoky limbs reached desperately towards the open window. 

Noticing the handmade mug was now near empty, he loudly scooched the old chair backwards with a sharp “Screeak!” He grabbed the mug, tipped the last drops into his dry mouth and coughing briefly before heading out into the main lobby of the lodge. It was very small. In fact, “lodge” was less accurate than “cabin.” Built of logs resting upon a stone foundation, it played host to large numbers of overly eager skiers in the winter. Now it was early autumn, and the grounds were isolated but for a few employees who lived here all year long, and the rare visit from locals.

There was the elderly lady who sat watching her soap operas at the front desk. There was the groundskeeper named Cooper who rarely ventured inside, and seemed to prefer living out of his beloved truck. Maggie and Francis O’Reilly ran the kitchen during the busy season, but were only there for breakfast service this time of year. Otherwise, it is just the young man at the desk. He is the only guest, but does not mind the isolation and silence. Silence is important for his work. A writer needs peace and quiet at times. And he had long been without it. He had come here for the peace and quiet. He needed it.

Clenching the mug in both hands, he quietly wanders out to the lobby. He glances around, and then proceeds over to the little antique table set up with a coffee maker and small dusty tea pot. He flips through the tea selection, sighs, and briefly shakes his head. He begins the ritual of brewing a new pot of coffee. Americans will never know how to make a proper cup of tea, let alone which type of tea was quality enough to consume. Having grown up in England, the ritual of tea provided comfort to him especially during times of stress. He makes a mental note to bring his own supply the next time he chooses to venture out into the middle of nowhere.

Once the slow and steady drip of coffee begins, he turns around and lackadaisically scans the lobby. The only audible evidence of life was the slight wheeze whistling from his own chest every second or so. He decides to visit the front desk, to enquire about the day’s weather forecast from old Ms. Hetty. The ancient television set flickers with continuously blinking snow and intermittent faces mouthing silently.

“Hello, is anyone there?” he calls out to the empty space behind the counter. The double door to the storage closet off to the right side remains closed and silent. Or was it? He stares at the door, thinking he hears something, or someone, hitting against it. “Thump-thump, thump-thump” Realizing he is hearing his own heart beat within its hollow, skeletal prison, he shakes his head and chuckles to himself. Maybe I really am losing my mind. Aware of the ironic gravity of the thought, his amused smirk faded quickly. He gingerly taps the rusty bell on the counter and waits once more. Nothing. An impatient sigh leaves his stale mouth with a faint wheeze as he turns away from the counter.

He returns to the waiting coffee pot and pours some into the mug. With a final glance around, he decides to venture out onto the front porch. The autumn chill hits his face and reminds him of the demise of summer. While the sun filters resiliently through the ligneous ceiling above, there is little warmth to comfort the sting of the breeze swatting at his face. Cooper’s ‘72 Bronco sits beneath a massive Sugar Pine tree, waiting for the next trip or errand. Pine needles blanket the windshield, and the tires find comfort in the hardening mud floor of the forest. “Cooper is doing a poor job of caring for his vehicle,” the man mumbles to himself.

A nagging feeling tugged at the corners of his mind. A feeling that he was forgetting something. Shrugging his gaunt shoulders with defeat, he decides to ignore the feeling. He was becoming quite proficient at compartmentalizing and pushing away that which distracted him. The alarm sounding from his wrist brought him back from the drifting thoughts, and he tapped the button to silence the noise. His head ached, and perhaps some air would help.

He steps down the dipping stairs and onto the stone path leading out into the rustic mountain driveway. Pausing for a moment to listen to the birds chattering above, he decides a short stroll might do him good. The writer’s block he had been suffering that day was eating away at his troubled mind. Dr. Henchley had preached the virtues of exercise and fresh air at almost every appointment. “It can only do you good. Watch you’ll see…” the doctor had implored the young writer. He had been going to appointments with Dr. Henchley since he was a young teenager. The sudden passing of his mother had been too much to handle.

The man set out towards the small lake a couple of miles down the trail. It was a nice enough day, but he somehow felt off. Like he was forgetting something.

Pushing the uneasy thoughts to the back of his mind, he plodded on. Reaching the last tree growth, he emerged onto a small stretch of boulders and mud leading down to the water’s edge. Choosing what seemed like the boulder to least likely abuse his backside, he sat down. Looking out over the lake he relished in the complete lack of human company. Overhead there came a loud, jarring screech from a hawk searching for the next meal. His mind flashed back to that day when he had been forced to grow up. The sounds of that moment, the screech of the tires and crunch of metal. He had just turned fifteen, and for twelve years it had just been the two of them. His Mum had been his only family, and his world. All he knew of his biological father was that he had abandoned them. His Mum had tried desperately for two years to get his inebriated father to get up off the couch and support the family. Then one day she successfully convinced him to get up and go out to look for work.

Only, he never came back. It had only taken a day to pick up the empty cans of cheap beer and cigarette butts around the house. One day to clear what remained of the man who would never be his father. His Mum worked double shifts in the shoe factory to make ends meet, and worked herself to the bone to raise her only son.

His head started to throb with pain, and he rested his forehead in the palms of his hands. Memories were best avoided. He squinted up to the bright sky above, and pushed the painful thoughts to the back of his mind. It was tiresome and drained him of the necessary will to work. His work was most important to him, you see. Pushing up off the large rock, he turned to leave the pleasant lake sanctuary. He had learned to stay busy, as a coping method, a way to avoid what hurt the most. He must attempt to finish the book in the next few days. Somehow it had to get done. Peace and quiet was all he needed, really.

Returning to the lodge lobby the man quickly glanced towards the door behind the front desk, and then down to his now muddy boots. He would need to clean those off later today. Dirt is not a sign of self-control, and it bothered him to no end. After prying them from his sweaty feet, he placed them by the small wood stove in the corner of his temporary office. The walls were lined with hundreds of antique books and framed oil paintings of strangers and creatures. Sitting again at the desk he peered down at the typewriter. The aged machine was really the only reliable item that he refused to leave anytime he left town. He wrote only with pen and paper, or with the manual typewriter his mother had given to him in high school.

The typewriter had a soul of its own, and sometimes if he listened carefully enough, he could hear the faint words of his dear mother echo through his thoughts. “You must be a good man, and work hard. That is all that matters. Nothing more.” He shivered once and began to slowly type meticulously each word onto the heavy Bristol paper that was his preference.

About an hour or so later, an alarm sounded from the man’s wrist watch. He clicked it off and reached for the small leather pouch beside the desk pad. He pulled out two orange plastic containers, large white pills within them. He noticed that there were quite a few more pills than there should be. As far as he knew, he had not missed any dosages. Or had he? The sharp pain returned to the back of his skull, and the pulse beat loudly behind his eyes. Feeling overwhelmed and, at the same time, confused, he swallowed three of the pills. Sipping from his mug, he turned his attention back to his work. He needed to finish the book soon. Time was running out, and his focus was draining by the day.

When the light that had washed the room in golden hues that afternoon had finally faded into the cool tones of dusk, the young writer pulled the final page from the typewriter and brushed a fleck of dust from it. Placing it carefully on top of the stack of papers beside him he smiled slightly. The book was done, and without a day to spare. The time had come to finish this task and move on.

His belly grumbled ominously with the pangs of neglected hunger. He would have to go search the kitchen for supper. He knew the old O’Reilly’s would not be accommodating. Come to think of it, he had not seen them for quite a few days now. Or maybe it was yesterday? The days had begun to blur and his sense of time had become seemingly unreliable. How strange, he thought to himself. The silence had been pleasant and allowed him to focus on the task at hand, his beloved book.

Entering the dark kitchen, he strolled towards the fridge. Inside he discovered some half-eaten French cheese and a jar of olives in brine. On the counter was an open package of plain crackers.

“I guess this will do,” he remarked aloud. Brushing the pile of heaping pile of mail and set of keys to the other side of the small counter he hopped up. The keys were attached to a keychain that appeared to be a small metal replica of the lodge. Rubbing his thumb over the tarnished metal, hesitating only briefly, he placed the keys in his shirt pocket. The meal was hardly adequate, and the man made quick work of it. Brushing crumbs from the front of his sweater, he hopped down.

The lobby had become shadowed in somber blackness, and eerily quiet. The young writer found himself feeling restless, and oddly longing for conversation of some kind. He momentarily considered phoning Dr. Henchley, but quickly thought better of it. He had failed to mention this extended excursion to the doctor.

While the doctor had recommended more interaction with nature and the outdoors, he was not so certain this was what was meant. Questions would be asked, and the man did not wish to discuss the reasons for his escape to the mountain hideaway. The doctor, of course, would be the only person to notice the man had gone missing. He would not understand the necessity for the peace and quiet. The writer had spent months holed up in his studio apartment, only venturing out for the occasional errand and the regular appointments with the doctor. But the buildings other residents had no respect for space or privacy, and were always making noise.

The success of his first novel had resulted in unwanted attention, and more social interaction and media responsibilities than he wished to participate in. Contract aside, he had to get away from it all. It was the only way to complete this new book.

Tomorrow would be the last day here at the lodge. He would have to return to the city and submit the finished manuscript. Come to think of it, he had not spoken to his editor and agent for months. That might pose a problem, but he would not worry about that now. He wanted to enjoy the silence while he still could. The city is so very loud and chaotic, and he was not looking forward to the imminent return to the frenzied jungle of metal and polluted air.

The watch sounded the next round of treatment. He hated the pills, but knew that when he missed dosages, memories became a blurred mess and days could be lost. It had happened before, and the consequences had been suffered. It would not be an option again. He tossed the pills into his mouth and reached for the earthy mug of, now tepid, coffee.


The next morning, the man meticulously folded each clothing item and carefully placed them into his bag. He gathered his work paraphernalia and typewriter and put everything out on the front porch. The air had turned very chilled overnight, and the ground glittered with frost. The birds did not sing their usual morning hymns, and the once steady breezes had fallen still. As the man slowly wandered through each area of the lodge, he took in all the paralyzed details of the buildings existence. The only sign of the continuation of such being the methodical ticking of the old grandfather clock beside the lobby fireplace.

Tick, tick, tick, tick,…the man’s heart seemed to keep time with the clock. Snapping out of the temporary trance, he mentally ticked off the list of tasks for the morning. The last item still to be done.

He put his polished boots on and tied the laces into double knots. He brushed a speck of debris from the toe of one boot. He checked himself in the mirror on the wall, and flattened a loose hair down on the crown of his head. Gray hairs had infiltrated the jet black hair atop his young head. He almost did not recognize the shadow of a man staring back at him.

The man’s skin had turned to a dull gray, the color of the sky before a coastal rainstorm. Dark circles encompassed his weary eyes, and his sunken cheeks gave away the recent weight loss. Shrugging in acceptance of the unfamiliar figure before him, he turned to walk out the front door.

He picked up his bags and he typewriter and lugged everything out to the vehicle out by the large Sugar Pine. He brushed off the pine needles covering the windshield, and picked what he could from the hood. Tossing the lone pinecone out into the dense brush, he surveyed his work. It would have to do. He retreated back towards the lodge, but instead of returning inside, he went around to the backside of the building.

The closer he got to his destination, the stronger the odor grew. It was a uniquely foul smell, indescribable really. The flies darted in and out of the space before him. Covering his nose with his left arm, and trying not to breathe too deeply he searched for something. He spotted it. He stepped forward and pushed the button. The incinerator burst to life.

Back at the truck, he pulled the keys from a pocket and got inside. Looking around he noticed just how untidy the truck was. Filthy actually. He turned the key in the ignition and the engine roared to life. He pulled out into the dirt road and took a final glance at the lodge. He sighed, lit a cigarette, and drove slowly towards the main road. He would miss the peace and quiet of the place.

Erica Rothert is a student in Central Washington University’s Professional & Creative Writing program. She is due to graduate with her B.A. in Spring 2018. She moved to the Pacific Northwest nearly twenty years ago and has no plans to leave…ever. When she is not in danger of being buried alive by her TBR pile, or enjoying the precious (and too often rare) sunny days, or occasionally succumbing to a Netflix binge (resulting in days of guilt), Erica may be found at her cluttered desk creating her next story. She is happiest when she cannot type fast enough to keep up with the ideas, and writing being her true love often comes at the expense of her rather pathetic social life…a worthy sacrifice for art.