Chapter 1        

            Weeks had passed and winter had become oppressive when another trunk arrived.  Unless and Until had just finished tidying the house, having at last invited the neighbors over to visit. The second trunk sat in the freshly dusted front room, shedding a few snowflakes to melt into the carpet. Unless and Until were both relieved a second trunk had arrived.
            With the cold and snow of winter, both of them had been feeling confined. The wonderful project of looking at pictures had been finished before winter even properly started, leaving the two with nothing really interesting to do. For a while they entertained themselves by gazing at the pictures from the first trunk, and occasionally speculating about the other items that had filled it. It was not enough, and Until eventually proposed a dinner party just for something to relieve the tedium.
            The dinner party was a success with the neighbors, who were impressed with the paintings and the strange items from distant places. Unless’s newly feathered hat and Until’s cooking garnered gratifying praise, but that pleasure faded the next morning as Unless put their hat away and as Until checked the stores in the larder and noticed how much of the best food the guests had eaten, with winter only half gone.
            Unless said, “Shall we open the trunk?”
            Until replied, “Certainly! I am so pleased it came today. We would have had trouble deciding what to do.”
            The first things Unless and Until found in the trunk were a tooth-shaped rock with gold veins in curious patterns, a dry wreath woven from a thorny vine, a small amber-colored bottle, and a chunk of broken grey coral. Under these items, in the bottom of the trunk, were six more paintings and a great deal of white paper confetti scattered around.
            For a day Unless and Until bustled happily, all tension forgotten. The tooth-shaped rock, the small bottle, and the chunk of broken grey coral went on the mantle with the broken shell pieces, leaving a bit of room for any future treasures that might appear. The wreath of thorny vine went on the front door to perplex and intrigue visitors. The white confetti proved troublesome, but was easily scooped together and bound in a hanky and replaced in the trunk.
            Unless and Until put the stack of paintings on the easel and put the new trunk in the attic. The first painting glowered at them from the easel and added to the sense of confinement that began to grow again as soon as the new trunk was put away.
            Dinner was a simple meal of sauteed tubers, jerky, and cheese rind, and was repeated for both lunch and dinner the following two days. Unless became testy and began pacing the floor from window to window. Abruptly, they announced to Until that they would be going on a hunting trip for two days.
            “Hunting? What will you possibly catch in this season?” asked Until, upset and a bit angry.
            “Something, maybe, anything!” exclaimed Unless, “Must get out of this house and get some fresh air!”
            Unless stormed out of the room, out the back door to the shed where they kept their hunting gear, then loaded up and set off down toward the forest behind the lake.
            Until stood at the back window watching until they couldn’t see them any more, then went to the kitchen and started some broth for soups. The sun set and the evening passed. Until tended the broth and gathered some torn clothing to mend by the fire, determined not to be angry. The winter was oppresive, and Unless never could abide being closed up. They thought about the weeks on the cruise ship, after traveling on the OSV Mirror, and how restless Unless became then, with no outside to go to.
            After a night’s sleep, a day divided between mending and soup-making, seemed very pleasant to Until. They pictured Unless hunting successfully, bringing home some foolish pheasant, a brace of rabbits, or even a wild pig. Fresh meat would add a great deal to the usual winter stores.
            As evening drew near again, however, Until began to worry and to become angry. Winter hunting could be dangerous. They thought Unless should have sought out one of the neighbors to go with them. Until put the mending away and went to the window but saw nothing but a reflection of the room behind them. The picture looked even redder and darker in reflection.
            “Look at all those teeth!” Until thought, “And that is a rat! With wings – a flying rat! Disgusting! So many terrible creatures in the world.”
            Until decided that they had fully considered this painting and hung it up in the stairway down to the cellar. Perhaps any rats that might see it would take fright and move on to other places. The teeth also put them in mind of the bulk food stored there. Until decided to bring up a small cask of ale they had been keeping to enjoy during a storm.
            For dinner, half expecting Unless to show up cold and tired and hungry, Until set out two bowls of savory soup and two mugs of warm ale. Indeed, a storm did seem to be rising. A powerful wind began knocking the locked shutters against their frames, causing Until to turn again and again, thinking the noise was Unless coming in through the back door.
            Unless did not appear. Until ate their lukewarm soup, and then Unless’s soup also, and considered Unless’s continued absence, whether it was time to worry. They looked up at the very first painting, of the huge snake and the tigers among strange plants, and remembered Unless’s fine toast in honor of completing the beginning of the project. They looked at the table, at Unless’s empty seat, comparing this evening to that one, how the howling wind and rattling shutters compared to the childlike song of the little green birds who had swept in to the room to join Unless and Until for the celebratory dinner.
            Until set their empty mug aside and picked up Unless’s mug of ale, then held it out over the table, their eyes on the windows that thudded with the buffeting of the winds against the shutters, and sang a toast.

            It’s warm inside, no wind or ice
            if you were here it would be nice
            to sip our ale and hear the wind
            knock knock demanding “Let me in!”

            But I am here with just our ale
            and I can hear the windy wail
            that laughs and says “You’re all alone”
            I wonder when will you come home

            I have a winter feeling now,
            around my angry worried heart
            I wonder why I wonder how
            you put us two so far apart.

            *** click here for Winter Song ***

            After cleaning the kitchen and putting all the dinner things away, Until put the soup kettle on the stove to keep warm for Unless, who should have been home by now. It was difficult to sleep, and Until was resolved to go on a search if Unless had not returned by morning.

*** next chapter >>

Image: Julie Püttgen, Cloudmapping: Flight of the Toothrat. Gouache, watercolor, and pencil, 12x16", 2008.
Text & Lyrics: JS van Buskirk
Music: James R. Carlson
Animation: Matt Gilbert