As he woke he felt something dripping through his straggly hair. Groggily, he looked at the emptying whiskey bottle lying next to him and felt the room spin, then the floodgates opened. Memories of everything he had done in the last week began to drown him, crushing his chest, dragging him down into the depths of depression. He had lost his job, not through any fault of his own as he just wasn’t needed, but he should not have taken it out on his wife. She left him after he had hit her, so he started following her around, until eventually she was so scared that she moved away. He tried to forget her by drinking; if he consumed enough alcohol he might obliterate any memory of his lost wife from his mind. Predictably, it didn’t work; it just made him regret hurting her even more. He needed to do something drastic.
Whilst lying in a bed covered in whiskey and vomit he had an idea, so he got up straight away and washed the alcohol from his hair, got out his walking boots and a thick coat, and left the house. It was only five miles to the lake, but it felt more like fifty with the harsh winds lashing at his face. He had deliberately left his scarf at home, a gift from his wife – it even had her scent, which he did not need following him to the island. He’d not thought about how he would get to the island in the centre of the lake, but he was a strong swimmer back at school and could always find a way to dry off once he got there. The water was close to freezing and every stroke was harder than the last. His thick coat was only weighing him down, so he shook it loose and swam as fast as he could to the island, kicking off his boots as well. He could not stand on the shore when he reached it, he just laid there shivering, out of breath and not able to see properly. He closed his eyes and felt himself drifting off to sleep, feeling warmer as everything faded.
The next day he woke up feeling oddly refreshed and able to appreciate his new home. The trees this time of year were a rich tapestry of greens, oranges and browns, a sight which inspired him to be tough in the face of the cold, just like the evergreens in front of him. Rummaging through his pockets he found a now useless mobile phone and a pocket knife, so he threw the phone into the lake and got to work on the trees around him. He’d always thought of himself as a potential woodsman, despite only ever having walked through them and collected conkers. Out here he was a king and the trees did his bidding. Within hours he had created an elaborate shelter, under which many trees had been used to create room for storage including a fridge, and his artistic furniture was created from carved logs and sewn-together leaves. Before he tried out his furnishings he stocked his fridge full of berries and nuts, enough to keep him going until he could sort out some weapons and see what there was to hunt.
During his period of rest after all of that creating, he spotted some squirrels playing. Could these be his quarry for his first hunt? He ran over to the fridge, noting that he needed to put a light inside which would come on as the door opened, and collected some of his nuts to lure the squirrels. Instead of killing them he embraced his new found genius and used the nuts to train them. He’d tried to train dogs before but always found it difficult, yet these squirrels were no trouble at all. By the end of the week he had trained them to do almost anything he wanted; he even swore once or twice that he heard them trying to speak English to please their new master. With the squirrels doing all of the work he was able to get out and hunt, though there didn’t seem to be much more than rabbits around, and they all looked like they had been half eaten by somebody else. Leftover rabbit, berries and nuts seemed to be the menu for most nights.
At night he was peaceful. The forest provided a beautiful symphony of life, even in the cold weather, and his bed out there was comfier than the one back home. He felt safe, not least because the squirrels had managed to train a badger as a sort of guard dog. The badger’s name was Paul, and though Paul’s new owner was enjoying the rawness of nature (tamed by his hand of course) he could not help but think that something was missing. He needed a new scarf. He pondered through the night and came up with a plan to get that new scarf. When he awoke early the next morning he raided his cupboards and got out all of the biscuits which he could find. He put the kettle on ready for some nettle tea, put some new leaves on his bed, and set out all over the island. He left several trails of biscuits, all leading back to his new home, even throwing some into the water in the hope that a scarf might see them and follow.
To his surprise the plan worked. In no time he was wrapped up in his scarf, sharing tea and biscuits, keeping warm in his luxurious leafy bed. He sent the squirrels out with Paul to go and catch some decent meat, anything but half eaten rabbit. The scarf deserved a feast, so he went to the cellar to get some of his oldest bottles of wine. One had been down there for around seventy years and would make an excellent accompaniment to any meal. Everything was just so perfect and could only get better when the summer months rolled in. Everything he needed was on this island and it had all fallen into place. Everything was right with the world.
On the banks of an island in the middle of a lake a man was found dead. He’d frozen to death after swimming in the icy water during the night. Tests showed that he had consumed a lot of alcohol, but the main thing which was noted by most of the investigators was his strangely serene smile. They weren’t to know that he’d found freedom.