Ben woke to the disconcerting sensation of a tongue between his toes. He sat up, yanking his foot away, and faced down the wet-mouthed perpetrator.
Judith sat back on her haunches and grinned, her tongue lolling from her lips as she stared at him with brown eyes that radiated canine intelligence. She was smart enough to know how to get Ben out of bed, at any rate.
“Menace,” Ben said, scowling as he scrubbed a hand through his hair. “Delinquent. I oughta take you back to the pound.”
Judith gave an impatient yap, her shaggy tail thumping against the hardwood. Ben glanced at the clock and yawned. “All right, all right. I’m coming.”
He rose, ignoring the way his knees popped and his neck twinged—forty-five was forty-five—then dressed in his standard flannel and jeans then navigated the maze of boxes that lay between him and the stairs. eBay purchases, mostly, things he’d intended to refurbish and sell but never quite got around to dealing with.
Judith led the way downstairs to Ben’s well-stocked kitchen, where he poured a bowl of kibble for her and got coffee brewing for himself before flipping on the radio.
“We’ve got a windstorm advisory for Seattle. It’s gonna be a nasty one out there, folks, so if you’re planning on hiking, maybe reconsider,” the announcer said as she detailed the day’s weather. A quick glance out the kitchen windows confirmed her words. The tall pines surrounding Ben’s isolated property were bending under the wind’s assault.
“Guess we’re staying in the shop today,” he said, more to himself than to Judith, who was still preoccupied with her food.
Not that staying in was a problem—Ben had been doing it every day for the better part of five years. There was plenty of gas in the generator and food in the fridge, so even if the wind blew the power down (which it had been known to do on occasion), he and Jude could stay tucked up and safe for a good long while. Not forever, but… well, forever would be the dream, with unlimited supplies appearing as if by magic.
“Come on, little girl,” he said, patting her head. “You wanna get to work?”
That got her tail wagging, and Ben grinned. He felt the same way about the workshop, that welcoming cocoon of sawdust and wood awaiting them across the drive. Originally, it had been a two-car garage with a mother-in-law suite overhead, but he’d converted the space into his workshop when he bought the place, putting up a carport between the buildings to link them. The shop was his sanctum sanctorum, full of tools he’d inherited from his father and some shiny new toys he’d purchased to make it perfect.
Judith bounded ahead, eager to get to her favorite place—favorite bed, favorite toys, favorite box of treats—and Ben followed, cupping one hand over the top of his mug, the scalding splashes barely registering against the worn calluses he’d built up over the years. No more than half the coffee remained by the time he made it to the workshop and opened the side door. Judith, true to form, was already curled up in her bed, the doggy door Ben had installed years before having allowed her ease of access.
“Shit,” he said, leaning against the heavy wooden door with a laugh. “That’s some gale, huh, Dorothy?”
Judith didn’t get the joke. Humor was wasted on canines. Harrumphing, Ben went to his desk, set his coffee between two precarious-looking piles of papers, and picked up the leatherbound sketchbook he’d need to continue work on his latest commission of six dining chairs.
Notebook tucked into his back pocket, he went to his wood rack, selected a sheet of oak, and eased it out. He whistled along with the wind as he brought the wood to the table saw that dominated the corner nearest the rack. An ancient relic, the saw had been his father’s, carefully packed and shipped from Montana after the old man had died a few years prior.
Ben flipped the switch that powered the table then got to it, carefully cutting the slab of oak down to size. It was rote work, peaceful in its way, and he lost himself in the rhythm, heedless of the screaming wind outside… until there came a bang on the roof so loud it made him jump. That was a mistake, since he’d been damn close to the blade. The torque of the motor kept chewing through the wood, and when it got to Ben’s forearm, the saw chewed through that too.