The trapper swung his feet out of his side of the bed, coughing. Cold water splashed on his face from the pipe in the bathroom brought hot blood to his cheeks, and the thick clothes he hurriedly shrugged on provided warmer insulation than the bed.
In these mornings the house was always cold. The early fog rolled in through the thin windows at this time of year and the thin sheets on the large bed offered little further protection.
He kept his boots in the bedroom now, the routine path he walked every morning etched into the carpet, worn away, grey with years of trodden-in muck. The bedroom was sparsely decorated. A wicker rocking chair, a copy of The Wind In The Willows on the table on the unused side of the bed, a fraying rug hanging on the wall, an old cot piled high with cloth beside his mother's old sewing machine.
The small building stood on a hillock; its old whitewashed outer walls had once been bright but were now cracking and grey, as though they had begun to fade into the mists that were buoyed up from the valleys. It had not been built for winter living, but to house farmhands – seasonal workers in the harvest months. They had long since stopped coming, made redundant by the arrival of modernity; tractors, combine harvesters and other heavy machinery.
His path led him downstairs to the room that served as a kitchen and dining room. Taking a battered tin saucepan down from where it hung with its kin, he filled it with water and ground coffee then placed it on the stove. He lit it with the same match as his pipe then sat back, gently puffing.
Cai pulled hard on the wheel and felt the camper-van respond, its heavy nose swinging round towards the gate, where it settled, his foot off the peddle. Jumping down from the door, he jogged over to open it with some relief. He didn't much like driving the thing, it was ungainly and awkward, after all day on the road he was finding it hard to concentrate, especially with the distraction of the boys in the rear, bickering the entire way. Leaving the gate open behind them, he steered it over the bumpy ground of the field, pulling up at the side of a small pond.
They set up camp there. At least, he put up the tents, borrowed from a colleague, while his sons chased each other with muddy sticks from a nearby copse. He tried to involve them in helping him build a trench in the soil to serve as a toilet, but they quickly lost interest. He gave up himself soon after, the hole filling with thick brown liquid faster than he could dig.
When he had been young, not far off their ages now, his father had brought him out to the country on a similar trip. A bonding experience, living closer to the land. Come back here, he calls to the younger one, who was jumping in the shallows of the pond with his red wellies. You'll scare off the ducks. It's time for bed boys, do you have your toothbrushes?
After inspecting the mouse-traps around the house, in the shed and by the two rectangular mounds of earth outside, one much smaller than the other, the trapper set out into the grey light of the morning. Though his long, heavy coat kept most of him warm, walking would warm up his toes where the holes in his boots let in the cold air and dew from the lush grasses. He was expecting rain later in the day. That was good. He could be about his business and the water would wash away his scent after he passed. He had seen fresh game spoor the night before, today he might leave a surprise for an unsuspecting Mr. or Mrs. Pheasant. His coffee flask bounced reassuringly off his leg as he quickened his pace.
Tugging at the inner zip to his tent, Cai yawned and blinked the sleep from his eyes. He shivered, wet with the dew that had formed inside. The inner tent would need to be checked, that wasn't supposed to happen. The boys emerged from their shared tent to the smell of breakfast frying over the camping stove, new for the trip. He had wanted to built a fire pit to cook on with the boys, realising only on arrival that the field had precious few rocks to line it with.
Waiting for his turn using the camper van's toilet, the elder son excitedly pointed to the horizon. A large bird in the distance was slowly flying along a length of hedge. Reaching one end, it turned back the way it had come, lazily patrolling the distance.
Cai found his binoculars and handed them to the boy. It's a buzzard. What's it doing? Daddy there's a man, it's following the man. He looked for himself. The boy was right. The bird was following a figure walking beside the hedge, grey haired and grizzled in a long riding coat with bulging pockets.
He recalled his trip with his father. The old man had been whittling and he had run off into the fields to be alone, arms spread wide playing spitfire, cutting a path through daffodils, the bright yellow flowers decapitated by his machine gun-stick. Diving into the cover of the trees, he found himself in an area cleared of debris unlike the rest of the woodland, only holes and bare earth the colour of fresh clay. A badger sett. A strange noise caught his attention. It did not take him long to find its source. A young badger, its head caught in a snare. The wires dug into its flesh as it growled and squirmed, the boy looking on in horror. The fur around the animals neck was peeled back where it met the wire, revealing raw pink skin and glistening red open wounds as it growled, rolling its eyes and spraying spittle in pain. He had run back to his father who merely grunted and spat. Poachers, bachgen. Leave it. It had never left him.
Cai drew his sons to him, the youngest one now returned. Boys, I want you to promise me – promise me to stay away from that man. Do you hear me? The boys nod. That night they made dampers over a small fire.
The trapper made his way through a small glade, a river cutting through it that would soon begin to swell, become impassable in the coming winter months. The wild garlic will grow here, he knows. The bluebells are long gone. One of his traps has caught a rabbit. The small creature shivers then freezes at his approach. He opens the cage and sinks the needle into its flank. It struggles, kicks, then falls still. Travelling home, he spots the sleeping camp site. The van, the tents, the unfinished toilet. Bad place for a lat, he thinks. Too low. Too close to the water level.
Cai wakes early the next day and fetches a pair of pliers from the van's tool kit. He strides purposefully in the direction he had seen the man going the day before.
It doesn't take him long to find what he's looking for. Cutting across the footpaths, animal trails like tunnels lead out between the brambles and fallen branches. He follows. A short way in, a glint of morning sun on metal catches his eye and he approaches the wire contraption. Beside it, the body of a rabbit. His heart sinks: he's too late.
He's startled when the animal twitches, leaps to its feet and darts off into the undergrowth. It had seemed unharmed. More puzzling, it wore a smart blue jacket.
He arrives back at the camp site to find the boys awake, laughing as they chase a flock of ducks which had emerged to feed on the damper crumbs from the night before. Bewildered, he looks over the scene. Trampled into the mud by the chaotic prints of duck feet and wellies is a small floral pink shawl. Snagged on a twig, a small blue bonnet waves at him in the slight wind,.
In his cottage, the trapper draws on his pipe and turns an old fashioned red toy motorcar over and over in his hands.