conclusion of Chapter One…
Pavement, sidewalks, houses, cars – everything, was gone. Vanished. She stood, alone, in the middle of a forest. Pine, cedar, and oak trees towering above her. Some of them were so tall that she could not see the very top of them. Sunlight penetrated between them, where it could, but the trees were so dense, there was more shadow than light. Sunbeams, she thought. Only sunbeams could get through. They looked very pretty like that. And a piney, woodsy smell wafted by her, carried on a slight breeze. She inhaled deeply. Now this is what fresh air should be like.
She sat down Indian style on a pine needle covered dirt and closed her eyes. She inhaled slowly and deeply, and then slowly exhaled. She was obviously having a hallucination, and needed to stay calm until it passed. Her apple lay on the ground next to her. The backpack vanished along with everything else in it.
Where the Hell am I?
She never hallucinated before. Who knew what kind of terrors her subconscious brain would manufacture. Her dreams were bad enough for her to deal with. Mostly nightmares and occasionally the frustrating ones like being naked at school. She had that one a lot.
She didn’t think this, whatever this was, was a dream.
When she did turn her head and look around, she saw a clearing with a small log cabin. It could be part of a movie set, she thought. It was rustic and weathered just so. A bit too perfect for reality. But it looked solid enough to be real. The rust colored dirt and dried pine needles were real enough on her hands and jeans.
She paced about until curiosity overcame fear, and she walked up and tapped one of the logs. It was solid. She lightly stepped inside – the door was conveniently unlocked. A beautiful solid oak table and four matching chairs were next to the front window. The floorboards were worn pine. There was the rust colored dirt under them. The kitchen area was neat and tidy. She assumed it was a kitchen because the open cupboards and shelves held bowls, pans, and utensils. She recognized a rolling-pin, a potato masher, a well-seasoned iron-skillet, and what she believed was a biscuit cutter. The other items were a mystery. Like the large wooden boxy thing in the corner, next to the wood-stove.
She also noted that this ‘kitchen’ did not have the usual stuff – like a fridge or a stove. No microwave. No coffee maker. Hell, not even a sink! How could people live like this?
Maybe it was just a ‘get-away-from-it-all’ vacation home. She scoffed at the thought – what kind of vacation would that be? Not her kind. She was not an outdoor girl. Oh, she loved to be out in nature, soaking up the sunshine and breathing fresh air. But only for so long. And never overnight. When she went camping, she preferred the Hilton.
Up a few steps, in the back of the place, there was a loft-like area, with a wood framed bed. It took up all the space except for an old-fashioned wardrobe. She debated, even looked around for witnesses a couple of times, and then climbed up the three steps to try it out. The frame held a fluffy mattress made from what felt like clouds. She could fall asleep for a week in this bed. On top of the bed was a lovely patchwork quilt. She had seen one like it before – somewhere. She even thought she recognized some of the fabrics in it. And why not, this was her hallucination after all.
Someone obviously lived here, and was probably close by, judging from the hot coals that were going out in the fireplace.
She didn’t know where to go, but she didn’t want to be discovered, like Goldilocks, snoozing in a bed that did not belong to her. Inside her denim bag had been her iPhone, iPod, tablet, along with her lunch and history paper. Only the apple came with her. She knew this fact was significant, but not why.
“I better get out of here before the 3 bears come home”, she told herself. Bears? Bears lived in forests. She hoped not this particular forest. Squirrels, raccoons, skunks and opossums she could probably handle. A bear? She did not want to think about it.
She didn’t want to let herself think about the Uni-bomber, terrorist cells, or chain saws either.
She walked back into the trees, making sure the cabin stayed in sight. She came across a small clearing area, where she could see the cabin, while remaining hidden. No one should be able to see her. Deciding to stay here for a while and rest, because she was at least near someone, and the place she originally came (beamed?) down, transported or hallucinated from. She found a small tree stump in a sunbeam to sit on. I’ll warm myself like a lizard here, while I keep watch on the place, she decided.
She sat. After an hour she decided to eat her apple. And she sat.
Questions collided in and out of her head. Not able to think of one reasonable (or even non-reasonable) explanation for what had happened, made her feel panicked. This doesn’t happen in real life, only in the movies. And she watched a lot of movies. Which probably explained why the first things she thought of were like, she was in a Twilight Zone episode; or Scotty beamed her up to the forest planet; or aliens transported her here; or maybe, she was on Candid Camera. Any minute now, Allen Funt would jump out from behind a tree and explain the entire funny episode to her. She was very fond of that explanation, but she thought it was as unlikely to be true as the others were.
She had not spoken many words, since she woke up, except for cuss words. She must owe her niece at least ten bucks by now. Cuss words cost a quarter apiece. The “F” word cost a dollar. The deal they made was supposed to; 1) deter her from having a “potty mouth”, and 2) the money went to her niece’s college fund. It was not working so well today, for herself. Her niece may be able to go to Harvard if Aunt Chloe did not mend her ways.
If a girl, alone in the woods, cusses – do the trees tell on her?
She suddenly had to stifle giggles that threatened to burst out of her. She wanted to keep quiet and not draw any attention to her hiding place. Although she didn’t know what she was hiding from (except bears), she wanted to be cautious.
“Don’t assume anything.” She told herself. “Shut up and see.”
Whoever lived in the cabin might be willing to tell her where she was. Of course, the occupant could be a demented serial killer or worse, a terrorist. That would not surprise her a bit, considering how Monday had gone so far. However, since she saw for herself that there were no dead bodies or explosives inside, she decided that waiting right here was still a good idea.
She sat on her stump, still and thoughtful, taking in her surroundings. She began to feel calm in spite of herself. The warm spring day and scent of pine in the calm breeze, made her feel drowsy. She watched a cute gray squirrel scurry about and dig for an acorn not five feet from her. A slight movement in the bushes to the right of her, almost freaked her out, but when two deer, a buck and a doe, emerged; she held her breath so she would not startle them. They were so beautiful! In addition, not cooped up in some zoo, but out here, with her, in the forest. They didn’t stay long; she startled them when she sneezed.
There were probably a lot more creatures out here. She tried not to dwell on that.
It seemed like hours had passed by. She grew bored with her stake out and decided to hike around a bit and stretch her legs (thank God she wore sensible shoes today), while it was daylight. Maybe, she would discover other log houses, or, hope against hope, a town. She began hiking uphill so she could improve her field of vision. If she weren’t afraid of heights, she would climb a tree. They were certainly tall enough.
One thing, she thought, I should have paid attention in science class. She had been too busy staring (drooling over) at Rich Hansen to learn anything, now she was lost in the forest, and she needed to figure out what direction she was going, and when she would run out of daylight. “There are apps for these things on my iPhone!” she whined. Why did this happen to her?
The truth was, if she had a compass and a map she would still be lost. She ‘could not find her way out of a paper bag’, was how her dad put it. She did not inherit the ‘sense-of-direction-gene’, like everyone else in her family. She was so happy when GPS units became available and affordable. She named her GPS – Tom (short for Tom Tom). Tom always got her back on track after she took a wrong turn. Although Tom told her exactly what to do, like,” “After 200 yards, turn left” Sometimes a left turn showed up after only 150 yards and she took it. Tom never laughed or yelled at her. He simply recalculated the route and guided her from there. She loved him.
What felt like an hour later (damn her missing watch!), the light blue sky began dissolving into darker shades of blue. A pinkish, orange glow, that reminded her of those tall popsicles called missiles that she would buy from the ice-cream man, slipped toward the horizon. The sunset in the West – that much she knew. But what good would that do her when she didn’t know where she was or wanted to go? The more she thought about it, her plan to stay close to the log cabin was the smartest thing to do. If she explored farther into the forest, she would never find her way back.
She wished whoever lived there would come home and take her in, at least for a day or two. The she wished that whoever lived there would never find her.
The trees looked ominous (and creepy) in the diminishing light. She wasn’t afraid of the dark. But in a forest full of strange noises, no flashlight and no sleeping bag, she was becoming very afraid.
“Perfect.” she grumbled. “I hope there’s a full moon tonight, I left my flashlight at home.”
She got the giggles then. Wasn’t that a sign of going crazy? Laughing for no reason. Like a loon? Once she got it all out of her system, she sat cross-legged on her stump, and gave in to exhaustion. She was afraid to lie on the ground to sleep (who knew what kind of bugs and reptiles lurked), so she dozed on and off, mostly upright, then listing to the left until waking just enough to sit back upright and pray she would wake up in her own bed, and this was just a really bad dream after all.
An owl swooped over her and screeched. My God! No wonder they call them screech owls! She was not in her own bed, but still in the forest, sitting on an uncomfortably hard stump. Except now it was completely dark. A faint glow on the horizon got her attention. She watched as the near-full moon rose in the sky. She couldn’t believe how bright it was. With no competing city lights around, it was brilliant. And the stars! She could see so many of them that she knew she was not in California. Even when in Wyoming’s the middle of nowhere, the night sky did not have all these lights. She finally spotted the Dippers. They were in the wrong place – farther away from the North Star and almost on the horizon. How weird.
Before she could wrap her mind around that, her neck began protesting her stargazing position. Forgetting about insects and rodents, she lay on her back, propped her head with her arms, crossed behind her. She must have drifted off to sleep, because the next thing she knew was the moon was higher in the sky and the air was much colder.
“I would know the temperature if I had my freaking phone,” she complained to the large rock next to her stump. It was damned cold. It didn’t matter how many degrees a thermometer said it was. She was cold, hungry and frightened. Each of those things made her crabby, so all of them together made her insane. She needed to get off her ass and move around. Get her circulation going.
She began doing jumping jacks, then running in place. When she finished going through stretches, she noticed two yellow eyes straight ahead of her, but deeper among the trees. She kept her eyes on them, still running but slower than before. By the size of the eyes it could be a skunk, opossum or raccoon, which was curious about the stranger in their woods. Not curious enough to come closer, she hoped.
The light between the trees, now from moonbeams, helped her find a trail, that led farther up the mountain. Thinking she would be able to see better, she climbed it. From this height, the little cabin stood in a fair-sized clearing. Behind it there was a large barn, she thought it was a barn even though it was not painted red, and a tiny shack set away from both barn and cabin. She could see a faint light inside the cabin! Whoever lived there came back while she was dozing.
A movement inside got her attention. A man, she was sure it was a man, walked past the front window. He then stepped out on the porch, followed by a big dog that immediately ran to a tree and lifted its leg. The man leaned against the porch railing, took what looked like a small bag out of his shirt pocket, and began doing something – it looked like he was rolling a joint, but she couldn’t see clearly. She stood up and made her way through some bushes for a closer look.
That was when she heard the click sound.
She froze. Her heart pounded up into her throat. There were two things that made a sound like that. A land mine and a gun cocking . Knowledge she acquired watching television and movies. Her instincts screamed, “Run!” However, before she could react, she heard something else.
It was the sickening sound of metal closing around her shinbone.
Her scream was so shrill, that only the man’s dog could hear it.
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