Liz hurried through the trees, anxiety coursing through her until she spotted the brightness of the clearing and her cabin in the distance – she was only a few moments away. Why had she not paid closer attention to the time? The late afternoon light was fading, and she knew she had to hurry. Night in a forest was never safe before, but even less so now, ever since… The sharp snap of a branch breaking sent a spike of fear through her breast and stilled her thoughts.
Was it? – No, too early…
Liz quickened her pace and sighed quietly in relief when she finally reached the door. Remembering the branch, Liz turned to gaze into the lengthening shadows of the forest. There was still decent light and she could see several hundred feet out, but there was no movement and no sound out of the ordinary.
Probably spooked an animal as I ran past.
Liz shook her head as she stepped through the door and latched it securely behind her. The forest had been quiet for some time, and she’d obviously become lax because of it. Never again – the risk was too great. She’d been careful since it all began – she’d come to this cabin because of its seclusion, hoping it would ensure her safety, instead of fleeing to one of the supposedly safe military camps like many others had. She came alone, of course, since everyone she cared about was… was already gone.
Tears filled her eyes but Liz angrily swiped them away and focused on checking that the cabin was secure. The cabin was small, the size of a studio apartment only, but it held all that she would need – running water from a well, small wood burning stove that she still constantly burned food on, tiny bathroom that barely fit the shower and toilet, and the bed and other furniture.
It didn’t take long to check it was secure as Liz walked quickly around the room checking that all the wooden shutters were latched tightly and that the layers of thick curtains fully covered each one. She couldn’t allow any light to peek through during the night, too much risk that it’d be seen, but she couldn’t stay in darkness – the shadows were where they lived… Liz shuddered and pushed the thoughts aside as she lit the oil lanters and filled the room with their warm brightness.
Liz checked her watch – 5:30 PM. She guessed she had about 60 minutes before it was fully dark outside, plenty of time to try to cook something on the stove. Being a terrible hunter and disgusted at the thought of skinning an animal, Liz survived mostly on canned goods but luckily today she’d found a chicken coop at a nearby cabin with hens and plenty of eggs. Liz smiled as she pulled her backpack off pulled the dozen eggs she’d gathered out.
Praying she wouldn’t crack an egg and find anything but the normal yolk and egg white – god, that would be horrific – Liz quickly lit the stove and started her preparations. 15 minutes later she smiled gratefully as the smell of eggs and sliced potatoes filled her nostrils as she dished them onto a plate – four eggs cracked and all four were only yolk and egg white. She’d definitely made too much food in her excitement as she’d cooked the entire can of sliced potatoes along with the four large eggs. She’d be lucky if she ate half, but it was too late now.
Liz had just set the plate on the table and was heading to get a cup of water when a knock came from the door – the sound, once part of everyday normal life, now filled her with terror. Who could be here? She’d been alone for months – hadn’t seen or heard a single person in that entire time! Who? The knock came again, sending another spike of fear through her that didn’t lessen any when a voice, muffled by the door and layers of thick curtains, followed swiftly behind the knock.
“Hello, is anybody inside? Please, my son and I need help.” The man’s voice sounded desperate, and Liz took an unconscious step towards the door before freezing again – what if it was a trick?
“Please, it’s getting dark, we don’t have time to find shelter.”
Liz walked slowly up to the door but still hesitated. Part of her begged to let them in, she’d be alone so long that just the possibility of human contact had her almost unlatch and open the door. But the pragmatic part had her hesitate again, until she noticed a soft sobbing on the other side of the door and a tiny, fear laced voice, that seemed to stab through her heart with each word spoken…
“Daddy, I’m scared.”
A child – sounding no more than five or six. Just like… Trick or not, Liz couldn’t resist the child’s voice, and she swiftly unlatched and threw open the door. The man stared in surprise for a moment, his son clutched tightly to his chest, before a look of relief washed over him and he dashed inside.
Liz stared into the spreading darkness under the treeline several hundred feet from the cabin before closing and re-latching the door. She had seen nothing out of the ordinary, but that didn’t mean nothing was there. A tiny thread of fear still tightened around her heart, and Liz rested her head against the curtains after they fell back in place over the door as she tried to calm her nerves.
“Thank you,” His voice was stronger now, the deep baritone comforting even, yet it sounded familiar to her. “We probably wouldn’t have made it if you’d not let us in.”
Liz turned from the door, the smile freezing on her face and reassuring words dying in her throat when her eyes met his. She recognized him instantly, even though his face was haggard now from poor nutrition and stress. As if pulled from her very core, his name slipped from her lips.