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Rated: ASR · Short Story · Horror/Scary · #2028639
A man lost in the wilderness seeks help and shelter. What he finds is neither.
Though I Tried

         When I first realized that something was wrong, it was when I jolted awake to the screams of my fellow passengers. As my sleep-fogged mind raced to rip me into awareness of my situation, my blurred vision showed me the white-knuckles, gritted teeth, and clenched-shut eyes of my neighbor. Still struggling to make sense of what I was hearing and seeing, I looked out the window. The same instant that I registered the snow-covered forest racing up towards us was the same moment that I felt my waist straining against the seat-belt. It's thin nylon strap all that kept me from sliding forward onto the seat before me. I only had time to feel the very beginning of panic before a sound like a million pages being torn in half assaulted my ears. My eyes shut reflexively, and then it was as if I had never woken up at all.

         When next I came to awareness, the world was suffused in shades of orange and pink. I woke to the sound of wind blowing through the snow-weighted boughs. Soft thumps and shuffles as dry snow sloughed from the pines. The only other sound was a quiet, low roar that came from somewhere out of sight. Pain came quickly after that, sending sharp, throbbing spikes through my legs. After a brief struggle, I pulled myself free of the seats which had broken loose from the floor above and trapped my legs. I was bleeding and bruised, but didn't seem to have broken anything. As I collapsed onto my back, cushioned by the soft, numbing snow, I turned my head side to side slowly, mechanically taking in the sight. I didn't want to look too closely.

         The plane had been torn to shreds by the trees, and left a furrow of trampled vegetation in it's wake, showing the direction of impact. I sat up, wincing, no longer able to take the cold that was insidiously working it's way through my thin clothing. I was briefly concerned for myself as I realized I felt nothing, surveying the twisted wreckage and the broken bodies that littered it. It seemed wrong that I shouldn't feel so much as a hint of sadness or fear. No easily recognizable emotions at all. Oddly, it allowed me to consider my situation and move, not with alacrity perhaps, but with surety.

         After finding that my own cell-phone was lost, fallen from my pocket somewhere amid the debris, I set about patting down the people closest to me. Again, this was done without disgust, or apprehension. I'm not even sure I saw them as people. Just...bodies. Lifeless. Beneath consideration. On five bodies I found three phones, none of which had a signal in this wilderness. I put them in my pocket anyway.

         I next turned my attention to warmth. It wasn't difficult. There was luggage everywhere, and before long I had pulled on a pair of over-sized sweatpants over my jeans. I pulled two brightly colored sweaters over my head, before their garishness was muffled by another man's thick leather jacket. During all this time, I heard not a single moan or grunt of pain, a sign that anyone else had survived. I chose a small duffel bag from among the pieces of luggage and dumped it's contents unceremoniously on the ground, before filling it with all the water and soda bottles that I could find. It was beginning to grow dark now, so I patted a few more pockets until I had come away with a handful of lighters.

         I considered spending the night there, protected from the wind by the torn shell of the plane, but as the shock began to leave me, the thought of being surrounded by dozens of corpses as I slept made me turn and walk into the woods, intending to go only a short way before trying to build a fire and waiting out the frigid night.

         Instead, I kept walking, though it had grown so dark that I was navigating by moonlight. Even stuffed into the jacket's pockets, my hands were burning with cold. The tips of my fingers were sensitive and painful to the touch. The same was true of my feet, as I stomped heavily through the ankle-deep snow, weaving between the trees. I had no reason for going this direction. I only had some vague, half-formed idea of perhaps finding a hill to climb, to see if I could get a signal on one of the pilfered phones. Every time I tried to expend any thought to the crash, my mind diverted itself forcefully, dragging my attention to something mundane, like the next tree, or the way the snow would collapse around the edges of my feet, or the numbing cold that still seeped into my trunk, turning my inhalations into gut-spasms despite the extra layers I had donned. It had begun to snow, now. The thick, heavy flakes alighting on my brows and nose. Atop my head and shoulders. It made the wood around me fuzzy, blurring the sharp outlines of the shadow-trees.

         I'm not sure how long I walked like this, hardly looking up. Instead my eyes were focused on a point roughly ten feet ahead of me, never wavering to the sides. I picked my way through the silver and black forest, made monochrome by the moon's cold, mocking reflection of sunlight. Reflecting a star that had abandoned me, choosing to shower it's life-giving warmth and joy to people a hundred-thousand miles away, merrily going about their lives, completely unaware and uncaring about a lone man, trudging thoughtlessly and numb through an unfamiliar wilderness on the other side of the world.

         A distant scream shook me from my non-thoughts. I stopped, looking about me. After a few moments of hearing nothing but the soft night wind, I heard it again. Instantly recognizable as a woman's scream of...terror? Pain? It came from in front of me. Surely it couldn't be a survivor of the crash. Unless...unless someone had had the same idea as myself. Was it possible?

         I started moving again, at a quicker pace. It never came again, but I had heard it's direction clearly, and made every effort to correct myself whenever I had to detour around trees or shrubs. My feet moved of their own accord. At first a rapid walk. Then a jog. Then, I was running through the trees, desperate now to find someone, anyone else, alive in this place. I realized suddenly that I was terrified of being alone. Strange how it hadn't mattered, until I was given the glimpse of possibility.

         I tripped over something. A log or fallen branch. My breath was knocked from me as I plowed into the snow face-first. I groaned as I pushed myself to my knees. Looking up, I thought I saw...no, I was sure I saw a light in the distance ahead of me. A soft, warm, yellow glow, as if from a candle or lantern. The snow was in my eyes, keeping me from making out anything else. I forced myself to stand and keep moving, despite the ache in my legs and lungs from the brief exertion.

         As I drew closer, I saw that it was a house. Perhaps cottage is a better word. A small, rectangular building that couldn't have had more than two or three small rooms nestled within. There was an oil-lantern in the window. My guiding light. I tried to call out, to announce myself. All that came forth was a labored croak. My throat felt raw from the frigid air I had been mercilessly sucking down.

         Oddly, as hope and potential salvation came into view, my will to continue was sapped. The thought of  warmth, shelter...perhaps company, made it difficult to regain the mechanical determination I had relied on to get me this far. I felt drained. Exhausted, suddenly. I staggered to the door and pounded on it with my fist.

         There was no answer. I pounded again. Nothing. Not so much as a whisper. Desperate, I tried the knob, and nearly fell inside as it pushed open, eager to allow me entrance. I shut it quickly behind me. Standing just inside, I wrapped my arms about myself. Somewhat nervously, I stood there, looking about me, just waiting for some old man or wizened woman to step from a dark corner, accusing, demanding an explanation for my intrusion.

         Even as I tried to formulate my response in my mind, a twinge in my gut told me that was not going to happen. Despite the light...the unlocked door, this place had an air of abandonment about it. Emptiness radiated from every dark corner, every wavering shadow. I took a few tentative steps, solidifying my status as intruder. This act signaling my intent to stay...at least for the night.

         I took up the lantern from it's place by the window and toured the house. For some reason I tried to be quiet about it. Hardly daring to breath, and flinching every time the wooden floor creaked beneath my feet. It was small indeed. One room combined living area and kitchen, replete with an old, plaid armchair and flimsy dining table. A cast-iron wood-stove sat frozen and empty in the corner. A hallway to one side, only a few strides deep, held what I assumed to be a bathroom and single bedroom. Cautiously, still half expecting to be surprised by the owner, I crept to the bedroom, holding the lantern out before me.

         Empty. I exhaled in relief. Some time in the last few minutes an irrational fear had crept into my breast. Whether it was fear of accusation, or of being thrown back out into dark night, or of something else, I couldn't say. Feeling a deep desire to rest, I sat down on the edge of the bed, setting the lantern on the small night-table. As I did, I noticed a small, worn book. It lay askew, with no title. Curious, perhaps seeking distraction, I took it up and opened it to a random page.

         Nov 20,

                   It's been five months now since dear Alan passed. It snowed for the first time today, reminding me that this will be the first winter I'll have to spend without him. I'm too weak to do anything but gather twigs and some fallen branches for the stove. There's enough firewood to last a while, but it always goes quicker than you think. I canned what I could from the garden before the plants died completely. Maybe it will be enough. I'm afraid it won't.

         A diary, then. Feeling a little ashamed at my voyeurism, I skipped a couple pages before pausing to read another entry.

         Dec 3,

                   The firewood is gone, now. I used the last logs to warm the house tonight and fix myself supper. I think I've come down with something. No matter how close I get to the stove, I'm still chilled. My head feels stuffy. I think I'm going to call it an early night. Somehow I'll have to gather enough kindling to make a fire tomorrow.

         I caught myself beginning to feel sorry for this old woman. Slowly fading as she succumbed to cold and sickness, without anyone left to comfort or take care of her. I read on.

         Dec 5,

                   I can't get out of bed today. I feel nauseous and fell down when I tried to stand. It's okay though. I heard Alan calling to me outside. I'm sure he'll be in shortly with some firewood to warm me up. It's very cold.

         Poor woman, I thought. She must have come down with a fever and become delusional. A sudden chill ran through my spine as a draft found it's way into the bedroom.

         An old woman's voice, "Alan?"

         My heart froze. The voice came from the shadowed doorway to the bedroom. I turned to look, but even as my stiff, knotted neck began to move, the lantern flame was snuffed out, as if by some unseen wind, plunging me into darkness.

         "Alan...I've been waiting for you. So...very...long."

         Muffled by the snow, my screams echoed into the woods.

((Author's note: Written as an entry for the Monthly Monstrosities contest. Sorry if it's not all that scary. I'll be content if you merely find it 'creepy'.))
© Copyright 2015 J. Thayne (zathura2 at Writing.Com). All rights reserved.
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