This is the first chapter of what I would call a "cabin in the woods." thriller
|The dented red truck huffed itself over shallow depths and random boughs of re-hardened earth. At every bounce Sarah braced for her head to go slamming into the pealing under-layer of the old truck’s cabin. At every climb the truck backfired like a shotgun; the rusted tool box, tethered by a weather worn bungee cord slid back and forth in the paint-scrapped bed. She kicked the empty oil bottles at her feet; the ruined upholstery with cushion exposed and falling out and the litter of dead wasps on the dashboard made her shift uncomfortably in her seat. She pulled out her phone, hoping for a late text to arrive; no service, she had two bars several turns back when the roads were still paved and there was a cell tower along with houses with barns, chickens wondering in the ditches and wooden signs for churches and farms where one could buy horses.
But here it was a dead zone; nothing but the gilded canopies of the woods and bright lit empty fallow fields. Like a replaying film the tree lines surrounding the road ran nearly endlessly as far as Sarah was concerned; broken occasionally by a crooked brake in the ditch or a massive boulder or limestone bluff. “Is there any thing to do?” she asked absentmindedly to the bearded man driving the truck.
“Plenty,” was the reply.
“Do you even have a TV?”
Sarah let her hand against her head plop down to the seat; that was the only sign she gave of her frustration. Gone from her friends nearly a week after school let out when her parents sat her down and told her she would either go with Uncle Robert for a few weeks to “cool her heels,” or they would have to send her to a more “confining location,” to use her father’s words.
What could be more confining then this? Spending the next month, alone in the woods with her dad’s old uncle she only met twice before. A whole month of late night parties at Carrie’s house getting drunk or hanging out with Anthony and his brother John getting stoned, none of it for a whole month.
Sarah sighed quietly and put her phone away and stared out into the woods, trying desperately to keep her mind off what she knew she was going to miss. She ran her finger up and down the zipper on her jacket and shifted again in her seat, transfixed again on the looping reel of trees as the truck crawled down the bottom of a hill. In the dark green shade beyond a field something stood up against the slender trunks of the trees; flat white walls and vacant windows met Sarah’s curious eyes, an abandoned house just barely hidden by the few trees standing before it. She studied the structure inquisitively, she had seen a few other abandoned houses and barns on the road back, little shanties with sheet metal roofs, broken windows and a paint-less black exterior or newer ones with an overgrown yard, a swing set in the back and a bright, orange notice on the front door. Yet this one struck her as strange, it looked quite massive like a mansion to her and with all the grown trees surrounding it, it must have been abandoned for decades; bewildered, if not a bit excited, Sarah delighted in the notion of going to investigate. Then something else caught her attention; a form of a man standing just before one of the lower windows, a tall slender frame looking out to the road. She quickly glanced around in the exterior of the house, looking for a car or truck hidden in the shade. But after finding nothing she returned to the window and the man was gone. Sarah frowned and continued to eye the house just before they moved out of sight, nothing moved in the stillness. Weird, she brushed it off; what could anyone be doing in a place like that? A meth maker, Sarah reasoned, the only idea that came into her mind; she turned away from the window and focused on the road ahead but watched the tree line on the edge of her vision. She didn't wanted to be taken by surprise if someone suddenly appeared in the road.
The trees cloaked the road with shade from their infant leaves; the air was twittering with bird calls and songs from the branches. Little violet and orange wildflowers bordered the worn gravel road and an easy breeze fluttered the saplings and underbrush. The truck rolled soundly over a set of railroad tracks and raced up to the crest of a hill, reared right at a crossroads and down the hill again; a curve and a turn again and the truck lurched into an open clearing with a wooden cabin.
The truck stopped just before the porch; where a black Labrador came leaping out from underneath the steps. Sarah sat up and surveyed the clearing: rusted junk, some in heaps and others scattered around, a shed with antlers above the door frame, twisted leaning fence either staked around a chicken coup or rolled up and propped against the cabin. The cabin was probably the most dismal thing Sarah could image anyone living in; the siding was coming off and the windows brown and dirty. With a bag in her hand and two under her shoulder she kicked the truck door close and marched solemnly to the front door. Uncle Robert rubbed the lab on the head and behind his ears and followed her up the porch; the weathered and warped steps creaked as they ascended. He held open both the screen door and the heavy solid one as Sarah jostled her way in. What caught her first was the stale, musky smell, like her room back home when she left clothes and food in there for a day or two; all the dated furniture and fixtures, a roll top desk, dinning table set from the seventies, shag rugs and arm chairs in front of a metal stove, all of it in a dark, burgundy hue from the drawn curtains.
“That’s your room,” Uncle Robert pointed to a door just feet away from the front door. “Go ahead and get settled in, I’ll go get supper ready.”
Sarah squeezed out as much of her arm as she could to grab the knob. It was a hard, cold thing like a crushed cue ball; the old door was stuck and heavy but finally popped lose after she whammed it with her shoulder. Dust went flying in the afternoon sun as she tossed her bags to the floor; nothing in here but a dresser, bed-side table and bed with a brass colored frame and a quilt tucked in it. “Probably made of straw,” she thumbled through her jean’s pocket for her hidden pack of cigarettes and lighter and flopped down onto the bed, sinking in deep as she lit up; she sighed out a long drag of mellow smoke and watched it hover and twirl. The calming smoke was a welcomed relief to the long day; the storm cloud of anger and frustration parted for a moment and a sense of determination revived her. Uncle Robert was rather lacking in social skills; she figured she could get him so sick of her being there it wouldn't take long for him to take her back. There was probably another party going on at Carrie’s house tonight; that guy with the studs in his ears from social studies was probably there.
Time seemed to be trickling, Sarah could have sworn it moved slower out there; another glance at her phone and only two minutes had gone by since looking last. The draft of smoke wandered in the calm room as she fought her closing eyes; the smell would have drifted to the rest of the cabin by now but so far Uncle Robert hadn't shown up to remark on it. Perhaps, Sarah reasoned with smiling lips clasped between a cigarette, he didn't even notice the smell through the already stuffy cabin, mixing with the stale air.
But it didn't take long for her to become rather uncomfortable; she had expected him to come barging in, angry and maybe attempting to take her smokes but she only heard the footsteps and muffled clanging from what she perceived to be the kitchen on the other side of the wall. What was his angle? Her dad would have been in there within seconds of a cigarette being lit, he was like a damn bloodhound and that was with the window open. She hadn't open the one beside her bed yet in fact she had avoided it since she sat on the bed; she didn't needed to be reminded by the trees and the rusted junk outside where she was.
Her phone beeped twice and vibrated on the bedside table, making Sarah jump a little from nearly dosing off. She quickly grasped it; hoping for a text or missed call but it was only a warning that her battery was dying. Disappointed, she rose out of the bed and searched the side zipper pocket of her gym bag for the charger; she mangled through a cluster of dirty cobwebs under the bedside table for the plug, a few sharp knocks at the door made her arm jump and bang against the table, rattling the lamp on top.
“Supper, com’an get it.”
The knock she had been anticipating for the last fifteen minutes finally came when she was preoccupied with something else and yet not for what she was expecting, she hadn't eaten since that morning right before leaving her house. She dusted off the cobwebs clinging to her skin and plugged her phone in and walked out to the dinning table.
Uncle Robert sat at the one end of the table, waiting. Sarah scooted in on the opposite ended and starred at the plate in front of her: mashed potatoes with a yellow hue, oily green beans and sliced ham. Uncle Robert ate without so much as a word or even a look up from his food. Sarah pieced together some beans; they were a bit chewy for her liking and the potatoes were lumpy and salted to much. She rested her head on her hand leaning against the table as she ate, glancing up to the man on the other side between fork-fulls; she didn't care for small talk, no one at her house ate at the kitchen table all together but the dim silence was nerve-racking.
“So, uh, get many visitors out here?” Stupid question she thought right after she said it but she was curious as to why he even had a second bedroom.
“No, not really.” her uncle shook his head.
She took a sip of water, leaned back in the chair and smacked her parched lips together, “no hunting buddies, friends or…”
“Nope, not lately.”
The smirk on her face dropped as did the line of conversation; she mixed some of the beans and potatoes together. “What are we going to do tomorrow?” That should call for more then a two note response.
Uncle Robert looked up and starred off for a moment, chewing his food. “You can help me gather up the limbs that fell down from the storms last month, stack some firewood, mend the chickens’ fence.”
She diced some ham and dipped them in the mashed potatoes, “exciting stuff,” she scuffed under her breath.
Uncle Robert looked up and grunted across the table but Sarah apathetically shrugged it off.
By the time supper had ended and the plates and silverware were washed and drying the sun had begun to set and the cabin glowed in a soft amber light that slowly reddened. Sarah noticed that Uncle Robert disappeared into his room for a moment after leaving the kitchen; she took the chance to fling open two of the cupboards, gently fingering behind boxes of food on one shelf and ceramic bowls and plates on another, every few seconds looking over her right shoulder, listening closely for footsteps. Her search turned up nothing, no hidden bottle of whiskey, gin or anything. She shut the doors just as quietly as she had gone through what was behind them just before Uncle Robert came down the hall, holding something in his hand-a cigar, no a pipe, a corn cob pipe; he went out to the porch without a word or a glance her way. The thought had of course stirred in her mind before; he had to do something to kill the perpetual boredom. She followed him but not to hastily and even slowed down when she heard the unmistakable clink of a metal lighter’s lid being popped off and the quick strike of ignition; her mood soared and a devious grin grew from cheek to cheek, perhaps the next few weeks wouldn’t be so boring after all…
Uncle Robert sat quietly rocking on the porch chair; his eyes gazing somewhere to the tree line the sun was setting behind. Whiffs of blue-grey smoke blew from his nostrils, smelling to Sarah like the peppery hint of a campfire, a surprising pleasant smell that she had certainly not expected. She sat down on the highest step and lit a cigarette, several streaks of narrow clouds were growing blue far over the clearing; the orange sun was half eclipsed by a blot of heavier, fuller ones shone in a royal purple. And all the while there wasn't a sound, save for Uncle Robert’s soft rocking and the porch boards moaning in a quiet rhythm.
A lone dead tree with its bark pealing off and with ivy creeping up the trunk stood on the far end of the clearing just separated from the rest of the forest by a few yards. Like white bones the branches had stretched bare toward the sky; small, black flickers pasted between the branches. Sarah squinted and tried to make them out; they didn't move and turn like birds with the same grace; but in sudden twists and dives.
“Bats,” Uncle Robert must have noticed her watching, “never had a big mosquito problem because of them, a few of them live in that tree but there are hundreds of them that live under the bluffs by the swamp, plenty of food for them there.”
Uncle Robert drew out a large billow of smoke; the pipe began making a gurgling sound. “The swamp, just west of here but that’s no place for you to be; the water’s deep and full of moccasins and Lord knows what else.” He dumped his pipe into his hand and scattered the ashes and dottle over the edge of the porch. “It’s about time to turn in anyway, come on in.” He went in, with the lab following; the screen door slamming behind him.
Sarah had nearly finished her cigarette; it was almost to the filter but she wanted to stay out and watch the bats flutter and the sun finish setting. Tree frogs were chirping loudly, presumably from that swamp he was talking about. The thought of the house she had seen coming down the road reappeared in her mind and the swamp sounded enticing too.
“Come on, you don’t need to be out ‘ere after dark.” Uncle Robert interrupted her thoughts; the lab poked his head out watching Sarah with his worn, drooping eyes.
“Why not? Not like anything is going to get me-” Sarah protested.
“I said get in the cabin,” his voice had grown much more stern and authoritative.
Sarah crushed her cigarette with her heel and stormed into the cabin and slouched in the old straight back chair; Uncle Robert poked at the coals in the pot-belly stove in front of her and placed a split log onto the withering flames. Sarah started tuning the small radio on the table between the chairs; she was searching for the local rock station; it should be the same as the one back home. Twisting the knob threw the static and talk shows she had expected Uncle Robert to come sit and tell her not to mess with it. She looked over the arm of the chair, curiously he was closing the shutters on the windows and locking them. He moved with a hast she hadn’t seen before, securing each one and rattling each to make sure they were firmly locked. The hinges and locks were probably the newest and well maintained items she had seen so far in the cabin or in the yard for that matter. She turned back, hoping he didn’t see her watching him so perplexed, a few more turns and the sound of a familiar song came through on the radio.
A sudden shut made Sarah jump and interrupted the guitar solo; Uncle Robert had closed the heavy front door and locked the dead-bolt. She turned away as he came back; even back home people didn't lock up their homes as tightly as he did and they had far more reasons to do so then anyone being out here in the sticks. She would know, she and a few of her friends had broken into a few places for the kicks and her parents one time had locked her out one night after she didn't return home on time. Who or what could come bother them out here? Several thoughts came racing into her mind, one was involved him doing something-something to her.
The thoughts clouding in Sarah’s head worsen as he sat down in his chair. He seemed to relax, save for his darting eyes back to the walls and windows. He didn’t remark on the changed radio station, if anything he didn't seem to notice. She stayed quiet, ready for fight of flight, watching him out of the corner of her eye; she spotted the fire poker and readied to spring for it at any second. The hinges and locks wouldn’t hold her, if she can brake into a house, she sure the hell could brake out.
“There’s some-some old magazines over there,” he pointed to the open roll-top desk on far side of her chair against the wall. “Other then that, I might have a few books lying around here if you want to read something.”
Still tight and tense she frowned at his words; she turned her head slowly like an animal being watched to the locked windows and door. “Noooo,” she drew out, “I’m just-just going to go to bed.” Keep your cool, she thought, act like nothing happened.
“This early?” he looked up surprised as she slipped by, “okay then, remember we got to get up around six, so get plenty of sleep.”
Taking quick strides and glancing behind her shoulder once she slithered and elbowed her way through the door, closing it with a soft click. Safe on the other side she still held a firm grasp on the knob, ready to pull at any moment as she stood listening; the radio was playing a new song, the dog’s collar jingled as he scratched his neck. Backing away, Sarah released the knob. The whole locking the windows and doors was a bit overkill; even when she thought back to the mysterious man she saw today at the ruined house it all looked excessive. She grabbed her phone, wanting to call Carrie-Anthony- her dad even-even he would surely understand if she told him and was being wholefuly honest and scared. Still no bars on her phone; she had hoped fully recharging it would help but that had all been wishful thinking. Scared and desperate to get out, like being at a party quickly getting out of control; she ran through her options: he had to have a phone, probably a corded relic from twenty years ago but her dad had to have contacted him some how. She would wait-yes-wait for him to go to bed; it was still early. The light outside was blue-grey like the smoke drifting out of Uncle Robert’s pipe; the window in her room, she just realized had no shutters only a flimsy torn screen with a gapping hole barred her from the creeping darkness outside, “guess he missed one.” She reached up and unlocked the latch. She felt more confident and assured as she laid on the bed and twittled with her phone, browsing old messages and contact list, every few moments glancing up to watch the knob. Now she just had to pass the time-waiting and listening- as the room got darker and chillier she snuggled under the quilt still playing with her phone; rereading the last text she got from Carrie ‘call or txt if u can.’ She would look for service somewhere tomorrow; she propped the pillow up against the brass headboard. Her last thoughts were on the white, pale doorknob on the other side of the blacking room.