Alone again, for the moment. The room was lit only by an electric lantern suspended by a hook in the ceiling. I threw open the shutters, preferring the fading light of day while I could have it. The décor was sparse and a few spiders had taken residence in the corners but all in all the cabin was not nearly as disgusting as I had anticipated. The furniture had been covered by drop cloths which lay in a pile on the corner, and so they were dust free or close to it. I sat in a chair and pondered my fate.
I thought about the possibility that I would have to kill Jason to earn my freedom, but the idea repulsed me. I could never hurt anyone, could I? But what else could I do? He wasn’t going to let me go free, I was certain of that. Never in my life did I ever have to feel so lonely and afraid. So hopeless. I started to weep again, uncontrollably.
How could he do this? The parallel between what he claimed and possibly believed to have experienced and the horror he was subjecting me to was plain to see. I was helpless before his demands, his cold examination, and sinister motives. I always thought he was a harmless crank, clinging to the fiction that granted him his fifteen minutes of fame. Nothing more than that. Now I knew better, but I would have given anything to remain ignorant.
I rose from the chair, too antsy to remain seated, and crossed to the window. The landscape was stark, barren leafless trees pressed in all around us, endless. I could follow the road on foot, what little road there was to follow, but I had no way of knowing how far we were from the nearest town. It was unseasonably warm for January, but I was barefoot and woefully underdressed. How far would I get before a bear or a wolf caught my scent? I stood on the floor of a cabin situated on solid ground, but for all intents and purposes, I might as well have been aboard Jason’s alien space ship whizzing through the stars.
Behind me, the kitchen door opened and Jason appeared. I wheeled around, unwilling to turn my back on him. He was smiling sadly at me. While in the kitchen he had doffed his lewd ball cap, and his graying hair was all corkscrews and cowlicks. Somehow I almost felt sorry for him. He must have been nearly as lonely as I was.
“Dinner’s ready,” He said, “I made my specialty: Macaroni and cheese, tuna, and peas. Best I could do having only canned meat to work with. I was going to get a generator for the place, but I’m afraid we’re gonna have to rough it for the time being. At least the place has well water. It’s crisp and clean.”
I followed him in the kitchen, certain I could not bear to eat a thing but lacking the strength to put up a fight. The smell of hot food changed my mind. I realized then that I was ravenously hungry. I sat at the dining room table and he set a plate before me along with a can of soda. I dug in, muttering a word of thanks. It was surprisingly good for a bowl of bachelor chow.
Jason sat across me silently eating his own serving. He also had a can of soda to accompany his meal and I was glad at least he wasn’t drinking alcohol. His eyes, I noticed, were red-rimmed. For a wonder, I realized that he too had been crying. Did he regret his actions, kidnapping me and imprisoning me here in the wilderness?
I stared down at my empty bowl, and he asked, “Want some more?”
I did, and I nodded. He took my bowl and served out another scoop of the crude casserole.
“Uncle Jason?” I asked.
“Yeah?” he replied.
“What are you going to do with me?”
“I’m gonna make sure you’re safe from those damned things.” He told me. “I won’t let them have you, I’ll lay down my life before I let that happen.”
Could I reason with him? I wasn’t sure, but I had to try.
“What’s your end game, here?” I asked, “You know we can’t stay up here forever, right?”
He didn’t answer. Good God, had he even thought things through that far? I strongly suspected he hadn’t.
“No, we can’t.” He said, finally. “But we can hold out here for a short stretch, long enough maybe that those gray bastards will go looking for another victim. If they visited you but they hadn’t tracked you yet, that’s good news.”
“How do you know they’ll just give up?” I had to ask.
“I don’t, not for sure. I think maybe they chose you because of me. They saw something in my genes they wanted, I guess. That’s the nearest I can figure. I never had a kid of my own they could take, so that means you were the next best thing. Shit. But they must have other irons in the fire, so to speak. Maybe when you ain’t there the next time they’ll just move on to the next girl. That’s the best I got to go on.”
“That’s a lot of maybes,” I said. I felt a little better after having eaten something, but that feeling of hopelessness remained.
“Don’t I know it,” He agreed, “but it’s the best we got to go on. Maybe when we get back to civilization I can convince your daddy to keep a close watch on you. He was there when I was taken, and so he’s the only son of a bitch on this whole planet I know has my back. I imagine he’ll be a bit sore though, me having run off with you without telling him. Wasn’t no time for that.”
I had no idea if my dad really believed all of this, or if he was just covering for Jason. He never talked about it. Not to me at least. He said he had his fill of the whole story years ago after telling his part of the story untold dozens of times. He never called my uncle a liar though, never even suggested he might be telling anything less than the truth.
Dad was too forgiving of Jason, I know that. Mom would complain about it sometimes, never when he was around to hear it, of course. It was a tender subject. She resented him for dragging my father into a world of scandal and suspicion, for taking advantage of brotherly love. She could see him for who he really was, just like I did. Although, in light of current circumstances, none of us knew or suspected half of it. Not even after the incident with the rock.
My instincts told me he would never let me go, all this talk of going back to civilization was just another in a long stream of lies and deceptions. I felt sick all over again. The macaroni roiled in my stomach violently. I wondered how long it would be before he decided to hurt me again. To touch me. Maybe I’d feel better if I could just put a wall between us.
“I’m feeling kind of worn out,” I told him. “I think I’m going to lay down.”
“Sure kid,” he said, “Get some rest. We can play some cards later on if you’re feeling up to it. I think I’m gonna step outside and get a bit of fresh air, myself. Uh, bedrooms are just down the hall there. Take your pick.”
I nodded and stepped away with my bowl and soda can. I tossed the can and cleaned the bowl out with a rag. I wasn’t trying to be a good guest or anything, it was just the sort of habit my parents ingrained in me.
I heard a slapping sound and turned around with a start. It was Uncle Jason, smacking a fresh pack of cigarettes against the flat of his palm, packing the tobacco. He stepped through the door without a nod over his shoulder.
I picked the bedroom on the left for no other reason than it was the closest and shut the door behind me. There was no lock, of course. I glanced around the room and found an old chair that seemed sturdy enough. I had seen people on TV block a door with a chair, though I had no idea if it actually worked. It didn’t. Maybe it could have if the floors were carpeted, but there was nothing here for it to catch on. It just slid down to the floor uselessly.
I sighed and threw the drop cloth off the bed. The bed was made, and it looked like it had never been used. A small comfort. I threw myself down on the bed and stared up at the ceiling. I was tired, but my nerves were still jangling and I couldn’t settle down. That was okay. I felt better just being alone. Maybe a grizzly bear would eat Jason while he was out there chain smoking and I would be okay.
I felt so stupid. A girl in a book would think of a clever plan to outwit her captor and escape. It was all I could manage not to bawl my eyes out and puke macaroni and tuna all over the floorboards. I guess this was how kidnappings really went. No clever plans, just imprisonment, and eventual murder. Hell, I wished the aliens were real. I’d rather be with them, all things considered. They let Jason go once they were done poking and prodding at him.
It was quiet in a way I never knew before. Living in the city, I could always hear the sounds of life. I could hear cars on the street, the shouts of the people on the sidewalk, the neighbors, my parents. I even missed the hum of electricity, and until it was gone I don’t think I ever noticed it. I couldn’t even hear birds here, cold as it was they had all packed up and moved south. I hated it, the silence.
What if they never find out what happened to me? What if they never connect my disappearance to my crazy uncle? Dad wouldn’t believe it, I know that. Not Jason, not his baby brother. But I couldn’t resent him for seeing the best in everyone, could I?
I could end up in a shallow grave lost forever and eventually forgotten. That did it, I started crying again, furious at myself for being so useless. Almost as furious as I was at Uncle Jason for tearing my life away from me and acting all contrite like it was something he had to do instead of the culmination of years of sick fantasy. God, I hated him.
No use trying to sleep away the hours. All I was doing was winding myself up more. I sat up, screwing my fists into my eyes. I cried out in frustration, though I cut myself off for fear Jason would hear and come barging in. If I saw him I would scream, I knew it.
The hell of it all was that I did not know, had no way to know how committed he was to this alien bullshit. Did he really think he was abducted? Did he really think he was protecting me? Or was it all a willful fabrication, an attempt to lower my defenses before he struck? If he believed maybe I could manipulate him into letting me go, but if he didn’t I would only make an ass of myself before dying.
I agonized in indecision, I don’t know for how long. The only answer I kept coming back to was that I had to kill him if I wanted to escape. I didn’t think he would expect it from me and that gave me an edge. The fact that I had no weapons and weighed a good hundred pounds less than him were, needless to say, serious disadvantages to that plan.
Eventually, I did fall asleep. I guess it’s draining to be caught in a frenzied cycle of fear, anger, and despair. The sleep was fitful and not especially restful, but it was an escape of a kind, at least. I awoke in the darkness to the call of my bladder. Fuck. I would have to face him again. I guessed it was inevitable.
I stepped out into the living room and saw him playing solitaire at the table. The air was murky with cigarette smoke. He smiled wanly at me as he laid a card down. A bag of potato chips lay open on near to his right hand.
“Hey there, sleepyhead.” He said, as if everything was normal, “Thought you were going to sleep the whole night through. It’s near on ten.”
“I have to go to the bathroom,” I announced, feeling myself blush.
He frowned, and said, “I better go with you.”
“No!” I cried, feeling the blush turn my face beet red.
“It’s not safe to go out there alone after dark. You don’t know what’s out there.”
“I’ll be fine!” I insisted, “If I see any bears or whatever I’ll run for the door. I don’t want you standing outside the door while I take a piss, it’s embarrassing!”
He considered this and finally said, “Okay. But you see or you hear anything out there you run back here like your hair was on fire and your ass was catching, you hear? You run back a’hollering so I can know something’s up.”
“I promise you, Uncle Jason,” I told him, “That will not be a problem.”
“Good, he said. “Now run along.”
Slap. Another card on the table. I turned to leave, but he called me back.
“Where’s my head at? Janie-girl, it is pitch black out there.” He rose and rifled through a bag near at hand. He pulled out a flashlight. “Take this.”
I took the light from him mumbling a thank you and stepped outside. God it was cold, and I was barefoot. Dark, too. He wasn’t kidding. I couldn’t even see the treeline in the moonless night. I was suddenly afraid of more than just the psychopath in the cabin. I feared the dark and the things that might be stalking under its cover. I wouldn’t even scan the trees for fear of illuminating watchful eyes. My need to urinate became all the more urgent and I rushed for the outhouse. I was thankful at least that I had already used it and so knew where to find it.
Between the doorway and the outhouse, my feet barely touched the ground, and I swung the door shut with my heart pounding and gasping for breath. It was a near thing to pull my pants down and sit in time before the party started without me. So to speak.
When it was done I found myself alone in the dark with a gulf of unknown between me and the door to the cabin. What if something was waiting just outside? What if a mountain lion caught my scent and was waiting for me to emerge? I shivered, and not just from the cold.
I listened, listened hard. The silence prevailed, and it was just as disconcerting as ever. An absence of sound did not mean an absence of threats. God damn it, how hard was it to install a working toilet inside?
Deep breath. Another. Another. Ten deep breaths and I jumped up and burst through the door into the darkness. I could feel the debris that littered the ground biting at my bare feet and I didn’t care. I only cared about reaching the door before something pounced on me. I was at the door before I remembered to take a breath.
For some reason, I looked back before stepping inside. Maybe it was to prove to myself that I wasn’t a total coward. Maybe I was just overconfident for having made it so far. Maybe I thought I heard a sound.
I scanned the treeline with my flashlight knowing I would regret it. In this, I did not disappoint myself. I saw something. I caught it in the beam of my flashlight for only a fraction of a second, but I saw it. Something passing from one tree to another, just beyond the yard. Something that walked on two legs.
By the time I shut the door behind myself I was certain I saw nothing, or nothing unusual. It was just a flash, after all. I was just seeing what I wanted to see. It was nothing. I didn’t mention it to Jason.
“That was fast.” He remarked, but he looked relieved.
“Cards?” I asked, changing the subject.
“Sure,” He said, gathering the deck and shuffling. “Poker?”
“Deal ’em” I said, pulling up a chair.
We played cards for a couple of hours, barely speaking. I didn’t think about the thing I didn’t see. I didn’t think about it at all.
My calf itched where I had the razor burn and I scratched at it compulsively. Jason must have thought this was a tell because he kept anteing up and losing hands.
Eventually, I guess I started to get a little loopy from all the stress and the fatigue and so without thinking about it I asked him outright what I was thinking. Maybe a couple of hours of what seemed like normality disarmed me somewhat.
“Yeah hon?” He asked, peering over his hand.
“Is this real?”
“I don’t get your meaning,” he said, cautiously.
I sighed and set down my own hand. I had two pairs, threes and eights. “Can I be totally honest with you?”
“Of course,” He replied. “I don’t want you to think you got to hide anything from me.”
“You have to know how this looks to me. I’m not calling you a liar, but I don’t believe in aliens and abductions. I don’t claim to know what happened exactly, that night, but I can’t wrap my head around the idea that you were zapped aboard a space ship and taken away by little green men.”
“Gray,” he said, frowning.
“Green, gray, whatever. I’m sorry. What I’m saying is… Uncle Jason, you kidnapped me.” I could feel the tears rolling down my cheeks. Somehow I hadn’t run out of them yet. “You drugged me, tied me up, threw me in your van, and took me to some cabin in the woods and… and I don’t know what you are going to do, but dammit, I’m scared! Are you going to kill me? Just tell me, are you going to kill me?!”
He surprised me then, he burst into tears of his own. Not just a little either. Whatever I said, it broke the dam. He cried into his hands and shook. I wanted to comfort him in spite of everything, but I couldn’t move. I was shocked. I had never even seen a grown man cry before and it floored me completely.
“Uncle? Jason? I’m sorry, I… Please…” I stammered. I started bawling again. We cried together in that cabin over our playing cards, the table like a wall between us. We could offer each other no comfort, islands unto ourselves.
Finally, he composed himself enough that he could speak again. His voice was ragged and his eyes still ran with tears.
“I’m so sorry, Janie. I guess I don’t blame you for thinking that, I guess there’s no way I could convince you I’m just trying… You know, I’m just a fuck up. You know that. Shit, you’re too smart to have a piece of shit like me for an uncle. It’s no secret my past is checkered. While my brothers studied and got jobs I got drunk and I got stoned and I stole and I cheated my way through life. I lived for no one but me and I got everything I deserved.”
“Uncle-” I started, but he waved me silent.
“No one ever had a reason to believe me, I know that. Hell’s bells, I guess I’m just about the cliché of the hillbilly UFO nut. So I know how this must look to you. You already pieced it together, too. I don’t have a plan. I just heard what you said and knew I had to do something. No big surprise, I fucked this up too. But I swear to you before God, Janie-girl, I didn’t kidnap you to do you any harm. I told you that, and I mean it. I just… I just….”
He began sobbing again and I couldn’t help myself. I still couldn’t believe him but I felt that he believed it and in the moment I just felt so bad for him. I crossed the table and I held him. He cried into my shoulder with his arms wrapped around me. I forgot to be afraid of him.
“I’m in hell!” He cried. “It’s been damn near ten years and I can’t sleep for fear I’ll wake and see their lights, feel that terrible vibration! Every time I close my eyes I see their blank faces staring at me like I was a bug on a pin. I’m so god damned afraid all the time and I can’t let you live like that too!”
“Okay, Uncle, Okay.” I comforted him, feeling like a fool and knowing it was the right thing to do all at the same time. “Let’s say I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt. So long as you don’t do anything to make me think differently, I’ll believe that you have my best interests at heart. But we can’t stay here forever. A couple of days and we go back home. I’ll take your side and stick up for you with mom and dad. Try to make sure they don’t press charges. Is that a deal?”
“Yeah, honey, that’s a deal.” He said. “I guess if you never find out for sure if I’m telling you true about all the things I’ve seen, that’ll be for the best. That’s what I want. That’s the plan. So we wait a couple of days and if nothing happens to us, you go home to your folks. Here’s something else. Insurance, you might say.”
“What’s that?” I asked, a little warily.
“Here,” He said, reaching into his bag. He pulled out a hunting knife in a leather scabbard and passed it to me.
“No,” I protested, pushing the knife away. “I don’t want-”
“Please,” he said, pushing it back. “Just hold onto it. If you feel like you can’t trust me or you’re in trouble, don’t think. Just use it. You should be able to protect yourself. I insist you take it.”
I took it. It would have been foolish not to, really. It was the very thing I had been wishing for only hours before. I threaded the scabbard through my belt and I felt better for having it. Less scared.
“Let’s have some music,” Jason said, his voice still raw. “I’ve got fresh batteries in the stereo and a few tapes. What do you say?”
“Sure,” I said. The love I had for classic rock inherited from my dad alienated me from the kids my age a bit, but it was the one thing Jason and I had in common.
He gestured toward the tape deck, a box of cassettes beside it. “Take your pick”
I opened the box and rifled through the assortment. Creedence, Creedence, Stones, Beatles, Marshall Tucker Band, Styx, another Beatles, Stevie Ray Vaughan, and there it was. The Doors, L.A. Woman. Probably my all-time favorite band and my all-time favorite album. The Changeling came first with its killer thudding bass line. Morrison’s voice came on, all growls and swagger.
“I ain’t never been so broke that I couldn’t leave town,” He declared.
I danced my way to the couch and sprawled out, tapping time on my knees. By the time “Changeling” transitioned to “Love Her Madly,” I had all but forgotten my dire situation. I could have been back in my room, sprawled out on the bed instead of a musty couch. Alone instead of trapped with my unhinged uncle.
I opened an eye. Jason was still at the table, nodding his head and dealing out solitaire yet again. He looked desperately tired, which was no surprise. He must not have slept at all last night, and for all I know he hadn’t been sleeping much before that. He said as much, and I believed that part.
As I watched he pulled a bottle from his coat pocket, which he had draped over the chair before sitting. He dumped out a couple of pills into his hand and knocked them back. Swallowed them dry. He must have seen my look of alarm.
“It’s just caffeine,” He told me. “See?”
He lobbed the bottle to me, and I could see that he was telling the truth. The pills in the bottle matched the photo on the label. I lobbed the bottle back to him, which he caught deftly. Jim informed us that he had been down so god-damned long it looked like up to him.
“Gotta stay up,” He informed me, “keep a lookout, you know?”
“What are you going to do if they come?” I wondered.
“Try to stop them.” He told me flatly. He would say no more. If I thought the aliens were going to come, I guess I would have been worried about our chances. I had no further questions.
For a while, I continued to fantasize of being transported as if by magic away from this place and present company. The title track came on, My favorite on the entire album. I was almost asleep again when the tape ended.
I crossed the room to flip to the other side. The window was closed, but darkness leaked through a crack between the shutters. I stared at it for a moment, perhaps pondering the endless expanse of wilderness that separated me from salvation. For just a moment while the first slow, droning notes of L’America reverberated in the emptiness of the cabin, I thought I saw a light, and excitement rose up inside of me.
Was it the headlights or the flashlights of my saviors? I didn’t think it could be lightning, because it wasn’t raining and I heard no thunder. I turned to Jason, but he didn’t seem to have noticed it. He was focused on finding a place for the three of hearts. I realized I had to hide any evidence of excitement on my face, for fear of giving myself and potential rescue away. I bopped back to the couch and plopped down, waiting.
By the time “Crawling King Snake” came on, I had begun to wonder if I had just imagined the light, or if it was just a reflection of the lamp on the window pane. By the time my second favorite song on the album, “The WASP (Texas Radio and the Big Beat),” cut off, I was certain of it. Before “Riders On The Storm” ended, I had fallen asleep.
I was rudely awakened sometime later to silence and the feeling of hands on my arms, shaking me. Jason’s hands! This was it! I cried out and groped at my side for the knife, only it was the wrong side. He covered my mouth with his sweaty palm and urged me to be quiet with his eyes. My heart pounded in my chest like Densmore’s drums.
Carefully, he guided my face to the window across the room. Bluish light seeped from the cracks between the shutters, steady this time. Not furtive at all. I saw that the light radiated from under the door frame as well. The Police?
My gaze was turned back to Jason’s face. I could see panic vibrating through his expression. No, not panic. Terror. It was either infectious or I had plenty of my own.
“Listen very carefully,” He hissed, just at the point of audibility. I could smell chips and cigarettes on his breath. “You have to do exactly what I say. Nod if you understand.”
I nodded. He lifted me up, hand still clamped over my mouth, and gestured toward a door to the left of the kitchen and next to a heavy bookshelf.
“See that door?” He asked as if I could have missed it. “That there’s the closet. Should be empty. Get inside that closet and don’t make a single peep, not if you value your life. If that closet door opens and I don’t holler an all-clear first, you stab the first thing that comes through that door quick as a shot. You got it? Nod if you got it.”
“Now nod if you promise you ain’t gonna yell out if I pull my hand away. You promise?”
I nodded once again. Slowly he drew away his hand, ready to slap it back down if I looked like I was going to break my promise. Satisfied, he shoved me toward the closet. I didn’t see what else I could do but obey, and so I scrambled to my feet and shut myself into the closet. I tried not to think of how many spiders might have been nesting in the dark recesses therein. Or maybe I had worse things to fear, like the actions of a desperate man at the end of his rope.
Outside the door, I could hear a strange scraping sound, and I realized to my further terror that he was blocking the closet door with that heavy bookshelf. I wasn’t going to get out unless someone let me out. Oh, Jesus!
For a time after that, the silence was as total as the darkness. My mind raced with the possibilities of what might be transpiring outside. What if the police shoot Jason and no one finds me here? I would starve, and maybe in fifty years some hiker will break in and find my bones wrapped in spider-webs like some old haunted house movie. I cried again, silently in the dark and waited for my fate to find me.
A terrible sound rent the silence, a sound like a rabbit who just found itself in the jaws of a ravenous wild dog. It was Jason, he was screaming. I could hear rage mingling with the horror, fighting for dominance. My heart quailed at the sound. It was not the sound of someone confronting a rescue team. It was the sound of someone confronting their worst fear in the flesh.
My chest began to burn and I realized I had forgotten to breathe. The reedy whistling sound of my gasping breath frightened me, and I had a second realization: I was suddenly afraid of being found near as much as lost. I tried to shrink back further into the closet, but there was no more room for retreat.
A shot rang out. Another. Another. Jason cried out again, this time in triumph. I didn’t even know he had a gun, not for sure. Shots rang out one after the other, with Jason’s cries and oaths filling the silence between. I could smell the gunpowder.
After a time I realized something else: No one was shooting back. All of the gunshots were coming from the same place. What was happening out there? Was this just another fantasy? Jesus, could he have set the lights up himself? But that was stupid. No matter how far out in the sticks we happened to be, all these gunshots could be heard by someone, surely? He wouldn’t be so foolish as to give himself away like that without good reason, Right? Of course, I had to remind myself that he was not thinking rationally and I could not put too much faith into his reasoning skills.
Silence again. Was it over? I waited. And waited. And waited. The only thing I could hear outside the closet was Jason’s footsteps. Near as I could tell, he was crossing from one window to another and back again. Tension wound a steel spring in my guts. If it was over, whatever it actually was, why didn’t he give the all-clear?
He was still again. What did he see? What was he waiting for?
I got my answer in the form of a slamming sound from the other side of the cabin. The back door?
“FUCK!” Jason cried, and I could hear him stomping away.
“YOU MOTHERFUCKERS WON’T TAKE ME AGAIN!” He bellowed the sound muffled somewhat by the cabin walls that separated us. Gunfire again, wild shots that seemed to be aimed everywhere around him. I pressed myself down onto the floor for fear that a stray bullet would punch through the walls and hit me. I bit down on a scream, letting through only a sort of strained whistling sound that surely could not be heard over the thunder of guns (as AC/DC would have put it).
As quickly as they came the gunshots stopped, but not Jason’s cries. He bellowed every profanity I knew, and many that were new to me. He bellowed threats of every kind. He vowed to tear the dirty gray bastards limb from scrawny limb, to gouge their lifeless black eyes out of their heads, to rip their throats out with his teeth if he had to. Funny. That was almost the exact line of threats I made against him hours ago.
Then he ran. He ran my way. He ran past. He must have been out of ammunition.
“Come and get me then, you gray cowards!” He called back. I heard him slam the door as he leaped out into the yard. Why?
Moments later I heard the sound of footsteps coming down the hall again. These ones were lighter and less hurried, but there were considerably more of them. Who was out there, really? And why did it sound like they were barefoot?
The footsteps stopped somewhere in the living room and I waited to be found, unable to even breathe. I didn’t wait long.
They didn’t find me, though. They found Jason. First I heard a sound like a low pitched hum, like some obscure electrical device cycling up to full power. The next thing I heard were the screams. Not the same as before. There was terror in these screams, yes, but mostly there was pain. If I lived to be one hundred years old, I hoped to never hear that agonized sound again. It went on and on. Probably just for the span of a few seconds, but it seemed like an eternity.
Next was silence, and the silence prevailed for hours. I sat there motionless until my muscles ached and protested and cramped viciously. I could hear nothing save for my own tortured respiration.
It must have been daylight again before I dared to escape the closet. For a petite teenage girl, forcing the door open with the heavy bookcase resting against it was a tall order, but I threw myself against the door again and again until I was afraid I would break every bone in my body. I pushed and I struggled and I fought for every inch of progress.
At last, I could squeeze through, and I emerged from the closet into an empty cabin. The keys to Jason’s truck, for a miracle, were sitting on the table. Did he know then, that I would be left on my own? He must have. Why else would he have removed them from his pocket? I snatched them up and investigated the rest of the cabin.
He was nowhere to be seen, but that was no surprise. The walls were dotted with bullet holes and that was no surprise ever. The kitchen was trashed but I saw no blood or bodies. Just shattered dishes and exploded cans. What happened here, really?
Finally, I decided I had to leave. There was nothing for me there, if there ever was in the first place. It certainly wasn’t the sanctuary that Jason hoped it would be. Having nothing to gather, I stepped out the door into the morning sun and the chill of early winter. And a terrible shock.
Midway to the treeline was a black spot, perfectly round and burned into the dead grass and weeds. At the center of the spot was Jason, or what was left of him. Whatever burned into the ground burned into him as well, leaving nothing but blackened bones still steaming with heat.
His remains were twisted, contorted into a terrible, unnatural position. His jaw hung open as if screaming silently, eternally. I could almost hear the sound from hours ago. I would hear it again in my dreams for years to come.
The fire did not spread an inch past that circle. I don’t know how that could be possible, but it was. I stared into that circle, tears running down my eyes and a flood of emotions welling up within me.
Did this mean… Was my uncle right? Was that possible? What else could have done this? Why did he leave? Was he trying to draw them away from me? That must have been it.
I mourned him there. I should have gotten in the van and fled that terrible place, and eventually, I would. First, though, I mourned.
I hated him and I feared him. Like so many others, I never gave him a chance. I called him a liar and I never wavered in that conviction. Maybe he deserved better.
I saw something of him that night, something I never expected. I saw a sadness, a loneliness beyond measure. I saw a man who fell victim to his own weaknesses again and again over the course of his life, and couldn’t wall away the pain it caused others as well as himself. And I saw someone who must have loved me more than I ever knew, that he would risk everything to protect me from dangers he believed in with all his heart. It didn’t matter now if those dangers were real or the product of a fevered imagination.
Was it courageous, what he did? Was it foolish? Was it even the right thing to do? Maybe I would know when I was older and had the time to think about it. He wouldn’t have the same luxury. Whatever happened here last night, he died for me. I know that.
I stared up from the burn, from my uncle’s blackened bones. I stared up past the trees and to the cloudless sky. Above me stretched an endless expanse of space that was either devoid of all life or populated by beings I could not imagine. Both possibilities terrified me. I would never be that girl who stared up at the stars with a boy and felt joy, felt safe.
Sometime later I managed to find the way out of that forest and back to the real world. I found a phone and called my parents. The rest was a circus, just like the one my uncle faced. I was glad when it was over and I could just pretend to be a teenage girl again who liked a boy and worried about nothing more sinister than college applications.
If I suffered from terrible nightmares, who could blame me? It was a traumatic event I lived through, and a few bad dreams were par for the course. If I feared open windows and certain colors of light, that was to be expected. In time I would get over it, even if I needed therapy to do so.
Just- A couple of things. Those bumps on my leg, the razor burn? They never quite went away. They stopped itching, sure, but the swelling never quite went all the way down. Probably nothing to worry about. I would make mom take me to the dermatologist if it every changed shape or anything. But then there’s the other thing, and that thing worries me a lot.
I’m pregnant. Not just late, I’m pregnant. And I’m still a virgin.
And I’m frightened of what may be growing inside of me.