Finally! I had made it after all. I congratulated myself as I lugged my suitcase into the cabin. It was surrounded by thick woods and the air seemed so pristine and clean. It felt good to get out of the city.
It had been a long struggle though, convincing dad. He had turned so over-protective after mom had died in a carjacking when I was fifteen. He had this morbid fear that the world was full of loonies. That I would be kidnapped or worse, killed! It was also the effect of all the crime shows he kept watching on television. But he had forgotten that I was now twenty-three, not some teenager who couldn’t look after herself.
After a quick shower and a warm bowl of canned soup, I hit the bed and crashed out immediately.
It was so peaceful and quiet. After working so hard, this was bliss! Being outside amidst the greenery and with so many wonders of nature. I sighted a deer and squirrels and rabbits scampered about playfully. With no phone, television or other gadgets, I felt relieved. This was exactly my idea of a getaway. My dad would be hyperventilating though, I was sure. He’ll get over it, I giggled feeling like a naughty child.
After an early dinner, I was busy strumming the guitar strings when I heard it. At first, I thought it was my imagination. But then, there it was again.
There was someone on the door. As I peered out nervously onto the unlit porch, the darkness loomed. The trees rustled, whispering amongst themselves I was sure. Beads of sweat trickled down my forehead and back and I stood unsure about what to do next. Such a dimwit! I cursed myself for not listening to my dad and for coming out here alone.
Hesitating, I turned the knob to open the door. And gasped.
There he was. A young boy around twelve, stared at me from the porch. He was bleeding from the head and was about to faint just as I caught him.
Dragging him in, I laid him down on the sofa. As I sprinkled water on his face, he came to his senses. He looked about and cried, “Help me. You must help me. My…my dad…” shuddering and shaking, he started sobbing uncontrollably.
After he had calmed down a bit, I managed to find out a little more about him. His name was Luke and he was hiking in the woods with his dad since four days. Today, he had lost him on one of the trails as he had been distracted by a scampering rabbit on the path. When he looked ahead, his dad was gone. He had called out and run back and forth on the path trying to figure his way out, but to no avail. With no food or water, he had exhausted himself and managed to get scratched on the head by some brambles overhead. Luckily, he had sighted the lights of the cabin at dusk and made his way here.
I felt sorry. He was just a kid and that too alone! A feeling of protectiveness washed over me and on an impulse, I asked him to spend the night here. Warming up a bowl of soup, I added a peanut butter sandwich from my meagre rations. A bed was laid out for him on the sofa and after reassuring him that we would look for his dad the next day, we both fell into an uneasy sleep.
The day was uneventful. We looked around, staying on familiar paths to not lose our way. But there was no trace of his dad. He seemed to have vanished. I somehow couldn’t shake off this overall feeling of dread. Luke was irritable though I promised to drop him to the nearest highway patrol station as I was meant to leave the next morning.
We sat quietly after our dinner of sandwiches when there it was. A faint knock on the door. Again. Before I could react, Luke jumped up and rushed to open the door. Like he was expecting it.
Rubbish! I chided myself.
‘Dad!’ he cried, running into the arms of a man.
The man held Luke but there was something in the stance. I wasn’t able to put my finger on it. Pushing back that thought, I said, “I’m so glad you managed to reach Luke, Mr…” my voice trailed off once I realized I didn’t even know their last name.
The man turned to look at me. I watched his eyes glaze over and a blank expression covered his bearded face.
They both stepped closer and I realized that I was caught in a narrow space with two people that I knew nothing about. I looked for a way out and they watched me, before breaking into laughter.
This can’t be happening! It’s all a dream, I repeated over and over again in my mind. This didn’t look good at all.
“You thought of my son as a helpless, lost boy. Well, he isn’t! He was merely acting on my instructions. We watched you as you drove in that night. And I fell in love right then. I made up my mind that you will be my partner. My boy needs a mother and who better than you? Didn’t your maternal instincts kick in as soon as you heard his sob story?” the man laughed as he watched my shocked expression.
They are absolute maniacs! The realization hit me hard.
I remembered all that my dad had warned me about. I prayed for the gods to intervene, to save me from this horrific situation. Never again will I travel alone, I promised silently.
They both dragged me out of the cabin with an inhuman strength. All my screaming, scratching and kicking had no effect on them.
My only thought then was ‘Dad!’