August 3, 2016
Natalie blinked her eyes until they had adjusted to the light pouring in the windows. She felt hot and sweaty, the air humid and thick with moisture. Groaning, she sat up and stretched her painfully stiff muscles from sleeping on the hard table top.
Derek, please save me. Be the Prince Charming I always wanted you to be and save me when I need you the most, she said a million times in her head, pleading and calling out to her best friend with every ounce of feeling and raw emotion that she never knew she possessed. When she felt her chin tremble, she opened her eyes and forced herself to focus on what was before her. Survival.
Feeling sorry for herself, she forced her body out of bed and to get dressed.
On the other side of the door, she thought she heard a shuffling noise. It was very unfamiliar to her, the noise. A mouse? Possibly some other rodent? It seemed heavier…more…human.
Natalie’s heart thundered in her chest and she held her breath listening at the door. Licking her lips did no good as her mouth had run dry. She hoped that whatever it was would find its way back out of the basement.
And then, it occurred to her. Derek was there…just on the other side of that piece of wood. She was going home! Hope filled her to overflowing and tears of relief clouded her eyes. She reached for the knob as it began to turn on its own accord. There was no touching involved on her part.
She snapped her hand back and took a step backward, nearly brushing her bed with her rear. She could hear breathing. Ragged breathing as the door cracked open. It sounded as though the being sniffed and moaned, pushing the door open and revealing himself to her.
A gasp emitted from her mouth, of complete surprise as she made eye contact with what looked like what used to be a man. She saw in those eyes fear, greater than the fear she had known. She saw pain, excruciating pain. And she saw hunger, a primal look of starvation. He was sweating profusely. He had deep open wounds over his face that shocked and disgusted her. So deep in the tissue, his mandible and teeth were visible, his eye was drooping. And the blood…he had it all over his face. It was bright red that transitioned into patches and droplets of deep black.
Natalie cried out, all thoughts of Derek vanished as she backed into the table top, no where to go but down. Scrambling and afraid, she grabbed beneath the blankets for her bag, the emergency pack that had come out of the closet.
The man took two steps forward, limping noticeably as he came, arms stretched out for her. He opened his mouth like he was trying to say something.
“Please, please leave me alone!” Natalie screamed out at him and kicked her legs, her hands searching…searching.
The man grew agitated, he smelled terrible and made grunting noises at her because he could no longer form words with half of a mouth, literally. He touched her. Felt the warmth of her leg against the roughness of his hand. She kicked all the harder, desperately rummaging through the pack until it all spilled over her bedding, packages of food slipping over the blankets and falling to the floor. But, she found it.
His grip was relentless. It was enough to make her fear for her life, he held her leg so tight. She could imagine those hands over her neck, strangling her with hardly an effort on his part.
“Let go of me!” she spat, followed by a blood-curdling howl of pain as he bit down on her tender, healthy flesh. Twisting around, onto her back, she pointed her Glock 9mm and shot. No aiming, just adrenaline coursing through her in the fight or flight reflex programmed into her body.
The creature reared back and made a squealing noise, instinctively grabbing at his shoulder. Natalie could see blood running from the bullet induced wound. She pulled her legs back and put the bed between the man and herself, the gun still pointed at him, her hands shaking and her breathing ragged.
“Get out!” she screamed and shot again. The sound was deafening in the small enclosed room.
The man made another lunge at her, his dirty, torn clothes brushing over her blankets. He sniffed again. She figured he could smell her food. He was hungry enough that a gun was not going to stop him.
A third shot rang out and she hit him in the hand, the hand that held the wounded shoulder. That was enough incentive for him to depart. Appearing panicked, he looked for a way out. Slowly, he shuffled his feet accommodating the limp and left her standing there, shaking and hardly breathing.
With her mind reeling, she stood there processing what had just happened to her with the gun still pointed at the place where the odd man had stood just minutes earlier.
It wasn’t until she watched the creature disappear that she lowered her weapon and realized she was dripping sweat. It was already hot at 11:00 am. That was not a good sign. She had to leave even if Derek was on his way.
Sitting on the edge of the makeshift bed, she allowed her forehead to fall into her hands and she caught her breath. A tickling sensation on her left calf made her take a swipe at it with her hand. It felt like a bug crawling over her skin, but her hand came away with blood streaks over her palm.
Alarms instantly went off in her head.
“Christ!” she swore in a whisper.
Taking a towel and her bottle of water, she cleaned the wound it wasn’t very deep, just traumatized. The beginnings of a bruise began to manifest itself around the edges of the lopsided circle the man had bitten on the skin. Gingerly, she wrapped her leg in gauze and then with an elastic bandage to hold it all in place.
She took a moment to pick up the scattered bits and food items that had scattered over the floor in her struggle. Hastily, she stuffed her pack again, thankful it hadn’t been her money that had blown all over the place. Keeping out one granola bar, she partook and sipped her water. Not feeling full, but better than before, she wiped her face with a blanket and slung a bag over each shoulder. She was getting out of there!
The door she had placed over the opening of the basement was gone, pushed aside. She could see bright skies that were glazed with low white clouds. But when she got to the top of the stairs, she could see a blackness toward the west and the wind was blowing hard enough to make her hair stand on end.
Natalie walked about seven steps away and found she was exhausted.
“I can’t do this,” she said to herself.
So she returned to her hole in the ground, making certain the strange man hadn’t come back with a vengeance. She would try again tomorrow.
There was little to do to occupy her time but listen to the angry sea batter the side of the mountain. She tried to find a channel on the radio again, to no avail. She might as well have been marooned on a desert island, she was that alone. Well, besides the near dead guy that had just tried to eat her leg!
She decided to use the corner of her radio to carve a message for Derek in case he showed up after she had left. But thinking realistically, he would have been there by now if he could.
She scratched and scratched at the paint on the wall until she was happy with the finished product that read, ‘Derek- I’m headed home on foot.’ Surely, it should not have taken that long, but the sheetrock beneath had become soft and the paint was like rubber. She really had to get angry with it for cooperation.
Standing from her project she could not believe how much her leg hurt. It hadn’t bothered her at all until that point. Limping over to the bed, she unwrapped her wound finding it very bruised, hot and still bleeding. He really did a job on her!
Rummaging through her pack, she came across the anti-bacterial ointment, shed the current dressings and slathered the jelly over the bite, wincing when she had to touch her skin to smooth it all out. Then, she applied fresh white gauze and secured it again with the elastic bandage. She wished there was access to some ice, or maybe the salt water would help. She felt so tired that the thought of climbing the stairs did not appeal to her and glancing at the time, daylight was about gone up there. No, she was much better off sleeping, regaining her strength for the start of her journey tomorrow.
The sounds are muffled to me. I hear the ocean, taste its spray, feel its power. I am on my mountain and nothing else is around. No house, no debris, no weather. I turn in circles as though I don’t know where I am, taking it all in. At the foot of the mountain, the westerly side, sits the house I grew up in. Wisconsin was here in Stowe. How can that be? I hear a new noise. My heart races and my ears grow warmer than comfortable. Goose bumps rise on my skin as I turn to see a figure coming to me. His skin hangs from his body in tatters. I can see his bones in the light of the day. His muscles bunch and flex as he moves closer, hardly a scrap of clothing shielded his body from the world. I can reach out and touch him, although I am paralyzed with fear. I have no weapon, no gun, I am his prey. He stands there looking at me and my eyes meet his. I recognize that gaze staring at me. I know him. Derek! I move to speak as he opens his mouth, it opens to an enormous size and comes at my face…
Natalie bolted upright, sweat streaming down her body. She felt strange. Sick.