The wind screamed with her as she chased the empty trash can across the bare ground. She had envisioned bright green grass, newly grown and soft under her bare feet, her music energetic and loud while she freshened up the cabin. Cleaning up racoon scat and broken glass hadn’t crossed her mind. They’d been here together, winterizing the place and making sure it was locked up tight until spring. Already wistful and wanting. She survived the grey days with thoughts of soft lips and strong, capable hands as the shower pummeled her with its heat. Sultry glances across the room, a naked foot brushing her leg, these heated her up more than any old radiator ever could.
They were good folks, loving and protective and set in their beliefs. You girls going to be okay out there alone? How could two women get along out in the woods alone. Friends since grade school, they’d vacationed with each other’s families and survived high school together, the secrets between them preposterously thick. College days separated them. Tempest studied botany, Kai architecture, but didn’t restrict herself to paper. She liked to get her hands dirty with creation and reclamation. Kai’s mom, Renna, lightly joked that between the two of them they could remake the world. They never came out and told her, but she knew when the friendship evolved, and that no one else would approve. Not from a religious standpoint, but more practical to their way of thinking. You needed a man to be safe in this world. She never told them hers was the reason she was too bruised to leave the house. She blamed her headaches. They would send dinner and condolences. She thanked them, but often wondered at their beliefs. After all, she was the one mending fences, maintaining the car, and building the redwood deck. Still, they were good neighbors and when Joseph jackknifed his rig and went up in flames, they made sure Kai was okay. Renna kept to herself during the funeral, not out of grief, but out of fear that her overwhelming relief would show. No, she didn’t agree that a man was necessary to make it in this world, but she didn’t contradict anyone that did.
Tempest should’ve waited until they could come up together instead of shivering in the doorway, waiting.
Their cabin on Weir and Johnson Reservoir was near the top of Grand Mesa. Mom never liked the cold. Dad teased that she was afraid to meet Weird Johnson, his nickname for the place. Tempest was glad to stay away, her brothers liked to spook her with stories that never stayed at the campfire but followed her to bed. They grumbled that she was lucky to get her own space. She stuck her chin out with pride, but at night she wanted to share the dark.
Dad wasn’t feeling up to grilling, so the barbecue was cancelled. She didn’t tell Kai, instead she enlisted Renna to meet her daughter at the airport and send her up the mountain. Renna missed her daughter and was glad to have the extra couple of hours.
Joan Jett playing do you wanna touch, do you wanna touch me. They’d watched Harley Quinn, sharing a pitcher of strong margaritas, agreeing that sometimes love was insanity. Kai’s laughter turned to tears. Her best friend’s arms were around her, familiar and accepting. A kiss. Not the experimental giggling paws of teenagers this time. Comfort heated the coals, lust flamed to life. Making love build upon solid friendship. Loving freely, beginning a new chapter. The cabin became their retreat. Neither told their families and they were used to the women wanting to be alone. Any parental worry was about the cabin’s isolation. Tempest’s dad had been itching to check the place out but wasn’t able to travel that far anymore.
Together they reinforced the rotted steps, put up the storm windows, sealed the doorways, and cleaned out the chimney, occasionally stealing a kiss. A few sultry nights and it was time to come down for the winter. Tempest’s brother wanted to know if they’d seen anything weird.
“Well, we saw a chipmunk smoking a crackpipe, but he didn’t offer us any, so we just ignored him. It was kinda weird though. I thought only big city animals did that kind of thing.”
“Drugs are not funny,” Mom scolded.
Tempest remembered these things while keeping busy. She had brought clean sheets along with the cleaning supplies and only a little bit of food. Kai would bring the rest. They were hoping to be fully stocked and keep to their cabin. Over the long months they’d planned and dreamed about their hideaway and their future.
“Ouch!” Tempest automatically put her fingers in her mouth. A shard of broken glass, her brothers teased that it was best to keep most of your bodily fluids to yourself. Thinking of that, she disinfected and bandaged immediately. Back to work. She’d spilled a tiny bit of blood on the floor and was having trouble spotting it. No big deal, she supposed, they were planning to refinish the floor anyway. The cabin had been empty for a couple of years so they included a lot of repair/replace on their list of things that ate money, the time needed was padded a little so they’d have good reason to stretch out the summer. She smiled to herself. They planned to christen their place with a nice bottle of red, small sanguineous offerings couldn’t hurt.
The day was darkening. An unforcasted storm seemed to be looming and she hoped Kai’s plane wouldn’t be late. Being up here alone during the day was one thing, she had been looking forward to their night together under a blanket of dark stars, but she didn’t want to be alone. She roamed about, quickly finishing the chores, laughing at herself for feeling spooked by the darkening sky. She decided to lock the doors and shower now. She wasn’t about to wait until nightfall. If Kai arrived while she showered there was always the extra key. She’d left it with Renna along with a map of their exact location. GPS was no good up here unless you were looking for the campground.
The strong aroma of coffee greeted her as she stepped onto the flokati rug. She loved its shaggy feel. The hot shower and dark coffee spiked her attention, and she looked around the room, taking in every detail, wanting the first night to be perfect. She worried about the blood spilled but no matter how hard she looked, even with the flashlight she couldn’t see anything resembling blood. The dark would begin its creeping soon. She went out to check the generator, knowing it was full but wanting reassurance. The day was getting away and the evening chill of spring was closing in on her. Please hurry, she thought.
She didn’t have anything beyond the normal household starters. A little food, a little wine and she was in love. Those were enough, or at least they had been this morning. Now, standing in the twilight, she berated herself for coming up early. Get ahold of yourself girl, she breathed. You’ll feel safer behind locked doors. Her phone had finally gotten through to Renna only to hear that Kai wouldn’t be coming up tonight. Tempest would be alone. She spooked too easily and wasted time deciding if she should search the shed for something to protect herself with. The sun was disappearing fast when she finally forced herself to pick up the flashlight.
The door hinges screeched with rust and a mad scurry of feet scratched across the floor. The rest of the world sat silent. The flashlights beam shook the shadows as she glided it over the ceiling. A wet plop sounded to her. When she swung the light, she saw an enormous barn owl sitting in the rafters, ominously judging her. She stared back into its yellow eyes, knowing its vision outclassed hers. Pulling her gaze away, she hunted for weapons, long handled tools, an ax, or shovel. The light was trained on the shelves, so she didn’t see the rake lying in front of her.
When she stepped down, it raised up, smacking her forehead. She fell back and landed on her butt, hand barely missing the owl excrement. She gripped a lower shelf to lift herself up but yanked it back. Something soft and furry like a wet Weimaraner against her skin. Her first repulsed thought was a dead rat. Still, her fingers snaked back and curled around, bringing it closer for a better look. It felt like a thick egg noodle, stretched extra-long and left to rot. It was covered in mold but not eaten away yet. Before she could drop it, the composition began to change. The short velvety texture lengthened like rapidly growing hair with small bulbs forming at the base. As they burst, a sticky liquid dripped down her arm, forming pustules on bare skin. The glutenous material stuck instantly and was impossible to pull off. She’d have to scrape her own skin away if she ever got out of the shed.
A strong scent of yeast filled her nose. A captive in the dark, unwanted ideas played in her mind. Like her weird fear of opening canned biscuits. What if something other than dough came bursting out of the package? Something like spiders, or centipedes crawling out. She knew that was impossible, there wasn’t any oxygen inside the sealed can. But what if cockroaches came at a rush, rolling over the counter in a mad dash for her? She had read some terrifying things about roaches, how you could light them on fire, and they’d stay still until the flame went out, then they would run away on too many legs. The thought of all those legs crawling across her skin; she knew she’d faint, and the disease carriers would make a mad dash for her open mouth or her ears. She’d wake to the feel of them on her tongue, wiggling and tickling the tiny hairs inside her nose. Would they drink the moisture from her shocked open eyes?
The slurping sound of suction being broken, she felt the thing release her skin and flung it away. She wiped her palm roughly against her jeans. Instantly, her leg felt like scalding water was dumped over it. She felt dizzy and tried to establish some calming thought to recover her balance. She had grabbed the wet, decomposing noodle thing, not the other way around. Was there any comfort in that? She had grabbed it! And then she had thrown it (never mind that she’d been stuck until it released her) so she was still in control. If it had grabbed her then she could continue to worry until insanity overtook her. Time to limp back inside. Cautiously, she stepped back through the shed, telling herself she’d laugh about this tomorrow with Kai. Comfort came trickling back as the light from the cabin became brighter. Then it stretched out and grabbed her.
By Michelle Enelen
Michelle Enelen has been published by Eohippus Labs and 42 words. Her work is shown in 2019’s Poetry Marathon, the Tell Me More Anthology series, and on Medium. She is a joint author in the upcoming novel He Has Stayed Too Long. Michelle’s short story “Meat Me in the Livingroom” appears in Beneath Strange Stars published by TL;DR Press. Her book reviews and original fiction are posted on Kendall Reviews and she aims to have new posts coming soon on Dead Head Reviews.
You can find her on Twitter @falln468 and on Instagram at @readtornado