[This is a continuation of a story previously published on December 20, 2013 here.]
Months later, the snow was settling softly on the dark, bare branches of the trees surrounding Eunice and Louisa’s country cabin in the woods. It had taken them both a few months of diligent research to find the owners of the cabin and their asking price. They were pleased to find out that the price was well below their expectations, however, as the result of an unspeakable tragedy that had befallen the previous family.
Eunice and Louisa were elated about the possibilities of owning their own “home away from home” and they got permission to camp on the premises while their broker closed the deal.
Their snowshoes crunched against the freshly fallen snow. It was deep, fluffy, and iridescent in bitterly cold late afternoon sun. Louisa happily set up camp while Eunice managed to coax a fire from their gas powered stove. Their plan was to drink hot toddies and snuggle up under the stars. As the sun was setting at the baseline of the trees, they turned off their camping lights and left the rain flap off in order to get a full view of the darkening sky.
The moon shone brightly at the top of the trees and obscured the outline of the stars. Eunice and Louisa waited it out drowsily as they anticipated a winter meteor shower. Soon Louisa was taking in heavy, even breaths as Eunice laid beside her enjoying the crisp burn of the night air in her nostrils. Suddenly, she gasped, clutching Louisa at the sight of the first shooting star that came across her vision.
“It’s starting,” she whispered in awe into Louisa’s ear.
“The stars are starting to fall around us.”
“Indeed, they are,” Louisa said slowly waking up.
As Louisa began to open her eyes, a gigantic fireball flew across the sky, lighting everything as if it were midday again.
“Did you see that?” Louisa sprung immediately into a sitting position.
“Of course I did.”
“I say we follow it.”
“What? Are you crazy? It’s probably well past midnight at this point!”
“Doesn’t matter. But you’re probably right that it’s not best to go into unknown woods alone right now.”
Just then, a second fireball trailed across the sky, this time slightly slower than the first, leaving a small tail of light in its wake. Louisa gripped Eunice a bit too tightly.
“We must!” Louisa said with an unusual sense of desperation.
“Fine. Let’s dress warmly then.”
They were quick to put on their snowshoes and their heaviest winter coats, their breath crystallizing in the night air as they exited the tent and their camp. As they walked past the cabin and deeper into the sleeping apple orchard, they began to hear the sounds of a babbling brook.
“That’s strange,” said Eunice, “I don’t remember there being a body of water anywhere near the property.”
Louisa didn’t answer and had a grim look of determination on her face. She looked a bit alien in the light as the shadows contorted her usually sweet farm girl features. Their only communication for what felt like an hour was the crunch of their snowshoes into the deep and untouched snow.
“There it is,” she finally gasped pointing to a place across the brook and well onto the other side of the forest. Slightly above the ground was a greenish, yellow light illuminating what looked to be a mound of snow and fallen trees.
“I don’t think we sh…” Eunice was cut short by another fireball coming across the sky and dissipating in a mist above the mysterious mound. As she stared up at it, she felt Louisa’s presence slip away quickly. When she looked back down, she found herself alone in the wood, staring into the tree line that was somehow not burning.
“Louisa! LOUISA!” Eunice cried in a panic. She frantically looked down at the snow to see where her lover’s tracks had gone and she found nothing going forward, only the path that they had taken to get there. She leaned in to look more closely and saw that in Louisa’s footprints were a few drops of fresh blood stark against the whiteness of the snow.
“LOUISA!” Eunice could hear her voice growing hoarse and rattling in her throat in the harsh wind that was beginning to pick up around her. She felt the wind push against her as she tried to move toward the glow in the woods.
“LOUISA!” The wind grew very strong and knocked her back off of her feet and sent her through several feet of snow. It felt as if it were pushing her back the way they came.
She opened her mouth to scream again and barely got to “LOUI” when a handful of snow shoved its way down her throat, powered by unseen hands. She sputtered and gasped to catch her breath, coughing harshly and heaving.
She felt that she had no other choice than to turn around, gather their supplies, and try to go for help. She heard a low moan coming from the trees around her and the faraway light quickly blinked out. Everything stopped and there was a terrible, deadening silence. She knew, and felt into her fingertips and guts and thighs that she was utterly and completely alone.
She tore her way back to their camp and was surprised to find that every piece of their camp had been shredded to pieces. Bits of lantern and the gas stove and vinyl pieces of their tent were strewn about. She sank to her knees and breathed out one word, “No.” She felt that she had no choice but to break into the house to seek shelter until she could search for help in the morning light. She hoped that Louisa would somehow find her way back to their now destroyed camp and realize that that age had sought shelter nearby.
With the metal clasp on her snowshoe, Eunice broke the small window on the back door to the cabin, leading into the kitchen. With that, she disturbed the layers of dust as they swirled around her. Through her coughing fit, she barricaded the door with the kitchen table.
Suddenly realizing her exhaustion, she stumbled her way into the parlor and onto a covered couch and wrapped herself in the sheet. She accomplished nothing more than a fitful sleep.
The next morning there was still no sign of Louisa. Eunice made her way to the car, into town, and to the broker’s office. She had no idea how to explain what had happened the night previous, but she vowed to stay in the cabin for the rest of her days and wait for Louisa to show, even if it were to be in the form of a ghost.
[This piece was inspired by the photographic work of Kilian Schönberger discovered here. His photograph is below.]