Sarah was still taking things out of the car, so I was the one who was surprised first. A woman answered the door…actually, I think that was not quite true. She heard me unlock the cabin and stood waiting for me to enter. She was beautiful in a sweet, girl-next-door kind of way with pockets of energy that seemed to be out of her control.
“Umm… Yes, hello.”
It was Sarah’s turn to be surprised.
“I think that there is a mistake here.” She put down the boxes of food and looked around. It was a very large space and we did not see her with anyone else in the front room. “We were told that the cabin would be free for the week-end. We rented it out.”
The woman kept smiling.
“I thought that might happen. Did you get the keys from…?”
Not going to include his name in this; this is our story. Probably better that way.
“Yes, he said that we could take the week-end off and stay here. Just self-isolate…by ourselves.” I caught myself and Sarah began to look angrily at the space around us.
“Said the same thing to us, I’m afraid.”
The woman held up a key in one hand and put her lamp down on a table. It was clearly the same one we had and we both stared at it. So, not a thief. Wonderful.
“Umm.” I looked around. “You said, ‘us’.”
“Your…boyfriend?” Sarah was annoyed and almost yelled it out.
From behind us, another man walked in and smiled. He was dressed for the elements in a lumberjack shirt and coat that strained at his muscles. For some reason, I immediately thought that he was a perfect match for this woman. And he was also very energetic and able to project himself into someone's thoughts. That seemed pretty timely, I felt, even as we recovered from this extra shock. At least we weren’t shouting at each other. Well, not yet.
“Welcome to the cabin! I’m Nick and my better half here,” he put the other woman in a bear hug, “is Laura.”
“Stop it!” She was clearly used to all of that affection.
So, two non-thieves to share a cabin with on a weekend.
Sarah put her boxes down. “I am Sarah and the guy who should have double-checked the dates,” she punched me in the arm, “is my Stephen.”
“Good to meet you!” They said it simultaneously, laughed, and stuck out their hands.
How could we resist?
As we put our things away, we saw that the cabin was much bigger than we suspected, so each couple would at least have their own room. I knew that Sarah was thinking about this and did not want to imagine having to share a couch or a barely-covered floor with her boyfriend. So, the first problem was clear.
And then there were other problems that turned out not to be so problematic. First, no wi-fi signal was present in that cabin. Our cellphones had also shut down when we checked for a signal, but a part of me was secretly happy about this. I had brought Sarah there to fix something that needed to be fixed a long time ago. After five years of dating, things were getting very rough between us. I liked her in my life, but I was never sure if I loved her enough. She also admitted that she was not sure if she cared for me that much, either. But we were in each other’s lives; that was clear and neither of us had the nerve to change that.
I should also say how there was also no electricity in the cabin (another wonderful oversight on the part of…) This was the bigger issue for us. The heaters, we had been told, used electric current. I truly thought we would freeze to death when Laura noted the problem, but her other half had been collecting firewood when we arrived, and she had portable oil lamps and candles all over the house, along with a small generator for the radio and our phones if we needed it.
“We owe you.” Sarah sat on the floor in front of the now raging fires.
“Nonsense!” Laura smiled and took out some quilts and blankets from a hallway cupboard and brought them into the front room. “It’s your first time out here and you didn’t know everything. Gotta look out for one another out here.”
“Well, no one told us.” I was still shivering on the couch, despite the new coverings and the fire.
“That was probably just a mistake.” Nick was bringing in a tray with four large glasses and a bottle of what looked like whiskey (I’m no expert on this). “Next time, you’ll know.”
“Next time, I’m not travelling in the cold. Not even when there’s no snow on the ground. Just going to travel when the weather is good. Can’t believe how bad it got when we were coming up here. Complete white out in spots.”
Nick poured out a glassful. “Pretty brutal.”
“We knew what was coming. That’s why we made a point of having everything ready before anyone else came out here.” Laura took a drink and passed it to Sarah.
I was a little nervous about something.
“When you say, ‘anyone else’…”
“Any hikers. Every year, people get stuck in the woods and either freeze to death or get mauled…”
“Laura!” Nick sat down on the divan and Laura stared at him. “You don’t need to terrify complete strangers in the middle of blizzard.
She sat beside him, and took his hand (rather sweet, I thought). “It is just the truth.” She turned to face me. Sarah was staring at us with the fire at her back.
“There are some terrible stories about people not making it out of here before it gets too dark and…well. Like I said.”
I could feel the whiskey in my head.
“I have heard about that.”
Nick sighed and smiled at me. “You just need to be careful when you head out. Have a plan. Carry a weapon or at least know the area well enough to get out of there in one piece.” He knocked back a large slug of the drink. “Just makes sense.”
“Anyone hungry?” Sarah was staring only at me.
Laura looked down at her drink. “I could eat something.”
“Great. Um, Stephen?”
She kept staring at me as I hesitated.
“Right. Excuse us.”
We were both in the kitchen, standing in front of our boxes when we both let out a breath we did not know we had been holding in tandem. For some reason, I noticed at that moment the portable stove set up on the counter. And I actually was hungry.
“What the hell was that?”
“Great conversation for a cabin in the woods. Cabin in the woods. Isn’t that a movie where they kill each other on a trip?”
“If it is about a bunch of kids going out into the woods, it is either a horror film or they are trying to get laid. Those are the rules.”
She really was not in the mood for a laugh.
“Please. We do not know these people. We do not know why they got the keys. We are now talking about dead hikers.”
“It was just a story.”
“It was creepy as fuck!”
I paused for a moment and listened to the noises of the cabin. The hum of the generator in the other room was soothing, as was the crackling and breaking up of the logs in the fireplace. Sarah was about to cry, I thought.
“I’m sorry. Sorry. It’s just…we planned to come here to get away from things.”
“From a lot of things…”
Sarah looked down at the linoleum. “Yeah, that too.” She let out a small laugh and I hugged her.
“We are sorry about that.”
Again, they surprised us.
“Yeah, um, it’s okay. We should probably get something to eat and turn in.”
“Right, well,” Nick opened another box I hadn’t noticed and brought out some vegetables, “I am a great cook. Better than that one over there.”
“Always says dumb things when he’s drunk.” Laura found a cutting board and a strainer. “He thinks working in a restaurant makes him a genius with food.”
“Everyone has a talent.”
“Everyone hasn’t lived with your ego.”
And they were off. Sarah stood there for a moment, holding my hand and looking at the two of them at the table cutting and sorting through their food. I could not think of anything to say, but I said it anyway.
“Soup.” Sarah wiped her face and opened up our boxes.
It was a good meal. Nick did something with the salad that was absolutely remarkable and Laura provided a dressing that was homemade, as was the bread she brought and stored in tea towels. Sarah made her infamous chicken noodle soup, also from scratch, while I cut up the chicken and open the packets of noodles (guess who cooks the meals in our home?)
We all collapsed on the kitchen chairs and stared at the mess.
“That was truly a fantastic salad, Nick.” Sarah wiped down her bowl with some of the homemade bread.
“I do try. Her dressing adds a little something to it.”
“It adds everything.” Laura was now sitting in his lap, kissing his cheek as I tried to think of something to add.
“Thanks for the bread.”
“And thank you for that soup. Almost forgot that you could make it from scratch.”
“Yeah, well. She is the only one who knows how to cook. I would truly be lost…”
For some reason, I hesitated.
Laura caught me. “You were gonna say something I think.” Her grin was contagious and even Nick had caught it.
“No, it is just that…I never really bothered about food. I work on contract fixing things and a sandwich was all I needed.”
“And when I met him, I almost had to kick him to eat something that wasn’t stuck between two pieces of bread or fell out of a can.”
“She cooked for me on our first date.”
“How could I not when I saw your place?”
“I had food.”
“You had boxes and cans, knucklehead.”
Knucklehead. She had not called me that in two years, I think.
“And now, we are stuck with each other.”
“And I would not change a thing…” Sarah fell into my lap and wrapped her legs around me. “Good thing we came out to the cabin to realize what we really needed.”
Laura and Nick were almost gushing with shyness. I just let my face grow red and let Sarah kiss me in front of our new friends.
Now, this is thing that I don’t understand.
We had our whiskey, our food and our kiss. We had our separate rooms and then we realized how tired we all were. So why did they just take off like that?
Sarah was more upset about this than I was.
“Great. Buncha weirdos probably stole our food and decided to hike off to find another pair of idiots.”
I looked around. “No, nothing gone. Phones, boxes, bags… They even left their stuff.”
She looked in their room. “Bed’s made and all the quilts put away. Don’t think their coming back.”
“Maybe they thought we needed time alone.”
“We had that last night. A lot of that.” She smiled and put her arms around me.
“Well, the cabin seems to be doing something to us.”
“And we aren’t lost hikers. We are quite safe.”
“Right. No more stories of bears and frozen people. What we need is coffee. Coffee, coffee!”
I had not heard her this happy in ages. And there was one thing that I could do.
“Your wish is granted.”
I had brought up a small cafetiere and noticed in the kitchen that morning that the stove was still there. A little oil was left and it was just enough for heating our drinks. For some reason, I don’t remember cleaning up after that dinner (did Nick and Laura really do all this without waking us up?) I poured the water in, found some of our favourite mugs, and sat at the table.
And then I froze.
On a card, embossed with our full names on the front, was a note that read as follows:
We do appreciate you spending the evening with us
and helping us forget all the pain and trauma we
went through when we first visited this place. You
must understand something: we were the couple that
got lost up in these woods and we still try to provide guidance
and help to anyone who needs it.
And we both think that you will be okay as long as you love each
other, and remember that you need each other.
Nick and Laura S.
I never showed Laura that card. I put it in my housecoat and made damn sure that I hid it when we got back to the house. And after ten years of marriage, I see no need to share this with her. As long as we are still together, I can keep this secret to myself.