If you were to stand by my side right now and look out from the lightly rotting cabin window, over the forest that’s been blanketed in snow, you might think this place to be peaceful. Maybe even idyllic. You might feel warm and safe, sitting in that old rocking chair in front of the crackling fire. Paired with a warm mug of tea and that old tartan blanket thrown over your lap. You might watch the fresh snowflakes falling down, dancing through the air. Or, you might even grab a good book and really curl up in this little log cabin, miles from anywhere and anyone. You might call it a sanctuary. You might come here to take a break, to get away from it all.
I wanted to get away from it all, eight months ago. But I got stuck here instead.
Looking out over the forest, I don’t see peace and tranquility. I see the brutality within the beauty of nature. I sense everything that I’ve had to fight against for my own survival over, sitting there, waiting. The forest reminds me that there were six of us… and now I’m all alone. Isolated.
I slurped down the dregs of my tea and set the mug on the side, next to a sink full of dirty dishes. I waved my hand at them as I turned away. Not wanting to see them. Just another thing to add to the to do list. Right now, I have more pressing needs. Like firewood. The dishes will have to wait.
Shrugging on my thick but tattered coat and boots, I braced myself for the day ahead. Upon opening the front door I found myself walking into, what felt like, a wall of bitter coldness. It breezed straight through the coat to bite at my skin. I gathered my clothing around my neck, desperate to keep in some of my precious body heat. I trudged through the snow to the log cutting station to the left of the cabin.
Placing the log to be cut on the stump of what once was a magnificent oak tree, I lugged the axe over my shoulder and threw it down.
Thwack. Thwack. Crack.
Memories full of images and emotions flooded my brain. A daily experience. I had gotten more used to it now but the first one always catches me by surprise. First up, it’s the last memory of Britney. We were out here, in this very spot, chopping wood together. Reminiscing over the time we were back at home, a place full of electricity, central heating, and the wondrous internet. Along with delicious food like cakes, chocolate, bacon, bread.
We tried to remember why we thought this cabin was best for our girl’s holiday.
“Well, we needed a break and this seemed like a great idea. It was away from people, unlike New York, and the pictures made it look absolutely gorgeous!” Britney was almost swooning.
“Hah, yeah. We clearly made the best choice possible. Come out to the middle of nowhere, with no modern amenities, the car was running on fumes when we got here with nowhere to fill up, there’s no phone signal anywhere and we’ve been trapped here by a pack of hungry wolves. What a great idea!” I felt bad as soon I heard the bitterness behind what was supposed to be lighthearted. I couldn’t help it. Britney’s eyes fell to the floor.
“But, hey. At least we’re all together, right? I couldn’t cope in a place like this without my girls.”
Sighing in agreement, I replied “Yeah. That’s for sure. Although, I don’t think Mandy can stand being around Abbie for much longer, especially with how precious Abbie can be!”
Britney flashed a knowing smile my way, not wanting to comment.
“Oh, look. I’ve finished my pile and you’re only half way through!” She mocked, with a dramatic hand over her open mouth. “I’m going to see if there are any branches lying about that we can chop up. Back soon.”
“Ok, be careful!” I called after her. Britney melted into the forest.
We all heard it. An hour later. The five of us were huddled around the fire inside, regaining some warmth. An ear splitting scream, that I’ll never forget, cut through our casual conversation. It came from the forest. We all knew who it came from, and what it meant. It hit us how helpless we were. We couldn’t even call for help. We briefly considered a search party but thought against it with the sun already setting. Anyway, it was too late. We knew that. We had to leave Britney where she was. All alone. In the woods. Unable to say a proper goodbye to her. And letting ourselves suffer with the guilt of leaving her there.
My eyes became too misty to see. I wiped at them and picked up the next log. Ploughing through this was the only way.
Thwack. Thwack. Crack.
Rhiannon and I had come in from a long day of chopping. As we shrugged off our coats we heard some tension in the kitchen.
“I just can’t do it, Mandy!” Wailed Abbie. Hot tears were streaming down her face, her lip quivering. She tucked her hands up inside her cardigan sleeves, completely concealing them.
“I know it’s horrible and I know you haven’t ever done anything like this before - neither have I! But it’s got to be done.” Mandy replied, turning to face her with her hand on hips. You could see how desperately she was trying to keep an even tone.
“I’m not going to do it! I can’t bear to hurt it even more!” Abbie dramatically turns her back on her. Stomping her foot for good measure.
“For goodness sake, Abigail! It’s already dead! Skinning it is not going to hurt it now!” she snapped, gesturing towards the rabbit on a chopping board. Abbie’s shoulders start to shake with her sobs. Mandy pinched the bridge of her nose and sighed heavily.
“Ok, Abbie. I’ll do it this time, as long as you promise to watch. Then you know for the future. It’s really not as bad as you think.” Mandy offered.
“Fine. I will give you the last of my chocolate if you just watch!” she pleaded. “It’s fruit and nut…” she said in a sing-song voice. That got Abigail’s attention.
“Fine. But only because I want actual food. I finished my chocolate within the first week of being here. I’m dying for some more!” You could see Abigail’s mouth watering a mile away from the thought of it.
A twig snapped in the distance, snatching my attention back to reality. They’re back. Or did they ever leave? Either way, I shouldn’t be out here for much longer.
They always seem to be waiting. For what, I don't know. I don’t often see them, lurking in trees. But when I do, I only manage to catch a glimpse of a grey foot or a straggly tail. Never their faces. Really, I don’t want to stick around to see them. They are wild wolves, after all. We… I mean I… I have managed to survive this long by not coming across them. I can’t say that about my friends, though.
After barricading myself away inside the cabin, I hear them gathering. At night, the wolves always draw closer. Their padded footsteps crunching lightly in the snow as they seem to pace. And pace. They communicate with each other with grumbles and whines and snarls. After a while, they settle down, not making a peep. But they’re still there. The forest joins in with this silence. No creatures making a single noise. I can’t bear it most nights. I have made a new best friend, especially for the night time. Jack Daniels is his name. The cabin’s outbuilding was stocked to seams with the stuff.
When everyone was still alive we would sing songs at night. Our collective voices would be enough to keep the insanity at bay.
The first night we broke into song was the best. We had an amazing day: plenty of wood chopped, tools had been sharpened and maintained, five rabbits caught in our DIY traps and we had made a beautiful rabbit stew with some fresh local vegetables. We were on a high, way back in the beginning. Only two months into this whole madness. We were all strewn out on various chairs and beds when Ruby started humming something. A tune we hadn’t heard in a while. After a few seconds she springs up from her seat, invisible microphone in hand and starts singing:
Risin’ up, back on the street
Did my time, took my chances
Went the distance
Now back on my feet
Just a man and his will to survive
Ruby is prancing around the room, dragging her sister Rhiannon to her feet. Then, one by one, they picked us all up to get us dancing. We all mumble the next verse, not really knowing it but are jigging around the room anyway.
… must fight just to keep them alive
It’s the eye of the tiger
It’s the thrill of the night
Risin’ up to the challenge
Of our rival
And the last known survivor
Stalks his prey in the night
And he’s watching us all with the
Eye of the tiger
Everyone sang the chorus at the top of their voices while posing with one arm in the air, heads thrown back. We were all panting, grinning like mad. With none of us knowing the rest of the words we carried on dancing around the cabin, do do doing our way through the rest of the tune. Hitting the chorus again we sang our hearts out. We flopped to the floor in a bundle of bodies and laughs.
Slowly, slowly, the number of voices left me. Until there was only mine.
I’m smiling at the memory while my heart feels like it’s being clamped.
The silence and the wolves’ presence is now a creeping suffocation. With no escape. Grabbing my new best friend, I take a deep drink. Not able to bring myself to look across the now empty cabin, I snuggle myself down into bed. Time to drink the night away.
The sun broke through the flimsy curtains the next morning, dragging me out of sleep. With a grumble, I slid out of bed, not wanting to shake the ball of lead that was in my head.
I heard them. Creeping towards the cabin. I looked through the front window to see thirty wolves in a semicircle, making their way to the cabin. I ran across the creaky wooden floor to look out the opposite window. The same sight greeted me at the back of the cabin too. Fear started bubbling up inside me.
“What do I do?” I ask the cabin at large.
“I don’t know. Do you know what they want?”
“No. Why are there so many of them here?”
“Why during the daylight? They only come in the night, normally.”
“Yeah.. that is weird.”
“I can’t even escape, there’s no hope. I have my axe but that won’t do much for long.”
Shaking off the conversation with myself, I carried on watching the wolves out the front. My eyes were glued to them. When they got to within twenty feet of the cabin they all stopped. And stared. The largest wolf broke formation and headed directly for the front porch.
“Shit. I’m done for.”
Heavy, padded feet climbed the stairs and he put his nose to the ground. He sniffed deeply underneath the doorway. There was no doubt he would be able to smell me. I was sweating. A lot. The wolf, possibly the leader of the pack, turned and seemed to give a silent command. The remainder of the pack understood and all turned around, their backs facing me. Pack leader rejoined the formation in the gap left for him. Guttural growls were making their way up the throats of every single wolf, creating a haunting chorus. Every single hackle was raised. All teeth were bared in horrific snarls. I followed their gaze up ahead and my jaw dropped.
Trees that were hundreds of years old were bending, being pushed aside, one by one, as if making a pathway.
The wolves were readying for attack. Something was coming.
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I loved the POV more than anything, the seamless integration of some information and what's happening in the story. I also love how you created a sense of something grand(er) than real life happening with the wolves, and the trees. It was a great read, and I look forward to checking out some of your other works!
Thank you so much! I'm glad you enjoyed it, this was one of my favourites to write! Thank you!
Not at all, it was a pleasure to read!
I enjoyed reading this. It was entertaining (but also horrific lol). I enjoyed how you went back and forth between flashback and present, it really emphasized the sense of loneliness of the main character. I also liked how you spent time describing various sounds like the wolves, the trees and the logs, it really helps to hook us into the story. Well done!
Thank you very much! Glad you enjoyed it
Hi Sam! This was so fun (sad too, of course). I loved the use of song lyrics - reminded me of the episodes of LOST when they used music to make lighter moments and transitions in the midst of a sad survival situation. At first I thought thirty plus wolves was a bit unrealistic, but you quickly made it clear that realism wasn't the intention with your fun cliffhanger ending! I was a bit confused by the conversation with the cabin (?) - I wonder if there's opportunity to make it a little clearer what's going on there. Good job, and tha...
Agreed. I like how this and the other story contained lyrical references - it adds a lot to the theme of survivors! This setting feels like it could be in the 19th century, which I guess the lack of internet explains. You have a god mix of morbidity & hope in the main character's personality. great work! the wolves don't have to be taken literally, either.
Thank you very much! I do purposely leave a lot of details out like place and point in time because I like the reader to decide that.
Thank you so much for reading and commenting! I'm glad you enjoyed it Nah, I wasnt going for realism. I find I get too caught up in getting the details perfect if I set it in the "real world". Thank for you the constructive comment! In the cabin I was trying to show another aspect of the survival practices the characters had to adjust to and I wanted to play around with different personalities. Maybe it was a bit random! If I try that again in another story I'll add in something to link it together a bit better
I wouldn't say it was random - actually I think it fits well with the situation, and would be an interesting piece to clarify and explore a bit more in depth. Does she she understand that she's talking to something that isn't real, or has she slipped so far that she believes the cabin really does answer? If she's hallucinating, it would cast an interesting shadow over her perception of the wolves, especially at the end, leaving us wondering how reliable the narrator is! Just some food for thought :)
I'm sorry, I got confused! I thought you meant the bit with the skinning of the rabbit. The conversation in the cabin was the mc talking to herself but I clearly didn't make that clear enough! I should have added a "she muttered to herself" somewhere! I'll remember to double check that in future. I'm glad it could be taken as something else that's up to the reader though