I come back to myself in bits and pieces. There’s a rushing sound, like a watery heartbeat. Gritty sand beneath my cheek and the hot sun beating down onto my white racerback tank top. Salt air, carried in on a stiff breeze that stirs my tangled brown hair. Birds calling out to one another in a sky that I’m sure would be blue if I could just get my eyes open.
“Reset your password.” I stare at the screen in bleary-eyed confusion. It’s too early for this, for my work email to invade what had been such a pleasant dream. The words, scrolled out in white text against a black screen, make me wince. A headache threatens behind my left eye and I shove the phone hard under my pillow. Two hours before my alarm clock goes off. Two more hours of hopefully peaceful sleep, though that’s been in rare supply here lately.
The outside world was unknown to her, but she could see a glimpse of it through the window in his room. Vivid green grass, the warm golden glow of the sun. Flowers of every color, purple, red, white. Trees that towered past the window until she had to strain to see their tips. Wispy white clouds that gently brushed across the face of a calm blue sky. A world of freedom. Infinite possibilities with a future you could hold in your own two hands.
We drove up the snowy, windy road towards the cozy A-frame cabin. Everything is still and silent, save for the rush of our tires against the wet asphalt. Towering pine trees on either side of the road lean down to form an archway and the setting sun twinkles through the icicles clinging to their branches. We left civilization behind twenty miles ago at that little gas station, our last chance for fuel and food.
The paper seems to glare up at me from the bottom of the box. I shift uncomfortably from foot to foot and my scalp seems to tingle. A burst of sudden anger drives me back to the door and I rip it open to glare out into the street. Empty. Just as it was ten minutes when I heard that strange buzzing sound outside and opened my door to find that stupid little brown package sitting on my stoop.
It’s a struggle to open my eyes. My mind is sluggish and slow, my limbs like heavy weights at the end of a chain. Sound comes back to me in bits and pieces. Ringing cries from the birds above, the low hum of insects, the rustle of twigs snapped under the paws of foraging animals. Frigid wind heavy with the threat of colder days ahead whispers through the densely packed trees and brushes over my thick hide.
The cabin in the woods had been abandoned for years, but one night, a candle burned in the window. I had caught sight of it entirely by accident, glancing over from my front porch and spying it through the sighing boughs of hardwood trees stripped thin by winter’s first cold breaths. I’d dropped the bag into the trash can with a loud clatter of empty beer bottles then stared through the darkening forest. But the little light had vanished before I could be sure I hadn’t imagined it.
Pantea awoke with a start. Cold sweat covered her from head to toe and the sheets had twisted themselves around her legs. Her pounding heartbeat shook her body from head to toe, sent a fine trembling through her limbs. The mirror over her dresser reflected back a face gone sickly pale beneath her freckles, her red hair sweaty in its braids, and she rubbed her hands over her cheeks.
My younger sister and I have lived together for two years. With our most recent four-legged addition, we've somehow acquired ten cats between the two of us. Seven of them were strays, four of them found by me, one by my sister, and two found by friends and turned over to us, the local crazy cat ladies. That’s a fact my live-in boyfriend, who is very much allergic to cats, must regret every time he takes another Benadryl or buys another box of tissues. But that’s his fault. He knew what he was getting himself into.
“Tomyris, don’t go too far ahead!” Tomyris huffed with annoyance but slowed her headlong sprint to a slow jog. How old were her parents anyway? Maybe if they weren’t so busy holding hands and fawning over each other they’d move a little bit faster. And maybe if they weren’t so short. Tomyris was almost as tall as Mom and gaining on Dad. Apparently, Tomyris’ family, her real family, had been very tall.
Ripley stepped out of the portal. A rush of dizziness sent her crashing to her knees and the bags looped around her wrists rustled angrily as she stumbled. She crashed down in a puddle of mud, cursing as it splashed up into her face, and tried to pull herself back up.