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Those Who Wish To Remain

For fear of the unknown

By AphoticPublished about a year ago 15 min read
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Those Who Wish To Remain
Photo by Myna on Unsplash

We drove up the snowy, winding road towards the cozy A-frame cabin—a bundle of nerves and a ball of restless energy. It was all somehow familiar, as if I drove up this same road not long ago. Then, there was the thing in my pocket. I had read somewhere before that high stress and anxiety can increase the likelihood of experiencing episodes of Deja vu.

Quarter-sized snowflakes fell in slow motion, making the woodsy scene look like a true winter wonderland.

The radio was on, its host warning about a recent rabies outbreak in the area after two humans were infected by small animals. The feed started sputtering and going static so I shut it off.

Already, as I drove us up the meandering path, Addy was snapping pictures of every passing tree it seemed.

“Watcha capturing there?” I asked, genuinely curious.

“I want to remember everything.” She said sweetly, smiling up at me lovingly from the passenger seat. I smiled back and she pointed her phone at me to snap another photo. I turned my attention back to the road just as the cabin came into view and became Addy’s new target.

Snow Lined the roof like a white hat, glittering pearlescent in the noon sun like billions of tiny reflective gems. It was beginning to blanket the road as well, which was piled on either side from the plow that had come through earlier in the day to prepare for our arrival.

The Jeep was not yet parked when the cold chill of outside air replaced the warmth of the interior, biting me in the face like a vicious dog. Addy had abandoned ship prematurely, leaving the door hanging ajar behind her. She twirled around like a ballet dancer, elegant as the snowfall cascaded gracefully around her. “My beautiful snow angel.” I prided to myself, grinning like a fool.

I was so lost in admiring her essence that I didn’t immediately catch on when she crouched down and scooped up a handful of snow. She flashed me a mischievous look through the open door as she patted and pressed it between her hands, forming a lumpy, uneven ball. I was racing across the center console to pull the door shut when she launched the packed snow through the opening and it clocked me in the shoulder, exploding on impact.

“So, it’s war you’ve chosen!” I hollered over the sound of her contagious fit of giggles as I leapt from the now parked vehicle. I dipped down to dodge another incoming projectile, stooping to pick up snow as I stumbled after her. When I straightened, ready to fire, I saw that the cabin door was wide open on its hinges. I jogged up the pre-salted steps and followed the wet footprints inside. They led in every direction chaotically and I could picture Addy exploring the place’s every nook and cranny, an unbound whirlwind of energy.

I tracked the watery prints until they stopped in front of a closed door at the back of the cabin. “Addy?” I called, suspicious of the silence. It was so quiet I could still hear the jeep’s engine running outside and the whispering of the wind. I reached for the door handle and turned it slowly. She would try to get the jump on me, but I would be ready.

I pushed the door open, my eyes scanning the bedroom for any sign of movement. Suddenly, a banshee shrieked behind me and jumped on my back. Its screeches quickly morphed into unchained laughter. It wrapped its arms around my neck and kissed me on the cheek before hopping down.

I turned to face Addy, masking my defeat. She’d gone red in the face from laughing so hard, tears streaming down her cheeks. “I got you so good!” She gasped through her amusement. She pushed past me into the room and somersaulted onto the bed like a gymnast. I ambled after her and stumbled over her sodden-bottom boots on the floor, sending her into another fit of laughter. She stopped bouncing on the bed and collapsed onto her back, sprawling across it.

I knew this was just the eye of the hurricane. It wouldn’t be long before she was bouncing off the walls again, my perfect storm. I climbed onto the bed next to her and put my arms around her. The silence was a beautiful rarity to contrast her endearingly wild side.

I was the one to break the silence this time when I whispered the words “I love you,” with more conviction than the pope. The corners of Addy’s mouth turned up into a smile that could rival the Cheshire Cat’s famed grin. Her ringlet curls flowed around her face like a golden crown fit for a queen.

“Love you too, Nessie.” She whispered, using the nickname she'd given me two years ago shortly after we met. She’d had a long-running joke with her girlfriends that good men were as much a myth as the Loc Ness Monster. When we went official, one of her friends joked that she somehow landed a Nessie and it stuck. I never self-proclaimed myself a “good man,” but Addy made me feel like it could be true whenever she said it. The weight in my pocket grew as I let my self-doubt intrude. I quickly shoved away my mental reservations and let myself just be, in the moment with the love of my life.

~~~

I lost track of time lying with Addy, but I finally snap back to reality where the front door is wide open letting in the snowflakes, the Jeep is still running with all of our luggage in the back, and the watery tracks on the floor are soaking in. I plant one more kiss on Addy’s mouth and forehead, then force myself up. Addy mops up the floor while I kill the Jeep’s engine and unload our belongings into the cabin.

When the hardwoods are dry and our baggage is unpacked, Addy declares that she wants to build a snowman. Halfway through, she decides it should be a caterpillar, so instead of three segments, we roll six for the body and one for the head. It looks…peculiar when we’re done. She insists we make snow angels and I reluctantly oblige. After, she makes us some hot chocolate while I work on getting a fire going.

When the mugs are filled and the oak in the hearth is swathed in a blanket of flames, we pull up a lazy chair made for one and cram both our bodies into it. Addy burrows herself into my arms, nestling her head under my chin. We watch the movie “Elf” at her behest and I joke that Buddy could be her long lost brother to which she playfully punches my arm. She pulls out her phone and takes a picture of us—Just one, because she would rather have an imperfect, authentic picture than a false memory posed to perfection.

“We look so cute!” She exclaims before hopping from my lap and extending her hand out to me. “Come on! I want to explore.” I hold her hand in mine, my thoughts drifting to the black box in my pocket.

“Whatever you wish, m’lady.” I say in my best Old English accent, which isn't good. Her eyes sparkle, gleaming wells of lapis lazuli. I want to gaze into them forever, and if Addy says yes when I ask the big question, I will.

We ready ourselves for a trek into the wintery woods. The sun should set within the hour, soon to be replaced by the dark of twilight. I warn Addy that we need to be back before the daylight’s gone.

There are wild things afoot after dusk. Wolves, though there have been no attacks on humans reported here in forty plus years. Bears, but they should all be in hibernation by now. Mountain lions too, but they are seldom seen, and like wolves very rarely harm people. Still, my mind plays an unwanted montage of Addy being mauled to death by various predators and it flares the anxiety in the pit of my stomach. I reiterate; “We have to be back here by sundown.”

“You’re so paranoid.” She teases, pulling me along as she skips to the door.

The snow has stopped falling momentarily and I let Addy lead the way forth. She springs ahead through the brush, eager for adventure. The thing in my pocket grows heavier as I continue to dwell on the when and the how.

I follow closely behind Addy, careful of the briars and thorn apples growing over the narrow path. There are hundreds of trails in the park at various stages of overgrowth. This seems like one of the paths less-traveled. A deer trail, maybe.

We finally emerge from the brambles and when we come to the precipice of a hill on the other side, my breath catches. In the valley below is a sea of frosted heather and winterberries, their lush colors contrasting brilliantly. Snow-covered pines reach up from the frost-crusted ground. Several species of birds forage among the evergreens, picking at the winterberries. Addy’s phone is out, pointed toward the valley. After she snaps a few pictures of the view—breaking her own one-photo rule—she turns around and pulls me close, smiling ear to ear. She snaps another picture, the view of the valley a perfect backdrop.

The sun is setting, bathing the valley in a golden hue and casting a radiant glow onto Addy’s face and I realize that I want this day to last forever. We should be getting back now, but the moment is too perfect to pass up. Im certain that this is the when and the how I’ve been waiting for.

“It’s so beautiful.” She whispers.

“Not as beautiful as you.” I confess. She sinks into my embrace. I kiss her on top of the head then pull away, taking her hands into mine, focusing on her blue crystalline eyes. “I have something to ask you.” I say, reaching a nervous hand into my pocket. Her expression changes, and my stomach drops. She looks terrified, but not in the way that I’d expect. Her eyes have lost their focus on mine and her brow is furrowed. I let go of the black box in my pocket.

“You look like you’ve seen a ghost.” I say, my voice coming out thick with nerves. The terror I see in her eyes breaks my heart to pieces.

When she responds, it’s one word and barely over a whisper. “Cat.” That’s when I realize she’s not even looking at me, but past me.

I turn around slowly, my worst fear confirming itself in the flesh. “Stay behind me.” I say, managing to keep my voice calm and steady though I’m trembling with fear. The mountain lion watches us, it’s wild eyes unfathomable chasms of hunger and ill-intent. It’s salivating unnaturally and covered in several minor injuries. I think back to the drive up to the cabin. The radio broadcast.

Of the few per decade, people generally survive a mountain lion attack. More people are killed by jellyfish and peanuts. As with most wild creatures, one of the best ways to ward off a mountain lion is to make yourself appear as large and intimidating as possible, make as much noise as you can.

With Addy behind me, I throw my arms up and scream at the catamount. It flinches back slightly, then it growls and shrieks, charging forward. I yell again, keeping my arms high above my head. “Get outta here!” I bellow as if the cat can understand words. It prowls closer, blood-tinged saliva drooling from its mouth. It’s killed recently.

I begin backing away slowly, keeping my arms raised high, my voice loud and imposing. The puma is a large male, easily nearing two hundred pounds. It lunges forward again, stopping two yards short—a bluff attack. I continue walking backwards, Addy clutching onto me for dear life, her human shield. We just need to reach the tree line so I can grab some sticks to help scare off the beast.

“Addy, if this thing gets ahold of me, you have to let go and run back to the cabin.”

“I’m scared.” She whimpers. “I’m not leaving you.” She steps from behind me and starts screaming, waving her arms over her head frantically. It only seems to anger the beast further because that’s when it lunges true. I move myself back in front of Addy just in time for it’s jaws to close around my neck. The force of it takes me to the ground. Addy is frozen with fear, her hands clasped over her mouth.

“Go!” I plea. It comes out hoarse and labored. To my relief, she does as I say. The animal doesn’t even flinch at her departure. I kick and punch and claw at the beast, but it doesn’t seem fazed. It only sinks its teeth in further, amplifying the agony. It’s massive paws press into my shoulder and chest, their sharp nails puncturing through my jacket into the flesh beneath them. The weight of its body bears down on me, suffocating.

I have nothing within reach to use as a weapon and in its rabies-induced psychosis the monstrous cat doesn’t seem to be bothered by my increasingly meager attempts to deter it from crushing my windpipe. I’m already losing feeling in my limbs, growing colder. The animal’s teeth have undoubtedly punctured my carotid artery.

I am helpless against the disease-crazed beast. It is unfazed by my abuse, which is growing feeble along with my ability to breathe. The pain is excruciating, but I would suffer it endlessly for Addy’s sake. I don’t know how much time passes like this. The black box in my pocket weighs ten tonnes. Regret. Anger. Fear. Despair. These are a few among the many heavy emotions digging their spurs into my diminishing psyche.

It happens like the flip of a switch. The agony is replaced with fatigue and an odd sense of comfort. The icy tendrils of death become warm and inviting. I weakly reach a hand into my pocket and wrap my fingers around the black box bearing the ring I would propose with. The snow begins to fall again. Not long after, the lights go out.

~~~

I wake to a high-pitched, glimmering sound. It’s almost like wind chimes clanking together in a light breeze, only pleasant. Angelic, even. My eyelids flutter and I’m standing on the precipice, the full moon beaming brightly overhead—iridescent and opaline against the reflective white ground.

The wind howls and moans, bending branches and churning up powdery swirls like dancing ghosts in the pale moonlight. At first I’m utterly confused. When the memories flood in, they hit like a tsunami. I spin around, looking for any sign of the mountain lion, feel my neck and shoulder, surprised to find no injuries there. Was it all a dream? False memories? I feel for the black box in my pocket. Not there.

“You won’t find what you’re looking for.” Addy says, disrupting the quiet. There is something off to her voice. I whip around to see her standing several yards away, a radiant aura illuminating the space around her. The light fades slowly and I stammer, unable to form proper words. She walks toward me and begins to morph into something inhuman. Four legged. Feline. She changes again, this time taking on a human shape without features.

“What are you?” I manage to croak out, horrified.

“I am all that you can imagine.” Says the mysterious being, its voice suddenly polyphonic. Its flesh molds before my eyes into a wolf, a bear, a child, a crow. “And nothing at all.” It says in my own voice as it changes into my mirror image. I stumble backward.

“This isn’t real! This is a nightmare.”

“No, my love. You are dead.” The thing is Addy again when it says this. I laugh through the unease. I’ve never been lucid in a dream, so I’m not sure if this is how it’s supposed to feel or if I’ve gone mad.

“No. I’m dreaming.” I argue, unwilling to accept any other answer. The Addy-shaped being points toward the ground behind me. The dread building in my chest climaxes as I reluctantly follow the trajectory of its finger. There, on the ground, lies my body. Throat torn away, frozen blood pooled beneath. A thin veil of snow is draped over the gruesome scene. I collapse to my knees, shaking my head absently. “No.” I choke out.

“Those who wish to remain need simply remain. Those who wish to begin the journey beyond must take my hand.” The being with Addy’s face says cryptically, offering me its hand. I look to my lifeless body in the snow then back to the impossible creature before me. I comprehend none of it.

“If I stay…what will happen to me?”

“You will relive this day for eternity.”

“And if I begin the journey…where does it end?”

“That is yet to be determined.”

I think about Addy, how perfect the day had been until its cruel ending. I think about the agony of the mountain lion attack. The regret of never getting to ask Addy to marry me. The horror of waking to the revelation of my own death and conversing with a creature that defies all of my mortal understanding.

On the other side of the existential coin is a journey into the unknown. It could be better, It could be worse. It could be beyond my human comprehension.

I think it over for a few more moments before coming to a final conclusion. I don’t know if there’s a right or wrong choice, but good decisions have never been a strength of mine.

~~~

We drive up the snowy, winding road towards the cozy A-frame cabin—a bundle of nerves and a ball of restless energy. It’s all somehow familiar…

HorrorLove
1

About the Creator

Aphotic

Horror|Sci-Fi|Fantasy|Poetry

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