"Remind me again why I'm awake so early in the middle of nowhere?" Damon's grouchy voice cut through the thick darkness of the Airbnb cabin he and his wife, Avery, had rented for a week-long getaway. It was the third day of their trip, and Avery had insisted that they wake up before dawn to see the sunrise by the lake. He yawned, feeling the humid air coat his lungs as he ran his fingers through his thick blonde beard.
"Oh, c'mon!" Avery playfully replied, "If you hurry up, we'll make it to the edge of the lake before the sun has fully risen!"
Avery's bright green eyes glittered in the rose gold glow of the awakening sunrise. Beneath her feet, she swore she could feel the whole Earth waking up for the day with her. Her mahogany hair was pulled back into a tight ponytail high atop the crown of her head. It swayed back and forth as she ran in place with an infectious grin - waiting patiently for him to finish tying the tattered laces on his boots so they could embark on their hike.
Damon couldn't help but grin back, momentarily stupefied by her beauty and boundless energy. He had always admired the way Avery used to greet each day with a confident smile, but it had been weeks since he got to bask in the glow of her morning smiles – until today. And oh, how grateful he was to see it once more. Returning to his laces, he hastily double-knotted them and stood up, ready to face the day.
Stepping off the front porch of the cabin, the pair turned to face the sprawling acreage of the property, most of it shrouded by thick forestry. The fireflies danced around the white birch trees, dotting the foggy morning darkness in transient light. Small splashes echoed from a distant babbling brook, and the wind turned the leaves of the moon-kissed trees into a symphony of rustling - the sound of the Earth inhaling and exhaling. In thoughtful silence, they strode along the marked path, which was supposed to take them along the entire perimeter of the property.
Unfortunately, Damon and Avery's marriage had been severely on the rocks ever since the death of Damon's father, Byron Carruthers, a wealthy oil tycoon with very little love and compassion for anyone besides himself. Damon couldn't care less about Byron’s death – in his mind, the only good thing to come from his father was his rather large inheritance, which came in handy for their present marriage-reviving getaway.
Avery, on the other hand, took her father-in-law's death hard. To make matters worse, she was there when Mr. Carruthers died. She had never seen anyone die before and never wanted to again. The memories haunted Avery, yet Damon seemed unaffected. Sure, Mr. Carruthers was a bit of a jerk, but that didn't mean she wanted to see him die.
As they approached the entrance to the hiking path, Avery spotted a rusty white sign with a red border and big, bold lettering. "Do not stray from the marked path," she read aloud, a touch of curiosity in her voice, "I wonder why?"
"Maybe just liability reasons?" Damon offered with an uninterested shrug.
Avery stuck her tongue out at him in response. "You're no fun! We're supposed to speculate about all the scary animals, or people, or supernatural beings that might be roaming the area away from the path." She said playfully before continuing along the path and past the sign.
The first half of their hike was spent mainly in silence, aside from the occasional "watch your step" or "duck!" Lately, it felt like they just didn't have anything to talk about anymore. Even when they did, it always somehow turned into an unnecessary argument.
To distract her mind from the almost painful silence, Avery tuned into her senses – the heavy, earthy scent of the dewy morning, the soothing crunch of sticks and brush beneath her feet, the bright reddish-pink tinge of light threatening to de-throne the moon and send it away till it's time for it to shine again. It was so beautiful that she almost forgot everything that had been bothering her – keyword: almost.
Damon's voice cut through the noise in Avery's head like a crack of lightning. "So, are we finally going to address what's going on, or are we just going to spend this whole week pretending nothing's wrong?"
"We're going to talk about it!" Avery snapped, anxiety instantly jarring her out of the serene mental bubble she had created for herself, "Just… not yet. Please. I want to watch the sunrise over the lake with you, just like old times. I don't want that experience to be marred by arguments and unpleasantries."
"Fine," Damon growled, "But you have to promise to sit down and talk it out with me when we get back to the cabin."
Seemingly ignoring what Damon had said, Avery's eyes zeroed in on a beautiful barn owl perched on a branch about 10 feet above the ground. The owl seemed a bit disheveled, its feathers dirty and unkempt. Its round black eyes observed them attentively as if it was seeing something far beyond skin-deep. "Look, babe, it's a barn owl! I read about them in that tourist brochure earlier this morning, and I was hoping we would come across one! I wonder how close I can get to it?"
At first, Damon simply watched as Avery inched ever closer to the owl. It didn't seem to be acknowledging her movements whatsoever. "Avery, maybe you should leave it alone. It might be sick or something."
Once again, Avery ignored him, continuing to approach the tree. "Avery, stay away from it!" Damon grabbed Avery's arm to pull her away from the tree, but at that exact moment, Avery slipped into a deep pit in front of the tree, pulling Damon down with her.
The two of them tumbled to the bottom of the pit, landing with their limbs awkwardly tangled. Damon mainly landed on top of Avery, slamming her body deep into the damp soil and cracking one of her ribs against a thick tree root. Once she regained enough breath to move, Avery helped Damon roll off her back and groaned in pain. "What the hell happened?"
"Looks like a man-made pit. But… why? Is this what that stupid sign was for?" Damon looked around, rubbing his head.
Damon pulled himself up to stand, only to find that the pit was several feet deeper than his six-foot frame. No amount of standing on his tiptoes, leaping up, or climbing the crumbling walls of the pit was going to get them out of there. He patted his pockets frantically in search of his cell phone, only to remember that Avery had insisted they leave their phones at the cabin to prevent distractions. He turned to Avery, his eyes closed tightly in frustration, and he let out an exasperated sigh. "Why were you trying to touch the damn owl?! We wouldn't be down here if you hadn't gotten sidetracked!"
Avery opened her mouth to speak, but before she could utter a word, an intense sense of rage and paranoia overtook Damon. He grabbed her shoulders and pinned her against the wall of the pit. "Did you plan this? Is this some sort of punishment for how things went when my dad died, huh? Come on, spit it out!" He screamed.
Avery's usually confident posture shrank at the sound of his words. Her eyes watered as she answered him so quietly he could barely hear her. "I didn't want to touch it; I just wanted to get a closer look. It reminded me of the owl that I used to see on my way to the bus stop every morning as a kid. I'm sorry, I didn't mean for this to happen."
The utter defeat in Avery's voice snapped Damon back to his senses. His facial features, previously tight and puckered with a searing gaze, melted and softened. He wrapped her in a tight embrace in an attempt to mitigate the impact of his behavior, jumping back slightly when she yelped from the pressure on her cracked rib. Avery waited a moment for the pain to subside, burying her head in Damon's chest, then turned her gaze up to meet his. "How are we going to get out of here?" She asked in a hushed voice.
"I don't know," Damon responded honestly.
After a moment of silence, Avery's eyes began to water as the fear and anxiety she was feeling gripped her. Noticing her distress, Damon placed his palms on her cheeks, gently cradling her face. "Hey, please don't cry. Let's uh… Let's run through our options," he stammered, "So, no cell phones. We’re on private property, so I don't think we'll encounter a random passerby to help us. Hmm, what else…? Do you think you can reach the top of the pit if you stand on my shoulders?"
A glimmer of hope dotted Avery's watery eyes as they darted up to the top. "I'm not sure, but I can try!" She exclaimed with a head nod.
Damon examined his surroundings, attempting to position himself for the best leverage. Once he was ready, he cupped his hands together, interlacing his fingers for Avery to step on, lifting her enough to step on his shoulders. Avery teetered precariously on his shoulders, lifting onto her tiptoes, extending every muscle she had in an attempt to make up for the gap between her fingertips and the surface of the pit. "Ugh! It's just barely out of reach. I'm going to try to jump!"
Before Damon could tell her not to jump, she sprung upwards from his shoulders, grappling for anything she could find – even a solid, healthy tree root would do. She managed to grab a handful of the edge, but the clumps of soil and grass simply crumbled between her fingers. She plummeted back down, landing with her ankle rotated in such a way that the ligaments pulled and chipped part of the ankle bone, signaled by a loud CRACK.
With a blood-curdling wail of pain, Avery pulled her leg close to her body, careful not to move the ankle at all. Keeping her ankle in the air, she used her arms to pull herself to a resting position against the wall of the pit. Tears streamed down her face, the flow increasing along with her breath as panic began to set in. Damon quickly knelt beside her, pulling off his light jacked and weaving it all around her ankle to stabilize it. Each accidental touch of the afflicted area elicited a defeated yelp from Avery.
It took several minutes for Avery to regain her composure enough to speak. "Well, do you have any other brilliant options or ideas?" She snapped at Damon, though she knew her injury wasn't truly his fault, immediately feeling ashamed of her reaction, "Dammit. I'm sorry, I'm so sorry!"
Her hands flew up to her face to staunch the fresh, salty flow of tears. "Oh God, please don't start crying again." Damon begged with an exasperated sigh, "and to answer your question… No. I'm fresh out of ideas. All we can do is hope that the Airbnb owner comes looking for us when he notices that we don't check out on time."
"That's four days from now! All we have is our water bottles and a couple of protein bars!" Avery wailed, "I just want to go home! We wouldn't even be on this stupid trip if it weren't for the way things happened when your dad died. We wouldn't have needed to 'revive our marriage!'"
Damon's fear manifested into an eruption of pure rage at the sound of her words. "You're seriously going to blame this on me? We were both there! Do you think it doesn't bother me that I watched the life drain out of the eyes of the man I once called my dad? It does! But it had to happen. It was his time to go. If anything, we should just be grateful that he left me an inheritance and just leave it at that. We would have lost everything without this money."
"But it wasn't his time, Damon," Avery replied, sobbing and shaking her head.
The sun was beginning to sink lower in the sky, the darkness growing ever closer to engulfing Damon and Avery, soon to encase them in an impenetrable blanket of pure black. They couldn’t quite keep track of the minutes and hours that passed, but judging by the position of the sun, Damon could tell it had been around twelve hours. Avery had stopped crying, her fear replaced by numbness. She leaned her head back against the wall of the pit, eyes gazing blankly at the sky.
Damon sat against the wall opposite Avery, his eyes scanning the tree near the pit, his mind occupied with coming up with a plan. Then, suddenly, his eyes came to rest on the owl perched above them high in the branches, a thought bubbling to the surface. "That owl hasn't moved even an inch in hours," he stated plainly.
Rousing from her trance-like state, Avery turned her confused gaze to meet his eyes. "What? Who cares about the owl?"
"Think about it, Avery. No living owl sits perfectly still for nearly twelve hours. That owl is either dead or fake." Damon said, squinting and straining his eyes to get a better look at it, “wait! I think… Oh, shit, it’s a camera! I can see the lens!”
Avery's eyes widened, her brows furrowing in deep thought. "Do you think they know we’re here? Maybe the owner figured us out somehow!"
"Who knows," Damon shrugged, "this place probably belongs to some weird –"
He was silenced mid-sentence by Avery loudly shushing him and mouthing the word "listen." He strained to hear through the sounds of nature around them, his ears barely able to discern the distant sound of footsteps crunching through the grass – not just one set, but multiple.
Just before dusk, Harold Willoughby finally arrived home from work. As he strode through the front door of his quaint lakeside cottage, he removed his thick tweed coat, dropped his keys and wallet into a small decorative bowl near the door, and made a bee-line to the kitchen for a cold beer.
Settling into his computer chair, he popped the top of the beer can, took a long, generous gulp, and clicked onto his security camera feeds. He owned the Airbnb property currently being rented by a couple he thought to be a bit "sketchy." With over 160 acres of property to look after, Harold had placed dozens of tiny cameras in the heavily-wooded regions of the property, which he disguised as various birds – ravens, hawks, mockingbirds, owls, and many more.
After several instances of theft or damage, he placed the birds slightly higher in the trees and dug deep pits in front of the trees that hold the cameras. His rather unique method was first and foremost meant to make the cameras unreachable and catch and detain the culprits. So far, the sign at the start of the path into the wooded area had been enough to discourage would-be thieves and vandals. Still, he habitually checked each camera feed before bed.
As he continuously clicked the arrow to scroll through the feeds, yawning and distracted by idle daydreams, his eyes barely caught a glimpse of something that seemed a bit unusual. Snapping to attention, he sat up straight in the chair and clicked back to the suspicious feed. Sure enough, he could just barely see someone's hands scrambling to reach the edge of the pit, only to fail and fall out of sight. "Bingo!" He muttered with a mischievous grin.
To get a better look at his caged predator-turned-prey, he began to rewind the camera feed frame by frame until he finally laid eyes on the strange couple he had hesitantly allowed to stay there. Since their booking was all done online, he hadn't previously gotten a chance to see what they looked like. Now that he'd had the proper time to assess their appearance, he froze, his beer slipping out of his hand and onto the linoleum floor with a jarring clatter. "You've got to be kidding me…" he whispered under his breath.
Despite having never met Avery or Damon, Harold recognized them instantly. Their names and faces had been plastered all over the news lately – headlines like ‘homicidal couple flee Columbus after police find undeniable evidence’ and ‘Is this murderous duo the next Bonnie and Clyde?’ plastered the television every time he watched the news.
Grabbing his cell phone, Harold dialed 911. "I need first responders at my house – police and ambulance for sure," he spoke urgently, "3301 Gilbertson Road. I'll meet them at the start of the path to the wooded area in the back. Tell them not to take their sweet time; they're going to want to see this."
"Someone's coming!" Damon exclaimed. He quickly cupped his hands around his mouth to amplify his voice, calling out to the approaching rescue team, "HELP! We're stuck down here; please help!"
Avery joined in, rejoicing as the light from their flashlights grew closer. Thank God we're finally getting out of here! She squinted as the group arrived at the edge of the pit, shining their flashlights down at the couple. "Watch out! We're lowering a ladder for you!" A male voice from the group called down to them.
Avery carefully scooted herself away from the edge. Damon met her in the middle and began to lift her carefully. "I've got to help you out of here first. There's no way you can climb on a broken ankle by yourself."
He lifted Avery as high as he could, climbing up the ladder right behind her for support. As she neared the top, the officers and paramedics swooped in to finish lifting her out. Damon followed right behind her, collapsing onto his back in relief. Unfortunately, his relief and relaxation were short-lived when one of the officers stood over him, cuffs in hand. "Get up off the ground, hands behind your head!" The officer screamed at him.
Damon looked over to the gurney Avery was being strapped into, already sporting a pair of handcuffs. He rose slowly, his heart beating out of his chest. As soon as he was standing, the officer yanked his wrists behind him. "Damon and Avery Carruthers, you're both under arrest for the murder of Byron Carruthers to illegally obtain your inheritance."
About the Creator
I'm a mom of three that has a burning passion for writing and activism. I'm currently a copywriter for Habit Nest, but I'm on Vocal to branch out further and put more of my own personal work out there. I hope you enjoy them!