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Vocal Fry

by Janelle Polcyn 3 months ago in Short Story
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The cost of trusting the hand that feeds you

The cabin in the woods had been abandoned for years, but one night, a candle burned in the window. I actually wasn’t sure it was still there, but I saw it in the from the window by my desk while I wrapped up my work, a dim but distinct light in the distance. I used to use the cabin as a secret hideout with my friends and cousins. I haven't visited the cabin in years, but my neighbor’s kids were about the right age to start using it. I was sure he was initiating them to the playground in the woods. I grabbed a flashlight and some firecrackers and hurried out.

The forest had filled in since the last time I tramped through the trees. The foliage was thick around my ankles now. It didn’t feel as familiar as it did when I was younger.

I remembered the shape of the structure and felt a pang of nostalgia seeing the firepit on the far side of the building. I could almost smell the smoke. The last time I played in the cabin was with my cousin Nate.

Not wanting to reveal my surprise visit to my neighbor or his kids, I stayed along the tree line and watched for my opening. I waited about ten minutes when the door swung open and a voice called out.

“Took you long enough.”

The voice was familiar, but I couldn’t place it. I waited. Maybe they were calling my bluff. Maybe I was losing my mind. Realizing my cover was blown regardless of who it was inside, I decided to respond.

“Who’s there?” I called back.

“Your old friend.”

Nate. It sounded like Nate. No one else had that fan in the back of his throat when he spoke.

“Nate? Buddy?”

“Yeah,” he called.

Trusting that voice, I moved in toward the cabin. I tried to look in the window past the candle, but the glass was covered in dust and dirt too thick to reveal anything but the glimmer of light. I came around the door and moved into the first room. The walls were as bare as I remembered, but the holes had multiplied with age and pests. It must have been the bedroom when it was inhabited. It was just big enough for a bed and maybe a dresser. It was empty except for a small, crooked stool, so I tried the door into the main room, but it was locked. The main room had the kitchen area including the fireplace and another door to the outside and all of the windows.

“Open the door,” I said. Nate didn’t respond right away, so I jiggled the handle a bit.

Then the door behind me snapped shut. I spun around and pulled on that door, but something was holding it closed from the outside. I looked around to see if there was something I could use to open it. I used to leave a pocket knife and a set of matches in each room in case I got stuck out here, but someone clearly took them out.

I checked my pocket for my phone. Gone. Still sitting on my desk at home.

“Funny,” I laughed. “Let me in, dork. I just want to catch up, not play games.”

“I can’t,” he said.

“Old house,” I said. “Are you stuck too?”

“Yeah,” he said. “Stuck.”

“I’ll work on the outside door, you work on this one, okay?” I moved to the outside door and flicked on my flashlight.

“I can’t,” he said. “I’m tied up.”

“Tied up?”

“Yeah, this guy with a blue bandana on his right arm jumped me on my hike and I woke up here.”

I realized that it must have been the man in the bandana who trapped me in here too. He could be outside right then.

“Keep talking to me, Nate. I need to know what I’m working with here. You have always been so chatty and now you’re being short. Tell me, why would he attack you?” I talked while I studied the holes in the walls and the latch. I couldn’t tell how light it was outside anymore. The sun could be all the way down by now and I couldn’t tell in this dark room.

“I must have been to close to his hideout. I got in his way.” His voice broke and dropped into a lower register at the end.

“Are you reaching puberty at 22? What’s wrong with you?”

“Nothing. Come help me.”

“I’m working on it. Why would he pick this as a hideout? This place has been abandoned for years, you know that. Kids are running in and out of this place all the time. It would make a terrible hideout.”

“Good to know.”

“What?”

There was a pause on the other side of the door, but I could hear movement - metal on wood and another sound, almost squishy. It was dead silent outside, so I could hear faint footsteps in the other room. I tried both doors again. The doors rattled and my stomach rumbled. The last thing I ate was a slim lunch of toast and an avocado around 11 and that was hours ago.

Nate must have heard my digestive system’s disappointment with my ability to feed it.

“You hungry? I’ve got some jerky in here. I can probably get it under the door for you.”

“Sure,” I said, happy for any food. I gnawed the piece and tried to visualize Nate in the other room. The jerky tasted like pork, not rabbit or deer. It was sort of sweet. If he could slip jerky under the door, maybe he had more freedom than I thought. It would probably be best to get out to get help instead of break in and help him out. He seemed fine for being in a mysterious villain’s grasp.

“I’m going to try this outside door again, then I’ll get help for you. Think you can get free?”

“It’s no use trying to get through the woods this time of night. What if the guy in the bandana is still out there? Get some rest and we’ll try in the morning,” he said.

He was wrong. The house was close enough. I could see the house from the front porch of the cabin. The Nate I knew would want me to get out and trust me to get help. I pulled on the outside door again, banging and shaking.

“Just wait for daylight,” Nate called. “The guy with the bandana will hear you if you make all that noise.”

“Who’s in there with you?”

“It’s just me.”

“What’s my name, Nate?”

“Calm down.”

“What’s my name?”

“Be quiet or you’ll get us both killed.”

“You’re not Nate.”

“Yes, I am. I’m right here. In the flesh. Nathaniel J. Blye.”

Realizing I would only reveal more about Nate if I kept arguing, I quit arguing with the voice, but kept pulling on the door, more quietly than before. Nate hated his last name and went by his mother’s maiden name, but Blye was on his ID cards unless he went to court to get it changed.

“Fine,” I said. “But I’m still going to try to get out of here. I won’t wait here for death’s call.” I pulled on the door some more. “I’m going to get help.”

A new voice screamed from the other side of the door.

“I don’t need help.”

The door behind me swung open and I saw a glimpse of a blue bandana before I passed out.

I woke up, unable to move my hands or feet. I wrestled with the wooden chair as soon as I recognized I was trapped and started scanning the room. I was facing the fireplace in the main room with the same candle burning in the window. The wind had picked up, loud enough that the crackle of the fireplace was faint. I couldn’t see any light outside, so I was pretty sure I was out for less than eight hours - not the most comforting information, but I was clinging to it. On the other side of the room was a lumpy cot covered with an old military-style blanket.

Out from the shadows by the cot stepped a tall figure wearing a dirty blue bandana and chewing on a piece of jerky. He bumped the blanket and the gaunt face of my dear cousin stared at me. He was dead. In no uncertain terms, my cousin was dead and had been for a while. The blanket fell to the floor and I could see chunks of flesh missing from his arms and legs. I wanted to scream but I couldn’t. I looked around some more and spotted a rack of meat resting near the stove.

Jerky.

The man walked up to me until he was in my face.

“I don’t like this voice,” he said. My stomach turned again. I knew that voice better than any in the world. “But it will do. You’ll have to sit tight. I haven’t finished with this one yet and there’s only so much room.” He gestured to the fireplace crackling as the smoke shrunk the meat into preserved snacks. Then he turned around and gingerly picked up a piece of jerky from the rack. Looking at me, he yanked a bite out of it. Then, having mastered my voice in his short practice speech, he said, “he’s quite good - the Nate special. What shall I call you?”

Short Story

About the author

Janelle Polcyn

Writing is where I can think, but also where I can shut my brain off and just let the world disappear and the story consume me. Personal anecdotes, long-form fiction, micro-fiction, and things that make me smile.

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