Curtain Call: Part IV
Out of the Frying Pan
Sloan stared at the popcorn ceiling above her while listening to Emily whistling and frying bacon down the hall. The quilt pulled up and over her nose did little to cover the smell, and Sloan’s stomach was betraying her. She could not fall back asleep being this hungry, but getting up and eating would lead to questions to which she had no definitive answers.
Sloan thought about the lake. She had heard of it before but ultimately knew very little about it. According to pictures on jigsaw puzzle boxes she had seen in gas stations as a kid, the lake seemed rather lovely and, most importantly, secluded. It was oblong, taking up a great distance but not so great a width. A few islands broke up the lake’s surface, some big and some small. The surrounding area was a woodland hub for fishermen and those wishing to tan themselves on a boat in July. It was likely nearly deserted in winter. This was only an assumption, however. Sloan’s family never having been all that outdoorsy, she had very little experience with the lake.
It was big.
As far as she knew that was its only qualifier.
Sloan sat up in the still-dark room and wound the quilt around her hands, tucking them under her chin. It was a cold morning, just as it had been a freezing night. It was definitely too cold to go anywhere on foot. Finding shelter outside would be a nightmare, surely. The woods were likely still crawling with hunters...
What managed to save her yesterday was distance and not speed.
I never could have pulled it off without Peter...
Sloan closed her eyes and rested her forehead on her quilt-covered fists. It would not matter how fast she made it out of town if on the other side of its border were the same predators she faced outside the walls of Emily and Peter’s old renovated barn. She needed space, and as much as she wanted to find it herself, space was simply not something she could afford.
Not without help.
She shook off her morning chills and pulled herself out of bed. The rug was scratchy on her bare feet as she walked over it to the hallway to retrieve her hopefully dried clothes from the bathroom. When she opened the door, she found her tank-top carefully cleaned and folded with the little tears and holes from her running through the woods sewed up amateurly but kindly. The corners of her mouth turned up before immediately settling back down into a frown.
Lake Thompson it is.
Back in the bedroom, with the solid oak door shutting softly behind her, Sloan relit the oil lamp on her bedside table while pondering her options. Distance was a good temporary escape plan; time was a better one. It was more sustainable. The longer she could stay in one place, the safer she would be. She knew that some people - very few people - on Curtain Call never got caught. She always assumed they must have grown old. Most people who try to hunt the cast down even after 20 years are not usually bright enough to remember that age changes people's faces, demeanors, etc. They shrink, they grow, they wrinkle, and they grey. The best disguise she could use to pursue a semi-normal life after all this, she wagered, was time itself.
I could kill a decade or two on a lake.
Sloan got dressed and stripped the linens from the bed, carefully placing them in a pile at its foot. She packed her bag and padded over to the window, peaking around the dense curtains. It was still plenty dark outside, but the sky had lightened a few shades from midnight. She shivered.
I wonder how cold it is on the water.
Sloan gathered her things and glanced around the room to make sure she did all she could to help. She took a deep breath before turning off the lamp and making her way down the hall and into the kitchen.
I can’t believe I’m doing this.
The table had been cleared of its assorted junk from yesterday and was now filled with random bags and boxes full of more specific goods. A bag of socks and towels, a first aid kit, a tool box, three cartons of eggs, two bags of potatoes, one bag of oranges, a crate of cans and assorted jars preserving God knows what, and what Sloan imagined was a plastic bag of ancient Halloween candy.
Any of this.
Emily turned around, resting her back and palms on the counter, elbows bent. “Hey kiddo.”
Sloan smiled politely and without showing any teeth as she sat her bag on the floor beside her.
"These are just what we had on hand," Emily assured, gesturing to the table before clasping her hands together and holding them tight to her chest. "We already have some supplies at the cabin, but we plan on fixing it up nicely with everything you could need in a week or so. Hopefully not any longer than that. This will have to do for now. That is, if you are accepting our offer at all."
Sloan nodded once. "I'm accepting."
Emily seemed to burst from relief, hands unclasping and flying above her head with anxious enthusiasm. "Oh! Wonderful. Just wonderful. Oh, my eggs!" She turned back to her cast iron and started scrambling.
Sloan sat at the table in her chair from last night and saw Peter in his recliner with a radio held close to his ear, intently listening to traffic reports, Sloan assumed. She sighed, though the sigh was cut short by the sound of a heavy plate being sat down in front of her.
"Eat this. Drink that," Emily said while putting down a glass of orange juice next to the plate. "And we'll start packing up the car and cuddy."
Sloan took a bite of bacon while Emily grabbed a few bags and headed outside.
She furrowed her eyebrows but continued eating her breakfast without question, inspecting the stacks of supplies and how Emily shuffled them around, manically clearing the table and talking to herself about this or that as she came in and out of the house. Sloan offered to help a few times, but those offers were swatted away by Emily’s dismissive hand gestures.
Eventually Peter stood, collapsing the antenna of the radio and downing the contents of his coffee cup before standing up, readjusting his belt, and heading outside to help his wife.
Sloan scraped her plate clean with her last bite of toast and put her empty plate in the sink.
She paused for a moment, deciding she better wash her plate and glass. She grabbed the dish soap and added a bit to a nearby sponge, dampening it before scrubbing. She scrubbed in careful circles, finishing the task with a quick rinse and placing the dishes to dry on a tea towel she found hanging from a hook near the stove.
Running for my life and doing… the dishes.
Sloan heard the truck doors shut outside. She dried her hands on a corner of the towel and quickly grabbed her bag off the floor, anxious to finally get going. She stopped herself before leaving the house, as Emily and Peter were a few yards off, and Sloan did not feel comfortable calling out.
Emily looked up at her from the end of the driveway and waved aggressively for Sloan to join her.
Sloan stayed close to the exterior of the house, as the sun had lightened the sky significantly to a faint purplish grey. She took a look around, appreciating the scenic pastoral views and a small fenced area with what looked like a couple of very old horses. Their breath, like hers but much stronger, faded out in front of them in a fog. The grass on which they trotted was speckled with dew that made all the dark green grass look glossy and bright. The air was sweet and soft. Sloan happily breathed it in while she squinted, studying the edge of the woods on the other side of the field and wondering where it was she and Peter had exited from and how deep he had gone into them to save her.
She decided not to wonder who all could still be in there.
Her feet crunched softly on the gravel as she reached the driveway where she saw what she assumed was considered a medium-sized boat.
I guess that would be a cuddy.
The boat was hitched to a large white truck whose bed was filled with a lidded tub and the various bits and bobs that could not fit inside it. Sloan headed toward the truck before Emily grabbed her by the shoulder, wrapping an arm around her.
"We're just about done setting up. We've cleared the cabin as much as we could for you to travel in. It's a tight squeeze, as you’ll be sharing the space with a lot of the stuff, but it’s our best bet." She stepped up onto the boat's deck, reaching her hands back down to help Sloan up after her.
Emily carefully crossed the deck, slick with dew, to the small open doors of the cabin. Sloan raised her eyebrows, silently questioning the modest size of her hiding spot. Emily sighed, "It's not ideal, sweetie."
"No, it's fine! It, uh, reminds me of Alice in Wonderland."
Emily nervously chuckled, "Right! The little door! Well, I'm glad. In you go…"
Sloan got down on her hands and knees and scooted in. She had supplies on either side of her, and the carpet smelled vaguely fishy. Like aged, murky freshwater. It really was not too tight of a space, but the supplies and the circumstances were not helping her claustrophobia.
"Are you comfy in there?"
Nothing is impossible.
"...I'm all right."
"Okay. I'll let you know when we are taking off. The lake is about an hour out of town, but Peter is expecting some road closures. You'll need to be quiet, but you'll be just fine with us, okay?"
"Okay. Thank you."
"Of course, sugar," Emily assured as she closed the cabin doors. "Take care."
Sloan had to wait a few moments for her eyes to adjust. She hated the hollow quiet inside the cabin, in which she could hear only the breath she inhaled and exhaled slowly from her nose, but she could just barely hear Emily and Peter muttering calmly outside, which was almost soothing. Sloan stretched her legs out a bit before her feet hit the door a few inches before her legs were fully extended.
Oh, to be short.
Sloan tried turning on her side a bit before ultimately giving up, realizing the struggle was making her far too aware of how small her hiding spot was. She resolved to have her back on the floor and her hips twisted to the side, knees tucked as high as she could manage. She placed her hands on top of each other on her stomach and closed her eyes, imagining that she was in a spacious cave with hundreds of feet in front of her face as opposed to the inches that were her reality.
Emily and Peter stopped talking.
Sloan waited for a sound.
A few too many silent moments lasted for her liking. She tried leaning her ear closer to the wall to hear what was going on. All of a sudden, she heard the loud, rapid crunch of gravel.
“Baby girl, knock if you can hear me,” Emily muttered very close by and with more severity than Sloan knew her to be capable of.
“Don’t you believe a word we say until we reach the lake.”
Sloan paused and nearly knocked again to confirm she had heard the warning before she heard Emily jovially yell-
“Well hey there, Rick!”
“... doing, Ms. Emily?”
“Well, I’m alright, considering.”
“Surely. I can’t imagine what..., with that...”
Speak up, Rick.
“That’s quite kind of you. No, I sent Peter out last night to try to get her or at least teach her she chose the wrong people’s land to scurry into.”
“That’s... Your brother wouldn’t have stood for it, neither.”
“Shoot, Billy would have killed her himself. Would have insisted he take care of it if someone else had caught her first!”
“I heard that! At least you are honoring him rightly… what he left you.”
“Wouldn’t have it any other way.”
Sloan gasped a little too loudly at the startlingly loud and echoing noise right next to her head that was from what she imagined was Rick smacking his hand on the hull of the boat. She bit her knuckle as he asked Emily, “Y’all trying to get away from it all?”
Sloan willed herself to hear above the blood rushing in her ears. She could hear Rick all too clearly now. He must have been close. Right beside her. She opened and closed her fist she had been biting, trying to relax it.
“Oh yeah. Peter combed the woods alright last night, and we figure she’s probably moved on to the river or something, based on what he found. You know, up that-a-way?”
“Peter thought I might need some peace of mind, so we’re going out of town for a bit.”
“I reckon that’s a great idea,” Rick tapped the boat two final times, immediately to Sloan’s left. He sounded further away as he said, “Smart man, that Peter. Well, have a good one and… I’ll watch....”
“You’re a good man, Rick.”
Sloan stared into the dark of the cabin.
She heard a soft knock on the side of the hull, followed by a hushed, sorry voice. “The river is in the opposite direction of the lake, far up north of town. I’ve been telling people all morning you went up there. Where we’re headed is safe, and we’ll get you there, sugar. We’ll get you there.”