The cabin in the woods had been abandoned for years, but one night, a candle burned in the window. The lone candle was found after I clumsily fumbled around for a light source. Thinking it was my was savior, or so I thought.
The broken-down abandoned cabin was my safety net from the world outside for the moment. “No one followed me, I am certain no one followed me,” I convincingly thought to myself as I stared down at my bloodstained knees. I sat shaking with terror my knees up to my chin and my arms wrap around my legs as if to protect myself from what is happening.
My labored breath is loud in the dead silence of the cabin. I try to slow my breath, but my body knows it is not safe. Each breath is more labored and louder than the first.
Sitting on the wooden floor under the window I track the one room cabin with my eyes looking for something, anything to barricade the door. There is nothing. On the left side of the cabin, a few cabinets hang. A few inches below is a makeshift counter hinged to the logs. An armoire sits on the right side in the middle of the log wall. Which at one time was probably a prestigious piece of furniture. Now barely standing, “No way could I hide in there, one tap and it will buckle,” I thought.
“Think, think, think,” I repeat as I rest my exhausted head on my knees. The sweat beads from my face sting the scrapes and I dab the now wet blood with my finger. As I listened for any noise coming from outside, I thought, “How did this happen to me?”
My thoughts flashed back to just a few hours before when I was walking through the lobby of the Four Seasons Hotel. The deep scent of vanilla, musk, and sandalwood still seemed to linger in the air around me. I take a deep breath in - smelling the fragrances of the lobby. The fresh smells of the hotel lobby made me feel calm and relaxed. The reason I flew to San Francisco, a getaway! A time to reflect, relax, meditate, a time to find myself, my last hoorah before the summer ended.
I arrived in San Francisco at 1:30 p.m. disheveled from the flight, I had decided to change my clothes and read a book in the cushy lobby. The sound of the people talking, interacting with the desk clerks, and the busyness of the lobby made me feel connected, at least somewhat to human life. I could sink myself into one of the big oversized chairs that would wrap up around me and drift away in to my book.
I listened to the bustling sounds of people, I read my book and journaled until my eyes became heavy. I decided to go to my room and order room service – I realized I hadn’t eaten since I left Texas. I made my way through the lobby, up the elevator, and to my room. I stood there. What I pulled out of my pocket was not my room’s key card. I pulled out the lone rental car key. I rested my head on the hotel room door with a thud. Looking down at my hand, I couldn’t believe I grabbed a set of keys out of habit instead of the room card. “You really did this,” I murmured as my head continued to rest on the door.
I made my way back to the elevator, the heavy gold doors opened and a young couple briskly walked out giggling arm in arm. I stepped in and the doors closed with a thud. Ding, Ding, Ding, I watched the numbers illuminate above the door as the elevator quickly made its way down.
The refreshing gust of wind was a soothing feeling as the elevator door opened. Once again, here I was in the cushy lobby. I took one deep breath in as I stepped out of the elevator.
I waited in line for the guests to cheerfully check in and as I stood there, I breathed in very deep and out very slow, I wasn’t sure why. It was as if I was savoring the moment, the sounds, the coolness of the air, breathing in the refreshing scents. Almost as if I knew my destiny awaiting a few hours away.
I continued to breathe in until my lungs couldn’t hold any more air. As I released one more refreshing breath, I heard a nasally voice , “Miss, miss, how may I help you?” I wasn’t sure how long the clerk had been saying “Miss” to me, but it must have been a while. She seemed agitated as I approached the elegant embossed counter.
“I locked myself out of my room, is there anyway I can get another key card?” I said pleasantly as she clicked a few keys on the computer. I stood waiting as she smiled and clicked several more times intensely paying attention to what she was completing.
Once the clicking ceased, she quickly jerked her head looking up at me with her ruby red lips that glimmered from the dimmed lighting in the lobby, “Yes, of course ma’am please show me your I.D. and I can have a new key card for you in seconds.”
My eyes widened, I pictured my purse sitting on the chair in my room – “Ummm, ummmm, I, ummmm, well you see, ummm,” very intelligent I thought; The only sound I could get out was ummm, ummm. She tilted her head to the side, her long shiny brown locks cascaded down her shoulder, “Ma’am can I see your I.D.?” “Ummm, I left my I.D. in my hotel room,” I felt the need to elaborate after I mustered those words out of my mouth. “I came down to read a book, I have been sitting here for about an hour. So, I do not have my I.D. with me.”
She furrowed her brow and firmly stated, “I am sorry ma’am I cannot issue a new room key without first seeing your I.D.” “How then can I get into my room to get my I.D.?”
The sweet smile the clerk had gleaned turned into a piercing look of rage, she glanced toward a man scampering through the lobby wearing light blue coveralls.
“J, can you take Ms. Smith to her room?” She looked at me disappointingly and continued talking to J, “I am sorry to pull you away from room 1205, I know you are working on the a/c however, we need to verify this guests I.D.” She turned her body to completely face me and firmly said, “Once you have your I.D. and have retrieved your room key, bring both to me immediately.” I hung my head, “Yes ma’am, will do.”
I followed J down a long hallway the plush carpeting quickly changed to a smooth concrete surface that was painted grey. “We are going to cut through here, I need to check something” from the sound of his voice, I knew he was definitely an older gentleman and I couldn’t quite place his heavy accent. He was white, salt and pepper hair, nice smooth hands --- extremely smooth hands for a maintenance man, and rather attractive.
I watched him as he pressed the elevator button down his fingernails were well manicured, odd I thought for a maintenance man. The door almost opened immediately and I was startled when he said, “Get in.” I was too busy thinking about his perfect manicure.
I stepped in and glanced around. Blue moving cloths were clipped to all four sides of the elevator. “It’s the service elevator,” he said noticing that I was examining my surroundings. We went down a floor and the door behind us opened to the piercing sound of machinery. “This is where I spend most of my time, making sure everything works for the guests.” “Who is with you on your trip?” he yelled. My words “No one, alone time. A new adventure, finding myself” echoed through the noisy machinery.
Now those words echoed through my head like a bad dream, I heard rustling in the leaves outside which pummeled me back into my reality. Tears streamed down my cheeks, sweat beaded up on my entire body making chill bumps appear. My knees burned, the color of my ankle had manifested into a purplish blue color.
The candle still has a little flicker. The flicker in the once perky flame was quickly fading. Each flicker telling me I was not safe. “RUN.”
Why would I admit to a stranger that I was in a new town alone? I could have said honeymooning, work convention, something where he would assume someone would notice I was gone.
I sat as still as I could. Trying to slow my breath. Listening. The rustling sound from outside was moving from the left side of the cabin to the front. Something leaped onto the dilapidated porch hitting the rotting wood with force, I heard a loud bang, a blood curdling screech, and a thud.
I slowly turn to my knees, the dirt particles piercing their way into my mangled skin, feeling like shards of glass. I try to kneel up to peek outside just enough to see, but I can’t. The pain in my body was too much to bear.
He was out there lurking in the darkness, he had followed me. “RUN” I thought, “But how?” The front door is the only way out and my body is in too much pain, wet from tears and sweat, I can barely hold the candle any longer.
The bruise on my ankle is turning a deep purple, looks like a baseball has been inserted into my ankle. “Look, think, look, think” I whisper again and again. I pierce my lips together to contain the pain.
I listen carefully, it was bone chilling quiet outside. Nothing. Not a sound from insects, no rustling leaves, stone cold quiet. I have to just be quiet.
“There!” under the makeshift counter. A single board stuck up on the corner. “What is that? A sign?” I thought. I lay on my belly crawling to the uplifted plank. The splinters from the unfinished wood seeping into my legs as I pulled myself across the floor. “There, there it is my salvation.”
I was 5’4” and maybe 110 pounds, I can pull up two boards just enough to slide in I thought. I can lay on the dirt under the floor. I glanced over at the nub of the candle. It lay on floor under the window rolling back and forth in disapproval. It was almost burned out. I thought even if the cabin burns with me under the floor it’s better than him getting me. I pulled the first plank as quietly as I could. The entire plank came up, I pulled the second plank and fell on my side between the rotting floor boards.
I slid one plank into place. A protruding nail in the side of the second plank cut my finger as I slid my three fingers on top of my chest. I lay there like a corpse in a coffin. The wood an inch from my nose, my hands folded across my chest. The blood melting into my shirt. I lay and listen.
The machines were clanking and clicking; smoke filled the area of the hotel he had taken me too. He told me to follow him, but he had started following me. Using his soft supple finger to point the way.
We walked across a metal bridge I could see another layer of the hotel below us. Silver metal machines all working in unison to keep the guests comfortable. “Come on hurry up he said to me.” I had begun walking too slow as I looked at the belly of the hotel, I never knew existed.
We continued to walk until he stopped pulling my arm to indicate I needed to stop too. He flipped a red switch up and down. He took a panel off and played with some wires and flipped the switch again. “Damn room 1205” he said fiercely as he looked at me. “I can get lost down here, I can stay down here my entire damn shift, alone, away from people!” he shouted, “The way I fucking prefer it.” He grabbed my wrist and said, “Let’s go!”
His accent scared me! It was an accent I had never heard before. He was hard to understand, his voice was raspy yet older, his grip was forceful, but his hands were soft. I was terrified of the man the hotel clerk had thrust into my life. A single letter was sewn into his coveralls “J," which is what the clerk called him to get his attention in the lobby.
We made a quick passthrough through the lunchroom. There were lots of people. M aids, security officers, concierge, and bellman’s all laughing and talking. One group of men were playing cards, one lady banged on the candy machine. I could see the Snickers dangling on the curved metal. As if to hang on for dear life not wanting to plummet to its eternal destiny.
I was out of place not in a uniform. My khaki short shorts and a white spaghetti strap top were meant to be a comfortable choice for my travels. The underwire to my strapless bra had been piercing into my left breast since the plane ride. But, I thought I looked cute. I wanted to show off my tan and be comfortable at the same time. Now I just wanted to go to my room and take off this bra.
I was being ushered through a cafeteria full of people that didn’t even seem to recognize I was a guest passing through an employee cafeteria. They went on about their business. Not questioning why this man had my wrist. Why this person was with him at all. I wanted someone to make eye contact with me. But, no one did. I knew no one saw me walking with him. How could no one notice how out of place I was?
We stopped in the back of the cafeteria where there were rows of small square lockers. He opened locker number 8. Number 8 I thought. Why was locker 8 given to this man? Who is this man? Who is J?
He grabbed a brown paper bag. He slid the bag into his coveralls and we walked out a back door of the cafeteria. The buzzing of the peoples voices quickly faded as the door slammed. Back into the clanking of the machines. He walked me down a thin, spiral, metal stair case deeper into the belly of the hotel. We made a quick left turn and he pushed open a large brown door as he reached around me. The sign above it said “EMERGENCY EXIT ONLY.”
“I have to make one more stop.” He murmured. J had been following closely behind me down the narrow steps. I glanced back at him, I clicked my tongue at the top of my mouth my voice cracked, “I…..I….I can go back to the clerk and ask if someone else can help me.” His brow furrowed. I reminded him “The clerk said I needed to take my I.D. and my room key to her immediately.”
I looked up as I stumbled through the door. He stepped out behind me. I was standing in a parking garage. The parking garage to the hotel. I knew it because I parked my rental on the third floor. It had the same paint on the column to indicate the level. LL1 was painted in green on the column.
He grabbed my wrist and said, “Let’s go.” As pulled me the brown metal door banged behind us. I stumbled along behind him as he pulled me by the wrist. He said, “I have to walk the parking garage for trash that has been thrown down.”
He reached with his right hand and pulled out a pair of black gloves from the outside pocket of his coveralls. His grip on my wrist was tightening. Beads of sweat were forming on his forehead as he led me down to LL2. The number of parked cars were becoming sparse.
As we rounded the corner to LL3 I saw a blue van sitting lonely in the lower level of the garage. Holding my right wrist, he quickly tugged one black glove onto his right hand using his thumb and index finger to pull the tight glove up.
I started to squirm and twist my wrist to get free. I couldn’t believe the strength in his smooth soft hands. He used three fingers to hold my wrist and I felt as if my wrist was being bound by a thick rope.
He tightened his grip again, clinched his teeth together, and bellowed “I’ll break it if you make a sound or try to get away” With his right hand, he put one glove back in his pocket. Then he reached into his coveralls and took out the brown paper bag. With his teeth he grabbed one edge of the bag the bag fell open and with his right hand he reached inside and pulled out a jagged edge knife.
A knife you see in the movies. A knife that couldn't be real.
He made a quick adjustment moving himself behind me.
“Walk” he whispered as he held the knife to my neck. I knew where we were headed I tried to memorize every detail of the van as we got closer. The windows were tinted dark, it was a square van with the license plate turned backwards.
Sweat and tears burned my eyes as we walked closer.
“Shhh” he said calmly into my ear slightly blowing his warm breath onto my neck. I knew I couldn’t be put into the van. I knew it would be over if he got me into the van. I was a runner a distance runner. I had to get away. Get away so I could RUN!
My right forearm was held by his left hand – which now was across my chest by my neck. My left hand was clinched on his arm. He held the knife to my neck ever so slightly applying pressure.
My feet lifted off of the ground. He was carrying me to the van.
I reached into my pocket, I drew my hand out to the left as far as I could and with as much strength as I had stabbed him on the side of his face with the rental key. The knife fell to the ground, I stabbed again. I fell to the ground. He bellowed “You bitch!”
I stumbled to my feet and RAN. I ran without looking back. I didn’t want to know where he was.
I heard the screech of tires, I could smell the exhaust mixed with the warm air of the parking garage. He was in the van. He was driving after me. RUN I thought.
I was on level 2. I knew I had to make it to the rental. I heard the soft rumbling of the engine as he creeped by each car he was there with me. He was on level 2. I squatted in front of a car between the rod fence and the bumper. I was pinned in. The van idled. It was stopped. The engine turned off, I wrapped my fingers around my head, planted my head deep down into my knees and held my breath.
I heard another car coming. Its wheels were screeching around the levels. The parking garage was full on the first three levels, so I knew the car would have to come up.
I heard his heavy footsteps turn back toward the van. The engine turned on. The van sat idling. The horn from the car started bellowing. The echo pierced through the parking garage. I heard the van speed off. I heard two sets of screeching tires in the garage. I ran.
My shaking, sweaty hands could barely put the key in the ignition.
I started the car and pounded on the gas in reverse. The tires squealed and the engine made a horrible noise as I threw the car in drive and pounded the gas once again.
I barreled out of the parking garage onto the street only to be met by a red light. The lights, why are there so many lights? I scanned the street for a cop, why isn’t there a cop around? I looked in my review mirror and saw the van turning my way. He was stopped a few cars behind me.
As I crossed the Golden Gate Bridge the car sputtered. It sputtered again and then began to coast. The car coasted as I guided it to the side of the road. How could I be out of gas?
I jumped out waving my arms and yelling for help.
Then I saw it. The setting sun beamed right on the blue square van. It barreled down the road toward me.
He didn’t know my rental car. It could be any one’s rental.
I ran into the road cars honking as I ran between them pleading "Help me, please God, help me!" A man raised his fist and yelled, “Get out of the road you’re a crazy fool.”
I yell at the top of my lungs at the cars swerving past me, “Why isn’t anyone stopping? Why isn’t anyone helping me?” My voice echoing through the air. My only chance of survival is to run. Run into the woods. The trees will hide me.
The sun was setting quickly and the sky immediately turned into a dark blanket of fear. Stars were not out. The moon was not out. It was an eerie feeling. The blackness seemed to fold around me suffocating me.
I ran. I ran through the under-brush. The thickness of it made it impossible to run. I tripped and heard a snap. I landed on my knees. I could feel a log under me. I could feel a sharp object penetrating my thigh and a warm substance running down my leg.
I touched my leg and looked at my fingers. Blood, blood clung to my fingers.
I was on my all fours like a cat arching its back. Getting ready to attack - its fur standing up and giving a cry of warning before it pounces.
But, I couldn’t pounce A thin, sturdy branch from the log stuck out of my leg. A needle like branch extracting blood from my body.
I stopped and listened. I could hear the sounds of cars traveling on the highway. I hadn’t heard the sound of an engine turning off.
I thought - He drove by. He didn’t follow me into the trees. No one followed me.
I lifted my body, breathing deep I pulled my leg from the needle. Blood spurted out of my leg. I had nothing to wrap it with. Nothing to stop the bleeding. My knee burned as the blood made its way down my leg and over my kneecap.
I stood up and immediately fell to the ground. My ankle! What happened? I remember hearing a snap. I thought it was the brush snapping under my feet. It was my ankle. Fractured? Sprained? It didn't matter.
I took a deep breath in and ran. Limping from the wounds. Panting like a thirsty pup. I ran. I wanted to scream from the horrific pain my body was in. I didn’t. I ran. Clinching my teeth and my fists with every step.
Then I saw it. An abandoned cabin. Sitting in the woods. Waiting for me. A cabin that would shelter and save me from the outside world.
RUN I thought.
I stepped up on the creaking porch. The rotting wood barely holding my small frame. I opened the door. I smelled an unfamiliar poignant smell. What was it? I needed a light. I needed to check my wounds.
I fumbled around the cabin. It seemed to be one room. I felt the walls, I could feel the roundness of each log and the mortar that held the logs in place. I ran my finger down the small strip of mortar. I was met by the frame of a window. I worked my way across the glass of the window and around to a corner where the logs met. I followed the new line of mortar to a flat surface. Above the surface I could see a shadow of something. I felt the surface. Cabinets. I reached in and felt around with my palm.
Laying there as if they were perched there purposefully waiting for me a lone candle and match. My hands shook with terror as I looked at the match. I knew one mis strike and it was over. I struck the match once. A flame appeared. I quickly lit the candle with a shaky hand and slowly walked toward the window. I lowered my disheveled body underneath it and sat. Alive.
I lay on the dirt with a shallow breath. My senses altered as I hear the creak of the porch. I hear the sound of boots being carefully planted on the rotted wood. I hear the white knob of the door turning, the hinges creaking as the door opens.
I hear heavy steps walk to the window a loud stomp on the planks, a scratch on the glass, as if something sharp is being dragged across it.
The flicker from the lone candle that once slightly illuminated the cabin is gone.
A new light illuminated from between the wood planks. A soft white light. It didn’t flicker, it is constant. Almost soothing.
The footsteps walk to the planks that hid me. I hold my breath. Blood seeping into the dirt. I am laying in a blood-filled coffin. Waiting. RUN! My mind tells me. But, I am trapped.
The footsteps stop. I can see the bottom of the boots through the planks. The boots I am familiar with. I see a figure bend over and grab a plank. Pulling up with such force the plank flies like a limp piece of paper.
Then I see it. Standing there above me. The horrendous figure with blue coveralls and the letter “J” sewn on. It bellows a loud cry. Grabs me by the hair - pulls me from my blood-soaked coffin and plunges the jagged edge into my belly.
I hang like a rag doll breathing in the smell of vanilla, musk, and sandalwood. The fragrance from the hotel lobby fills the air as I am plunged back into my blood-soaked coffin. I see the planks being placed back next to each other to cover me.. My eternal resting place. I hear nails being pounded into the wood. I am sealed alive dying into my fate.
“The light, in the window sealed your fate,” the voice roared. A fierce roar that was not human. A monster with a gun. A monster with a jagged edge knife. In inhuman figure that was thrust into my life. What was he? Does he live in the woods? Is this his cabin?
I hear a voice, a strong voice, from outside “Is everything okay?”
“RUN” I sputter.
And it is silent once again, I take one last deep breath – The smell of metallic, dirt, and the poignant smell of death…. The smell I smelled upon entering the cabin surrounds me.