Hello everyone! As part of Short Story Saturday, I have posted another short story, this one entitled A Cabin in Winter. Please enjoy.
It is the dead of winter. Snow descends slowly and the bitter cold can be felt even through the man’s many layers of furs. His head feels frozen despite the raccoon skin hat covering it. The thermal mask he scavenged from one of a multitude of putrefying bonds that litter the mountain trail does little to keep him warm as well. In his hands is a giant ax. On his back are a rifle and a rucksack.
His wife begged him not to go. She deemed his task unnecessarily dangerous. They lurk in every shadow. It didn’t matter how much he assured her he was prepared. It didn’t matter how many times he promised he’d return safely. There was no reason to take an unnecessary risk she repeatedly told him. His retort was always the same. What he sought was vital. It is perhaps the only thing that could get his family through the harsh winter. For that, he braved the harsh environment. His destination is near the mountain’s peak, specifically to his cabin, his family’s old vacation home.
Every step is a chore. Initially, the packed snow seems to have the consistency of concrete. That notion immediately dispels when normal pressure is applied and his feet are absorbed. He feels resistance reminiscent of a swirling vacuum every time he attempts to free himself and move forward. Before too long he manages to pull his feet out but each time he does, it takes a great deal of strength. As a result, the soreness within his legs only deepens as he continues his trek. The man perseveres and eventually, he arrives nearly exhausted just outside his destination.
The trees dangle ominously overhead and block what minimal light manages to bleed through the clouds. As he stands to catch his breath, several branches break with a sickening crunch from the weight of the snow. Each land with a nauseating thud. Whomever or whatever was tracking the man surely heard the noises. He remains resolute and, having regained his strength, marches toward the cabin. He never noticed before but it bears more than a little bit of similarity to Abraham Lincoln’s alleged childhood home. A humorous notion in an otherwise acrimonious time.
His smile fades as he walks up the steps. Then he heads toward the entrance and pulls the handle. It refuses to budge. The cabin door is frozen shut. After muttering several expletives, he makes several increasingly violent and hectic attempts. It doesn’t take him long to realize, though, that it simply will not budge.
No matter. He expected as much. One of the reasons he brought the ax. The other was for protection.
After lifting it high in the air, he plunges the ax against the door. The cabin reverberates upon impact. The door gives little but it’s a start. So again and again, he hacks away at the door. He continues until its center is nothing but splinters and debris. A few more whacks would remove it from its hinges completely but there’s no reason to be so zealous. Now that there’s enough room for him to squeeze through, it’d be most expedient for him to enter. After all, time is of the essence.
Icicles previously unnoticed suddenly crash near the man’s feet. As he attempts to carefully navigate through the improvised entranceway, he slips on them and crashes through the opening instead. A cacophony of sounds resonates within the cabin as remnants of wood are dispersed throughout. In a better time, the scene would have elicited laughs. Instead, it induced a heightened sense of fear. They most certainly heard.
This is no time to dwell. His situation is dire but it’s still not time to panic. Utilizing breathing exercises learned from an old girlfriend in more halcyon days, he calms himself until he is in a more pacified state. Then he looks around.
The beds, the dressers, the tables, and the drawers are unmolested. A sort of serenity emanates. Even the cabin’s very scent, previously considered musky and raw, now seems pleasant and sweet. It is a surprising gift to the olfactory nerves. It smells of a better time.
He suddenly shakes his head. There is no time to reminisce. He is there for a purpose. With calm haste, he leafs through the drawers and the dressers. The item he sought was hidden much earlier to protect it when the reports first came through the news waves. She had asked the man to do that for her. Deep down, he thought hiding it was silly, at least initially. Yet, he showed no hint of this and obliged. He is willing to do anything for her. Everyone had forgotten about it. Understandably so, there were far more urgent matters to attend.
Yet, now it is needed more than anything else in the world. Especially now that the crisis has forced them to question how long humanity could ever hope to survive.
Drawer after drawer is emptied. Assorted nonperishable items along with clothes are stuffed into the rucksack. They aren’t what he was searching for but they are useful. No need to let them go to waste. He stuffs as much as he can carry. The rest is left on the cabin floor.
With increased franticness, he then continues his search. Everything is emptied. His hope fades with each futile look. It starts to seem hopeless when it is nowhere to be found and there’s only one last drawer to look. With a heavy yet hopeful sigh, he opens it.
A smile creeps on his chapped and nearly frozen lips. It’s there. Gleefully, he stuffs it into the top of his rucksack. He is finally ready to depart. The man retrieves his ax and heads towards the door.
That is when he hears the groans.
They are low at first. His subconscious mind hears it before his conscious one. Gradually it becomes too loud to ignore. It is a crescendo of angst and torment. Worse is their smell. A noisome stench of decomposing flesh that would be their most defining feature were they not so aggressive and cannibalistic.
They are many. They are angry. They are hungry. They are near.
The small hole in the entrance proves to be inadequate for the horde’s initial entrance but they are nothing if not improvisational. With a few mighty blows to what remains of the door, it is toppled.
They then flow through like a river through a demolished dam. Coming with them is an abundance of snow. A blizzard had rolled in while the man was within the cabin and is now raging.
Preternatural terror seizes the man. He had expected an attack but he did not expect so many. His knuckles grow white as he grips the ax. His palms begin to bleed. He becomes paralyzed with fear, save for an uncontrollable shaking. Then he manages to regain locomotion and takes advantage of this by tottering backward. He continues doing so until his calves hit a bed. That is when he realizes there truly is nowhere to run. There is no escape. Terror unlike any other he had or most will ever experience envelops him. It prompts him to act.
He swings the ax down on the head of his nearest attacker. It is instinct that made him strike, nothing more. His would-be devourer falls to the ground in a nauseating pile of flesh. He would have become sick had he the time.
Instead, he responds by leaping toward the ax before he feverishly attempts to pull it out of his foe’s head. It won’t budge. The weapon is stuck. The mass of undead continues to close.
He abandons his ax and draws his rifle before unloading a shot at the closest pursuer. The bullet goes through the creature’s head resulting in a revolting mess of brain matter and gore. It surprised the man that he was not more used to such a scene.
He then fires a second shot, then a third one, then a fourth. The bullets fly wide of their target. All of them miss. They do nothing to stop the pursuit. His haphazard plan made before the trip is crumbling into dust. It went so much better in his head. That is not to say had he been a more accurate shot it would have made much difference. It would have just prolonged the inevitable. There were too many of them and too few of him.
Desperate to survive, the man continues to fire until his rifle is empty. He then desperately reaches for his bag to retrieve additional ammunication and as he does, a large hand falls upon his head knocking him to the ground. From his back, he makes a feeble attempt to use his gun as a club but his attempted blow generates hardly any power whatsoever. Left with little else to do to protect himself, he then holds the weapon with two hands in front of his chest in a vain effort to use it as a shield. Naturally, it is of little use. The stray animals that are still around lift their heads slightly upon hearing the man’s tormented screams. They pity him for a moment before continuing on their way.
The abominations gruesomely tear off parts of him as they feast. They leave only what they deem unsuitable for their depraved pallet.
There’s at least solace in the knowledge that he did not suffer for very long, though for the little time he did, it is torment beyond human imagination.
Once they’ve had their fill, they depart, leaving behind a mutilated corpse in the middle of the cabin floor. Next to it is a stuffed toy bear that had fallen out of the man’s rucksack during the skirmish. It had once been a gift to his daughter.
If you enjoyed this story, then perhaps you’d be interested in reading more by pressing the “short story” tag below or clicking this(short story) link or this(genre and tags) link or this(story list) link. I would also urge you to share this story with others and comment below. Please check out my books page as well by pressing here. Thank you for reading my story.Follow: