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 chills his bones even through the many layers of furs. His head feels it the worst despite the raccoon skin hat and thermal mask scavenged from one of a multitude of putrefying bodies that litter the mountain trail. He is holding a giant ax. On his back are a rifle and a rucksack. His destination is his cabin in the middle of the woods near the peak which was once his family’s vacation home.
Every step is a chore but he is determined. Danger lurks everywhere but he puts aside the fear. What he seeks is vital. It is perhaps the only thing that can get his family through the harsh winter. What happens afterward can be decided another day.
His wife begged him not to go. She deemed it to be a superfluous task. He assured her what he sought was something precious. It is something his family could not live without. He assured her that he was prepared. He assured her that he’d return safely. He left when he received her tenuous blessing.
After an arduous trek, he finally reaches the cabin. He never noticed before but it bears more than a passing similarity to the cabin Abraham Lincoln supposedly dwelled during his childhood. A humorous notion in an otherwise acrimonious time.
The trees dangle ominously overhead. They block most of the minimal light that manages to bleed through the clouds. Several branches break with a sickening crunch from the weight of the snow. Each land with a nauseating thud. Whomever or whatever are tracking him surely heard the noises. He remains resolute.
The cabin door is frozen shut. He makes a couple of attempts but soon abandons all attempts to open it. No matter. He expected as much. It was one of the reasons he brought the ax. The other was for protection.
Lifting the tool high in the air, he plunges it against the door. The cabin reverberates upon impact. The door doesn’t give much but it’s a start. Again and again, he plunges his ax. He continues until the door is nothing more than splinters and debris. A few more whacks remove it from its hinges but the man decides the hole is wide enough to allow entry. It’d be most expedient for him to enter now. Time is of the essence.
Unnoticed icicles fall near the man’s feet. The man slips and crashes through the door’s makeshift entranceway. A cacophony of sounds litters the cabin. Remnants of wood are dispersed. In a better time, the scene would have elicited laughs. Instead, it induced a heightened sense of fear. They most certainly heard.
There is no time to dally. The situation is dire but this is not the time to panic. The man calms his nerves with heavy breathing. He looks around. The beds, the dressers, the tables, and the drawers are unmolested. A sort of serenity emanates. The cabin’s scent once musky and raw now is a pleasant gift to his olfactory nerves. It smells of a better time.
There is no time to reminisce. He is there for a purpose. With calm haste, he leafs through the drawers and the dressers hoping to remember where it was kept. It was hidden for protection. She asked the man to do so. He thought hiding it was silly yet he showed no hint of this to her and obliged. The man is willing to do anything for her.
Everyone had forgotten about it. There were far more urgent matters to attend. Yet the man felt now more than ever he needed it. They needed it. Especially now when the crisis was at its peak. When they were beginning to question how long they’d survive.
Drawer after drawer is emptied. Assorted nonperishable food and some clothes are stuffed into the rucksack. None of those were the object of his search but they are useful. The man stuffs as much as he could carry. The rest is left on the cabin floor.
In the final drawer, he finds it, the object of his pursuit. He stuffs it into the top of his rucksack with the glee of a child. He is finally ready to depart. He grabs his ax and heads towards the door.
That is when he hears the moans.
They are low at first. His subconscious mind hears it before his conscious mind. It gradually becomes too loud to ignore. It is a crescendo of angst and torment. Many were driven mad hearing but one of their anguished cries.
Worse is their smell. The odor of decomposing flesh accompanies each of them. This would be their most defining feature were they not so aggressive and cannibalistic.
They were many. They were angry. They were hungry. They were near.
The small wooden door proves to be an inadequate entrance for the horde. They were nothing, though, if not improvisational and relentless. With a few mighty blows, it is toppled. They flood the cabin like a river through a demolished dam. They are accompanied by an abundance of snow from the raging blizzard that had just arrived.
His knuckles grow white as he grips the ax. His palms begin to bleed. He had expected an attack but he did not expect so many.
The snow-covered walking carcasses move toward him. He is paralyzed with fear save for an uncontrollable shaking. A few seconds is far too long to just stand there but it would not have mattered much had he reacted otherwise.
The man totters backward. He continues doing so until his calves hit a bed. He realizes there is nowhere to run. There is no escape. A preternatural fear envelopes him. He starts to go mad. He swings his ax down on the head of his nearest attacker. The undead crumples to the ground in a nauseating pile of flesh. The man would have become sick had he the time.
He leaps towards the ax and frantically tries to pull it out. It won’t budge. The weapon is stuck. The horde continues to close. He abandons his ax and draws his rifle. He fires a shot at the closest pursuer. The bullet goes through the creature’s head in a revolting mess of brain matter and gore. It surprises the man that he was not more used to such a scene.
He fires a second shot, then a third one, then a fourth. The bullets fly wide of their target. They did nothing to stop the pursuit. His rudimentary plan concocted before the trip is crumbling into dust. This went so much better in his head.
That is not to say had he been more accurate it would have made a difference. It would have just prolonged the inevitable. There were too many of them and too few of him.
The man continued to fire until his rifle was empty. Aa large hand falls upon his head and knocks him to the ground before he has a chance to reload. He attempts to use his rifle as a club from his back. The blow has almost no power from at all. He then the weapon with two hands in front of his chest to use it as a crude shield. It is of little use. The stray animals that pass lift their heads slightly and pause upon hearing the man’s tormented screams. They pity him before they continue on their way.
The abominations gruesomely tear parts of him to devour. They leave only what they deem unsuitable for their depraved pallet. The remaining time he remains conscious allows him to experience torment beyond human imagination.
Once they’ve had their fill, they depart. They lave 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 was once a gift to his daughter.
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