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 especially cold in spite of his raccoon skin hat and the thermal mask scavenged off one of a multitude of putrefying bonds that litter the mountain trail.
In his hands is a giant ax. On his back are a rifle and a rucksack. His destination is his cabin, his family’s old vacation home, in the middle of the woods near the peak.
Every step is a chore but he is determined. Danger lurks everywhere but he puts aside his fear. What he seeks is vital at least in his mind. He believes it is perhaps the only thing that can get his family through the harsh winter. What happens after that 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 essential. 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 little bit of similarity to the home Abraham Lincoln 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 the man surely heard the noises. He remains resolute.
The cabin door is frozen shut. He makes a couple of attempts but soon the man realizes he cannot open the door.
No matter. He expected as much. One of the reasons he brought the ax. The other was for protection.
Lifting the tool high in the air, the man plunges it against the door. The cabin reverberates upon impact. The door gives little but it’s a start.
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 open it up completely but the man decides the structure is weak enough to allow entry. It’d be most expedient for him to enter now. After all, time is of the essence.
Unnoticed fallen icicles near the man’s feet. The man slips on them as he uses his arms to push his way through the improvised entranceway. He crashes through the door. A cacophony of sounds litter 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. The situation is dire but this is not the time to panic. Utilizing breathing exercises learned from an old girlfriend in more halcyon days, the man calms himself into a more pacified state. 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 seems pleasant and sweet. It is a surprising gift to the 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. What he seeks is in one of these places he is certain but exactly where he cannot quite remember.
It was hidden for protection. She asked the man to do so. Deep down he thought hiding it was silly yet he showed no hint of this and obliged. The man is willing to do anything for her.
Everyone had forgotten about it. Understandably so, 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 manage to survive.
Drawer after drawer are emptied. Assorted nonperishable food and some clothes are stuffed into the rucksack. Those weren’t the object of his search but they are useful.
There were other places where he could get such items, nearer where they currently hid, so if those were his only pursuits, this expedition would have been unnecessary. At the same time, there is no need to let them go to waste. 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. Gleefully, he stuffs it into the top of his rucksack. He is finally ready to depart. The man 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. Gradually it 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 noisome stench 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 entrance proved to be inadequate for the horde but they were nothing if not improvisational. With a few mighty blows to the remainder of the door, it was toppled.
A flood of them flowed through like a river through a demolished dam, along with an abundance of snow from the blizzard that was now currently raging outside.
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.
The snow-covered walking carcasses move towards him. For a moment, he is paralyzed with fear, save for an uncontrollable shaking. Even a few seconds is far too long for him to just stand there, though it would not have mattered much had he reacted differently.
The man totters backward. He continues doing so until his calves hit a bed. That is when he realized truly there is nowhere to run. There is no escape. And that is when true fear enveloped him.
He swings the ax down on the head of his nearest attacker more out of instinct than a cognizant effort. The undead falls to the ground in a nauseating pile of flesh. The man would have become sick had he the time.
Instead, he leaps towards the ax and frantically tries to pull it out of his foe’s head. It won’t budge. The weapon is stuck. The mass of undead continues to close.
The man 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 surprised 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. All of them miss. They did nothing to stop the pursuit.
His admittedly rudimentary plan before he began the trip is crumbling into dust. This 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 continued to fire until his rifle was empty. As he reached into his bag to reload, a large hand fell upon his head knocking him to the ground. After a feeble attempt to use the gun as a club, the blow generating almost no power from his back, he held the weapon with two hands in front of his chest attempting to use it as a shield.
It is of little use. The stray animals that remain lift their heads slightly upon hearing the man’s tormented screams. They pity him for but a moment and continue on their way.
The abominations gruesomely tear off parts of him to devour. 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 was 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 had been a gift to his daughter.
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