Wednesday, June 15, 2011
It was starting to get dark. How late was it? I've been out here for a while now, just sitting with my rifle, waiting for some unexpected creature to pass me by. I haven't seen anything yet though. The woods are quiet around here save for the sound of the ancient oaks creaking in the wind. Nary a bird nor a squirrel can be heard singing to the clouds or skittering along the leaf-strewn carpet of earth. Maybe this hunting trip was a bad idea.
I packed up my thermos and various other personal effects. My legs nearly gave out as I stood up, not realizing they were asleep from hours of crouching in the brush. I steadied myself on a nearby tree. I surveyed the surrounding area from my bark-skinned crutch. Which way did I come in from? I couldn't remember. I dug around in my pockets for the compass I always carried with me, but it was nowhere to be found. It must have fallen out. I'll never find it now, buried beneath the leaves in this twilit tangle.
With my bearings lost, I was left with no other choice than to pick the most likely direction and walk, hoping beyond hope to stumble across the dirt road upon which my truck was left. I walked for at least twenty minutes before the night's complete darkness finally settled in. I could barely see the outline of my own hands against the lightless veil.
Perhaps lady luck was on my side, though. After another few minutes of stumbling I came upon a small, one-room cabin set in one of the rare clearings in these woods. With no overgrown canopies hovering overhead, the light of the moon made the wooden shelter glow; a beacon for a lost hunter.
I remember hearing it said that some forests had small shelters built through-out, as protection for lost travelers. I could not be sure that was the case here, but it is a possibility. I approached the front door, only to find it ajar. I peered inside through the small crack between the door and the frame, but my eyes were met with an empty room save for a small bed in one corner. If the shelter belonged to someone they weren't there.
I pushed past the threshold, closing the flimsy wooden door behind me. It was then, as I sat on the edge of the bed that I realized just how tired I was. My joints and muscled ached, and my eyes were sore from lack of sleep. I flopped down on to the pillows, resigned to explain my situation to the owner should they show up.
It was then, as I started up from the pillows that I noticed them. The walls of the cabin were covered in portraits. They were all the same size, and each portrait had a similar picture held within -- an exaggerated face, with dark, inset eyes and an eerie grin, and I felt as though each one was staring directly at me. They were staring at me with a gaze full of mischievous hatred and contempt. The longer I started at them the more uncomfortable I got. I could feel my heart beating faster, my body's panic reaction starting to kick in. I willed myself to look away, turning on my side to face the wall. I put the portraits out of my mind, and slowly drifted off in to an uncomfortable, restless sleep.
I was awakened the next day by the unexpected presence of sunlight in the cabin. As I wiped the dreams from my eyes I was overtaken by a startling realization. There were no portraits in this cabin, only windows.