With no other options, I follow James down the long, winding driveway toward the light he’d spotted through the woods. It’s a single-bulb porch lamp, attached to a small cabin. The path to the porch is overgrown with weeds, looking like it hadn’t been used in years. There are no vehicles out front, no garage or shed in view, and with no light seeping through the windows, I assume no one’s home.
James steps onto the porch and approaches the door. He glances back at me. My feet remain rooted to the dirt path. I offer him nothing, but all five of my senses are in overdrive, tuned to every detail around me. A split on the left porch corner, the smell of a pond or a nearby swamp, the faint hum of a utility meter coming from the left side of the dirty shack.
James tries the doorknob. “Locked.”
He leans down and pulls up a welcome mat at his feet revealing nothing more than an unfaded patch of wood stain. The mat drops. He feels along the top of the doorframe. “Hmmm.” His empty hands fall to his side.
Spinning around, he steps off the porch and roots around in the overgrown flowerbed, moving plants left and right with his foot. “Got it.” He reaches down and comes up with a rock. Flipping it over, a hidden compartment opens, and a key drops into his palm. Holding it up for me to see, James smiles.
I follow him back to the door, uncertain of the wisdom of it.
James unlocks the door and pushes it open. Stepping into the dark cabin, he feels along the wall. “There’s got to be a switch here somewhere.”
An overhead bulb comes to life revealing a small living room. Do I follow this stranger into his home? I glance toward the deserted highway. I could run, but where to? I’m no safer out here than in there. Plus, this cabin might hold some things I need; dry clothes, food, perhaps a working cell phone. Maybe even my memories.
“We need to get out of these wet clothes.” He points down a dark hallway. “I assume my bedroom is this way. “C’mon, let’s see if I have anything that fits you.”
“I’ll, uh… I’ll wait here.”
“Suit yourself.” He shuts the front door behind me then disappears down the hall. Everything about this place screams “lonely bachelor,” only tidier than I would expect. Backed against the wall is a brown cloth couch that sits on a darker brown carpet floor. It faces an oversize television flanked by two large stereo speakers. My guess is there are no neighbors to complain about the noise. A glass coffee table separates the couch and entertainment center. Magazines and remote controls are placed in perfect symmetry on two end tables that flank the couch. The magazines are addressed to him, but the newest is over a year old. Curtains cover the window to the front porch. Pulled tight, they look as if they haven’t been touched since the 1970s.
I scan the room for a phone. Maybe there’s still a working landline. Though, I’m not even sure who I would call. A fresh burst of energy wells up within me. A rescue is imminent, though I don’t know what that will look like. A return of my memories? Someone coming to my aid? The comfort of being in a familiar small cabin with my boyfriend? All of that sounds good right about now.
The kitchen opens up on the far side of the living room. I flip on what turns out to be a dim overhead light. Scattered on a small breakfast table are unopened utility bills and a current catalog for home medical supplies—all addressed to James. There are no dirty dishes in the sink and the fridge is empty except for a half-empty jar of pickles and a package of tortillas. As if awakened with possibility, my stomach rumbles.
I spot what appears to be a pantry door, or maybe a broom closet. I cross my fingers hoping for food. I tug the handle, but the door won’t open. Above my head is a latch keeping the door in place. I slide the bolt to the right and the door pops open.
The kitchen light barely penetrates the darkness beyond. A musty odor penetrates my nostrils. Instead of stocked shelves, an old set of wooden stairs leads down to a cellar.
I’m not that hungry.
Tacked to the cellar door are a dozen pictures, a necklace, a colored hair scrunchie—complete with strands of hair—and a notecard with a distinct smell of perfume. So, he has a girlfriend. A paper with large hand-drawn letters surrounded by hearts hints at her name. Karyn.
The pictures are familiar. All distance shots of the same woman at random locations. Shopping for groceries, riding a bicycle, getting out of her car, entering a bank, strolling through a park. The shots are real and innocent, yet magnificent in how they capture the mundane aspects of her life turned into beautiful works of art, like idols to be worshiped.
Who’s the lucky girl?
“I found some clothes you can change into,” James booms from the hallway. My heart jumps. My face flushes almost having been caught peeking into his hidden alter. Pushing the cellar door closed, I glance at the pictures again and freeze. The photos are familiar. The girl looks like me.
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BONUS: 5-Author collection of short stories titled “Dead Memories”.