I was woken up by the rattling of the car. The clanking of pipes in its underbelly sounded like gunfire in my nightmare. I asked dad where we were, as we were introduced to a thick fog ahead of us.
“We’re close,” he sighed. The only light inside the car was from the beams in between the thick trees, opaque silhouettes slowly passing by us. I could see the frustration on his face, the journey had been a long one.
“It should be here somewhere…” Mum placed her hand on Dad’s shoulder to reassure him. We’d had a rough couple of months. Eager to take my mind off it all, my parents had said we all needed to get away. They said that, but I knew it was mostly for my benefit. Wanting to keep it a surprise, they hadn’t told Adam and I where they were taking us. I looked out the window, thick trees surrounding endless rows of log cabins.
“This is it!” Mum said, with excitement. I couldn’t wait to stretch my legs after four hours in the car.
“They said no one had been here before us, right?”
“Yes sweetie, why?” Mum seemed puzzled.
“No reason. I’m sure it’s nothing.” I smiled at her, but I knew it didn’t quite reach my eyes. I got out the car, my legs feeling stiff and sore from sitting down for too long. Being the first to reach the door, I noticed the key was already in the lock. How odd. Maybe the cleaner had left it in there, expecting our arrival? I turned the handle down and stepped over the threshold. The smell of fresh paint filled my nostrils and I wondered why the walls had been re-painted. I noticed the windows at the end of the corridor, floor to ceiling and towering over us as my parents and brother passed by me to place our suitcases in the living room. They seemed out of place when the rest of the house was so old. The low ceilings suffocated me, blending in to the colour of the walls.
“So… where are we dad?” Adam seemed apprehensive, but I answered before dad got the chance to.
“It could be anywhere for all I care. I just needed to get away from everything. From –” I couldn’t finish my sentence, the words stuck in my throat.
“It’s not your fault, you know. You need to stop blaming yourself.” He looked at me, only sympathy in his eyes.
“Do I? If it wasn’t for me, she would still be here. You know I’m right.” I looked at the floor, not being able to hold his gaze. Since the accident, her face had been flickering beneath my eyelids every time I closed my eyes.
A few hours passed and I started to notice strange imperfections. The succession of steak knives along the kitchen wall, obsessively aligned. The off-centred lampshades, each one aged more that the last, like a menagerie of time. I felt like the house was mocking me, trying to mess with my head. Or maybe the accident back home had been the last straw and my head had finally snapped. I left mum and dad with Adam in the kitchen. I had to find the bigger room before Adam did, we were competitive like that. I reached the top of the staircase, and I saw half-empty chocolate wrappers scattered across the carpet. I picked one up, but immediately dropped it, like I had been burnt. They used to be her favourite. As I took my first step onto the landing, I could hear muffled voices behind one of the bedroom doors. I felt sick with paranoia. We had specifically booked this cabin as ours, and ours alone. Who could possibly be here? Terrified, I couldn’t bear the voices any longer and I ran back downstairs. Now that I’d noticed it, it was like everything else had been tuned out and all I could hear was incessant mumbling. It was deafening, clouding my thoughts. How on earth hadn’t I heard it before? When I reached the living room, no one was to be seen. Suitcases were abandoned and half unpacked on the living room floor. The oven was still on, plates empty on the kitchen counter.
That’s when I heard her scream.
At first I thought I was imagining it. It can’t be, it can’t be her. I ran out of the door, throwing it open and dangling it off its hinges. I couldn’t stand hearing her scream again. I had to find her, what if she needed me? I couldn’t see anything further than a foot ahead of me. Sinister shadows of branches were flying past me as I blindly ripped through the foliage.
“AMY!” I heard her scream for me. It tore through my ears as if it was the last thing I would ever hear. My feet felt heavy, like they were reluctant to carry my weight, and I knew I had to stop. I was going to get hopelessly lost.
“Help me. Please.” Her whisper sent chills down my spine, goose-bumps crawling on my skin. It somehow managed to echo through the dense mass of the forest. All I could hear, all I could think about. I tried to remember how to breathe, but my pulse was racing in my throat, rising up with the realisation that I never should have left the cabin in the first place. I turned around to try and make sense of my surroundings, but intense pain seared through my temples, like hot pokers being branded into my skull.
Everything went black.