The steam swirling up from the mug of fresh coffee in my hands slowly condensed on the tip of my nose as I held the rim of the cup just to my chin, not yet willing to risk a sip at the risk of burning my tongue. A burnt tongue was not a death sentence, but it would definitely mar the sweetness of Granny Clarice’s special holiday cookies. I’d have to wait for my much-needed caffeine hit, as I would wait for those notoriously decadent cookies. Good things come with time.
Waking up at the crack of dawn, I spent the entire morning making what little space I had more homey; dusting every long-ignored nook and cranny, rearranging the old, rustic furniture in a more comfortable configuration, lighting vanilla candles to spread a warm aura around the small cabin… I could not remember the last time I had had visitors, and it showed. A little attention went a long way, though, and I arrived at 11 am with a general sense of pride contentedness at the modest home I had created in anticipation of my loved one’s arrival.
Finally able to take a long drink from my cooling mug, I padded around the small kitchen until I reached the window above the sink that looked out upon the snow-covered front yard; it had come down late last night, I think, blanketing the world as far as the eye could see in a clean, peaceful cover, allowing only the suggestion of the bushes and boulders underneath. I strained my eyes to see beyond the front gate- everyone had said they would be here around 11:15 am, in time to gather and have lunch. These holiday meal schedules were always a little confusing, what with having dinner around 2 pm and drinking the afternoon away, but who was I to complain? Having anyone here for any reason, under any circumstances, would be a relief.
It had been so long since anyone had come to see me that I couldn’t even remember the last time I had seen the gate opened by another person. Even the fellow who delivered my groceries would simply leave the brown bags at the very edge of the constantly closed gate- at least, I think it was a fellow. My memory failed me as I worked to recall the person I saw outside regularly- a flash of red hair was all I could muster.
It’s not that I didn’t want company- in fact, I craved it- yet I could never hold it in my grasp. I’d make a phone call to invite a friend over for tea, and they’d fail to answer. The internet out in this area was often so unreliable that trying to wait for my social media accounts to load so I could message someone, or at least observe signs of life out in the world, was so mind-numbingly slow that I’d quickly give up. Something in me knew that I had been alone much longer than I could guess, and that inkling constantly rubbed some frayed edge inside me. Had it been a month? Two? Perhaps it had been a year.
A familiar yet unnamed panic rose up in my gut- humans aren’t meant to be alone this long, are they? I held my breath as I looked around and saw the marks that solitude had taken on my life. The alarmingly deep groove in the floor, leading from the living room to the kitchen, where I had undoubtedly paced for hours. The yellowed, folded pages of overly-handled books that couldn’t have come out more than a few years ago. The rust on the front doorknob… had I really left it unopened for so long it had rusted over? How did I get my groceries inside?
A sudden rapping at my front door jolted me out of my disturbing reverie- they were here! I hastily placed the mug on the nearest flat surface, and ran to throw open the wooden door, a smile relieving my face of its previously somber frown.
As my hand prepared to turn the knob, to open the only barrier between me and the snowy expanse outside, it was met with surprising resistance- the knob wouldn’t turn even a little, as though the icy tundra outside had solidified it in its locked state. I felt the blood rush out of my face, as my one gateway into the outside world sealed itself against me.
After stiffening in surprise for a moment, I reactivated my effort to get the door open- the knob wouldn’t even jiggle, as though… as though it never had the capability to. Even pulling at it didn’t shake the doorframe as one would expect- had my door been painted shut? My mind’s eye conjured up images of faceless tricksters coming into my home while I slept, pouring cement into the cracks around the door, replacing my doorknob with a dummy that would never open.
No. No, that’s ridiculous. I shook my head and redoubled my efforts on the doorknob- it had to open, and even if I couldn’t get it loose from the inside maybe my family could help me! I could hear their voices! The relief of even hearing their murmurs through the wooden barrier was a welcome feeling.
“- thought she’d hear us, this place isn’t that big.” “ Yes but you know how she is, probably has her nose in a book as usual.” that had to be Granny Clarice- my chest swelled in relief and love at hearing her voice.
“Hey, hey!” I spoke loudly, my voice crackling from disuse, “I uh, can’t seem to open the door, could you try? It might be frozen from the outside.”
I listened, waiting for a reply.
“It’s freezing out here, where is she? She told us to be here at this time. Has she stepped out?” “ This is so typical. She probably forgot and went somewhere. Are you surprised? Her head has never been on straight.”
"She knows we are coming, this is ridiculous.”
The panic that I had managed to quell earlier bubbled up again, this time forming into rushed words spilling from my lips- “I’m here! What are you- can’t you hear me?” I released the doorknob, slamming one open hand on the unrelenting surface in front of me, “Open the door, I know you can hear, it’s stuck, please, try and open it!” I hit the door over and over, sure that it would get their attention. Why couldn’t they hear me?
Turning my head to place my ear against the door, I caught the end of a sentence- “-waste of time, she never has us over and the one time we come, she’s not home. Let’s just go, I wasn’t looking forward to spending the afternoon with her anyway- we can have tea at mine. Paul just made a lovely roast, for him and his friends, I am sure we can get in on it.”
I stood there in disbelief, head leaning against the door in defeat- was that it? They didn’t even try to get in. How on earth had they stood there, not hearing my shouts or my pounding? Though their unkind words about me hurt, the confusion drowned out any offence I might have taken. They gave up so quickly. Why did they give up on me in such a rushed manner, despite almost no effort to get inside?
The shock and confusion suddenly felt heavy with static, and my limbs sparked to life- my hands, previously braced flat on the closed door, started shaking. My vision blurred, both with newly sprung tears and with that dark, shimmering halo that comes when something inside one’s mind snaps. I pivoted on the spot, and swiftly picked up my still-warm mug of coffee that I had hastily discarded on a newly dusted bookshelf.
The porcelain handle was only in my grasp for a moment before I had flung the mug and its contents against the nearest frosty window- it shattered on the thick, undamaged window panes, splashing white shards and black droplets all over the reading nook. Next, I picked up a fire poker and stabbed it into the thin crack between the unmoving door and its frame, manically shoving it back and forth, feeling a nail or two break off in my effort to pry the door open. It did not budge even a little. I grasped the useless poker in a white-hot grip, ignoring the sore, raw spots where my right middle and ring fingernails had been.
My eyes wide and my heart racing, I revisited the window- I had to break it, I had to get outside, nearer to my family who couldn’t have reached their cars yet. A heavy crystal vase above my fireplace caught my eye first, and I hastily picked it up above my head to build momentum and shove it through the window- I could see their shapes outside, they weren’t gone yet. I leaned sharply back to swing down, and as the vase connected with the target, I was shaken to see that it was met with surprising resistance- as thought the window panes weren’t glass, but some indestructible synthetic material. The vase bounced back in my hands, taking my upper body with it in an unceremonial arc that landed us both on the floor. Sitting up in my hazy state, I didn’t pause to try again. And again. And again. And again. And-
The sixth time the vase connected with the seemingly unbreakable window, the crystal shattered in my hands, leaving them grasping stiffly at long, sharp fragments that cut into the soft skin of my palms. Even as I dropped them with a cry of pain, some stuck into my hands at odd angles, bringing up scarlet blood that ran down my forearms in rivulets.
This gave me only a moment of pause, the sight of my bleeding hands only mildly plucking at any sense of self-preservation I could register. At that point, something broke inside me- in tandem with the vase, the frayed edge inside me ignited, and like a wild animal caught in a cage, I lost all control.
I became a whirlwind of grasping hands and kicking feet- grabbing haphazardly at anything with any reasonable weight, trying to break a window as a means of escape, kicking the door repeatedly, to the point that I could hear the delicate bones in my feet start to crack. The shards in my hands were driven deeper, and joined by shards of other breakable objects in my home- one made its way down to my left wrist, being driven down by every other object I picked up.
The strikes to my windows and door stopped being confined to action by my hands and feet and eventually I was using my elbows, my hips, my shoulders, my head- I could no longer see through the haze of pain and confusion and rage, and I was physically blind to the now torrential streams of blood exiting my major arteries, to the slow cave in of my own skull at the mercy of the unbreakable interior of my cabin. I just needed to get out. I needed to see another human being. I needed to know I was not alone. I needed to get out. I need it, human touch- how long had I been here? How old was I? Why couldn’t I remember his face, the person who brought my groceries?
As my broken body gave out, finally crumpling to the floor in front of my undamaged, perpetually shut front door, the brittle, translucent thought floated through my swiftly darkening mind’s eye, that I had been alone far longer than I could have ever guessed, and that this forced solitude must be the work of something evil and inhuman. With that, the world faded.
“Alright, send in cleanup and put her in the machine. Set it for three hours- damage is severe today. Reset the vase, too- it created good injuries”
“Fuck man, does that happen every time?
“Nah sometimes she finds the pills we planted in her desk drawer, or she falls and hits her head, or something less crazy. Hell of a first day, huh?”
“Yeah… seriously. And this is every day for seventeen years, so far?”
“Yup! Easiest job in the world, once you get used to the cleanup. But I mean, we just get to hang out and watch this bitch do her thing all day till the show starts- I dunno, it’s like a movie, but we are getting paid.”
“Don’t you… feel bad?”
“Well, for... uh, for her?”
“Get this straight in your brain dude. She is not a little innocent lady, and we aren’t torturing her for fun. You know what she did, right?”
“Yeah I just-”
“You know she kept those kids isolated for years at a time- they couldn’t even talk to each other if they were there together.”
“Yes I get it man, I’m not saying-”
“She invited their families over to her house, while they were locked in her basement. She made friends with the parents of the kids she abducted, and had fucking dinner with them while their children were drugged and tied up and awake in her basement.”
“...yeah, sorry, I understand. Sorry, first day and everything.”
“Our punishments fit the crime. A year for every kid- they felt exactly what she is feeling, probably even something worse- we don’t even know everything she did to them, they were that fucked up when we found them. Don’t forget that.”
“She’s getting what she deserves.”
“...don’t call me sir, newbie. And send in the cleaning crew.”