Prompt: A person who takes short cuts, a rumor going around town, a cat
I am a little behind. I will try to get this week’s done for Tuesday like normal.
Liam shoved his hands down in his pockets. He regretted not stopping to find the missing glove now more than he thought he would. He had been in such a hurry to get out the door. He looked up at the sky. He had no idea why. It was not like he could tell the time based on the stars or anything. Hell, he could not even see the stars, even out here in the suburbs. Street lights dotted the landscape and bounced off the low clouds. Even on a clear night he knew he was not seeing anything like what he saw back back home in Wyoming.
The wind was cold and cut through his jacket. He needed a new one, but expenses kept piling up and he never got around to it. He hunched his shoulders and shivered. If his car had been fixed yesterday like the guy down at the shop had promised him it would be, he would be only half as miserable. The heater was never going to work again in the beat up old ford, but at least he would have been out of the wind. It would also only take half the time.
He reminded himself that could haves and would haves where part of the reason he was so unhappy all the time. Isn’t that what his therapist used to say. Not that he could afford a therapist any more. That was a lifetime ago, back before Abby decided to move to Massachusetts, before she decided Jack was a better parter, and before he lost his job.
All of that was not relevant though. Abby called him at half past 2 this morning, crying and almost unintelligible. He thought she had maybe been drinking. Something she never did when they were together. The only thing he understood was her asking him to come over. So like a fool, he threw on the outfit he wore yesterday, and the day before that if he were being honest with himself, grabbed his car keys and headed out the door. Then he remembered that the car was in the shop and the key ring held only his apartment key and a mailbox key. He would have to walk the two miles in the frigid night.
It was two miles if he stuck to the roads, he thought. If he cut through the little patch of woods next to the highway, he could cut half a mile or more off the trip. He looked down at his battered sneakers and frowned. It had snowed most of the week and the shoes would not be good for keeping his feet warm, but walking the extra half mile would not doing him any favors either. He turned left and headed down Apricot street. The road was steep and he had to be careful to avoid patches of ice on the uneven sidewalk, but the bare and sad looking trees did nothing to make up for it. He passed silent houses, hearing a few dogs bark and one porch light came on, but he could not see who peeked out of the barely shifted curtain. He tried to look harmless and like he had every right to be there in the middle of the night in the snow.
Maybe if they called the police, he could get a ride in a nice warm car.
The woods started at the end of the block. The last house on the street had been abandoned as long as anyone could remember. Someone was talking about it just the other day at the bar. Everyone assumed it had once been a regular lot just like any other, but now the house was nearly completely caved in and the trees overgrown so thick that they were indistinguishable from the the small woods behind it. He stopped and looked at it. The nearest street light was out and it only made it creepier. He could see the remnants of the house, a little formerly white cracker box like all the others. Black shutters hung at odd angles and the front porch looked like a dancer taking a bow it swayed so far down toward the ground. He had seen it lots of times in the daylight. He really could see almost nothing now.
Liam looked around. The night was still. Now would be the worst time for a police car to come up. The house may be abandoned but signs around the lot reminded people that it was still private property and subject to trespassing laws. He stepped off the sidewalk and into the snow. Great, he had not thought this through, he was going to leave foot prints. He looked back up the icy hill. No way was he going back up and then taking the long way around. There was nothing for it. He tromped through the yard toward the house. He had no idea what the best way through was. He had never been in these woods before, only heard about them.
He noticed something odd as he got closer to the house. His were not the only footprints. The snow was far from smooth with both old and new tracks. He looked closely at the house. Windows were broken and the glass thick at the bottom with age. The porch was not sturdy enough for anyone to walk on it. Were other people using this to get through the woods as well? It was a logical explanation. Surely he was not the only one to think of it lately.
The ground was as uneven as he feared, but as the trees got thicker, the snow got thinner. Liam headed in the direction he thought Market street was. He realized now that he was in the woods, he had no idea where he was going. The plan was half baked to start with and looking worse all the time. Maybe losing the time and heading back up the hill was a better idea. He turned around and looked and noticed that he could no longer see the house. Surely he would just waste more time going back. He turned back around.
It was so dark he could hardly see where he was going and few times wet, snow covered branches smacked him in the face, dumping snow down the back of his collar. He struggled on until another sound made him stop again. The crunch, snap, thump he had been hearing was not just his own. Now that he was still he could also hear heavy breathing. It sounded like a large man who smoked too many cigarettes for many years was trying to go through the same woods.
Who else would be out here at this time of night?
Liam thought back to the conversation about the woods at the bar. The guy at the end, the little guy who looked like a gnome had been telling some story. Some bullshit about a monster? Or was it a serial killer? He had not been paying much attention since it was the same old crap re-hashed in every small town in the US. Scary thing in abandoned house or lot blah blah blah. Everyone knew of someone who was related to the friend of someone who saw it happen or whatever. Everyone else had heard it enough times that they were trying to tell their version of the story over gnome guy’s. Liam was not interested in any version of it.
So why was he suddenly feeling his heart pound and a trickle of sweat run down his back if it was all crap?
The noise was still coming toward Liam so he started walking again, maybe a little faster this time. He stumbled a few times, but whoever else was with him did not seem to be getting any closer. He looked around wildly a few times, but saw about as much as he expected. The shadows of trees, and that was about it. Damn Abby. He should have told her to call her boyfriend, but like a fool he agreed to come out. And now he was going to be killed by a cliche in the woods in the middle of town. How idiotic.
More snow slid down his back, but he did not stop to get it out. The noise was definitely closer now. He needed to figure out how to get out of the trees and back to the road. How big were these woods anyway? The town was tiny, how could it be this large? Maybe he was walking in circles.
Frantic now, Liam made the rash decision to turn left instead of keeping going in what he thought was a straight line. Maybe he was walking in circles. He stumbled and stepped into deeper snow, sinking to his shins for a moment. It over balanced him and he fell, bare hands landing in the cold wet snowbank. He froze. The sounds were so close now. He felt certain that if he looked over his shoulder he would see it. He was too afraid, he just pulled his cold hands back and shoved them back in his pockets, trying to get up off his knees. The breathing was so loud now, he felt the urge to run, but he was too cold and still stuck in the snow. He closed his eyes, expecting a hook or an ax or maybe just a baseball bat to crash into him at any moment, but the night suddenly went quiet. No breathing, no crashing, just quiet.
A single “mew” shook him out of whatever held him still and his eyes popped open. A tiny cat, no more than a few months old stood in front of him. It had big yellow eyes. It was wet and too thin, but it was looking behind him, where the sounds had stopped. Slowly, Liam looked over his shoulder, but saw nothing. It mewed again and walked closer. It was looking at Liam now.
He scooped it up out of the snow. It was a little orange tabby as far as he could tell. It shivered in his hands and he hurried to tuck it into his coat. Had whatever was chasing him been afraid of this kitten? It looked to little and weak to take on a shrew much less a mad man.
It purred as soon as he re buttoned his coat. He tucked one hand under it to keep it from falling out of the bottom of his coat and started walking again. He neither saw not heard any sign of anyone else in the woods now. He was alone except for the cat. His cat now. He had a cat now. The thought made him smile as he looked for his way out. He might resent Abby getting him up tonight, but at least he now had a cat.