Peter and Elsa sat silently together, mesmerized by the dying embers of the campfire, their bellies full of hamburger and roasted marshmallows. They had been coming to these woods up in the mountains for years now, ever since they had met in their early-twenties at university. Each time they ventured a little deeper into the interior. Elsa had always been in charge as Peter had no sense of direction and was happiest in front of his computer back in the city surrounded by his books. Although, over time, he had come to genuinely enjoy the screen-less solitude of these periodic weekend outings, he remained wholly dependent on Elsa for getting them in and out of the forest.
“Here,” he said, passing her the roach as wisps of pot smoke escaped from his nostrils. “There’s still a bit left.”
She took the joint and inhaled, holding the smoke deep inside as euphoria coursed through her veins. She looked at him intently as he stared into the flickering coals. He had a long angular face, dotted with patches of stubble in his vain attempt to grow a beard. Although his hair had receded a good inch from his forehead since she had first met him, the rest was a wild mane of Jesus-like curly brown locks that cascaded down below his shoulders. Back in the city, he had been painfully struggling as a writer while she went out and worked long hours as a lawyer. She did not mind being the bread-winner as she thought his stories were the most beautiful she had ever read. If he never published a single piece, or earned a penny in his lifetime, it would not matter to her. As far as she was concerned, he was her own personal Shakespeare.
Finally sensing her watching him, he glanced over and his little-boy grin lit up his face. “What?” he asked.
“Just wondering what’s cooking up there in that crazy head of yours.”
“Only my brain, Ellie. Fuck man, I’m stoned.”
“Come here, you,” she said, moving closer and starting to unbutton the fly on his cargo pants.
“Think we should go inside the tent?” he asked looking over his shoulder into the black pool of heavy trees.
“Pete, there’s no one around for miles!” she laughed. “Are you scared I’ll make the bears blush? Lie back.”
Obeying, he collapsed as she took him in her mouth. Starting slowly, but with increasing determination, she sucked him until he convulsed violently.
“Oh, God,” he gasped, as he looked down at her smiling face. “My turn,” he murmured as his eyelids fluttered, fighting off a desperate desire to pass out.
“Close your eyes, baby,” she said, cradling her head under his arm. “We have all weekend.” He did not argue as he succumbed to deep, dreamless sleep.
Saturday – Dawn
Peter’s swollen eyelids opened slowly to the sound of birdsong in the branches overhead. He coughed as a light breeze blew ash from the dead campfire into his face. His clothes were damp from the morning dew and he turned over to reach out for Elsa. She was not there. Disoriented, he sat up and rubbed his face until his eyes focussed properly as he woke up. A slight ache was creeping up the back of his neck; either an imminent hangover or just a crick he couldn’t be sure. Massaging it gently, he looked around and, to his utter astonishment, everything was gone. The tent was gone, all the camping gear was gone – Elsa was gone. Clambering to his feet, he looked around wildly. Nothing. Everything was gone.
“Ellie!” he shouted through cupped hands as panic swelled within him. “Elsa!!!” Only the distant echo of his own voice responded, bouncing off the pine-clad mountains to the east where the sun was slowly rising like a purple welt on the sky.
He fumbled feverishly in his pockets for his cell phone. Gone. His pockets were empty; his phone, his wallet, his keys – everything. The only things that had been left behind were the clothes on his back. Glancing down at his hands, he saw that even his watch and ring had been taken.
Saturday – Late Afternoon
It had been over 10 hours since he had set off into the woods in search of Elsa. At this point he had given up all hope of finding her and just wanted to find a river to follow to get out of the mountains and call for help. All running water leads to human habitation at some point. He had at least remembered that much but he had not so much as come across a trickle of a stream. He had become so tired, thirsty and hungry, he was almost staggering blindly through the underbrush. Looking down, he suddenly saw footprints. His heart leapt hopefully in his chest but he immediately made the sickening realization that they were his own. He had come full circle, and not for the first time over the day.
Dropping to his knees, he clutched his face in his hands and began to cry in long, gasping heaves. After the release, fatigue overcame him like a thick, unstoppable fog and, curling up on the spot, he fell asleep. The stifling trees surrounding him sighed in a whisper of a breeze, as if somehow disappointed.
Saturday – Twilight
“Ouch!” he yelped, feeling a prick on his cheek like the tip of a sharp blade. Sitting bolt upright, he put his hand to his face and wiped off a smear of blood. “Goddamn bugs!” he cursed, rubbing his eyes. The horror of his situation immediately attacked his stomach as he looked ruefully at the sun setting lazily in the west where the mountains now cast long, jagged shadows.
Hopelessly lost in the woods and the night was coming.
Dragging himself to his feet he saw it. At the entrance to a freshly downtrodden path, a torn piece of blue cloth fluttered from a broken branch right before him. Elsa’s jacket.
“Ellie!” he shouted, his voice now almost hoarse as he set out down the path, adrenaline kicking in and filling his body with phantom strength. “Ellie!!!”
For almost half an hour he strode purposefully down the path in the gathering gloom until, suddenly, the woods opened onto a small glade revealing a tiny, dilapidated log cabin with boarded up windows. Rushing to the door, he turned the rusted knob and it opened with a mournful groan. Peering inside, he could see that it was comprised of only one entirely empty and deserted room with a giant iron crossbeam towering overhead, two feet below the ceiling.
“Fuck,” he swore, as he stepped inside, the rotting wooden floors creaking beneath his feet. “Abandoned.” He noticed that, on the wall opposite from the door, a small hole had been punched out of a boarded-up window. Crossing to look, he stopped in his tracks as he heard the cabin door click shut behind him.
“Ellie?” he said, breathlessly, his heart pounding.
The only reply was the awful clanging sound of a large meat hook on a chain being slung over the giant iron crossbeam now shielded in near-total darkness.