Eric Hurley took pride in his woodcraft and survival skills. He used to boast to his friends that he could live off the wild with nothing but a knife, a fish hook, and a spool of ten pound line and gain twenty pounds.
It hadn’t quite worked out that way. During the four months he had spent eluding the authorities in the deep woods of Tennessee he had actually lost about that much weight. That was fine by him. In retrospect he had to admit he had let himself get soft in the intervening years since his dishonorable discharge. Now he was downright svelte. While his muscles did not bulge, they were iron hard and gave him a wiry strength that belied his five feet seven inch stature.
Since killing the old couple at the gas station in Green Springs Eric had led the authorities on a merry little chase. At first it was a local affair, entailing naught more than a little cat and mouse with the County Sheriff and his band of hapless Deputies. But once he killed that State Trooper the manhunt had gotten serious.
Not that it worried him much. Despite the added manpower, the dogs, and the aerial surveillance he continued to evade authorities. He even managed to lay down a false trail. According to the news his ploy had worked. While the search moved west, Eric moved east.
But summer had waned into autumn, and winter was fast approaching. Culverts, hollow trees, and abandoned animal dens were not going to cut it much longer. He needed to find someplace halfway decent to hole up in where he could relax in relative comfort.
Luck was with him. Three days ago he spotted this little cabin in the woods. Exercising caution he keep a careful eye on it ever since. No one had come or gone, despite the start of deer season. But the best indication that the place was truly abandoned was the overgrown path to the door. No one had been here in a long time.
Today was the time for action.
He moved cautiously toward the cabin, staying out of its lines of sight. Once next to the building he eased his way to a window to take a quick peek in. Then a longer look.
Inside seemed relatively well maintained. It had two beds – a full and a twin, a table by the fireplace, with two accompanying straight back chairs, a couple of stacked wooden crates, a three legged stool, and an ax sitting upright against the wall next to the door. He studied the ax for a long time, looking for wires to trip some sort of booby trap, but it appeared to be nothing more than an ax.
There was a crude kitchen under the window directly across from him with a hand pump for a well. If the well was not dry this place would be ideal. A cabinet next to the sink stood ajar, and he could see canned goods neatly stacked on the shelves. His stomach rumbled.
He tried the window but it would not budge. Inspecting the inside frame revealed four ten-penny nails holding it closed, the heads slightly raised so they could be pulled during occupancy. Clever bastards.
He moved to the back window in order to better examine the door. After careful study he decided it did not look to be booby trapped. Feeling more confident he walked around to the front.
He stood to the side and tried the latch. It depressed easily. This made him suspicious. He pushed the latch fully down and gave the door a shove, then flattened himself against the outside wall. Nothing happened.
He took a quick peek inside. Nothing gave him cause for alarm. He smiled broadly and stepped across the threshold.
He was nearly deafened by the roar of a blast as shotgun pellets tore into him from above. Blood gushed from his right shoulder and arm. The right side of his face felt horribly wrong, and he could not see out of his right eye. With that he passed out.
He awoke in a bed, his head, shoulder, and arm nicely bandaged. He had trouble getting his bearings at first, could not recall where he was, or how he had gotten there. He hurt everywhere – head, neck, back, right shoulder and arm, and both legs. He tried to see his surroundings but everything to the right was a void. There was a full sized bed to his left, and a small double hung window, nailed shut. If he strained to lift his head he could see a fireplace with a table and two chairs. Then he remembered – the cabin!
Christ, the door had been booby trapped after all. But how? He tried to turn his head to see the door, but the pain was too intense. He sank back into the bedding, feeling nauseous.
He heard the door open and then quickly close, someone moving into the room.
“Oh, you’re awake!” It was a cheerful, feminine voice.
He opened his mouth to talk, but his tongue seemed to be glued to his palate. Footsteps grew closer. A woman finally moved into his field of vision.
She was of an indeterminate age, had long dark brown hair and matching eyes, was slightly chubby, yet not unattractive. She examined him, or perhaps her handwork with the bandages, for a moment before moving closer to him.
He opened his mouth again and managed to rasp out, “Water.”
She nodded, turned, and disappeared once again from his field of view. He heard the pump being worked furiously for a few seconds then slower as the sound of water gushed from the spout.
He considered grabbing her when she gave him the glass, but then what? In this condition he probably would not be able to subdue her. And even if he could, to what purpose? He needed her now, needed her to nurse him back to health. He accepted the water and offered a feeble thanks.
She stepped out of his reach and smiled.
“It’s driving you crazy, isn’t it?” she asked.
He tried to frown, but it sent pain shooting through the right side of his face, across his scalp. “What?”
“The booby trap.” She stepped over to the fireplace and began adding some chopped vegetables to a pot he had not even noticed before. He suddenly became aware of the smell of something savory cooking and his stomach protested his lack of food.
“No one ever looks up,” she went on.
He dropped his head back down, the strain of trying to watch her was too much.
“It’s an electric eye mounted in the lintel. A little image processing software, and a 20 gauge shotgun shell, electronically triggered – voilà.”
Despite the pain he furrowed his brow. There was no electricity to this place. He was certain of that.
“It is amazing what they’ve done with solar cells.” She stepped back into his field of view, looking quite pleased. “They’re mounted on the top rim of the chimney. Nobody’d ever see them there. I rigged it all up myself. I’ve got a degree in electrical engineering from Tennessee State. Bet you didn’t know that.”
The gleam in her eye told him she was quite mad.
“I need to get to a hospital,” he said. Screw the State Police. Just get me out of here.
She smiled and spun away on the ball of her foot, traipsing back over to the kettle. “Oh no, they’d just arrest you. And me. We wouldn’t want that now, would we?”
She took a spoonful from the pot and smelled it appreciatively before sampling it.
“Stew’s almost done. You hungry?”
In a panic he threw back the sheet and let out a scream. Both his legs were amputated below the knees.
© 2014 by J. M. Strother. All rights reserved.
Photo courtesy of the Keene Public Library and the Historical Society of Cheshire County via the Creative commons. No known copyright restrictions.