A cabin in the woodsEric 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.


Maria watched the lights of the 11:14 dwindle until they disappeared around the bend in the tracks. Damn. At this hour the next train would not be by for another forty minutes. Her own fault for not paying attention. How could she be so stupid as to get off at the wrong stop, worse yet, not realize it until the train pulled away?

The platform was not quite deserted – a wino curled lovingly around his bottle in the corner near the stairs. She almost felt sorry for the guy, it was going to be a chilly night.

She glanced up to street level contemplating her options: walk or wait.

Considering the neighborhood and the time of night no rational woman would walk here alone. But then no rational woman would stand on this platform alone either. The guy with the bottle sure wouldn’t be of any use. She put her hands on her swollen belly. She had to think of the baby. That settled it, if she walked fast she would be home before the next train even arrived.

The wino looked up as she stepped over him, tried to say something, but was only able to stammer gibberish. He put out a hand, palm up.

“Sorry, I gave at the office,” she said and quick stepped beyond his reach.

She paused at the top of the steps to catch her breath and look around. Not a single car sat in the parking lot across the looping drive, nor were there any moving in either direction on 9th street. The streetlight overhead flickered, casting eerie shadows from the leaf-bare trees. “Well, no time like the present.” She headed out at a brisk pace.

She had not gone far when two guys drifted out of the shadows down the block. At least they were on the other side of the street. As long as they stayed on that side there wouldn’t be any trouble.

When she drew parallel to them the two guys started walking along in the same direction. She could hear them talking in hushed voices, snickering, and saw them casting many a glance her way. She picked up her pace.

They matched it.

“Hey, big momma, what’cha doing out so late?” one of them called over. The other one laughed and spun a complete circle on his heel. He seemed impressed with the move and did it again. She ignored them.

“Hey woman, you hear Tommy ask you a question?” the spinner shouted.

Tommy poked the spinner on the shoulder, saying something under his breath.

“Hell no.” Spinner jerked away from Tommy to stop and stare right at her. “She just dissed you. Now she dissed me. I’m talking to you woman.”

“Come on, Lloyd. Let’s go.” Tommy spoke loud enough to hear.

Lloyd stepped into the street, then started across.

Tommy caught up to him, tried to grab him by the shoulder. “Come on, man, she’s pregnant.”

“So what?”

“I don’t want to do no pregnant woman.”

“Then you can watch me.”

At that she turned to face her tormentors.

She saw Lloyd’s hand come out of his pocket, heard the snick of a switchblade, saw the glint of steel.

“Don’t be stupid,” she warned him.

Lloyd spun around again, but there was no mirth in his laugh. “You the stupid one, arrogant bitch.”

Tommy hung back, looking up and down the street reflexively.

Lloyd closed quickly, raising the knife for her throat, a broad smile on his face.

She let him come. At the last second she side-stepped, grabbed his arm and twisted it behind his back. There was a loud pop followed by a howl of pain. At the same time her other hand closed around his neck, suction pads emerging to lock onto his skin. He struggled ineffectively, subdued by the neurotoxins, as his blood drained into her veins. Her belly was already swollen from feeding tonight, but baby could always use more.

Tommy stood dumbfounded in the middle of the street trying to comprehend what the hell was happening. She looked up at him as Lloyd slid to the ground.

“You want some of me?” she asked.

Wide-eyed, Tommy shook his head, no.


He ran, yelling like a mad man.


She could hear baby stirring as she closed the apartment door behind her. “I’m coming, sweetheart.” She stripped off her jacket and dropped her purse to the floor. “Mommy’s home.”

Upon hearing her voice the baby began to cry. She rushed into the nursery, scooped him out of the crib, cuddled him to her breast. His eyes lit up with delight as he reached up to wrap his hands around her neck. His adorable little suction pads locked onto her skin. She sank into an armchair, cooing and rocking as he fed.

“Hush little baby, don’t say a word…”
© 2011 by J. M. Strother, all rights reserved.


How did it come to this? I try not to look nervous, try not to look guilty. I’m not guilty, dammit. The detective has left the room again, to leave me stewing in my own anxieties. Dear God, help me.

About two weeks ago my dog started acting weird whenever we passed the storm sewer at the end of the block. He pulled away from the curb out into the street as far as the leash allowed. I ribbed him about being a scaredy-cat, figuring a raccoon or opossum was down the hole. He’s scared to death of raccoons.

Last Sunday as we passed the sewer he really scrabbled away from it. When I glanced over I swear I saw two big yellowish eyes staring at us. I jumped, startled. Then my mind raced, was someone’s dog trapped down the sewer? I took a step toward it to get a better look but Buddy lurched in front of me, hackles raised, growling. When I glanced back at the sewer the eyes were gone, and my feeling of concern was replaced by one of wariness. I reminded myself, never approach sick animals.

When we got home I called Animal Control and told them I thought there was an animal stuck in the sewer. I was told they would send someone out. Nearly six hours latter the AC truck pulled up. From my living room window I watched the control officer pop the lid with a pry bar, then shine a flashlight down. He returned to his truck, returned with a barbed pole, and fished a dead cat out of the sewer.

“Idiot,” I thought. If they had come when I called maybe the cat would have survived.

The next day my dog still pulled away from that sewer. The day after that I thought I heard scrabbling noises coming from it. I debated calling Animal Control again, but decided against it. Maybe I should have.

Then on Wednesday Buddy about went nuts. This time when I glanced over I saw not just eyes, but small pale grimy hands grasping the steel crossbars. I screamed – I couldn’t help myself. No one heard me, thank God (it was just a short yelp), and I rushed home to call the Police.

Police officers do not like crank calls and definitely do not like crawling around in storm sewers. They did not find the trapped child I had reported, though they did find another dead cat. By the time the Police left all my neighbors were looking at me askance.

Yesterday I saw the eyes and hands again. So when the Police came door-to-door looking for one Joey Michaels, age 7, last seen wearing bluejeans and a red t-shirt I suggested they look in the sewer down the street. Now Detective Garrison wants to know how I knew Joey Michaels’ body was in the sewer. I wait for him to return, so I can once again explain that I did not know, that there had been eyes…

There is a scrabbling noise at the window in the back of the room. I look up and see a pair of yellow eyes staring at me, and small grimy pale hands.

© 2011 by J. M. Strother, all rights reserved.

© 2012 Mad Utopia Suffusion theme by Sayontan Sinha