Chloe swung the axe up and around, it struck solid, splitting the log straight down the center. Bending, she picked up another, set it into place, and repeated the process again. And yet again. Sweat trickled between her shoulder blades. Muscles burned, but in a good way, as she swung the axe.
When there was a good pile of wood surrounding her, she set the axe aside and began gathering it up. Taking it and stacking it next to the shed several yards from the back door of her cabin. Once she finished, she pressed a fist into the small of her back, rubbing away the ache that settled there. Glancing over, she caught sight of the sun where it hung in the sky above the tree line. It had begun its decent in the western horizon. She’d gotten a decent amount of work done today.
Shading her eyes, she looked out over the lawn when she heard a car approaching. It couldn’t get near the cabin; there was no road up this high. Only a couple people who would dare make the trip up here to see her. Most likely, it was the police captain from the substation on the mountain. Sighing, she walked around to the front of the cabin.
Her butt hit the top step of the porch where she would sit and wait for him, her shotgun beside her. In case, it wasn’t the captain.
Several minutes passed before the captain came striding through the trees into the clearing in front of the cabin. Captain James Collin, six foot two, former army officer, he knew his job, but he seemed to have a soft spot for her. He came up here at least once a month to check on her. Whether she wanted him to or not. His hands settled on the belt at his hips and his lips kicked up into a smile when he stopped at the bottom of the steps. “Evening Chloe, how are you?”
Rocking back onto his heels, his hands dropped from his belt as he looked around the clearing. “Anything doing up here?”
“You know perfectly well nothing is “doing” up here. I keep telling you that you don’t need to come up here to check on me. I can take care of myself. I’ve been doing it since I was twelve.”
A grimace appeared on his features. “You don’t think I know that.”
With a shrug, she stood, ignoring the undertone of anger she heard in his voice. The anger wasn’t with her, not really he was angry because she was up here alone. She wasn’t about to explain her reasons to him. “Doesn’t matter what you know, I don’t need, nor do I want a babysitter. I live up here by myself for a reason.”
“A reason you won’t share with anyone,” he grumbled.
“Yes sir, now you have a good afternoon.” She turned and headed inside her cabin, shutting the door softly behind her. She didn’t need to look out the window to see if he would leave, he would go on his own, he always did. They’d had this argument many times before.
Her chin hit her chest. From the minute James had taken over as Captain, he’d made it his persona mission to poke his nose into her life. The man didn’t seem to know how to mind his damn business. For nearly nine years now, she’d lived on this mountain, and for the past six he’d pestered her. Though he’d done it in a good-natured friendly way, more in the manner of a nosey, overprotective big brother, than that of a law officer.
That was the only reason she didn’t chase him off with the business end of her shotgun.
Giving her head a small shake, she shoved away from the door and stalked across the single room of the cabin. It wasn’t large, her home, but it was comfortable. A large open living room, a kitchen at the back of the room, separated from it by the low breakfast bar with stools in front of it. In the corner was her bedroom, separated by a curtain. A large fireplace that took up most of the wall to the right of the door warmed the room.
When she’d first run from home, she’d lived in a tent she’s taken from the garage. The winters had been bitterly cold and she’d barely survived. If it hadn’t been for the camping trips she and her father had taken when she’d been a kid, she wouldn’t have had any survival skills at all. It was because of those trips she’d survived those first few years.
Glancing around the little cabin once more before moving behind the curtain, she smiled. Dropping down on the bed onto her back, she stared up at the ceiling.
Memories of the past assailed her, pressing in heavily on her mind until she couldn’t avoid them any longer and she let them flow through her mind. Not reminiscing, but thinking about things. Things that had ended up sending up here to this solitary life.
Her mother was in the kitchen preparing dinner while she talked on the phone, she could see her when she glanced over her shoulder to check. If she hurried maybe, she could turn on the TV and find the program the kids at school had been talking about and see it. Her teeth worried at her bottom lip as she stared at the television. Perhaps if she hit the button quickly to turn it on doing it fast maybe, it wouldn’t get hurt.
Creeping up in front of the television, Chloe stabbed one stubby little finger at the power button. Nothing happened. She crunched up her little five-year-old face and punched at the button again. Still nothing. Worriedly, she glanced at the kitchen door again. She could hear her mother’s voice. She knew exactly what would happen if she’d hurt the TV, her mama would yell at her.
Moving away from the television, she went to play with her dolls instead. She couldn’t hurt those ’cause they didn’t use eleticidy and that’s what daddy told her. He said it was the eleticidy that was the problem. She didn’t know what that word meant, but she knew that her mama told her daddy that if she broke one more TV she was in big trouble.
Her lower lip trembled at the thought of getting into trouble. She didn’t like being in trouble. Her daddy always said it wasn’t her fault when she hurt the things that used eleticidy, but mama would make a snorting noise and stomp from the room.
“Chloe, what are you doing?”
“Nuffin’, pwaying dollies.” She held up a dolly to show her mama.
“Good, your father should be home soon,” her mother said as she entered the room. Nothing happened when she picked up the remote and attempted to turn on the television. There was no confusion; she didn’t repeatedly punch at the button. Instead, she turned a glare on her daughter. “Chloe, did you touch the television?”
Her lower lip trembled and she kept her eyes on her dolls. “No Mama, you told me never to touch it.”
“Do not lie to me!” her mother screamed.
Tears slipped from the corners of her eyes as she hugged her dolls to her chest. “I just wanted to see—”
“No! I don’t want to hear any of your excuses! You know you are not allowed to touch the television! This makes, what, six now! Go to your room!”
She gathered up her dolls and walked slowly down the hallway to her room. Later, she heard them screaming as her mother ranted at her daddy about the television. About how Chloe was nothing but a curse. Her daddy tried to calm her mama. Daddy always stood up for her, but mama never listened. She curled up on her bed and cried until she fell asleep.
She sat up, burying her face in her hands and fighting off tears, just as she fought off the memories of the past. She hated remembering those days. Hated remembering the way her mother would look at her. The way she called her a curse they could never cure. Something they couldn’t be rid of, ever.
It hadn’t been only her mother though everyone shunned her. In school, none of the other kids would be friends with her because of what they called her “affliction”. She killed electronics. One touch and no matter the device, it would never work again.
She never owned an iPod, a hand held gaming device, a cell phone. Used a computer. She could ride in a car as long as she didn’t touch it with a single finger, but she couldn’t drive one.
Her cabin was free from electricity. No refrigerator. Her stove was wood burning. She used lanterns and candles for light. In essence, she’d gone back into the days of the pioneers. Beneath the cabin was a small cellar where she kept her stores of food. It was cooler, but it certainly wasn’t a fridge. However, she’d managed to use some modern technology to improve her food storage.
She dug a pit down there and lined it with the largest cooler she could purchase. She rolled to her side. She had a bunch of those freezer packs and she floated them in the river when she’d fish, they wouldn’t freeze but they got pretty cold.
Despite her improvements to her food storage, she still dried and salted her meat. It made it dry, tough, and well salty, but she made due. She couldn’t complain overly much; after all, she could do as she pleased up here. There was no one yelling at her, pointing and teasing.
She grimaced at the thought of teasing. Cambria Talbot. Another memory she wanted nothing to do with. Cambria and her little group of friends had made her brief attendance at middle school a living hell. Teasing and bullying her every chance they got.
She remembered the last incident just before she ran away … another memory she’d rather not revisit. Yet, forgetting was impossible. So she let herself relive that day.
The cafeteria food was as lousy as usual and she had eaten only a few bites, mostly she’d just picked at what was on her tray. She sat at her usual table in the corner, alone. Several tables to her right, she could hear Cambria and her friends giggling as they pointed in her direction with no attempt at being inconspicuous. She ignored, them not acknowledging them in any way it only encouraged them.
Cambria’s volume suddenly increased, as if she decided everyone within hearing needed to know what she was saying. “I mean, just look at her. Even her own mother hates her. At least that’s what I’ve heard. Can you really blame her? I mean what a freak! I heard she has like some genetic defect or something.” She lowered her voice slightly for the last sentence, but not enough so others couldn’t overhear. The girls sitting with her dissolved into gales of laughter over her observation.
Chloe rose slowly and dumped her leftover food into the trashcan, moving closer to the table the girls sat at. As she did, Cambria rose from her seat, grinning in Chloe’s direction as if she was expecting some sort of confrontation.
Instead, she pushed past the other girl without saying a word. She did make certain her fingers brushed over the brand new phone Cambria had clipped to her waist. It was petty and stupid, but now, she didn’t care. Besides, her parents were filthy rich and they’d just buy their sweet little princess a new one the moment she teared up and told them her phone didn’t work. Cambria always got everything she wanted the moment she asked for it. Hell, she got it before she had to ask.
As she shoved the logs into the hungry flames, she shoved away the memories of the past. She knelt before the fireplace, placing more wood into the fire to prepare for the chill that came with the late afternoon and the night that followed.
Two weeks after the incident with Cambria, she’d run away from home. Leaving behind the people who stared, pointed, and talked about her behind her back, she hated all of it. She hated being on the outside of a world that loved its electronic devices. Looking around her at her cabin, she realized she was better off up here, alone on her mountaintop.
After she had run away, she’d come here, the one place that held happy memories for her. The place she and her dad had come camping when she’d been a child. He told her once, when he had enough money he’d buy this place and they would build a home just for the two of them to come. When he built it, it would have no electricity. It would be a place they could come to get away from everything and everyone. A place where she could feel free and safe.
Now she had that place, even if she didn’t have her dad.
The captain had found some way for her to keep the land until she could pay for it. She didn’t know what he’d done, he hadn’t explained. If she were honest with herself, she didn’t want to ask if he’d paid for it himself. After all, she’d been twelve when she’d started squatting up here. People in town helped her, no one in town knew where the little girl appeared from, but they sort of claimed her as their own.
She smiled at that. They never turned her over to authorities whenever they showed up to try and pull her off the mountain. Instead, they hid her, moving her from house to house to keep Child Protective Services from finding her and putting her into the system. After a while, the social workers gave up in frustration. They had better things to do than track down ghosts. She appreciated what the townspeople did. It didn’t mean she told them her entire story. No one knew her full name. It kept them from being able to track down her parents. She was simply Chloe to them.
They respected her privacy; no one questioned her, even if they secretly wanted to know her story. Most figured she’d run away from an abusive home and no one would send her back into a situation like that if they could prevent it.
It was certainly an odd situation, but it was how it all worked out in the end.
Eventually, when she’d gotten older she began hunting. Her father had taught her on their camping trips. She took the furs into town and traded them for things she needed. The people in town found another level of respect for her, making it on her own up on the mountain.
It was after that, they showed up en masse and helped her to build the cabin. It stunned her they would put themselves out like that to help her in such a way. She’d found out later Captain Collin put them up to it. Later he started his little trips up the mountain to check on her.
She gave her head a small shake. She’d left one family behind and in doing so, gained another in the people of this mountain town. However, this new family knew nothing of her curse. She managed to keep it quite so far.
Rising, she turned from the fire and headed for the kitchen. Food and then perhaps she’d sit by the fire and read for a while. Then bed. She glanced at the south wall, mostly taken up by the built in bookshelves. Someday she would pack those shelves with books, she thought with a tiny smile. Now, they were only three quarters full.
When she was old and gray. Old and gray. And still very much alone.