Hide and Seek
Penny looked at the gift on the table before her. It was carefully wrapped with glittering green paper and a red satin ribbon tied around it. On any other day, she would have been thrilled to get something like this. But not today, not after the past few days.
It seemed a good idea to rent this chalet in Austria. On the internet it appeared lovely. The robust beams of the walls, checkered curtains on the windows. And especially nice: it was secluded in the mountains of the province of Upper Austria, in the middle of a large pine tree forest. Nothing nearby unless you wanted to drive for half an hour. To Penny it seemed perfectly; the place where she could finish her thesis last. Get away from everything that distracted her from writing. The description even contained the warning "ATTENTION!!!: no mobile connection possible and no telephone in chalet".
When she arrived, the owner had met her. He was a man about forty years of age with dark hair and eyes. He was dressed in lumberjack shirt and big red work boots. Crude he had handed her the keys. His weathered face was unfriendly and unreadable. The man seemed to find the idea to put his house in foreign hands far from pleasant. Penny wondered if he rented it only because he needed money.
She was driven to the village to store food for the weekend. Penny had thrown milk, bread, cheese and other standard products in her basket. And of course a bottle of red wine and her favorite chocolate. The villagers had advised her to store enough for a week; there was snow on its way. The moment Penny told them where she was staying the women seemed to look at each other shocked. The men in the shop had shaken their heads. She had asked why but was turned away with a vague excuse; people were just worried about her. Such a young girl in a snowbound chalet, all alone. Penny had reassured them. She was the kind of woman who could take care of herself. Still, Penny felt that she made her leave the supermarket faster than needed.
The weekend had passed with the speed of light so she had barely any time to get something on paper. In between writing, she was taking walks enjoying the silence. It seemed that to her she was living on the edge of the world, she was all alone and had not seen a human or any animals. But she had the feeling that someone looked at her continuously. Between the trees there always were dark shadows moving sometimes it seemed. Penny kept her fantasy responsible for it and paid no further attention.
On Monday it started snowing and it wasn’t stopping anymore. First she loved it. She had built a snowman and because no one could see her after all, she had made snow angels as she did as a little girl. She lay in the snow, her arms and legs moving so that the angel could fly and felt another presence. She had peered into the woods. Snow conjured strange shadows among the trees, but she clearly saw that something retreated behind a tree. Someone kept an eye on her!
From that moment she felt continuously watched, even inside the chalet. There was no phone which she could use to call for help; her mobile had no signal here. It seemed as if the sky itself threatened her. The snow kept falling, sometimes in fierce storms which hide the individual flakes. If was as if someone snuggled down the chalet with a white, plush blanket. Fortunately, she had enough wood for the fireplace and she made also sure it was always burning. Even in the nights she got out of bed to throw wood on the fire.
At this time it seemed it was midnight inside the chalet, so high was the snow stuck against the windows. There was not a sliver of daylight peering through. Even though it was nearly twelve o'clock in the afternoon.
Penny looked at the package that had not been there yet when she went to bed. The gift looked wonderful and yet it was terrifying. She pulled the ribbon and lifted the lid. Immediately something began ticking and her heart beaded hard beneath her ribs. A bomb, she thought, who would sends me a bomb? But the package was not a bomb, only an alarm clock. About three minutes after he would go off. Beneath the alarm was a folded note. She raised the alarm, put it on the table and picked up the note. Beaten dumb she looked at the words on the paper “Let's play hide-and-seek" Penny stood there as if she was frozen, staring at this bizarre message.
The alarm clock rang; there was a noise behind her. Penny turned and saw soot from the chimney whirl down. Just now she discovered that the fire was extinguished. Suddenly she understood the message, the game she should have played and which she was now too late for. She could only stand there and watch two red shoes slowly appear from the chimney....