The Safe Place
Ten Years Ago:
This isn’t over yet sweetheart. Dig deep. Think.
Just around the corner to her left was the treehouse.
Lexi ran. The monster let out a sound somewhere between a bark and shout, and charged.
Benji had built the treehouse for his daughter many, many years ago. Dad had double checked it for safety and once it had checked out Lexi played in it and loved it; it was her safe place.
Within just a few steps she was there at the base of the tree. The structure wasn’t fancy. It was pretty small-built high in the branches of an old hickory. There were spaced-apart wood planks nailed to the trunk that made a ladder. Lexi climbed as fast as she could, hearing thudding footfalls getting louder. And closer... Lexi tossed open the trapdoor in the bottom of the treehouse and pulled herself in. When she looked back down, the monster was there; its eyes and teeth bright in the moonlight as she scooted over, dragging the rifle, and slammed the trapdoor closed.
Over the past few years, when her cousins spent weekends on the farm, Lexi and the girls would play in the treehouse and make the boys stay out unless they knew the secret password, which changed depending on whether or not the girls wanted the boys around. If the girls wanted the boys locked out, they took a thick piece of wood and slid it through two big staples, one on the trapdoor and one set into the floor. Lexi slid this piece of wood through the staples now and backed into the corner of the tiny shack.
A little voice in the back of her mind, that same voice in gymnastics that told her she would fall when she was walking the balance beam, told her now that it was hopeless; that she should just give up. There was no way to kill this thing. Instead, it was going to kill her...
But then she remembered the movie she had been watching- the scary movie, when Dad had come in and turned it off. It was about a wolf-man, and in that movie the wolf-man could only be killed with silver bullets.
Lexi thought of the box with her dad’s things in it, and she thought of the shiny bullet she had found there.
Suddenly the entire structure rocked as the thing slammed into the trap door, kicking up dust and splitting boards amid sharp cracking sounds.
It wouldn’t take long for the monster to get in... to destroy her safe place.
To get her.
Lexi thought hard. Since she had moved in to the upstairs room there were times when she had leaned on the sill and looked out her window at the treehouse, imagining what it might be like to walk the large branch that stuck out from the hickory’s side and pointed toward her room, thinning just before angling up above her window to lay a few inches over the eaves. Sometimes, when it stormed really bad, she could hear that branch scraping the roof.
What if she could get onto that branch, and use it to get to her window? The window was big, the kind that slid sideways...
The thing hit the floor again, making her yelp. The wood snapped and splintered. One more good hit and the monster would be through.
Even if she could get to her window, it was closed, how could she-
And then she remembered the rifle. Of course...
There was a small window in the treehouse which looked out onto that branch. Lexi positioned herself on her knees, stuck the barrel out the treehouse window and tucked the rifle butt to her shoulder. She aimed... down where the light from the hallway shown into her room. Forcing herself to control her breath, she fired.
Her already-sore shoulder hurt even more from the rifle’s kick and her ears rang, but she heard glass shatter... just as the floor behind her came apart.
Working the bolt again, Lexi pulled the rifle barrel out from the window and swung it over. She put her back against the wall. The last time she had shot this monster, at least it had been stunned for a minute. The beast was halfway through the ruined trap door, reaching for her. She aimed right at that face, right between those glowing animal eyes and she pulled the trigger.
The thing’s head jerked backward. The body went limp and the head came forward again, dropping down onto the floor.
Lexi pushed the rifle out the small window, butt first, getting ready to climb out, and then stopped. When she had thought about using the branch before, she always imagined having to walk it where it got thick near the treehouse... just like the balance beam. And in her mind she had always fallen. The branch was big, but not big enough to crawl on. She would have to stand until it started to thin, and then she would have to hang from it and swing...
You can do this, baby girl. You just have to believe in yourself.
The thing behind her took in a deep breath. Live, or die, this was it. Time to “put up or shut up,” as dad would say. But as silly as it sounded, in some ways, Lexi was more scared of walking that branch than she was of the wolf-man.
She heard its arm drag across the wood. If she was going to go for it, it had to be now.
Only having one shoe would throw her off, so she took off the other one. Socks too-she could get better grip with her bare feet. Then, through the opening she climbed, one hand holding onto the thin window ledge as she put the rifle strap back on her shoulder and stood shakily on the branch.
You have to hurry.
But she couldn’t... because she would fall. And it was so far down. She would fall and break her legs or her back and then she wouldn’t be able to move and that thing would come for her and the last thing she would see would be its teeth...
Cracking noises sounded from the structure, along with that low growl. It was coming, and she had to move.
Lexi took one step, teetered and then took another, arms spread out at her sides.
Don’t stop, keep going!
Another step, but too fast. It threw her off and she bent sideways at the waist, one arm down, the other arm, the one with the rifle strapped to it, flung up, tilting, too far, too far...
That hand caught a tiny, hanging limb above, no bigger around than her pinkie, but enough to pinch and stop her lean. Her upper body straightened back up. She couldn’t keep hold of that limb and keep moving, so she let it go, took another step...
You’re doing it! You’re doing great, Baby Girl, just—
A deafening series of barks and snarls erupted behind her, making her jump, and suddenly she was balancing on one foot, her upper body swaying first one direction, then the other. She could hear those teeth snapping as the monster jammed its head through the small opening. Lexi’s heart felt like it would jump right out of her chest. Forcing her body weight forward enough to bring her other foot back down on the branch, she was able to get her balance back. She took one more step; the branch, which had begun to thin, lowered a few inches as its other end made a scratching sound on the roof.
The beast thrashed against the treehouse wall around the window; smashing, breaking, shaking the branch. Lexi was going to fall...
Bending her knees she dropped down and back onto her butt, then sat forward with one leg to either side, her hands grasping the wood that was about as big around as the end of a baseball bat. The rifle strap had fallen to her wrist, cutting into her skin.
The wall behind her was cracking, snapping. The wolf-man was breaking through. Lexi leaned fully forward; her window was just a few feet away and not too far down...
Maneuvering sideways, Lexi leaned on the branch with straight arms, swung her left leg over and was balancing now on her stomach. Looping her hand under the branch she slipped down, the rough bark lifting her shirt and scraping her tummy...
Until at last she was suspended, hanging with one hand holding the branch on either side, legs kicking at empty air, the rifle strap back now at her shoulder. Grunts of exertion escaped her; sweat dripped into her eyes as she walked one hand over the other, as fast as she could, knowing that if she stopped for too long her grip would give. Taking one desperate look up and behind, Lexi saw those bright eyes, moving through what remained of the treehouse wall, lowering its head as its claws wrapped around the thickest part of the branch.
The other end of the branch, the part that angled up, had lowered to where the straight part of it stopped just under the eaves of her window. Lexi walked her hands a few more inches, her fingers ready to give out any second. The good news was she was close enough to swing...
But there was a problem. One big problem. When she had shot the glass, the bullet had left a hole, with spider web cracks that went out in all directions, but the window was still in one piece. She would have to swing, kick it with her feet...
She took one swing, kicked, and felt her fingers slip the tiniest bit as her feet bounced off the glass. It had cracked in more places but didn’t come apart.
Harder! You have to kick harder! Give it all you got.
Lexi swung and kicked as hard as she could. Huge pieces of glass fell away onto the carpet of her bedroom. But one jagged point of it, six inches long, had stayed. It jutted up from the bottom like a knife blade, waiting to slice right through her if she didn’t get the timing or the angle of her drop right.
The branch moved. That thing was crawling and the growl was so close it vibrated the insides of her ears. She was on the backswing and her fingers had all but given out. She wouldn’t get another chance at this.
Your mind will tell you can’t do it, but you can, sweetheart. You have to: and you have to do it now.
Lexi swung forward and as her feet passed through the window’s open space her grip finally gave out; her body flew out and down, and the tip of that jagged shard of glass ran up and through her waving hair, less than an inch from the back of her skull.
She landed hard on the carpet and some of the bigger pieces of glass. They cracked but didn’t break as far as she could tell. The barrel of the rifle had smacked into the side of her head and it hurt like hell.
But she was alive.
I knew you could do it, baby girl. And I know you’re in pain and I know you’re tired but you’re almost out of this. Just hang tough for a little bit longer...
She had to keep moving. Smaller pieces of glass jabbed into her left palm as she used it get to her knees, reaching to the corner of her bed, pulling herself to her feet... her bare feet which were also now getting cut by pieces of glass that felt like hundreds of little insect bites. Lexi gritted her teeth and tried to step where it looked like there was no glass on the floor.
After three painful steps toward the light of the hallway she heard a loud crack followed by a thundering crash.
The branch had broken and hopefully both it and the monster had fallen to the ground.
Lexi smiled a little, hoping the fall hurt.
Then she remembered the front door, the door that the wolf-man had smashed through and her blood turned cold. If the beast was on the ground outside, it would come around to the front door, and if it came into the house before she could get to the bullet...
Run Lexi, run!