She breathed in the cool mountain air and stopped for a moment to glance at her mile marker. Okay, she was at mile 290. The lodge was at 292. She stuffed the map in her backpack and carried on the trail. She had been hiking the Appalachian Trail for about two months now, through Massachusetts and up into Vermont. She looked forward to having a comfy bed to sleep in and a meal to eat. And of course, laundry to do. A traveler she encountered yesterday had told her it would supposedly storm later, and she did not want to be out in the cold for that. One time she got caught in a storm and ruined the few items of clothing she had brought on the adventure. She even had to travel into the nearest town to pick up new socks, and let’s just say the last thing people want is a smelly, dirt-smeared, mud-clad woman walking through their Walmart at 2 a.m. She rounded the corner and stopped at a stump to tie her heavy-duty hiking boots. She glanced up and saw an older man sitting on the base of a tree. He was skinny, with a long, white beard and a bald head. He carried no pack and was not wearing a coat either, despite the 35-degree weather. He piercingly stared in her direction with dark, gray eyes. This was the kind of stuff they warn young women traveling alone about on the trail. The girl felt an unsettling, nauseous feeling in the pit of her stomach. She shuddered and hurried off, slightly acknowledging the mysterious man with a tilt of her head before quickening her pace until the stump looked no bigger than a dot in the distance.
Around an hour and 45 or minutes later, she found herself at the lodge at last. It was cavernous and sat looking down upon a steep hill and through trees. She pushed open the heavy wood doors and sighed. Putting her heavy pack down on a luggage cart was a relief for her straining back.
“Hi, my name is Kaylee Sullivan, here to check into room 11?”
“Sure thing, Miss. Go all the way down the stairs and to the left.”
Kaylee grumbled as she trekked all the way down to the lodge basement, her pack thumping on her shoulders.
“Why don’t these old lodges have elevators?” she cursed to herself. She held onto the thick, wooden banister down a deep flight of stairs to her room.
While the top half of the lodge was elegant, the bottom was the complete opposite. It smelled musty and damp as if it hadn’t been mopped in four years. The halls were barely illuminated, with dim, yellow light bulbs hanging from the walls. Every noise she made echoed, and she was especially aware of her hiking boots on the creaky wooden floors. Clip, clop, clip, clop. She turned the corner into her room, number 11. She rolled her eyes. At least I won’t be camping tonight, she thought to herself.
Inside, the room was actually relatively nice. A large queen bed sat in the corner, and there was a little teapot and stove off to the left side and a desk with a kerosene lamp off the right. There was a big steam shower in the bathroom. Immediately, Kaylee went to shower, washing off all of the mud and grit from days on the trail.
After the longest shower she felt had ever been taken, Kaylee changed into red flannel pajamas and headed off to the laundry room. She was aware of the coolness of the linoleum floors on her bare feet and finally made it to the small laundry room. Turning on the fluorescent lights, she started the machine and hummed to herself. The room smelled of Tide detergent, and she was joyous to soon have clean clothes. A murmur came from the walls within the laundry room. She stopped folding socks and listened.
“Did you do it yet?” a deep voice whispered.
“No, she left the trail quickly, I told you this!” Another voice.
“Find her. She’s in room 11. Remember that.”
Kaylee gulped. That was her room. Terror clutched at her stomach, and she forced herself into a small ball next to the laundry machine. Maybe she was just hearing things. She swallowed and heard footsteps approaching. From the cracked door, she saw a pair of gray eyes and a long white beard walking down the halls. Kaylee let out a gasp of fear and quickly covered her mouth with her hand. She recognized those eyes. It was the man from the trail.
Clip, clop, clip, clop. The old man walked past room nine. Clip, clop, clip, clop. Room 10. Clip, clop, clip clop. Room 11. Kaylee heard a knock followed by what she could infer was a walkie-talkie signal.
“She’s not in there, over.”
“Well go look for her!” A different voice over the walkie talkie.
The walkie clicked off and she heard loud, angry footsteps stomping down the hall like a wolf hunting. The girl stood up, tremoring. Exhaling in shaky, short breaths, she peered out the crack in the door and saw that the man had gone all the way down the hall. Kaylee made a mad dash for the stairs, sprinting. Occasionally she would let out a cry and bite her lip. If he caught me, what would happen? Would I be kidnapped? Or worse… she thought to herself. And what was that thing he said about warning me? Her paranoia got the best of her and, sobbing, she flung the wooden doors of the first floor open. Crashing against the ground, she heard an elevator ding. She stood up and dashed down a dark hallway, up long spiraling stairs, clutching onto the railing as if it were her last hope. She threw herself into a cold, white room. Clip, clop, clip clop. Her knees to her chest, she lay on her side whimpering as a tall, skinny shadow approached her.
And all of a sudden she woke up with a screaming headache, voices pounding at her head. She heard foggy, distant voices.
“10,200 feet elevation…” A woman’s voice.
“Passed out an hour ago…Not enough oxygen…” Another Lady.
She finally opened her eyes, blinking. She felt the cool breeze and, with a lot of effort, rolled over. She breathed in the cool mountain air and saw the blue Vermont sky, the pine trees around her, the rock under her head and the mile marker. There was no laundry room, no lodge, and no man. She was safe. You’re okay now Kaylee. You’re okay.
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