I forced myself to stop crying. Since when had I become such a baby? I never used to cry, especially in front of people. Something about giving away my emotions made me feel so weak. I rubbed my hands across my cheeks, wiping away the evidence. I told myself I shouldn't care, and that he was probably lying to me anyways just to get back at me. Why did I let it work? I glared at him as I thought about how much of a jerk he was.
He avoided my look by standing up and dumping the whole plate in the trashcan. He rinsed his coffee cup out in the sink and then grabbed a water bottle out of the fridge. "Lets go," he said as he walked towards the back door, stopping briefly to grab his precious newspaper off the chair. I thought about gluing myself to the chair and refusing to go with him, but the probability of being left alone in the house yet again changed my mind instantaneously.
"What are we doing?" I asked as I followed him out the back door and in the direction of the shop. I wasn't really sure I cared though, I was just glad to be outside for the first time in weeks. The air seemed so crisp and fresh today, even though the sky was covered in deep grey clouds. Looking out the window, I would have expected it to be unreasonably cold, but instead it was warmer than I had ever remembered it being before.
"A tree fell on the fence the other day. So now we get to fix it," he answered, interrupting my thoughts.
It took a second for me to process his words. Fence? "What fence?" I asked.
"The one that goes around the property."
I recalled the time I ran out to the lake and scrunched my face up. "There's no fence," I argued, somewhat confused.
"There is in the front. I couldn't have strangers just waltzing up to the front door whenever they felt like it now could I?"
"I wouldn't mind," I admitted, giving him a small chuckle. His words didn't sink in at first, but after a minute I realized what they meant. If he needed a fence to keep people out, then that meant there were people around here, and maybe I wasn't as completely hopeless and isolated as he'd led me to believe. Thinking back, I wondered what might have happened had I ran towards the front of the house instead of the back. Would I have found someone? Would I have been rescued? The thought both relieved and terrified me.
When we made it to the big pull up door on the right of the shop he turned and told me to sit down and face the house.
"Why?" I asked, irritated.
"Because I told you to."
"Why can't I see inside?" I demanded. "Do you have some big secret hidden in there?"
He ignored my questions and forced me to turn around. "Sit," he ordered as he pushed on my shoulders, urging me down.
I groaned as I plopped down on the hard gravel.
I heard the loud rumble of the door rising as he pulled it up behind me. "Don't move," he warned, "I'm keeping my eye on you."
"Yeah, yeah…" I mumbled under my breath as I gazed out over the property. Everything was so green and vibrant, even in the middle of summer. With all the rain we'd been getting though I was beginning to understand why.
I turned and stole a glance in the shop when I heard the sound of an engine start. There was a big shelf taking up the entire back wall, which was cluttered with tools and boxes and cans and plastic containers and other things. My attention turned immediately to the vehicle he was now backing out. As it passed by me I saw that it was a large four-wheeler with some kind of cart hitched to the back of it.
I stood up again as he got off of it and came over to close the door again, shooting me a suspicious glance as he did. I walked over to the four-wheeler and inspected it. As I listened to the sound of the motor, I realized he didn't really have a motorcycle after all, and that this is what he used to chase me down that one day. It already seemed like a lifetime ago. Suddenly I wondered how many other things around here were not exactly as they seemed.
"Ever ridden one of these before?" he asked, suddenly next to me.
"Apparently I have."
He smiled. "Well, I promise it's more fun when you're conscious. Maybe later we can unhitch it and take it for a real spin." He climbed on and gestured for me to get on behind him. I hesitated a second before slowly complying, trying carefully not to touch him as I climbed on, which probably looked pretty awkward. It didn't matter though, there was no one watching. He drove us over to a part of the yard in front of the house that I'd never been to before and parked only a little ways into the forest.
"We'll have to walk a bit, it's too thick to drive anymore," he said, and he was right. There was no pathway in this area and the brush and trees grew too thick almost immediately upon entering. I climbed off and watched as he walked to the back of the cart and opened a bag he'd apparently put in there while I wasn't looking. He pulled out some goggles and gloves, and then put earmuffs around his neck. I was horror struck when the next thing he hoisted up was a giant chainsaw.
I told myself the idea of him murdering me out in the forest with a chainsaw was ridiculous, but my heart pounded ruthlessly nonetheless. Every horror movie I'd ever watched before started to play through my mind until he turned around and saw the tell-all look on my face. I half expected an evil grin to twist across his face, but instead he just looked away, seeming more annoyed than anything else.
He let the heavy saw swing down by his side and started walking towards me. I backed away a little, getting my hair caught in a low branch just as he brushed past me. "Come on," he called back flatly. I carefully untangled myself with quivering hands and tailed after him, feeling stupid for reacting that way but still keeping some distance between us just in case. We didn't walk far before I saw the enormous tree collapsed on its side with its roots sticking violently up out of the ground.
The chainsaw definitely made sense now. The wood was thick enough that we would definitely need it. I exhaled with relief knowing he really wasn't planning on killing me, yet. Sam walked over and began to examine it closely, apparently deciding how he was going to go about this enormous project. About half way up the trunk I could see the fence he was talking about. It too was enormously tall, or at least it was, and the top was conveniently looped with razor sharp barbed wire. Sadly, I realized I never would have had a chance at climbing over it.
"Okay," Sam said, still eyeing the log, "I'm going to start at the roots over here and work my way toward the fence. Just stay back for now, okay? When I get far enough you can start carrying the wood back to the trailer. Sound okay?" He looked at me for approval.
I gladly took a few steps back and nodded. He put the muffs up over his ears and revved the saw to life. Even standing as far back as I was, it was still uncomfortably loud, and after a while I found myself holding my hands over my ears. While Sam was busy focusing his attention on the tree, the thought occurred to me that I might try to escape where the fence was knocked down. I thought about it for a good ten minutes before finally getting the nerve to start inching my way around.
When I was about a third of the way there, the chainsaw shut off and my heart literally stopped along with it. I was a ways behind Sam but could still see him as he set the saw down and wiped the sweat off his brow with his forearm. I crouched down behind a tree and waited, unsure of my next move. If I tried to make my way back to where I was standing before, he would see me and know I'd been up to something. If I tried to make it through the fence he would certainly hear me and catch me in no time.
A third option would be to quietly sneak further into the forest and hope that eventually I'd find a way out, but I had no idea how far the fence stretched and no guarantee Sam wouldn't catch up sooner or later. None of my options sounded very good, so I simply didn't move. I hung my head and wondered why I had put myself in this situation to begin with. Why didn't I just wait until escape was certain? Hadn't I decided I was going to gain his trust first? Ugh, what was I thinking? Stupid, stupid, stupid… In the middle of scolding myself I heard Sam's voice ring out through the trees.
"Emma?" He sounded hopeful, like maybe he just wasn't seeing me but that I was still there, and not trying to run off. Part of me wanted to answer him, but I couldn't. I could hear him moving around as sticks and leaves crunched under his boots. "Emma." I heard him say again, this time more to himself. He sounded tired rather than angry, giving me enough courage to peer around the tree again.
He pulled his gloves and goggles off and tossed them down by the saw. Then he sat down on one of the larger pieces of wood he hadn't downsized yet and rested his head in his hands. "Emma, if you can hear me, please… listen."
He had my full attention. At that moment, I couldn't have run away even if my life depended on it. I wanted, needed, to hear him; to know what he had to say. My ears strained to pick up his words, closing out all other sounds so that all I could hear was his voice.
"I'm begging you not to run away from me again. Not for my sake Emma, but for yours. It's dangerous out here, and you don't even know where you are. So please be smart about this, and understand that you have a lot of things to be afraid of, but I'm not one of them, okay? I promise I'm not mad. In fact, I understand. I know better than anyone what it's like to want to run away, and I wish more than anything you didn't have to feel that way. I'm so sorry that you do, but please don't run. Please…"
There was a long pause after that last word, and I couldn't have felt more conflicted. Did he really mean it that he wasn't mad? Or was he just tricking me? I turned and glanced out at the thick forest, thinking this just might be my last chance. It didn't really matter to me that he was sympathetic to my feelings. It didn't change anything. I was still a prisoner, and he was still my captor. But, he was also right. I had no clue where I was, and not only that, I simply didn't feel like running through the brush again. It was painful enough the first time and he would likely catch up to me again anyways.
In the middle of deciding what to do I heard him get up and take a few steps in my direction. Did he see me? I wondered. Part of me hoped that he had and that my decision was made for me, but then the footsteps stopped and moved away in another direction. When I didn't hear him anymore I peered around again, but he was nowhere to be seen. The only sounds I could hear were the sounds of nature.
I sat there thinking for a few minutes until I heard a rustling deeper in the woods. At first I thought it was Sam coming for me after all, but it was coming from the wrong direction. There was a moment of silence where all I could hear was the sound of my heart beating as the hairs on the back of my neck pricked up in eerie anticipation. When I heard it again it was closer, and moving. I quickly stumbled to my feet and watched for whatever it was. Suddenly Sam's words rang through my head: It's dangerous out here. You'll die.
I heard a strange sound in the brush near me and that was enough to send me running. I didn't know if it was just my paranoid imagination or if a creature really was after me, but I wasn't about to find out. I seemed to run for only a few seconds before slamming into something hard and falling backwards painfully. I glanced up in confusion to see Sam standing there, looking equally confused.
"There's something after me!" I shrieked in full-blown panic.
He pulled me up quickly and held me close before scanning the forest behind me for whatever it was I was talking about. A few seconds later I felt his body soften slightly. "Emma, there's nothing after you."
I turned around and looked again, just to make sure. There seemed to be nothing but birds chirping and maybe a squirrel or two climbing across some branches overhead, but no monster. I slumped back around to face him, feeling embarrassed yet again. "I don't like it out here," I whined childishly.
He smiled. "Don't worry, as long as you don't go running off," he emphasized the words before continuing, "you'll be fine."
I looked up at him with big wide eyes. "So you're really not mad?"
He shook his head. "You came back and you're safe, that's all that matters."
They way he looked at me made me blush a little. I dropped my gaze and realized he was still holding my arms. He seemed to realize it too and let go abruptly even though I made no effort to pull away.
"Come on, let's start loading this wood so we can get out of here."
We both took a few trips carrying pieces of wood to the cart until eventually it was just me while he resumed his duties with the chainsaw. It didn't take long for me to become completely exhausted. I couldn't even remember the last time I did real physical work. And besides that, the wood had seemed to rough up my hands pretty good, causing some cuts and scrapes on my palms and a few splinters in my fingers. I didn't complain though, just kept going until Sam felt we'd made enough progress for the day. He turned the saw off for the last time and started carrying wood back along with me.
"Emma why don't you take a break?" he said after noticing how slow I was moving. "I can get the rest, just wait here for me."
I almost objected for the sake of seeming tough, but my hands and back were hurting just enough for me to oblige. I sat on the four-wheeler and started picking the splinters out of my hands while Sam finished up the job. The cart was practically overflowing with wood by the time he finished loading what all remained.
"What do we need all this wood for anyways?" I asked when he got back on and started the engine.
"Well we don't really need it," he admitted, "but sometimes it's nice to have a campfire, and why waste the wood?"
He drove us back across the front yard to an area not far from the gazebo he'd built and stopped next to a fire ring he'd apparently made recently. I watched as he began stacking the wood we'd just collected into a pile on the grass nearby. I groaned at the thought of picking up another piece of wood.
"What's wrong, tired already?" he joked. "We still have at least two more days of this before we can start fixing the fence."
"My hands hurt." I complained even though I told myself I wouldn't.
He frowned and came over to me, gently taking my hands up in order to examine the damage. "Oh Emma, why didn't you tell me this was happening?"
I shrugged. "It's not a big deal."
He shook his head and held my hands together in his, engulfing them. "I'm so sorry, I should've paid more attention. You can use my gloves from now on."
I couldn't help but feel good about the attention he was giving me. "But what about you?" I asked, looking up at him.
He smiled. "You don't have to worry about me Emma. I'll make do, always have."
We stood there for a moment just waiting for the other to speak until the silence became awkward.
"Um, do you want to start a fire?" he asked suddenly, dropping my hands and digging a box of matches out of his pack.
I almost laughed. "But it's the middle of the afternoon still."
"Well it'll be nice and hot for tonight then wont it? Perfect for roasting marshmallows." He gave me a big grin and handed the matches to me.
"Alright then." I walked over to the cart and picked out the smallest pieces of wood I could find before setting them up against each other in the fire ring, tee-pee style. After about five tries and six matches later, I decided cold wood wasn't exactly the best thing to start a fire with.
"Maybe some newspaper might help?" Sam suggested from behind me after seeing the trouble I was having.
My throat went dry at the thought of burning the paper I'd been so desperate to read earlier. I looked over my shoulder at him, expecting him to be joking, but he clearly wasn't. Held out in front of him was the rolled up paper.
"Is that the same one from this morning?" I asked coolly, no longer believing it had anything to do with me.
"It sure is."
I turned away again and roughly slid another match against the box. Fire engulfed the tip and I once again held it under the wood until it nearly burned my finger. I dropped it abruptly and watched as the tiny flame disappeared into a useless swirl of smoke.
"What's the matter?" Sam asked. "No longer interested?"
I shook my head irritably. "I'm not going to let you mess with my head anymore. It's cruel."
He sighed. "I'm not messing with your head Emma. I'm just coming through on our deal. I asked you to make me breakfast and you did, end of story. So here, take it."
I heard something plop down on the ground next to me. Unable to resist, I reached over and snatched it while steeling another quick glance at Sam, thinking he might try to take it back, but he was already stacking wood again. My hands shook as a surge of adrenaline went through me. Was I really about to hear from my parents? To know that they're still desperately looking for me? That they still love me?
Slowly, I unfolded the paper, my eyes skimming each page as I searched for something having to do with me. My mind spun as I neared the end, my eyes not wanting to focus properly. Did I miss it? Was he lying after all? WHERE IS IT? Frantically, I flipped back to the beginning and started scanning the pages again, this time trying not to skip anything. Then, just as I was about to crumple the whole thing up and burn it, I spotted something that made my heart drop.