Kat blinked, it was a dark tunnel; no matter which way she looked or how much she blinked no light came. She could see the exit of the tunnel but there was no light there either, she just knew it was an exit. She forced her legs towards the exit, but it stretched further away with each of her movements. She pumped her arms to make her body move faster yet it seemed to go backwards now. There was water coming through the tunnel, sneaking in through cracks above her head. Dripping on her face, her cheeks her eyes. Dulling her senses with the bitterness of the water, she felt she was drowning. Drowning in a dark tunnel with only droplets choking her. Droplets blinding her eyes, filling her mouth, taking up every inch of her being.
“Grab my hand” The freckled girl appeared, and the tunnel suddenly had an exit. It glowed, forming a halo around the girl. Her braids swinging joyfully, her small face full of promises and she held her hand to Kat. She looked younger now, not even 8 years at most. The freckles lighter and smaller, her nose just a mere button she had baby like features. Her thin arm surprisingly strong for its frailty, how it boasted super human strength to pull Kat from the tunnel.
Another large droplet woke Kat from her dream, it was raining outside the small tent. Stephen was snoring loudly and blocking the exit, or entrance for any unwanted animals. His body was still too close to hers for her liking. Thankfully he had kept his hands to himself after that one attempt, yet she was disturbed how he was still facing her. His face was as a gentle giant, but it was not what she wanted, or so she thought. The girl in her dream was trying to rescue her, the girl was showing her the way home. Maybe it was her sister, or a child hood friend trying to remind her and save her; from herself even as she had felt something with Stephen. A flint of some type of spark, but it was the darkness that loomed heavily in her mind that kept bringing the young girl to her dreams. The memory was foggy, but the girls face remained in her mind. She wished the girl had a name, that would make everything easier. Than maybe she could ask the local sheriff if this girl had looked for her.
Katarina stared at her hands in the fog of the spring morning. The fog seeped into their tent as a wave of eeriness. The fog brought a cool dampness with it, added with the thick rain drop that was plopping through the top of the tent, Kat was chilled almost to the bone. The fire was nearly out, and Stephen was snoring softly. Her hands still looked wrinkled, they looked as though she needed some Cranberry scented moisturizer and a good spa day. Her nails were dirty and broken but that was from playing in the garden the day before. She was unsure if she wanted the garden play or a good manicure, but one thing was for sure, these were no longer her hands. Her hands were young and free, usually with paint on the nails making them sophisticated.
Kat laid in the squished tent waiting for Stephen to wake, she didn’t want to wake him from his slumber. The expression on his sleeping face was one of pure content. He was a good looking enough man, with very well-rounded skills it would seem, but she was not looking for an intimate relationship. Or any relationship for that matter, she merely wanted a living; a life. He was much older than Kat and she felt there was still something waiting for her. It was calling to her in her dreams now. Metaphorically dragging her out of this tunnel she was stuck in. Stephen had rescued her from the rising flood waters, but she was still stuck in the darkness.
She wrapped her arms around herself as she laid in the damp tent, she willed herself to remember something from her past life. The smile of the freckled girl was the only image. She seemed to always just be pulling her through the dreams. She decided she needed to speak to the town sheriff, ask about this girl. If it was such a tight nit town as Stephen described, they would know everyone and possibly she was from this town. Kat didn’t know, Stephen never said anything of knowing her, but he had apparently just moved here himself. She did recall moving with her captor, ending up in different rooms after waking from a drug induced sleep. Possibly she didn’t move far? British Columbia as the province sounded like home to her, but maybe she had lived in Vancouver or Maple Ridge previously? The city names sprung to her mind but rung no sort of resemblance to home for her. Thinking about the cement cellar again made Kat have a sinking feeling, she began feeling sick to her stomach and decided it was time to get up. She jammed an elbow into Stephen’s chest, carefully planted of course to not hurt his bear injury.
Stephen made a snorting sound and began to roll to his other side.
“I need to get up now” Katarina insisted, she didn’t want him to go back to sleep and keep her trapped inside the tent. The rain was coming harder now and dripping directly on her forehead. The weight of the droplets bringing her dream back to the forefront of her mind. She wiped the water away with a shaky hand.
“Oh, uh hmm.” He cleared his throat and pulled the silver emergency blanket off his body, causing it to slip down her body as well. The morning air stung her exposed arms now. He was fully clothed as well but the bandages showing through his shirt told that he had bled through the night. He rolled out of the tent from lack of better exit option and produced himself on all fours under the morning sun rise.
“It’s raining.” He called back to Kat, she rolled her eyes. She knew it was raining, her hair was almost soaked around her face now from the hole in the roof. She finally was able to crawl herself out and stood next to Stephen. Her back ached and she stretched next to him. He was at least half a foot taller than her even when she strained to be taller, she felt insignificant compared to him. Looking at him in the bright orangey glow of dawn, he stood as a potential protector. Sturdy and rooted in his environment, she could tell her liked her. She also had a strong inkling that there was someone or something else for her.
“Yes, and your tent leaks” She walked to the pile of glowing embers that not spat as the rain drops fell. She knelt close and tried to warm her hands on the glowing coals. Stephen immediately turned back to examine the tent.
“Shit” He spat the word, “the bear caught the corner of the tent bag. I’m so sorry, I didn’t know you were getting rained on.” Kat looked back to see Stephen sticking his hand through slits in the top. Right over top of where Kat had been sleeping. Luckily it had only woke me this morning then, she thought. She pictured herself shivering and freezing all evening if it had rained last night.
“What’s for breakfast?” Kat changed the subject, she could see Stephen tensing up as he examined the ruined tent.
“Just trail mix, we will need to pack up rather quickly with this rain.” He called back to her as he lifted the damp emergency blanket off the earth. He was wiping the wet spots onto his fleece pants before attempting to fold the flimsy blanket. “This rain will ruin the bear meat too soon”
Kat gathered a few sticks to reignite the fire, her fingers were cold, and she hated the feeling of damp hair when the weather was so chilly. Even pulling on her hood did not remove the chill that was creeping in. Her hair was so long and heavy that it would take hours now for it to dry. Her feeble attempt at restocking the fire was a failure too. She looked to Stephen to help, but he was busy packing the ruined tent back into his bag.
“What can I do to help?” She offered. He tossed her a bag of peanuts with raisins.
“Eat. You’ll need to help drag the bear out.”
Kat shot her eyes over in the direction of the huge mound of black brown fur, there was no way she had the strength to pull that thing. That heavy carcass of an animal, all the way to the sled. She shook her head just thinking about it and stuffed her hand inside the bag to examine the trail mix. She had one lonely chocolate bit in the middle of her palm. Picking the one sweet out to eat singularly, she stood and basked in the flavor for a moment. The chocolate melted on her tongue sending bright spirits all around her mouth. Endorphins spiked in her brain and she was in heaven for a split second, before returning to the brisk morning; standing in the middle of the rain. She tousled her bag around looking for more chocolate pieces and went about eating each one on its own.
She could vaguely hear Stephen moving behind her, unwrapping cords to pull the bear with, packing the gutting tools away and rolling the tent up. She closed her eyes each time she found a chocolate piece. It took her to ecstasy, sent her somewhere far away; where the braided girl was waiting for her.
“Okay, let’s go” Stephen’s voice cut through her cocoa induced visions and brought her back. The rain was coming steadier now, melting the snow faster than the sun was warming it. She dumped the remaining peanuts and raisins into her mouth in one very large mouthful. Stephen was smiling at her as she struggled to chew it all, he had everything wrapped up and ready to hike back to the bear.
Stephen made quick work of wrapping rope around the bears head, neck and chest. Bringing the ends up past the bears front legs to give the two of them more levitation when they had to pull the dead weight. He was accustomed to this type of work but could not bring this bear back to the ranch without her help. He held on of the ropes out for her, reading loud and clear on her face she was not ready for the early morning work.
“Make sure you pull with your legs. You can wrap this piece around your chest if its easier, and we’ll stop often.” He pointed in the direction where they had left the sled the day prior. He knew how far of a hike it had been, he was not about to remind her but needed her to not burn herself out right away either.
“It’s a long hike, and it will be a slow one.” Stephen wrapped his end of the rope around his shoulders and then held on to the fraying end with both hands in front of his chest. Kat mimicked how he wrapped the cord and gave a stiff nod for her readiness. The sweetness of the chocolate still lingered in her mouth, even through the saltiness of the peanuts but the achy muscles from the day before still lingered. They were sore from the rush of stress from the bear to the hardness of the bed of earth she slept on.
The hike was miserable too. The dirt floor of the forest turned to heavy mud quickly from the pounding rain. They worked in unison, pulling several feet then stopping together. The number of fallen trees suddenly seemed to all pile in one location; straight into the pathway they needed to take. The bear would slide easily through the mud, grass and leaves but every ten feet or, so they would encounter a stump. Counting to a quick three, Kat would have to double her pace to pull the animal up over the dead tree. Several times she thought to herself; garden seeds are not worth this work.
The sun was rising quickly in front of them, warming their chests but Kat didn’t need help staying temperate. She was sweating profusely from pulling the bear. Stephen didn’t talk much to her while they worked, and Kat never said a word. Other than, ‘ok stop’ when she needed a break. She was lost in the work and the thoughts of the braided girl. She was looping the picture around and around in her mind, trying to place a name. Working through every female name she could conjure to find one to match; Chelsea, Christine, Candice. April, Jade, Darla. Jessica, Kristen, Jacelyn. None of the names that came to mind fit with the girl’s face. So pretty and innocent, the names just all failed to give character to the smiling girl. Kat finally gave up and allowed her mind to go blank. The added strain of pulling such a heavy carcass seemed to be wearing down on her. Her breathe was coming shorter and seemingly harder to get in.
“I can’t go further” She dropped her rope suddenly and Stephen almost slipped face down in the mud. Stephen looked to her with concern on his face. She sank so quickly to the ground beneath her feet that he feared she collapsed.
“What is it? Are you thirsty?” He began pulling the food bag open.
“No, no.” She waved the gesture away, she just needed to sit for a moment.
“You’re pale, do you need food?” He knelt beside her. Sinking his own knees deep into the wet mucky earth, he put his hand under her chin to be sure she was okay.
“I had a dream,” She looked up at his face which was swimming with worry. “There was a girl in my dream, she’s trying to have me follow her. Last night it was a tunnel, there was no exit until she appeared.”
“Who is the girl?” Stephen asked, pulling his hand back from her face and enclosing her hands within his own. She didn’t pull back from the sweet token, she accepted the comfort he was offering.
“I’m not sure, I cannot remember her name. It’s not the first time I’ve dreamt of her though. I saw her while I was…” Kat’s voice trailed off, she swallowed hard as she didn’t want to cry. She didn’t want to shed anymore tears for that horrible man that held her. Stephen stood and wrapped his arms around Katarina. His chest felt strong and secure and she melted into his natural scent. His muscles flex to hold her up and ward away her insecurities. About who she was, who she had been or who she was going to become after being trapped in blackness for so long. Stephen’s intrepid demeanour washing away her bad memories. He blanketed her with such a simple gesture as a hug, but Kat broke her wall down in that embrace. Her emotions bubbled up until they spilt out all over Stephen’s shoulders. She began sobbing hard, her body was convulsing since she was pouring out so much fear and pent up horror. All the dismay she had held on to for so long, the wall collapsed and with it a wave of emotion. Kat was neat screaming she was crying so hard. Stephen just stood there, or half stood anyway. He was half leaning over to embrace her in the hug and squeezed tighter when she began crying.
Kat’s hair was wet and became more damp from the out pour of tears. Stephen pulled back from the embrace and pushed the hair away from her face, she felt the heat rise in her cheeks. No one had seen her cry in so many years, she feared she looked hideous in his eyes. His hand came up behind her head and pulled the hood back, Kat sniffled her tears away. She felt such a release of tension from the out cry, she lifted her hand to wipe the snot off her nose when he kissed her. She was so shocked she almost fell backward off the stump.
His left hand was on the back of her head and his right arm around her back side, stopping her from falling. Their lips locked together with an unspoken bond that had been forming, a red-hot love growing that Kat was afraid would over take her. She felt his hot breath as the kiss deepened and a warmth grew from hormones inside her. Becoming aroused from the kiss, Kat pushed her body nearer his own. His lips warm and soft were all over her face in an instant. Kissing away the tears and dampness the rain had brought. His whiskers brushed her chin and suddenly the face of the freckled girl from her dreams appeared.
The girls face flashed before her eyes, the way she called out to Kat; how she needed Kat to come home. Wherever home was, it wasn’t with this man. His strong arms held her in place and his mouth was hungry on her neck, kissing; feeling. Kat opened her mouth to say a word, she was unsure what she wanted to say. Her first instinct was no, but then the passion she felt coming off Stephen was welcoming. She hadn’t felt attention like this, she hadn’t feel desire from a real man in too long. She leaned her head back and closed her eyes to allow the moment. Welcoming the outpour of love from his conduct. His hand left her face and travelled down the front of her jacket, lifting her shirt and touching the softness of her stomach. Goosebumps covered her body as his hand travelled upwards towards her brassiere, reaching her breast. His hand engulfed the full flesh and his mouth returned to her lips. His tongue hot and ready he began pushing his body harder against hers.
“No,” she breathed the word into his mouth, but had to manage the word a second time. “No” She pulled back, slightly out of air from the passionate moment. She was trembling in anticipation, but this is not what her body needed right now. Her body needed her mind, she needed her memories and the braided girl held those secrets.
Stephen stepped back from the embrace, his face showing he wanted more but his body obeying Kat’s requested. They were both slightly out of breath, Stephen was fully aroused and trying shyly to hide himself. Kat blushed and adjusted her shirt and smoothed her hair. The moment had been sultry hot and they both looked at each other bewildered for another second before reality hit.
“We should go” Kat took the lead and stood, wrapping her rope as before; she resumed position to pull the dead weight they needed. She may have hated the work to get this bear moving, but she realized it needed to be done. Without the bear meat they would have nothing to trade in town, with nothing to trade possibly there was no trip to town and no trip meant a lost chance to speak with the sheriff. The young girl in her dreams was seemingly becoming younger for a reason as well, maybe it meant she was running out of time. The last few dreams, the girl appeared years younger each time. Kat felt the pressure of time suddenly and pulled as hard as she could on the dead beast behind her.
The hike out took everything from Katarina, by the time she could see the wooden dog sled; she was ready to pass out. Her head was light headed, there was no blood left in her arms. It had all pooled in her legs making them feel a thousand pounds more than required. She used every ounce she had left, to get the bear to the sled. Once they arrived she immediately threw her body into the leather hammock to die, or so she felt. Her throat so tight it felt as though she would throw up. Her breathe would not come in easy enough, her chest was tight with exhaustion and it made her feel more tired watching Stephen continue the work. She could see with his demeanour he was not about to ask her for more help. She could only imagine her face was pale as a ghost now, she had not moved that much in years. Kat was honestly shocked her muscles even co-operated that much.
She watched him hoist the slumped body of the bear onto the back part of the sled. The part that he usually pushes from. The extra weight of the bear sunk the sled deep into the mud. Kat felt badly for having the extra weight of her own body, but she wasn’t sure her legs would take her another step forward. She was even too tired to speak to Stephen, she just laid there as another dead body on the sled.
Closing her eyes, Kat allowed the grunting of Stephen pulling the dog sled to be the only noise affecting her. The mud squished underneath the sled weight and the sun warmed her face. She could feel even the dampness of her hair was beginning to dry, imagining the mats in her tangled hair to be thick and possibly remain undisturbed for some time now. The last thing she wanted to do was run her dirty fingers through them, she felt gross all over. Her body drained of energy could not even muster a yawn before she dozed off in the sled.
“It’s alright. I’m here for you” the soft voice was so reassuring, it came from the darkness through the cement walls. The echo of the words caressed her cheek and soothed her sorrows. Kat sobbed, chained to the bed frame; her cries unnoticed. Until the girls voice came. She couldn’t find her face only the words were here for her now. She knew she was dreaming, she willed her own voice to work; to know the girls name is all she needed. She tried to form the words and force them past her lips, but they spun out of her reach.
“Over here. I’m closer than you know” the freckled girl spoke from the dark corner but refused to show her face. The words spilled over Kat’s body as a blanket, a warm milky soap blanket covering her limbs from evil. Cloaking Kat’s body from the captor that would steal her body, take it for his own.
“This way, just, over, here.” The voice insisted, even without Kat responding to it. Kat lifted a hand and the cuff broke free, she moved her legs and they carried her to the voice. The vocals continued to ring through her mind and she was in the dark tunnel, travelling to the exit. The dialogue from the freckled girl turned to heaven clouds, ready to carry Kat to safety.
A hand woke Katarina, broke her beautiful dreams and brought her back to muscle soreness and extreme exhaustion. Stephen was stroking her cheek with the back side of his hand, so gentle yet Kat wanted him to stop. She wanted him to fix the truck and go to town immediately. Her body was too tired to move, her lips refusing to stop quivering long enough to speak. She just looked up at Stephen and he wrapped his arms around her. He lifted her from the leather hammock and carried her into the house. She wanted to tell him to stop, to turn around and put her in the truck. She wanted him to drive her to the sheriff, she needed to find this girl. Kat’s mind was pushing her to find the girl, but her body was slack in Stephen’s strong arms. Her eyes closed even before he placed her in the bed, she was so tired. Not tired past the point of feeling the kiss he placed on her forehead, his lips lingered a moment longer before she fell back into her wishful dream.