In the Woods

This story was inspired by a random prompt that I found on the internet…

**

Darius shivered and then sat up.  He blinked slowly as he tried to make sense of what he was seeing.  He was outside, that much was obvious.  It was why he’d been cold when he’d awakened.

All around, he could see old pines, their lower branches dead and bare.  He was sitting – had been lying – in matted grass and moss.  As he stood, he realized that he was barefoot and wearing his pajamas.

Not far away, he saw two others – a man and a woman.  They both appeared to be sleeping, curled up in the grass and moss of the forest floor.  Like him, they were dressed for bed.  Turning away from them, he saw another woman silhouetted in the darkness.  She was turned away from him, wearing a flowing white nightgown.

“Hello,” Darius said, stepping carefully over to her.  “Do you… remember how we got here?”

She turned to face him and grimaced.  Shaking her head, she pointed over to a circle of trees.  At the center of the ring of trees, there were four boxes.  “It might have something to do with those,” she said, her voice faint.

Darius padded through the grass to where the boxes were set.  He blinked when he saw that one of them had his name written across the top.  He turned back to the woman and grimaced.  “Nora Hagen,” he said, “or Sofia Skalas?”

“Sofia,” she replied, stepping over to him.  Her brows furrowed and she raised her gaze to meet his eyes.  “Our names are on them?”

“I’m Darius Balchunas,” he said, nodding.  He glanced over towards where the other two were still asleep.  “She must be Nora Hagen and he’s Timo Koskinen.”

Sofia nodded slowly.  “Should we open our boxes or wake them up and… open them all together?” she asked, her voice soft.

Darius shrugged and then grabbed the lid of his box.  He eased it up carefully, ready for some sign that it was a trap of some sort.  However, nothing happened as he removed the lid and he set it to one side.  Inside, he saw an odd assortment of items.  There was a watch, a small piece of fabric and a fuzzy yellow chick – the sort that peeped when you touched the bottom.

He scowled and looked over at Sofia.  Like him, she had opened her box and was examining the contents.  “What did you find?” he asked, shaking his head.

“A broken clock, a bumper sticker and… this,” she said.  She lifted the item out of the box and it peeped as she held it.

Darius looked more closely at the watch.  It was stopped at ten minutes after four.  His eyes widened as he remembered the significance of that time.  He looked at the piece of fabric again.  It was the Allemani flag.  He took a shuddering breath and then looked sharply at Sophia.  “Did you survive… a massacre at a Haven?” he whispered.

Sofia stared at him for a moment.  Then, she looked down at the box again and nodded.  She drew out the bumper sticker.  It was a vibrant yellow with the words, “New Mexico, Land of Enchantment” written across it.  “My family lived in New Mexico,” she said, her voice soft.  “We… were the only family that escaped from the Haven out there.”

“We weren’t the only family,” Darius said, grimacing.  Then, he shook his head.  “There weren’t many families that made it through intact, though.  My mother…” he trailed off, unable to finish the thought.  Then, he cleared his throat and said, “but both of my brothers made it, as did our cousins.”

He held up the watch.  “The Massacre of Havensburg happened just as the kids were getting home from school,” he said.  “It started at ten minutes after four in the afternoon.  I… I was able to save my cousins and my brothers because I’m the Hammer.  I sensed it.”

“Me too,” she breathed.  She looked at the broken clock again and nodded.  “I didn’t even know what time the massacre happened.  I just… it was the middle of the night.  I woke up my cousins and got them out of there.  I didn’t have time…” she trailed off and then looked over at Darius.  Shaking her head briskly, she said, “There wasn’t time to save anyone else!”

Darius grimaced and then whistled loudly, startling both Nora and Timo awake.  They looked at each other and quickly got to their feet.  Immediately, they were speaking in rapid-fire Scandian.  “Hey,” Darius called.  They broke off to stare at him.  “Clearly, you two know each other.  Are you Hammers?”

“Yes,” Nora said, as she gingerly made her way over to them.  She frowned at the boxes and then at Sofia.  Turning back to Darius, she said, “What’s this?”

“Someone brought us here and left these boxes with our names on them,” Darius said, shrugging.  As Nora opened her box, he said, “Did you survive a Haven massacre?”

“Yes,” Timo breathed, as he joined them.  He took a deep breath and nodded.  In a fuller voice, he added, “We both did… the same massacre.”

“If the little peeping chick is anything to go by,” Sofia said, as Timo opened his box, “whomever brought us here thinks we’re cowards.”

“Excuse me?” Nora said, her voice taking on a harsh edge.

“Chicken,” Darius said, holding up his little peeping chick.  He nodded and glanced at Sofia.  “I think you’re right.  I can’t agree with the assessment.  My case was the same as yours: there wasn’t time enough to warn anyone else.  As it was, my brothers barely made it out of there alive.”

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