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The engine smelled hot. That was kind of an odd thing to say, but when you got a whiff of it, it made sense. Autumn eased back on the throttle and coasted a bit to see if the temperature gauge would go down. When it held firm in the red zone, she knew she had to stop the car.
She eased safely to the side of the road and found a fairly level area that offered a little shade. It would be bad enough working under the hood without the sun beating down on her head while she did it.
It was quiet without the CD going, but she didn’t want to risk running the battery down. She was bored with the one random CD she found in the glove compartment, but she had played it over and over trying to fill the silence between good radio stations out here in the middle of nowhere.
Autumn always carried a full tool kit in the car. It was one of the first lessons her Dad had taught her way back when she was just learning to drive. “You can’t fix everything on one of ’em Autumn, but you damn sure can’t if you don’t have tools.”
She missed her Dad. Sometimes she wondered if he looked down at her from Heaven and smiled when she won a race. She bet he did. She could just feel it sometimes.
The billow of smoke that rolled out from under the hood wasn’t a good sign. That was a fluid leak of some kind and fluids were hard to replace out here. The winding roads in this stretch of Mississippi were a real test of a drivers skill. It was an unforgiving place to make an error.
Hoping against hope, she pulled her cell phone from her pocket and watched it search vainly for a signal. There’s no signal for 50 miles, she thought. There’s no need for one, there’s no people for 50 miles either.
After a little time passed, the engine was cool enough for an inspection. It wasn’t good news. She wasn’t going to fix this problem with a piece of duct tape or something cobbled together from her tool kit. This needed a serious shop and some factory parts.
Now her choices were stay by the car or walk. She knew the right answer was to sit tight by the car, but she just felt lucky. I’ll walk down this mountain and keep my eyes open for a home or a car. Anything beats just sitting there.
She tried whistling, she tried counting her steps, she tried damn near everything to pass the time as she walked but nothing really helped. She was starting to have real doubts about the wisdom of her choice. If she stopped now and had to hike back up to the car, it was really going to suck. If she walked downhill for another hour and then changed her mind, it was going to suck even more.
Autumn sat on a rock, her feet dangling out into nothingness, and thought about her situation. Even a hard, hot rock felt good to sit on after the long walk. After a while, she felt her head nod and knew it was time for a decision. She was going to fall asleep where she sat if she didn’t get moving one direction or the other. She weighed her alternatives and made up her mind. It was back up the mountain.
Before she left, she took one last look around at the wonderful view. There were miles and miles of evergreens looking like an undulating green carpet broken only occasionally by bare spots or the blue-ish white of a gurgling stream. She traced the water a little ways through the forest and stopped. Was that smoke?
Autumn stood and shaded her eyes with her hands. There! Right on that little rise there was a cabin nearly hidden by the trees. The creek took a little bend right there and probably made a real nice little fishing spot.
Hmm, it would be risky going cross country, but any plan was better than sitting and hoping. She might lose her direction once she lost her lofty vantage point, but as long as she kept walking, she should eventually find the creek and she could follow it to the cabin.
She knew she should walk back up to the car and leave a note in case anyone found it, but the prospect of walking downhill was much more inviting than walking uphill. Autumn stepped off the road and began her hike/slide over the side. The dense trees kept her from falling too far or often, but they slowed her progress as she pinballed down the hill ricocheting from one to another.
It seemed like hours but the land began to level out somewhat. The air was rich with the resiny smell of the trees and yes!, a hint of smoke. She couldn’t see the smoke, but she trusted her instincts had kept her course true. She imagined what the smoke meant. In this heat, it wasn’t a fire for warmth, it was for cooking. Fresh trout on a cedar plank, Venison with wild field greens, heh, it probably wasn’t anything gourmet like that, but at this point, a bologna sandwich would be enough to make her happy. Something tasty was nearby and she couldn’t wait to get it.
Autumn found the stream and began to follow it to the west. The smell of smoke was strong now, so she felt like she was close, and hopefully getting closer. She cupped her hands and drank deeply from the cool clear water. It was like ice and she felt it trace her insides and cool her seks hikayeleri all the way down.
Autumn took her shoes off and waded in the stream. The cool water refreshed them and man, were her feet tired. The river rocks were worn smooth after hundreds if not thousands of years of constant polishing against each other. If this was a vacation, it would be a perfect place. It was only when she reminded herself where she was and why she was there that the illusion faded.
Thirty minutes or so later, she saw the cabin. Rustic was one thing, but barely erect was another. This place looked like a drunk built it armed with only a pocket knife. Well, who’s going to be picky at this point. Her stomach told her it wasn’t going to be her.
Autumn walked into the clearing and called out, “Hello?”
Autumn had been expecting some crazy old coot looking like every gold prospector they ever cast in the movies, but she was surprised when a guy in his mid 20’s and relatively handsome poked his head out of the lone window and stared at her. His dark hair was short and looked like he cut it himself.
He wore a flannel shirt under a well-worn pair of overalls and a rugged pair of hunting boots. She wished she had had his outfit for the walk down here. Her light white cotton pants and short sleeve shirt were fine for a ride in the car, but they were really abused by the thorns and brush on the way down here. At 23, Autumn had been the object of plenty of stares in her day, but this guy was different. He was looking at her like she was an alien.
Her shirt had a large tear on the right shoulder and the smooth satin of her baby blue bra shone through. Her pants had mud spatters across the legs and had gotten almost completely wet. Yes, her white pants were thin enough to go see-through when they were wet. She could see a little baby blue showing down there too. She wasn’t going to win any fashion shows today.
She had continued to walk toward the cabin and now was within reach. She extended her hand and said, “Hi, I’m Autumn Austin. My car broke down up on the road and I’d sure appreciate your help.”
He continued to stare at her. Autumn began to wonder if he was able to speak or understand English.
He had a smell, not exactly stinking, but not far from it. It was obvious he worked hard and probably didn’t bathe often.
Now she tried to communicate again with hand motions, mimicking using a steering wheel, walking fingers, pointing down from the road.
“I understand ya, Ma’am. I just don’t rightly know why you’d be driving out here with no man in the first place. And what made you decide to come down here?”
Wow. Just wow. ‘Driving out here with no man’, the thought echoed through her mind. What a stupid thing to say.
“Yes, well, I was out here driving by myself, but I’d sure appreciate using your phone, or any-“
“Ain’t got no phone.”
“-help you could give me.”
For the first time, Autumn began to worry. This was something out of Deliverance. “You know what? I think I’m gonna hike back out of here and wait by my car. I’m sure help will be along soon. As a matter of fact, when they see I’m late, they’ll start driving out this way to find me, so I better get back up there.”
“I don’t think so.”
Oh shit, oh shit, oh shit, why hadn’t she put her shoes back on after wading in the creek? If she tried to run now, she’d cut her feet to ribbons on the sticks and briars that littered the underbrush. And she was thinking of running, make no mistake about that. “What do you mean?”
“It’s too dark to start a climb up the mountain now. Be a good way to break your damn fool neck, climbing in the dark.” He spoke slowly, like he considered every word and regretted having to waste them on her.
It was dark. What was she going to do?
The answer was made evident when she heard the footsteps behind her. Coming up from the other side of the cabin was a larger man, possible a little older. He sported a full beard and longer shaggy black hair. Strapped across his back was the gutted carcass of a deer.
He regarded them both with a curious look and continued on to the cabin. He hung the meat on a hook she hadn’t noticed before. “What’s she doing here?”
“She drives, she said. Got a car up on the road with a problem.”
“Yes, I’m actually a racer. Car racing.”
“Don’t expect there’s many people to race around here. Seems kind of silly to race in a car with a problem.”
Why do these idiots keep making her feel like the stupid one? What is it with these people?
“Are there any other people around here?” Autumn asked.
“Nope, it’s just us, pretty much.”
Autumn shivered. The cooler evening air was chilling her exposed and wet parts and she was none too warmly dressed to begin with.
“I reckon we need to get you out of those clothes now.”
Her eyes got wide and she considered a frantic dash. There was no way she could outrun two of them in their terrain, and where would she run to?
“You go on in there and find y’self something dry to wear. We’ll wait out here.”
Autumn was relieved that she had the wrong impression once again, but her senses were still tingling. She’d get some idea from them of where civilization was and tomorrow she’d run. She just had to make it to tomorrow.
Autumn closed the door behind her and waited. Peeking through the door cracks, she made sure they weren’t moving to follow her. Not yet anyway. How long should she wait and watch?
Bah, get a hold of yourself Autumn, you’re imagining problems where there aren’t any. You were lucky enough to find a couple of people in the middle of nowhere, and now you’re wishing they were gone.
She saw a well-worn flannel shirt and a patched-up pair of jeans on one of the beds and, after a quick sniff, she ventured to try them on for size. A moments hesitation- leave the wet panties and bra on and be miserable or go commando around strangers? She decided to be dry and comfortable. She wadded up her wet underclothes and carried them outside with her.
The two men didn’t stare at her or whistle the way she thought they might. They didn’t really react at all. She was just a strange woman who dropped in on their cabin in the middle of nowhere.
Autumn went out a little ways into the forest to lay her things out on a rock and a low leafy bit of brush. Her satin baby-blue underwear from Victoria’s Secret really looked out of place there. She shrugged, it was out of place, but she was going to get it, and her, out of here tomorrow.
The sun had dipped beneath the mountain and an orange-ish glow coated the clearing. The men were standing right where she had left them.
“I don’t reckon the moon is going to dry them clothes very quickly tonight” the dark one said.
“Well, I thought maybe the wind dry them.”
The dark one and his friend both looked slowly around them. Of course there was no wind at all blowing in the wooded valley. “Well, it might, but if it was me, I’d put ’em inside by the stove.”
Autumn opened her mouth but realized there was nothing intelligent to say back to that. She really was acting like a stupid city girl around these mountain men.
She wasn’t used to making mistakes, especially this many around people she had been looking at with contempt just a bit earlier. Well, there’s a difference between intelligence and animal survival instincts, or woodsmanship, or whatever they had that she didn’t. Let’s see how they act trying to spend a day in NYC.
Now back at the cabin again, Autumn started to go inside and hang her panties and bra up. You know what Autumn? Just ask them what the best way is to do this instead of making another dumb mistake. She was surprised that she thought to humble herself and get their advice, but it probably was for the best. It sure didn’t look like they were going to offer any advice. You’d think they paid for each word they said.
“Is there a certain place or way I should hang them up in there? I don’t want them in your way or dripping on anything.”
“Well, I suppose I’d put ’em over on the drying rack.”
A few second pass. “I’m afraid I don’t really know what a drying rack looks like. Would you show it to me?”
“Ayup.” and he walked into the house with her. Autumn followed him inside and saw him walking toward a few narrow twigs braced lengthwise against the bed frame. Now that she saw him walking toward it and had heard it’s name, she could imagine it would be pretty good for drying things. Not too close, nor too far from the pot-bellied stove in the center of the room. That would warm the bed nicely.
Now that darkness had begun to descend, food and sleep were on her mind. Neither appeared to be available quickly. There were two single beds in the cabin, both unmade and dirty. Even if either of them volunteered a bed, she wasn’t sure she’d want it.
She placed her things on the rack and thought to herself. Man, if I thought my panties and bra looked out of place out there, that was nothing. It seemed like they were the only brightly colored thing in the whole cabin. She blushed brightly as she imagined their slow unspoken thoughts when they saw them on the rack. Maybe they’d dry quickly if she hurried and got the fire going.
She realized she hadn’t even asked their names. “Oh, I’m so sorry, I haven’t even introduced myself. I’m Autumn.” Autumn walked toward him and extended her hand.
“Could I help with the fire or something?” she offered.
“You pretty handy starting fires, are you?”
“Well, yes, I could manage that I think.”
“Ok, you go ahead then.” and he walked toward the door.
“Wait! Where do you keep the matches and kindling, err, or does this use coal?” Autumn looked hurriedly around the room and began to pull open the doors on the stove hoping for a clue as to how it operated.
“Hmm. You didn’t bring any matches with you when you went off into the woods?”
Autumn bit off several replies and finally settled on, “It was a terrible mistake to drive through this area without being prepared. I don’t have anything with me so I have to count on you and your generosity until I’m safe.” It was awkward to say, but she felt like anything less than a complete admission of uselessness would only give them something else to make her feel foolish.
Nodding, “Well, I reckon I can get the fire going easier than telling you about it. I don’t s’pose you know how to dress a deer either?” he said while pointing out to the porch.
“I’ll, uh, go see if I can figure it out.” Autumn walked out the door. Maybe she’d try talking to the other one out there. He was quiet, but at least he didn’t make her feel so dumb.
The door creaked open and Autumn saw the blond guy sitting on a stump. Let’s try this again.
“I really appreciate you guys helping me. My name is Autumn, by the way. What’s yours?”
“Well, I guess you could call me Ben.” He didn’t rise, or respond to her offered hand. He just sat there whittling on a piece of wood with a huge dirty knife.
“Umm, well I was telling your friend that I really messed up by not having any tools, or really, any know-how about surviving in case I had an accident out here, but if there was some way I could help with dinner or anything, I’d be glad to help.”
The big knife kept working, leaving a little pile of fresh chips at his feet. “You planning on staying here for dinner?”
Autumn was taken aback. “Well, yes, I’d appreciate it if I could. You see, I need some food, and a warm place to sleep until tomorrow.” She decided to spell out everything to them. Did they really not understand or were they just enjoying humiliating her?
“And some dry clothes.”
“Yes, and some dry clothes.”
“Only got two beds in there, you know.” He still hadn’t looked up at her. The white pile of chips at his feet grew larger as he fashioned the wood into something vaguely animal-like.
Now it was her turn to avert her eyes. “Yes, I’ll sleep on the floor, if you’ll let me.”
“Ain’t got no extra blankets or pillows you know.” Whick, whick, whick, the large blade bit into the soft wood.
“That’s ok, I’ll just sleep on the floor.”
“You don’t look like you’re in much of a hurry for dinner” the dark one called as he walked out on the porch. Belatedly, Autumn remembered she was supposed to be offering to help cut the meat up or whatever you do with meat before you cook it.
“Oh, Ben, would you show me how to fix the meat? I told him I’d help, if someone would show me how.”
“You gonna cook for both of us or just one?” Ben asked.
“She’s wearin’ my clothes Ben.” came the reply from the porch. The soft volume of his reply did nothing to mask the edge in his voice.
Now Ben looked up. Autumn wanted to clutch the borrowed clothes tightly around her and hide. She felt like they were talking in some kind of backwoods code or speaking about some pioneer ritual she couldn’t even begin to imagine. Whose clothes she wore and who she cooked for- How could a world this odd exist in the 21st century so close to the world she knew?
Silence grew in the clearing and Autumn wasn’t sure who was supposed to say something. She decided to try. “I don’t think I understand your ways out here, but if I’ve done anything out of place, I didn’t intend to. I just needed some temporary help, friendly help, tonight, and I’ll be gone. I can probably just wait till tomorrow and get something to eat in town.”
Darkness had almost claimed the valley now. The cries of insects and animals had begun sometime earlier but now in the silence they seemed to gain volume. Autumn felt like they were calling out to her, warning her.
The finished a meal of some kind of stew, Autumn did NOT ask what it was. An uneasy silence settled upon the group.
“You go’n in there and get yourself ready.” Cletus motioned toward the cabin with a nod of his head. “Ben and I got a little talkin’ to do.”
Autumn’s head was a swirl with thoughts. Ready for what? What are they talking about? Should she just run for it? Would that make them angry?
Cletus glowered at her delay so she gulped and ran into the cabin. She could think just as well in there and there was no need in angering the man if he was offering hospitality.
Autumn looked for a place to lay down. It really boiled down to laying in the floor beside one of the men’s beds. It was far from roomy in the cabin and things were piled in the few open spaces it offered.
Or you could sleep in one of the beds, she thought, joking with herself. It was a horrible thought, but it helped that she wasn’t so paralyzed with fear that she could at least smile a little. The blond one might clean up nice she thought, thinking back to the way his muscles had rippled in a fine sheen of sweat when she watched him work.
Autumn, you are seriously nuts if you just thought that, she said to herself. One night, just make it through one night and you’ll be back to your car and out of here.
Outside, Autumn heard a loud shout and the sounds of a fight. Rushing to the door and peering through a crack, she saw Ben and Cletus circling warily.
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