Agatha hefted the heavy axe high above her head and swung down with all her might, cleaving the log in front of her clean in half. Then she threw the two halves into the growing pile of chopped wood at her feet and picked up another large log to chop. At that very moment, a sudden bright flash lit up the dull, overcast evening.
Startled out of her thoughtless state, Agatha surveyed the sky, seeing now that while she’d lost herself chopping wood for her fire, dark heavy clouds had gathered to the west, forming an ominous wall that was emitting deep rumbling sounds from within as it drifted closer.
Suddenly, another lightning bolt loosed from the darkening sky, lighting up the trees effervescent green and spurring Agatha to motion as a ground-shaking thunderclap followed soon after. Gathering the firewood in her arms, she worked quickly; as a mountain woman accustomed to the wild outdoors and the volatility of nature. By the time the rumbling clouds were overhead, she’d battened down the hatches and was cocooned in her little cabin, a pot of stew keeping warm in the embers.
“Hmm,” she sighed in contentment, poking a stray piece of coal back into the fireplace. She would never get tired of this life she thought — the mountains, the freedom that came with self-reliance and most of all, the peace. How did one live in those cities?
“You don’t live…you survive,” she murmured, thinking of the few trips she made every three months into town to stock up on things she needed and couldn’t make for herself. There was always such misery, concentrated in the people trying to eke out a living in such a small space. And now with that strange pandemic, she’d heard about, the country-wide lockdown.
The thunder outside boomed as the steady patter of rain, which had started as a drizzle and grown as the night deepened, now became an outright downpour. Lightning illuminated the inside of the cozy cabin now and again, causing the darkness that followed to seem even deeper seeing as her cabin was lit only by the fire and two lone kerosene lamps.
None of it bothered Agatha. She knew she was safe, tucked into the mountainside, high up above a pristine valley where the gurgling stream outside her door ended as a snaking river. She had weathered many storms before, and though this one beat ferociously down, she unhurriedly stirred her stew, toasted a thick slice of bread she’d baked earlier that week and proceeded to relish every bite of the hot savoury meal.
“Mhmm,” she licked her lips, “that was so good.” Putting her feet up, she sat dozing by the fire, watching the dancing flames…then sat up with a start as she realised she had forgotten her axe outside. With its wood handle, it would be ruined! Her only axe! Jumping to her feet despite her full belly, she put on her heavy coat and slipped on her boots and ventured out into the torrent.
Outside, the wind blew wildly so that the raindrops came down at a slant, whipping hard against her body. Agatha hurried — carefully as the treacherous slopes were even more dangerous now that they were sodden — down to the chopping block a few feet from her cabin. It was pitch blackout, and she fumbled around on the ground before finding the axe.
Turning to head back to the warmth of her fire, she spotted two tiny spotlights moving in the dark, far in the distance. It was a steep slope with not much easy ground, so hikers mainly kept to the eastern slopes, venturing to the west only in certain places, far away from where Agatha lived.
“Maybe they’re lost?” she muttered as she ran back to her cabin and shut the door against the rain. But a clammy feeling had settled over her that had nothing to do with the wet or the cold.
It was easy to get lost in these mountains. But even so, why were they out hiking? The nationwide lockdown to deal with the strange new disease hadn’t been lifted, and the small town bordering the mountains had only farmers…so who were these people, and what were they doing up here?
Agatha paused for a moment, caught between dismissing the whole affair and her instincts, and decided on the latter. Kicking ash into the fire to extinguish it, she threw off the heavy coat and quickly put out both kerosene lamps. Then she barricaded the door, dragging her heaviest chair and table over and pushing them against it.
Panting from the effort, Agatha shuffled over in the dark to the mantle above the fireplace and lifted down her shotgun, already loaded, and waited. The only sounds were of the raging gale outside, the howling of the wind and the roar of the rain. Then, she heard panicky shouts and her hunter’s ears, accustomed to the slightest sounds, strained to catch the conversation.
“I swear it was right here!”
“I know, I saw it too! Could we have gone round a bend or something?”
“A bend? Don’t be foolish, did you feel like we went round a bend?!”
“Hey man, relax! I’m just saying in this blasted storm, who can tell?”
“Well, shut up if you have nothing to contribute. Arggh! I’m going to kill that peasant…”
“You think they saw us coming?! Turned off the lights?”
“Well, either that or they went to sleep real fast…damn them!”
“What’ll we do? We can’t go east…the cops are sure to have a barricade there for tourists!”
“We keep going! We’re getting through the city border, no matter how!”
The voices were fading fast, moving farther west into the clump of tall pine trees. They’d be completely lost in no time, and Agatha doubted whether they’d find their way out before hunger or a leopard got to them.
Imagine that. Things were so bad with the lockdown that people were now risking it all, running into the countryside, and scaling mountains to escape!