Cindy’s New Profession
by Bill Kowaleski
Cindy pulled off county road DK onto a logging track, locked her rusty pickup, and walked the final quarter mile to the cabin. Even in the bright afternoon sunlight, even when she was right under it, the hunting platform was still well hidden. She scrambled up the tree and sat facing the cabin, then pulled a pair of binoculars from the ragged knapsack she’d used since grammar school, and focused them.
Six enormous oak logs lay lined up like giant matches in a box next to what appeared to be a large section of pipe, perhaps ten feet long. Beside the logs was a pulley from which dangled a heavy rope holding a sling. Sean was in the process of fitting the sling onto one of the logs, breathing heavily, struggling to lift the log even the tiny amount necessary to fit the sling under it.
He turned a lever on the pulley. She could faintly hear humming and the log slowly rose. Now Sean stepped to the pipe, which she could see was mounted on four wheels. He rolled it so the end of the log sat inside the pipe, fitting easily into its eight-foot circumference. He took three steps back and opened his mouth as though to speak, but what she heard from him were chirps and whistles, sounds like those she’d heard at the dolphin show at Sea World.
Fear rose in her, she considered climbing down and escaping, but this was why she was here, to check him out, observe him when his guard was down.
“Hang in there, Cindy,” she said to herself. “Just stay still, don’t make a sound.”
As he chirped, what appeared to be a control panel with a large screen materialized at the side of the pipe. It didn’t emerge from the ground or from the pipe, it just appeared. Using both hands, Sean rapidly tapped the screen. She heard a whirring sound grow in volume, then the inside of the pipe darkened and began swirling as though a tiny tornado had formed inside. The log began to slide into the pipe, more and more of it, until it was entirely consumed. But nothing emerged from the other end, neither the log nor any chips.
She took a deep breath and held it, repressing the urge to cry out in shock. By now Sean had maneuvered the second log to the pipe. For the next twenty minutes she watched him methodically feed each log into the mysterious device and make it disappear.
When the logs were gone, Sean turned and walked to the cabin, stayed inside less than a minute, and then emerged carrying what looked like a metal briefcase. He calmly walked right into the pipe. As soon as he was gone the quiet whirring faded to silence, the control panel evaporated, the black tornado swirls calmed. It was just a section of pipe again, unremarkable except for the wheels it sat on.
She couldn’t simply leave now, she had to look at that pipe. She carefully approached the clearing. First she circled it, then stood right in front of the opening, staring through it, cautiously waving her hand inside, taking one tentative step into the dark interior, looking for any evidence of the six logs, but not a chip, branch, or sliver showed anywhere. It looked and felt like nothing more than a common conduit, the type that channeled Bison Creek under County DK. There was nothing more to see so she turned to the cabin.
It was a simple rectangle of tan-stained pine logs, big enough for a kitchen, living room, and two small bedrooms in the back. She tried the front door, but the knob wouldn’t turn. Then she noticed that one of the bedroom windows was slightly open. She stood on tiptoes and pushed on the screen. It fell away, summersaulting on the sandy soil, coming to a rest six feet from her. The window slid open easily.
She grabbed the ledge, pulled herself up and looked inside. The bed was covered with what looked like clothing and something else, but it was too dark to see. She’d always been athletic, it would be a simple matter to scramble through the window. Why not?
Her eyes quickly adjusted to the dark bedroom’s interior, and when she looked more closely at the scattered items on the bed, she gasped. Among the women’s and men’s clothing lay two incredibly lifelike masks. One was of a beautiful, blonde woman. The other was the face of Jason Wise.
She’d never seen such perfect masks. They seemed to be made of live skin. She softly touched the Jason Wise mask and as her fingers contacted its surface, the material adhered itself to her, molding itself to the shape of her fingers. At the same time a flood of images filled her brain, images of a place she’d never seen: a pale magenta sky, fantastic metal machines flying in the air, bulbous-headed people with enormous black eyes and unnaturally thin limbs walking calmly along golden pathways among brilliant, strange flowers.
She ripped the mask off of her hand and the images vanished. “Holy Christmas!” she muttered. “What was that?!” And then she heard the front door open.
No chance to climb out, she had to duck under the bed and hope he wouldn’t notice the open, screenless window. But when she slid under the musty bed, the accumulation of years of dust stirred up and into her nose. She sneezed before she could even think to repress it. And then she sneezed two more times.
His feet entered the room, stopping within inches of her eyes. “OK, I heard you. Come out, I’m armed!”
Copyright © 2012 by Bill Kowaleski