As Audrey struggled through the dense fog, her bare feet rubbed against sharp rock studded soil encompassing the forest floor. Dark shapes in the understory revealed themselves to be gnarled old tree guardians, their silver and brown bark peeling in batches, littered with knotted joints and webs of branches. Branches thick enough to hold a person if they needed to go high, she thought. Despite being the month of May, the blackness around them held a slight chill of fear. She tried to shift her thoughts away from one of monsters hanging in the periphery. But the beasts were real, not childhood manifestations and they were not too far away.
It must be close to dawn, she thought as she squinted at a light orange hue beginning to permeate the blanket of mist surrounding the wooded canopy. Her fingers reached out to grasp for her companion. Another girl – an exact match– dark cream complexion dotted with tiny freckles crossing over the narrow bridge of a nose, a subtle mask framing such wide brown eyes. She had the same long limbs made for dancing in whirls through clusters of yellow and purple wildflowers and climbing tall trees, weathered split rail fences, and a wobbly ladder down the side of a red farmhouse. Like her sister, her curly chestnut brown hair was hastily sliced off to ear-length with a knife, an act they had done for each other. Anything to look different than before. The only difference between them was the bruising, Clara had a lot more bruises. The new ones, welts of bluish purple outlined in red, were on her wrists, neck and one on her left brow-bone. Older, yellowish green ones were painted over the secret parts of her body beneath the white shreds of what remained of her clothing. Audrey had the teeth marks, deeper, purple and red, savage impressions, the mark of a beast. She bore them mostly along her thighs and hips. She took some comfort in knowing that she left some of her own.
Briskly walking in the direction of the sliver of yolky sun, they silently hoped this was the way to escaping the prison of this land, headed for a world far beyond the Farm. Cracking branches and rustling sounds of wild land reminded them to be vigilant of anything that didn’t belong here in the woods besides themselves. Audrey’s eyes darted around to anything and everything that could serve as a hiding spot – fallen logs leaning against each other, uprooted trees leaving large divots in the earth, rock faces with deep impressions and curtains of tangled vines.
Audrey tried not to think about the room. In the room, her bare feet touched uneven clapboard floors, she passed countless hours counting the grains in the worn surface, memorizing the shape of the lines. Uninsulated walls of wood made her body sweat during the hot months and shiver in the cold ones. A ceiling sagged, marred with pock marks of water damage. She slept on a thin, musty cot with springs that creaked from any movement, a constant sound that soon became the background music to her and Clara’s nightmare. Three grimy windows were sealed completely shut and the remaining one was nailed only slightly open for ventilation. With hardly any breeze on the Farm during the warmer seasons, the air in the room often smelled sour from sweat, blood, dampness, and other fluids. An outward swinging plywood door revealed a tiny bathroom, barely large enough for one person. The drips from a standing sink and a leaking toilet disturbed the otherwise quiet of nights in the room. A pale pink porcelain bathtub provided a claustrophobic respite to nurse wounds. At least Clara was by her side in this hellhole of a room, neither would have survived without her twin. Despite appearing to be a device used in the Middle Ages, the black iron chains were the only thing new in the room.
Clara winced. Audrey looked over at her sister.
“How many do you think will come looking?” Clara said.
Audrey hoped that any kind of looking wouldn’t start for quite some time.
“I couldn’t guess for sure, but I imagine they will come like a pack spoiling for a fight, especially if they can get some local folks to believe their lies and join them.”
Her mind wandered to the last girl who had escaped and she mouthed her name “L-a-u-r-a” with heavy emphasis on the “A’s.” One of the beasts had shouted it somewhere outside and she had overheard it after dragging her heavy chains as close as she could get to the cracked window. It was never possible to touch or gulp the fresh air seeping in from the outside, and since the cots were flimsy, the spikes for their chains had been driven into the center of the floor. Too lazy and otherwise distracted with the horrors they were to inflict, the beasts left the floors to decay, a saving grace for Audrey and Clara.
Neither of them knew this wild terrain beyond the Farm and the land underfoot soon sloped downwards. Bruises and marks were one thing, a sprained ankle, was quite another. They could not afford such a delay. Freedom of movement was something they hadn’t experienced for a long while. After long days covered in spit, tears, and sex, the twins shared dreams of twirling in unison in spanning meadows of purple and yellow wildflowers to the strums of a fiddle. Daydreams of a honey colored little boy of five with raven colored hair and light green eyes. He plucked at his own wooden instrument of curves and strings, attempting to unlock its melody. Nearby the twins sat on a wide porch swing and singing “do, re, mi, fa, so, la, ti, do.”
Audrey glanced at her sister, assessing her fragility and how much further she could walk before she succumbed to resting her injuries.
“Watch those tree roots, last thing we need is for you to trip and knock yourself out. We don’t need any more of that happening to us.”
Sounds of large amounts of water gushing over assorted rocks perked their ears. Three car lengths from the bottom of the decline, a river came into view. Audrey remembered that rivers most often led to towns, places where silhouettes of concrete, brick and wood crowded the landscape.
“This must be the boundary of their lands,” Clara said.
“Clara, tell me the truth, can you at least float safely? See down there where the water starts to run much deeper? It is high enough to float over the rocks and let the current take us downstream without much effort on our parts. But if the river goes shallow or any deeper further down, we will need to be able to swim ourselves out.”
Audrey didn’t want to pressure her sister, but the river would move them along further and quicker than continuing on foot.
“I’m hurt, but not broken. I’ll break into a million pieces if I get dragged back to the room with those beasts.”
Audrey knew that would happen to the both of them if they didn’t get in the damn water.
“Rip off any pieces of loose fabric, you don’t want them to get caught on any rocks or branches. Remember what Mother told us about laying on back and just relaxing, don’t overexert yourself, who knows how much further we have to go.”
She dipped one bare foot into the cold, brown water and then the other. Clara splashed in beside her, a look of panic casting a shadow across her pale round face as she took in the white crests of tiny rapids in the distance.
“Easy now, take a deep breath anytime you feel anxious. I’ll be right here the whole time.” Audrey said, attempting to calm her sister. Knowing she was the better swimmer, Audrey swore to herself that she wouldn’t take her eyes off Clara as they made their way down the river. Away from the beasts they swam.
Years later, the twins leaned into each other, gazing along a lonely road of dust and grit towards an aging red brick farmhouse. Dormers hooded its two top floor windows with a hollow gaze. To the bystander, it may have seemed devoid of any of the violence one heard whispered by the locals. Clara and Audrey knew that that kind of violence left permanent scars on the spirit of a place. Dispersed throughout a matured orchard of apple trees were two simple, small log cabins, also empty. They knew three more dilapidated cabins were hidden in the woods. Cabins of rooms that still held uneven clapboard floors and chains, remnants of what transpired years before. Here is where they would meet the others, the ones who managed to escape or be saved. So they waited.