The air around Laika felt stagnant, sickly even, as she sighed and reclined against the rough bark of a tree. The sound of flint hitting steel distracted her ears from the atmospheric sounds of the woods around her, if only for a moment. Puffy clouds of smoke rose from her lips and the cigarette held between them as she surveyed the crowded greenery. I couldn’t have walked that far, right? She thought to herself, clicking the lighter shut and exhaling.
Laika’s face twitched, her soft features briefly contorting in a taut picture of unease, before shifting back to her normal cool demeanour. “Might as well see if I can find my way back,” she muttered around her hanging cigarette, grunting through the minor exertions of standing. Her old army boots crunched twigs and flattened grass into the mucky dirt below as she began to stride forwards.
Of all the places to move, the South had to have been the last choice she would have ever made, followed closely by the Midwest. And yet there she was, several months after being dragged from the city and the more bearable weather by her parents and refusing to adjust. Even a simple walk in the woods for some much needed alone time had become a meandering wander through unknown nature, not even made tolerable by cool air or a pleasant breeze. This air hung, heavy and soup-like. It felt oppressive, almost solid as Laika practically walked against it.
She cussed under her breath, discarding the stubby remnants of her cigarette and savouring the warm feeling of smoke slowly roiling in her lungs and throat. Soft tendrils slithered from her nostrils, her shoulders dropping with release. It felt like the tension was, momentarily at least, leaving her to coil in the humidity before dispersing out of sight.
It was still daylight, with angular beams of sunlight glistening in the spaces between the trees. Laika knew, however, that if she didn’t get her bearings soon she’d end up wandering alone in the dark, which was far from ideal. Well, as long as she didn’t choke to death on the damned humidity first. Maybe leaving my phone home to charge wasn’t such a great idea after all. She thought to herself, mentally sighing at her own stupidity.
She couldn’t believe how turned around she’d become, just by wandering off a path in her new neighbourhood. There wasn’t much time to berate herself over it though, she had to focus on reaching the edge of the woods. Even if it wasn’t her house or even her neighbourhood she would (hopefully) at least be in some semblance of civilisation. So she walked on, losing track of time as she went, feeling the soft tones of night gradually encroaching on her visibility.
“Fuck,” she muttered aloud, realising there was no way to avoid spending the night in the woods. Her legs were beginning to pulse, aching tension telling her to rest, but where?
Through the foliage she spotted an unnatural shape. It was boxy and angular, standing in sharp contrast to the curves and chaos of the wilderness around it. As Laika approached she found herself facing an old wood house. For something she’d just stumbled upon in the middle of nowhere it actually looked quite nice, with a fairly sturdy air about the structure.
The house wouldn't have seemed quite as out of place if it had been wrecked and dilapidated. A corpse of a home definitely would have felt more appropriate for the middle of the woods, and yet Laika stood there puzzling over the relatively decent condition of the building. She approached with a subdued wariness to each movement. The weight of each step was suddenly so hyper focused that she could feel her body’s weight pressing down into her feet.
She walked up to the side of the building, peering into its shadowy interior through a window beside the door. It looked like no one had lived there for a while despite the overall lack of damage. She stewed for a moment, biting her lip nervously as she considered spending the night in the old home. The likelihood of a slasher flick villain lurking within seemed illogical, but threatening nonetheless.
After a few moments standing in place, turning it over in her head as the darkness thickened around her she finally gave in. With renewed purpose to her stride, and artificial confidence to stave off the doubt, Laika stepped forwards and took hold of the handle. There was an almost imperceptible moment of hesitation before the knob turned and the door opened with an uncomfortably loud creak.
She plunged into the darkness, shadows enveloping her, slowly coating her in an inky black miasma. It had been her intention to turn and run her hand along a wall in the off chance that there may be a working light switch of some sort near the door. Instead she found herself experiencing the sickening sensation of falling.
She shuddered, groaning in the emptiness. It was dark enough that for a split-second she was seized by the panicked thoughts of going blind. After a brief moment of hyperventilation Laika reasoned with herself. It was the middle of the night in an abandoned house in the middle of nowhere, of course it was going to be dark. She could feel something pressing against her. Had she passed out while leaning on the door? Now that just seemed odd. Without a second thought she reached down and twisted the knob.
The door opened, uncaring as its user tumbled out, disappearing into a small cloud of dust and sand she’d kicked up. It swung shut, a loud slam that reverberated far off into the distance followed by the small footnote of a click. Laika groaned, already thoroughly sick of being thrown about today. She curled inwards only to finally register the heat and uncomfortable coarseness of the sand beneath her.
Sand?! Laika’s eyes split open, suddenly blinding her as if she hadn’t seen the sun in days. Blinking almost as rapidly as she was breathing she looked around. It was nothing but desert for countless kilometres in every direction. Craggy brown rock formations and skeletal shrubbery were the only variations she could see as the rolling dunes stretched outwards.
End Part I