“Babe, could you please check outside?”
Beck sighed as he picked up the two cups of tea and carried them back to the small table in front of the couch. His foot caught on the bear rug’s protruding ears and he cursed his father again for buying the thing.
He set the two steaming cups down and bent to kiss Rain’s forehead before settling next to her.
“There’s nothing out there Rai, just shadows and branches playing tricks. I’m starting to regret we watched “Poltergeist”. I didn’t think it would upset you this much.”
“No, it’s not the movie. I just feel weird, like…someone’s watching.” Rain nuzzled into his embrace but she kept looking at the window.
“What do you mean?”
“Every time I look away it seems like something is moving out there and I can kind of see it out of the corner of my eye. It sounds silly, I know.”
Beck grinned against Rain’s neck, his short beard tickling her.
“Well if someone is watching what do you say we show them something worth staring at?”
“Creative, are we now?” Rai smiled too and lifted her head up to kiss Beck. He hugged her tighter.
“There’s nothing to worry about, I promise. It’s just us here. Try not to think about it.”
Rain turned her gaze from the window neither of them speaking for a brief. Only the fire crackled in the fireplace. Her eyes seemed to fill up with tears the longer she stared at the flames.
“Is it always so quiet up here?” Rai asked in a hushed voice.
“I don’t know. I have never really thought about it.” Beck found that he was whispering too.
Then a loud bump outside made Rain jump. She sat up sharp, heart thumping loudly in her chest.
“What was that?”
The two stared out into the darkness through the tall windows, but nothing came into the light. Beck shifted behind her and stood up.
“I’ll go check it.”
Rain caught his hand. “What if you get hurt? What if there’s someone out there trying to rob us, or kill us, or…”
Beck smiled reassuringly interrupting Rai’s growing panic.
“It’s probably just some animal ransacking the trash. Don’t worry.”
When Beck released her from his warm and secure embrace, and left her alone in the room, Rai regretted making him go. She wrapped the blanket tightly around herself and waited.
Beck pulled his phone from his pocket and turned the flashlight app on.
It was cool outside, but there was a rank animal smell going about the place. The forest itself smelled foul instead of fresh, the fragrance of rotting leafs permeating above all.
A cloud drifted and parted way for the blue light of the moon. It put a ghostlike filter on the Alaskan forest and Beck shivered; it suddenly became colder.
But still he took slow steps and moved the light as gently as he could, trying not to startle any animal that might have hidden itself in the shadows. He found no glimmering eyes in the darkness, no reflection. He listened for scuttling sounds, little paws tapping on the hardened ground but there were none. The trash was also intact.
The quiet was dense, Beck noticed; it put a pressure on his ears and Beck wondered whether he hadn’t gone deaf just there, awestruck by and respectful towards the choice of silence nature had made at this moment.
The forest was too quiet yes, but weren’t forests always? Weren’t they like that when you were staring too long, too much? Beck shook his head. It was as if all the trees froze from their cumbersome sway, not a leaf shivering. It was like the collective of them took a deep breath and held it while he watched searching for something to move, to startle him, to chase him.
And Beck knew that when he turned his back it would exhale, a loud whistle through the branches and the wind would pick up its game and the eyes will snap open and the beasts would leap.
Beck stood there eyes still fixed on the trees. With his back to the house he couldn’t see Rai, but he called for her.
“See, told you – nothing. It’s just the forest…breathing.” He mumbled the last word to himself.
He thought what it would be like to run into the forest without the assurance of light and his heart beat loudly in his chest. He dismissed the idea, nauseated by it and the gaping darkness that could swallow him. Beck turned around and soon skipped up the steps to the villa, flickering through his phone as he went back inside, mind absent.
He cleared his throat before speaking. “It could have been a branch that snapped earlier.”
When Rain didn’t answer he looked up from his phone. It slipped from his fingers.
The bear rug was eating Rain. It had its front paws propped on the sofa, and half of Rain’s torso was inside its mouth, the faux fabric filling in with her lower limbs. Her eyes looked past him, a vague shine in their dead, white space; her pale face was sprayed with blood. She was dead. Beck hadn’t even heard a scream.
The bear rug crunched through Rain’s bones like twigs, gobbling her up whole, pale fingers disappearing last inside the maw.
Then it burped and turned its glossed marble eyes towards Beck. Outside the forest swayed and snapped its branches wildly.