The storm rolls in as she is parking in front of the cabin. She’s been driving fast, too fast, for the last thirty minutes hoping to beat it. The golden lab in the backseat whines and cowers, eyes wide beneath a blanket. The weather is steadily worsening, clouds angry with impending rain, and she wants to get inside before the deluge.
Inside the cabin.
She finally chose this particular Airbnb after an hour of anxious scrolling. Funds are tight and it’s no Marriot, but it looked sanitary enough in the pictures. The only reason she’s here is because the job interview is too far away to drive the day of. The only reason she brought Sampson is because none of her so-called friends wanted an extra pet on their hands.
The first drops begin to fall as she reaches the steps. Then it’s up the worn planks, across the wide porch, and through the door that creaks when she opens it. She shivers when she closes the door. It’s freezing inside, despite it being the middle of July. Perhaps the storm is cooling it off, she thinks as she surveys her surroundings. Sampson pads through the small cabin, acquainting himself with the new smells and sparse furniture.
Speaking of smells, the strong scent of disinfectant hangs in the air. She wrinkles her nose, but considers it a good thing. At least the cabin is clean.
Empty and lonely, but clean.
. . .
Later the storm has passed. She’s spent the whole afternoon frustrated with spotty cell reception and flickering lights. Anything to avoid thinking about the interview in the morning. Dinner is a granola bar because she’s afraid the butterflies in her stomach will reject a full meal. It’s still light outside, but she considers an early bedtime.
The cabin is starting to creep her out.
With the noise of the rain gone it feels too quiet, too empty. A silent, hollow mausoleum hiding beneath the veneer of chic farmhouse décor. She briefly considers leaving but pushes the thought from her mind.
She needs this job. Her big break. And she’s come too far to let some old cabin scare her away.
She turns off the lights and slides beneath the covers of the bed. Its presumably ancient frame groans with every slight movement, so she lies as still as possible. The covers are pulled to her chin, a barrier between her and the chilly air, but she leaves one arm hanging over the side of the bed. Sampson is licking her hand and it soothes her, knowing he’s right beside her.
Her breathing slows as she falls asleep.
. . .
Sometime in the middle of the night she wakes with a gasp. Her heart races as she sits up, trying to recall where she is. As her mind clears she remembers the cabin, remembers Sampson on the floor beside her. She sighs and lays back down, reaching over the edge of the mattress. Again the licking comforts her. As she drifts back to sleep she hears a dripping sound and briefly wonders if the rain is starting back up.
. . .
She’s not sure how long its been, but suddenly she is awake once more. This time she lies perfectly still. She hears the dripping again. Her mind tells her it’s just the rain. What a miserable place. At least she’s not completely alone. Without moving her body she hangs her arm down and feels the rough, licking tongue once more.
. . .
Time has passed, but deep sleep is evasive. All she’s accomplished is a wavering between wakefulness and nodding off. Something is keeping her from falling all the way asleep. With a shiver of dread she realizes something feels off. The dripping sounds continue but suddenly she’s not so sure it’s rain. She strains to pinpoint the sound. A chill runs the length of her spine as she realizes its not coming from the nearby window or the roof.
It’s coming from inside the cabin.
She swings her legs to the floor, considering her next move. She shakes her head. It’s probably a leaky faucet. But she knows she won’t be able to sleep again until she knows for sure.
The hair on the back of her neck suddenly stands when she sees Sampson is no longer beside the bed.
“Sampson,” she calls softly, heart hamming too loudly in her chest.
Only the dripping sound responds.
She quietly makes her way to the bedroom door and notices the sound is getting louder. She’s in the hallway now, and there’s no mistaking the noise is coming from the bathroom. It’s too dark to see inside yet, but something is keeping her from turning on the lights just yet.
She approaches the bathroom, fingertips running over wallpaper to guide her way in the darkness. The door is open and standing at the threshold she hears the pitter-pattering echoing inside, though it’s still too dark to see.
She must turn on the light.
Then she screams.
The harsh florescent bulb throws the horror inside into stark relief. Sampson is hanging by a rope from the shower curtain rod. His neck is impossibly bent, eyes wide and tongue lolling to one side. He’s been flayed. Skin and fur fill the bathtub in a gory heap. Blood is falling from his mangled corpse, hitting the edge of the tub and the linoleum tile below.
The source of the dripping.
She turns away, unable to look at the lurid scene any longer. The cabin is spinning and she’s seeing spots.
Then who was licking my hand??
Right before she passes out, she hears another sound.
The heavy tread of boots coming down the hall.