“Griff! Answer me! Griff, are you all right? Say something! Griff!”
“Shhh!” Nat hushed the little girl and strained to hear his reply. Not hearing anything, she tried once more. “Griiiff!”
A soft growl echoed to her left.
“Elsa, is someone still touching you?”
“Come toward me. Follow the sound of my voice. Hurry!”
A rapid thump thump thump thump approached her. Crouching down, Nat held out her arms, expecting to feel the child at any moment. The thumping continued, slowly getting more distinct, and a thought took form.
Why that sound? Metal didn’t make that sound.
Quickly, she dropped a hand to the floor. Her fingertips met wood veneer, and she quickly inhaled. Wood, not metal.
That’s why Griff’s gone. He was transported away, or we were.
But then the question became, why wasn’t she and Elsa separated?
“Where are you?” The child was so close.
She lunged toward the voice. Her hands found fabric, and she jerked on it. The little girl gave a squeak of fear until Nat wrapped her arms around the child. Elsa grabbed her and held on as Nat dropped onto her butt to pull her into her lap.
“Are you hurt? Did that thing hurt you?” She felt the thin arms and legs, listening for any sign of pain, a jerk, or reaction. The child shook her head in reply.
She rocked the girl for some time, humming softly. The child’s muscles relaxed as she drifted off to sleep. It was then she remembered the other woman stuck in this inky darkness with them. “Eva? Eva, are you still there?”
She wasn’t surprised when there was no answer. Although she wasn’t certain, it wouldn’t be unreasonable to believe the woman had been spirited away by the veil at the same time Griff disappeared.
Elsa whimpered in her sleep. Still rocking her, Nat made soothing noises as she patted the child’s back. She found the length of twine circling the girl’s waist. Finding the end of hers, she tied the two together as best she could.
She had no idea how long she held the little girl. She thought she might have drifted off at some point. When she awakened, she immediately became aware of a brightening around her.
Nat opened her eyes to a bright new world. Overhead, the sun beat down, casting its heat, and the air smelled of salt water. She instantly caught the sound of ocean waves somewhere in the distance.
They were sitting on a decking. A couple of chairs and a table with an umbrella sticking out of its middle were nearby. As she craned her neck to take in their location, Elsa stirred in her arms.
“We’ve landed, I think, near the ocean. Would you look at these houses! They’re so big!”
The girl rubbed her eyes and glanced about. “Rich people must live here.”
“Not at the moment, sweetie. It’s as deserted as the lodge.”
“Nat, I’m hungry.”
Nat flashed her a smile. “So am I. Let’s see if we can get inside and find something to eat.”
Out of curiosity, she tried the double sliding-glass door adjacent to the deck. To her surprise, it was unlocked, and slid easily to the side. Nat waved for the child to follow, and they entered the rear of the building.
“Hellooo! Anyone here?” Even though she was sure no one else was there with them, Nat called out anyway. Elsa kept tight to her side, clutching the raincoat for good measure. Seeing the child’s inquisitive stare, she shook her head. “Guess we’re all alone. Come on. Let’s go find the kitchen.”
They’d entered a large and spacious living area. A set of stairs along one wall led up to a second level where Nat assumed the bedrooms were located. An enormous rock fireplace sat in the middle of the room, but she spotted a dining table on the other side. Going in that direction, she found the open kitchen.
Elsa made a beeline for the beveled doors, pulling them aside to reveal a deep pantry. She grabbed a bag of powdered donuts, but Nat was quick to snatch them out of her hands.
“Naw-ah-ah. You need something more substantial. You need protein and vitamins, so you grow up strong. Meat and vegetables. And don’t ‘ewww’ me.” Nat flashed her a smile. “You know you can’t live off junk food alone. Hold on. Let me find something that’ll make your tummy happy.” Seeing the girl wasn’t taking her eyes off the donuts, she partially relented. “After you eat, you can have all the donuts you want for dessert. Deal?”
The compromise worked, and Elsa beamed. “Deal.”
Nat squinted at the cans and boxes inside the dimly-lit storage closet. She was forced to take them out a few at a time in order to read the labels. Elsa watched her, finally remarking, “Why don’t you turn on the light?”
“Because there’s no electricity,” Nat explained.
The little girl shot her a dubious look, then reached around the wall and flipped the light switch.
The bare blub throwing its glare over them startled her. Nat stared in shock, unable to believe what she was seeing. Touching the switch with her own fingers, she toggled it up and down to test it for herself.
There was no denying the power was on here.
Her thoughts were interrupted when the girl opened the refrigerator. Nat winced, expecting to smell the rancid odor of rotting food, but there wasn’t any. Curious, she went over to stare inside. Elsa reached up to grab the half gallon of milk.
“Can I have some?”
Nat took the carton and shook it. The waxy outside felt cold. Opening the spout, she took a tentative sniff. “It smells okay.”
The child continued to cast her a pleading look. Nat relented, and went in search of a glass. Finding one, she poured a small amount inside it. “Let me taste it first to see if it’s still fresh.”
To her continued surprise, it was. She filled the glass halfway and handed it over. Before replacing the milk inside the fridge, she checked the expiration date.
There was no year.
“Hey, can we have some sa’getti?”
She glanced down to see Elsa standing in the doorway to the pantry, glass of milk in one hand, and a bag of pasta in the other. “That’s a great idea! All we need now is sauce. Can you see if there is a can of tomato paste I can use to make some?” She was checking the bottom cabinets for a pot when Else spoke again.
“How about this? Momma uses this at home.” The child held up a jar of sauce. Nat recognized the brand.
“Perfect. I’ll try to fix this as fast as I can. Let’s hope we have enough time to eat before another veil sweeps through.”
Taking both the package and jar from her, she took the items over to the stove, setting them on the counter, and stared at the top burners.
They were gas.
A box of matches sat on the counter next to a coffee maker. Nat grabbed them and proceeded to strike one, hoping…praying…holding her breath…
An emerald flame sputtered and took hold on the match head.
She uttered a curse word under her breath as she lit two of the burners. But regardless of the green fire, she felt a spark of hope. The power was back. Electric lights worked again. Or, at least in this reality, the power had never stopped working. For every sign of normalcy, for every little miracle, it meant they were closer to returning to their own time and place—if that was the ultimate outcome.
And when I do, I’ll come looking for you, Griff. I’m praying you’re somewhere safe, and we’ll eventually find each other again. I have to believe it, or else I’ll go crazy with grief.
Wiping an errant tear from her face, she withdrew two pots she’d found from a bottom cabinet, her hands automatically filling one with water to set on a burner. The other she placed on the other burner before opening the jar of sauce and dumping the contents into it to heat up. She was grateful to have the little girl with her because the child prevented her from sinking into a deep depression. As if this whole veil slash apocalyptic reality wasn’t enough.
“Elsa! See if you can find some paper plates in th—”
A scream of pure terror made her jerk away from the stove. Whirling around, Nat checked to see where the cord between them led to, and ran into the living room to find the child standing in shock and fear at the figure moving unsteadily toward them. It took her several seconds for her heart and mind to recognize the bloodied man standing in the open patio door. A man who was swaying, unsteady on his feet, and on the verge of collapsing.
She raced toward him, arms outstretched to catch him when he fell, when she slammed face-first into an invisible force, knocking her out cold.
She never heard Elsa’s shrieks as she slid unconscious onto the floor.