by Melissa Richeson

An onlooker would laugh at this makeshift weapon in her hand, but it was the best she could find. If only there were someone else here. Anyone.

She knew he was here. She’d seen him come in. But now? Now somewhere within these remote cabin walls he’d found a haven from which to mentally torture her. Lurking. Watching. Waiting to catch her in a misstep that would be her undoing. Their game of cat and mouse had started at dusk, and now in the darkness she knew one thing with certainty. She was the mouse.

Sweat beaded at her hairline and pasted wisps of blonde hair to her temples. She dared not wipe it away. Each movement needed to be calculated, evaluated, weighed against the risk of catching his attention.

Yet risk she must. A hidden mouse is eventually pounced on by the cat. To remain motionless left her on the defensive, a position she despised. Imperceptibly she shook her head, trying to rattle loose the fear that was clouding her wits and willing herself to strategize a way back to the upper hand.

Where was he? Every sense was on high alert. But at the moment she relied most on her hearing, and even at its keenest, it was failing her. His breathing, his footsteps, his motions – all undetectable. How was that possible when a mere shifting of her body weight was bound to ignite a chorus of groans from the floorboards?

The weight of helplessness finally repulsed her too much. She had to move. Slowly, she peered around the corner. As predicted, sound reverberated beneath her sneakers. But to her surprise, it granted the advantage to her instead of him.

There, in the corner, a tiny movement. The sound must have thrown and camouflaged itself as if the house had perfected ventriloquism over the decades. The cat didn’t pounce; instead he stupidly flicked his tail. Her eyes narrowed as terror loosened its strangulating grip on her mind. It was enough. Enough to change the balance between them.

Now he was the prey—she, the focused predator. The hairs that escaped her ponytail were a cruel joke on the nape of her neck, but she gritted her teeth to ignore them. Now or never. She channeled the grace and weightlessness of years-past ballet lessons and closed the distance between them. The power of the offensive fueled her as she swung her crude weapon, wielding far more rage than skill.

He crumpled. She stood over him in shock—triumph wouldn’t come until later. She knelt to examine the damage she’d inflicted, though she didn’t dare touch him with her bare hands.

Fatal, without a doubt. His eight legs made grotesque angles and his abdomen spilled onto the floor. Broom. Dustpan. A flippant toss into the woods.

She curled back up near the fire with her book and quilt, letting the chamomile flush her body of the evening’s tension. Now she exhaled – the smug cat, the victor, the woman on holiday.