A cruel late autumn wind hit the man on his cheek like a slap on the face. The day had been warm and sunny when he and his wife began the hike up to the top of the mountain. He carried a picnic basket on his back gaily while she prattled along the trail ahead of him. As they approached the sheer cliff of the summit, the wind had its way with the couple. Sparse trees swayed and shook. Red leaves barely holding on finally let go in a swirl.
At the edge of the clearing, a girl sat in a swing that hung from a maple branch. The couple beheld the sight of her dark silhouette suspended from twin ropes. An exorbitant amount of ribbons, ruffles, and bows made her seem out of place in the wild outdoors. She would have made more sense in a Victorian doll house.
The couple looked at each other in disbelief. The man wondered if they were looking at an art installation or a fashion mannequin. The woman looked around for any other people within the vicinity. They were alone.
The girl turned and focused her piercing blue eyes on each of the hikers, assessing whether they were friends or foes. The woman was quick to speak.
“Hello! We’re here for a picnic! Would you like to join us? We have food!” The woman motioned to her husband to take the contents of their picnic basket out.
“Right, right, food!” The husband busied himself setting up a blanket on a patch of grass. He took out apples, grapes, bread, cheese, and salami.
The girl smiled. “I’d love to!” In one swift motion, she leapt from the swing. Her dress ballooned open like an umbrella, giving them both a half-second glimpse of her thigh-high stockings and her panties. She folded herself readily on the picnic blanket, every pleat perfect over her black lace-up boots. She devoured the food as if she hadn’t eaten in days, entirely uncharacteristic of her formal attire. The couple watched as fruit entered her mouth, moistening her red lips.
The woman took a sip from her water bottle. “What’s your name, dear?”
The girl attempted to answer but decided to keep eating instead. The couple watched as the girl ate every single morsel of food they had packed for their picnic. When their basket was empty, the girl seemed self-conscious.
“I’m sorry I ate all of your food. But I thank you. I was really hungry.” She leaned over to the man and gave him a tight warm hug.
The man chuckled, “We’re glad to feed you. No harm done.”
The wife watched the man put his hands around the girl’s delicate waist. She watched his cheeks turn a rosy hue, his eyes sparkle, his smile spread giddily from ear to ear. She knew that look. It was a look that until then was only reserved for her. A look that she had not seen on him in a long time. She knew what he was thinking. What a perv!
“What’s your name again?” the wife asked.
“I’m Elenora,” the girl replied after she peeled herself off the man. She stood radiant. Her skin was impossibly translucent. Her hair shone like a beacon. For the first time that afternoon, it became apparent to both the man and his wife that the girl was a blossoming woman.
The sun dipped the bottom tip of its rays into the lake. The man pulled his scarf up over his face and exhaled to warm it up. He shivered.
“Aren’t you cold?” he asked the girl. He took his scarf off his neck and wrapped it around her nape. His fingers brushed her smooth sweet skin. He felt his toes tingle. He tried to push away the thought of cradling her exquisite neck in his hand and tasting her juicy lips. He had an overwhelming desire to wrap his body around hers, to protect her fragile beauty from the harsh wilderness.
“Are you here with anyone?” the wife wanted to know.
“Yes,” Elenora answered.
“Where?” The woman looked around. She could have sworn there was no one else there but the three of them, but that in itself was odd.
“They’ll be here,” Elenora assured.
The man’s blush turned pale. He felt nervous. They? Who are they?
“It’s going to be dark soon,” the wife warned. “Maybe we should look for them. I don’t think it’s a good idea to leave you here by yourself.”
“Oh, don’t worry,” Elenora said wanly. “They’ll find me. They always do.”
The wife felt uneasy. Something was amiss. She shook the crumbs off the picnic blanket, wondering in the back of her mind why it was so quiet. Where were the birds or crickets? Where were the chipmunks that usually come after the food? She dismissed the thought, folded up the picnic blanket, and stuffed it into the basket. All she knew was that she wanted to leave. She wanted to get away from the girl, but she felt guilty about abandoning her at the top of the mountain at dusk. She was torn.
“Maybe you should come home with us,” the man spoke up suddenly.
“Oh, I don’t know about that. They might be worried about you if you come along with us without asking their permission,” the wife argued.
The man felt the heat rise to his head. “They! Who the hell are they? Do you even know who they are?” he yelled at his wife.
Elenora was visibly startled by the man’s outburst.
The man checked himself. “I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I just… who are these people that you’re with? Are they your family?”
Elenora shook her head. “No, they’re not.”
“You see!” the husband turned to his wife.
“But I guess they do protect me,” Elenora added.
“Who? Who protects you?” the man pried. He didn’t know why he felt threatened by them.
“I don’t care at this point,” the wife piped in impatiently. “It’s going to be dark soon and I want to be home before then. I’m going to find them, whoever they are, and make sure Elenora is back safe with them. Then I’m going home. I’m going to take a nice long bath and sleep in my own bed. And you better come with me if you know what’s good for you.”
The man wanted to be home before dark just as much as his wife did. Maybe even more so, because he did not want to find them and he did not want to wait for them to find Elenora. He wanted the three of them to leave the mountain at that moment.
“Woman, you will do no such thing,” the man ordered his wife firmly but calmly. He did not want to scare Elenora any more than he had. “Let’s all go home together. We’ll call them on the phone after we’re safe at home and have had a nice dinner.”
“NOOOO!!!” The wife tore madly through the woods, screaming at the top of her lungs. “HEY!!! HELLLLOOOOO! YOOOHOOO! You better get your girl back now ’cause I don’t want to leave her here by herself!!!”
The man shook his head apologetically. “I’m sorry, Elenora. I’ve never seen my wife act this rudely before. That woman gets hangry on an empty stomach, I tell you. Let me get her back and we can all go home.”
The man took after his wife, following the sound of her shrieks through the trees. When he finally caught up with her, she was teetering at the edge of a sheer cliff. He grabbed her. She struggled to get away from him and fell.
The woman hung by her fingertips an arm’s length down the cliff. Several hundreds of feet underneath her, jagged rocks dotted the bank of the lake.
The man got down on the ground and reached for his wife. “Take my hand!”
The wife shook her head. Dust clung to the sweat and tears on her face.
“Come on, baby. Take my hand!”
The wife looked deep into her man’s face. She saw his determination to bring her home. She saw his infatuation with the girl, the lust in his eyes, his desire for what the wife was long unable to give him. Youth, excitement, newness. She saw her own jealousy and insecurity. She saw that she was on the brink of falling to her death, and for what? She put all of her weight on her left hand and reached for her husband with her right.
A scream echoed through the mountain.
The man’s eyes wavered from his wife. They had the girl! His wife’s left hand was slipping. He imagined her broken lifeless body on the rocks below. He yanked his wife up by her outstretched hand with all his might.
The man and wife ran back to the clearing to find the swing barren. The man’s scarf draped lonely over the seat. He snatched the scarf quickly.
“ELENORA!!!” he called, ready to run through the woods again, this time in search for the girl.
It was the wife’s turn to rescue the man from the edge of insanity. She clutched tightly at her man. “Let’s go home, please. Please. Come home with me. They’ve got her now, darling. Let’s go home.”
“ELENORA!!!” the man kept screaming, looking wild-eyed from tree to tree hoping to catch a glimpse of the girl. The wife held him tight and pulled him all the way down the mountain. A loon cackled as the sun dove deep into the dark lake.