The CabinAugust 15, 2018
As he drove to the cabin, Jason Pine could hear Rick Coleman bouncing around in the trunk. He could also hear Coleman cursing and pleading and shouting for help. It was a satisfying sound. It made Pine’s drive a little easier.
Pine exited the highway and took a series of increasing smaller roads until he eventually came to an unnamed dirt road. Following the dirt road for another two miles, he arrived at his destination: the cabin. Nestled deep in the woods of Vermont, it was the only cabin for miles around. The structure had been in his wife’s family–his late wife’s family–for generations. Now it was his. But Pine wasn’t sure he would keep it. Not after today.
He stepped out of the vehicle and heard the ground crunch under his feet. It was autumn and already turning cold. The leaves had taken on vibrant hues of red and orange and yellow and purple. Breathing deeply, Pine could smell winter on the crisp northeastern air. The scent reminded him of the many autumns he and Jenny had spent at this place, just the two of them, isolated from the rest of the world. Tears welled in his eyes as he stood there reminiscing, reliving precious moments he had shared with the only woman he would ever love.
A thumping sound snapped him from his reverie. Pine went to the rear of the vehicle and opened the trunk. Rick Coleman was hogtied inside, looking up at him with terror in his eyes.
“Please, Jason,” he said. “Please don’t kill me.”
Pine looked down at the helpless man. “I have no intention of killing you, Rick.”
Jason Pine had a roaring fire going. He stood in front of the fireplace, feeling the warmth of the flames. Rick Coleman was no longer hogtied. He was sitting on a straight back chair with his ankles zip tied together. His hands were behind his back, bound at the wrists.
“Jenny used to sit in that chair, facing the fire,” Pine said. “Just like you’re doing now.”
“Jason, I swear to God, I didn’t kill her.”
Pine shook his head. “I said I wasn’t going to kill you, Rick. But if you lie to me, then I can lie to you.” He took a digital recorder from his pocket, held it out in front of Coleman, and clicked it on. “The only way you’re getting out of here alive is by telling the truth.”
Coleman’s mouth opened and then closed again.
Pine said, “If you confess, I’ll let the courts decide your fate. If you lie, I’ll kill you here and now. Your choice.”
Coleman sighed deeply but didn’t say anything.
Coleman sighed again. “I killed her,” he said, his voice barely a whisper. “I killed Jenny.”
“Why?” Pine said, hearing the catch in his throat.
Coleman shook his head. “I was in love with her. I thought she loved me too.”
Pine snorted at the absurdity of that. Jenny had never even liked Coleman, let alone loved him. She had put up with him because he was Pine’s friend. But what kind of friend would take away the one thing you loved most in this world?
“When I found out you were out of town,” Coleman went on, “I went over to see her. I thought she would be happy to see me without you there. I don’t know why. Wishful thinking, I guess. I tried to kiss her, but she flipped out on me. Said she was going to tell you.”
The recorder trembled in Pine’s hand. “What happened then?”
“I begged her not to say anything. But she was furious. She wouldn’t listen to reason. I panicked. And then… then I don’t know.”
“You know, Rick,” Pine said, his voice thick.
Coleman glanced into Pine’s eyes, then looked away again. “I’m sorry, Jason. Jesus Christ, I’m sorry.”
“Don’t apologize. Tell me what you did. Say it.”
“You know what I did.”
Coleman hung his head and began to weep. “I strangled her. I didn’t mean to; I swear I didn’t. It all happened so fast. I didn’t even realize that she…that she was gone.” He looked up into Pine’s eyes. “I’m truly sorry.”
Pine turned the recorder off and put it back in his pocket. He went to a corner of the room and picked up an ax.
Coleman’s eyes went wide. “You said you weren’t going to kill me. You promised!”
Pine could see the fear on Coleman’s face. He wondered if Jenny’s face had shown the same kind of fear when Coleman put his hands around her throat and squeezed. Just thinking about it made him sick to his stomach. He felt an urge to take Coleman’s head off with one swing of the ax. But that’s not what Jenny would have wanted.
“If it was up to me, I’d kill you right now, Rick,” he said. “You deserve nothing less. But Jenny was against the death penalty. She didn’t believe in an eye for an eye, a life for a life.”
Coleman nodded. “I’m so sorry, Rick. I don’t know what to say.”
“You’re going to go to the police station and tell them what you told me.”
Coleman nodded again. “I can do that. I will.”
“It’s about ten miles from here. You’ll walk.”
The two men stared at each other for a moment. Then Pine raised the ax and swung it at Coleman’s head, blunt end forward, knocking him out cold.
Coleman slowly came to. He was sitting on the floor with his back against the wall, groaning. He shook his head and looked up at Pine, who was standing over him.
“What happened?” he asked.
“You killed my wife,” Pine replied.
Coleman shook his head again. He appeared groggy, confused, out of it. Pine let him take his time. After another minute, Coleman reached up to touch his head.
That’s when he realized his hand was missing.
He stared at the stump for a moment, and then looked at his other hand. That one was gone too. He looked up at Pine with a puzzled expression on his face, as if unable to process this information.
“Your hands are ashes now,” Pine told him, gesturing with his chin toward the fireplace. “You won’t be strangling anyone else.”
“No,” Coleman said, staring at his stumps. “Oh, God, no.”
“I used a hot poker to cauterize the wounds so you wouldn’t bleed out. That’s why you don’t feel any pain. Not yet, anyway.”
Coleman’s eyes shifted from stump to stump. “You took my hands?” he said.
His voice was slurred, and Pine realized that he was severely concussed. The ax blow had been hard, harder than Pine had intended.
“At least you’re alive, Rick. That’s more than you can say for Jenny.”
He pulled out his pocketknife and cut the zip tie binding Coleman’s legs.
“Now you’ll go to the police and turn yourself in for the murder.”
Coleman didn’t answer. He put his head down, tucking his chin into his chest, and wept.
Pine grabbed him by the hair, forcing him to make eye contact.
“You’re going to the police station, right?”
Coleman nodded, and Pine let go of his hair. He helped Coleman to his feet and led him to the doorway. The two men stepped outside. It was dusk now, and the temperature had dropped. Pine shivered in the cold.
“Follow the dirt road,” he told Coleman and gave him a shove.
Coleman stumbled but didn’t fall. He began walking unsteadily away from the cabin. After about ten yards, he veered off into the woods.
Pine watched him disappear into the thicket. He wasn’t sure why Coleman had turned off but knew that if he didn’t turn back soon, he would probably never find his way out. Pine thought about going after him but decided against it. At this point, he no longer cared if his wife’s killer made it to the police station. He had ensured that Coleman would never hurt anyone else the way he had hurt Jenny. If he survived the woods, he would spend the rest of his life in prison. If not, well, then he’d become food for the creatures of the forest.
Jason Pine turned back toward the cabin. A strong wind blew through the trees, rustling the leaves. In the diminishing light, Pine noticed that the vivid hues of the autumn foliage were no longer vivid. Everything had a dull gray appearance. Even the cabin itself looked washed out and seemed to be fading away. Pine stood there for a time, ignoring the cold, watching the cabin disappear as the sun set.
And then, when there was nothing more to see, when everything had turned to black, Pine turned away. Treading carefully in the darkness, he made his way to his car, knowing that he would never again return to this place. There was no reason to anymore. There was nothing for him here. The cabin no longer existed. It was gone, as gone as the wife he had loved and cherished. As gone as the good life he had lived.
He climbed into his car and started the engine.
“I love you, Jenny,” he said. “I’ll always love you.”
Then he drove away without looking back.by