THE

NUMBERED

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The water in the kitchen sink is cold and greasy, plates sit semi-submerged.

In the remote wooden cabin, my flashlight sweeps across the sparse furnishings; table, chair, stove, fireplace. Provisions sit on a wall of shelving ready for when the deep snow cuts all access to the mountains.

Clumps of snow fall from my boots and my chest wheezes as I head to the bedroom.

I smell her before I see her.

The sweet and pungent stench of decomposing bodies is something that’s become too familiar.

The door creaks in protest as I push it open.

Just like all the other victims, a female, in her early twenties, lies unclothed in the middle of the floor, curled in a foetal position.

Her face is scratched and weather-worn. Blisters sit on her sun-scorched cheeks, and the tips of her ears and her lips are blackened. Her long, singed, red hair is sprawled over the splintered floorboards, and her once pale skin is now a leathered bronze.

Snowflakes drift into the room from a large torched hole in the roof, and the moon coats her in a radiant light—another fallen angel.

My breath fogs and my hands shake. We are losing this battle.

I crouch beside the deceased and turn over her slender wrist. The ink-stained marking, only a few hours old, reads like a statistic of my failed attempts to put an end to this carnage—79.

Thread through her fingers, a thin chain leads to a shiny, silver locket clasped in her hand.

I pull off my glove and open the trinket. Inside is a folded scrap of paper.

The hurried scrawl, written in charcoal, sends a shudder through me.

Don’t look up.

An eerie shrill, piercing the snow-covered quietude of the woods, erupts above me.

I clamp my hands over my ears and shut my eyes.

The ground shakes and the cabin rattles. A turbulent, icy wind rushes around the room like it wants to pick me up but can’t find me.

The ferocious blizzard knocks me on my back then disappears.

I open my eyes.

Only a trailing flurry of snow is left in its wake. The woman is gone, along with the locket and her note.

I push back the sleeve of my coat and trace my fingers over the tattoo on my wrist—1.

79 may be gone, but her message will be carried as far as I can take it.

Her sacrifice will not be in vain.

The End

© Michelle Upton

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