Since Lila’s husband had died, the neighbors had been shaking their heads sadly. What was wrong with her? She was attractive and barely forty. Mark Danvers had been gone for nearly a year, but she still stayed closed up in the little cottage. It was strange that she refused invitations and ordered in her groceries. The fact that groceries were being delivered three or four times a week led some to think that maybe she had taken to hoarding, due to her mental state. They knew that some were affected by death differently than others. They were surprised that she would be so much changed. Every attempt to draw her into conversation had been met with a sad little smile and a shake of her head before she simply walked away. Now, she had bought this worthless piece of land.|
Who in their right mind would throw away good money on ten acres of trees, boulders, and weeds? It was so steep that it took a strong hiker just to climb up the face of it. Sometimes, when one of them happened to drive past the place, they would see a small figure pulling herself up the face of the steep incline. She was never without a large duffel bag that was loaded with something laboriously dragged along by a rope tied around her waist. They would talk about it for a while then pass on to other subjects.
The warm springs and hot summers were always a topic to be discussed. In these hills, things had been changing for some time. Twenty years ago, winters were cold and damp, and everyone stocked up for at least two big snows that would keep them stuck in their homes for as long as two weeks at a time. In the spring, the rains would come, warm and refreshing. A breeze that never failed to cool you while sitting on the front porch even in the warmest part of the summer blew without fail. But not anymore.
The rains that nourished the earth every spring had been becoming less frequently as the years had gone by. Farmers had to irrigate fields that once flourished due to the largess of Mother Nature. Summers were hotter than had ever been recorded. Now, everyone fled to the cool provided by air-conditioning. Even the late evenings offered only a hot wind and a sticky, uncomfortable atmosphere. There had not been a decent snow for five years. One or two inches might cover the grass for a few hours, but that was the extent of the white stuff. Children looked longingly at cobweb-covered sleds and woke up every morning hoping for a day off from school because of snow. Unfortunately, everyone just passed it off as an aberration that would soon right itself. Everyone except Lila Danvers.
Lila was born in these mountains. She had always had a gift for knowing what was to come. Not the particulars, but generalities. When Lila became moody, or very sad, her family would start checking with the neighbors or walk down to the store for a newspaper. They knew that something bad was happening or would happen soon. When, in a few days or weeks, a family member fell ill or a local fire was reported, they nodded sagely and said…Lila knew. As she got older, she realized that this was not a gift that everyone looked upon as God-given. Some shied away from her, fearing that she might be the cause of the disasters, not the predictor of them. She learned, early in her teens, to keep her feelings to herself and not let on that she felt anything out of the norm.
Her husband knew of her premonitions. He had grown up with her and accepted her as she was. When Mark was killed in an accident, she knew the moment he died but did not know in advance. That was the only time she had not been forewarned.
Lila had not told Mark everything about her “feelings.” One that had haunted her for years seemed improbable and silly, at least in the beginning. She feared that to divulge such a thing would cast her in the light of a witch, or perhaps worse. These people, her people, were highly superstitious. So she had quietly observed her world. She had fought the feelings of dread and despair that visited her more and more often as she matured. She presented to everyone a bright and smiling face.
Now, Mark was gone. She did not feel the need any longer to pretend. Let them think what they will about her. She had felt this change that was to be long before Mark was her husband. When she was much younger, she had spoken of it to some. They had looked at her strangely and gossiped that the child was touched. They would not take her seriously back then. Now she did not care.
The land that she had purchased was ideal for her purposes. The mountainside was steep and difficult but not impossible to traverse. Halfway up, there was something that no one knew about, or no longer remembered—there was a cave in the side of this mountain. A cave that she had discovered as a child and knew she had to have as her own. It was a deep cave, some hundred feet did it burrow into the mountainside. The floor was hard packed earth, but, in the very back, near a clear pool of water, it was solid stone. Cool stone, worn smooth over the millennia that had passed since its formation. The pool, while perhaps not as pure as it once was, would hopefully provide her with the water necessary to survive. The temperature was always pleasant and refreshing, regardless of the scorching heat outside. It was her sanctuary, her safe haven from the world that would soon be.
This is where Lila stored her supplies. Cookware and food, all sealed in huge plastic bins. There was a small camp stove as well as battery- and fuel-operated lanterns. She had been bringing things up here since her purchase of the land, four months ago. Bedding and clothes to sustain her over a long period of time. Soon, she would begin dragging lumber and stones to the flat lip of rock, just outside the entrance. She would buy a gun, too, and ammunition. Not for the animals, but for the human predators that would find her and her sanctuary and wish to take it from her. For they would come, of that she had no doubt. They would seek shelter from the horrible fate that awaited them in the outside world. The ones who had not prepared would become desperate. Then they would remember her treks to this place. She had to be ready.
She ate very little, and, for a short time, the forest would still provide some of her daily needs. Bark and herbs and plants could all be used for food and medicine. After they were gone, if they did not survive what was to come, then she would have to make do with what she had brought with her. By the time things were right again, before the world tilted back on its axis, she would no doubt be long gone from this life.
The people in the surrounding communities had heard whispers of Lila’s strange behavior but simply commented that she had always been a little off. No one bothered her anymore. They were too busy wondering why the days seemed hotter and longer. They fretted when the ponds dried up and the hunting was bad. They complained when the water shortage forced conservation. They could not understand why the cool mountain springs failed to provide water anymore.
No one even noticed when Lila disappeared. If the mailman had not begun to complain to everyone about the mail that would no longer fit in her box, it would have been years before they noticed. As it was, it took six months for her absence to become common knowledge. Her house was on a long drive. Not visible from the road, even in winter. She had stopped accepting visitors and phone calls long ago. The sheriff was finally called and duly arrived to check out the “recluse.”
It was obvious that Lila had been gone for a long time. Although the house was neat and orderly, there was a thin sheen of dust on every surface. Spider webs covered the corners and windowsills. All of her clothing was gone, as was everything else except the furniture. The old refrigerator and the pantry were clean and bare. It seemed obvious that the woman had just moved away, and no further investigation took place.
The sheriff had more to deal with right now than some crazy lady who moved without telling anyone. The heat during the hot month of August was past bearing. Temperatures hovered over a hundred degrees every day, and people’s tempers flared. There were fights and muggings and killings such as this quiet community had never seen. The elderly and very young were dying in their un-air-conditioned homes. Power outages were frequent and prolonged. Even the darkness brought little relief.
Visitors from the cities poured in, hoping to find some relief from the rising temperatures, but they were disappointed to find that it was not much better here in the mountains. Even the icy streams that provided such fun and chills in the past were nothing more than lukewarm trickles.
Tempers flared, and the citizens began to worry. The temperature was climbing daily, and the trees and plants were shriveling. Work for many was down or nonexistent. The only job available was fighting the never-ending forest fires without sufficient water. People were beginning to listen to the experts who spoke on television and the radio. They were slowly coming to accept that it would be a long time before things were back to any where near normal. They started to believe that, by next summer, the heat would reach unheard of heights. They began to leave, if they could afford it, hoping to travel north to cooler climates. But most could not leave, as they had no money and nowhere to go. Some just sat down and waited for the air conditioners and the fans to stop working. A very few sought out methods they hoped would help them survive what was to come. Some were wise enough to see that the further they went down into the ground, the safer they would be. They dug huge cellars and burrowed into hillsides. They started stocking up on supplies. Many called them fools and scoffed. No one had yet thought of seeking shelter in the mountains, or in the natural caves that were scattered around the countryside. No one but Lila.
Lila sat, cool and cozy inside her cavern. She was forty-five years old, and she waited patiently for what was happening to reach its peak and start reverting to some semblance of normalcy. She listened to her little radio and knew that soon they would come to try and take away her home and her chance for survival. Perhaps one, or maybe two, might be welcomed. Preferably a child. Someone who needed the refuge and would be able to walk out into the world someday and start things over. It grew very lonely in this little nest. But, for the others, she made different preparations. She cleaned her shotgun and placed it against the wall she had built to cover most of her cave opening. She peered out through the small iron gate that once stood at the side of her home and now provided a door to her inner sanctum. They would not have her place, and, if need be, they would die by her hand instead of what Mother Nature had planned for them.