Chapter 1

Day 1

When I woke up, Sam was not there with me. Instead of him on a pillow was a lone scarlet rose like the one a velvet and a greeting card attached to it with an inscription “Happy Birthday, Margaret! Come down, we are downstairs.” With a sleepy smile, I reached for the flower and accidentally I pricked my ring finger with a sharp thorn. Looking at the blood drop that appeared, I thought it was a bad omen, but I immediately brushed this thought aside and got out of bed — a significant day was waiting for me.

I am thirty-three years today. We arrived in such a place amazing with its beauty, on the occasion of my birthday. The guesthouse was located on the plateau in the middle amazing meadow like a plush so as that dense, juicy-green grass spread over it, and around stood magnificent coniferous forest, behind that grew mountain peaks. We rented it for the weekend.

It was a log building vanilla color with balconies on the second floor and a spacious terrace adjacent to his facade. Through the huge windows, which almost was reaching to the floor, beams of sunlight were breaking into the house. In addition, inside there was an unusual smell of wood — my favorite aroma from childhood, because my father had a carpentry workshop and I spent a lot of time in it.

My mood was delightful. I was waiting for my thirty-third birthday like children, who are waiting for the New Year and write a letter to Santa Claus and them confident that all their wishes necessarily will come true. However, I wanted only one thing — a baby. I have a wonderful husband who I love very much, and it is mutual. He is quite beautiful: brown-eyed brown-haired person with a stunning smile and a figure of Apollo. Maybe I am exaggerating, but I often felt at me envious glances of other girls. In addition, Sam is very carefree, he always knows how to amuse me, and he was life of the party in any society. If I were not sure of his feelings to me, I would surely be terribly jealous.

The only one thing missing in my life is the daughter. I dreamed of getting pregnant many years, but I have not been able. Yet I did not resort to any medical manipulations, hoping on the natural outcome of the event. Besides, deep down I believe that a child is a gift that needs to earned, no more, no less. Nevertheless, other than that, I was very lucky in life, because all the people that I love surround me. It is happiness.

With us came there Kevin — my husband’s best friend. Despite the fact that they were friends as kids, were quite different — both in appearance and in character. Kevin unlike Sam, calm, levelheaded, I would even say discreet, very smart and leads a successful IT company. Kevin is much taller than my husband is. He is a fair-haired person with a sharp gaze of gray-blue eyes.

I have known Kevin for five years as long as I am married to Sam, and always loved him as a friend. He has invariably supported me in all of our quarrels with my husband. Fortunately, they were few. One year ago, he married a blonde-haired woman with plump lips and a third breast size, Nancy. She was all of eight years younger than her husband was and all of us. However, that did not stop her to fit in our group of friends, because her adorable smile and big blue eyes did leave indifferent anyone. Everyone just admired her and that was enough.

Besides them with us was my best girlfriend Mia and her boyfriend Nick. A good young man, but with a peculiar sense of humor. He and Mia were a great couple, although they seemed a little crazy. She is chubby with red curly hair, short and well nourished. Nevertheless, not fat. Nick is also red-hair, but he is at least six-foot-four, causing a bit slouching. Besides, he is thin and in profile look like a golf club. Mia and I used to call him “a golf club”. I am sure he would be offended at us, but luckily, Nick did not know about it.

As much as I would love to stay in my cozy bed, I had to go in the shower — I cannot keep guests waiting the birthday girl. Although, in fact we all here were guests, except that gifts and greetings today meant for me. Yesterday we were up late, listening to the playing guitar by Kevin. I can endlessly enjoy the sounds of this musical instrument, so many times asked my husband to learn to play the guitar, but he always refused and said that we are enough one bard.

In shower, I habitually sang. When I came out, dried hair and let my hair down. Thereafter, I pulled out of a wooden wardrobe on legs my new turquoise maxi dress. I always knew these shades suits me, successfully contrasting with brown eyes and dark brown hair. I did delicate makeup and looked in the mirror — well, just beautiful! I was sure my husband would appreciate my new outfit.

Our bedroom like everyone else was on the second floor, which connected with first floor by a beautiful oak staircase with carved balusters. When I was coming down the stairs barely touching railing, I imagined myself as a princess, descending into the ballroom.

Stepping over the last stair, I realized that no one was in the living room. Perhaps they are waiting for me in the dining room. Passing beneath the arch separating it from the hall, I saw that it, too, is empty. Only on the table waited for me a beautiful birthday cake with thirty-three burning candles. I looked around. Suddenly, the glass door leading from the kitchen to the terrace opened by a draught and strong gust of wind blew out all the candles except one. I was unpleasant at the sight of a single burning candle.

I went out to the terrace and saw setting table for six people with bottle of champagne in the middle, but nobody was waiting for me here. For a moment, my heart sank from inexplicable anxiety like as from bad feeling, but at this point, I did not attach importance to it. Then I decided they were kidding me and hid somewhere nearby.

I remembered that ten meters from the house was steam bath — the small one-story building made of timber, and I went there. Stopping at the doorway, I warned, “Well, I found you! You will in so much trouble!” and abruptly opened the door. Inside was dark and empty. I found the switch and turned on the light, but there really was nobody there.

I came back outside, closing the door behind me, and started screaming the names of my friends and husband, but no one responded. Their stupid jokes! I felt like a fool in evening dress, who have to run around and look for them. I walked around the house, decided that they were hiding somewhere behind him, but still I did not found anyone.

I suddenly realized Kevin’s SUV in which we drove in here yesterday, was also absent in the courtyard. Although the surrounding area can hardly call a yard, because it was not even fenced and consists of a meadow on a mountain plateau, followed by a forest. Here at a distance of tens of miles was completely deserted, and the nearest village was thirty miles away. Apparently, for this reason, the owners did not build the fence, though why they did not count on the presence of wild animals is not clear. However, that is least of my worries right now.

I thought that they might have gone at the village shop to buy more booze, for example. I was confused only that all together. Nancy and Mia could stay with me. The need to wait for their return seemed to me unfair, but I had no choice. I decided to go up to my bedroom and do not come out until they get here.

Sitting on the bed, I started examining my room. What else I could do to pass the time? The log walls of huge house painted in vanilla color, causing it seemed even more spacious. Our double bed was made of wood, like all the furniture in the house that I saw, with a beautiful carved headboard and with not less than elegant legs. The wardrobe of light olive color with scuffs, for creating the effect of antiquity, stood on legs and perfectly combined with the bed. If not for the TV hanging on the wall, it would seem that I am in the French province of the late nineteenth century. The whole house decorated in like manner. It was in complete harmony with the surrounding nature. “How I wish I had the alike house,” I thought.

For many years, I asked my husband to build a house, or at least buy a summer cottage, but he always tried to dissuade me from this idea because he did not like “the wilderness” — as he called peace and quiet. Sam had been feeling the vital need to be in the center of the metropolis, to be where the action is and in the midst of a crowd. Cannot say I was against living in the city, but sometimes I wish to come from noise and smog to a cozy cottage in the woods, and just enjoy the silence. However, to be honest, those impulses did not often happen, and thanks to the unwillingness of the husband to do it, we still lived in the apartment.

I looked at my watch: two hours had passed, but they have yet to return. Of some kind bad feeling crept into my heart. Frankly, I liked less and less their prank. In addition, I was starving so decided to go down to the kitchen to grab some food. I made coffee and a sandwich and then again went out to the terrace.

When I sat down at the served table in solitude, my heart sank. I looked at the empty plates and I could not even take a bite of the sandwich. I felt stupid, sitting alone at the table in the evening dress. I stared out into the distance, towards the woods, and listened for every noise, but I nothing heard except songs of the wind and the rustling of grass. It seemed to me that the mighty pines made fun of my loneliness on such an important day for me, where my life begins a new cycle with a length of twelve months. For a second I felt that ahead of me is not just a cycle, but steep turn…

After some time, I felt chilly and decided to go inside, after all, it was September and I spent in the open air at least an hour. Before leaving, I looked around the empty terrace and returned to the house, closing the door behind me. In the living room, I caught my foot on the hem of my dress and I almost fell over. Then I bailed on everything and went into the bedroom to change.

I angrily unzipped my dress, threw off the festive outfit, took out the usual jeans and hoodie, I pulled back hair in a ponytail and came back to the hall. I sat down on the wide low windowsill. I started looking through the window and wait like a child who left at home alone. My festive mood ruined irrevocably, and I could hardly hold back tears by resentment.

When even the sun began to leaving me, rapidly running away over the horizon, my feeling of resentment for the preposterous jokes replaced by a high anxiety about close people. Now happenings did not seem me a joke, because it was not funny anymore, it was creepy to sit in a huge empty house surrounded by forest. The prospect of spending the night here in alone terrified me, but I was still hoping I would not have to.

When the clock in the drawing room struck nine in the evening, it became clear that most likely they would not come. However, what could have happened to them? What if they had an accident or drove off a cliff? “No, stop, they’re all right! Probably just something prevented them from coming back, for example a vehicle breakdown,” I said to myself, trying not to fall into despair. Anyway, there are five of them, and I am alone. This thought made me gloomy, but I tried to control myself. The situation compounded by the fact that there was no mobile communication; the ability to call was only in the village. As of all the available benefits of civilization there was water and electricity from solar panels and from wind turbines.

In the end, when the waiting has become meaningless, I had no choice but to close all the doors, draw the curtains and go upstairs. I lay down on the bed without taking off my clothes, and turned on the TV to drown out the frightening silence of my loneliness.

I wanted to cry from realization of my own helplessness. I crawled under the covers and burst into tears. I remember, when I was a child, I was always hiding under a blanket from the fictional ghosts filled my room. Now I was not afraid of ghosts or monsters, but of people, because they do the most terrible things on Earth.

Only currently, I wondered about the reasons for their departure. If they lit the candles on the cake hence they were going to congratulate me, also laid table on the terrace evidences this. They would not have gone to shop to buy some little things, especially all together at a time like this. What if were they scared of something or someone? And they left me here alone? It is unthinkable! I cannot vouch for every one of them, but I am sure my husband would not have left me. I have been avoiding the thought that they died. Besides, there were no signs of violence anywhere, and I did not hear the screams. I would rather not thought about it, since I was terrified of my own reflections.

How good it was in childhood, when enough was cover my face with hands to feel safe. It seemed at this point no one sees me and therefore cannot hurt, as if hands is the magic hat. Right now, the blanket was for me of this magic hat. I so wanted to close my eyes and I wanted saw, opening them in the morning, that everything is as before: a dear husband wakes me with a kiss, Mia with Nancy fussed around the festive table; Nick blowing up balloons in the living room, and Kevin is cook a barbecue. I fell asleep with these thoughts, childishly hoping that tomorrow everything will be exactly like this.

Day 2

When the nightly fog cleared, giving way to the sky to the sun, I felt anxiety so as yesterday’s disaster maybe not over… Carefully, without opening my eyes, I ran my hand over the bed sheet to my left, where Sam used to sleep, but he was not there. I felt my blood turn cold and I pulled the blanket up to the top of my head. I refused to believe they did not back.

Suddenly it dawned on me — maybe they got back late last night, my husband did not want to wake me up, and he fell asleep in the living room. Of this thought I abruptly get my blanket off and got out of bed; I went to the balcony to see if in the courtyard Kevin’s car. Stepping on cold floor barefoot, I looked around the yard, but his car was nowhere to be seen. However, the inscription on the roof of the bathhouse, which read “Happy Birthday, Margot! Stay here forever…” struck me. After I read it, I jumped back from the railing, as if I electrocuted and ran back into the room, slamming the balcony door. I was shocked by what I saw, the rumble of my heart banged in my temples with a monstrous force — someone was obviously trying to drive me crazy. Certainly, before us there could rest other guests and among them could be the birthday girl named Margaret, but what was meant by the words “Stay here forever…»? My inner voice told me that the message clearly addressed to me. Nevertheless, no one called me Margot, only Meg.

It removed sleep like an arm and I quickly jumped into the corridor. Stopping for a second, I realized — the house was unbearably quiet, like yesterday. The only thing that came to my mind to go to Mia and Nick. I knocked on the door of their bedroom in the hope that someone will respond, but in reply followed by silence. I froze in confusion at the door, but after a minute, decided to enter without permission. I did not know what exactly I wanted to find there, but I had no other way to figure out what was going on.

Turning the knob and abruptly opening the door, I just stood on the threshold like paralyzed. Their bedroom cleaned, the bed made. At this moment, I thought I hallucinated. I went inside and opened the wardrobe, but it filled with only empty hangers. Even the mirror in the bathroom polished to a sheen, as if nobody checked to into this room. I could not mix up the bedrooms, for sure, Mia and Nick settled next door from us. If now I am not going crazy, so they packed up and took off, leaving me all alone. I could hardly believe in my own conclusions, everything seemed absurd or someone’s meanness…

The room of Kevin and Nancy was next. I could not dare to enter; probably I was afraid to see another empty bedroom. I am slow down for a few seconds and finally I gathered the courage and turned the knob. The room been locked. I cried out in horror and rushed downstairs. Having stopping only at the bottom of the ladder, I sat down on it, put my face in my hands and wept bitterly. Bach’s music sounded in my head, which is often playing in horror movies.

Because of my very vivid imagination and excessive sensitivity, I have always avoided watching these films, but now it seemed to me that I unwittingly became a character of such a cinema. Or maybe not involuntarily? And someone intentionally left me here alone, knowing that I won’t be able to get out of here. Perhaps someone else would be able to come down off the mountain and reach the village, but not me.

The fact is that I have been panicky afraid of heights since childhood and, unfortunately, I have not been able to get rid of my phobia over the years. In so doing I not afraid of flying, to relax in the mountains, I can even climb a tree, but will never be able to come down. As soon as I see a frightening emptiness and a chasm beneath me, I start feeling a wave of dizziness; my body loses balance and pulls me down. The feeling unpleasant. I cannot even approach the fence of a bridge or the edge of the roof. When we used to go up here by car, I tried not to look out the window.

The worst thing is that everyone knew it and anyway left me alone, there is no doubt in my mind about that, unless, I am dreaming. In desperation, I began pinching myself, and shouting, but nothing changed. Therefore, everything occurs in reality. Is the cake with candles, served table for six persons is just a mockery? But for why? My head was spinning. I wanted to know why are loved ones did this to me? Why did Sam not put a stop to their ruthless intent and even he agreed to participate in it? Gradually despair and resentment gave way to great anger at those who left me on my own.

Lost in thought, I suddenly remembered — today is Sunday, which means that soon other guests should arrive. Opportunity to go back home today inspired me and I stood up and decided to have Breakfast, as I have not eaten anything for a day. I went into the kitchen: on the table, there was still a cake that I forgot to put it in the refrigerator yesterday. I forced myself not to throw cake at the wall and I tossed it in the trash. Then I made an omelet and poured a glass of orange juice. I did not want eating in the dining room, so I laid everything on the tray and went back into the living room.

Having finished my lonely meal, I went upstairs to the bedroom to pack my things, with full confidence that today I will leave this house! How surprised I was when I found out that there is no Sam’s clothes as well. It is amazing I did not notice it yesterday. That kind of joke could lead to divorce. Had he thought about that? However, strangely, I felt relieved; at least now, I do not need to worry about them. Now I had to take care of myself, and I will deal with them later. I took a shower, then got all my stuff from the closet and slowly put them in her travel bag. One last thing, I looked around the room and went out.

In waiting for the arrival of new guests, I imagined going into my cozy apartment and looking into Sam’s eyes, I had conversations with him in my mind, trying to guess what he will come up with in his defense. I was sitting on the couch with my knees-up to my chest, and every minute looked at the clock hanging behind me on the wall. I had impression that the time laughs at me and refuses to bring nearer the hour of my liberation. In the end, my back was numb with fixity; I lay down and started watching the ceiling with a huge crystal chandelier in the center, which shimmered with hundreds of shades in reply to the play of sun rays with her.

When the clock struck two, I felt the anxiety and I started to come to the window periodically, hoping to see someone. At that moment, I felt like a lighthouse Keeper, who peers tired eyes into the vast expanse of the sea that merge with the skyline, trying to make out the silhouette of a floating ship. Unfortunately, the landscape have been no changing behind my window.

I began to recall how we got married and I smiled at my thoughts. We applied for a marriage license a couple of months after we met, saying nothing to anyone. Then we were 28 years old, seemingly we are not young lovers, but our feelings with such force flooded us, that we were determined to live a long happy life together. Do not know how we came up with this, but we celebrated our wedding just the two of us, on the coast. It was our day in all senses. I remember, when we returned and reported friends and relatives about we married, many offended, others called us crazy, and only some were sincerely happy for us. Now, thinking about that, I guess that to leave me alone on my birthday is a stupid the revenge by those whom we are not invited to our wedding. Of course, it sounds funny, but who know what is going on in their heads, in addition Sam always loved foolish pranks. “Well, later I will mock them, it won’t be pretty!” I thought.

It is sad that it is getting dark in the mountains so quickly. I have long ceased to be afraid of the dark itself, but it scares me of its suspense still and it makes me gloomy. Morning always brings hope and gives you the opportunity to change something. Conversely, a night takes away it mercilessly, leaving nothing but emptiness. With the sun rising you are born, with the sunset — you die, like all around. The cycle repeats time after time, day after day, until you die lastly, without being able to open your eyes at some point.

When the night spread everywhere like the thick coal foam, throwing the obviousness in my face: nobody came and probably no one is coming in the next few days — the word “never” I deleted from my lexicon, as the most stupid and pointless — I became unbearably sad. The icy wind and the fear of hopelessness broke into my soul. I went out to the terrace and, looking at the so far the served table, I in anger ripped off its tablecloth; dishes fell down with a crash. I felt such a wave of rage, so I began to furiously stomp the pieces and into the void scream the names of those who left me here.

I do not know how long my insanity lasted, but in the end, exhausted, I slid down the wall on the wooden floor and burst into tears. The tears by inexhaustible waterfall have been filling my heart with doom. From the thought that I have to spend at least one more night in an empty, unpopulated house in the middle of the forest, I began to tremble, as if I stood under the chilly November’s rain for several hours. To get myself together, or opposite to forget myself, I got up from the cold floor and went to the fridge to take the wine that we brought on the eve.

I am devastated, with a tear-stained face and a bottle in hand came back to the living room and settled on the couch. Whether it was the wine, or tears, I fell into a deep heavy sleep. I dreamt I was standing in the center of a large transparent dome, as if insect that caught by jar. People scurrying around, without noticing me absolutely, as if I am invisible. I try to call them, but they do not hear me, I try to touch with my hand, but the glass prevents me. Suddenly becomes dark, as if someone has put out the light; and slowly, at a time, pass by me Sam, Mia, Nancy with malevolently laughing faces. Each of them giggles spitefully, pointing fingers at me. I sob, bang on the glass, but their laughter only gets louder, louder, louder…

Day 3

I woke up screaming. I leaned on my elbows and glanced around the room; there was no husband, no girlfriend, no Nancy — nobody, and I fell on the pillow hopelessly. Their voices still sounded in my splitting head and my forehead covered with cold sticky sweat. My dream evaporated and left me a disgusting aftertaste of deception, of meanness and treachery. I slowly got up from the sofa and cautiously went to the bathroom to wash away the disgusting feeling of a nightmare and to recover myself.

By every minute spent under the streams of hot water, I was feeling a little easier, my headache was receding and my thoughts were clearing. Suddenly, I realized what is bugging me in this house — it was too luxurious, and certainly built for personal use, without counting on the frequent presence of strangers. Exquisite parquet, expensive furniture made from oak and the harmony of interior of all rooms clearly proves it. Anyone would hardly construct such guesthouse, moreover away from the popular mountain resorts. Rather, the owner was looking for peace and solitude here. Whose house it is, and why did people close to me left me? Today I was determined to find the answers to the questions that tormented me.

Most of all I hate uncertainty, it is scares me and shackle the mind. I prefer clarity and truth, no matter how terrible it may be. Knowing the context of even the most difficult equation, I will be able to solve it. I have long since learned to turn negatives into positives and I do not need a magic wand for it, just an understanding of the essence of what is happening. If someone had told me that I need to stay here indefinitely or even forever, that my husband and friends do this to me from idleness, I wouldn’t beat myself up too much and I wouldn’t cry, but I would start looking for a way out. Currently it is the uncertainty drove me crazy, just that…

In search of answers, I decided to inspect the house carefully. I started on the first floor on which there are: living room, kitchen-dining room, bathroom with Laundry and pantry under the stairs. “That’s what I need. Let’s see what’s in it,” I thought. I opened the door and long could not find the switch. He was on the left, which is quite strange and uncomfortable. Judging by the interior design of the house, those who worked here certainly are masters of their craft and obviously skillful, unlike the electrician who installed the switch on the left. Something flashed in my memory, but I was not able to catch a thought in time. Mechanically, I walked over to the switch in the kitchen; it also was located at the left. It is unlikely owner of the house would not have noticed a mistake twice, which meant only that he himself was left-handed. Then I remembered Kevin is left-handed! I might have guessed owner was Kevin, as it was his bedroom locked.

Therefore, I just need to get to Kevin’s room, maybe then I will be able to find out something. I went back to the pantry, on its shelves tools and household inventory been neatly laid out. Since I am though strong, but fragile woman, couldn’t break a massive oak door, I decided to go the easiest way — to dismantle the lock, for this I took a screwdriver and just in case a hammer from the shelf.

I down on my knees at the door and started to work. Despite the fact that the lock was simple, took me about an hour to open it. May the owner of the house forgive me for damage to property?

When I entered, my suspicions confirmed. On the wall hung photos, on which we smiled: I, Sam and Kevin. In addition, there was a bronze watches on the desk, that my husband and I gave Kevin for thirtieth birthday. I approached the table. At this moment I saw a sheet of paper, its first line read “Hello, Margot!”

I grabbed it and began greedily, shamelessly reading, “The main thing — do not worry! Here you are safe, and do not try to leave here, at least it is silly. I will come to you in a couple of weeks. I hope you liked the house. I am sure you already guessed that it is mine. You have always been so smart in everything that not related to your beloved husband. You became a complete fool with him! Excuse me, but I do not know any other words for it. You did not see what kind of person he is because of your blind love. I will say banality — he is not worthy of you. I can already see your indignant face and a dumb question ‘Who is worthy?’ or ‘Not for you to judge!’ However, you must understand that I, as his close friend, I know a lot more about him than you do. Since, he did not need to pretend with me. You know, you should not have married him so quickly, moreover on the sly, leaving no chance for me to dissuade you and offer my candidacy. Do not act as if you did not know about my feelings for you. What’s more, I am the only person who really love you, of course except for your parents. And your husband and so-called ‘girlfriend’ are vile hypocrites. It was their idea to leave you here alone. And yet, soon we will both be single, I will take care o…” The letter stopped by an uncompleted sentence. Probably Kevin did not have time to finish it.

He is crazy! I do not believe a single word! Moreover, what does it mean, “We’ll both be single”? How did he plan to take care of this? I once again looked at the intermittent lines of his letter. What is he talking about is? It is absurd! The thoughts scurried in my head as animals who frightened of shots a hunting rifle. I still stood motionless by the table, holding a letter that have been corroding my soul and palms by its venom. It seems I have been seeking a clarity behind the locked door; however, the haze not only did not dissipate, but also became completely impenetrable.

I went out with the letter in my hand and unhurriedly descended to the first floor; sat down on a favorite windowsill in the living room, I have read the unfinished message repeatedly.