Eva threw her bag on the passenger seat and climbed into the car, slamming the door shut and trapping her jacket in it. She opened again to pull the rest of it in. She frowned as cold air whipped into her face one last time. She turned on the air conditioning and waited for it to warm up while rubbing her fingers. They felt like icicles that would break off if she just tried to do so. Once the motor heated up, she drove out of the parking lot and onto the road.
Every other person was already home at this point. She had to be in school from 8 in the morning till 8 in the evening, every Thursday though. It was pitch black in the morning and pitch black in the evening. At first she had been glad to have the whole Friday off in return, but now, she’d rather have half day school on both days.
She reached the edge of the city and would have to drive through empty fields for 45 minutes before reaching back to her hometown. There were no free apartments here, so she had to move to the nearest village. What she saved in rent she spent for gas.
Her phone started ringing. She was driving so she waited for the caller to give up. They did not. There was no one else on the road so she tried to open her bag and hang the caller up herself. It took some clumsy fumbling but she did it. They called again. Right away, after she hung up. Thumb still in position, she hung up, only for it not to skip a second to call again.
She stopped at the side of the road and turned on the warning lights. Unknown number. If this was some badly programmed bot, she swears to Christ.
“Hello Eva.” she did not recognize the voice. It didn’t sound like an actual caller but not a bot either. There was this loud background buzz of a cheap recording.
“Hi.” She replied automatically.
“You’ve stopped the car. Good.”
Whatever warmth she had accrued left her body. She looked outside. The warning lights illuminated the general area but there was no one around. Who was this, what do they want?
“Wh-what’s stopping me from just driving away?”
“You won’t find out if you do.”
“What the fuck is this?”
“Turn the lights off. Get out of the car.”
“What do you want?”
“I just want to talk. What do you want, Eva?”
“I want you to leave me alone.”
“Then drive home.”
“Then you will never hear from me again.”
“If you have a hostage just tell me.”
“There is no one with me, Eva.”
Their voice sounded like they were reading a goodnight story to a child. Eva got out of the car. It was cold and silent except for the whistling wind. She locked the doors.
“Get on the other side of the car.”
“What if I call the police?”
“If you hang up I will not call you again.”
They’ve not threatened her with anything but there’s gotta be a consequence to hanging up, right? Maybe it was something else keeping her on the phone.
“I know it’s cold, but it’ll be warm soon, trust me. Climb over the railing.”
Eva looked ahead. Off the road was a forest. The ride home was so long that it would all blend together, so she wasn’t exactly sure where she was. Somewhere between the city and her home. Not near any civilization.
“I don’t think this is a good idea.”
“You will be safe.”
Eva listened to the recording crackling. She believed she heard twigs snapping under footsteps.
“Can I at least take a flashlight with me?”
Eva unlocked the car and took out the flashlight from the glove box. She made sure the knife in her pocket was folded up. It was already hard enough to open while her hands were still warm. With her better judgement mysteriously absent, she left the road and entered the forest.
The ground was wet under the snow. The little twigs snapped with a muffled sound under her feet. She could tell that whoever was calling was walking through the forest as well. Maybe deeper in. Where the ground was protected from the snow by the trees above, so the twigs still snapped loud enough to hear.
“What’s your earliest memory?”
“Really? As if this isn’t creepy enough.”
“Haha, I’m sorry, I must’ve gotten you at a bad time.”
“When exactly is it a good time for this?”
“...There was a cupboard in the kitchen. I would throw out all the tupperware inside so that I could hide inside. Though the mess in front of it was usually a dead giveaway for my dad.”
“Do you remember your mama?”
Eva didn’t pay much attention to where she walked. She only made sure to remember the way back.
“No. She left us when I was very young. Dad didn’t talk about her.”
“I’m sorry, kid. I wanted to be there for you, but... “
“Come on, you’re not my mother.” Eva interrupted.
“Do you remember the walk in the woods with me?”
The caller on the other end went further away from the speaker. “Sweetie, could you say hi?”
She held the phone up to a kid who said with clumsy pronunciation: “Hello, I’m Eva. I’m in the forest with my mam!”
“Do you recognize your voice?”
Of course her voice had changed over the years but, yes, she did. She remembered having said that.
“I know this must be confusing to you, but you will know everything at the end of this. Why I had to do what I did.”
“How are you talking to me if you’re in the past?”
Eva kept walking. Her mother didn’t even need to guide her, it was as if she knew by instinct where she was going. Like she had walked this path before. She heard her mother and her younger self talk on the other end.
“Look mom, a bug!”
“Wow, that’s a big one!”
“Why are you on the phone all the time?”
“You don’t need to worry about that yet, sweetie.”
Eventually Eva found a clearing.
“You see that building?”
It was a simple brick shack. Maybe to store wood or farming equipment or an access to water pumps. Whichever you’d need here in the woods.
“I hope you’re not too cold. Feel free to warm up inside.”
Eva found the shack unlocked and lights burning inside. She put down the flashlight and phone and rubbed her hands. Her finger joints hurt and so did her knees. Aside from the lightbulb hanging from the ceiling, there was only a stack of pallets and a wooden chair. Behind the pallets was a hole in the ground with a rusty ladder leading deeper down.
“Go down there if you’re ready.” the phone gently transmitted. It was so quiet, she could hear it without putting it on loudspeaker.
“Will you be there?”
“Yes. We’ll meet at the end of this. I won’t have seen you for a long time then.”
Eva picked up her things and climbed down the ladder. It seemed to take her a minute to reach the bottom. The phone had no trouble with reception down there. The walls reflected the light, wet and weathered. The air was damp and the floor slippery with grime. A hallway led forward to a greater room. It was hard to tell what the point of this structure was. It was simply a series of connected empty rooms, no pipes snaking up the walls or any warning signs or notices. Eva found an old, chewed up shoe in the big room and a copper coin in the room behind it. Strange items to leave behind down here.
“Mama, this place is scary.” young Eva said.
“I know, sweetie, but don’t worry. These people are your friends.”
“They don’t look right.”
Eva couldn’t recall anything of this place. She went through three more rooms, lit with a sickly yellow of ancient light bulbs. Then she stopped. The door she stood before was open, the room behind was dark. She could only see a foot beyond the door frame. It was unnaturally dark. This wasn’t just a gateway between rooms.
“This is it.” her mother said. She let out a light groan as she presumably knelt down. “I’m sorry sweetie, I’ll have to go now. The nice people will bring you home.”
“Where are you going?”
“I can’t explain. But maybe one day you’ll visit.”
“Okay.” the small Eva accepted it in a defeated tone. It didn’t seem to occur to the kid that her mother meant she’d be gone for a long time, not just for the rest of the day.
“I love you sweetie. Goodbye.”
Eva waited for her mother to take a deep breath. “So, this is where you are?”
“Yes. If you wish to meet me, enter the room.”
Eva took a step forward. It felt like a force was lightly pushing against her, but it also felt welcoming.
“...What if I don’t?”
“Then we won’t meet. This is the only recording they’re allowing me to do. I won’t be able to contact you again.”
“Who are they?”
“Come and see. You’ll understand.”
Eva stepped closer. The force gave way more easily.
“Why did you have to leave?”
“Come and see.”
The back of Eva’s hand touched the door frame. The flashlight couldn’t penetrate the darkness. She had no idea how far the room extended. She saw nothing in the blackness, not even the floor. The force no longer held any resistance.
“Mama… do you love me?”
“I love you with all my heart.”
“I love you too, mama.”
Eva took a step back. Her thumb ended the phone call. She felt cold. Before her was just an empty room, like the ones she had already passed through. Her flashlight no longer struggled to illuminate it.