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"The Lost Cabin": First Place, Family Circle Fiction Contest 2012

"The Lost Cabin," by Susan Ratkovic, won first place in Family Circle's 2012 Fiction Contest.
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Marc Yankus

"Are you sure you aren't lost?"

Barbara looked in the rearview mirror at the girl sitting behind her. Her eyes were met with a scowl. The fifteen-year-old had her arms crossed at the waist and was slouched as far back as possible in the backseat of the compact car.

Oh, Miriam. Barbara loved the name, so classic and timeless. Her daughter, on the other hand, loathed it for the very same reasons, and she made sure her appearance said that she was anything but. Today her long, straight hair was mostly black, with bleached blond bangs and a few random blue highlights throughout. Barbara still wasn't sure if the blue was real hair or extensions. It was just another topic on which Miriam refused to divulge anything more than an eye roll.

"We aren't lost," Barbara replied, trying to keep her voice calm. "We're almost there."

"If Dad was driving we would already be there."

No, Barbara wanted to say. If Dad was driving, he would have dumped us at the side of the road and taken on a different companion. But she and Michael vowed to stay neutral when they split, for the sake of their daughter, and if there was one thing Barbara was good at, it was remaining faithful. Too bad she couldn't say the same for Michael.

They drove in silence for another fifteen minutes. Trying to engage her daughter in conversation would only intensify the tension between them. Barbara turned onto the long, winding road. The turnoff was easy to miss amid the dense pine trees, but unbeknownst to her daughter, Barbara had an uncanny sense of direction. The GPS, on the other hand, was frantically recalibrating as it showed the car driving into a nearby creek.

Wildflowers were in bloom, decorating tall blades of grass in Monet-esque swirls of yellow, lavender and white. Their temporary residence for the next week was another five bumpy miles off the main road. A small cluster of wood cabins sat nestled between pine trees and the creek.

No sooner had they walked through the door than Miriam whined, "There's no Wi-Fi! How am I supposed to text my friends and update my Facebook status so everyone knows I'm in the boondocks?"

"I think you will survive a few days without it," Barbara replied. She had survived four decades without Facebook. Her daughter could survive a week. But to point that out would only make Barbara seem more antiquated in her daughter's eyes, if that were possible.

Miriam threw her backpack on the floor with an exaggerated huff, loud enough to scare the wildlife. "If you're going to force me to spend a week in the middle of nowhere, the least you could do is let me talk to my friends."

"Why don't you write them letters?" Barbara suggested. "Wouldn't your friends like to get something in the mail for a change?"

"Ugh. So lame. As if my name doesn't make me sound ancient enough. Might as well send them a telegram." Miriam plopped facedown onto the bed. "I think you secretly take pleasure in making my life as miserable as possible."

Barbara left Miriam alone, telling her daughter she could find her out back. She slipped through the sliding glass door and curled into a hammock. The melody of the birds was mesmerizing, much more enchanting than car horns and police sirens. Up above, through the canopy of trees, she glimpsed the sun in the cloudless blue sky. Its light was blinding. Lost in the sounds and smells, she drifted to sleep.

A gurgling stomach awoke Barbara, and as she looked upward she realized why. The glaring light had mellowed to a rosy glow. The sun was setting, and they'd never even had lunch. Miriam must be starving too.

She jumped out of the hammock, ran frantically inside and found Miriam asleep on the bed. It took an act of self-restraint to keep from pulling the black Converse off Miriam's feet. Her long slender legs were snuggly enveloped in electric blue jeans. Even on a hot summer day, her daughter would sacrifice comfort for the sake of fashion. Pale arms extended from an intentionally tattered T-shirt and draped across the Aztec-patterned bedspread. Barbara had spent a lot of money on the T-shirt, only to be insulted when Miriam took a pair of fabric shears to the back and sleeves.

Barbara sat on the unoccupied twin bed and sighed. Of course Miriam was okay. After all, she was a teenager now, not a needy infant. She lay quietly staring at the ceiling until Miriam finally awoke.

"Hungry?" Barbara asked softly. "No," Miriam snapped.

She could be seven days into a fast and not admit she was hungry, Barbara thought to herself. "Well, I am, and I would appreciate your company."

Miriam pulled herself up, hugging her legs. "Fine, whatever. As long as we don't have to catch our own food."

Barbara laughed. "There's a restaurant by the lobby. I don't know what sort of selection they have, seeing that this is the boondocks, but we're bound to find something edible."