Rita often found herself struggling with the feeling that she was never quite as alone as she would like to be. By the time she'd reached forty-one years of age she was thankful to have accumulated a great deal of comfort in the life she'd worked hard to make for herself, one that would suit her need to be as independent or, self-contained, that may be a better way to describe it, as possible. But still, she was never alone quite enough. People, as they do, always made it in. Much in the same way a hint of weather creeps into the seams and pores of a home from outside, so do people.

What Rita ultimately wanted was a step above what she already had. She wanted to continue to be self-contained, and be tapped into all of the creativity from all around the world that the internet gave her immediate access to, but she wanted to find a way to have it stop there in terms of interactions with other people. She wished, so very strongly, that she could maintain relationships (work or otherwise) online, which is so easy to do now, and then, once her laptop closed and her phone went black, be completely and totally alone. If the extent of the peripheral racket of her ins and outs could peak at the hum of central air conditioning, and the chirp of birds from a nearby bush, she would finally feel content. To say this to someone else she'd, of course, be met with any combination of "you think that, but you'd eventually get lonely."

No. She wouldn't.

###

At least once a year Rita liked to go on a trip. Usually these trips involved a long drive, or a long train ride, where the trip part is the actual trip, more so than whatever happens once she gets to wherever she's going. Usually these are about 50/50. Fifty percent isolated tranquility, and fifty percent navigating periodic brief conversations with people. During one of Rita's trips even the small exchange involved in checking into a rental property chips away from what she wants. She has, at times, considered pretending to be a deaf mute, in hopes that it would help her avoid these interactions, but the one time she actually tried, while checking into a hotel, it yielded horrific results. Do you know how people talk to deaf mutes? Rather than having the common sense to communicate via pen and paper, or the passing back and forth of a cellphone's notes app, all which would make far too much sense, they wildly gesture and pantomime with cartoonish, over enunciating, rubbery lips and cavernous mouths. If talking to people made Rita feel annoyed and uneasy, being forced to look at the insides of their mouths would be enough to make her vomit. And in this particular instance, it did. So she didn't try it again.

On her last trip, which was to a lovely cabin in the most remote section of the Catskills, Rita's experience took a header when, on her second day there, a family of seemingly 35 planted their flag somewhere she couldn't see with the naked eye, but could certainly hear. Even on a mountain, even in the dense woods, the ooze of mankind takes to the air and, instinctually, goes searching for other humans. Like a virus, the essence of people only knows to connect, feed, and spread. Rita, at all cost of difficulty, wants no part of it.

Ending the trip in a huff, and heading out quickly, for fear that the racket she had heard had somehow honed in and was, at any moment, hiking her way to roast hot dogs and clip toenails outside her bedroom window, something white caught her eye in the woods. Squinting to bring it into focus, she could see what looked like a piece of paper stapled to a tree just a short distance from the dirt turnaround her car was parked on. Curious, she finished getting everything situated to leave and then walked over to find the following:

During the totality of her drive back home she thought of nothing else. At first her response to the little sign, carelessly scribbled out and left so far from the public eye, was further annoyance. Whoever had last stayed in that cabin must have thought that they were really funny to leave a cryptic message in a place where few people would ever have a chance to find it. It was probably the name of someone's dumb band. Or one of those immersive art things that are still popular in New York. More popular than they should be.  Then, the more her imagination rolled it around, she crafted a scenario that amounted to "This is it. This is what I've been waiting for."

Once home, Rita dumped her stuff at the door and went over to her laptop. She typed in "The Alone Room" to her search bar and a link popped up. Clicking on it, she was led to a white screen that contained only a few bits of black text, similar to the sign itself, with no other information. It asked for a check-in date, and an email address. Curious still, Rita chose a random date two weeks away and punched it in, followed by her email address. Within seconds the Gmail icon on her computer indicated that she'd received a new message. She clicked over to it and saw "Alone Room" listed as the sender. The text included only an address, a time, and the word "confirmed." No payment had been requested and she hoped that didn't mean someone would be waiting for her when she checked in. Having thought this, she realized that she'd already made the concrete decision to go.

Two weeks flew by and before Rita knew it she was packing up her car for another trip. Programming her GPS with the address provided by the confirmation she'd received from The Alone Room, she saw that it wasn't too far from the cabin she found the sign near. This worried her because her last trip hadn't been at all what she wanted. When she thought "woods" she pictured nothing but nature for as far as the eyes (and ears) knew. She wasn't expecting much from this Alone Room business.

Rita daydreamed for most of the drive from Staten Island, where she lived, to her destination, which ended up being much further away from the last cabin she'd stayed in than she had thought. Her GPS had rerouted a few times during the drive and the arrival dot looked as though it had moved quite a distance from where she'd first seen it on the map. She almost started to worry that the directions were bogus, leading her nowhere (in a bad way) but then her device announced that she'd arrived and she spotted a very small cabin at the top of a squatty hill. There were wooden steps leading up to the cabin and Rita made two trips to get her bags and groceries up. Once everything was in she stopped to get a good look of the place, and liked what she saw. The cabin was only large enough to fit a full sized bed, a small wood table, and one wood chair. There was a small area towards the front with a gas stove and a sink, and what she thought was a small closet towards the back, which ended up being the bathroom. Seeing no shower in the bathroom she worried about being a greasy mess for her whole trip, but then, while rinsing out a cup at the kitchen sink, she spotted a makeshift wash station near the front of the cabin. A pair of industrial blue dish gloves were slung over the top of the wide metal shower head, which was angled over a large metal tub. Rita had a lot of issues, she could easily admit this to herself, but somehow modesty had never been one of them. She looked forward to taking a shower outdoors in the fresh mountain air the next morning.

After relaxing and reading, with a coffee cup filled with red wine by her side, the sun set and the cabin became completely dark. People talk about a place being so dark you can't see your hand in front of your face, but no one can realize just how dark of a dark that is until they're in it. Out of all the daily conveniences that Rita had thought to bring (wine, slippers, coffee to make on the stove, etc.) a lantern had somehow not made it onto the checklist. She tried to keep reading using the flashlight on her phone but it hurt her eyes, so she opted for going to bed instead. She suspected that she'd find herself having a hard time falling to sleep at 8PM but after laying quietly and taking in the damp woody smell of the room, she was out.

At some point in the night Rita was awoken by what sounded to her like some type of grinding noise. Only half awake, rubbing her eyes to try and get some point of reference from the blackness around her, she put her hands out on the bed to raise herself up, and found that she couldn't. Darting her fingers around as far as they'd reach she felt a strip of metal that went around her whole body and into the bed. She pulled at it, momentarily hoping for the sensation of it very easily coming out of the foam of the mattress, then grimly knew that it wasn't possible. The metal holding her to the bed was attached to something stronger underneath. Probably a spring, or a post. As she continued to pull at it anyway, the grinding noise continued, followed by a great deal of pain. A circle of wood fell away from the floor under the bed she was laying on and enough late night/early morning light came in that she could see the bottom half of the whirring, chomping machine that was now crushing her bones and ripping her intestines from her body. A farm device of some sort. Or a rigged wood chipper. She'd never know. One final scream escaped her mouth, the last of her life, and scared flapping birds from the trees outside. The noise of the machine turned into a slightly different one as the bed rotated around like a rotisserie and the metal that had been holding Rita released her into the cool pit of dirt waiting there. About thirty minutes later, although no one was around to hear it, the sound of water hitting metal, and joyful humming, could be heard out front. The flapping birds returned to the trees.

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