By Meredith Knight <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Submitted: February 2002
Summary: Lois and Clark are lost in the woods, and find an empty cottage to shelter in. But where are the inhabitants — and why is there no bathroom? This story was written for the L&C fairy tale challenge.
Author's Note: This was written for the Fairy Tale challenge on the message boards. I hope you have as much fun reading it as I had writing it. <g>
I owe a huge vote of thanks to Missy for providing me with wonderful brainstorming ideas on IRC, and also for beta- reading at top speed. Thanks, Missy — you're the best! ;)
The characters of Lois and Clark don't belong to me; I'm just having a little fun with them. No infringement of anyone's copyright is intended. This story, however, is an original work and copyrighted to me.
Lois trudged wearily down the forest path, her eyes almost closed and her head lolling onto Clark's shoulder. Her husband's guidance and the support of his arm about her shoulders were all that had kept her going for the last few miles, and in spite of the chafing of her sodden clothing and the blistering of feet pushed too far in thin city shoes, she was only half awake.
Clark himself was in scarcely better condition; a nasty encounter with a gang of kidnappers and a chunk of kryptonite had left him mercifully unharmed but bereft of super-powers. It had also left the two of them stranded in an unfamiliar, largely trackless forest — an eventuality they hadn't thought to equip themselves for when they had set out before dawn to investigate an illegal logging operation. At least the rain had finally stopped, but not before giving them a thorough soaking. Unless they reached some human habitation soon, Clark thought grimly, eyeing the fading light, they were in for an extremely long and uncomfortable night.
Rounding yet another curve in the path, Clark stopped short and let out a sigh of profound relief. Lois swayed and then lifted her head, pushing a bedraggled lock of dark hair out of her eyes. Before them, nestled in a small clearing, stood the outpost of civilisation that the path had promised: a small, two-storey wooden cottage.
Clark urged Lois forward the last few steps, up to the front door. There was no bell, but Clark knocked firmly on the door. They waited, listening carefully, but there was no sound of movement within. Lois leaned wearily against Clark as he knocked a second time.
"Hello!" he shouted. There was no response.
Clark turned to Lois with a shrug. "It must be a forestry station," he said. "Perhaps they've been called out to a fire or something."
Lois looked at him out of the corner of her eye, too tired even to raise an eyebrow. "In this weather? Hardly likely," she remarked drily.
"Well, they won't begrudge us a bit of warmth and shelter," Clark said confidently, looking closely at the door. It was innocent of a lock or even a doorknob, and when he lifted the old-fashioned latch it creaked open.
The interior of the cottage was dim and gloomy. Clark cautiously led the way inside, biting back a yelp as he located a piece of furniture with his shin. He bent forward to identify it. "Here's a chair," he said to Lois. "Why don't you sit down, while I try to find a light switch or some matches?"
Lois sank down thankfully on the chair and stretched out her aching legs. She could hear Clark fumbling around the room; after a short while there was a satisfied grunt and the sound of a match striking. The small point of light grew as Clark located and lit a couple of candles that were embedded in mounds of old, melted beeswax on the rough wooden mantelpiece. He turned to smile at Lois. "That's better," he said. "I'd better light a fire to warm the place up."
Lois shifted uncomfortably. The chair was a large upright wooden one, and now that her muscles were relaxing it seemed to be getting progressively harder. She looked around the single downstairs room in the dim candlelight. It was primitive and sparsely furnished, but there were two more chairs. She moved to the next one.
This one was a large armchair, upholstered in a fussy floral chintz. Lois immediately found herself sinking claustrophobically into its soft depths. She hauled herself to her feet again.
The third chair was a wooden rocking chair, smaller than the others. Belatedly realising that her clothes had left wet patches on both the other chairs, Lois was also relieved to see that this one was varnished. She sat down and discovered it was considerably more comfortable than either of the others. She sat rocking gently while Clark busied himself with the fireplace.
A few minutes later, Clark had burnt his fingers twice, and was coming to the conclusion that lighting a fire by the normal method was a lot harder than he remembered. He shook his head ruefully as he realised that he'd used the last match in the box, without producing more than a few moments of sullen glowing and some acrid smoke.
He turned to where Lois was sitting, and was alarmed to see that she had started to shiver violently. He knelt next to her chair and gathered her protectively into his arms, trying to chafe some warmth into her. As he leant against the chair there was an ominous crack, and the next moment he found himself lying on top of Lois amidst the ruins of the chair.
There was a moment's silence, then Lois started to giggle. "It's just not our day, is it?" she observed, as Clark scrambled up and helped her to her feet. He was relieved to see that she was shivering less, but she still looked very cold.
"I'm going upstairs to find some dry clothes," he decided. "You should keep moving to stay warm. Why don't you check the kitchen area for more matches meanwhile? I don't fancy having to excavate one of those candles…"
Lois moved stiffly over to the cooking area and started to look in the drawers and cupboards. There were no matches to be seen, and she constantly found her attention being distracted by three bowls which were standing on the counter. Each had a spoon next to it, and each contained a generous helping of ice cream. Lois's stomach growled loudly, reminding her just how long it had been since she'd eaten.
Finally she couldn't restrain herself any longer. Surely the cottage's inhabitants wouldn't begrudge a hungry traveller a bite to eat, she thought as she picked up the nearest spoon. She was surprised to find that the ice cream was still frozen solid, and she had some difficulty scooping out a mouthful. It was almond — not her favourite flavour.
She put down the spoon and picked up the next. The ice cream in this bowl was slushy, almost melted. It was strawberry ripple, and seemed to have had honey drizzled over it. Lois made a face as she laid the second spoon down.
The third bowl was better. Perfect, in fact, Lois amended as she rolled the double-chocolate ice cream around in her mouth and felt the chocolate chips melting on her tongue. She swallowed and felt it slide down delightfully into her grateful stomach. Heaven, she sighed rapturously as she lifted the spoon to her mouth again.
"I can't find any clothes upstairs," Clark said behind her. Lois started and opened her eyes, astonished to find that the bowl was empty. She put the spoon down hastily and turned to face him.
"There's nothing up there except some beds," Clark continued. "Not even a bathroom."
"That's odd," Lois said, frowning. "There wasn't an outhouse. I wonder where they…" Her voice trailed off.
Clark shrugged. "In the woods, I guess," he said dismissively. He put an arm round her; she was shivering again after the large helping of ice cream. "I'm just worried about getting you warm. I think you'd better take your wet things off, and get into bed."
Lois made her way slowly up the stairs, Clark fussing solicitously behind her. The upper floor also consisted of a single large room, this time containing three beds. Lois turned back the covers on the first one, and retreated a step as a musky odour rose from it. It smelt almost as though the cottage owners allowed a large animal — a dog, perhaps? — to sleep in this bed.
Clark stepped forward and lifted back the covers on the second bed. "Use this one," he suggested. Lois turned to look. The bed was made up with frilly pink covers and lacy sheets, and there were several heart-shaped pillows. Lois couldn't restrain a grimace.
Clark chuckled. "All right, that one," he said, gesturing to the bed in the corner. This one was smaller, but seemed clean and was made up with plain blue linen. Clark helped Lois to take off her clothes and slip under the covers. He bent to kiss her, concerned to see her continuing to shudder convulsively even after a few minutes in bed.
He shed his own clothes, dumping them in a pile on top of hers, and got into bed with her, gathering her into a warm embrace. She murmured appreciatively and nestled her dark head into his shoulder, her shivers diminishing at last. Within a couple of minutes, her breathing told him that she had dozed off.
He mustn't fall asleep, Clark told himself firmly. He needed to get up and hang Lois's clothes somewhere to dry, and then go downstairs to meet the returning inhabitants and explain what they were doing here. Just a few minutes more, to ensure that Lois was thoroughly warm and sound asleep…
Clark was awakened by an unfamiliar sound. He lay for a moment with his eyes closed, his arms wrapped around Lois, trying to work out what the sound might be. Suddenly he heard an animal growling, only a few yards away. His eyes flew open and he saw a large bear, standing upright next to the frilly bed. A movement at the foot of the bed he and Lois were lying in drew his attention. A smaller bear was standing there, and as he gaped at it in astonishment it took a pace forward, opened its mouth to expose a fearsome set of teeth, and emitted a loud, protracted snarl.
Something teased at the back of Clark's mind, but there was no time to waste. He flung one arm around the outside of the quilt, clutching it and Lois close against him; then he shot off the bed, scooped the pile of wet clothes up off the floor, and headed down the stairs as fast as he could without jeopardising his cargo, dodging a third, enormous bear en route He closed his eyes for an instant, desperately thankful that his powers had returned during the night. Then he negotiated the front door and streaked into the night sky, heading for Metropolis and home.
Lois woke as he disentangled her from the quilt in the safety of their own bedroom. He helped her back into bed, fending off her sleepy questions with a promise to tell her everything in the morning.
He lay awake for a while, mulling over their strange adventure. He had belatedly realised what had been niggling at him when the bear had growled. Along with the audible frequency of the growling, he had also heard a subsonic frequency forming recognisable words.
And the words had said, "Somebody's been sleeping in my bed… and they're still here!"
Lois was never, ever going to believe it.