Hanna is the property of Focus Features.
Part 1 of 3: Treats
Winter was the bad time. Cold, dark, wet. The old cabin was creaky and full of holes. At night it could be bad, if the wind was blowing from the east, away from the tree line and cutting through the chinks in the rough-hewn boards. Hanna thought sometimes the little cabin would blow away in the wind and land far away, on the icy lake, partially frozen this time of year and susceptible to breakages. Her father said this could not happen, and so far it never had.
The summers were warm and bright, green, with the birds back in their homes. Summer was the best time. They stayed up late, when the sun didn't set until after midnight, her father reading from the books, or telling her stories. Hanna liked the stories best.
It was summer now. The lake was melted, even if never warm. The quiet was gone. Footsteps were muffled in the snow, sound absorbed in the airy ice clinging to tree branches. Stalking was easy in winter, and that meant it was easy to be stalked. Hanna did not rest easy when she could be hunted.
Summer was dry branches on the ground and crackling leaves underfoot. She knew how to navigate them. Her father did too, but few others could. She was safe.
Safer. Closer to it.
One day that summer her father packed a sack full of something she didn't see. He didn't leave very often. Sometimes once a year, sometimes less. He left nineteen months ago and was gone eight days and seventeen hours. Hanna was scared then. But she was bigger now, almost nine, and she wasn't very much afraid anymore when she saw he was leaving.
She set down the ax. The blisters were coming back on her hands, softened from last year when she'd last chopped wood. During the winter the logs were too frozen to chop, so they used collected wood from the forest floor. Her father always had her chop the wood. He was stronger, but it was her job.
"I am leaving for the town," he said. He stopped halfway between the door and the woodpile, looking down the path that led away, far away to places Hanna had never been. He had put on his knit cap to cover his unruly hair. Hanna asked him about it once and he said it was so the locals didn't stare. She wondered if people would stare at her if she went to the town. Maybe if she had a hat like that, he would let her go sometime.
Hanna picked up her ax again. Her father did not like her to be idle. She gripped it firmly, left hand around the neck, closer to the top, right hand about the middle, thumbs wrapped around . Her fingers didn't reach all the way. He said she'd grow into it.
She heaved it above her shoulder, swinging it past her legs, and connected the arch to the lug of wood on the tree stump. As the ax fell she loosened her grip slightly, allowing the momentum of the head to give extra force to the blow. This made up for her limited upper body strength. The wood split cleanly.
"We are low on ammunition," she said to her father. She gave him a glance now and then, in between throwing the split wood onto an ever-growing pile and replacing it with a chunk of log. "Nine millimeter, eight gauge, and twenty-four," she said.
He kept watching the path, as if expecting something to come down it. He always expected that. Hanna did too. No one had ever come down it before, except her and her father. But they kept expecting it just the same.
It was safer that way.
"I counted. You are off a little. We still have two hundred rounds of the twenty-four."
Hanna thought about that. He corrected her often.
"Better to have too much than too little," she said eventually. She saw him nod.
"I will be gone until next week. Maybe a little later," he said.
That was normal. The town was four days journey away. Sometimes he found a ride and hitched part of the way. That allowed him to go faster, but even so, it was unlikely to take less than seven days.
It felt like too long. Hanna always worried.
"Don't talk to strangers, Papa. And don't forget to always wear your hat," she said.
He smiled a little, although she did not see it. An eight year old girl would be here defenseless in the woods, and she worried about him. But, of course, she was not defenseless.
"I want the smokehouse repaired by the time I am back," he said. "And your lessons read every night. No skipping. I'll know if you do."
Hanna believed him.
"Stay in at night. And keep the Rules."
Hanna nodded. The Rules were sacred. Don't let anyone see you. Don't leave the woods. Keep on guard. Adapt or die.
He hitched his pack further up his shoulders, eyes on his daughter. "Goodbye, Hanna," he said.
Hanna dropped the ax and ran to him. She closed her tiny arms around his waist with surprising strength. "Take me with you. I will keep you safe," she whispered.
Her father swallowed hard. Her little heart beat like a rabbit's against his stomach. "No. I have something important in the town. You will stay."
"What if you get lost?" the little girl responded, voice muffled against his coat.
"I'm much too clever to get lost. Did you ever hear of your father getting lost?"
"No," she said, but she bit her lip. Hanna did not cry much. Even as a baby she hadn't, and she didn't now.
Her father held her for a moment. Then he said, "How about this. We'll use the radio. I take one, and you use the one in the cabin. You check on me every night. I'll tell you when I'm coming home."
Her eyes lit up, she smiled, and nodded. She scampered to the cabin, emerging a moment later with an ancient looking two-way radio. He put it into his pack. "We'll check in every night at twenty-one hundred hours. Affirmative?"
"Affirmative," Hanna said, the word coming out with military precision from an eight year old's mouth.
He scooped her up and hugged her. He whispered into her ear, "Remember, don't leave the forest, no matter what happens. Promise me."
"I promise," she said.
"Good." He set her down. "And since you're such a good girl, I'll give you a treat, just this once."
Hanna tried to hide her smile. Treats were rare, and it was not a good idea to get too excited over them. But she was.
He reached into his pocket and pulled out a ball wrapped in brightly colored paper. He held it out to her and she stared at it for a good long second before snatching it up.
She held it up to her eyes, then sniffed it. "It's bubble gum," her father said. "I think you will like it."
With great concentration, she pulled the ends of the wrapper, slowly rotating it from its paper prison until the thing was unwrapped. The ball inside was chalky pink. "Just chew. Don't swallow."
She popped it into her mouth, and said through a sticky sugary smile, "Thank you, Papa."
He nodded and began down the path.
"Papa!" Hanna called. He stopped and turned.
"I don't know how to blow bubbles!"
"I'll teach you when I get back, Hanna." He waved and she waved back. He went down the long path to the town while Hanna tried to teach herself to blow bubbles.