Warning! This is a horror/dark fiction story so may be disturbing to some. There is strong language and sexual situations.
The pale maiden stood in the shadow of a tall pine tree just beyond the circle of warm light radiating from the front windows of the cabin.
After leaving the high wooden platform surrounding the first human habitation–a place she had rejected for many reasons, not the least of which was the deadly hunting rifle she had seen displayed on a wall beside the mating occupants’ firehole–she had traveled down through the trees to the simpler dwelling by the lake, hoping for a more advantageous situation. Sidling close to the habitation and pressing her body to the frosted panes of a window, as she had done earlier, her heart had been gladdened by the discovery that no weapons were on display. Inside, the prey, two strong young males and a pair of equally young females, were huddled about their firehole, eating and drinking, and totally oblivious to her presence.
The creature’s pulse throbbed in her prominent temples as she envisioned the sweet coppery taste of their bright, fresh blood, and she allowed her tongue to bathe the sides of her narrow mouth. There was enough nourishment in these four fat younglings to restore her strength entirely. If somehow she could manage to take them all, she would be able to feed for hours, transferring all the heat and strength and nourishment of their healthy young bodies to her own wasted one.
The fact that there were four of the humans–including the two rather large males–did not particularly disturb the maiden, even in her weakened condition.
She knew from long experience that she need only wait until they slept before creeping silently into the darkened habitation and choosing her first victim. With the nourishment from the blood of one strong young human to revitalize her shriveled digestive system, she felt confident she could manage the others, even should they awaken.
The maiden felt the fleecy mantle of snowfall collecting upon her shoulders and she withdrew further into the shadows to await the sign that the human creatures had begun to sleep; the darkening of the cabin. As she waited, she turned her golden eyes upward to the black sky, marveling at the deadly beauty of the orange sparks that shot upward from the cabin’s chimney. Strands of silvery saliva ran from the points of her canines as she anticipated the cloying human warmth that would soon belong to her alone.
A faint, shrill sound borne on the wind reached her sensitive ears and she swiveled her head around to peer curiously back up the mountain in the direction from which it had come.
She had never heard such a sound before.
The chiming of the phone on the kitchen counter top jangled Vince Wright out of the dreamy cocoon of well being he was enjoying. He and Annie were on the carpet before the hearth, lying tucked together like a pair of spoons beneath the colorful woolen Afghan her mother had given them the previous Christmas.
The phone rang again.
“They’re playing your song,” teased Annie as he groaned and propped himself up on one elbow to glare at the hated instrument.
“Screw it,” he said, pulling the warm coverlet up over his naked shoulder. “Only an idiot would go out on a night like tonight.”
“An idiot or a cop,” she smiled, finding the blue robe in a tangle at the foot of the lounge chair and sitting up to pull it on. “I’ll put the rest of the coffee in the thermos for you.”
“Forget it, I’m not going,” he said, opening the familiar litany they always played out at times like this. “It’s probably some drunk from L.A. who forgot to bring tire chains for his Mercedes.”
“Or it could be a pregnant mother without a way to get to the hospital,” said Annie. She bent to kiss his exposed ear, then rose and padded barefoot to the kitchen to prepare the thermos.
Vince sat up, wrapping the Afghan around his waist and hurried for the phone. “More likely some kids in a beat up van stuck in a snowbank.”
“Or an injured family trapped in a wrecked car,” she smiled.
He grabbed the phone on the fourth ring. “This is Deputy Wright,” he said. “How can I help you?”
The voice on the other end was urgent, frightened. Vince listened carefully, jotting something on a slip of paper from a neat stack he kept on the counter. “I’ll be there in five minutes,” he said, then added, “just try to remain calm, maam.” He hung up the phone and looked across the corner at Annie, whose eyebrows were arched questioningly.
“Lady in a ski cabin down by Southshore punched the wrong button and all the windows on her Jaguar went down. Now she can’t get them to go back up and she’s afraid the snow’s going to ruin the leather on the seats.”
Annie stared at him. “You’re not serious!”
He pulled on his pants and sat on the arm of the sofa to drag his insulated boots over the bulky thermal socks he was wearing. “No? Then why am I getting dressed to go out in a howling blizzard?”
“Honey, you don’t have to go out in the snow for something like that.”
“I know I don’t,” he smiled, standing and stomping his feet down into the boots, “but the woman sounded pretty old, and she’s all alone down there without any firewood. Seems like her husband was supposed to drive up to their place and meet her this afternoon, but he hasn’t gotten there yet and she’s pretty frightened.”
Annie kissed him and stood the thermos on the counter. “You’re a pushover. Do you know that?”
“Yeah,” he grinned, tucking in the tails of his heavy woolen shirt and shrugging into the dark green parka with the official patches on the shoulder. “I shouldn’t be too long,” he said.
Annie crossed her arms and raised her coffee cup to her lips. “Where have I heard that one before?” she asked as he pushed open the storm door and stepped out onto the snow covered deck.
The cabin by the lake had gone dark some minutes before, but the maid in the shadows remained hidden beneath her concealing mantle of snow…. Waiting.
The nearly invisible line of specialized neuroreceptors beneath her lower lip tingled in response to the miniscule electrical fields generated by the bodies of the prey moving behind the wooden walls of the cabin. Her sensitive ears picked up the sounds of quiet laughter and whispering voices from within the human habitation and she suspected that the creatures inside were now mating.
The burning hunger in her gut writhed like a living thing. Still she fought back the urge to move forward. To approach the cabin prematurely would be to risk detection and even injury at the hands of the humans, and she hadn’t the strength to flee or fight. The creature had often listened to the humans at their mating in the mining settlement at the far end of the lake and she knew they preferred to couple in darkness shortly before falling into a deep, trancelike stupor.
She would wait until the prey were helpless. Previous experience had taught that the physiological act of human coupling was a short-lived phenomonon.
Vince Wright stood at the edge of the redwood deck, looking down at the faint set of double footprints leading around to the picture window in the den, then back down the steps and into the woods. Something–or someone–had stood at the window less than half an hour ago, perhaps even watching as he and Annie had made love.
His ears burning despite the intense cold, he knelt beside the nearest set of tracks, poking a finger experimentally into the fresh powder that was rapidly erasing them. Definitely no more than half an hour old, maybe less. Unholstering his service automatic, he descended the steps to the drive, stopping to reach inside the Jeep and start the engine. Then, retrieving the big six-cell flashlight from the clip on the door post and clicking it on, he followed the tracks to the treeline and knelt again. There, in the relative shelter of a low hanging branch, he found a cleanly incised print that had not yet begun to fill with new snow. He played the light against the depression, laid his outstretched hand alongside it, noting that its overall length was considerably less than the span between the tip of his thumb and forefinger. Something small and, judging by the shallowness of its tread, light; no more than fifty or sixty pounds at the most.
“Weird!” He spoke the word aloud, standing and turning the powerful beam of the six-cell into the woods. More tracks led away downslope, in the direction of the cabin by the lake. The cabin where he had seen the college kids this afternoon.
Turning the light back toward the house, he contemplated the line of prints marching up to the steps, puzzled. Although he was no woodsman–a city boy born and bred–Vince Wright was convinced there was something highly unusual about the footprints. In the year he and Annie had been living up here full time he’d run across lots of animal tracks and he knew how to recognize racoon, coyote, even the occasional deer. But he’d never seen anything remotely like this. If he had to venture a wild guess, he’d say the tracks had been made by a small child walking on tiptoes… a small, barefoot child.
The kids in the cabin by the lake returned to his mind. Had there been a small child with them? A child who might have wandered away from the cabin and gotten lost… a child who even now might be freezing to death in the woods? He shook his head. If that had been the case the kid wouldn’t have gone away after finding the house and making it all the way up onto the deck. With help just a few feet away it would have cried out or pounded on the door, not wandered off into the storm again.
He knelt to examine the tracks once more. A dog seemed the most likely explanation. Something about the size of a shepherd or a retriever. There were several such animals whose owners inhabited the cluster of expensive ski lodges half a mile further down the mountain on lakeshore; animals whose nocturnal wanderings in search of squirrel and rabbit were fairly common.
It had to be a dog.
Retracing his steps to the Jeep, which was now idling smoothly, Vince unplugged the engine oil heater and climbed into the comforting warmth of the front seat. Switching on the headlights and placing the transmission selector into low range, he backed up to the foot of the steps, then shifted into first and started down the narrow track leading to the highway. The four-wheel-drive vehicle’s big knobby tires gripped the soft snow reassuringly and he made a bet with himself that he’d spot the prowling canine before he reached the paved two lane road that circled the lake.
The pale maiden stood frozen in the snow halfway between the security of the tree line and the deep shadows masking the porch of the log cabin. She had just begun her brief passage to the human habitation when the roar of a machine approaching from the mountain above had split the air and the blinding flash of powerful lights glared among the trees. Without the strength to sprint the remaining distance to the shadowed porch, and uncertain whether the loud approach of the oncoming vehicle would arouse the occupants of the cabin, she had halted in mid-stride, forced to rely upon the falling snow and her chalky coloring to mask her presence from the human or humans in the machine.
The machine, a boxy vehicle with dark windows and no discernible means of propulsion, had come into full view a moment later, the blazing light sources set into the metal grating at its front bathing the clearing and its lone occupant in a stark wash of white light that seared the maiden’s delicate retinas and tingled unpleasantly against her skin.
Just when it had seemed that the onrushing vehicle must surely run down the helpless predator, the juggernaut veered away from the cabin, following a curve in the narrow trail it was traversing, and the machine had disappeared into the woods, the twin glow of the red lights at its rear glowing eerily through the trees until it was lost from sight.
The maiden had remained frozen in the clearing for several more minutes, until it was evident that the passage of the machine had not attracted the attention of the cabin’s occupants. Raising one foot from the depression in the new snow where she had stopped, she took a cautious step forward. Then another.
The Jeep reached the deserted lake road, which was already several inches deep in fresh powder. Levering the transmission into four-wheel-drive, Vince turned toward the collection of weekend lodges and condos to the south. Having noticed nothing out of the ordinary as he had passed the darkened cabin below his place, he had already dismissed the mystery of the odd animal tracks around his deck.