Warning! This is a horror/dark fiction story so may be disturbing to some. There is strong language and sexual situations.
The maiden loped upward through the dark trees, the shrill of the human female’s screams still ringing unpleasantly in her ears. Upon leaving the rustic cabin she had angled directly toward the top of the mountain without thinking, allowing her hunter’s instincts to take over, guiding her back toward the rocky heights where she had found security in the past. Now, as the distance between her and the humans widened, she slowed her pace and began to consider whether a return to the cold grotto was wise. She had been weak and clumsy in her earlier trek down the mountain and, despite the fresh snowfall, her undisguised spoor might still readily be discovered by any would-be pursuers.
She paused at the base of a huge conifer. The spreading branches had prevented the snow from drifting here, and she sank into a deep carpet of fallen needles to consider what she should do next. The huge feeding sloshed uncomfortably in her distended belly and she needed desperately to lay up undisturbed for several hours while her digestive processes converted the food to energy. But where?
The maiden knew almost nothing about the humans of this time, except that their machines had grown swifter and more powerful and, if the evidence of the lights beyond the mountain were to be believed, that there were many, many more of them than she had ever seen before. Perhaps they had discovered new ways of tracking predators since she had gone dormant; ways of which she was completely ignorant.
Earlier, she had hesitated briefly before bolting from the cabin, pausing to regard the squalling female she had left alive; hoping from the brief observation to glean some small understanding of these new humans. Although she had learned little, the creature took some small comfort from the fact that the terrified female seemed little changed from her ancestors; had simply stood staring at her in the glow of firelight, seemingly resigned to the fact of her own imminent death. As the maiden forced itself wearily to her feet, she reflected that that was good.
Perhaps the humans of this era were even less warlike than their ancestors had been. Although as she allowed herself to consider that possibility she remembered the words she had once overheard spoken by a man-creature of the earlier time. That night the creature had been waiting for prey; hiding, as was her usual habit, in a dark alleyway behind the habitation they had called the saloon. She had discovered that she would have to excercise more care in her method of hunting when two heavily armed men had walked by. They were obviously patrolling the town in the wake of the several victims she had already had taken.
The maiden had listened from the shadows as the men had stopped at the end of the alley, poking their long rifles into the dark and laughing nervously at their mutual reluctance to hurry though the unlighted space. “If you see anything, shoot first and ask questions later,” the taller of the two had told his frightened companion as they had passed her hiding place. That had been the philosophy of the humans of the year eighteen-seventy-one. Somehow the maid doubted that the humans had changed much while she had slumbered.
She must be extremely careful.
Stepping from beneath the cover of the big tree, the creature’s golden eyes widened in dismay as she saw that the snow was no longer falling as heavily as before. She cocked her head in the direction of the place where she had lately fed, half expecting her misfortune to be compounded by the sounds of shouted alarms and the baying of hunting dogs.
She was surprised by the silence.
Uncertain now of her destination, she began to move again, padding softly up through the trees, being careful to avoid laying tracks in the snow. Wherever possible, she stayed close to the overhanging branches and dark trunks of the trees, treading silently through soft, springy carpets of decaying pine needles at their bases. After a few minutes, a light glimmered ahead and she halted, pausing in the deeply shadowed lee of a giant Ponderosa to gaze out upon the same clearing she had entered earlier.
The large human habitation she had rejected as the scene of her first kill stood outlined against the bulk of the mountain, its windows now dark and cold. A single dim globe shone out onto the snow from a protected area beneath the wooden platform she had climbed to look in on the mating occupants. Beneath the light, the glass and metal form of a vehicle like the one she had observed traveling down the mountain gleamed. Although the maiden had not perceived it as such at the time, she realized that there had been another such vehicle in the snow beside the habitation she had ultimately entered to feed. Curious, now that she knew what the strange metal boxes were, she moved forward to investigate.
Such vehicles were obviously important to the humans of this new age and she wondered as she drew closer if it might be possible for one of her kind to learn how to operate one, in order that she might escape from or even attract and catch additional prey more easily.
Bounding across the open expanse of ground between trees and house, the young vampire stopped to regard the red Chevrolet Blazer parked in the overhang beneath the redwood deck surrounding Vince and Annie Wright’s house.
She stood for a long time regarding the vehicle, then experimentally extended a reed-like finger, touching the cold, smooth glass of the rear hatch. When nothing happened she moved closer, pressing the white oval of her face against the transparent surface of a window and peering into the dark interior of the vehicle.
After a moment, she stepped back and raised her head to look up at the glowing light bulb set into the ceiling of the sheltered carport. Here was another mystery of the new age she had entered. How had the frail humans captured the white fire blazing within the globe? She knew that her survival in this strange world might depend upon an understanding of such things. Shielding her sensitive eyes against the glare of the bulb, she stepped onto the rear bumper of the Blazer and very cautiously moved the long, probing finger toward the shining globe.
Annie lay comfortably tucked among the down pillows of the big lonely bed, the electric blanket spread over her comforter toasting her feet. She was still trying to make herself go to sleep. But it wasn’t happening.
She had actually drifted off two or three times since coming back to bed, but the strange sound she had heard at the window kept creeping back into her mind. Had it really been a scream?
Turning from the open window following the first high-pitched wail–a tragic, plaintive keening unlike anything she had ever heard–she had immediately pulled on her heavy flannel robe and trotted downstairs, switching on lights as she went.
Once in the living room she had unhesitatingly reached for the heavy black Mossberg twelve gauge shotgun that Vince had brought home shortly after they had moved into the isolated cabin–the shotgun she had not wanted in her house. Lifting the powerful weapon from its polished rack beside the fireplace–and suddenly very glad that Vince had overruled her objections–she had hefted the comforting weight of steel and high-tech plastic beneath her arm without, however, chambering a round from the businesslike ammunition holder on the stock, as he had patiently instructed her to do if she even suspected something was amiss: To Annie’s way of thinking, the very sight of the formidable weapon in her hands should be more than sufficient to deter the most dedicated intruder–the Mossberg was intended for riot control and to fire it in close quarters was, according to Vince, a virtual guarantee of hitting or wounding your intended target. Of course there was no way Annie was ever going to shoot anybody or, for that matter, anything. Still, the weight and heft of the Mossberg had been reassuring at that moment.
Stepping directly to the living room door, she had switched on the powerful outside spots tucked under the eaves, flooding the forest clearing beyond the deck with several thousand watts of hard, white light.
Of course there had been nothing out there.
Not content with her vantage point behind a double layer of frost speckled glass, she had shuffled her bare feet into a pair of leather slippers and stepped out onto the snow covered deck, listening intently for some repetition of the sound she had heard from the upstairs window.
Turning off the lights and feeling rather foolish, she had replaced the Mossberg in its rack and returned to bed. Now, more than an hour later, she was still wide awake. She heard a tiny squeal from the floor below the bedroom and her heart raced. The sound was followed by a more familiar creak and she decided the timbers of the new house were still settling against the foundations. Squeezing her eyes shut, she imagined she heard something prowling around below the redwood deck outside her window. “Go to sleep, you dope!” she whispered to the empty room.
On the dark screen of her eyelids the psychopathic killer from the paperback novel moved stealthily across the boards of the redwood deck, creeping like a shadow toward her front door….
Jimmy Hudson, his right arm completely numb from lack of circulation, sat quietly on the old sofa in the Kramer cabin, staring into the yellow flames licking at the remains of the fresh logs he’d laid in the hearth. His bladder was urging him to get up and head for the bathroom but he didn’t want to awaken Karen.
Not just yet.
She had collapsed a moment after he had stumbled from the bedroom trying to pull his pants on and found her staring out the open door. He’d managed to get her up onto the sofa, and after looking out the door and confirming the thin line of tracks in the snow, had quickly figured out what had happened. Karen must have gotten up for a drink of water in the night and encountered some wandering animal that had gotten into the cabin looking for food. He knew from previous visits to the lake that marauding coyotes and raccoons, whose natural habitats and food supplies had been disrupted by the encroachment of the lake’s ever increasing human population, were a constant problem, and he had even heard tales of hungry animals gnawing through wire mesh and wood in order to gain entry to dwellings which might contain food.
Whatever the nocturnal creature was that had found its way into the living room tonight, it had obviously scared the hell out of poor Karen.
After securing the door which, he guiltily noted, he must have left unlatched when he went out for firewood, he had built up a bright blaze in the hearth and returned hurriedly to the sofa to try to rouse Karen.
He had been on the point of going to rouse Ferd and Terry when, to his immense relief, she had come around, opening her eyes and gazing up at him in confusion. “What happened?” she had asked in a frightened little voice.
“I think something got in here and scared you,” he had replied, gently stroking her hair.
“Oh God,” she had whimpered, her forehead wrinkling in distress at the terrifying memory of her encounter, “It was staring at me, Jimmy. Its eyes….”
He shushed her, planting a brotherly kiss on her forehead. “Well, it’s gone now and we’re all locked up safe and sound,” he had smiled, giving her a reassuring squeeze and feeling suddenly strong and protective.
Karen had nodded dreamily then, her eyelids drooping, and snuggled up into the crook of his shoulder. “Did I wake up Ferd and Terry?” she asked worriedly.
“Those two?” Jimmy had glanced up the stairs to the closed door at the top of the landing and shook his head. “No chance. Ferd sleeps so hard that I used to have to put firecrackers under his bed to get him up for early classes.” He laughed. “And he snores too, so I’m betting Terry sleeps the same way.” He was considering telling her an amusing story about the time Ferd had fallen asleep in freshman biology during a fire drill, but her eyes were closed and her breathing had gone shallow and he assumed that she, too, like everyone else in the cabin, was finally sleeping, secure in the knowledge that he was there to protect her against any possible further danger.
Had the room been better lighted Jimmy might have noticed how pale Karen’s skin was, or the fact that her lips and nails were slowly assuming the deep blueish tinge characteristic of the profound and dangerous state of shock into which she had mercifully slipped.
As it was, he determined to let her sleep as long as she wanted, at least until the urge to go to the bathroom became unbearable. He bent down to kiss the top of her head and wondered exactly what kind of an animal it had been.