Warning! This is a horror/dark fiction story so may be disturbing to some. There is strong language and sexual situations.
Vince Wright stood on the porch of his freshly winterized cabin, sniffing the frigid breeze and watching the last weak rays of winter sunlight fade behind the peaks beyond the waters of Condor Lake. The few remaining patches of deep blue remaining in the western sky were being swiftly replaced with towering columns of roiling black cloud and the smell of snow was in the air, overlaid with the fragrant aroma of woodsmoke from the only other occupied cabin on this side of the mountain, a rustic weekend place further down the slope by the lake shore.
A bunch of kids–college students up for a long skiing weekend, from the look of them–had rolled up to the small clearing behind the Kramer cabin a few hours ago, noisily slamming car doors and tossing supplies at each other, and Vince had no doubt they’d spend the next three days–and nights–making as much noise as was humanly possible. Thank God, he thought, that the Kramer place was more than a quarter of a mile downslope and screened from his own property by a thick stand of pine.
Vince listened carefully for the jarring racket of the rap music they’d had blasting from a transistor radio when he’d driven past on his way home from the sub-station earlier. Hearing nothing but the sound of the rising wind in the trees, he grinned at his own stodginess. At thirty-two, he was hardly over the hill, though his musical tastes ran solidly to Phil Collins and Streisand; definitely not the mind jangling garbage the kids had been playing down by the lake earlier. What it really was, he told himself, was the mountain.
He wanted it all to himself.
And Annie, of course.
Stepping out into the yard, an unlandscaped expanse of granite boulders and Ponderosa pine he had painstakingly graded to blend into the natural slope of the mountainside while creating a year-round access for the four-wheel-drive vehicles, Vince crossed to his green and white Jeep Cherokee with the gold sheriff’s stars emblazoned on the doors, checking to see that the indicator light on the engine oil warmer plugged into the cabin’s electrical outlet was functioning. The Weather Service down in San Berdoo was predicting heavy snow and near blizzard conditions by midnight, and he wanted to be damn sure the Jeep would be ready to go when the inevitable calls from stranded motorists and stalled snowplows started coming in, as they inevitably did every time there was a major winter storm in the mountains of Southern California.
Satisfied that the Jeep’s engine was warm and ready for a quick start, he ducked into the sheltered carport beneath the redwood deck that surrounded the simple A-frame on its eastern and southern exposures. Annie’s red Blazer was pulled in close to the double trailer holding the pair of second-hand snowmobiles he’d serviced on his last two days off. He reminded himself to find out if she was still planning on driving down to the college in nearby Redlands in the morning in order to deliver a promised lecture: Of course, he planned to try talking her out of it–the treacherous thirty-mile stretch of road winding down the steep southern face of the mountain–much of it unprotected by guard rails–was sure to be icy at best.
Vince smiled to himself, certain that Annie would carefully listen to the logic of his argument, then go right ahead with her plan to drive into Redlands anyway. He knew the lecture, the first she’d been asked to deliver since the release of her first produced motion picture screenplay, was important to her. For even though she’d commuted back and forth from Condor Lake to the studio in Burbank several days a month for more than a year while Silent Thunder had been in production, the film’s recent opening in the local theater next to the village post office had been the first inkling any of San Bernardino County’s residents had that a genuine Hollywood celebrity was living in their midst.
Silent Thunder had been critically acclaimed and well received by audiences in the major make-or-break venues of New York, L.A. and Chicago, and there was already serious talk of a screenwriting Oscar in the Trades, even though the awards for the current crop of Hollywood films were many months away. At any rate, the invitation to deliver a lecture on screenwriting to the combined English classes of Redlands University, Annie’s alma mater, was not an honor to be taken lightly and Vince seriously doubted that a mere blizzard could keep his wife away.
Shaking his head at the unforeseen consequences of being married to an about-to-be-very-famous screenwriter, Vince took a plastic tarp from the wooden boat locker at the rear of the carport and tossed it over the Blazer. At least, he consoled himself, Annie wouldn’t have to scrape her windshield in the morning.
He got another tarp from the locker and covered the snowmobiles as well: While he doubted that the first big snow of the season–usually light enough around the lake that the five local ski resorts were forced to augment it with man-made snow– would present the necessity of hauling out the rugged vehicles for use as emergency transportation, he recalled all too well that he had suffered the discomfort of a wet seat the previous winter, when he had forgotten to cover the vehicles before a storm. He was not anxious to repeat the experience. Once the snowmobiles’ vinyl saddles got snowed on, the damn stuff adhered to them like glue and nothing short of the application of a warm butt seemed to get rid of it, to the rider’s day-long discomfort.
Stepping back out into the yard, the tall deputy felt a few early flakes of snow slap the expanse of exposed skin above his short brown beard. Far away to the south and west, the vast, unbroken carpet of lights marking San Bernardino and the distant Los Angeles basin was competing with the setting sun to cast an angry industrial glow against the bottoms of the low hanging clouds. On the opposite side of the lake, the twinkling lights of cabins were turning the mountainside into a fairyland.
Vince grinned again at his incredible luck in having snagged the plum assignment as Deputy-In-Chief of Condor City’s tiny Sheriff’s Department sub-station. The promotion two years earlier had allowed he and Annie, both fanatic weekend skiers, to trade the smog, gang violence and traffic of the ninety by a hundred-mile urban glut of Greater Los Angeles for the sylvan views and sparkling clean air of the San Bernardino mountains.
Even far out San Berdoo–the locals’ irreverent slang shortening of their city’s name–where he’d attended college on a scholarship before joining the Sheriff’s Department, had, in recent years, been transformed from a quiet agricultural community to a gang-infested warren of slipshod subdivisions and shopping malls where drive by shootings, muggings and carjackings were becoming as commonplace as fast food outlets.
After six years with the Department, Vince had taken Annie aside and seriously discussed giving up his seniority with the Sheriff’s office for a move someplace up north; Idaho maybe, or Montana. Then the transfer had come through. The beautiful, blessed, lifesaving transfer….
He looked up at the cabin, saw the upstairs window swing shut and the warm yellow light from the lamp in Annie’s study go out. In a moment, he knew, she’d be at the double-glazed living room door, peering out into the twilight gloom for a reassuring glimpse of him before proceeding on to the brick-lined kitchen to peek into the iron pot he had bubbling on the stove. She’d be hollering his name again a moment after that, to complain that he’d put far too many Cajun spices in the savory chicken stew that had been simmering over a low flame since he’d arrived home.
Vince smiled in anticipation of the familiar argument, rehearsing his practiced defense that the determination of seasonings was always the cook’s prerogative, and noting that, as long as her upstairs work area was firmly closed to any and all visitors during writing hours, he could hardly have been expected to consult with her on a matter as trivial as Louisiana hot sauce.
Giving the darkening sky to the west a final glance and taking a moment’s pleasure from the sight of the dying sun playing its red highlights against the snow-capped peak rising behind the cabin, he started up the redwood steps to the outer deck, hoping the calls for assistance from the soon-to-be-stranded skiers and snowboarders–who were even now rushing up from L.A. for the weekend to take advantage of tomorrow morning’s fresh powder– would hold off until well after supper.
“OK,” said Jimmy Hudson, stomping into the main room from the snow-encrusted porch of the lakeside cabin and dumping an armload of frozen logs on the hearth beside the fireplace, “that’s definitely it!” You guys want any more firewood, you get it.” He shrugged out of his bright orange ski parka and fell into a chair as his three companions hooted derisively.
“Poor baby,” smiled Karen Evans, stepping through the archway that connected the kitchen to the cabin’s main room. “Did its little fingers get all cold in the nasty old snow?” she asked, setting a tray of crackers and imported cheeses onto the pine table before the sofa and flipping her long dark hair away from her face.
“Yeah, as a matter of fact they did,” grumped Jimmy, a diabolical grin creasing his darkly tanned features. He stood and slipped an icy hand up under the back of her sweater, thrilling at the momentary contact of warm skin against the tips of his frozen fingers.
Karen squealed, jumping backwards and upsetting the tray in the process. “You monster!”
Terry Quinn, a pretty redhead whose freckled, baby-like features seemed slightly out of place on her voluptuous model’s body squealed and snuggled closer to Ferd Kramer, the muscle-bound Manhattan Beach surfer who had been her steady all semester. Ferd grunted in annoyance, snatching the jug of cheap red table wine they’d been pouring into paper cups out of harm’s way and beetling his thick simian brow at Jimmy from the corner of the sagging sofa that he and Terry had staked out thirty minutes earlier. “Watch it Hudson, or I’ll pound ya,” he threatened ominously.
Jimmy, who had been hearing that particular threat since he and Ferd had been third graders at Huntington Elementary twelve long years ago, grinned sheepishly and knelt to scoop wedges of cheese and broken crackers from the floor in front of the fireplace. “I’m sorry,” he said, looking up at Karen for forgiveness. This weekend trip to Ferd’s uncle’s cabin on the isolated north shore of Condor Lake was the first time he and the beautiful sophomore had gone anywhere more exciting than a movie together. Now Jimmy had a sinking feeling that sticking his icy hand up her sweater may have killed any chance he might have had to advance their relationship beyond the hand holding stage, where it seemed to have plateaued more than a month ago. Groveling on the dusty hooked rug with bits of gooey cheese clinging to his fingers, he wondered how he could have been such a jerk? He was supposed to be a sophisticated college senior and he’d just pulled a trick straight out of the high school nerd’s handbook. “Forgive me?” he asked, replacing the slightly soiled snacks on the tray and getting clumsily to his feet.
Karen, who had remained standing before the fire with her arms wrapped tightly about her chest since he had made his blunder, turned to regard him, her soft green eyes assessing him as she might a casual street mugger. She liked Jimmy a lot, and the unexpected shock of feeling his hands on her had at first startled, then disappointed her. She had agreed to come on this trip with him and his friends for the sole purpose of exploring the possibilities of the serious relationship she had been certain was developing between them. Now… She searched his pleading blue eyes, alert for some sign of malice and aware that she might have slightly overreacted to what he had obviously intended as nothing more than a playful gesture.
“Come here,” she said.
Jimmy stepped forward, his pained expression making it plain that he expected the worst. Karen took his face in her hands and squeezed his lips together in a comical pucker. “Don’t ever do that again,” she warned, leaning forward and kissing him squarely on the mouth. Dropping her hands to her sides and stepping back to gauge his reaction, she smiled sweetly and dropped her voice to a barely audible whisper, “because if you do, I’m not going to sleep with you this weekend, which I’ve been planning ever since you asked me up here two weeks ago.”
Jimmy stared stupidly at her. “Oh my God,” he croaked, blushing furiously. “You’re not? I mean, you are?”
She grinned mischievously, grabbing him by the arm and pulling him down into the big easy chair at the opposite end of the sofa. “Well, that is what this weekend is really all about, isn’t it?” she asked innocently. Karen raised a paper cup to her lips and sipped the surprisingly mellow Napa Valley table wine.
Jimmy nodded weakly, feeling her arm go around him, her crimson tipped fingers slipping into the open neck of his ski sweater, toying with the sparse hairs on his chest.
“Awright!” grunted Ferd, kicking off a size thirteen hiking boot and wrapping his arms around Terry’s ample chest. “Party down!”
“Oh my God, Ferd,” giggled the redhead, wrinkling her nose and looking down at the wooly gray sweat sock on Ferd’s gargantuan foot. “When was the last time you washed those socks?”
Ferd gargled a huge swallow of wine and belched loudly. “That ain’t no sock honey. That there’s body hair!”
“Gross!” giggled Karen. She snuggled closer to Jimmy and realized that this was going to be a wonderful weekend after all.