Warning! This is a horror/dark fiction story so may be disturbing to some. There is strong language and sexual situations.
“Honey, what’s the matter?”
The Accord’s grille was nosed into a snowbank in the farthest corner of a dimly lit rest area hidden by the pines from the desolate mountain road they had been traveling. Bobby had pulled into the barely passable drive more than ten minutes earlier, watching helplessly as Summer had bolted from the car and fallen to her knees in the snow. She was still bent over, clutching her stomach and swaying slightly from side to side, although she had stopped retching some moments ago.
“Summer?” He placed his hand gently on her shoulder. She turned to look up at him and he saw that her sunglasses had fallen off. Round, golden eyes glared in the reflection of the Accord’s interior lights.
“Go away Bobby, please. I’m… sick.” The golden eyes fixed on a point beneath the collar of his light windbreaker and he saw her shudder. “Please,” she said in a frightened little voice. “Go away and leave me here.”
He shook his head firmly. “”That health food crap just didn’t work,” he said. “We’ll find something else, Summer. Something that won’t make you sick…”
“Noooo!” Her moan was filled with anguish and she forced herself to look away from the tantalizing smell and warmth of him.
Every fiber of her tortured being screamed out to her that he was prey; prey to be taken. She longed to plunge her fighting teeth into his soft flesh, to feel the tough elastic tissue of the big vein along the side of his throat part before her slender fangs, flooding her mouth with warm richness. “Nothing will work, Bobby,” she whispered. Nothing…. Go.”
He turned away, walking slowly and deliberately through ankle deep drifts to the idling vehicle and slipping into the front seat. She dropped her head to her chest and the ache of her profound sadness swelled within her breast, a hurt so great it eclipsed even the white-hot fire raging in her belly.
She raised her eyes to see him still sitting there in the front seat of the Accord. A bright object flared beneath the dome light and she realized with sudden horror what he was about to do. “Bobby, no!” Her own terror filled scream rang in her ears as she leaped to her feet and stumbled toward the car.
She reached the open door as Bobby plunged the blade of the small hunting knife into the soft flesh of his forearm, just below the mouth of the painted panther. Rich, red blood welled up, thin crimson rivulets streaming around the fingers of his clenched fist, dripping into the clean, fresh snow.
“No!” she wailed, hating herself for her inability to tear her eyes from the sweet steaming flow of his wound. “No, Bobby!”
“Come on honey,” he crooned through pain-clenched teeth. “Don’t let it go to waste.”
The Jeep Cherokee patrol unit was stopped at the summit of the Condor Grade. Frolich, looking comical in a well-worn green ski parka and a knit cap, was drumming his fingers impatiently on the dash. “How often does this happen up here?”
Vince shrugged. “Whenever it snows more than ten or twelve inches,” he said, resigned to waiting. “Don’t worry, they’ll have it cleared in a few minutes.” He peered out through the windshield as the monstrous yellow bulk of a Caltrans skip loader appeared from the gloom and scuttled to the edge of the road, disgorging a car-sized load of frozen earth, snow and rocks onto the shoulder.
Frolich watched the huge machine disappear around a curve bordered by walls of sheer black stone. “What do you think happened up there anyway?”
“Little avalanche,” said Vince. “A whole bunch of snow builds up on the the tops of these cliffs, then something sets it off and it slides to the bottom, bringing everything else down with it. It’s no big deal unless you happen to be underneath it.”
“Damn,” said Frolich. “Hope there’s no avalanches up where we’re going in the morning.”
Vince looked over at him to see if he was joking. The detective was curiously examining the zippers at the ends of his parka sleeves by the glow of the dashboard lights. “What the hell do you think they put all these zippers on here for?” he asked.
“You close them up to keep the snow out of your clothes,” Vince replied…. “How long have you had that parka anyway?”
“This?” Frolich looked down at the garment and frowned. “Hell, you think I’d be caught dead in a thing like this?” he laughed. “I borrowed it from my kid. He comes up here to ski.”
“So you don’t get up here to the snow very often yourself?” Vince was beginning to get a bad feeling about this, having assumed when Frolich had casually suggested the hunt that he had some cold weather experience.
“Are you shitting me Junior?” I moved to sunny California from Boston fifteen years ago to get away from the goddam snow.” Frolich grinned happily. “Built me a gorgeous little house up in Yucaipa; swimming pool in the back yard, avocado and orange trees out front…. you’ll have to bring the wife over for hamburgers when we wrap this thing up. In the meantime, you can keep your damn snow. Like to froze my butt off up here the day you found those kids in that cabin.”
Vince’s heart sank. At first light he was going to be trekking into the high country in search of a dangerous and cunning predator with a guy who didn’t know what the zippers on the sleeves of his parka were for.
He wondered if Annie was home yet. He had left a message on the machine, telling her there would be an extra mouth for dinner.
Annie guided the Jeep past the lights of the cluster of lake shore condos and cabins marking the end of Condor Lake’s small north shore development, wondering which of them the red Cadillac had stopped at. Except for the cabin she and Vince had built the previous year, there were no other year-round dwellings at this end of the lake and, thankfully, no remaining private land worthy of large scale development.
The Jeep plunged into a dark tunnel of trees as the road curved away from the shore and she activated the powerful quartz high beams for the last half mile of the drive. She hadn’t intended to stay in the village so long, but she had lingered over the new shipment of paperback novels in the drugstore, then the grocery had been crowded with locals stocking up on supplies in advance of the promised storm and the clerk in the dry cleaners, a potbellied little man with thinning hair and a whispery voice, had insisted on relating the entire plot of a movie idea he had. The price of glory. Annie groaned inwardly, remembering the man’s breathy and laborious telling of the creaking story line that she suspected had been lifted directly from an ancient Perry Mason show.
The orange reflective marker at the end of the drive winked reassuringly in the headlights. Annie shifted the vehicle into four-wheel-drive for the climb up to the cabin. The light snowfall of a few minutes earlier was growing heavier and she hoped Vince had made it up the mountain without any problems. Paranoia or no paranoia, she was not anxious to spend the night alone.
The Kramer place came into view beyond the Y in the road and the headlights picked out the tattered yellow remnants of crime scene tape fluttering from two trees at opposite sides of the drive. The tape was a grim reminder of the poor kids who had died in the old cabin and she wondered if she could get Vince to remove it now that there was nothing more to be learned from the place.
Turning up into the trees, she felt the knobby off-road tires bite into the steep, slippery slope and squinted through the falling snow for her first glimpse of her own cabin. Moments later, she pulled into the clearing before the house, biting her lip in disappointment. The place was dark and Vince’s Jeep was not in its accustomed parking spot.
“Damn!” Annie hurled the epithet at the towering pines, then backed the Jeep under the deck. Retrieving her groceries and the cleaning from the rear of the vehicle, she clumped noisily up the steps, fumbling her key into the lock. She stepped into the darkened living room, carried the groceries to the counter and deposited them and her keys beside the telephone.
A red light winked eerily at her from the answering machine. Vince, she thought bitterly, calling to tell me the goddam road is out, or that he stopped off to rescue some poor stranded motorist. Damn! Damn! Damn! She reached for the light switch on the wall beside the machine. A shadow moved across the gray rectangle of the kitchen window and an icy hand gripped her soul.
There was somebody else in the house with her!
Backing away from the counter, Annie quickly re-traced her steps across the dark living room, snatching at the black outline of the Mossberg shotgun by the fireplace and pumping a round into the chamber as she whirled to face the room.
“I have a gun and I will not hesitate to use it,” she said, forcing her voice to remain loud and, she hoped, steady.
A board creaked in the general direction of the kitchen and she thought she saw movement among the deeper shadows by the refrigerator. “I am going to turn on a light,” she called loudly. The first traces panic were screaming in her mind and she remembered Vince telling her to get the hell out of the house if she ever suspected anyone else was inside. Get out…and then what? She was at least a half mile from the nearest house and the car keys were on the counter. At least here she was certain of her ground. She edged across the room to a floor lamp and clicked it on. Light flooded the room and the shadow by the refrigerator resolved into a human form. “Put your hands in the air and step out where I can see you,” she demanded.
Rollo Castle stepped into the center of her kitchen and she nearly dropped the Mossberg in shock. “What are you doing in my house?” she shrieked, her sweaty finger tightening on the trigger of the weapon.
The fat man, his upraised hands stretching the buttons of his striped shirt to their absolute limits, looked at her with panicked eyes and she realized that he was nearly as frightened as she was. “This wasn’t my idea, lady,” he blubbered. “Jesus, don’t shoot me.” His eyes were fixed on the yawning hole at the end of the Mossberg’s dull black barrel and great greasy beads of perspiration were rolling freely down his face.
Annie’s eyes quickly scanned the room. “The other guy,” she hissed, “the one in the sunglasses, where is he?”
Rollo’s eyes stayed fixed on the shotgun. “Please, lady,” he whispered, “he’ll kill me.”
“I will kill you,” she threatened. “Where the hell is he?”
She sensed movement behind her and a pale hand shot past her shoulder, snatching the Mossberg from her sweating hand like someone removing a dangerous object from the reach of a small child. Annie whirled to see the slender man gazing at her.
He glanced down at the heavy shotgun, then tossed it disdainfully on the sofa. “Please remove your clothing,” he ordered in a soft voice that was almost polite.
“Let’s talk about this,” she said, trying to remember the details of the self defense course she had taken three years earlier. “My husband is a policeman. If you harm me he and his friends will not rest until they find you. You can walk away right now and nothing will happen…”
The blow from his open hand was so powerful that it literally knocked her across the room and into a wall. She lay gasping for breath on the forest green carpet, staring up at him in horror.
“Please remove your clothing,” he repeated in precisely the same polite tone he had used before striking her. He removed the dark glasses, tucking them into the breast pocket of his jacket and gazing down at her with hard yellow eyes.
Annie Wright screamed.
The sweating fat man in the kitchen turned his eyes away from the horrible creature, gazing out into the softly falling snow and praying to Jesus to save them both.
“What’s the matter now?”
Frolich sat impatiently in the Jeep’s passenger seat. They’d had to wait almost half an hour for the road to be cleared and he had to take a leak. They were halfway up the driveway to Vince Wright’s place when he had inexplicably stopped.
“Somebody cut the crime scene tape,” said Vince, pointing through the fogged windshield to the Kramer cabin. “It was stretched across the drive when I left this morning.”
Frolich groaned. “So a squirrel chewed through it or the wind blew it down. We’re out in the woods for God’s sake. Come on, Junior, I gotta piss like a race horse.”
“In a minute,” said Vince. The Jeep’s headlights flooded the rustic cabin as he turned down the narrow drive and stared at the end of the red Cadillac protruding from behind the rear wall.
“Hey,” said Frolich as he jumped from the Jeep and strode toward the car. “you don’t think….?
Vince looked at the two sets of footprints leading up into the woods from the car.
Footprints leading straight up toward his house.
His and Annie’s.