Warning! This is a horror/dark fiction story so may be disturbing to some. There is strong language and sexual situations.
Annie sat at a small desk in the basement of the Redlands Public Library, rubbing her eyes. She stared down at the stack of Xerox copies and the notes she had made and sipped the tea that Edith Wheat–that was the elderly librarian’s name–had brought down a few minutes earlier.
She had been poring over the yellowed newspaper accounts of The Pale Spirit of Condor Lake for more than four hours, fascinated by what she had discovered. According to the reports, the trouble had started shortly after the founding of the mining settlement at the south end of the lake. A prospector named Tim Casey, who was also the original discoverer of the gold deposits, had gone out to work his claim one chilly March morning in the year 1867 and simply not returned. An impromptu search party had been organized the following day and Casey’s body had been discovered near the workings of his mine.
His throat had been ripped out.
At first, the killing had been laid to wild animals–the mountains surrounding the lake were alive with puma, bear and wolves–although the rumor had also circulated that Casey, who was not a well-liked man, might have been done in by the embittered former partner who had sold his share in the mine workings just a few weeks before the discovery of a rich vein of high grade ore.
Two days later, however, another miner, a strapping young Englishman who had yet to make a penny in the fields and who was also reputed to be a deadly shot with both the rifle and the matched set of revolvers he always carried, was slain in a similar manner. The rough and ready inhabitants of Condor City were still puzzling over the second killing when a third miner, a member of a heavily armed hunting party that had been sent out to clear the area of “dangerous game” was taken within earshot of his six companions over-nighting at the north end of the lake.
After that, the slaughter had become a regular event. The miners had tried everything, traveling away from the community only in pairs, setting armed watches at night, indiscriminately shooting at every animal larger than a raccoon and subjecting all strangers to close scrutiny.
Nothing had worked.
At some point, according to the old newspaper accounts, a strange looking individual–thought by many to be a shaman from the Chaka tribe which had been displaced by the settlers–arrived to declare that the killings were the retribution of a feared mountain spirit being visited upon the whites for their violation of sacred tribal lands. This declaration had started a bloody feud between the miners and the hitherto passive Native Americans and several Civil War veterans were openly accused of having participated in a deadly raid on the nearby Chaka village.
Then, near the end of 1870, the killings had suddenly ceased. The end of the killing spree followed a wild night when a party of heavily armed citizens had allegedly tracked a pale creature up into the high mountains in the teeth of a howling blizzard. The creature had been trapped at the head of a canyon and the wary miners had intended to wait for daylight before flushing it out. According to the reports of the two survivors of the party, a hot tempered Irishman named Jim Kelly had seen a shadow among the rocks and fired a single shot from his Winchester repeater; a shot that set off the massive avalanche that had brought half the mountain down onto the heads of the freezing miners at the base of the narrow canyon.
No bodies were ever recovered and The Pale Spirit was not seen again at Condor Lake. Shortly thereafter, the gold petered out and Condor City was abandoned until the mid-nineteen-twenties when a real estate promoter from Long Beach decided the pristine mountain lake would make a wonderful vacation spot for Southern Californians anxious to escape the blistering summer heat.
Annie looked at her notes. She had underlined several items during the course of her research into the old accounts; among these were the creature’s slender wraithlike appearance, the small, childlike tracks that had been found near several of the murder sites, the victims whose throats had been viciously slashed. Something dark turned over in her stomach and she wished she could talk to Vince.
She considered calling the dispatcher and asking him to raise Vince on the radio, then decided she was being silly. She would see him in a few hours and they could discuss everything.
“Tell me your history.” It was a command, not a request.
Summer looked out through the windows of the speeding black sports car, wondering where he was taking her.
“I came to the New Land in the time of purges,” she began, recalling the frightful sounds of creaking metal and shouted commands from the soldiers patrolling the cobbled streets outside the filthy waterfront warehouse where she and her mam had taken refuge along with several other forest denizens awaiting the ship.
She had watched by the red glow of bonfires, peering out through chinks in the rough timber siding of the windowless building as her mam had slipped out into the dangerous streets to mingle with the bedraggled prostitutes loitering about the entrance to a seaman’s tavern; seen her skillfully tempt a lumbering rigger into the shadows where she had swiftly paralyzed him, then, laughing and giggling like the other whores, dragging his limp but still living body back on her shoulder, as though her were merely another drunken client en route to her crib.
They had fed until their bellies were bursting that night, her Mam finally laying her in the crate of soft, cool earth, bending to tenderly lick the lingering stains of the rigger’s blood from her tiny face, nuzzling her softly before nipping her slender neck and injecting a tiny amount of the clear poison in order to make her sleep the long, dreamless sleep of waiting.
She had drifted into a hazy half-waking state as the mind-dulling poison had spread slowly though her entire system, shutting down nerves and organs, preparing her for the long journey that lay ahead. Sometime in the night–although it might have been the next night, or the next–she had heard the grunts and curses of humans, smelled the acrid odor of their unwashed bodies as the heavy crate was lifted onto the ship, after which had they immediately set sail into a stormy sea.
All this she told the silent creature at the controls of the speeding black vehicle, relating how her faithful Mam had arrived in a steamy port far to the south across the ocean sea only to discover that the dreaded purges had only lately reached the new continent and were being waged anew against the rebellious native tribes who had refused to adopt the cruel religion of their conquerors.
Acting with the aid of the Oracle’s seafaring relative, her mam had secreted her still dormant youngling in a deep cavern beneath an ancient pyramid of the native Aztec people, then gone out with their feathered warriors to strike fear into the superstitious hearts of their white-faced enemies, joining the Indians in their bloodthirsty sacrificial rituals to rip the living hearts from the invaders’ breasts, only fleeing to the north when at last the proud Aztec had fallen.
The great silver-haired huntress had traveled the unexplored lands along the edge of the western sea for many man-years while her youngling slumbered on in the tomb-like chamber beneath the mighty Aztec pyramid, seeking a secure preserve in which to bring the child to maturity, preying mercilessly on the hated Europeans wherever she encountered them, hunting among the noble native tribes–who came to revere her as a goddess–only when forced by circumstance.
After many adventures and many seasons of travel, she had chosen a clear blue lake surrounded by snowy mountains and towering pines as the perfect place to raise the youngling, traveling south to rouse the dormant she-child and dispatching a message to the great prince via the son of the son of the Gypsy Oracle who had sealed the marriage pact; a sly and portly fellow who had lately begun trafficking exclusively in human cargoes of yellow-skinned laborers anxious to escape the crushing poverty of their feudal native lands for the promise of a better life in the developing new continent in the west.
The youngling had thrived in the cold forest lands about the secluded lake, the blossoming signs of her nearing maturity growing more evident with each passing day. She and her old mam, her eyesight now growing dim, her fine pale skin beginning to fall in graceful folds about her tough, wiry body. Together, mother and daughter had patiently awaited the arrival of the prince, traveling with each new moon to the summit of the highest mountain to gaze out over the plains running down to the flat, silvery sea to taste the air for signs of his coming.
Summer halted in her narrative, and the prince looked away from his task of controlling the racing vehicle. “And then?”
And then, tragedy had struck.
It had been a stormy evening in the early spring. The towering columns of black cloud boiling up over the mountain had been loosing torrents of rain into the forest for days. The females had not hunted, knowing the white men newly arrived in the rough encampment at the far end of the lake would not venture out from their shelters in such weather.
On the fifth day, with the hunger burning in their bellies, her Mam had risen from her nest of dry leaves at the rear of their den to announce that she would go for food. Fearful of the danger, Summer had tried to dissuade her. Shrugging off the youngling’s foolish fears, the old huntress had ordered her to remain in the den, stepped out through the narrow opening.
A flash of lightning; a bolt so bright and loud in its intensity that it had both blinded and deafened the immature youngling for days, had lanced down from the black sky, killing her old mam on the spot.
When Summer finally regained her senses she had carefully arranged Mam’s body in a shady spot, blocking the hidden entrance to their old den with stones and moving to another part of the forest to hunt alone. Shortly thereafter, the whites had discovered her presence and a hunting party had driven her up into the high canyon where she had laid entombed until three nights ago.
When she had finished, the pale prince removed his dark lenses and scrutinized her with his golden eyes. “You did well to survive,” he said. The powerful vehicle slowed, entering a great descending arc of concrete set on tall pillars and driving out onto a quiet city street. “Although our union has been long delayed we shall now begin what was planned in the old land with your sire.”
Summer nodded obediently as the vehicle turned off the street and glided into a flat open space beside a great human habitation fronted with tubes of colored glass that glowed brightly with entrapped fire, despite the sunlight.
She wondered if Bobby was at his work repairing vehicles.