It was a chilly, rainy night. The rain pelted his windshield so he could hardly see two feet in front of his car—even with the wipers as high as they would go. Wolfram O’Connor was high up in the Smokey Mountains, and perhaps if this had not been his first time up here, and then to have done so in the dark, it wouldn't have felt so—well—paranormal.
That was putting it mildly.
It had started with the mist, which had settled into the crooks and crannies of the mountain. But that was the nature of these mountains. Then, the rain had come. But, again, sooner or later, it always rained. That was mother-nature.
No. It had been the shadows, which seemed to follow him as he drove along, that had finally done it for him.
Wolfram didn't spook easily—actually, it was pretty difficult to scare him at all, raised as he'd been on the streets of Chicago. But this place was giving him the creeps. He preferred the back alleys, on any dark night in the city—to this. Wolfram didn’t play around. He knew his sheer size and strength gave him his confidence—well, and his willingness to throw down when it was warranted. He easily admitted, though, that knowing how to fight dirty sometimes gave him a false sense of security. It really didn’t matter how big you were—with the right enemy. And he didn’t know the woods—he knew the streets.
On the street—he was equal to the task—no matter the enemy. He’d had to be from the time he’d been a kid when he’d had to protect his little sisters from the gangs.
Here—well—he didn’t know the woods. He’d rather face a gun any day—than a cougar.
He wouldn't have been here at all if it were not for the plea he had received in his email—from a very old friend. He had almost dismissed it—but he'd been curious. This was a girl he’d never been able to get past. And he couldn’t understand that when all they’d ever done—was fight. And not your run of the mill yelling, type fighting either—but more of the knock-down, drag-out type of fighting.
Even their fucking had sometimes been violent.
He wished he had left the whole damn business alone. If he were honest, he’d known as soon as he’d seen the email that he should have left it alone. The only thing that made him feel anything, at any given time, for as long as he could remember, was rage and sex. She had fueled both, like gasoline on brittle tinder. All he ever want to do fuck her—or hit her.
He winced, remembering a time when he'd come out of a white-hot rage, only to find himself holding a glass candle like he'd intended to cave in her head—she'd been looking him right in the eye, her light blue eyes staring hard into his dark ones like she was daring him to do just that.
He wanted to kiss her, to see her creamy white skin against the darkness of his own. He wanted to beat her beautiful ass, see his hands against her flesh. Even when he beat her, he wanted to take her with violent need. And he’d never understood it. Other women pissed him off—but none had created such violence within him.
When he finally reached her mile-marker, he could barely see through the rivulets of rain that streaked his windshield. The black, glassy sheen of the pavement, damp from the dark of the storm, and the dim shine of his headlights didn’t help. So he wasn’t that surprised when he ended up passing up her driveway. Scowling, he managed to turn the car around—in spite of not being able to see where the damned ditch was in the rain. He congratulated himself on doing so without some car coming around the bend and plowing into him.
The driveway was worse. Google hadn't told him that she was a half-mile off the road. The road was soft beneath his tires. If he got stuck up here—well—she just better damn well make it worth the effort it had cost him to get here. Not that he was trying to think of her in that way.
He was a scoundrel—but she was still his friend. And they had put each other through too much already. Who was he kidding? He’d never been able to keep his hands off of her.
They hadn't exactly become fast friends. Actually, they had, in a way. But it had taken years. At first, they had always been too busy loving and—hating one another. But all that had changed when he’d had tried to live without her.
He hated that—hated that he missed her—hated that he might have needed her in any way.
He had tried to hate her too—tried damn hard, in fact. He’d said a lot of mean things. Hell. He’d done a lot of mean things to her. But he hadn't truly been able to hate her at all—not from the first moment he'd laid eyes on her. Perhaps that was the thing that had driven him.
What was she doing up here anyway?
He squinted through the pelting rain. He thought he spotted a light way up ahead and didn’t try to hide his elation. He was just feeling relieved when something gray screamed and landed on the hood of his car.
He nearly drove the car into a tree. He sideswiped that tree and came to rest on a much smaller one. Adrenalin shot through his veins and fueled his fury.
He jumped out of his car—enraged—ready to beat whatever it had been that had scared him into oblivion—all of his senses telling him that he had not just seen what he thought he had. He’d nearly convinced himself—when that same something landed square in the middle of his chest, driving his large, muscular frame backward with a strength that amazed him, knocking him flat on his back and stealing the wind from him.
He froze at the sight of the face just inches above his own—eyes so pale, they nearly blended with the whites of her eyes, stared back. He didn’t move—didn’t breathe—didn’t blink. He knew it was female by her long, white hair—at least he hoped it was female. He had no idea what difference it made. But somewhere in his mind—it made a difference. Cold, gray skin hung from her bones. Her nose was more like two holes in her face. She poked at his face with fingers so long—they couldn't possibly be real.
But then—none of this was real. Was it? Nothing on the streets had prepared him for this. Did these things only live in the woods?
She leaned in. She was so close that her face was a mere two inches from his. She sniffed. His throat ached. His body screamed for air, but he had the sensation that if he moved even a hair—even flinched—she would tear his limbs from his body. Call it self-preservation, but he didn't move. She sniffed again—then opened her mouth to reveal razor-sharp teeth.
This time he did shiver.
She immediately leaned in closer. Then her pale eyes centered on his—and she stopped. She sat like that for a long moment—her gaze not wavering from his own. Then she put her head up, and she screamed. Wolfram had never heard anything like it before in his life. It sent shivers up the spine.
And suddenly he was free—
She moved away from him, towards the shadows of the trees—took one more look back at him—then melted into the shadows.
Wolfram had never in his life moved as fast as he did now, skidding in the mud as he ran for his car. He slid alongside the door, went down like a baseball player sliding into home, and banged his elbow on the car as his whole body went sideways. His right hip hit the ground hard.
He slipped, again, trying to get up. Taking a deep breath, keenly aware his terror was making him clumsy—he forced himself to slow down. He got up and fumbled for the door. Once inside, he quickly locked it—then checked the backseat for good measure.
“What the hell was that!?” he shouted at no one in particular. That no one was around to give him an answer—but it made him feel better. He cranked the engine—relieved when it started—but when he shoved it in reverse, the tires spun.
He slammed it in drive, then reverse, rocking it back and forth, slamming it into drive and reverse, alternatively. He had to do this several more times before the car got enough traction to move away from the tree and back up into the drive.
He stared in the direction of her house. Every sense in him told him that he should get the hell off of this mountain….
But he wasn't enough of a coward to leave anyone—especially not an old friend—and especially not her—at the mercy of whatever the hell that thing had been!
No—most especially not her!
He tore down the rest of the drive, spitting pebbles as he pulled up next to her house. It was dark. He was cold, wet and covered with mud. He looked at the house. He knew there was no one home.
He would know if she were there.
He hit the steering wheel. And then he hit it again. After a long moment, in which he fought his usual round of temper and cursing, he resigned himself to his fate.
Wolfram settled down to wait for her to return. At least there was a yard light in the front drive. He noticed that there was apparently another one in the back. If were not for the lights—he swore that he'd have left her to fend for herself. He turned up the heat on full bore—and then he turned on the radio. He started to feel a little better. Light, heat—sound.
But fear still tasted bitter on his tongue.
After a while he turned off the car, still peering beyond the edges of light for anything that moved. Finally—exhausted—he fell asleep.
-To be released January 31, 2018