A skiing trip turns horribly wrong for three young women.
THING IN THE STORM
(Beautiful Baby Boy)
"Uggh, whose idea was this, anyway?" Debra asked to no one in particular as she brushed the snow from her shoulders and propped her skis up just inside the front door.
"Don't look at me," Cathy groaned. Pulling off her ski gloves, she then unzipped and stripped off her thick down jacket, tossing it to the coat rack. "I can’t believe we passed up four days and nights on the beaches of Brazil for this."
"Oh, for Christ's sake, I get the message, okay," Sherri snapped. Pulling off her fur-lined boots, she flung them across the room. They tumbled, coming to a stop under the small wooden table in the kitchen nook. She followed in their path, yanking off her gloves. "Who wants coffee," she asked, pulling out a package of filters from the cupboard. With a sigh she began to load the Brew Master with the mocha coffee grinds that she’d brought special for the big "vacation".
"Me too. Jeez, my feet feel like icicles," Cathy moaned. Collapsing on the couch, she pulled off her boots and socks and, propping one foot in her lap, began the arduous task of trying to rub some warmth back into it. "Oh God, to think I could be on a sunny beach right now. Hunky, bronzed gods in Brazilian bikinis all vying for my attention."
"Yeah, right," Debra snorted. "Dream on. Have we forgotten that I would be laying on the towel next to yours? That leads me to the conclusion that all the good-lookin’ babes would be tripping all over their frisbees and volleyballs to capture the attention of yours truly," she said, thrusting her chest out and striking what she apparently thought was a seductive pose.
"Well, excuuuse me," Cathy drawled in her best Steve Martin impersonation. "I forgot that miss bleached-blonde, fake-boobs Debra would be accompanying me. Sorry, my mistake"
"My boobs are fake!" Debra shrieked, and immediately stretched her sweater out a good two feet to peer down incredulously as if checking to see if this accusation could possibly be true . "Holy Toledo torpedoes," she gasped, and Cathy giggled obligingly. "And I prefer trunks, thank you very much," she said, letting her sweater snap back into place. "Leaves a little more to the imagination, if ya know what I mean. And don't worry, I’d throw any leftovers your way."
"Reeeealy," Cathy gasped, her eyes wide, a comical expression of immense gratitude plastered across her tanned, freckled face. "Oh Debra, you are too generous."
"Jesus, would the two of you just shut up!" Sherri snapped. "Face it, we're not on some damn beach in Brazil. We're snowed-in in some friggin' cabin in West Virginia and yes, that's right, you got it, it's all my fault."
"Jeez, Sherri, take it easy," Cathy said. "We're just goofin' around."
"Yeah, well. . . . , I'm not in a goofin' around mood, I guess. I can't figure where the hell this storm came from." Leaning back against the kitchen counter, she folded her arms over her chest. "The forecast said it was going to be beautiful all week."
"We know. It's not your fault," Debra said as she plopped down beside Cathy on the rustic style couch, the fabric plastered with scenes of covered wagons, tumbleweeds, and long-horned steers. "Hell, we all agreed on this vacation, didn't we?"
"That's right," Cathy agreed, continuing to knead her foot vigorously. "I have to admit, it looked quite appealing in the brochure."
"Sure did," Debra said. "Rustic cabin in the woods. Fireplace. Wood-burning stove."
"Yep," Cathy continued. "Group dinners at the lodge. Great opportunities to meet rich, eligible bachelors."
"Christ! Is that all you two ever think about? Is every second of your mundane lives centered around finding the next prospect to hop in the sack with?"
"Jeez," Cathy whined, "we're just trying to make you feel better Sherri."
"Okay," Debra interjected. "Why don't we all just try to relax. We've still got three days and nights to spend together. Let's try to make the best of it, shall we."
"Fine, fine," Sherri muttered as she headed for the bathroom, yanking the tie from her hair to unleash a mass of dark curls. She slammed the door behind her.
"Jeez, what's her problem anyway," Cathy murmured, pulling off her ski cap and slipping her goggles over her head.
"Who knows. If you ask me, I think she needs to get laid."
Cathy gasped. "Oh. . . , how perfectly crass. Give her a break. She'll know when the time is right."
"What's she trying to do, get in The Guinness Book of World Records? She's twenty-three, for Christ's sake!"
"So what. Just because you gave it away to the first pimply faced jerk who bought you a dozen red roses. How old were you, thirteen?"
"Fifteen, thank-you very much, and it was two dozen Red Beauties, if you must know."
"Oh, excuse me," Cathy exclaimed, knocking herself on the side of the head. "Why didn't you say that in the first place? Why, that makes all the difference in the world. Two dozen! Two dozen, you say?"
"Kiss my ass," Debra said. Reaching behind her back, she plucked a tumbleweed adorned pillow from the couch and flung it at her with satisfying accuracy.
Cathy flung it back and before they knew it, they were in the midst of a major knockdown drag-out pillow fight, jumping over furniture and leaping onto tables amidst squeals of laughter. Only when the pillow ripped spewing tufts of cotton in every direction, did they both collapse on the couch, holding their stomachs and gasping for breath, giggling like school girls.
Deb looked over to Cathy who was wiping mascara tinted tears from her face with the sleeve of her shirt. This was more like it, she thought. This was how it used to be when they were growing up. The three of them had been the best of fiends, always doing everything together. And even though they’d drifted apart somewhat as adults, each going their separate ways as was bound to happen, they still made a point to get together once a year for vacations. Last year had been Mexico, and the year before, an Alaskan cruise(Now that had been one to singe the pages of the ole diary, she thought with a wry grin. Oh, for just one more wintry night with Lou the Logger. What a big Polar bear of a man he had been). But, no matter where they went, they always managed to have a great time. Their individual personalities, each very different, seemed to complement the other’s nicely, one’s attributes always managing to soften the other’s shortcomings.
She wasn't so sure about this time, though. It seemed that their luck couldn't be more rotten. By the looks of the major blizzard that was raging outside, there was a good possibility that the three of them wouldn't be stepping foot outside cabin all week. But she didn't care. If she had to be holed up in a cabin for a week with two people, she couldn't have picked two better people than Cat and Sherri. They were the two greatest people she knew. Although she wished Sherri would cheer up. Even though it had been her idea to go on this skiing expedition, all three of them had made the final decision together. She shouldn't blame herself.
She was right about the storm though. It made no sense. It was supposed to be sunny and clear. Could those hair-brained weather men have all been that far off? Could a blizzard of this caliber just materialize out of thin air without warning?
Sherri came shuffling out of the bathroom in just as foul a mood as she’d entered. "Looks like we aren't gonna make it to the lodge for the group dinner tonight. Sorry girls," she said, opening the cabinet to survey its contents. "Looks like either chicken soup or a can of corned beef hash. Wanna take a secret ballot vote or toss a coin?"
"What the heck, let's really splurge and make 'em both," Deb teased.
"Well, it's not fillet mignon with parsley potatoes, basted tomato brushed with butter and sprinkled with oregano, and French onion soup covered with a blanket of Swiss cheese," Sherri said, reading from the brochure. Tossing it back into the drawer, she slammed it shut.
"Oooooh," Debra groaned. "Do you have to rub it in? Have a heart, will ya."
"Screw filet mignon and chocolate drizzled, cream layered napoleons too," Cathy chirped.
"And all those tall, dark, handsome ski buffs with Colgate smiles can take a flying leap."
"Who needs 'em, right Deb?"
"Yeah, right," she moaned, sounding as if she’d just been punched in the stomach. "And I prefer medium height with blonde hair, if you must know."
"Yeah, we know. Blue eyes, tight buns and a light southern accent as an extra bonus."
"Oh God, here we go again." Sherri muttered, rolling her eyes as she rummaged through the pots and pans. She pulled out a medium sized pot for the soup and a large cast-iron frying pan for the corned beef hash, and began to search for a can opener. "Hey, we got ring dings for dessert," she said, pulling the box from one of the drawers.
"See! What did I say? Things are already starting to turn around," Cathy chirped cheerily.
"All right, Cat, let's not go overboard," Sherri said, arching her eyebrows and creasing her forehead, a gesture it seemed she reserved solely for the rare occasions that Cathy irritated her. "They're just ring dings."
"Give her a break, Sherri. She's just trying to look at the bright side," Debra said.
"Christ, I can't believe this," Sherri groaned.
"I can't find a friggin' can opener. There has to be a can opener here somewhere, doesn’t there," she whined, slamming the drawer impatiently and flinging open another. "How can there not be a can opener?"
"Just relax," Debra said, rising from the couch to join in on the search. "It has to be here somewhere. Just take a deep breath, would you. You’re a nervous wreck."
With a deep sigh, Cathy leaned back on the couch, propping her feet on the coffee table to peer out the window at the falling snow. It wasn't just falling. It was coming down in torrents. No, it wasn't coming down. It was blowing sideways. Man! They had gotten back just in the nick of time. This was definitely going to put a damper on their skiing plans, she thought. No bout adoubt it.
She was just about to get up to join in on the frantic search for the can opener, when she saw a dark shadow pass across the window.
Both Deb and Sherri stopped rummaging and turned to gape at Cathy. It was only once in a blue moon that a swear word would cross those pouty lips.
"There's someone out there," Cathy said, her eyes riveted to the window.
"What?" Debra and Sherri asked in unison, the can-opener search instantly forgotten.
"Someone. . . . Someone outside. I just saw someone cross in front of the window."
"Christ, Cathy, are you sure," Sherri asked as she strode toward the window. "Are you sure? I can't see a thing."
"I'm positive. He passed right in front of it."
"Well. . . , I think it was a he, but. . . ."
The three women stood looking at each other, unsure of what to do as an unmistakable uneasiness suddenly flooded the room. There was something unnerving about someone lurking about in a blizzard like the one raging outside . . something ominous.
Finally, Debra made the first move and strode toward the door.
"What are you doing," Cathy asked nervously.
"Locking the door." Turning the dead-bolt and sliding the chain into place, she then turned, putting her back to the door where she stood hugging her elbows, her face almost the same shade as her white shirt.
Reaching up, Sherri drew the curtains together and once again the three stood staring at each others’ anxious faces.
"Maybe it was a bear or something," Sherri said at last, for some reason finding the idea of a bear lumbering about outside a bit more reassuring.
"I don't think so."
"Christ, Cat," Debra whispered. "You're scaring the crap out of me. Are you positive!"
"Yes. . . yes, I'm positive," she said, rubbing her arms briskly. "I already told you I was sure!"
"Okay. . . , let's not panic," Debra said, walking over and putting her arm around Cathy's shoulder. "Let's just think about this for a minute."
"Think about what!" Sherri snapped. "If someone's wandering around in a storm like this, they have to be bonkers. Christ! I'm getting the major creeps here."
"Well, what if it’s just someone who’s lost, or something," Cathy said, her eyes darting nervously from Debra to Sherri. "I mean, it’s possible, right? A storm like this?"
"Yeah, it’s possible," Sherri replied with a note of skepticism. "So, why aren’t they knocking?"
Three sets of frightened eyes peered at each other.
"I'm calling the police," Sherri said.
No one objected.
* * *
"You have to be kidding," Debra whined, when Sherri hung up the receiver, a glum expression pasted to her face. "Give me the phone. Let me talk to those idiots!"
"Deb, they're not going to come out in a raging blizzard and risk their own necks just because three wimpy women have the spooks."
"This isn't the spooks, damn it. Cathy saw someone!"
"Well, if there's any other signs of anyone, we can call back and they'll send someone."
"In the meantime. . . , we keep the doors and windows locked and don't venture outside."
"Oh wonderful, thanks for the advice. What are we, morons?"
Cathy sat heavily on the couch, pulling her knees to her chest, hugging a throw pillow tightly while Sherri busied herself pouring coffee and passing out ring dings. Together, the three sat eating in silence while outside the storm raged and darkness crept in.
* * *
"Well," Sherri said after they finished eating their ring ding dinner. "Seeing as we’re getting nothing but snow on the t.v., I'm going to turn on the radio. This silence is driving me nuts."
It was to no avail. After searching from one end of the dial to the other several times and finding nothing but static, she finally admitted defeat and clicked it off.
Adding more wood to the fire, she joined Cat and Deb on the sofa where they all three sat staring pensively into the mesmerizing, flickering flames.
"Okay, that’s it," Debra said, slapping her knees. "This is ridiculous. How about some cards? Anybody up for some Gin Rummy? I brought two decks, so. . . ." Debra gasped as something heavy thumped against the front door.
All three women shot to their feet at once, watching in disbelief as someone tried the door handle.
Moving quietly as a mouse, Sherri darted across the room and snatched up the phone, and at that same instant, there came a pounding on the front door and the three women jumped, a yelp of fright escaping them simultaneously.
A voice came wafting through the front door. "Forest ranger," the muffled male voice shouted.
All three women stood frozen, staring at the door.
He pounded again with a little more elbow grease. "Hello? Sheriffs' department called, said you might need some help. They tried to call, tell you I was coming," he shouted, his face evidently pressed to the door, trying to be heard over the storm. "Phone lines are down."
Debbie and Cathy glanced furtively toward Sherri who put the receiver to her ear. Nodding confirmation, she placed it back in its cradle.
"Open up," he shouted, pounding with more urgency. "Anyone hear me," he yelled, a hint of desperation in his voice.
Grabbing the heavy, cast-iron frying pan from the stove, Sherri crossed to the door and placed her hand on the lock. She hesitated, looking over her shoulder to Cat and Deb. They both stood with wide eyes, uncertainty etched clearly on their pale faces.
"Okay," the voice on the other side of the door shouted. "I'm going to have to break out one of the side windows. . . ."
Taking one last deep breath, Sherri unlatched the chain and unbolted the lock.
She jumped back, raising the pan over her head as the door came crashing open. He was tall and thickly bundled in warm winter clothes. A ski mask was obscuring his face as he practically fell in amidst a flurry of snow. With some effort, he pushed the door closed behind him, securing it with the deadbolt before turning to confront Sherri.
"Holy mackerel, but it's nasty out there," he gasped, snatching off his ski mask and then his gloves to rub his hands briskly together.
Sherri kept the frying pan poised in the air, the handle clenched tightly in her fist. He glanced at it momentarily before his eyes, filled with ill-concealed amusement, darted quickly back to hers.
"Oh, sorry," he said, failing miserably in his attempt to suppress a smile. Unzipping his thick winter coat, he shrugged it off, revealing a blazer with his insignia underneath. "Ranger Darren Wilkins at your service, ma'am," he said, flashing white, even teeth at Sherri and offering his hand.
Breathing a sigh of relief, she lowered the frying pan and shifted it to her left hand so that she could shake. "Thank God," she said, feeling a bit of embarrassment at the grin that she saw hiding in his eyes. "We were going nuts sitting here. Cat here swears she saw someone out the front window."
He laughed, shaking his head. "Not very likely. Not fit for man nor beast out there. Visibility of about two feet. I was lucky I found you. Almost got lost out there myself, and I know these parts like the back of my hand."
"How in the world did you manage to get here?"
"Only one way to get around in weather like this. Snowmobile."
"Well, you scared the living daylights out of us," Cathy broke in. "They said they weren't going to send anyone."
"Yeah, sorry. They radioed me on my home unit. Got concerned when the phones went dead. They knew I was close by, so they asked if I could check it out."
"Oh, we really appreciate it," Debra said, breaking out of her shock and rushing up to stand beside Sherri. "Risking this storm and all to check on us, I mean."
"Well, I'm glad to see everything's fine here, but I'm afraid I'm going to have to impose on you ladies. Looks like I may have to spend the night. Too dangerous to risk a trip back in this storm."
"Oh, that's okay," Debra said, smiling radiantly. "Can I get you anything? Coffee, or something. Oh, of course, you could probably use some coffee right about now," she giggled as she went scurrying into the kitchen.
"I'm really sorry," he said, looking down at Sherri who stood with the frying pan down by her side. He was quite tall, she realized, and quite striking with dark wavy hair and penetrating green eyes. She felt herself fidget beneath his gaze.
"Are you kidding?" Debra hollered from the kitchen. "You just made us the three happiest girls on the mountain." Shuffling back, she handed him a large mug of steaming coffee and stood before him, her shoulders pulled back to accentuate her large breasts. She beamed up at him, flashing her best smile as she batted her eyelashes.
Sherri gave an inward groan. How could Deb be thinking about romance at a time like this? Although she had to admit that he was an exceptionally handsome man with that charming grin and those eyes.
"Wow," Debra said right on cue, "you have the most amazing colored eyes. Just like emeralds. Cat, come look at this."
"Deb, please," Sherri said, "the man's practically frozen solid. Give him a break, for God's sake."
He looked to Sherri appreciatively and took a sip of his coffee.
"Please, have a seat, make yourself at home," Debra said. "Would you like a Ring Ding," she laughed. "That's about all we can offer you. We have soup and stuff but we can't find a can opener."
"Really," he said, strolling to the kitchen and opening a drawer. He moved aside some silverware and pulled it out.
"Oh, my God," Deb giggled. "I looked in there! I can't believe that! I did, I looked in there, didn't I Sherri? I swear I did!"
"Yeah," Sherri acknowledged in a bewildered tone. "I looked in there too. . . , several times," she said, walking up beside him to peer into the drawer, a baffled expression upon her face.
"Christ! I guess we are just a couple of dizzy broads," Debra snorted.
"Nah, I don't think so," he said, grinning down at Sherri with green eyes that sparkled and, much to her chagrin, she felt herself blush. "There's a lot of junk in there. Just overlooked it, I'm sure," he said, holding it out to her.
"I guess," she said. Placing the frying pan back on the stove, she took it from him and proceeded to busy herself opening cans of chicken soup and corned beef hash while he stood observing over her shoulder, sipping from the mug he held cradled in both hands.
That was when she first noticed his scent. Very different. Kind of woodsy, like trees and running creeks and fresh mountain air and sunshine all rolled into one. She’d never smelled anything quite like it. It was manly. Intoxicating. It stirred things inside of her that were confusing, evoking images that were. . . . erotic. Yes, that’s what it was. There was no denying it. There was something extremely sensual about his scent. She thought she must be experiencing what a male dog felt after catching a whiff of a bitch in heat. Or a horse, or a cat for that matter. It stirred something acutely animalistic, something primal deep within.
"Ouch, damn!" she swore when she brushed the hot pot with the back of her hand.
"Here, why don't I make myself useful." Placing his coffee mug on the counter, he took the spoon from her, his hand lingering on hers for a few seconds. She met his eyes briefly, feeling a strange tingling sensation originating at her hand and working it’s way up her arm and then down to the pit of her stomach, and then lower still. . .
Plucking the spoon from her fingers, he adjusted the flame below the pot and began to stir the soup slowly.
* * *
Sherri went through cabinets and drawers, pulling out plates and bowls and silverware, all the while her head spinning crazily. There had been something in his eyes when they’d met hers for that one fleeting moment. What had she seen there? Amusement? Yes, but something more. An inner knowledge, of sorts. Could he possibly know how intensely his close proximity was affecting her? How incredibly attracted she was? No, how could he? And just why was she having these profound feelings? They’d known each other less than thirty minutes, for God’s sake! What was going on? Why was he getting to her like this? She didn't ordinarily act this way around men, all flustered and goo-goo eyed. She could feel her heart speed up and the color rise to her cheeks every time he glanced her way, which he seemed to be doing quite frequently. Even her palms felt all clammy. She was acting like a real ditz.
Debra perched herself across from Cathy at the table and began to lay out the cards for a game of double solitaire, all the while keeping a keen eye on the couple in the kitchen. There was obviously something brewing in there besides coffee, she mused with a degree of envy. She couldn’t ever remember seeing Sherri so addled. With her foot, she nudged Cathy under the table, motioning toward them with her eyes. Cat nodded and they both tried to stifle their giggles.
"Soups on," Sherri said as she divided the soup into four bowls and carried them carefully to the table.
"Oh man, does that smell delicious," Cathy said as Darren set a plate of corned beef hash in front of her.
"Yeah, I don't ever remember being so ravenous," Debra agreed. "Good thing you came along, Ranger Wilkins."
"Please, call me Darren."
"Okay, sure. . . Darren," she said, and she and Cathy both began to giggle like school girls.
Sherri rolled her eyes and then blushed when she realized that Darren was grinning at her.
Taking her seat at the table, she scooped up a spoonful of chicken noodle soup and blew on it gently, trying not to think about the green eyes that she could feel boring into her.
She didn't understand the instant attraction that she felt for him. He was a total stranger and yet the attraction was undeniable and powerful. It was confusing. She'd never felt anything like it and, in a way, it disturbed her. Did she have so little control over her own emotions? She wasn't some dim-witted little twit who swooned every time some smooth talking Romeo winked at her, some scatterbrained ninny who giggled and batted her lashes every time some pompous, egotistical Casanova flashed pearly whites in her direction. She'd always prided herself in her staunch levelheaded approach to the opposite sex. She didn't like this out-of-control feeling, this twitterpated feeling.
"So Darren," Debra said, patting her lips daintily with her cloth napkin. "I don't see a ring on your finger. I can't believe a good-looking guy such as yourself isn't married."
Sherri cringed. Deb could be so brash sometimes. It was just her nature. Most of the time it didn't bother her. She kind of got a kick out of it. It was fun to see how people reacted to her straight forwardness. But not now. Now, she just wished that she would shut the hell up.
"Nope," he said, wiping his mouth with his napkin before taking another sip of coffee.
"Well, you must have a girlfriend, a fianceé. I bet you're engaged, right?"
"Debra, for Pete's sake. . . . "
"No to all of the above," he answered. He leaned back in his chair, a sated look gracing his handsome features. "Guess I haven't found that. . . perfect woman, yet," he said, staring boldly at Sherri.
"Wow, I find that hard to believe," Debra said. "Just what is. . . . perfect to you?"
"Oh, I don't know," he said, shrugging, his gaze still riveted on Sherri, making her extremely uncomfortable. "Usual stuff, I guess; smart, generous, nice smile. . ."
Feeling the sudden need to busy herself, Sherri stood to clear the table.
"pure of heart. . . .of body. . . ."
Suddenly, one of the plates slipped from her hands and went shattering to the floor. "Christ," she muttered, and knelt quickly to pick up the pieces, instantly slicing her finger on a sharp shard. "Shit!"
In the blink of an eye, Darren was beside her, leading her to the sink by the wrist.
"I'm fine, I'm fine," she insisted, attempting to pull away.
"Just let me have a look," he insisted, turning on the faucet and holding her hand under the stream of cold water. She watched her blood swirl down the drain, very aware of his body pressing up firmly behind her, pinning her against the sink. His scent bombarded her and she closed her eyes, attempting to block out the desires that flooded through her. Behind them, she was only vaguely aware of Deb and Cat arguing about who would sweep and who would hold the dust pan. Their words seemed to be coming from a million miles away.
"I know she dropped it there," Debra said in an exasperated tone. "But look, there's pieces over there, and some more over there. You have to sweep the whole area. Just. . . , here, let me do it."
There was something undeniably erotic about the feel of his body pressed against her. It was so obvious that he was doing it on purpose and she knew that she should probably push him away. That would probably be the decent thing to do. But somewhere deep down inside, she supposed that she liked it because she made no attempt to do so. And why shouldn't she like it? She was a woman, wasn't she? He was a handsome man who was obviously attracted to her. Why couldn't she just loosen up a bit? It was just a little innocent fun, right?
It hadn't been her intentions to be a twenty-three-year-old virgin. Hadn’t made a pact to hold out until she was married or anything. It was simply that . . . well, the right opportunity had never arisen. Not that she hadn't had plenty of opportunities. But none had ever felt right before. She just hadn't been ready or hadn’t felt that magic spark that everyone was always talking about.
"Well, it's not bad," he said at last, his hot breath at her ear causing her to shiver. "I guess you'll live."
She slipped her hand from his and breathed a sigh of relief when he moved away to add wood to the fire.
"I think that just about does it," Debra said as she dumped the dust pan into the garbage can with a loud clinking of glass. "How's the finger?"
"It's nothing, really."
"Hey," Deb whispered, sidling over to her. "He really likes you."
"Deb, give me a break."
"Come on! They don't get any hunkier. Sweet southern drawl. . . . and did you get a load of those eyes."
"Come on," she said, nudging her. "He's a dream. You just have to close your eyes. Mr. Sandman," she began to sing quietly, "bring me a dream. Make him the cutest that I’ve ever seen."
"If you don't move in on him, I will."
"Be my guest."
"Sherri, quit being such a stiff," she said, giving her a light nudge on the shoulder with her own. "I swear, you're going to end up a fifty-year-old, wrinkled, and very frustrated old-maid!"
"Okay, that's it," she said, arching her brows in irritation. "I'm going to bed," .
"No. You and Cat help yourselves. I'm beat," she said, and headed to her room, and though she didn’t look back, she could just picture Deb staring after her in total disbelief, her jaw sagging to the floor, hands on hips.
* * *
Sherri lay in bed for hours listening to Cat and Deb as they giggled and flirted with ‘Mr. Darren Wilkins, forest ranger at your service, ma’am’, in the other room. She'd done it again. Alienated herself from someone who was genuinely interested. What was she so afraid of?
Rolling to her stomach, she clutched her pillow tightly.
Well, it was probably for the best, anyway. Even if he was interested, this was West Virginia and she lived in Minnesota. Quite a distance to drive for a date. She wasn’t interested in any one-night stands, either. No way. Before anything sexual would ever happen, there would first have to be a meaningful relationship. She wasn’t some floozy to be used for one night of pleasure and then kicked to the curb like a piece of garbage. Un uh. Not her. As far as she was concerned, people took sex far too casually these days, trivializing something that was supposed to be beautiful and meaningful. Besides, she didn’t want to have sex. She wanted to make love. Was that asking too much?
Flipping to her back, she folded the sides of the pillow up around her ears, hoping to block out some of the noise from the other room, but to no avail. She tossed and turned unable to sleep, for some reason the gay chitter chatter in the next room bothering her more than she cared to admit.
She was grateful when, finally, she heard Deb and Cathy retire to their room amidst profuse giggles.
She heard him, Darren, moving around in the living room, heard the sound of logs being added to the fire, the sound of dining room chairs being slid back into place, the clinking of coffee cups being placed quietly in the sink. She heard the floorboards beneath his feet creak as he made his way to the bathroom, the toilet flush, running water as he washed his hands. Maybe he was washing more than his hands, she wondered as the water continued to run for a while. She pictured him washing his face and then taking his shirt off to run the wash cloth over his chest. Did he have a hairy chest, she wondered, or smooth?
Christ, snap out of it! You're starting to act like those ditzy hairbrains in the next room, she told herself, throwing her hands to her forehead in disgust.
The water was turned off and she craned her head to listen, in spite of herself.
The creak of a door hinge and more floorboards as he made his way back to the living room, something indiscernible sliding on the floor. . . more floorboards. She heard the springs of the couch groan, and then there was only silence.
She lay for a while, gazing up at the open rafters and listening to the storm rage outside. Their whole week, all shot to hell. She was surprised that this thought didn’t irritate her more than it did. The storm had, after all, delivered Darren, green eyes and all, to their front door.
As she began to drift, a song popped into her brain, spinning it round and round.
Buuum, bum bum bum bum, bum bum bum bum, bum bum bum bum bum. .
Mr. Sandman. . . bring me a dream. . . . . .
Make him the cutest that I’ve ever seen. . . .
Give him two lips like roses and clover,
And tell him that his lonesome night’s are over. . . . . .
Sandman. . . . someone to hold. . . . would be so peachy before I’m too old. . . . .
So please turn on your magic, please. . .
Mr. Sandman, bring me. . .
Please, please, please. . . .
Mr. Sandman. . . .
Bring me aaaaa
dream. . . .
* * *
A tantalizing smell was pervading her dream. Strong, musky, masculine. And then a noise filtered through, the slight creaking of a hinge, and Sherri slowly drifted back into the waking world.
She gasped, sitting up.
"Ssssh, Sherri," he whispered, putting a finger to his lips. "Don't be afraid."
"What. . ."
"I know. . . ,I shouldn't be in here. I just. . . I. . ."
He stepped from the shadows and she gasped again when she realized that he was naked. He had wide shoulders and a strong muscular chest (smooth, she noted) that tapered down to a flat, ridged stomach and narrow hips. He obviously took good care of himself.
She forced her eyes back to his before they could examine further. "Get out, now," she insisted, her voice a mere whisper in the darkness.
"Okay, I will, but first I need to tell you something," he said with a mischievous grin.
"I've never known a woman like you," he whispered.
"You don't know me."
"Sure I do." He took a step toward the bed, causing her to pull the comforter to her chin. "Pure of heart. . . pure of body."
"Listen. . . I don't know what Deb and Cat have been telling you. I'm sorry if I've somehow misled you. I didn't mean to give you the wrong impre. . . ."
He moved to the side of the bed, crossing the room quickly in a few fluent strides.
He sat on the edge of the bed, his eyes riveted on hers, trying to draw her in. "Get out," she whispered, the words more of a plea now than an order. Her heart was hammering. His scent had worked its way into her brain and she felt her resolve weakening. The way that he was looking at her with those eyes, it was obvious that he wanted to kiss her. And the strange thing was, she wanted him to. Or was it strange? Maybe it was perfectly natural. She didn’t know. She didn’t care.
He leaned in slowly toward her lips.
She wanted to protest. She really did. But she suddenly seemed at a loss for words and when his lips touched hers, instead of pulling away, she found herself leaning into him. His hands came up, cupping her face and he gently pushed her back on the bed, his bare chest pressing against her thin nightshirt. She could feel every rippling muscle. His mouth was soft and gentle at first, his lips nibbling tenderly at hers, but then became more insistent, with him leaning in, attempting to part her lips with his own. Her body was screaming at her to allow this to happen, to just relax and enjoy a few hours of pure physical pleasure. That way she could return to Minnesota without that stigma attached any longer. She would be a new woman, relaxed and assured. And she wouldn’t have to worry about who would be the first any longer. God! She was so sick of worrying about that. Who would be the first! What was the big deal anyway? She just wanted to get it over with. Get it out of the way forever. Twenty-three! She'd held out long enough, hadn't she? Who was she holding out for, anyway? What was she trying to prove?
His gentle persistence proved too overwhelming and she felt herself surrender. He parted her lips, devouring her hungrily, and before she even realized what was happening, the comforter was tossed aside and he was on top of her, his body hot, like an inferno, searing right through her night shirt. She ran her hands up his back, feeling his muscles ripple at her touch.
It felt so strange to have someone laying on top of her. She'd often wondered what it would feel like. It was different from what she'd imagined. He felt so solid on top of her, heavier than she imagined. It made her feel vulnerable in a way, so much smaller and weaker beneath him. His hands ran up under her night shirt, caressing her sides and her back and then moved slowly down, sliding into her underwear. . . . .
She brought one hand up unconsciously to her neck, grasping the small gold crucifix that always hung there. It was her most treasured possession. Her grandmother had bequeathed it to her in her will and she’d been wearing it diligently ever since. Almost twelve years now. It never came off. It wasn’t anything fancy, but there was something about the simplicity of it that she found appealing. The fine, delicate gold chain and. . . .
Something clicked in Sherri’s head.
This wasn't right.
She couldn't go through with it. For God's sake! Cat and Deb were right in the next room! Had she completely lost her mind? She didn't know this man! She didn't know the first thing about him. She'd only met him tonight, for Christ's sake! This wasn't why she'd saved herself for all these years, just so she could blow years of restraint on a one night stand. What on earth could she have been thinking! When she decided that it was time, it would be with someone special, someone she loved. She didn't want it to be just a physical joining. She wanted it to be a joining of minds and souls as well, a spiritual and physical linking all rolled into one. Not like this.
She pushed on his shoulders.
He ignored her, his kiss becoming more urgent, almost bruising, and she shoved harder until he reluctantly pulled back. He lay heavily on top of her, bright eyes boring into hers, his breathing labored.
"I'm sorry," she breathed breathlessly. "I'm sorry. . . . I just. . . I can't. I'm sorry."
"Sherri," he whispered huskily. Running a finger tenderly down her cheek, he leaned in again.
"No," she said, shoving him back firmly. "I mean it. I'm really sorry, Darren. I can't do this."
He lay heavily on top of her, peering down at her for the longest time, wearing an expression that, for the life of her, she couldn't read, an inappropriate mixture of disappointment and humor, and maybe a tad of melancholy thrown in with a pinch of irritation, all with an underlying aura of great expectancy. And what was that lifting the corner of his mouth? A smirk? And. . . .
That's when she saw it.
A glimpse of something. . .
Something. . . not right.
Something. . . something strange about his face.
She wasn't sure exactly, but she could have sworn that she saw something happen to his face. . . a subtle shifting of features.
No. It was dark and the shadows were just playing tricks on her eyes. That's all it was. Of course, that's all it was. Outside, she could hear the wind howling eerily.
"Oh, Sherri," he whispered, brushing a wisp of hair from her eyes and then caressing her cheek tenderly with the back of his hand. "My brave raven-haired Sherri. Why must you make this soooooo difficult?"
She stared into his eyes, suddenly feeling extremely uncomfortable. There was something about the tone of his voice that was unnerving. An underlying coldness.
He dropped his eyes to her lips and with a fingertip slowly traced them round and around. "Ooooh Sherri," he repeated, and she heard it. . .
Something wrong. . . something wrong with his voice, almost like. . . like a warped record.
Suddenly, she was scared. More than scared. She was terrified. It seemed the body on top of hers had become a thick block of ice. The blood flowing through her veins turned to an icy sludge. She couldn’t move. She was capable only of staring up into green eyes that glimmered too brightly in the darkness. Something was wrong. . . terribly, terribly wrong.
He leaned slowly toward her lips, and when his cold lips touched hers, a shudder of repulsion coursed through her as a snakelike tongue wriggled its way between her clamped lips and darted into her mouth.
The spell broke and her hands flew up, grasping at his hair, attempting to pull his face away, but he held her face firmly, leaning all his weight in, prying her mouth open, giving the hideous snake tongue free reign of her mouth where it took full liberties, flitting in and out, exploring with seemingly great relish.
It slithered deep into her throat causing her to gag and he pulled away with a gurgling deep-throated chuckle that made her skin crawl, and again she saw the shifting of features.
With a pathetic mewling whimper, she looked into shining eyes that were much too green and, to her horror, realized that his pupils were abnormal, not round, but slitted, and they were glaring at her with an icy cold maliciousness that was horrifying.
Grasping a handful of her hair, he yanked her head back and a frigid, wet, drooling mouth sucked hungrily on her neck, the disgusting smacking sounds turning her stomach.
As Sherri slowly began to break out of her shock, it dawned on her to scream and, as if reading her mind, he put his mouth to her ear. His breath was icy cold and reeking of rotting flesh as he whispered in her ear. "If you wake your friends. . . . I'll have to snap their necks," he stated matter-of-factly in the same eerie warped voice.
Shivers made a mad dash down her spine and Sherri knew without a doubt that this was more than a threat. This was a certainty. He would snap their necks in the blink of an eye and probably grin while doing it.
She bit her lip to choke back the whimpers, and her hand flew to her mouth, clamping tightly to stifle a scream as she felt his snake-tongue flit into her ear and begin to wriggle in deeper. He chuckled . . . a deep, guttural, unnatural chuckle.
Pulling back, he perched above her to grin down and she noticed something different about his face. Subtle differences. His hairline. He had widows' peaks now, high ones. . . and something else. . . his nose, that's what it was. . . it was thinner. . . more pointed and his lips looked thinner as well, and wider and curved up strangely at the corners.
His eyes fell to the gold crucifix that was resting in the soft dip of her neck, and he took it between his finger and thumb, rubbing it softly as if admiring its smooth texture. "Eccesignum magni nominis umbra," he uttered in a strange language that sounded as old as time itself. With a quick yank, he snapped the thin chain and tossed it casually to the floor. "Jacta alea est. Facilis descensus averno. Fas est et ab hoste doceri. Finem respice."
Slowly, with great deliberation, he hooked one finger into the neck of her night shirt and began to pull downward, slicing the material with a thin ripping sound. She squeezed her eyes tightly shut, not wanting to know what horror his hand had transformed into, what claw-like, razor-sharp talon.
She held her hand clamped tightly over her mouth to smoother the sobs that racked her body. The room was closing in on her. . . squeezing her. . . squeezing. She wanted to awaken from the nightmare, to open her eyes and find that none of it was real, just a horrible, horrible dream.
He pulled her split shirt apart and hooked a finger into the side of her underwear, snapping it neatly. Exposed, completely, so utterly, so vulnerable.
She kept her eyes squeezed tightly shut. It couldn't be happening. What had she done so wrong to deserve this fate worse than death? She'd always been a decent person, good-hearted, kind, considerate. . . pure of heart. . .
"Umm yesss," he hissed, evoking disturbing images of a large snake, and she felt a shudder of ecstasy course through him. "Sssso chassste, sssso unssssullied. Sssskeezickssssss needssss thissss," he hissed. "Corruptio optimi pessssssima."
She squeezed her eyes tighter and a shiver of revulsion ran through her as she felt cold hands, hands that were not hands at all, slide slowly up to her breasts, kneading, groping. A tongue flicked at her nipples, sickening, repulsive. And then she felt his weight shift downward, felt the tongue slither down as well, flicking along her belly and then begin to work its way down further still.
Something snapped within her at this, and her reflexes took over. Without really thinking, she pulled back one leg and kicked him squarely in the face. There was a dull, moist thud, as if she had struck a large slab of clay that seemed to simply enfold around her foot.
He was immediately on top of her, his mouth once again at her ear as she whimpered beneath a tightly clamped hand.
"Oh Ssssherri," he hissed, his fetid breath assaulting her. She struggled vehemently against the tight knot in her stomach threatening to send a combination of chicken noodle soup and corned beef hash erupting into the hissing face poised above her. "I'm sssooo dissssapointed in you. Have you nooooo idea how I can make you feeeeeeel?" he hissed, wriggling his tongue deep into her ear to prove his point.
He positioned himself between her legs and she felt him, cold and hard, prodding at her.
A voice inside her head began to scream and against her will, her eyes flew open. . . .
She was immediately sorry.
His face had totally transformed. The face that she lay gaping up at was not human. She was looking into the face of. . . of. . . a gargoyle! That was the first word to pop into her mind. A gargoyle! A hideous, repugnant, loathsome gargoyle. There was no longer any hint of his wary dark hair. Only a gnarled maze of bony cranial ridges and craters on an oversized skull. One shiny, green, slitted eye had dropped a good two inches below the other and both eyes protruded unnaturally. Now, not only the pupils were slitted but the irises as well, and as Sherri watched, a thin opaque layer within the eyes closed, veiling the eyes temporarily in an eerie blink. The nose was thin, long and hooked under. The lipless mouth stretched unnaturally wide, the curved corners reaching all the way to large, protruding, pointed ears. As she watched, a long forked tongue lolled out, flicking her cheek and he chuckled a low, guttural, obscene, warped chuckle.
She was screaming! She was screaming and she couldn't stop. She clamped both hands over her mouth, muting the screams that wouldn't be denied.
And then he thrust into her viciously and she squeezed her eyes tightly shut, continuing to scream as a frozen hive full of angry hornets entered her.
* * *
In their room, Debra and Cathy giggled behind their hands. "Oh my," Cathy whispered. "I knew it! I knew she liked him. Jeez, listen to that!"
"It's about damn time, that's all I have to say. Sounds like he knows what the hell he's doing, too," Debra added with more than a hint of jealousy in her voice.
"Oh, jeez, Debra. Come on, be happy for her. He's gorgeous."
"I am, I am, just a bit envious is all."
Cat giggled. "Yeah, me too. Some people have all the luck."
"How long is this storm gonna last, anyway?"
"I know, they're not gonna be able to find this place to dig us out if this keeps up."
"Christ, what the hell’s going on in there," Debra moaned. Rolling onto her stomach, she pulled her pillow snugly over her head.
Cathy lay back with a deep sigh. Yep, some people had all the luck.
* * *
Grunting like a pig, the grotesque miscreation above her thrust relentlessly, sending the bed to shimmying, working it’s way inch by inch across the room, bumping into walls and dressers before changing course and continuing along in a new direction.
Sherri still had bouts of screaming, though most of the time she just lay moaning beneath tightly clamped hands while strange images flitted through her mind, bits and pieces of her life like mini movie clips.
She was two and her dog, Spinner, was chasing her through the house nipping at her heels while she giggled merrily. . . .
Then she was six, or maybe seven, and she had dressed in her mother’s clothes. Hadn’t left out a thing, either. Was even wearing high-heels and a full face of ill-applied makeup, and she was clomping down the sidewalk feeling very proud of her new, more mature look. . . .
She was eleven and she sat at the funeral parlor. It was the first funeral she had ever attended and she stared at the casket numbly. She remembered clearly the odd disembodied feeling that overcame her as she pictured the stiff, lifeless body of her grandmother lying prone, hands neatly folded, entombed for eternity in that cold dark wooden box.
She was nine and. . .
She felt herself on the verge of passing out. Oh yes! Sweet, merciful. . . Her head was yanked roughly back and an icy mouth clamped on her neck, sucking hungrily, reviving her instantly.
She was nine and riding in the back of their green station wagon - what a clunker that had been. There wasn't a seat in it that didn't have rips with foam pushing its way through. She was looking out the window at a man who was walking along the sidewalk holding hands with a girl about her age. Their clasped hands were swinging merrily and she remembered clearly the feeling of emptiness that had pervaded her. A void so wide and deep. . .
Blackness was creeping upon her once again with promises of merciful refuge when, once again, a gnarled, bony hand with long talon-like nails yanked her viciously back to consciousness. She forgot and opened her eyes.
Its head was thrown back. Long, stringy, strands of slobber dangled from its pointed, pitted chin as its head swayed, its eyes rolled back and fluttering as it grunted and groaned, each powerful thrust shaking the world around her.
She squeezed her eyes shut once again.
She was thirteen and Timmy Schulman, the boy from two houses down, was trying to kiss her. She pushed him away and told him to take a hike with what she hoped was a proper look of shocked indignation on her face.
She was twenty and Shaun O'Neil, her good friend for three years was helping her study for an important chemistry exam. Suddenly he leaned over and kissed her. She pushed him away, a look of surprised shock on her face, and told him that it might be best if he leave. . . .
sick, sick, disgusting grunting
she was three . . .
low guttural grunting coupled with wet slobbering hissing
sitting on her mothers' lap. . .
foul rancid breath making her want to retch
at the movie theater. . . .lots of laughing children
thick mucousy globules of phlegm plopping on her cheek
despicable long-fingered hands on her shoulders, sharp claws digging in, holding her in place as the thing above her thrust relentlessly.
Bugs Bunny. . . . "Nyaah, what's up, doc. . ."
thrusting. . . . God!. . . . painful. . . . ripping her apart
Elmer Fudd. . . . "You wascley wabbit. . ."
a flapping of foul wings. . . strange frigid breeze whistling through the room
Tweety Bird and Sylvester. . . "I tought I taw a puddy tat"
Please. . . Please. . . God!
"I did! I did tee a puddy tat. . . . ."
Please. . . . . please. . . . Aba da, aba da, aba dat’s all folks. . . . ."
* * *
"Jesus, I can’t stand this," Deb muttered, sitting up in bed and brushing a mass of blonde curls from her eyes. "I’m gonna go peek."
"Deb! Don’t you dare," Cathy hissed.
"Listen to that! Sounds like they’re gonna put the bed through the damn wall! What the hell are they doing in there? Having a gymnastics meet!"
"Sssssh. They’re gonna hear you."
"Are you kidding!," Deb hissed, and she and Cathy broke into hysterics at the absurdity of this statement, concerned not in the least that they might be overheard.
Finally, after what seemed like hours, the noise on the other side of the cabin ceased and Debra could hear Darren moving around. She heard water running in the bathroom and then heard springs creaking as he took his place back on the couch. She briefly entertained the notion of going out there and doing a little competing of her own in that gymnastics meet. If he was up to it, so to speak. She was after all, the more experienced competitor. But she quickly dispelled the notion. He hadn’t even shown the slightest interest in her, despite her best efforts. Besides, even she wasn’t so crude as to sleep with the same man who has just deflowered her best friend so competently. "Way to go, Sherri, baby," she whisper-cheered. "Bout damn time."
Smiling a devilish grin, she rolled to her side and, after listening to Cathy’s light snoring for about five minutes, drifted off to sweet oblivion.
* * *
Sherri lay in bed listening to Deb and Cat giggling flirtatiously with Darren in the next room. Every once in a while she would hear him chuckle, the sound smooth and buttery, and she would cringe and shudder and wipe away the silent tears that continued to trail down her face as she stared numbly at her bulging belly.
There was movement within and she whimpered as she watched the bulge undulate like an ocean’s surface.
There came a rap on the door and she quickly pulled the comforter to her chin, hiding her belly and the blood soaked sheets before Debra could poke her head in, beaming from ear to ear.
"Come on out, Sherri. Breakfast is ready. Darren found some potatoes under the sink and he fried them up with butter and onions. He’s got a regular gourmet meal going. He is just too much, Sherri, really," she whispered. "Come on, come on, up and at 'em," she said, striding across the room to the window.
"Debra," Sherri croaked hoarsely, "I don't feel. . . ."
"Look at this," Debra said excitedly, pulling open the curtains.
"Debra!" Sherri quickly shielded her eyes.
"Well, okay, so the sun isn't shining yet, but the storm is over, look," she said, turning to Sherri. "Oh, my God, Sherri! You look like hell!"
"I don't feel good. Just. . . . go away."
"God, you are really pale. Do you have a fever," she said, heading toward her, a concerned look shadowing her face.
"No Debra," she croaked, and attempted to moisten her lips with a tongue that was equally as dry. "Just. . .leave me alone," she said, raising her knees higher so that Debra wouldn't detect the bulge. She was terrified. Terrified not only for herself, but for Debra and Cat. What if they found out? Would he kill them?
Debra stood peering down at her. "Christ, you have circles under your eyes big as Texas and New Mexico put together," she gasped, one hand fluttering to her throat. "He was too rough on you!"
"Oh, sorry. . . we kind of. . . well, we. . ., you weren't exactly being quiet in here! We couldn't help but hear."
"Debra, please. . . close the curtain and go away," she said weakly.
"Fine, fine, okay," she said, shuffling to the window to draw the curtains together. "I'll check back in a little later, okay," she said and backed out the door, shutting it quietly.
Sherri pulled the comforter back down to watch her stomach, staring in disgust at something that churned and writhed just below the surface. She bit her lower lip, fighting back a scream and digging her nails into the bedding as a strong wave of pain enveloped her.
"She coming out," Cathy asked as she dished up four plates of fried potatoes and onions.
"No, she doesn't feel well." Debra poured herself a cup of coffee and sat at the table. "She doesn't look good at all," she said, eyeing Darren who was at the sink washing out the fry pan. "You wouldn't happen to know anything about that, would you, Darren?"
"Me," he asked innocently, his back still turned.
"Yes, you. If you must know, we heard everything last night. I mean, it was kind of hard not to. I think the Ringling Brothers could have set up their three ring circus in there and they would have made less noise, so you can just drop the innocent act."
"Deb," Cathy groaned, nudging her under the table.
"No, I want to know why she looks like she's been through World War Four," she jabbed haughtily.
Keeping his back to them, Darren turned off the faucet and leaned heavily on the counter, bowing his head.
"You know, you could've been a little easier on her. It was her fir. . . ."
"I asked her. . .," he blurted out.
"Asked her what?'
"You know," he said with his head still bowed, concealing his features, "if it would be all right, you know, in her condition."
"Yeah. She said it would be. . . that it would be fine, but, I don't know. She looked so pale this morning.
"What condition," Deb asked, puzzled.
"Come on," he laughed, "you think I don't know now. I mean, I admit I was completely shocked at first. She hides it well. . . ."
"Whoa, whoa, whoa, wait a minute, slow down," Debra broke in. "You've completely lost me. What does she hide well?
Darren turned to face them and he studied their baffled expressions, wearing a confused expression of his own. "Oh . . . maybe I wasn't supposed to say anything," he said, looking down to the floor. "I just assumed. . ."
"Jeez, would you please tell us," Cathy exclaimed. "You're really scaring me. What are. . ."
She was cut short as a scream sounded from behind Sherri’s closed door.
Debra shot up out of her chair, sending it flying backward with a loud clatter, and she and Cathy flew toward Sherri’s room with Darren close behind.
They flung open the door.
"God!" Sherri screamed at the top of her lungs. "Oh God, get it out of me! Get it out! Get it out! Get it out!"
Debra and Cat stood frozen in the doorway, staring in dumbfounded horror. Sherri lay writhing on the bed. She was naked, her head tossing as she clawed at a swollen stomach.
"Nooooo," she screamed, flying to a sitting position and grasping her knees, doubling over, her breath coming in gasps.
"Jesus. . . . Christ," Debra whispered.
"Okay," Darren spoke up behind them. "I'm going for help."
Sherri's head snapped up at the sound of his voice, her pain-filled eyes insane with hatred. "Monster," she spat at him. "Filthy fucking monster! Oooooh God," she screamed, doubling over again, weeping openly.
"I'll. . . be back as soon as I can," he said, and spun on his heel, leaving Cathy and Debra to gape at Sherri.
Finally, Debra broke out of her stupor and rushed to Sherri's side, helping her to lie back down. "My God, Sherri, what’s going. . ."
Sherri grabbed her roughly by the front of her shirt, pulling her down close. "Listen to me Debra," she gasped breathlessly, her bloodshot, haunted eyes pleading with her, begging her to listen. "If I die. . . you. . . you have to kill it."
"You have to, do you hear me. . . do you hear me!," she screamed, and Debra could feel her whole body quaking.
"Sherri. . ."
"It's not human! Listen to me, " she begged, clutching tighter when Debra tried to pull away. "It's evil! It's the devil's spawn! Oooooh," she moaned, releasing Debra to claw at her stomach, and Debra watched in horror as long streaks of blood appeared in the wake of her nails.
"Sherri," Debra screamed, grabbing at her hands. "Stop it! Stop! Cathy, help me!"
Snapping out of her shock, Cathy ran to help Debra, attempting to hold one arm while Debra struggled with the other. "Sherri, please. . . .please stop," she pleaded, immediately in tears. "You're scaring me."
Sherri tossed her head, her eyes rolling back into her head. "Yes," she moaned. "Yes, be scared. Be scared. Be scared."
Outside, they heard the hum of the snowmobile engine whirr to life before racing away into the distance. Deb and Cat locked frightened eyes.
"God, Deb,"Cathy whispered in a frightened voice, "what are we supposed to do?"
Debra swallowed the lump in her throat and looked down at Sherri. She had noticed that Sherri looked a little heavy, but this was a total shock. She'd hidden it so well beneath all those bulky sweaters. No wonder she had argued for the skiing trip instead of the week in Brazil. There weren't many times that Debra found herself at a loss for words, but the only response she could muster now was a weak shake of her head. She was at a total loss.
Sherri fell silent, her struggling ceasing as she seemed to fall into a fitful sleep, and the two women grasped the opportunity to scurry around, gathering up towels and sheets, and boiling water, anything that they could think of that might come in handy.
When Cathy scurried back into the room, lugging a pot of hot water, she found Sherri awake, lying deathly still, her sunken, haunted eyes open once again. She approached her tentatively, trying to fight the welling tears, and leaning over the bed, reached for her hand. She was surprised when Sherri gave her hand a weak squeeze and attempted an even weaker smile.
"Cat," she breathed weakly. "I love you, Cat."
"Hush now, everything's going to be fine. Just fine," Cathy assured her, brushing dark, perspiration-soaked curls from her brow.
"No. . . ." Sherri sighed deeply, a long shuddering sigh that seemed to come from someplace impossibly deep, as from a fathomless abyss of misery. "Cat, listen," she whispered, every word seeming to take a tremendous amount of effort to form. "I need you to help me, Cat, please."
"I'm here, Sherri. I'm going to stay right here and help you," she said, rubbing her hand. "You're going to be fine, the baby, everything."
"No, it's not a baby, Cat. . ."
"Sherri, please, don’t." Cathy began to cry.
"Cat, help me, please. It can't live."
"It's evil," she said, squeezing her hand tightly and beginning to squirm as another wave of pain crept up on her. "Ooooh," she moaned, pushing back against the pillow and a thin trickle of blood made its way from her nose, dribbling over the thin line of her drawn lips, and down her chin.
"Debra!," Cathy yelled in a panic, and Debra hurried into the room fumbling with a stack of towels and wash cloths.
They sat with Sherri on the bed, an hour, two, swabbing her forehead with a wash-cloth dipped in warm water, holding her hand, attempting to console her during her contractions as she screamed and raged and pleaded with them to help her murder her unborn child.
Finally, much to their relief, Sherri fell into a fitful sleep and the two exhausted, terrified, mid wives took a much needed break, stepping briefly from the room.
Debra picked up the phone, listening for a dial tone before slamming it back into its cradle. "Damn it! Where the hell are they?" Fumbling through her purse, she pulled out her key chain. It was a gag gift from an old boyfriend, a lone cigarette enclosed in a glass case embossed with the words, IN CASE OF EMERGENCY, BREAK GLASS. Setting it on the kitchen counter, she crushed the glass encasement with the frying pan and quickly lit it with the gas burner. She took a long draw, inhaling deeply.
"Thought you quit," Cat mumbled numbly.
"Oh, I did, I did," she said, barely able to hold the cigarette between her two trembling fingers. "But. . . I don’t know about you, but I would consider this an emergency, wouldn’t you? Yes, I think so," she said, taking another long draw as she paced nervously back and forth. "Definitely. Definitely an emergency. Oh, yes. I think that’s a safe bet."
"She's going to die, isn't she, Deb?"
"Shut up, Cat! Don't even say that." Throwing the cigarette, which seemed to be giving her absolutely no relief whatsoever, into the sink, Debra rubbed her hands wearily over her face."
"I've never seen so much blood," Cat whispered, and suddenly a fountain of tears erupted and she stood, stoop-shouldered, weeping quietly into her hands.
Hurrying to her side, Debra embraced her, rubbing her back warmly. "Stay strong, Cat," she whispered. "Sherri needs us. Sherri needs for us to stay strong."
Cat nodded and sniffled and then gasped as the bedroom door was pushed closed behind them.
"What. . .no!" Debbie flew to the door and turned the handle. "Sherri," she shouted, banging on the door.
On the opposite side of the door, Sherri began to scream. . . .blood curdling screams that pierced their souls as they pounded helplessly on the door. Scream after scream after heart-wrenching scream sounded. Something was terribly wrong, horribly, horribly wrong.
And then the screams subsided, leaving only an eerie silence on the other side of the door, a door to which Cat and Deb clung like spiders, their ears pressed firmly as they held their breath listening for the tiniest hint of movement.
"Cat . . ."
There came the sliding of sheets. . .
the creaking of floorboards. . .
a strange whimper . . .
A weak mewling. . .faint, muffled. . .
Deb dropped to the floor and tried to peer under the door through the crack and when she could see no movement, put her ear to the crack, straining to listen.
She heard movement. . . a sticky, wet noise . . .and panting. . . someone panting. . . .faint creak of a bed springs. . . a gurgling, muted, muffled. . .
Debra and Cathy screamed in unison as the door behind them was thrown open, sending a blast of frigid air swirling through the cabin. Darren, along with two other men, appeared in the doorway.
"Darren," Deb screamed, jumping up. "Sherri. . ."
That was all that Deb got out.
Darren flew across the room, hitting the door with his shoulder, and splinters of wood went flying in all directions as the door seemed to disintegrate.
She was crouched on the bed, naked, bloody, wet stringy hair obscuring her face as she leaned all her weight into a blood-soaked pillow. Two tiny, quivering legs was all that could be seen of the infant.
Darren surged forward, flinging Sherri to the floor where she slid, slamming against the dresser, sending bottles of perfume and makeup and lotion clattering about the room.
Snatching the baby from the bed, Darren cradled it to his chest and immediately it began to sound angry wails of protest, and while the four onlookers stood dumbfounded in the doorway, Sherri sprang up, a bloody, screeching madwoman, and lunged at Darren. He turned instinctively, shielding the infant, and she leapt on his back, a clinging monkey, shrieking and flailing, trying to snatch the wailing infant from his arms. As if sensing danger, the infant’s wails intensified.
Clutching the baby protectively to his chest, Darren twirled and struck at the creature that clung to his back, one clawing and snarling, its teeth bared.
She tried to gouge Darren’s eyes and he grabbed her wrist, flinging himself back against the wall. A loud grunt was forced from her, but she was undaunted and clung tenaciously, her face set in a maniacal determined grimace.
The macabre scene unfolding before them was too overwhelming for Cat and she crumpled to the floor. This seemed to spur the two strangers into motion and they leapt forward, prying Sherri off of Darren’s back. There were frantic shouts as they wrestled her to the floor where she kicked and bit and clawed and snarled, foaming at the mouth like a rabid dog, a frothy foam tainted pink with blood.
And then suddenly, her struggling ceased and she lay motionless, a knee (one from either stranger) pressed firmly into each shoulder, pinning her to the ground. "Nooo," she moaned. "You'll be sorry. You'll all be sorry. We're in danger," she sobbed, her body convulsing. "All of us. . . all of us." She rolled her head slowly from side to side, the mangled moans sounding as shivers claimed her. "I'm so sorry," she whispered weakly through chattering teeth, staring vacantly upward toward the rafters, her eyes seeming to cloud as if she were someplace far, far away. "I've . . . failed you."
"Go radio for Trauma Flight," one of the pale-faced strangers said as he moved his fingers to different positions on her wrist, searching for a pulse. "She’s lost way too much blood." The second pale-faced stranger jumped up and scurried from the room.
Debra crept forward tentatively and knelt by her friend’s side, her best friend of over twenty years. She saw a glint by Sherri's head, and picked up the cross and chain that lay in a heap on the floorboards. Placing it in one of Sherri's palms, she folded cold fingers around it.
But Sherri seemed oblivious, her eyes someplace far away as she mumbled incoherently. "I've failed you," she breathed wearily, her words barely audible above the infant’s angry wails. "Darkness. . . darkness has prevailed. . . forgive me. . . . forgive. . . . ."
"Oh. . . . Jeez," Cathy moaned groggily from the floor just outside the bedroom door as she began to waken.
Debra watched Sherri’s distant eyes flutter shut. "For God’s sake, do something," she pleaded to the man still searching frantically for a pulse. Clutching Sherri’s cold, lifeless hand to her lips, Debra wept.
* * *
The courts were lenient on Sherri. Being pregnant and giving birth was still such a complex enigma. The raging of hormones, the imbalance of chemicals in the brain. Even with today’s advanced medical technology, there were still so many mysteries surrounding the whole process. One could only guess at what had temporarily knocked Sherri's thinking processes askew. There was one theory that perhaps Sherri had been raped and that the event had been so traumatic that she had somehow erased it from her memory and then, amazingly, had somehow managed to completely hide the entire pregnancy.
But she seemed to hold a tremendous amount of remorse for what she’d done. Since the whole ordeal, she seemed so repentant for her actions, constantly apologizing to the doctors and psychologists and psychiatrists and anyone else who cared to listen during her incarceration. Whatever strange hormonal imbalance had occurred during her pregnancy to cause such rash behavior had evidently remedied itself and she now appeared to be sound of mind and in high spirits, confident about the future, and eager to be reunited with her son. So all the doctors stated in their reports.
Sherri was biding her time. She knew that it was a miracle that she had survived. The doctors said that she'd lost over six pints of blood and, by any rights, shouldn't be walking around today. But, she knew exactly why she had been spared. At first she'd hoped that the doctors and psychologists were right. Maybe becoming pregnant had been too traumatizing. Maybe she had been pregnant all along and, for whatever reasons, her brain had gone into denial and repressed everything so she wouldn't have to face reality. Maybe her brain had concocted this whole absurd demented scenario to explain why she could be having a baby so suddenly. She had prayed that this could be true . Prayed that she hadn't spent hours beneath a grotesque, slobbering, rutting vulgarity. Had wanted it with all her heart and soul. But, deep down, she knew that this wasn't the case, though she’d been extremely careful to hide this knowledge from all the counselors and over sympathetic, condescending psychologists.
She could not run from her responsibility. She had been given a second chance and she wasn't going to blow it this time. It turned her stomach to think of it, but she knew exactly what had to be done. There was no other alternative. She was partly responsible for bringing this monstrosity into existence and she knew that she was the only one capable of remedying this damnable and possibly catastrophic situation. At times, she felt as if the survival of the entire human race was resting on her shoulders. It was an unbearable weight to carry. Exhausting. There were many times when she would spend the entire day in her cell lying on her cot, staring up at the ceiling, too exhausted even to take her meals. It was a weariness that seemed to originate deep in her troubled soul, and there were times that she didn't think she would have the strength to carry out what she knew had to be done. It was going to be a difficult task. Extremely difficult. She couldn't kid herself about that.
She peered across the cell at the many pictures she kept taped to the wall. He was darling with those dark, unruly curls framing a face so fair. One of her favorites was the one where her mother was squeezing him. He was giggling and his smile seemed to light up his entire face. That smile. . . . so breathtakingly innocent. A different smile formed before her mind’s eye. A lipless smile from which darted a forked tongue.
Yes, she had encouraged her mother to send pictures. Lot’s of pictures. She needed to study them, to burn his image into her brain, ingrain that innocent face, that angelic smile into her memory, prepare herself for the doubts that were sure to surface once the moment of truth, the moment of rectification arrived.
She went to the wall and closely studied an eight by ten. He was alone in this one, his six month photo, sitting up and clutching a bright multicolored ball, his wide eyes alight with curiosity. Reaching out, she ran a finger down one chubby, ivory cheek and a lone tear slipped from the corner of her eye, trailing down to her chin. Taking a deep breath, she pulled her hand away and straightened her shoulders, feeling a strengthening of her resolve as she did so. She must not be fooled by facades. Trickery. A guise, that’s all it was. A clever guise, but a guise none-the-less. She could not waver if she meant to prevail against such masterful deceit.
Grasping the gold crucifix at her throat, she clasped it tightly and felt comforted by its warmth. Yes. She must be strong. There could be no room for weakness. Her adversary was far too powerful.
* * *
Marjorie laughed as she watched her grandson lurch through the kitchen on his new-found legs, and then felt a pang of regret that Sherri would be missing this momentous occasion, missing his first steps. "Good boy," she chirped, clapping her hands when he crumpled to the floor for the umpteenth time amidst profuse infectious giggles. "Your mama's gonna be so proud when I tell her about her big boy," she crooned.
Sherri would be coming home soon and she couldn't wait to have her daughter back home where she belonged.
It had been the most difficult year of Marjorie’s life. Knowing that her daughter was behind bars, so alone, so scared after such a traumatic event, had been difficult to deal with. She didn't belong in prison. Not her Sherri. She’d always been the model daughter: kind, affectionate, considerate, compassionate, quick to share her feelings and fears.
That's why she’d been so devastated to learn that Sherri had kept her pregnancy a secret. Until, that is, it had been explained to her that Sherri was probably only subconsciously aware of it, herself. She supposed they would never know who the father was.
But none of that seemed important. They had a beautiful, healthy, baby boy to raise up properly, and that's exactly what she intended to do. She was confident that she and Sherri could do a good job together. . . . as a team.
He pulled up on a chair and began diligently working his way slowly toward her, chair by chair, a look of deep concentration on his cherubic face. He was truly a beautiful child.
He lunged at her and she caught him in a hug, giving him a kiss on a head covered with dark, silky-fine curls. "What a big boy," she crooned, and he giggled a merry giggle, brandishing his face for her imminent plethora of kisses. Marge obliged willingly, laughing as he squealed, his chubby hands only halfheartedly attempting to push her away. Pulling back, she peered down with adoration into the brightest eyes she’d ever seen. They sparkled brilliantly, they did. Like twinkling stars. No, not stars, she thought. Like emeralds. Sun-kissed emeralds.