Authors: Stant Litore
Tags: #Supernatural Thriller, #Fiction
To his surprise, he found that he’d lifted himself up on one elbow and had started kissing her below her ear. “You haven’t told me your name,” he said quietly.
She made a soft sound that was neither a name nor a protest. Took his hand and placed it on her breast. A hitch in her breathing. Then she whispered, “Adette.” A shiver that had nothing to do with the cold. “Bernadette, but I like Adette better.”
He held her breast warmly in his hand, looked in her face a moment. Struck by the vulnerability in her eyes. Realized he knew her name now but still did not know who she was, what terrified her, what enraged her, what made her happy, or what made her grieve. Her small hands found him and he gasped. She squeezed him warmly, drew him to where she was soft and wet. He stopped worrying about her, about the killer, about Mr. Dark and this winter lake. He just moved in her and with her. Their breathing and the movements of their bodies together became a soft song in the dark, something no cold and no stranger could kill. She gripped him,
and he took her shoulders and pressed her into the rolling of his hips. Her soft gasps became moans, then cries that filled the barn. When he lowered her onto her back beneath him, his heart seemed to pound the words,
We are alive, we are alive, we are alive.
2 hours after midnight
Matt stirred, gave a start, shocked to find he’d fallen asleep. Dangerous, after that swim. Then he felt the softness of Adette’s body in his arms, her ass snuggled into his hips, her hair against his chin, and he smiled. He hadn’t expected that, hadn’t asked for it. But he’d enjoyed it. She had given herself wildly, desperately. He wondered again who she was, and whether it had been a long time for her, how consumed she had been with this hunt, and why.
He touched his lips softly to her shoulder.
For several beats of his heart, he held very still.
Something wasn’t right.
His nostrils flared. The scent of decay.
But so faint.
He stiffened, every sense alert. Wondering if the killer was near, if perhaps he had watched Matt carry Adette to the barn. He listened but heard nothing. Not even wind.
Yet the scent of rot was close, and—
His body went cold. He realized he was gazing at a small spot on Adette’s shoulder. A dark spot, like mold on a shower wall.
He swallowed. At that moment, she stirred. The tensing of his body against hers must have wakened her. She stiffened, then gasped and rolled over onto her belly. He looked on with alarm as she retched. Whatever she had eaten the evening before came up liquid and reeking; she spewed it out into the straw. Awkwardly, Matt set a hand on her back, unsure what to do. The sight of that rot on her back like a scream of metal against metal, scraping his senses raw.
She retched a few more times, then wiped her mouth with the back of her hand. Glanced up at him, her eyes bloodshot. “He’s killed again,” she gasped.
Matt didn’t say anything. He was trying to process that.
“An old man this time,” she said hoarsely. “He’d cheated on his wife, years ago. He’s in one of the houses.”
“How do you know this?”
She sat up, looking very pale. With her clean hand she pushed her hair back. Matt drew in his breath a moment at the sight of her, her breasts soft in the dark, but then the smell of rot returned, fiercer than before, and he had to fight not to gag.
“I always know. Come on, we have to hurry. He doesn’t move after a kill. Not for hours. He stays with the body.”
“You’ll just have to trust me,” she pleaded.
He caught her wrist. “I was good at trusting once. Now I’m not.”
“Tough,” she said.
He held her gaze, searching her eyes for some sign of madness or a lie or some impending betrayal. At last he grunted and got to his feet, pulling her up with him. If she was right, he had to act. And it wasn’t as though he had a better lead.
He cast a glance at their clothes where he’d discarded them on the stable floor, and sighed, his breath white on the air. Shirt, pants, underwear, all frozen stiff in their crumpled shapes. He took the wool coat and draped it around Adette’s shoulders; she gave him a grateful look. Then he got up and went to see what he could find. He’d found a coat; maybe there’d be another. Or gloves. Or overalls. Or something. He would have been self-conscious about stalking naked across the stable, but now that he was out from under that coat and away from Adette’s body heat, all he could think about was the cold floor burning his feet and the way the cold air bit at his bare chest and his balls.
And that rot.
He kept thinking of that, too.
He’d slept with her. Despite the cold, he hardened a little at the memory. She hadn’t smelled like rot then. The decay had come while she slept. While she dreamed.
He stopped, leaned his hand against the stable door, the grain of the wood rough against his palm.
She’d woken up claiming some knowledge of the killer. The killer, whose face was more rotten and vile than any he had ever seen. The dream had to be the key. But what did it mean? The maggots and the festering morbidity that Matt had seen in the faces of evil from one coast of the country to the other… that was a presaging of violence. It wasn’t a contagion. It certainly didn’t spread through dreams, while people slept.
What the hell was going on?
To his surprise, he did find a pair of overalls. Three, in fact, folded in a small crate with some other stable supplies, in the corner near the door. And a row of rubber boots. He shook his head, impressed. So not all his luck was bad. No gloves, but the deep pockets in those overalls would do.
He tossed two pairs of overalls to Adette and pulled the third on quickly. It was too big—whoever had owned this stable had been a heavy man. But he could fix that. He found some twine hanging on the wall and a hacksaw on a shelf. He began cutting lengths. Glanced at Adette, caught his breath. She looked… very appealing, stepping into those overalls, her long legs, her breasts. There was something sensual about watching her slip into them.
“Put them both on,” he called softly. “Keep you warm under that coat.” He lifted a few lengths of twine. “We’ll use this to belt it. And there are boots.”
Matt went to the heap of their frozen clothes, pried his jacket loose, peeled open the pocket, grimacing at its brittle cracking. There were items there he’d need. It took him a moment, but he got them out and tucked them into his overalls pocket. Hopefully the warmth of his body would thaw them. He walked back to the door, bent and tugged two of the boots on (also too big), and took up his ax. The heft of it, the solid, cold haft in his hand—it was a reassuring thing. A tool for cutting the rot out of wood or out of a human body or out of a town, cutting away whatever festered. Something he could trust to do its job. A piece of home and family and good memory that would neither turn to bury its edge in his heart nor disappear. He took a breath and pulled open the door.
Outside, snow had taken the forest and eaten it, devouring all its traces of where men or animals had been. The snow had stopped falling, and Matt glanced about, looking carefully for any prints, but nothing had been near the barn recently. Nothing that left tracks, anyway.
He couldn’t start thinking like that. But this forest, this lake, gave him the willies. That bit of rot in Adette’s shoulder, that gave him the willies. Nothing was right here. Probably nothing had been right here for a long time, even before Richard’s arrival. This looked like one of those places where people went when they wanted to leave their memories behind. A secret locked in the basement of every house, a regret shut into every attic. Matt had known places like this. They were not Mr. Dark’s killing ground—these people didn’t want to go on a rampage, they wanted to bury themselves and only themselves, quietly and out of sight—but it was the perfect hunting ground for a serial killer who liked to visit his victims in their own homes and then take his time.
Adette gestured to her right, out along the bank. “Over there,” she said.
Matt looked at her.
“I knew where he was when I woke. When he…”
“When he killed,” Matt said.
Her eyes were guarded.
“You’re going to have to tell me later how you do that,” he said. “Come on.”
He struck out across the snow, ax in his right hand. Adette walked beside him, still pale except for her nose and ears, already red with cold. Occasionally she nodded to the left or the right, and they veered. Matt tried to walk as silently as he could in the snow, but that was a lost cause. He blew out his breath in a long streamer of fog, as though he were a steamboat turned
into a man, and reflected that the killer probably wasn’t out in this deep, bone-biting cold to hear him. He was in a wooden house, and if he was smart, if he was very smart, he was under a heavy wool blanket.
“Is it always this cold up here?” Adette hugged herself.
“Don’t know. I’m not from here.”
“Where you from?”
“Not here.” A few more steps in the snow, and he took a breath. “Adette, this night. I enjoyed—”
“Didn’t happen,” she cut in quickly.
He turned to look at her, saw her face flushed. Though that might have just been the cold biting at her cheeks. Not for the first time, he thought what a strange thing it was that a man and a woman could be so intimate, one nestled inside the other, yet so alien to each other also.
After a moment, he nodded. “All right.”
It had been a long time since he’d wanted entanglements, either. Perhaps she was like him, burdened with some terrible secret that kept her alone, some riddle that was uniquely hers. But Matt didn’t like riddles he didn’t have answers to.
“Your vomiting. And your vision. Dream. Whatever it was, back there in the stable. Tell me about that.”
“Nothing to tell.”
“Well, you don’t want to talk about sex. Let’s talk about the other thing on my mind.”
He held on to his patience. Tightly. “Look. I’ve been following this guy for three days, and the pursuit already got me nearly killed last night. God knows what’s going to happen when I actually run into him.” Matt glanced down at his ax, at the keen edge of it, seeming even sharper in this cold. Despite his words, he had a pretty good idea what was going to happen. “I need to catch him before he kills anyone else.”
“Who are you?” she said.
He looked at her. She was lovely, standing there in the snow. He swallowed. “I’m the man who’s going to stop him. And that means I need to know what you know. If you know anything. If you aren’t just crazy.”
“Maybe I am crazy.” An edge to her voice.
He shook his head.
“That’s what you’re thinking. She’s just some crazy bitch. Carries a knife almost as long as her forearm. Out on those docks with no reason to be. Almost kills you for rescuing her. Fucks a total stranger.”
“Thought you said that didn’t happen.”
She seized his shoulder, and he stopped, faced her. Her breath in the air between them. Her eyes cold with anger.
“I’m not crazy,” she said.
Matt glanced at her shoulder, but if there was any rot there, it was hidden beneath her coat. Was that what he’d seen? That she was harmless, but might kill in a burst of madness? That there was evil lurking within her but for now it was only the smallest germ, not the full, raging plague he’d seen rotting Richard Oslo’s face off?
He took her hand in his, felt how small it was. How small she was. Despite himself, he blushed. She had felt… good… during the night. Small in all the right ways.
“You’re not crazy,” he said. “God only knows what you are. I sure don’t. I wish you’d tell me.”
She looked back at him for a long time without blinking or lowering her eyes. Then she swallowed. “Have to wait for the second date,” she said. Her hand left his, and she stepped past him. He watched her, standing with his ax in the snow.
A few footsteps from him, she stopped. Cocked her head to one side. “That one,” she said.
Ahead through the trees, the warm gold of a porch light against the kind of hulking shadow whose outlines were hidden by the dark but that could only be a house.
“All right.” Dropped to a whisper. “Let’s do this.” Tightened his grip on the ax.