Okay, not only do I now believe my blog hop efforts to be cursed -as this is the third hop where I've lost Internet service at some crucial point- but I also think technology in general has a vendetta against me. I'm sure I'm not the only one, though. :)
Don't forget to check out Rachel E. Fisher's short story as part of the 'Love Is In The Air Giveaway Hop', and a chance to win the first four installments of the 'Blood and Snow' series by RaShelle Workman.
I have written a short story for the "Vampire Bite" blog hop inspired by this calendar photo of a mill and too many hours devoted to watching DIY shows. I hope everyone enjoys it!
I expected to list a number of discrepancies during the initial renovation: water damage, plumbing installation, electrical rewiring, roof damage.
A body in the wall was not among them.
“What do ya expect we should do with him, then?” my new neighbor and free helping hand for the day asked. A distinguished man in his seventies, Earl Trute—not to be confused with Trout—was more in favor of burying the grisly package wrapped in smelly cloth than notifying the local police.
“Well, I certainly don’t plan to stuff him and set him on the piano with a tip jar.”
Earl’s eyes lit up. “Are ya sure? That ain’t a bad idea. I got a cousin just down the road does taxidermy. Not a bad farewell, either, if you ask me.”
That comment reminded me why I had thought twice about buying an old mill in the heart of a diminutive mountain town. It also answered why I knew I couldn’t resist. I had never found an area so hard working, friendly, and superstitious, which was an utterly alluring combination.
Cracking the barest of smiles, I teased, “I’ll remember that you said that Earl.”
He returned the grin, his lips almost reaching the sides of his face. “Better than the plans my wife’s got for me, no doubt.” We shared a good laugh before he added, “Sun’s going down soon. I’ll fetch the law if you can’t reconcile tossing him in the dirt. It’ll be a while ‘fore I get back though.”
“Thank you. I think that would be best. Take your time.”
“You ain’t scared to be left with it?”
I shrugged. “I’m…not.” We were both surprised by my casualness in the face of death. Atrophied, stinky death. “I guess statistical criminal behavior rarely involves rotting corpses, so there is no immediate danger other than bacteria. And believe me, I have no intention of touching him.”
Earl was amused by my rationalization. He sauntered to his Chevy, overalls making a swish-swish noise even more relaxed than his demeanor, if that were possible.
After watching him leave, I was hesitant to enter the mill alone. The mild wind extracted the smells of fresh greenery and spring water, combining the pair into a unique perfume that soothed any doubts. Collecting my wits, I walked back inside.
Back inside with the body.
The hollow space was starting to lose light as the sun hid behind a row of thick pines and oaks. Frogs and crickets began their nightly chorus. One I did not appreciate at first, but learned to enjoy. However, the thirty-year-old planks separating me from the wilderness stifled their efforts. And, for the first time, I wished they hadn’t. The “new” sounds were quickly becoming “sounds of home.”
Relishing that sentiment, I turned on one of the temp lights and clipped it to a metal stand. Positioning the ray to the hole in the wall I had created, I couldn’t help but feel like a detective preparing to question a perpetrator. However, in this situation, I didn’t expect my trespasser to say much while I rebuked him.
“You are a ‘him’ aren’t you?” I asked, walking closer to the body that sagged from the wall a bit. “I mean, it’s hard to tell, but I feel like you’re a Mr. rather than a Ms.” Curiosity itched at my fingers. After a few silent minutes of debate, I pulled on my thick work gloves and grabbed a paint spatula from the red toolbox that held random tools as well as a snakebite kit and bug spray.
I liked to be prepared. And if the mountains had taught me anything, it was to be prepared for everything.
“Okay, Josie,” I told myself, “You’ve watched enough forensic shows to do this.” I used the spatula to peel the bandage from the cadaver’s head. I sang under my breath, “Keep it slow and steady.”
The dark material had hardened over time. It was clear by sight and smell that it had—that he had—experienced many seasons here, like this.
“Leave it to me to buy a mill to refurb into a restaurant that will never pass inspection once they find out the first visitor was…mummified.”
The cloth fell to the floor and I was left staring into a perfectly male face. Other than the waxy skin, sunken eyes and protruding cheekbones, nothing looked abnormal. His nose and chin were prominent, though soft instead of blunt. And his jaw was square, capturing such rounded features in a masculine frame. He would have been attractive. If he weren’t dead.
“How peculiar you’re predicament,” I whispered, right before the body broke past the last board.
Screaming like a banshee on illegally procured meds, we hurtled backward as one, knocking the light stand over. The glass bulb burst across the floor and darkness ate us both as he fell on top of me.
My head bounced off of the hardwood floor, but I ignored the pain, preferring to push the body off and scramble for a flashlight instead. There was one in my toolbox, and it only took a few seconds to locate it. Something inside me calmed the moment I clicked the switch, allowing the emaciated stream of light to pierce my fear.
Slowly gliding the light over the body from left to right, then right to left and back again, I established that he was still dead. Thank god zombies aren’t real.
Shaking from the adrenaline, I replaced the broken bulb with a new one. But not without cutting my fingers on the old shards spiking from where the bulb screwed in.
“Great, because the floorboards needed blood stains, too. The inspector will love me.”
I held my hand up to slow the blood flow until I could find a clean rag to wrap it. As I searched the room, I noticed how unbound my unwanted friend was after our fall. The cloth was literally tossed to the side of the corpse.
Daring too close with my flashlight, I knelt down by the still mass to inspect him. His dark hair seemed whimsically pushed back from his face as if he’d styled it recently. His lips, though pale, still held a cherry glow. And his eyes were a bewitching slate gray.
“Wow!” I lurched backwards. His eyes were most definitely closed before. Leary, I spat, “You are not the date I was hoping for on Valentine’s Day. And now you’re starting to just plain freak me out.”
“Really?” a hard, raspy voice filled the silent void.
“You’re alive!” I jumped to my feet, forgetting my horror, and raced to him, collapsing at his side. Shining the light in his face, blood inadvertently dripped from my sliced fingers onto his dun flesh. “Oh my god, I thought you were dead.”
Licking my blood from his lips, he smiled and said, “I am,” before grabbing my injured hand. The flashlight fell, and his lips followed the trail of blood across my skin with precision as I watched, dumbstruck.
Because I had held my arm up to stop the blood flow, it trailed past my forearm. And before I could say or think to react, the corpse—the stranger—slunk over me until we were looking eye to eye. The weight of his body on mine was the reality check I needed to make sure I wasn’t trapped in a dream.
“What are you?”
The gaunt look in his face vanished. His smile held worlds of promises. Some good. Some better.
“Why were you in my wall?”
On the verge of being entrancing, his voice, more charming than tortured, rather like a floating cloud than a bag of chafing nails, warmed a hidden piece within me long thought missing.
“I would like to say I was in there because of a wrong committed to me.” He licked his lips again, this time while staring at mine. It wasn’t driven by blood lust. No, it was driven by a lust I could understand. One we shared.
“But that would be a lie?” I asked, trying to pay attention to his words, though his hands caressing patterns through my hair fought to steal every bit of rational thought I possessed.
“Yes.” He traced my lips with the breath from the over-drawn “s.” I found myself leaning into him, wanting our flesh to touch. He approved with a nefarious smile.
In the middle of a dank, empty mill, this stranger kissed me deeper than ever before. The sensation of his silky lips—the work of a godly artisan—gliding over mine blew away any previous comparisons. The different arms to ever hold me were inexperienced as I found a true peace in my stranger’s arms. Undoubtedly, he was unmatched in every way…
I pulled away and met his gaze.
“I don’t even know you.”
“You will,” he mused. “You will have forever to know me.” He sucked on my bottom lip—“As angel,”—he pulled at my shirt until his curled fingers rubbed against my breasts—“As god,”—he pulled my head back—“As demon,”—he tore into my neck with beastly fangs.
A fire rose in my veins, nipping at my humanity. No, my mortality. I felt like a bystander watching the darkness claim someone else. And it was. My fingers grew colder, my legs weaker. And my chest…quieter.
With the last of my waning energy, I grabbed into the night for something that might save me. I also prayed to a god who I’d used like a magic eight ball for more years than I was proud to admit.
God, I’m sorry I offered to trade my soul for a cheesecake last week. I’d like to keep my soul and my body from now on. Please help me!
Maybe God listened. Or maybe a different being or higher power listened. Either way, someone answered. The certainty was as real as the heavy, slender object that found its way into my hand.
The stranger lifted his bloody face from the crook of my neck and had the audacity to smile. “We will have all of eternity together,” he promised. “First, you must leave your life to stand by my side.”
I shook my head. “I don’t have time for that.”
“There is always time,” he tisked, latching his bony fingers around my arm in a death-grip.
Wasting no time, I drove the metal rod through his chest. “I have a deadline, asshole.”
Blood shot through the air like a fountain at a theme park. The stranger—the monster—screamed. The guttural howl made the hair on my arms stand straight. I leapt back, sliding under a table for cover. When I couldn’t imagine there was any more dying left, I slipped in pools of blood to take a closer look.
It was definitely dead.
By the time Earl returned, I had changed and tossed my bloodied clothes, along with the corpse’s rags, in a burn barrel around back. There hadn’t been time to bury the beast yet, so I covered it with a tarp. And I covered the holes in my neck with the collar of my favorite black sweater after dowsing them in antiseptic cream.
I was standing on the porch, enjoying the fresh mountain air when Earl walked up the steps. “Been some trouble. Big-rig’s involved. Cops are all over it on the other side of town. Your guest’ll have to wait his turn.”
Running my hand from my forehead to the base of my ponytail, I took a deep breath and tried to seem unaffected. “Never mind. I decided to bury him—it—him. You were right. One body can be a lot of trouble.”
“Good. Damn bodies keep popping up everywhere ‘round here. If we had to call the law every time, no one’d get anything done except burying.”
I stared, unsure of how I felt about that. I had a night of cleaning blood and “burying” ahead of me. Jesus, I didn’t want it to become a weekly ritual. One was enough.
Finally, I walked over to the white cooler and opened the lid. “You want a beer, Earl?”
“I’d love one. Thank ya.”
We opened our beer and sat in the rickety lawn chairs his wife had brought over earlier in the day. The crickets filled the night, and the wind picked up.
I took a few gulps and said, “Happy Valentine’s Day, Earl.”
“Happy Valentine’s Day. Good day to be alive, ain’t it?”“Sure is.”
! HAPPY VALENTINE'S DAY !