Thursday, October 26, 2006

Secrets and Shadows by Meg Allison

Secrets and Shadows
Samhain Publishing, Ltd.
(c) 2006 Meg Allison

* * *

This had to be one of the worst nights of her life. It ranked in the top ten. Sabrina groaned as her foot caught on yet another root protruding from the ground. She didn’t fall. This time.
“You okay?” Jason called from his position ahead.
She glanced up as a beam of light skimmed over her body toward her face. “Yes,” she snapped. “Fine. Don’t worry. I’ll scream if I need you.”
She thought she heard a deep chuckle but chose to ignore it. He could just go ahead and laugh. It wasn’t her fault the trees seemed to come to life, grasping at her shoes and clothes with giant, claw-like hands. She shivered. She needed to stop reading thrillers.
“Are we…any closer?” she panted, not caring if she sounded like a petulant child.
Jason’s light stilled, his shadowy figure seeming to become part of the trees surrounding them. It was incredibly dark. Everything beyond the soft white glow of their flashlights loomed as black, forbidding shadows against the gray sky. She gripped her light as tightly as her frozen fingers would allow.
“Yeah, we’re close. The ground is starting to level out.”
She grunted. “Since when?”
Jason kept walking. “Just a few more hundred yards and it’ll dip down. By then, you should be able to see the cabin.”
Sabrina tried to sigh, but couldn’t get enough air into her lungs. “Great.”
The night hung around them, still, silent. It was too quiet for conversation. Not that she had enough breath in her lungs to hold one. After three hours of hiking, the snow had stopped, but the temperature continued to plummet. Clouds began drifting, slits of sky showing through as the full moon peeped out, bathing the land in an eerie, silver light.
Watching her feet as she skirted another root, Sabrina ran smack into Jason’s broad back. “Oh!”
He turned and steadied her, his fingers firm on her arms. “We’re here.”
She looked up, her gaze skipping over his shadowed face to the view some forty yards below them where the land dipped. Under the full light of the moon, she could distinguish the outline of the Layne summer cabin, nestled among the pines in the secluded ravine.
Relief and apprehension washed over her in close succession. Warmth and shelter waited, but so did painful memories. She pulled away from Jason’s touch and straightened her shoulders.
“Great. Let’s hope someone left a key under the mat.”
With that, she struck out ahead of him, not needing to look back to know that he followed.
Several long minutes later, they crossed the threshold into the one-and-a-half story log cabin. Jason fired up the gas-powered generator and Sabrina breathed a sigh of relief as she touched a switch by the door and lights flickered on without hesitation. She wasn’t sure she could steel her emotions in the romantic setting if all they had to go by was candlelight.
Her boots clopped across the polished wood floors as she maneuvered around a pine futon that sat parallel with the large, stone fireplace. She glanced around, the sights and odors bringing a flash of memory, a distant longing that made her ache inside.
Stripped, honey-colored logs that gleamed in the lamplight spanned the fifteen-foot ceiling. Her breath made clouds of frost in the frigid air. She moved further away from Jason, who was discarding his poncho and coat. It was a vain hope that distance would help clear her head.
Building a fire ought to give her time to recoup. Stooping to open the grate, Sabrina laid several dry logs in a crisscross formation. Long sulfur matches were in a box on the mantle, just as she remembered. Soon a fire crackled in the hearth, the warm glow painting the walls and ceiling gold. The flames grew, leaping over the logs in a devouring dance of heat and flame.
But even the blaze couldn’t burn the memories from her mind. So many images jumbled together like a kaleidoscope; past and present in a surreal show of sight and sound. The frightening car chase, shots ringing in the night. A younger Jason, his eyes dark and drugged with alcohol and lust…his lips on hers, his arms around her as they sank to the sofa. Her father’s funeral…the vague image of his car plunging off the mountain…metal crunching, flames leaping above the trees. Again, the dark sedan…spinning, screeching tires. Silence. Dead. Cold. Silence.

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