Into the Hollow
“I told you,” I said, my eyes focusing and un-focusing on the glittering snow, “it was a scratching sound.”
“Huh,” Dex said. He had stepped forward and was running his hand down the side of the building. I got up and peered at it. There were five grooves made into the rough cabin wall, fresh splinters sticking out of it. They weren’t that deep but they was there. And that was enough.
I suddenly felt sick to my stomach and turned away from the sight, walking a few feet away until I was at the base of a tree. I leaned against it and breathed in sharply through my nose, trying to keep the nausea at bay.
“Perry,” Dex said in quiet alarm and came beside me. I felt his hand on my shoulder, giving me strength.
I closed my eyes. “There was something there last night. While we were sleeping.”
“It could be anything,” he said, though his voice wavered with lack of confidence.
“Anything is still something.” I swallowed back the bitter taste in my mouth and stood up. I don’t know why I was having such a physical reaction to the fear but I suppose fear wasn’t something I handled very well anymore. This was the first time I was met with something terrifying since the whole possession game.
“Maybe this was a mistake,” Dex whispered. His gloved hand went from my shoulder down to my hand and he squeezed it hard, hard enough that I had to look up at him. He couldn’t have looked more worried. “I knew I shouldn’t have brought you out here.”
I cleared my throat. “Once again, it was my idea to do this. I didn’t believe in a Sasquatch.”
“Do you now?”
I shook my head in confusion. “I don’t know what I believe. Something was here though. Something big with sharp claws and it was right beneath our window.”
Dex looked over my shoulder at the cabin and his gaze trailed beyond that. “Maybe it’s Rigby. Or Christina.”
“Or Mitch,” I supplied.
He fixed his eyes on mine. “Maybe.”
The wheels started turning in my head. “Publicity. But this would be bad publicity.”
Dex took a step closer and lowered his voice in confidence. “But it’s better than no publicity. And in this economy, it’s worth as much as gold.”
He scratched at his nose and looked around him again. “Look, Rigby and Christina could be telling the truth. Or they could all be big fat liars who brought us out here so their business would get featured on the show.”
“What about Mitch?”
“I’m sure Mitch would benefit too. But I’m not too sure about him yet. He seems like the type who would go around bagging Labrador puppies, but he doesn’t strike me as smart or someone who would keep his mouth shut about this kind of thing.”
“So you think there is no Beast here at all?”
His eyes narrowed in thought. “I honestly don’t know. But before we both start freaking out over this, maybe we need to take things with a grain of salt.”
I nodded and eyed the prints again. “So what now? Do we tell Mitch what we found?”
He bit his lip for a few moments. “Tell you what, I’ll go back inside and get the camera. We’ll record it and then destroy the evidence. I don’t think we need to say anything to him right now.”
He took off and a minute later he was quickly filming the prints, whispering commentary into the camera. I felt momentarily ousted as cameraperson but decided to ignore it. And when he switched it off, checking around to see if Mitch had witnessed any of it, I went over and snatched it out of his hands.
The corner of his mouth lifted in amusement. “Worried I’m stepping on your toes?”
“A little bit,” I admitted, cradling the camera in my arms like a baby.
He studied me for a beat before turning his attention to the ground and quickly rubbing his black army boots through the snow, covering up the prints so all that was left was a messy disturbance.
He stepped back to admire his footwork and shook his head. “No. Doesn’t look right. Too much snow.”
With glinting eyes he turned to me and smiled. Then, as quick as a flash, he bent down, scooped up snow into his hand, balling it up.
I had no time to react. I saw white, then the snowball connected with my head with a thump, sending snow flying everywhere, including down into my eyes.
I blew the snow away from my face and tried to glare at him through watery eyes.
“I was wondering how long it would take you to-”
Another snowball, this time it impacted on my shoulder.
I dusted the snow off my coat with my free hand and gave him the biggest stinkeye I could muster.
“How old are you again? Twelve?”
He grinned, teeth white as the snow he had freshly gathered.
“Old enough to make you come, young enough to make you hate me for it.”
“Oh jeez,” I muttered, shaking my head, and turned around.
Snowball to the back of my head.
I didn’t bother turning around and just walked straight to the outhouse, hearing him call behind me.
The rest of the day Dex and I stayed mum about the footprints, which was easy since Mitch took off after our lunch of dehydrated soup, mumbling something about spotting deer in the area. That gave Dex and I a whole lot of time to do nothing.
Well, I did nothing, except flip through about 20 old Reader’s Digests that were left on the bookshelf. Dex took a nap in the bedroom. For a brief instant I wondered if us having time alone together would result in seduction of some sort. It was incredibly romantic, when you thought about it. Both of us were alone in a cabin in the woods, a light snow falling outside, a roaring fire with that God damn rug that I could not stop thinking about having sex on. I had a short fantasy of him inviting me to bed with him, or perhaps taking me right there on the floor. If we were together like that, there would be no downtime for us. We’d never be bored.
But we weren’t together like that and we weren’t together at all and that was a good thing. Whatever I had now with Dex was strained at times and weird at best, but we were managing. I’d probably manage better if I wasn’t so horny, if I wasn’t so tempted to just jump him half the time. And if I hadn’t found out that his tattoo was about me. That definitely threw me for another loop, adding another layer of confusion to our relationship dip.
I have to admit, I was a bit worried about myself, afraid I would do something stupid again, like try and give him a blowjob. It was one thing to avoid getting drunk around him, but sometimes I feared I would just kiss him out of the blue. Then what would happen? We’d have sex, most definitely. But then what? What did that lead to between us except for douchecanoe maneuvers and heartache?
Well, and a tattoo.
That damn tattoo. Dex saw the light.
He saw me.
I shook my head of the thoughts, trying to ease away the slow squeezing of my chest and the warmth between my legs. Funny how part of you could be so emotionally confused, yet the other part just wanted to get the fuck off.
I flipped the pages of the musty-smelling digest, turning my thoughts to Ada and wondering how she was holding up with my parents. I missed them all to be honest with you. Ada the most, but I also missed my father’s snide comments when he watched the news at night, or the way my mom prettied herself in the hall mirror before stepping outside. Silly, stupid things, but I missed them just the same. I had to remind myself that things wouldn’t have stayed easy had I remained behind. They would have been watching me like crazy, waiting for me to go crazy. Like poor Pippa.
The thought of her also added an extra pang to my insides. I wondered where she was right now, if she was watching me. I wondered about the Thin Veil and how close it was to me. If I looked hard enough for it, could I see it? And if I could, would I go through it? I went in somewhat normal and came out with some weird ability for Ada – and maybe others – to hear my thoughts. What would happen if I went through again?
My eyes gazed around the cabin, growing a bit sleepy from the approaching twilight and the heat of the flames. Pippa no longer scared me and I hoped that one day she would show herself to me again. I still had questions and I knew none of this, the hardships she faced, was going to bypass me completely.
I must have fallen asleep in my chair because the next thing I knew I was waking up to hear Dex and Mitch laughing over the clatter of plates and cutlery.
I raised my head, a stream of drool latching onto my shoulder, and looked behind me at the kitchen area. The two of them were chopping up some small dead animal and they even seemed to be getting along. I didn’t like that one bit.
I wiped my chin and got up, weak from the nap and not surprised to see it was pitch black outside.
Dex was the first to notice my presence.
“Sleeping beauty is awake,” he said with a smirk.
I rested my elbow on the chair and watched them from a distance. “What are you guys doing?”
“Wow, you really were out like a light,” Dex commented. “You sure you didn’t get into Mitch’s bourbon? I feel like I could take you on tonight, if you did.”
He waggled his brows suggestively. I responded with a wry look and was pleased to see Mitch was eyeing Dex with careful disdain, like he never considered him a threat until that moment. Perhaps I shouldn’t have felt smug over that, but I wanted Mitch to know his creepy game wouldn’t go very far.
I nodded at the animal. “What is that?”
Mitch slowly pried his hawk eyes off of Dex and went back to slicing and dicing.
“Hare,” he growled and whacked a cleaver down hard. “And grouse.”
Oh, yum. I quickly thought about reverting to vegetarianism.
“We’ve got a grill going on outside,” Dex said, washing his hands with a bottle of water and hand sanitizer. “I have no doubt it’ll be tastier than it looks.”
I nodded absently and made my way over to the door, getting my coat off the peg and piling on my scarf and hat. That was the most annoying thing about being where we were: every time I wanted to use the bathroom, I had to brave the elements. I felt like the younger brother in A Christmas Story.
When I came back, Mitch was standing over a grill he had set up by the door, turning over the grouse on the hot coals. The smell it gave off was delicious and the steam and heat formed thick clouds in the cold night air above.
“He seems to think you’re his woman,” he said under his breath. His tone made my back feel like snow had dribbled down it.
I clamped my mouth shut, trying not to say anything as I walked to the door but just as I closed my hand around the knob, I said in a haughty voice, “He can think any damn thing he wants.”
I wondered how much of that I actually meant.
To my surprise, the packet of mashed potatoes and grilled grouse was actually tasty. Much better than the canned crap we had been eating. I begrudgingly told Mitch that. He just glared at me, which I preferred to his other look. Dex seemed to pick up on the strain between us but he was happily stuffing his face and didn’t say anything.