excerpt copyright 2015 Fran Lee
Oh. My. God.
Shutting off the faltering motor, she tossed her designer sunglasses onto the passenger seat and slid out of the car to stare in dismay at the sight of the log cabin standing before her.
What have I done?
Had she truly thought this would be a restful, wonderful rustic vacation in the desert? Her eyes slid over the old-fashioned hand-pump that stood in front of the cabin next to an ancient bathtub with claw feet. This must be the full bath. At least in New York she’d had running water. And a toilet. The outhouse she could just see to the far left of the area was the last frigging straw.
Oh no, no, no!
With a fastidious shudder, she decided that she would much rather turn right around and drive back to the nearest town. They’d had decent motels, at least. With indoor toilets.
When she saw that old man again, she was gonna give him a piece of her mind. Damn if she hadn’t instantly trusted the guy. He had seemed so honest and so nice. But then, con men came in all shapes and ages. She should have realized when she’d paid him the pittance he’d asked that the place would be a total disaster. You get what you pay for…
But her friggin’ inner voice had told her to trust the old fart.
Deciding that a hasty retreat was far more appealing than staying, she climbed back behind the wheel and turned the key in the ignition, resigned to admitting the complete failure of her endeavor. Her heart pounded dully inside her chest as the SUV’s motor started jerkily, then died again, refusing to start a second time.
“No, God…please…don’t let this be happening to me!” she whispered, and tried again. As the motor grumbled and cranked, it began to get less and less noisy, until it was just a series of sharp clicks…then nothing.
She swallowed hard. She knew that sound couldn’t be good. As far as she could tell, there wasn’t a mechanic or parts store for at least sixty miles. She had no idea what was under the dust-bathed hood of this huge vehicle. Looking under there would do her no good, because she had no notion of what to look for or how to fix it. And she wasn’t up to a long hike in a hundred-plus-degree heat in freaking designer boots.
Not even in the fancy running shoes she’d packed.
With an angry snarl at her stupidity, she dragged out her phone and climbed up onto the luggage rack of the SUV once more. She twisted from side to side but not one single, tiny bar appeared. She swore loudly and angrily, then turned on the GPS and slowly pressed 9-1-1. Even in areas without a signal, the emergency GPS might allow someone to find her. A passing plane. An alien spaceship. Maybe even a passing eagle?
Climbing back down onto the gravel and dust, she heaved a deep sigh of resignation and trudged over to climb the unpainted wooden steps to the wide porch that spanned the entire front of the place. When she got her hands on that old man, she was going to strangle him. But for now, all she could do was see how bad the situation was and make the best of it. At least until help arrived. If it ever does.
After all, she had dragged along a supply of canned goods and some cases of bottled water, and could manage to make it through a night or two until someone picked up the GPS signal. Hopefully. She wouldn’t starve to death. And she certainly wouldn’t freeze. She irritably ran the back of one hand over her perspiring brow.
The door opened without being obstinate. No rusty hinges here. The expected smells of disuse were absent. She stepped inside the surprisingly tidy cabin and crossed the bare wooden floor. Glancing around, she moved to the only window and tugged aside the sun-faded curtain. The window glass was clean. In fact, everything seemed to be clean. The open door and the window gave the only illumination to the interior of the utilitarian single room. It looked to be about fifteen feet by fifteen feet. She checked the inside edge of the door for a light switch. Nope. Great. Her gaze slid to the vintage sconces on two of the rough log walls.
Oil lamps? You have got to be shitting me!
But then, there had been no electrical wires or poles anywhere along the rutted road she’d been following. Obtuse, much? Any sane woman would have noticed this fact. But then, shouldn’t there be a generator, at least? This wasn’t exactly the Stone Age…or was it?
She bit her lower lip and turned full circle to survey the cabin she had rented. The floors were swept and canned goods and spices lined the open-fronted shelves along the wall. A pair of free-standing hurricane lanterns stood on one of the heavy shelves. No fridge. Good thing she hadn’t brought perishables.
She winced at the sight of what passed for a sink, staring disbelievingly at a small hand pump standing over a galvanized bucket that had been counter-sunk into a large wooden cabinet of sorts. An old-fashioned iron wood stove stood in the corner just beyond a small table with two chairs, and on the other wall stood a narrow bed…cot…whatever. The furniture all stood along the walls, leaving the center area—all eight or so feet of it—open.
Well…she had expected rustic.
But I got totally ancient.
Chellie moved methodically around the small space. The stove was cold, but a half-full coffeepot sat on the stove top extension, which was supported by a metal leg of sorts. The coffee smelled strong but not as if it’d been there for months. It looked as if someone had very recently been in the cabin.
Or is living here.
Was there another cabin out here besides the one she’d rented? Obviously this one was already occupied.
Her heart tripped nervously. She swallowed the tightness in her throat as she moved across the room to the old chest of drawers that stood against the far wall, a foot or so from the tiny “bed”. Tugging open one of the drawers, she groaned at the sight of men’s jeans, a couple of folded flannel shirts, a couple of T-shirts, socks and underwear. She lifted a pair of soft, well-worn cotton boxer briefs between thumb and forefinger and fought not to throw a tantrum. This place was most definitely occupied. “I fucking don’t believe this! What more can possibly go wrong today?” she said to no one in particular.
A tingling sensation ran along her spine.
A low chuckle behind her made her stiffen.
“Usually complete strangers don’t just walk in and start checking out my skivvies…but you, I don’t mind.” The rough, deep voice came from the direction of the open door at her back and she jerked around with a startled cry to face the intruder.
Skinwalker's Woman is available at Ellora's Cave. Click the link embedded in the title above.