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The fire crackled, sucking away the only coolness that the stone fireplace offered. It was unsure of itself, seeping through the logs and caving out the middle of the wood. It emitted a heated scent; one that reminded me of the one camp I went to as a child.
I had taken a white church bus with obnoxious blue cursive on the side. There were only twelve seats in total, six on either side. Not many kids had been signed up to travel three hours through Maine to get to a little get-away for only five days.
During those five days, I had been hit in the stomach with the pit of an ore, got at least thirteen bug bites, and just nearly escaped a runaway arrow that almost shot its way through my eye. I hated camp, hated the preachy sermons that I sat through, and my bunkmate that silently ate the teenage counselors face off like a flesh-hungry zombie.
When Emilia suggested we actually spend winter break away from the world at a tiny little cabin, I immediately hated the idea. But it seemed like a better alternative than heading home for the holidays. I wasn’t sure if she could handle the late nights with my father tilting his head back and emptying a bottle of buttery alcohol. My stepmother retiring to her room early like the drinking didn’t bother her as much as it did.
My wife didn’t mention the idea of heading home herself; her father not making an effort to come home for the holidays. Her own brothers conspiring for celebration in their own family homes. If it bothered her, she didn’t show it, instead pouring herself into creating a perfect weekend getaway.
I curled into Emilia. Despite the heat of the fire, the cold still found a way past my clothes. My nose was buried in the nape of Emilia’s neck, breathing in her floral scent as the older woman stroked my hair patiently. It was a loving and tender gesture that I was quick to melt into after months of realizing feelings and pulling one another close.
It was an intimate edge of domestic life that I didn’t realize I craved. My arm slung over Emilia’s mid-section as a checkered blanket covered both of us. The cabin furnished with a rustic charm. The type of cabin that you could only imagine as a happy place; windows fogging as the heat met brutal cold. An imaginary dog curled up on the fur rug that nearly sparkled against the hazy fire.
“This is nice.” I decided in a breathy sigh, cuddling deeper into my wife’s embrace.
Emilia let out a bit of a hum in return. She was admittedly content too, turning as she placed a small but affectionate kiss on my forehead. She felt drowsy herself, listening to her breath deepening as the two of them drifted off into a calm and collected sleep.
I awoke with a start, the air bitterly cold and humid all at once. The fire must have gone out, that signature sound not lulling me back into rest but instead lacking completely. The second thing I noticed was how stiff I was- neck plagued with a crick that brought icy fingers to my neck. The room was dark.
I was curled up on one end of the leather couch, the blanket having flung onto the floor at some point during sleep. I blinked a few times, dragging a hand down my face as I stared around the room; Emilia wasn’t anywhere to be seen.
I licked her lips. They were dry and cracked, almost tasting metallic like blood before pulling myself up shaking away the rest of exhaustion. My breath was visible in the air, my throat raw and torn. God damn it, Nina. I cursed myself for falling asleep in the first place. If Emilia had gone into the one separate room the cabin had to offer, she would have scooped me up and curled into bed like we usually did when I fell asleep during movie nights.
My socked feet were loud against the wooden floor, long creaks ripping against the silence as if someone had pried them up and reapplied them to the frame sloppily. I didn’t bother cringing away. There was no one to unsettle.
Instead, I wondered to the kitchen, fishing for one of the mismatched mugs that were housed in the cabinet. ‘You’re the bee’s Knee’s.’ The one I grabbed, read. An audible scoff fell from my lips. It reminded me of the glass they had picked up on a cross-country road trip, it seemed like the perfect souvenir but ended with a cabinet full of cups from every state.
I filled the mug with cool well water, steam close to balancing off the liquid itself. It burned as it passed my lips. Dripping down my chin as I hungrily gulped it down letting the water cling to the collar of my college logoed sweatshirt.
The mug fell to the floor as I coughed on water, flicking my eyes up quickly. Neither of us flinched as the glass shattered into a million pieces. It ruined the cute little saying and chipped the wings off the cartoon bee.
“Jesus Christ, Em.” My hand had found a way to my chest, trying to still the pounding of my heart.
Emelia lifted a perfectly sculpted eyebrow, the ghost of a smirk on her lips, blonde hair past stilled shoulders “Should I start wearing a bell, sweetheart?”
“Yeah,” I let out a sound that was a mix between a snort and scoff. Emilia had her position at the edge of the counter. Not exactly narrowing her eyes but holding them at an odd angle that looked nearly curious like a cat following a mouse. The light from the moon shaded her features. “I didn’t see you when I woke up.”
“You looked so peaceful. I didn’t want to stir you. I heard a noise.”
I furrowed my brow and glanced past the foggy window that rested above the kitchen sink. There was a thick coat of snow covering the ground in pristine white. None of it was disturbed. Trees resting 30 feet beyond the cabin walls. There was nothing but inky black behind the initial wall of bark.
“What kind of noise?”
“Howling, it was just the wind.”
I nodded softly, sleep still on my mind. The fire must have blown out the second Emelia opened and closed the cabin door. It left in them in a stark cold that made me fold into herself, pulling my sleeves past my wrists.
“Huh?” I glanced down at her feet. Fuck. The glass had dug evenly into the side of my foot, an angry crimson dripping onto the hardwood floor. Usually, Emilia would have been beside herself; if not for the ugly mess, then for the safety precautions. A normally protective woman stood rigidly, swallowing thickly as she refused to stare anywhere but at the large rafters that littered the ceiling. “I didn’t notice.”
“You should clean that.” Emilia's voice was husky, she took a step back, almost cautious. “We’re out of firewood, I’ll be back.”
A noise escaped my throat. It’s the middle of the night, Emilia. I could have said what if that noise wasn’t the just the wind? Instead, I stayed silent. Partly in shock as I flexed her toes and winced. It burned. Emilia had walked out the door, a flannel covering a tank top and a pair of fuzz lined boots with sweatpants tucked into them. Not exactly the warmest. I watched as Emilia stalked into the woods.
I operated on impulse decisions, then. my mind buzzing oddly as I hobbled over to the front door. My fingers moist with blood as I painfully slid on my own boots, forgetting the socks. I pulled Emilia’s jacket on, the woman having evaded it completely.
The snow caved under my first step, movements making me wince for a few paces before I got used the splayed feeling of the cut on my foot. My eyes begged to trace the prints left in the snow by Emilia. There were none.
My breath hitched, but I continued against the slowly deadening wind. I pulled the collar of the jacket over her face, trying to block out the cold as I walked away from the safety of the Cabin’s yard and into the cool darkness of the forest. Still no footprints.
“Emilia?” My voice was a low whisper. It sounded deafening in the quiet.
I walked a few feet, ducking under low hanging branches made even lower by the snow piled on the slim limbs. Thorns tore at the fabric of my jacket. I had no idea where she was heading, the floral scent of Emilia’s perfume on her clothes overwhelming and forging some form of comfort.
A dark form was crouched in front of me. A blob in the horrid darkness. I found myself ducking low, hugging the side of the tree as I purposely hitched her breath in my throat. Emilia shifted her shoulders in an inhuman way. They cracked like broken twigs under a boot tip. A low snarl breaking through the air.
I clenched her eyes shut for a moment. Was this Emilia? It couldn’t’ be. It carried such a primal and unforgiving nature. One that I was convinced my wife carried when the two of them had just met in a charged situation. But this? This was angry, and the air reminded her of the color red.
No, those were eyes. Eyes that cut through the center of the figure and were trained directly on me, cold and unforgiving. They were brighter than the blood that soaked into my boot and meaner than I had ever seen. Fully unblinking, fully cloaked as snow began to trickle from the air as it found its way through the trees.
Emilia, the beast, whatever it truly was, nipped at my heels, moving with such unimaginable speed. I was a wounded animal that had nothing more than the sickly scent of blood attached to her and the allure of a quickening heartbeat that I wished I could hide under the floorboards.
It dragged me to the forest floor, breath escaping me as my ribs came in stark contact with the rocky ground. Her hands- Its hands; were clawed and digging roughly into my skin. I hissed, gaining leverage to flip myself over, trying to edge my foot somewhere under the creature so I could kick it off.
It wore Emilia's clothes, but they were torn and tattered. It carried Emilia’s physical nature and slowly morphed features but had dripping fangs the same exact color as that stupid mug that broke in the cabin’s kitchen. It was coming at my throat, mixing primal animal growls with dripping drool.
I let out a yell of pain as I struggled to hold my arm up enough to block the teeth of the beast. Their pointed ends dug into my forearm with an ungodly crunch, pushing past tendons and dying yellowed teeth with a crimson brine. Its claws stinging as it thrashed easily, nails starting at my collarbone and dragging in four even leans down to the tip of my stomach. I cried in distress- letting out a bark of anger as I finally got enough of a hook to kick the creature away.
I used the same impulse that pulled me outside, dashing to my feet as adrenaline coursed through my veins. I sprinted, not bothering to dodge away from the low hanging branches or a slippery mix of mud and leaves carved in ice.
I dropped to my knees in a clumsy fall once I burst through the edge of woods, yelping as I cradled my wounded arm against my stomach. I didn’t’ stop- rushing onto the porch and into the golden light of the porch lamp. It was a small circle, my back resting against the side of the cabin as my legs buzzed on separated steps. Breath thick in the air as I scanned my eyes near the perimeter of the woods.
Two rose colored orbs peered at me for a few moments before clouding away. It was gone, whatever it was had left the battle for the safety of the woods. A safety that I so desperately wanted to feel herself.
“Oh my god, Nina!” she didn’t realize that the door had opened. Emilia disregarding the cold as she dropped to her knees on the snow-coated deck. I flinched away, letting out a mix between a cough and a pained exclaim. Emelia was dressed in flannel pants and a long sleeve shirt that was mine. It looked tight on her, but comfortable. She looked undeniably like her.
“Y-you did this to me,” I croaked out, voice hot as blood continued to soak through my clothes. Warming me and chilling me all at once.
Emelia held her hands in the air like she wanted to comfort me. Pull me in close and make sure I was okay. But I had folded into Myself. Cradling a wounded arm between knees pulled up to my chest. She decided to talk me down.
“Sweetie, you were asleep on the couch,” Emilia tried “I didn’t’ want to wake you, so I went to change but by the time I got back you were gone.” She swallowed thickly “There was a broken mug on the floor.”
I blinked dumbly. I hadn’t checked the room, why would I? Emilia had appeared so easily in front of me being the complete opposite of who I had fallen in love with. Alluring enough to pull me into the forest. A tricky creature that used a weakness and a strength all at once. Emilia would never leave a broken mug on the floor, she would never go out in the middle of the night for firewood.
I let a sob rock through my body as I allowed Emilia to carefully pull me into a soft embrace, not wanting to hurt me. Everything stung, my eyes burning as the beginning of a sunrise turned a dark night into a rain filled day. I wasn’t sure how long we stayed in that position before Emilia said something, I wasn’t quite sure, about calling an ambulance.
I nodded, fingers still curled into Emilia's shirt as she stared out at the large expanse of snow that covered deadened grass. There were no footprints.