At the Edge of Darkness
The narrow snow-covered winding road was lined with sharp high mountain cliffs on one side and what seemed like a deep never-ending pit on the other. Nico’s knuckles were white from gripping the steering wheel, making sure not to look to her left where the earth looked as though it could swallow a small skyscraper.
“Oh God. That’s so not okay!” said Jackie, sheepishly peering over the edge.
Jackie and Nico were on a vacation deep in the Rocky Mountains. Nico had been dealing with severe depression and anxiety and it was causing quite a rift in the relationship. They thought going out west and getting some clean fresh mountain air might do her, and their love life, some good.
Nico wasn’t used to driving in the snow, and her little car struggled with the steep inclines.
As they sputtered up through the last mountain pass, they topped a hill where they could look down into a colorful and quaint little village sitting in a valley that was almost fully encompassed by the imposing snowy peaks.
Ouray, CO is a little town surrounded by the San Juan Mountains, where many deep canyons and natural hot springs are embedded. The cliffs so steep that ice climbers come from all over the world to take part in challenges. The mountains envelope so much of the village that you can never see the sun rise nor set. You can only see the brilliant warm colors bouncing off of the icy peaks – like God pouring watercolors over the tops of them.
Nico and Jackie pulled into the town just as the mountain peaks were glowing orange and purple. The valley was transitioning from a vast array of stark colors in to a dark murky grey. The darkness swallowing the village whole…as if a towering giant were rising out and over the earth.
“What’s the name of the hotel again?” asked Nico.
“Uhm, I think it’s called Twin Peaks.”
“Oh yeah…that’s not creepy at all.”
They slowly made their way to the hotel that appeared mostly empty. They both found this to be peculiar, as it was the city’s peak climbing season. Though they certainly wouldn’t mind a quiet hotel stay.
Nico wiped the condensation from the inside of the windshield and loudly exhaled.
“This isn’t a hotel. It’s just some crappy old motel.”
“Well, the photos looked nice online” , said Jackie in an annoyed tone.
“It’s fine. It can’t be that bad. Besides, it has those hot springs we wanted.”
As Nico got out of the car and headed towards the front desk, she heard a bizzare animal sound that seemed to bounce back and forth off of the cliffs. The cacophony of echoes made her wonder if the town had mountain lions. As she stomped the snow off her boots on to the worn welcome mat and approached the desk, she saw a gangly older gentleman staring at an old box television with rabbit ears covered in tin foil.
“Excuse me, sir?”
The man abruptly held up his mangled arthritic hand with a cigarette between his fingers, signaling for her to stop.
Nico stood there awkwardly and waited for the man to speak.
“God damn Russians” , garbled the desk host.
He pushed his hat back and slowly turned to her. He was pale with a scraggly beard and had a slightly lazy eye. He coughed violently and wiped his mouth with a dirty old mechanic’s rag.
Nico cleared her throat.
“Uhm, yes. We have a reservation for Taylor. Nico Taylor.”
“Yeah. Yep. Gotcha down for room 113. You can’t have any pets and you have to use the ashtrays. The sink and floor are not ashtrays. You’d think people would have some damn common sense. Also, the heater is on the fritz…so don’t push it past 68.”
“We don’t have pets and we don’t smoke, sir.”
“Fine. Here’s your key. Ya only get one, so don’t lose it. It’ll cost ya twenty-five dollars if ya lose it.”
“Gotcha. We will be careful. Thank you.”
The man grumbled and looked Nico up and down before he slowly turned back to what looked like the news and took another draw of his Marlboro.
They both immediately headed for the bed when they entered their room, splaying themselves across the quilt – letting out a combined sigh of exhaustion.
“This town is a bit strange, don’t you think?” asked Nico.
“Yeah, it’s definitely kind of weird. I wonder how the people that live here deal with so little sunshine. Especially during the winter.”
They got up and put their bags away and put on some swimming attire. They made their way through the empty building and headed toward the hot spring tubs that sat at the back of the motel.
As they stepped outside, they saw that the motel was constructed on a hillside and there were several tubs built into the earth –steam rising up and out into the now dark sky. There were white Christmas lights leading up the wooden pathway and around the tubs. They looked over to see a couple in a tub, steam peeling off their skin and hair and out from their mouths as they giggled and kissed.
Nico and Jackie looked at each other and quietly laughed.
“Let’s go into that one” , said Nico while pointing to the tub farthest up the hill.
“It’ll give them some privacy.”
It was below freezing and they only had bathing suits and cheap hotel towels, so they scurried up the path as fast as they could and quickly crawled into the spring tub.
Jackie sank deep into the bubbling water. “Oh my god. This is so amazing.”
They both looked out into the small twinkling village and immersed themselves into the soothing heat of the mineral bath.
Nico reached into her bag and smiled, “look what I brought!”
She pulled out a bottle of champagne and two plastic flutes.
“Perfect!”, exclaimed Jackie.
As Nico started to pour the alcohol, she was abruptly startled by the same loud animal sound that she now realized was coming from deep within a nearby canyon.
“Wow. That must be close”, said Nico.
“What are you talking about?”
She looked at Jackie with a quizzical stare.
“What do you mean? Didn’t you just hear that loud growling?”
Jackie chuckled and reached for her hand.
“No, but I saw you jump about five feet out of this tub.”
Nico looked at Jackie for a moment and then shrugged it off.
The two kissed and nuzzled and toasted their drinks to what they felt was a much-needed vacation. They laid back and stared up at the stars, which revealed a dazzling show of the Milky Way. They didn’t need to say anything. They just looked at one another and smiled and went back to staring out at the wondrous array of starlight.
Suddenly, the familiar growl echoed out and Nico jumped up and pointed into the darkness.
“See! I told you!”
“Nico, what is wrong with you? I don’t hear anything.”
“The growling! It’s coming from up there!”
Jackie looked at Nico with a deepening concern.
“Well, what does it sound like?”
“I don’t know. It’s like a high-pitched growl mixed with like…a scream. It’s so loud. I don’t understand how you can’t hear it.”
“Maybe we should go back inside, Nico. Maybe you’re just tired.”
“Just tired?!” said Nico rather loudly. “I’m not crazy. I can hear it right over there.”
Jackie looked down to the other couple who were now full-on making out, completely unfazed by anything. Then she looked up at Nico who seemed pale and frightened.
“Honey, let’s go back inside. We can come back out here in the morning.”
With a wobble and a daze, Nico shook her head indicating she agreed…but didn’t say anything. She just kept squinting into the night.
Jackie gently grabbed her hand and helped her out of the tub. She put everything back in the bag and went to grab Nico’s arm –when all of the sudden the lights went out.
They both looked towards each other and then out to the town. The electricity to the whole city had gone out.
“It must be a power outage” , Nico said nervously.
As they both continued to peer out over the town, they started noticing lights popping up in various windows. Except, it wasn’t electricity – they were candles. One by one, every house started putting a single candle in their windows. They could also hear doors and windows slamming shut. There weren’t even any cars on the roads.
“That’s so strange. Maybe they are used to power issues here. This town is definitely in a strange location” , said Jackie.
Nico didn’t say a word. She just grabbed her towel and turned the light from her phone on. She then quickly started down the wooden steps. Jackie followed behind, watching Nico occasionally flinching and staring back into the direction of the canyon.
She grabbed Nico’s hand and led her further down the steps. As they came across the tub that had the couple in it, they saw that it was empty and the top to it was locked in place. She thought it was weird as she never noticed them leaving.
They reached the inside of the motel and Nico darted towards the room, shoulders hunched and her hair flinging water on the walls and carpet. Her hands shook as she fumbled with the key to get inside the room.
They both used their phone lights to find their way to their dry clothes and Nico quickly dressed and crawled into the bed. She still wasn’t saying anything. She was hiding under the blankets, much like a child afraid of the monster in their closet.
Jackie crawled into bed and held her while she lied there, shaking and crying.
“Shh! Be quiet!”
“Nico, I’m really worried about you.”
Nico turned towards her with anger and fear etched into her face.
“You have to be quiet. It can hear you.”
“What can hear me? I don’t understand.”
Nico turned around with her back to Jackie and curled up into a ball. Jackie reached over and kissed her on the side of the cheek.
“Nico, it’s going to be okay. Let’s just try and get some sleep.”
Jackie turned and laid on her back and took a few deep breaths and started to fade out. Though just as the wave of sleepy twilight came flooding through her, she had this strange vision in her mind that was just in between wakefulness and dreaming.
The creature that Jackie lazily dreamed of, was of some sort of large cat with red human eyes and short horns just behind its ears. It had white stripes like a tiger and a scruffy mane. It seemed to be both animal and human and stood on all four feet with claws like an eagle. She shook her head, as if the movement would scatter the image back into the darkness.
“I’m just dreaming”, thought Jackie.
With eyes still closed, her anxious mind fashioned the image of this dark creature jumping through the window without a sound and lunging towards Nico’s side of the bed. At that very moment, Nico thrusted upwards against the headboard and grabbed at Jackie’s body with a painful grip.
Jackie couldn’t see anything, she only got a quick glimpse of Nico’s face. It had four deep scratches that reached down from her forehead to her chin. Nico’s mouth and eyes were opened wide and she seemed to be screaming, but Jackie couldn’t hear anything – just a deafening silence. She pulled Nico’s body towards her, but the unseen force was pulling her away. Her body was twisting in circles, but Jackie wouldn’t let go.
“Help!! Someone help us!” screamed Jackie, but there were no sounds coming out of her mouth.
In one abrupt motion, Nico was violently ripped from her arms and into the dark corner of the room. She couldn’t see anything. She just kept screaming Nico’s name, but still there was no sound: just the eerie static of absolute nothingness roaring in her ears.
Jackie crawled to the other side of the bed, arms outstretched, desperately trying to feel for Nico. But, there was nothing. As she leaped out of bed and stood on the floor, all of the lights suddenly switched on with a blinding flash.
Jackie stood there aghast and stared at the bed. Nico was completely asleep on the covers, wearing the same clothes they had on during their trip up. She stood there breathing heavily, heart thumping and sweat pouring – slowly crumbling into the floor.
“We must’ve fallen asleep when we first got here. God, I feel so stupid. I hope I didn’t scream.”
As she steadied herself up by the bed, she then noticed the window was wide open and a lit candle sat on its sill.
And there, out in the cold darkness, was the face of an old man with a scraggly beard. The orange flame of a cigarette illuminated his face as he inhaled.
Jackie jumped back and screamed at the sight of him. Nico abruptly sat up and sleepily stared at her girlfriend who was standing at the edge of the bed as pale as the moon.
“What? What is it? What happened?” said Nico, wiping her eyes and slowly getting out of bed.
“I…it’s nothing. It’s nothing. I just thought I saw a man outside our window.”
“What? What do you mean there wa….”
Before Nico could finish her sentence, a gust of freezing wind blew through the window and out went the candle. Then everything went completely and utterly black.
Nico bellowed out a horrible and terrifying scream. Jackie went to run towards her, but then felt a hand with sharp claws, dragging down hard and into one of her legs.
As Jackie tried to pull herself away, there came an undeniable smell of wet fur and a harsh gasp of foul breath…followed by a very loud and piercing growl.
About the author
I’m a Visual Artist, Omnist, Wordsmith and Chronic Daydreamer. Most of my work is fictional/fantasy short stories and poetry. See more below: