We drove up the snowy, winding road towards the cozy A-frame cabin. My knuckles were white, and my fingers were numb from holding onto the oh-shit handle so tightly. The number of potholes we’d hit, coupled with the slush and icy spots, made for a nerve-wracking trip. At least, the portion of it since we stocked up on supplies in the backwater conglomeration of buildings that called itself a town was in dire need of repairs.
“Did you have to drive so fast?” I blurted out as we came to a stop in front of the cabin we had booked for the weekend.
Jaden grinned at me sheepishly. “Sorry about that. I wasn't going that fast. I didn't have much control. I don't think the county has maintained that road much. Cute little town, though. It was rustic.”
“That's one way of putting it.” I saw Jaden shake his head. I wasn't as stuck up as I sounded. I just was uncomfortable in remote places. “I know. Your parents used to drag you to places like this when you were a child, and you loved it. Let’s face it. I'm a city kid. I’m completely out of my element here.”
I looked around as I began pulling the groceries out of the trunk. The view of the lake from the yard was beautiful, but it was freezing outside. I hurried inside and set the groceries on the counter. The owners must have turned the what in ahead of our arrival because it was toasty warm inside. Maybe this trip wouldn't be so bad.
The interior of the cabin was rustic but warm and inviting. The main floor was open-concept, which I loved. A comfortable couch sat before a fireplace in the small living room. The kitchen was tiny. I wouldn't be able to function in it long-term, but it would do for such a short trip. A table with four chairs nestled into the area between the kitchen and the living room. A door next to the fireplace led to a well-maintained bathroom. The whole place was pretty impressive, especially for being in the middle of nowhere.
I spied a spiral staircase winding up to the second story. The single bedroom would technically qualify as a loft since the open space where a wall was missing overlooked the floor below. A potbellied stove sat in the far corner. The double bed took up most of the room, but I liked it. I wouldn't mind an A-frame as a vacation home but on a larger scale.
“A little help here?” Jaden called from the living room as he dragged the suitcases in.
It turned out that dragging luggage up a spiral staircase was not easy. I made a mental note not to include one in the house we were designing - at least not in a high-traffic area.
Jaden had developed a wildly popular computer game a few years back. I worked in management at a well-known advertising company. Together we were finally seeing our dreams of moving out of our two-bedroom apartment and into a single-family home in a prominent development come true. A brand spanking new home built exactly to our specifications.
It was too bad we weren't allowed pets at our current place. It would have been fun to watch a couple of puppies scamper around on the snowy lake shore. Adopting some pets was on our to-do list after we moved in and felt settled. If we could only agree on dogs or cats. Maybe we’d have to get both.
We stood at the foot of the bed gazing out the triangular floor-to-ceiling windows at the icy lake. What was the name - something to do with a knife? Jaden had mentioned it more than once. Blade Lake? No. Dagger Lake. That was it.
The only thing marring the view was the ramshackle cabin around the bed. It might have been nice at some point, but now it looked abandoned.
“Alright, I forgive you for dragging me out in the middle of nowhere instead of going to that ski lodge spa place I had my sights set on,” I said, cuddling into Jaden’s arms. “Although, that place over there looks like someone should have demolished it a long time ago.”
“Nah, it adds to the charm,” Jaden replied. “Besides, that cabin is part of why I chose this place.”
I turn to him in surprise. “Seriously? Why?” When Jaden refused to meet my eyes, I knew something was up.
“You remember that author you like who went bat-shit crazy? The one who used to write about vampires and werewolves getting it on?” he asked.
“Ella Parrish? Yeah, why?” I replied, confused. “And it's not bat-shit crazy. That’s an insensitive term. She had a mental break.”
Jaden rolled his eyes. “She brutally stabbed her psychologist and a couple of the guards to death before anyone managed to subdue her. Anyway, they say she stayed at that cabin before she had her ‘mental break.’ They say it's haunted.”
“Oh no. Don't tell me you brought me out here for one of your paranormal things.” I said, backing away from him.
Jaden gave me his most charming smile. “Come on, Marcus. It’ll be fun. We’ll go explore a little - see if we can get inside. Then we’ll come back here, cook dinner and curl up in front of the fire with some of that wine we brought.
“That doesn't sound like fun to me. Why don't we take a nice walk in the other direction before dinner and wine?” I countered.
Jaden gave me those puppy dog eyes I hadn't yet found a way to deny. “Alright, alright. Ten minutes. We go up on the porch and look in the windows. That's it.” I smiled at Jaden’s childlike grin and kissed him.
We added some extra layers to keep ourselves warm before heading back outside. The sun was trying to peek out from grey clouds doing their best to obscure it. Flurries of snowflakes drifted down from the sky. Snow crunched underfoot as we walked along the shore toward the cabin that was becoming more ominous with each step.
I wanted to turn around and go back to the cheerful A-frame. I might enjoy reading supernatural romances, but I didn't share Jaden’s love of all things that go bump in the night. I would leave the room when he was watching those ghost-hunting shows. They honestly scared the crap out of me. The fact that I was even going to that cabin with him was a testament to how much I loved him.
I took a deep breath before following him up the front steps and through the screen door that opened with a creak. It really was a decent cabin. The roomy screened-in porch overlooked Dagger Lake. There were cushioned chairs and couches scattered about. It would have been a nice place to lounge in the summer. I could picture people living there, swinging in a hammock or jumping into the lake for a swim on a hot day. That is, I could see it if the place didn't have such a sinister vibe.
Jaden was peering through the windows. “I don't know. I can't see much. The windows are too dirty.” He moved over to the door and turned the handle. To both of our surprise, we heard a click. The door opened inward at his touch.
“Jaden. No. You said we’d look in the windows. That was it. We are not going inside.” I cried.
He stepped into the cabin. “Suit yourself. I’m just going to have a quick look around. Oh, keep your eyes open. I've heard there might be cryptids in this area. This place is deserted enough. I wouldn’t be surprised if they were hanging around near here.”
“Crypti-whatsits?” I asked nervously.
“Cryptids. You know, like Bigfoot or a Sasquatch or whatever you want to call them. At least there shouldn't be any Skinwalkers around here.” he said.
I stared at him. “What are Skinwalkers?”
“You haven't heard of them? They are right up your alley, seeing as you like werewolves. They are evil entities that can shift from human to animal at will. But, like I said, they shouldn't be around here...although I could be wrong.” Jared disappeared farther into the cabin.
I carefully scanned the area. “Bastard,” I said under my breath as I rushed inside. Jared’s laughter greeted me. I ignored it and grabbed his hand as he walked through the living room into the kitchen.
“Weird. That author must have left in a hurry. There’s still food in here. I'm surprised no one has been in here since then to close the place up.” Jared said. “Look, she left her laptop.”
“Yeah, yeah. Can we go now?” I begged.
Jared ignored me and walked toward a hallway that led to the bathroom and bedrooms. “Would you look at that?”
I followed his gaze to see child-size footprints in the dust trailing down the hall, ending at the furthest door. I tried to hold in a shudder. “Probably just some kids messing around.”
“Yeah, probably,” he replied, but he didn't sound convinced. “You'd think they’d take the computer, though.”
We walked down the hall, peeking into the rooms as we went. There was nothing of note aside from Ella’s toiletries in the bathroom and clothes in the front bedroom. As we returned to the living room, I asked plaintively, “Can we go now? It's going to be dark soon.”
“Yeah, in a minute. I want to try something first,” Jared said, pulling something out of his backpack. He unfolded an OUIJA board and laid it on the dusty coffee table.
I stood in shock for a moment. “Oh hell no, Jared. That's not something to be messed with.”
“Don't tell me you're scared of a child's game.” he taunted. “Please? I know what I’m doing. I just want to ask what happened here.”
“Just because you watch all of those shows on tv doesn't mean you know what you are doing. This is dangerous. You don't know what you could be inviting in.” I replied.
Jared ignored my pleas and put his fingers on the planchette. He grinned at me until I gave in with a sigh and joined him.
“What happened here?” Jared asked.
I wanted to believe it was just a toy - that it was all pretend. I wanted to believe that Jared was in control the entire time. The look on his face as the planchette flew over the board confirmed that he was as surprised as I was.
Jared’s voice was shaking as he asked, “Who committed murder here?”
“Why?” he asked weakly.
A bitter chill overtook me, and I ripped my fingers away from the planchette in terror. I struggled to catch my breath. “I’m done.” I lurched up and raced out the door, nearly colliding with the screen door on the porch.
“Marcus, wait for me.” Jared ran after me.
I refused to speak to him as we made our way back to the A-frame. Once inside, he caught me by the shoulders. “I’m sorry. I should have listened to you. Let me make it up to you.”
He massaged my shoulders until I felt some of the strain ease. “You’re freezing. Let me get a fire going, and then I’ll make dinner.”
An hour later, we were seated at the table with a fire roaring invitingly. I had almost forgiven Jared, but we barely spoke as I tucked into the delicious pasta with its blood-red sauce. Afterward, we snuggled on the couch, watching the flames. I wrapped myself up in a fluffy throw blanket but still felt chilled. We talked of anything and everything other than what had happened at that cabin. Eventually, we wandered up to bed.
My breath came out in pants as I ran from him. He screamed out my name, following after me. I didn't know why he was so angry with me. I couldn’t remember why he was chasing me.
My feet hit the icy surface of the lake. I somehow managed to stay upright - mostly.
I couldn’t think clearly. I didn't know where the town was aside from it being somewhere on the edge of that lake. There had been too many twists and turns on the road to the cabin. I was hopelessly useless in the wilderness.
I kept going, hoping beyond hope that there would be someone staying nearby, although it was unlikely in the winter unless they lived on Dagger Lake year-round.
Snow fell heavily around me. I no longer noticed the cold, even though I was dressed only in my PJ pants and a sweatshirt. I hadn't taken the time to put on my coat or shoes. Water had soaked into my socks, and I couldn't feel my feet anymore. They felt more like fire than ice.
“Keep moving. Keep moving,” I breathed like a mantra.
Something creaked and cracked behind me. I turned to look, despite my need to get away. Jared stopped a few feet away and looked down at the ice. Blood soaked the front of his shirt where the knife had entered his stomach.
“Marcus! Please come back.” he cried desperately before the ice broke beneath him. My heart broke with the ice. A sinister laugh filled my head as Jared disappeared beneath the water.
I only paused a moment before continuing to slip and slide my way across the lake. Why did I leave him? I should have tried to rescue him. Instead, I followed the lights in the distance until I found the town.
I pounded on the door of the nearest building, screaming for someone to open up. I knew it was too late to save Jared, but I had to try anyway.
A light came on upstairs as well as in several other buildings nearby. Footsteps approached rapidly, and the door swung open. I recognized the person as the man who ran the general merchandise shop.
“Help me, please!” I cried.
“Good God. Did you run all the way from your cabin like that?” he asked. “Come in before you freeze to death.” The man ushered me into the store that sold everything from household products to hunting supplies.
He wrapped a thermal blanket around me. “Can you tell me what happened?”
“My husband. Oh, Jared,” I sobbed. “We were on the lake, and he fell through the ice. I...I don't know what happened.” I looked down at my arms. The blood that had seeped from several cuts had frozen on my sleeves. “He tried to kill me.”
“Alright. You stay right here. I’m gonna call an ambulance for you.” The man shuffled off, leaving me leaning on a display case with a variety of wickedly sharp knives. My head buzzed with despair and exhaustion. I shivered.
I could hear the man in the back room speaking with the 911 operator. “Yeah. Said his husband fell through the ice. They must have been messing around out there. He’s certainly not dressed for it. I'm not sure about his story. Seems really confused. He’s all cut up. Said something about his husband hurting him. Yeah. Yeah. You can send someone out there to search. I doubt it will do much good, though.”
A white-hot rage filled me. He was talking about Jared so callously. I started to move to the office, but a police officer came through the door before the man finished with the call.
“Clyde? You in here?” he called out. “I got a call about a disturbance.”
“Be right out, Ted,” Clyde called out.
Clyde gave Officer Ted a quick rundown of the situation. I didn't think I could find the words to explain what had happened. There were too many voices in my head.
Moments later, the ambulance arrived. The EMTs hustled me into the back of the vehicle, where they took my vitals and cut my frozen socks from my feet. They layered me with heating pads I could barely feel while they said something about frostbite. One of them moved into the front of the ambulance, and we drove away. The other wrapped bandages around my arms, telling me I was lucky the wounds were superficial.
I lay on the wheeled bed as the ambulance lurched down the road. I couldn't help thinking about how much I loved Jared. I never wanted him to die. Not really. Even as I had run the knife over my arms in the bathroom before screaming for Jared to help me, I didn't realize what the man in my head was planning.
“I’m so sorry, Jared,” I whispered.
I licked my lips. The EMT was distracted with the paperwork he was filling out. I was amazed he had missed the Bowie knife I had slipped into the back of my waistband before Officer Ted had arrived.
The EMT screamed as I plunged the knife into his neck. I must not have hit the right spot. Despite the abundance of beautiful blood, he was able to move away from me before I could pull the knife out and stab him again.
The ambulance screeched to a halt. “What’s going on back there?” The driver cried.
“He stabbed me,” the EMT yelled as he shoved a rolling supply bin between us.
I lunged over it and grabbed for the knife again. There was a sharp prick in the back of my neck. The man in my head screamed and then disappeared, returning to wherever he had come from. I didn't like him in my head. He made me do bad things to someone I loved. I was free again. I faded into welcome oblivion.