mists shadowed the shrouded form floating toward
her, a scythe clasped upright in its skeletal
hand. Terrified, she shrank from the wraith and
stepped slowly backward over the hay covering the
barn loft. Her heel touched air, and she grabbed
an oak post to keep from falling to the ground
glowed through the haze. Closer and closer the
specter moved until, even from a distance of five
feet, the smell of putrefied flesh filled her
nostrils. The scythe whined as the metal spun
through the air, striking the post above her
hands and splintering the wood. Warm, moist
tentacles slid under her flannel nightgown and
wrapped themselves around her.
gasped. The tentacles pierced her skin, buried
into her neck, breasts, stomach and buttocks, and
tightened, pulling her toward their host.
Darby awoke in a cold sweat. Throwing back the
covers, she slipped from between the damp, white
muslin sheets. She yanked the gown off over her
head, dropping the blue flannel on the hardwood
floor next to the four-poster. Her hand shook as
she lit the oil lamp sitting on the walnut
nightstand. The flame gave her comfort, casting a
golden glow over the dark wood and rose-petal
pink brocaded wall. Holding the lamp in front of
her, she stepped to the mirror.
marks. No blood. No bruises. Nothing.
tossed her long, golden brown hair back over her
shoulders and studied her neck. The nightmare had
been so vivid, so real, she felt certain she'd
find some evidence, yet, her skin remained
unblemished. As she stared into the mirror, the
reflection of her bed disturbed her.
pearl lace billowing from the tester seemed to
breath. She half turned. The lace, which appeared
even more insubstantial than in the daylight, was
now still. Yet, she was certain she had caught
some movement in the mirror.
did happen, she thought. But what?
Cain spread east of Darby Ranch, rifle and
shotgun blasts broke the silence of the night.
Gunpowder hung heavy in the chill mountain air.
The smell overrode the odor of dried hay drifting
toward the house from the corral. Of the dozen
family members trapped inside, everyone, except
the two-month old baby, had been firing or
reloading for the past half hour. Although
carcasses littered the porch and ground adjacent
to the home, the pack of wolves had not
leader sitting undisturbed on its haunches
between the house and the barn spanned half a
grown-man's height from paw to shoulder. The
creature's gray coat appeared faintly outlined in
the pre-dawn darkness, and its glowing eyes could
be seen by the family caught inside the two-story
young daughter-in-law firing from the kitchen had
watched the pack grow larger. She knew that the
darkness was too deep for her kin to see their
targets and that the large gray wolf sitting
within range of their rifles ought to be dead.
Instead, the creature lay resting in the yard,
its blood-red, glowing eyes staring directly at
her when she fired.
Brenna Cain's twenty-two years had she seen
wolves attack like this. When the howling began,
she had continued the breakfast preparations and
left scattering the pack to the men. The first
shots ought to have sent them running and didn't.
Instead, the pack had increased in numbers. Even
stranger still, they seemed to have no interest
in the barn housing the horses.
forgotten about breakfast and began firing,
killing the wolves that came within range. She
emptied at least six rounds from the seven-shot
Spencer carbine at the blood-red eyes haunting
her from the yard. She was a fair shot, and
should have at least wounded the animal. But she
spooked, she feared the family was going to die.
Not her baby. Not if she could do anything to
prevent that horror. Leaning the rifle against
the wall, she slipped the .44 Colt dragoon
six-shooter into her apron, lifted her baby girl
from the crib, grabbed her petticoats and the
rifle in the other hand and bolted upstairs.
stepped closer to the full-length mirror. Tracing
her fingers over the interlacing design of
feathers and shells carved into the burl-walnut
frame, she slowly scanned the reflection of her
body. No marks. None at all.
moonstone she wore glowed softly in the light.
Her hand moved to the gold chain. She fingered
the necklace absently, turning the stone
containing her essence around and around. She
mulled over the recurring dream she'd had of two
men chasing her in the mists. This nightmare was
somehow related to that dream. The chain
tightened to a choke hold. She released her
grasp, and the stone spun until the chain
straightened. Her room smelled of decay. Why had
she not noticed the odor before?
pivoted as her eyes roamed the familiar
surroundings, stopping on her mother's chair at
rest in front of the white marble fireplace. She
stepped soundlessly to the cane-backed rocker.
glance, she perused the books and Wedgwood cup
and saucer on the tilt-top tea table between her
mother's rocker and her own two-piece chaise
longue. Nothing appeared disturbed. Great
partially hidden under Dante's Divine
Comedy, and the green
stoneware held the dregs of her tea, now dried,
in the bottom of the cup.
leaned over and touched the rocker's cushioned
seat, calling the past to her as she stroked the
lavender lilies in the floral needlepoint her
mother had stitched. Even though her mother's
people believed the spirits of her parents still
roamed the land they so loved, she almost never
called on them for guidance. Now, she must.
present moment gave way to yesterday, and she was
five again and running free across the field
leading to the house. Her parents stood on the
porch, their arms sheltering each other. They
appeared to be gods, tall and fair and golden in
the light. They watched her approach. Her mother
waved. The scent of lavender replaced the smell
of decay. The vision faded into the hearth's
dying embers. A single word took form in her
mind, then whispered to her: Alone.
swiftness of the pain that followed left her
breathless. The moonstone could warn her of
danger and help bring a vision of her loved ones
to her. It could do nothing to ease her sorrow.
held the stone tightly and willed herself to push
aside the sadness. Now was not the time to fret
on her losses. She had done what she had to do:
Her vision had told her what she needed to know.
Despite her conflicting emotions, she felt
relieved. What had been in her room was now gone.
moved to her dressing table, picked up the towel
she'd hung carelessly over the stool and began
wiping off her body. She could still feel the
tentacles sucking her skin. She rubbed harder and
eyed the water in the porcelain basin. Cold. Icy
had burned too low to offer much warmth. She
didn't care. She dipped the towel into the bowl
and rinsed her skin, wondering whether she'd had
a nightmare or a dream walk. The episode
foreboded ill, but had the phantom been a
warning, or the creation of an overtired mind?
Had what stalked her found refuge in the barn?
she grabbed the white shirt and black riding
clothes she'd taken off when she'd fallen in bed
exhausted the evening before. After she laced her
boots, she reached for her Winchester, slipped
from the room, and made her way cautiously to the
kitchen door. Setting the lamp down, Annabella
picked up the lantern she kept handy, lit the
wick in the oil, and stepped silently on to the
walked down the hall to her bedroom, nodding to
her brother-in-law who had been positioned there.
She laid the rifle against the door frame and
took the pistol out of her apron pocket. From the
doorway, she fired several rounds into the upper
third of the wardrobe. Brushing aside her fear
that nothing she did could save her baby, Brenna
thought, that should let in some light and enough
air until she's rescued. She pitched the clothes
on the floor, patted Catherine's cheek and set
her inside. Closing the wardrobe doors, she
barricaded the front.
stay here," she said, slipping quietly to
the window. "You take my place in the
nodded. "Pauley could go for help if we
could get him out of that tree. But the more
times I fire, the more shapes I see."
could be in the barn loft," she suggested,
knowing he wasn't.
both stared into the darkness. No one inside
could actually see Pauley Cain, but they heard
him yelling when the gunfire lessened. And his
voice came from the direction of the trees
shading the corral. The barn some fifty feet away
remained concealed by the night. Both saw the
gray form of the wolf sitting between them and
the barn, but neither spoke of what they saw.
he would," Brenna said, staring at the eyes
staring at her. "He's treed for sure. And
they're not going to let him down."
night breeze whispered Annabella's name. She
peered out into the darkness but could see
nothing in the moonless landscape. She knew
something waited there; its strength had been
growing every day.
spiteful and malicious presence had invaded the
land she'd known since childhood. The townsfolk
said she'd lost her mind, that she'd been
overwhelmed by grief. She paid them no mind. They
tangible, real, unseen, yet felt, had descended
upon Darby Ranch in the waning months of eighteen
ninety-seven, taking first her brother and then
her father. She'd been crushed by the losses, but
their deaths had not been accidents. And she said
as much at both funerals. But her words failed to
penetrate her neighbors' denial.
been murdered. Of that she had no doubt.
why eluded her. No human hand had struck them
down. They'd been found dead in the woods, their
ammunition spent. In the last moments of their
lives, their faces recorded the terror they'd
felt. Friends and neighbors blamed bears or the
pack of wolves that had overtaken the
countryside. Yet, their bodies hadn't been
defied the darkness. "I know you're there.
You'll not have me." Even as she spoke, her
words sounded hollow. How could she fight the
unknown force that had destroyed her loved ones?
Pride alone fueled her empty threat.
she heard her name floating in the breeze.
Fainter came the sound of laughter. The horses
stirred in the corral outside. They knew. When
the spirit drew too close to them, they became
mother's people, who lived and worked on the land
owned by her family, had taken their stock, all
the Darby cattle and most of the horses and gone
west, not because they wanted to but because they
felt compelled to go. Only Franklin and Clarissa
remained behind and only because she was
pregnant. Soon the baby would be born, and they
would leave as well.
best of years, life was difficult on the ranch in
the winter. Without the help of her mother's
people, survival was a daily ordeal. They'd asked
her to go with them and come back in the spring.
When she refused, Manitoka Skye had been tempted
to force her so strong did the shaman feel his
allegiance to her departed parents. Instead, he
stayed behind, hoping she'd change her mind,
knowing she wouldn't.
family fought too hard for this place, her
brother and father giving their lives to protect
their land. Now she was the last, the only one
called Annabella Darby a coward. Softly, she
closed the door and moved out of the shadows
toward the barn. Nothing would run her off the
land. Not the neighbors who saw Darby Ranch as
easy pickings now that the menfolks were dead.
Not Nature's bitter cold nor Her icy winds,
threatening to freeze man and beast. Not even the
specter of death.
walked across the yard, her outward manner
fearless despite the hammering of her heart. When
she set down the lantern, to open the barn doors,
her stallion, Nightrider, let out a wild scream.
She stepped aside just as the doors blew open
seemingly of their own accord. A gust of icy wind
poured forth with a force strong enough to knock
wondered what kind of animal had glowing eyes the
color of fresh blood. None she'd ever seen
before. "They're not leaving," she said
to her brother-in-law. She looked away. She'd
seen her death in the wolf's eyes. "Maybe
the baby and Pauley will survive."
daylight comes, we can see what we're
shooting." He reloaded his Winchester 66
won't see dawn," she said, hoping her
husband and daughter would. Perhaps it was
wistful thinking on her part, but Pauley did seem
to have a chance. He wasn't in the house with
them. And they were doomed. She was certain of
that. But not Catherine. Oh, please, God, not
Catherine. She glanced back at the wardrobe. She
would never see her baby girl again. Such a quiet
baby. So happy all the time. Even now, she wasn't
crying. Please, God, let her live. Let them find
her. Let Pauley make it so she'll have family.
can hold out." Her brother-in-law moved
toward the door, stepped into the hallway and
said over his shoulder, "We have plenty of
the gray wolf yawned again, rolled over in the
dirt several times, stood, and shook itself off.
Holding its head up, the wolf howled, revealing
unusually long, dagger-edged teeth and an odd
forked tongue. The cry broke through the roar of
will come too late." Brenna raised the rifle
to her shoulder. She took aim and fired.
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2004 © Georgia Temple, first chapter from the
second novel in The Scrolls
of Dust series.