By Tara Roberts
The snow swirls away and there’s an old woman standing in the doorway. She wears a crocheted scarf and canvas coat, with white hair sticking out from beneath her cap. Jamie still holds the poker like a baseball bat. “Can we help you?”
The old woman smiles. “Oh yes,” she says in a quavering voice. “I believe you have something that belongs to me.”
Jamie takes a step toward her. “What are you talking about?”
The old woman slides a silver pistol from her coat pocket and points it slowly from Jamie, to me, to Andy, who is cowering with his face pressed to my shoulder. “I think you know what you stole.”
“Stole from you?” I spit out. “You kidnapped him.”
She sighs and casts her eyes to the ceiling. “No, no. She was giving him to me.”
“Who was?” Jamie says.
“You’re curious, aren’t you?” the woman asks, arching a bright-white eyebrow. “And it is a very clever plan. Put your phones on the table and I’ll tell you.”
“Nice try,” I say, at the same time Jamie says, “Yeah, right.” She glances at me and I smile. Maybe we were fighting a second ago, but a threat gets us right back to being a team.
“How about this,” the woman says, her voice dropping its sweetness. “Put your phones on the table or I’ll shoot you.”
I nod at Jamie, realizing that getting the old woman talking might be to our advantage. Jamie places our phones on the table. When she steps back, the woman smashes them with the coffee pot.
“Thank you,” she says, pulling off her hat and settling into a chair at the table. “It does feel nice to tell someone about my victory. I’ve demonstrated my superior intelligence and skill. Didn’t you wonder about the puzzle latch on the collar? I made it myself. Only small fingers can get it undone. Human fingers.”
I bobble my head in a frantic nod. “Brilliant. And what about the smell at your camp?”
She pauses at my enthusiasm at first, but continues. “They say the beasts reek, you know, but they’re really quite clean. So I make a special cocktail of wolf urine, wolverine musk and skunk spray for the borders of my camp.”
She darts her sharp eyes from Jamie to me. Jamie notices my grin and smiles too — she doesn’t know my exact plan, but years of being friends have taught her to read my mind at least a little. “So how did you know we took him, then?” she asks.
“The perimeter,” the old woman says, “was the only imperfection. She hadn’t found a way in without me noticing, but that damned moose knocked out my alarm system and let you two stumble in while I was fixing it.”
She nods at me. “Thankfully it was working just fine this morning when you crossed again.”
She picks up the gun and strokes its handle. “She was just about to surrender him to me. And now you will, too.”
The little sasquatch trembles and digs his fingers into my back, but a sound blowing in on the wind makes him go still.
I’ve lived in Idaho my whole life, so I’ve heard animals scream. Cougars, deer, coyotes, foxes. The sound cutting through the snow isn’t any of them. When my son was 2 he fell down a flight of stairs. He screamed when his tibia snapped — but this doesn’t sound like that, either.
It sounds like me as I watched him fall.
Jamie looks at me, her eyes wide. “The Howler,” she mouths.
“Don’t worry,” I say, loud enough for the old woman to hear. “She’s here.”
To be continued next Thursday …
Coming next week
Part 11: The Howler
Roberts is a writer and mom who lives and works in Moscow and is very slowly pursuing her master’s degree in English. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.