Howling in the night. Strange shadows, and even stranger explanations from her neighbors. Grace Steven’s vacation is turning into a mystery of furry proportions as she tries to unravel the secret about Will and his unusual servant. She is momentarily distracted by the Hunt, but the mystery deepens when she finds herself on the receiving end of a pair of hungry golden eyes.
After that stressful adventure I returned to my cabin and plopped down on the couch. My mind kept replaying Will's ghastly face and Vuk's sudden, miraculous appearance. I glanced down at the trinket around my neck and gently fingered the cover. A sign of friendship, or something more? My roaming eyes fell on a calendar. It was outdated, but it reminded me that my vacation clock was ticking and we would be split apart. I didn't do so well with long-distance relationships.
I rolled my eyes. "He's not that interested in you," I scolded myself. The locket in my hand argued against the point pretty convincingly.
"He cares for you a little. Why else would he be bothering with a secretary?" my other self argued.
I snorted. "Why else would someone want to bother with a secretary? Maybe something to do with breasts," I retorted.
"You're lying to yourself, and not doing a very good job," I countered.
What I'm doing is arguing with myself and getting nowhere with it," I returned.
All this mono-human arguing and the adventure left me exhausted and no further toward knowing, rather than guessing, what were Will's intentions. I slipped on my nightshirt and retired to the bedroom. I placed the locket on the nightstand, tucked myself beneath the covers, and fell into a deep sleep.
A few hours later my sleep was disturbed by a new sound. It was the howl of a wolf. I sat up in bed with my eyes so wide they could have been mistaken for car headlights. My heart pounded in my chest and I slowly turned toward leftward toward the window beside the bed. Another howl echoed through the air. The hairs on the back of my neck rose to attention. I pulled aside the curtain and glanced at Will's cabin. There was a faint glow from one of the windows and I could see the car sat in the driveway. Everything was still and silent.
I glanced at the clock on the nightstand that sat behind the locket. Midnight. The Witching Hour, or too-damn-late if you were a tired vacationing secretary. I wasn't tired for long when I tried to remember if I'd locked the front door. By the sounds this wasn't a serial killer, but I didn't want to risk the possibility that the wolf had acquired human-level intelligence and figured out how to use knobs.
I flung aside my bedsheets, slipped on a pair of bunny slippers I'd found in the closet, and shuffled into the open space of the cabin. The space was dark and light filtered through the thin curtains over the windows. The furniture cast shadows on the floor, and the dead animals loomed larger than former-life in the near-darkness.
I crept over to the front door and froze when another howl resounded through the cabin. It was close, but not beside the cabin and there was a muffled quality to it that made me think it was in a thick-walled box. I made it to the door and was relieved to find I had locked it. I turned toward my bedroom, but a sudden, sharp cry of pain stopped me in my tracks. The noise came from Will's cabin. I rushed to the dining window that faced the cabin and brushed aside the curtains to look outside.
The single light was still on, but nothing moved inside or outside the building. My heart beat so loud I could have performed at a rock concert. I had to see what was wrong. Maybe Will was in trouble and needed help. Maybe something happened to Vuk and Will was all alone. Maybe I was making a really stupid decision by going out there with a wolf howling. Actually, that last maybe was a definite, but I wasn't going to let common sense stop me from seeing if Will and Vuk were all right.
I glanced around for some weapon to use. My eyes fell on the poker beside the fireplace. I grabbed my newfound sword, held it out in front of me, and unlocked the door. I paused and listened. The night was still. No howling, no yelling. I slipped on a coat, opened the door a crack and peeked my head out. The world was enveloped in shadows. Nothing stirred in the brush nor in the air. The trees loomed over me with their branches reaching out to grab an unsuspecting woman about to save the day. It was quiet and still.
I slunk out the door and off the porch onto the stone path. The light was still on in Will's cabin, and I sprinted toward that as though it was a beacon in a thick fog. I reached the window, grabbed the sill and tried to look through the window, but the curtain was too thick to see anything definite. I needed to get inside.
I moved to the front and onto the small stoop. A noise behind me made me clutch my weapon and swing around. Nothing was there. Maybe it had been my imagination. I backed up to the wall beside the door and hurriedly knocked on the wood. No answer. Not even footsteps. I knocked again, but received the same non-reply. I felt the shadows creep closer to me, so I tried the knob. It was unlocked. I slipped inside and eagerly basked in the glow of the electric light above me. It scared away most of my nightmares, but didn't show me that anyone was home.
"Hello?" I whispered. My voice was stuck on low-tone. "Will? Vuk?" No reply. The eerie silence was almost as oppressive as the darkness outside. I took a step deeper into the cabin to the left toward the fireplace. Nobody was on the couch like I hoped. My voice cracked on the next few words. "Anyone here?" Again nothing.
There was a great slam behind me. I jumped and swung around to see that the door had shut behind me. My heart beat to a tempo somewhere past light-speed. I clutched my chest and took a few deep breaths. That helped calm me down. I turned and screamed.
Vuk stood less than a foot in front of me and just in front of the fireplace. His face was ghastly pale and he clutched one hand to himself. The hand was covered in bloodied bandages. I was about to perform another solo opera number when Vuk slid behind me and wrapped his bloodied hand around my waist. His other hand was slapped over my mouth, stifling my future career as an opera star.
"You must be quiet, Miss Stevens, or the other cabins will be alarmed," he whispered in a calm, non-homicidal tone. When he saw I wasn't going to make a career comeback he released me. I jumped out of his reach and swung around with the poker gripped tightly in both my hands.
"What the hell is going on? Where's Will?" I asked him.
"He is in the woods investigating the howls," Vuk told me.
"So he's better?" Last I saw of him he'd been on the verge of a deathly illness.
"Quite all right for the moment," Vuk replied.
Will's manservant could have looked better as I nodded at his bloodied hand pressed against his chest. "How'd you get that?"
"An error on my part. I was careless and allowed myself to fall into some sharp rocks," he replied.
I lowered the poker, but only by a few inches. "Rocks did that?" I wondered.
"They were very sharp and it is rather dark out there," he pointed out. His eyes swept over me, especially the lower half that was not hidden well by my nightshirt. "But may I ask what brought you here?"
I dropped the poker to my side. My grand plan of saving the day was crumbling. "The howls woke me up and then I heard somebody scream. I thought maybe you two were in trouble," I told him.
He smiled and bowed his head. "We are grateful for the concern, but everything is fine. The cry was merely my falling into the rocks around the edge of the lake," he explained.
I glanced at the bloodied hand. It looked like he'd tried to do the bandage job with one out of two of his hands, and only half succeeded. "Did you want some help re-wrapping that?" I asked him.
Vuk shook his head. "I am sure I will be quite fine on my own," he replied. An exterior strip of the bandage fluttered off the rest of the pieces to hang in front of him.
I snorted. "Show me where the bandages are and I'll help," I offered.
"The wound is not. . .is not pleasant to look at," he warned me.
"Don't worry, I was a Girl Scout. We had to patch each other up after our cat fights," I replied.
He thought the matter over for a moment and nodded to a small, square room at the rear of the cabin. It was a new addition to the old structure. "Everything you need is in there," he told me.
"Everything except you." I gently grabbed him by the arm and guided him into what I learned was the bathroom.
While the other parts of the cabin were rustic, this was a little more modern with a sink, toilet, and standing shower. I sat Vuk on the toilet and looked to the counter around the sink. There was a mess of bandage boxes, peroxide, rubbing alcohol, and every other torture devise to clean and disinfect wounds. I turned to Vuk and found he was carefully unwrapping his sad job. Each strip of bandage that dropped away gave me a clearer view of the wound, and it was ghastly. There were deep gashes across his palm and the back of his hand. His fingers were covered in the dry blood, but I could see they held smaller cuts.
Girl Scouts didn't quite prepare me for this mess, but I wasn't going to back down from the challenge. "Those must have been some rocks," I commented.
"Yes, very sharp," he repeated. He tossed aside the bandages and I got to work, but I talked while I cleaned up the blood.
"Will and I were talking during the picnic. He said you were the only one who helped him after he was attacked by that wolf," I told him.
"I could not let him suffer. He had been kind to me," Vuk replied.
The blood was mopped up, now time for the disinfectant. "Kind to you how?" I wondered.
"I was not welcomed in my village. My parents had been wild people living in the forest, and they were treated with suspicion by the villagers," Vuk explained. "Will came and he gave me work. I guided him through the forests so he could hunt the animals that lived there. He was very grateful. No one else would lead him along the paths."
"Why not?" I asked him.
"They were superstitious. They spoke of vampires and werewolves living in those forests," he told me.
"And you didn't believe those stories?" I guessed.
"I believe in many things, but I do not fear them," he replied. This guy could pass as Yoda.
"So how was Will injured if you guided him everywhere around the village?" I asked him.
"He did not heed my warnings to remain in the village after dark. One night he ventured into the mountains and was attacked by a-a wolf," he explained. "He dragged himself back to the village, but they flung him onto the path from which he had come. I heard what they had done and retrieved him. He mended in my home, and took me with him when he left."
"And you two have been traveling together ever since?" I guessed.
"That is correct," he replied.
I paused in my talking to wrap his hand in the bandages. Wrapping anything around our fingers and palms is never easy, but I managed to do a better job than Vuk had tried. I finished the last tuck of the white bandages and gave his hand a pat. "There, all done," I announced.
Vuk winced at the slap, but bowed his head. "I am grateful for your assistance," he returned.
We left the confines of the bathroom and walked out into the main part of the cabin. It was empty. I turned to Vuk. "Did you want me to wait with you until Will comes back?" I offered.
"That will not be necessary. I am sure he will return soon," Vuk assured me.
To be honest I was grateful for the refusal. My adrenaline supply had dwindled to nothing and I was left with exhaustion. Still, I had to make one last offer. "Did you want me to go search for Will?" I suggested.
"He knows these woods better than anyone. I am sure he is well, and the noises have not been heard for quite some time," Vuk pointed out.
"All right, then I guess I'll see you tomorrow," I replied.
I turned toward the door, but Vuk's voice brought me back. "A moment, Miss Stevens," he spoke up. I half-turned to him. His eyes settled on the neckline of my shirt. "You are not wearing the locket the Master gave to you?" he asked me.
I touched the spot where it should have laid, but wasn't there. "I must have left it on my nightstand," I told him.
"If it wouldn't be asking too much would you please wear it at all times, especially at night?" he requested.
I raised an eyebrow. "Why?" I questioned.
"You will be more easily spotted wearing a shining object, especially at night," he pointed out.
"All right, I'll try to remember it," I promised.
He smiled and bowed his head. "Thank you. Goodnight, Miss Stevens."