The moon is a harsh mistress for those with the curse, as Grace Stevens is about to find out.
A two-week vacation with the promise of relaxation lures Grace to Wolf Lake, a posh watering hole high in the mountains. Strange tales, even stranger animal deaths, and a handsome cabin neighbor lead her to believe that something is amiss around the placid waters of Wolf Lake.
My first hint that something was amiss was the dead animal on the side of the road. I know, a lovely welcome on my first vacation in four months, but the poor cow couldn’t help it. It was on the road to Wolf Lake, a picturesque body of water surrounded by thousands of acres of thick, untouched wilderness and with only one entrance and exit. What could possibly go wrong?
The single road in and out of the lake was a winding, narrow path surrounded by tall, swaying pine trees. The corners were sharp enough I had to go at a snail’s pace up the steep slope, and sometimes I swore the snails in the wet ditch passed me. It was late afternoon when I reached the crest of the hill and the road straightened and flattened. I first noticed the cattle truck in a pocket meant for a turnaround, and then caught sight of a small group of people a dozen yards beyond the vehicle. They stood crowded around the tailgate of a truck and looked over something that lay on it.
I slowed to a crawl and glanced out my window only to regret both decisions when my eyes fell on the cow. It was not only stone dead, but something had gone to the trouble of making it into patty slices. The poor thing was shredded better than shredded wheat. I quickly remembered that I was supposed to be watching the road and drove onward.
“Great welcome,” I muttered to myself. “A wonderful start to a vacation.”
My thoughts became more pleasant at my first view of the lake beyond the thinning trees on my right. The bright blue of the water flickered between the trunks and I could see a few of the cabins that surrounded the lake’s edge. Wolf Lake was a popular retreat for the wealthy, but I was in the minority. My claim to fame was that my boss really liked me and rewarded me with an annual bonus. Last year he gave me a jacuzzi, but that gift had to be returned when he learned I lived in an apartment. This year he gave me a trip to Wolf Lake to spend two weeks at his cabin. I wasn’t sure whether to thank him or quit.
I followed the curving road to a large steel-rod, double-winged gate with stone pillars on either side of the road. A small house stood off to the side and out of it shuffled a man older than Methuselah. He was short, and wore a white shirt and suspenders that kept up his dark gray pants. Every time he smacked his lips his long, white mustache twitched and danced. He had the brightest blue eyes I’d ever seen, and beneath that lip-smacking and mustache twitching was a friendly smile. On his head was a straw hat and in his wizened hands was a key chain with a single key.
He walked between my car and the gate, and over to the driver’s side. “Good afternoon, you miss. What can I do for you?” he inquired.
“I’m Grace Stevens. I’m occupying Mr. Trimble’s cabin,” I told him. Mr. Trimble was my boss.
The elderly gentleman nodded his head. “I’ve been expecting you, Miss Stevens. The name’s Steuben. I manage the front gate here and some of the grounds, those wanting a yard, that is. Were you wanting to get on your way to the cabin or to the park?”
“I will be if you give me a map and about five hours to find it,” I joked.
He chuckled and pointed at the gate. “You go through here until the fork, and then ya take it.”
I blinked. “Take what?”
His mustache twitched, but he didn’t lose his smile. “The joke too old? Well, never mind. You take the right path until you reach the cabin with the brown siding and roof. That’ll be the one you’re wanting. Are you needing a key to get in?”
“No, Mr. Trimble gave me one, but thanks.”
He nodded his head. “Not a problem, miss, not a problem. Now get on with you.”
My eyes flickered over to the gate. The closed gate. “Um, does the gate open itself?” I asked him.
“No, why do you ask?” He followed my gaze and his eyes widened. “Would you look at that? I forgot to open the gate. It’ll be just a moment, miss, and we’ll get ya through.” He shuffled over to the gates, unlocked the large, built-in lock between the two wings, and flung them toward me. I hurriedly backed up my car to avoid a collision of car grill and gate rods, then pulled forward. Steuben waved to me, and I waved back before I took control of the wheel and steered away from that inviting ditch.
I drove my stylish 1980s era two-door down the road and found the fork in the road. In front of me was a small park with green grass and a communal dock jutting out into the lake. There was a large, white beach that sloped into the crystal-clear waters. A narrow, gravel road led down to the water where boats could be launched from their trailers, and a sign that read only small engines were allowed on the lake. Ducks swam in the manicured weeds and a floater floated in the center of the blue water. Squirrels scampered through the green grass. I was surprised there weren’t any no-squirrels-allowed signs.
I turned the car down the right lane and entered a showcase of cabins that would have looked shabby only among European castles. There were decks the size of my apartment and ponds connected to the lake that you could hide a hippo beneath the surface. Some cabins were covert enough to have only two stories, but a few went all-out with three. The only reason none of them had a basement was the lake would have constantly flooded it. They were spaced fifty yards apart, but between them were parks of green grass and thick, tall trees.
The road led in a circle around the circular lake and past the fancy houses to the far side of the lake. I watched for the brown cabin with the brown roof, but there was one problem; most of the cabins had brown roofs and siding. They wanted to blend the mansions in with the environment, but it was like slapping paint on a squirrel and calling it an alpaca. My only hope was the cars in the gravel driveways. My cabin wouldn’t be occupied unless a hobo managed to break in and make himself at home.
I found a cabin with the requirements nearly opposite the entrance. The cabin was only a square, single story structure, but the grounds were green with grass and the driveway was well-maintained. I parked my car and stepped out. The scent of pine trees and clean water wafted into my nose, and I took a deep breath. I choked and spat out the fly I inhaled. Ah, wilderness.
I grabbed my suitcase from the trunk and made it to the simple, covered wraparound porch before one of the natives approached from the woods. She was a middle-aged woman in a dress so white it would have blended in with a snowstorm. Her fingers were covered in jewels and her wrist with golden bracelets that shimmered with all the precious gems stuck in them. I was nearly blinded by the dazzling light which made me unable to flee into the cabin.
“Hello there! I don’t think I know your face,” the woman called out.
I shielded my eyes from her shining jewelery and blinked. “And I don’t think I can see yours,” I murmured.
“What was that?” she asked me as she came up to me.
“I don’t think you’d know mine,” I rephrased. I held out my hand. “My name is Grace Stevens. I’m Mr. Trimble’s secretary.”
The woman smiled and eagerly shook my hand. “Mr. Trimble told us to expect you. I hope Steuben wasn’t too much of a bother. His heart’s in the right place, but sometimes his mind isn’t with him.”
“I got in fine,” I told her.
The woman gasped and her hand flew to her face. “But where are my manners? I haven’t introduced myself. My name is Mrs. Olivia De Fray, wife to Henry De Fray, the clothes industrialist. I’m the greeting committee for the lake owners.”
“Um, nice to meet you,” I replied. I had no idea who her husband or she was, but through her clothing and diamonds she told the world they were rich or in debt.
“We’ve been told you’ve taken the cabin for a few weeks, and just at the right time. We’re having our annual fireworks and picnic in a few days, and everyone in the cabins is invited.”
“Um, I don’t know. I just got here and I’ll-”
“Oh, but you can’t say no. Everyone will be there, and I’m sure they’ll love to meet you,” she insisted.
“But I don’t know anyone,” I protested.
She waved aside my worries with a wave of her sparkling hand. “Nonsense, you must come and I won’t take no for an answer. Now say you’ll come and I’ll go away.” That was an offer I couldn’t refuse, and I could duck out of the picnic with a headache excuse.
“I guess I could go there for a few minutes just to meet everyone,” I reluctantly agreed.
Olivia’s face burst open with a wide grin. “Marvelous! Until then I’ll see you around. Ta-ta!” She waved her fingers at me and skipped back from whence she came.
I sighed and turned back to the cabin. “Well, this is an interesting start. I can’t wait to see the other neighbors.”