Stuck in a snowstorm is bad. Stuck in a snowstorm with the ex-boyfriend you sort-of, kind-of betrayed is even worse. But an otherworldly storm may give Lily Holroyd a chance to reconnect with her old flame, Hollywood heartthrob Sebastian Franco... if they survive the night, that is.
“All that was left was my scarf, clawed into pieces and scattered on the ground.”
Lily Holroyd rolled her eyes at the vintage radio on the shelf. The worst snowstorm of the season was approaching and the local radio station was devoting its airtime to sightings of the Virginia Devil Monkey. This happened disturbingly often in Banshee Creek, Virginia, also known as America’s Most Haunted Town.
She glanced at the antique tambour clock on the fireplace mantle. It was five o’clock and the storm wasn’t scheduled to arrive until seven. She’d be able to get home in time, if the traffic jam on Stuckeyville Parkway had cleared up, but that was a big if. She couldn’t even check the traffic conditions, because the isolated cabin had no television, Wi-Fi, cellphone signal or even a landline phone. Her only contact with civilization was the refurbished radio on the bookshelf, an appliance so old that its polished wood exterior felt like soft leather. She’d tried to tune another station, but tonight it only received one signal: WPRV, the official radio station of PRoVE, otherwise known as Paranormal Research of Virginia Enterprises.
“Was there any blood?” the deejay asked, clearly hoping for some gore.
“No,” the radio caller answered, sounding heartbroken. “Just some tracks and a dead squirrel.”
“Now that’s interesting,” the deejay replied thoughtfully. “Apes are mainly herbivores, but most ape and monkey species live in tropical climates. The carnivorous behavior could be an adaptation to the temperate Virginia climate. The Japanese snow monkey, for example, is an omnivore.”
She fought the urge to slam the radio against the wall. She didn’t want to listen to a dissertation on simian eating habits, she wanted the traffic report. Unfortunately, WPRV could happily continue to chat about the fictional monster all night long. The accident on Stuckeyville Parkway may have been cleared, but she wouldn’t know about it for hours. Should she just get in her car and leave? She glanced out the window, trying to make a decision.
Thanks to last week’s storm, a baby compared to the one heading their way, the ground was already covered with snow. The lake access road, a dark, winding thoroughfare with lots of trees and very few houses, was already partly blocked. No, she shouldn’t leave unless the streets were clear. Being stuck in a snowstorm in a rustic lake cabin was bad, but being stuck in a snowstorm on an isolated mountain road would be worse.
“Japanese snow monkeys eat insects, man,” the caller scoffed. “They don’t eat squirrels. This thing’s not a natural monkey. It’s one of them geomagnetic fault critters.”
She sighed. Ah yes, the famous Banshee Creek geological fissure that causes all the hauntings and attracts everything weird and unexplainable to their small Virginia hamlet. But, she shouldn’t scoff. After all, like most of her neighbors, she made her living out of the town’s paranormal mystique. A one-time commission to paint a couple of murals spoofing horror movie classics had, miraculously, snowballed into a career. Fortunately, one does not have to believe in the supernatural to profit from it.
“That’s what I’m saying,” the deejay explained patiently. “The creature probably lived in the tropics, maybe Florida or Alabama, and the fault attracted it here. Then it adapted, mutated maybe, to fit its new environment.”
She snorted. The PRoVE staff was going too far. When did Alabama become a tropical locale?
“Why is it attacking cars then? Maybe it thinks my Ford Ranger is a banana tree?” The caller laughed at his own joke and the deejay chuckled and called for a commercial break.
She threw herself on the distressed leather sofa in exasperation. This could, and most likely would, go on all evening. And she really, truly, positively didn’t want to be stuck all night in this cabin.
Not that the house wasn’t charming. It was a true log cabin, with warm wooden floors and a large stone fireplace. There was no fire burning, but a large stack of firewood sat next to the slate hearth. The sofa she was sitting on was plush and cozy and the Persian rug on the floor was silky soft. No expense had been spared in the decor, and all the furnishings and accessories, from the Native American-inspired fabric on the chairs to the handcrafted coffee table, were tasteful and unique.
She should know, she’d decorated the place herself.
It was a welcome commission, a nice change of pace from the Victorian houses and American foursquares she decorated for Banshee Creek’s reality TV show, House Haunters. As the show’s stager, Lily had furnished séance rooms, fortunetelling parlors, and, in one memorable instance, an exorcist’s home library. She loved her job, and she was very good at it, but she had to admit that a run-of-the-mill decorating assignment was a refreshing change.
The cabin was perfect, except for one tiny little detail.
“Now hear me out,” the deejay continued after the break. “What I’m suggesting is that the creatures are mistaking your truck, and all the other vehicles they attack—” He paused for dramatic effect. “For hot springs.”
Skeptical silence greeted his statement.
“Hot springs?” The called seemed on the verge of laughter. “Now, you’ve lost it, dude. This happened right in town and the hot springs are to the west.”
“Now, listen to me,” the deejay urged. “The Japanese Snow Monkey is known for its fondness for hot springs. It’s how they deal with the cold of their habitat. I think our Devil Monkeys are doing something similar; they’re using our automobiles to warm up.”
She groaned. Hot springs? Were these people out of their minds? And would they ever get to the traffic report? She had to get out of this place. The storm would be hitting soon, but something even worse would arrive before the storm.
And that was not a confrontation she was looking forward to. She wasn’t a particularly brave person, and she’d always been more comfortable in the background, painting scenery and building props. She’d gotten better, small business was no place for wallflowers, but, still, she wanted to be far, far away when her ex-boyfriend arrived and saw what his family had done to his rustic retreat.
“So, this is my theory, guys,” the deejay paused again. “The Devil Monkey attacks cars because it’s trying to warm up. Now, you can all help me test that theory. Has anyone heard of a Devil Monkey attacking a cold car? Or a generator that’s not running? You can let me know tomorrow, from three to six, here at PRoVE’s Creature Feature at WPRV, America’s Most Haunted Radio Station.” The station’s theme music swelled. “And remember our Christmas special tomorrow evening. It’s like nothing you’ve ever heard before. And now a word from our sponsor, followed by the weather and traffic.”
Lily leapt from the sofa. She might yet have a chance to get home. She grabbed her camera bag, put her Nikon D8000 inside and did a final check on the house. She checked the lamps in the bedroom, smoothed the Pendelton blanket on the bed and fluffed the pillows. The room felt a little impersonal, a bit like a hotel room, but she couldn’t help that.
She’d considered bringing some photographs to the house, maybe pictures of Sebastian’s acting career. After all, his last movie, Wrath of the Gods, was a box office hit and his villainous turn as Ares had been widely praised, so she’d had a plethora of articles and magazine covers to choose from. Heck, she’d even found a movie poster on eBay, featuring an armor-clad, muscled-up Sebastian striding over a mountain of fallen soldiers.
Her high school boyfriend had bulked up. Or maybe it was Photoshop?
But, in the end she’d decided against the wall decor. Sebastian hated pictures of himself, a curious antipathy for a Hollywood actor. Having a lot of inside info like that was the one upside to having your ex-boyfriend as a client. Well, Sebastian wasn’t exactly her client. His family had hired her to do the remodel as a Christmas surprise, and, given that Sebastian’s über-wealthy brother, Gabe, pretty much bankrolled House Haunters she couldn’t say no.
She glanced around the well-appointed space. He was going to get a big surprise.
“Well, folks,” the deejay went on. “Son of Snowmageddon is scheduled for seven p.m., and it’s a doozy. We expect at least twelve inches, plus a mean wind chill. Stay warm and keep your Eagle-Tac flashlights handy in case there’s a blackout. And, if you decide to go Yeti-hunting, remember to use the buddy-system.”
She ignored the weather report, walked to the kitchen and checked that the state-of-the-art stove and the tap were closed. She’d fallen in love with the French range years ago, but this was the first time she was able to put the appliance in a house. It was ridiculously expensive and it was so heavy that it required a reinforced foundation, but Gabe was picking up the tab so the sky was the limit for this project. The range was the perfect complement to the dark green cabinets.
The theme song from John Carpenter’s Christine rang out and Lily turned to the radio, giving it her full attention.
“Time for our traffic report,” the deejay announced. “In true Virginia fashion the snow hasn’t even started and we already have a lot of accidents on the road. But, good news, Stuckeyville Parkway has been cleared and folks can finally get home. So have a safe trip and remember to thank the good people at Banshee Creek Fire and Rescue for their excellent work. We sure keep them busy.”
The deejay moved on to an update on road conditions at Witchduck Crossing, but Lily stopped paying attention. Freedom. She looked around one last time, making sure everything was ready for Sebastian’s homecoming.
The cellophane-wrapped basket with treats from Banshee Creek bakery was on the kitchen counter, the Haunted Orchard cider was in the fridge, and the letter from Sebastian’s family explaining that they had redecorated the cabin for him as a Christmas present was on the coffee table.
She frowned at the letter and then picked it up and placed it in front of the basket. She wanted to make sure that Sebastian knew that his family had meant well when they engineered the remodel. She especially wanted to make sure he knew that this was their idea, not hers.
Sebastian hated surprises, which was why she planned to be miles away when he got to the cabin.
“Now stay tuned for a new installment in our Retro Horror Radio Show. Today’s story first aired on December 5, 1946. Yes, folks, it’s a Christmas story, but one with a razor-clawed, fur-covered, blood-tinged surprise. Happy Holidays.”
The spooky theme song came on as Lily took in the room as she walked to the front door. She’d done a fabulous job and had the photographs to prove it, and, best of all, she’d finished the job without running into her ex-boyfriend. High-fives all around. She turned off the radio and the lights and left the house.
Stepping outside was like stepping into a meat locker, the cold a frigid slap to the face. The sun had set a long time ago and the full moon was out. Its light shone on the thin strands of fog, not enough fog to give her trouble on the road, but enough to give the snow-covered landscape an eerie feel.
A loud, blood-curling screech rang out, making her jump. It sounded like a damned soul, cursing its fate, but was just one of the area’s ubiquitous barn owls, also known as banshee owls. They screeched incessantly and were primarily responsible for the town’s creepy reputation.
A sudden chill came over her, making her shiver inside her down-filled coat.
But it had nothing to do with the cold.
She shouldn’t have turned on the radio. It was easy to laugh at the town’s stories while drinking Sam Raimi Sangria at Pepe’s Pizza, Banshee Creek’s horror movie-themed eatery, but out here, alone in the woods, it was an entirely different story. She definitely should have turned off the radio before the Retro Horror Show theme song came on. That was one spooky piece of music. Months ago, she’d listened to the pilot episode and that had been one episode too many. Most of the shows were from the nineteen-forties, but were still extremely creepy.
Her boots sank in the snow as she walked slowly to her car. The grape-colored, box-shaped 1997 Jeep Cherokee wasn’t exactly elegant, but it had four-wheel drive and it would get her back to town safely. A light dusting of snow already covered the vehicle, obscuring the sparkly purple paint job. As she drew near, she grimaced in dismay. Were those footprints on her hood?
Her breath misted in the cold air as she inspected the prints. It seemed a raccoon, a pretty big one at that, had tangoed all over her ride. Although what kind of raccoon left three-toed footprints in the snow? The footprints led under the vehicle, which meant the animal could be under the car or, perhaps, even inside the engine.
Great. Just great.
She banged on the hood, trying to scare the critter out.
She opened the driver’s side door, and noticed a stream of red liquid flowing under the engine, puddling in the snow. It had an eerie resemblance to blood, but she knew it was that newfangled coolant her mechanic had convinced her to put in. Something was leaking again. When she took the car back to Virginia Vintage Motors for her next oil change, she’d ask Rafe about a refund.
She banged on the hood one last time. Still nothing.
She nodded, satisfied that the animal was not inside the engine compartment. She opened the car door and sat in the driver’s seat with a sigh of relief. It was time to head home.
She turned the key in the ignition and the lights on the dashboard came on, a cheerful yellow, red and white in the dim moonlight. She relaxed and waited for the engine to start.
No growling engine, no pumping pistons, nothing.
She turned the car off, pumped the gas pedal, and tried again.
Lights, camera, but no action.
The radio, however, came on, and a shrill female voice resonated in the quiet of the night.
“There was liquid…coming out of the closet.” The radio voice sounded shaky, terrified. “I touched it…” A violin thrill underscored the suspense. “It was…”
Lilly punched a button on the dash, turning off the volume.
She turned the key again. Total silence.
She couldn’t believe it. She tried the key a couple of times more, but finally gave up. She leaned back on the driver’s seat and closed her eyes. She was stuck. Stuck in an isolated cabin, during a snowstorm, with her ex-boyfriend arriving in the morning.
Could this get any worse? She was contemplating popping the hood to check out the engine when she heard a scratching sound outside the car.
She sat perfectly still, listening. The night was quiet and still. Maybe she’d imagined the sound. She listened carefully, shivering in the cold air.
Nope, all she heard now was the wind howling through the trees. The storm was coming.
She frowned. There was the scratching sound again.
She peered into the darkness, but couldn’t see much. The moonlit mist turned the landscape into a hazy gray blob. She turned a knob and the glare of the headlights blinded her momentarily. She sat in the car, blinking several times trying to force her eyes to adjust to the light. Before she could find her bearings, something heavy hit the hood of the car, making her jump. She gripped the steering wheel, heart pounding, and tried to identify the culprit.
The impact had been a dull thud, as if a pile of snow had fallen from a branch onto her vehicle. She could almost make it out now, a white lump on top of the hood. Her death grip on the steering wheel loosened and she sighed in relief. It was just snow, just a mound of fluffy, white snow.
Which, she noted with growing disbelief, was moving
She stared in horror as the whitish pile—no, not white, more of a snow-speckled gray—stood up on the hood, stared at her with glowing eyes, and ran off into the woods.
You can purchase Snowbound with Ghost here. Happy reading!