Snow blanketed the forest, large flakes flying sideways turned tree trunks white. The storm arrived before the sun trapping the land in twilight. Wind bit Sebastian’s face and threatened to rip his hat from head. With one hand he held his hat while he tucked the other under coat, fingers pressed into armpits for warmth. Every few strides he switched hands.
Tabitha walked behind, the revolver tucked within her folded arms. Frost stuck to her entire right side, hair frozen against her cheek. Under the darkened sky, her eyes held a soft glow. In darkness those orbs simmered like burning coals.
As the narrow road descended, winding through the forest, the roar of a river grew. Rounding a bend, the river came into view splashing over rocks into a pool. Water lapped up onto the end of the road. On the opposite side, the road continued.
Jaw unhinging, Tabitha set her cruel gaze on the river. She shook her head.
The river appeared passable for horses in better weather, but not by foot in the freezing cold. Wind biting his nose, Sebastian searched for shelter. Spotting a group of large trees on the left side of the road near the riverbank, he pointed. Tabitha nodded her agreement, and they bounded into the trees. Finding ground clear of snow beneath a heavy canopy, they squatted against the tree trunks protected from the wind. Sebastian took up two trunks. Wind squeezed between them finding his back. Tabitha snuggled between two roots of the largest tree.
Tabitha laughed. “No bridge.”
“We shouldn’t have come.” Cupping hands over face, Sebastian breathed warmth into his palms. He thought about returning, had insisted on it several times, but Tabitha had urged him on at gunpoint. Now Dunston was too long a walk in the storm.
Tabitha’s smile faded. “I told you. I can’t go back.”
Thomas had made it clear the conditions for a warm welcome: find the monster, return with Tabitha. He only had a name, Joseph Conrad, a killer, his father’s killer according to Father Young. Sebastian was hardly ranger material, held hostage by a woman. He felt small.
Looking over, Sebastian saw something that froze his blood. The cold could play with the mind, but he felt certain he saw true. He gazed at her open mouth gaping at the river. It was plain as the frost sticking to her dark hair. Her two top canines, slender and pointed, met the bottom pair, serpentine fangs. Realizing he stared, he pulled his gaze up. The embers burned like hellfire within her irises.
He recalled the warning. The monster appeared at night.
Two dead and one missing Thomas had told him. He had assumed Tabitha was the missing one.
Tabitha ran her tongue over pointed teeth.
“Are you?” It felt wrong, but he wanted to know about her. He wanted her to tell him that she was a person like him.
“A demon?” Tabitha giggled, sounding like a young girl imitating the devil. “Church boy.” She set the revolver on her lap, rubbed her hands together, and shivered maintaining a coy smile.
Sebastian shook his head. Her smile relieved him, but he frowned feeling guilty about asking. In all the stories elders told children, the monsters were easy to identify. Big teeth, strange eyes, or excessive size marked the monsters. Gazing at Tabitha, he wondered if there was some truth to those stories.
Taking a deep breath, Sebastian summoned courage. “Are any others in Dunston like you?”
Her smile faded. “Besides my brother? No.”
Sebastian nodded at the clue, the first victim was normal.
Tabitha flashed an evil grin. “Frightened?”
“You ought to be.” She held up the revolver. “I have the gun.” Lowering the weapon to the ground, finger on the handle, she hugged her knees. Her tongue licked over a fang. “Many of us don’t bite.”
Listening, Sebastian watched her eyes. He stared at those luminescent orbs feeling like a child gazing upon strangeness, and he realized how little he knew about the world.
“After the first.” Tabitha rested her cheek on her knee. “That’s when the monster talk started. Nobody suspected the two of us. Not at first. And when I saw you approaching the cabin, I thought you were him. Rhemus the Giant come to take me away.”
Breaking his gaze, Sebastian hung his head.
“What was he like? Your father.”
He felt like he knew little about his father, less since the funeral. “As a boy I imagined he caught train robbers, brought killers to justice. A hero.” Cupping hands, he blew into his palms. “Apparently he hunted people like you.”
“Demon hunter.” Tabitha frowned.
“My apologies.” Sebastian gazed at Tabitha no longer seeing a young woman. He had assumed she was the missing one, but he realized Thomas had demanded her return. Perhaps Thomas had only suspected Tabitha.
Tucking hands under his coat, Sebastian buried his fingers within his armpits. His fingertips prickled with pain. “What are you plans once we reach Roan?”
“A sin,” said Sebastian. He chuckled. “That’s what Father Young taught me.”
“We’re all sinners.” Tabitha wrapped her arms around her knees, hugging them, and rocked on her heels. “The killer. Me. Your father. Young. My brother’s bad habit.”
Sebastian raised an eyebrow. There was still one missing: Sheriff Haas.
Tabitha snickered. “And you sitting there picturing my bare breasts.”
Chuckling, Sebastian felt his insides burn, and he coughed sending pain shooting through his chest. The cold attacking the moisture within his clothes could mean death.
Tabitha sat up and fondled the revolver, running her fingers over the barrel. “Does that make us all evil?”
Sebastian shook his head. He had to convince her to turn herself in, confess or testify. She must abandon revenge. Learning more about his father’s death could wait. “Not if we ask for His forgiveness.”
“Look!” Tabitha stood and pointed with the revolver. “A way across the river.”
Leaning over, Sebastian peered beneath the branches spotting a row of rocks extending across the river. They appeared uneven and too far apart for anyone but a man of his size. “It doesn’t look good.”