Chapter 20 - In From the Cold
Edited by Brien Bigelow
Illustrations by Lucas Marra
Maria sat with her eyes peeled towards the snowy wastes of Switzerland, as she waited in her room, having long forgone sleep in her eagerness. Despite not knowing any German, she had been able to find an inn using the universal language of the money her father had left her, as well as the kindly old innkeeper, who seemed to know a bit of English, broken though it was.
Jack had told her to wait in the small town, and she knew from what she had seen of Richard’s map whomever they were hunting would be heading this way. The only problem was, she had no idea what these possible allies looked like. She distinctly remembered one had been the daughter of Blake, while the other one had been a complete mystery, even to those who hunted them.
It was frustrating to her that she would have to sit there and wait, but she needed to learn patience, which struck her as almost funny. All her life she had been patient with those she now realized looked down on her. From her father to Richard, they expected her to follow their leads, but as soon as she got a taste of freedom from it all, she had ben relegated to a small town in Austria.
Why she even trusted that man with the disturbingly wide grin was beyond her, though if it hadn’t a been for him; she would never have found Vincent’s hideout, where Corrine had stayed. So despite her better judgment, she stayed put and waited.
A few days had passed and there was no sign of anything strange. Maria passed the time with her notes spread out over the table, doing her best to memorize the facts and recreate the map she had seen. She was sure the blotch from the wax had been near where she currently resided, so what was taking them so long?
The town was a such a quiet and quaint little place, that surely once a pair of strangers walked in that were of the supernatural persuasion someone would take notice unless…Maria closed her eyes and nearly laughed herself into a fit. Of course, they wouldn’t head directly into town. If they were anything like her Vincent, they would be doing their best to stay out of sight from anyone who could identify them.
She pulled out a fresh map of the local area she had procured and held up to the one she had sketched in her notebook. Just east of where she was, there was a small, yet dense forest just sitting there, perfect for hiding in. Maria looked out her window and saw the sun was just about to set, so she gathered her belongings and made her way to the forest.
Once she arrived, she was in awe of the trees. She had been to many places in her youth, from Paris to Milan to Rome, but they had always been such densely populated cities. London had its own forest, but she had never once considered going into it, always settling to have her picnics or walks in the local park. She took in a deep breath and let the smell of damp wood fill her lungs, feeling somewhat refreshed.
Maria failed at so many things living the life that had been expected of her. Even the smell of trees was fresh and new to her. It gave her a flutter of excitement, with the idea she would be doing quite a bit of exploring once she found Vincent, though now she had been presented with a new problem: How does one navigate a forest?
The sun had now set completely, and she now stood before a pitch black forest. Maria had made it this far in her journey, and she wasn't going to let a little something like that stop her. She ripped off a branch and tied it up with a piece of cloth, before taking out a match and striking it. She soon had a makeshift torch that cast a dim light over the trees.
She would never admit it, but there was something about how the flame made the shadows dance and move that made her uneasy. Maria gathered herself up, and took her first step into the forest, keeping the light lowered to the ground. She kept her eyes peeled as she moved gingerly throughout the brush, making sure to avoid some of the more damp areas. She had secretly hoped, whomever these people were, they would have a nice warm fire going. Not only would it make them easier to spot, but she didn’t realise just how cold it was. She was in no danger of freezing to death, but that didn’t make her feel any warmer in the cool wind.
As she walked through the forest, she came to a sudden realisation that made her hopes drop, and filled her with fear. There were no birds singing. There were no signs of animals. There was only the sound of the wind through the trees. She was alone. Maria turned round, realising it would be better to try in the morning, but when she tried to follow the path she had used, everything seemed different.
Maria stood up straight, closed her eyes, and took a deep breath. She was not going to let fear get the best of her. She opened her eyes, picked a direction, and began to walk. As the minutes ticked by, the fire on her torch was beginning to dim. The cloth had nearly all burned away, and the branch was too damp to stay ignited for long.
She picked up her pace and kept on course, believing the forest had to end at some point. Nearly an hour went by, and she was beginning to get exhausted. The torch was now nothing more than mere embers on a stick. When they went out, Maria froze. If she had thought the forest was dark before, it was nothing compared to the void in which she now stood. She felt her way to a tree and leaned against it, sitting near its trunk.
She stared out into the forest, trying to adjust to the night, but found it was growing heavy. It had been days since she had had a proper sleep, and it was beginning to catch up to her. Maria decided that she would have to try again in the morning, so she took her chances, as she curled up on the ground and promptly fell asleep.
Maria didn’t know if it had been minutes or hours since she fell asleep, but when she opened her eyes it was still dark, with no sign of the sun rising any time soon. That was when she had felt it. Something had awoken her, and it filled the air like static electricity. The presence of another being. Something large was walking up from behind the tree. Maria stood slowly and pressed herself against the tree, trying her best to make herself as small as possible.
Just as she had accomplished this, the snout of a large wolf, followed by a pair of large, emerald eyes, peered round from the side of the tree. Maria did her best not to gasp, as the creature made its way forward. It had the features of a wolf, but there was something off about how it walked. Sometimes on four legs, sometimes on two. And its proportions were different, with a body more like a man than a wolf. None of that mattered, compared its razor-sharp fangs and claws that seemed to glisten in the darkness, almost like they provided their own light or were made specifically for catching moonlight.
It scanned the area round itself, as if it were making sure the coast was clear. Maria silently hoped it would keep moving forward, as far away from her as far as possible. Her heart sank when it turned around and stared her in the eye.
She tried to run, but couldn’t move. Her breathing had all but halted, and her heart felt like it was ready to burst from her chest. She was going to die, right here and now. She would never live out in the world that had been hidden from her. But what hurt the most was she was never going to see Vincent again.
Maria and the wolf stared at one another, transfixed, as though they were waiting for the other to strike, when the wolf reared its head back and howled. A piercing cry in the night, and it suddenly made sense to Maria why there had been to animals in the forest.
After it finished, it sat on its hind legs, its tail wagging back and forth. Was it playing with her? Did it want her to run? Did it want a chase before it killed her? The moment the thought had dawned on her, she was offended. All her fear drained from her, and was replaced by anger. If this beast thought she was going to die cowering like a scared little rabbit, it would be sorely mistaken.
She pulled herself up to her full height and took a deep breath, slowly reaching down to pick up what was left of her torch. The wolf watched her intently, almost amusingly, as she raised it above her head and charged. Before she could connect, a voice spoke out from the woods.
‘Stop!’ said the unfamiliar voice. ‘Don’t hurt him!’ Maria was dumbstruck. Hurt him? She looked round wildly for the source of a voice, when a young woman wearing baggy clothes and bandages with a bag by her side merged from the darkness. She looked up at Maria.
‘He won’t hurt you,’ she said. ‘I promise.’ Maria looked back to the wolf, who was now curling up like it was ready to take a nap. The young girl walked over to it, and began to pet it.
‘Excuse me,’ she said. ‘But who are you?’
‘I apologise,’ said the girl. ‘We didn’t mean to startle you. My name is Sarah Blake, and this is Finn.’ Something Sarah had said struck Maria like a gale force wind.
‘Blake, you say?’ asked Maria. ‘As in Francis Blake’s daughter? ’ At the sound of the name, the wolf began to growl, and stared at Maria, who recoiled, her previous courage having evaporated in the confusion. Sarah stood and looked at Maria.
‘How do you know that name?’ she asked. ‘Who are you?’
‘A friend,’ she replied. ‘My name is Maria Bellefonte. I’ve been looking for you. You’re in great danger.”
‘How do you know this?’ asked Maria. ‘Who are you to us?’
‘Nobody to you,’ she said. ‘But I have friends like you who are being hunted by the same people. I need your help…and I think you could use mine.’ The wolf seemed to sense her sincerity, and lowered his head back onto the ground, but Sarah kept her eyes locked.
‘How can you help us?’ asked Sarah, a little less worried, and a bit more curious.
‘They’re tracking you,’ replied Maria. ‘With a candle. They light, and a hand comes out, and wherever you are, it drops some wax.”
‘A guiding spirit?’ she said, contemplating something. ‘That’s impossible. They broke the law. The spirit would need to be…’ She looked down at the wolf she called Finn, as something dawned on her. ‘Oh dear.’
‘Will you help me?’ asked Maria. ‘They’re using the same method to track my friends.’
‘A thin pale man with fangs, and a woman who’s been stitched together?’ asked Sarah.
‘Yes,’ said Maria, stunned. ‘Vincent and Corrine.’
‘I see,’ said Sarah, hopping on the wolf’s back. She extended her hand to her. ‘Come with us, Maria. We have much to discuss.’ Maria looked frightened at the wolf, but this was real progress. She was on the right track, and Vincent was closer than ever. She took Sarah’s hand, then pulled her off the wolf’s back, and she stood. In seconds they ran off into the night towards a new destination with their enemy slowly catching up.
Presented by Lake Arrowhead Repertory Theatre Company
Victorian Nightmares 2018
All Rights Reserved