The wind circled and howled. It wailed with the pathos of an errant spirit trapped between heaven and earth with no hope. No end to its torment. It rattled the window latches and whistled down the chimney, seeking haven inside my old house.
My benign resident ghosts retreated, leaving me utterly alone.
That was all I needed. Another storm to knock the power out and trap me indoors with feet of snow blocking the doors. I saved the latest draft of my novel to a flash drive and switched to my laptop.
Finished or not I had to email it to my publisher first thing in the morning. If I had power and phone lines. Maybe I should do it now before the storm robbed me of access to the world outside. I had a reputation for punctuality to maintain. I also had a reputation for meticulous editing before I allowed Tess Noncoiré to appear on the cover.
I sent the email, with the promise to polish the last four chapters and re-send them as soon as I was sure of power.
The wind increased its tortured moans.
I shivered in the preternatural cold. “Old houses are drafty,” I reassured myself. If this kept up I’d start believing my own prose.
Unconsciously I edged my chair closer to the huge hearth opposite my antique roll top desk. My eyes strayed to the book on the plank floor, propped open with two other books. A research text on the folklore, monsters, and demons of the New World.
“Windago,” I read and shivered. I’d encountered a mated pair of real Windago last autumn. Once human, they became one with the frigid northern wind, reclusive until they needed to hunt. Then they turned cannibal. They craved the blood of other humans, ever seeking to replace the souls they’d lost.
The book went on to theorize that the myth developed as an explanation for people of the north woods having to resort to cannibalism to survive especially harsh winters. If a monster bit them and they lost their souls, then humans hadn’t done the unthinkable. Replace internal demons with external monsters.
Yeah. Right. The author hadn’t ever encountered a Windago. I had. And I didn’t want to do it again.
Ever. I’d come this close to becoming freeze-dried coffee grounds. All from a single touch of a shadow.
What the research book didn’t say, but I’d learned on my own, Windago always hunted in pairs. To propagate they had to bite a victim and leave him living, who in turn had to bite a lover from his former life to maintain a pair.
Last autumn I’d killed one Windago. His mate still hunted me.
Was she the ravening wind that sought entrance to my home?
Did she seek a new mate or stalk me until one or both of us died? I didn’t know.
“Damn it, go away,” I shouted into the big empty house.
Not even my resident ghosts replied. I think they decamped to warmer climes along with my mother. After the third month when the temperature on Cape Cod didn’t break freezing, Mom suddenly found a third cousin twice removed she hadn’t seen since childhood who just happened to live in Florida.
Stay inside, Tessie babe. Demons can’t violate the sanctity of a home, Scrap, my otherworldly companion and weapon, whispered to me across the dimensions. From very far away. Too far away to come help me fight off a Windago.
Goddess only knew what Scrap was up to. Or where.
I’m stuck in the chat room. Big nasties trying to separate us permanently.
“Take care, buddy.”
A pang of loneliness stabbed my heart.
Coffee. I needed more coffee. Well maybe I should switch to decaf. My nerves were jittery enough with that wind preying on my sanity
I wondered if the tension in my neck was the precursor to a migraine. Normally I didn’t suffer from them like Mom did. The wind often triggered them in her. Something about changing air pressures.
This wind was more than changing air pressure.
I coaxed my shoulders into a more relaxed position. No way would I fall victim to my mother’s ailments. I was just worried about finishing the book. And staying free of the Windago.
I applied myself to the keyboard once more. Just a couple more hours of work.
If the damn wind would shut up.
The window rattled again, sounding very much as if a human hand tried to open the latch.
“Stay inside. Keep the doors and windows latched. Wait for dawn. Windago can’t survive daylight,” I repeated to myself over and over.
I dashed to the window anyway and checked the aging latch. Still closed.
Who could I call for help? My Aunt MoonFeather, the Cape’s resident witch didn’t answer her phones. Gollum--Guilford Van der Hoyden-Smythe, Ph.D. knew a lot about magic and demons and he’d helped me defeat the Sasquatch last autumn. Last I’d heard he was still in Seattle teaching anthropology in some community college. Too far away to do anything but talk. He was good at talking and not much else.
Then there was Donovan Estevez. Handsome, sexy, a fantastic fencer, and knowledgeable about demons. Too knowledgeable, probably from first hand experience. No. No way would I make myself vulnerable to him by asking for help.
Something crashed in the kitchen. I jumped. My heart lodged in my throat.
“Scrap?” Please, oh please, let it be the mischievous brat returning from wherever.
No answer. I crept from my office through the long dining room and adjacent butlers pantry, keeping well away from the walls and any shadows that might lurk there. At the entrance to the modern kitchen and breakfast nook, I paused and peered out.
No pots and pans littered the floor. The curtains lay flat against the windows.
I screamed and leaped back at least six feet. Freezing air whirled around me.
“Scrap, where the hell are you? I need help.”
Distant mumbling and grumbling in the back of my mind.
Was that someone twisting rubber soles on wet linoleum?
I grabbed a butcher knife from the utility drawer and inched forward again.
A quick glance through the narrow archway. The back doors, both sides of the mud room, swung in and out, in and out in the freezing wind.
I wrapped my arms around my shivering body and cowered there in indecision for several moments.
Opening! I heard the wind wail.
Not daring to wait any longer I ran with every bit of strength I could muster through the mudroom and slammed the outside door closed. I twisted the lock and the deadbolt for good measure, something I rarely bothered to do. Then I shoved the heavy boot box across it.
A wicked laugh. Not enough to keep me out. An almost face appeared through swirling snow and shadows in the glass top half of the door. Frigid air made the aging wood pull away from the fragile pane. Shadows cast from the street light across the yard played tricks on my sense.
I couldn’t tell if the Windago pressed close or not. Didn’t dare wait to figure it out.
I darted back into the kitchen and closed the inside door. A chair from the nook beneath the latch held it.
The laugh came again. This time singing a ditty from my childhood. A song my best friend Allie and I had cherished since kindergarten.
Cellar door! Oh my God, were the slanted doors attached to the outside foundation latched? They’d been covered with snow for so long I hadn’t checked the padlock on the outside, or the cross bar on the inside for months.
No way was I going down the dark, narrow cellar steps with only a single bare bulb down there to light my way. No way in hell.
I jammed another chair under that door handle. “No lock!” I screeched. Why wasn’t there a lock on this door?
Because that would make it too easy to get locked in the cellar while doing laundry. Damn.
Three phone books on the seat of the chair anchored it better.
I sang the alternate version of the childhood ditty to bolster my courage.
It didn’t work. I still trembled in fear.
Not enough! A really cold gust whooshed down the chimney. The flames died. Coals faded from glowing orange and red to black.
I whimpered and threw some kindling into the grate. A cascade of sparks shot up the chimney. I added a log of heavy maple. Bright flames leaped and licked the new fuel.
An otherworldly screech of pain responded to the fire.
You murdered my mate, an almost feminine voice snarled into my mind. I will have retribution. A little fire won’t keep me away for long.
“Scrap get your sorry ass back here,” I screamed into the night. If he’d just come back he could transform into the Celestial Blade and I could defend myself.
Ordinary blades might slow down a Windago. All my mundane weapons were locked in a special closet in the cellar. Only the Celestial Blade could kill a monster.
The lights flickered, faded, then came back on. I bit my lip, waiting.
A crashing boom outside.
Dark silence. Not even the comforting hum of the refrigerator.
The wind kicked up three notches into an hysterical laugh.
I dashed from room to room replenishing every fireplace. In the parlor I used the very last piece of pine in the stack. Soft evergreen. It wouldn’t burn long. I didn’t dare close the damper or I’d smother in the smoke.
Ruefully I looked around, assessing the burnability of every bit of furniture in the house. The dining room table would last all night if I could break it up, along with the twelve chairs. Fortunately I had a hatchet beside the big hearth in the office, to splinter kindling if I needed.
I double checked every window and door. Prowling the house all night. Never once relaxing my vigil.
Neither did the Windago.