She was a good solid chestnut colored Morgan Irene introduced as Penny. It had been a long time since Elias had ridden a horse. But, she was a steady horse and gave him not an ounce of grief for his clumsy attempts to pull himself up into the saddle. The last time he had been on a horse was back in the Marine corps. A girl he had been dating was a veterinarian that worked several ranches in around the vicinity of the base.
She would frequently exercise horses by riding out about the owner's spread. Her excuse was that this allowed her to spot possible problems. Like test driving a car. But she confessed to him that she just loved to ride but had no place for a horse of her own. She knew that some of the ranchers suspected this but allowed it anyway. She thought it was probably because they just didn't want to take the time to do it themselves. But Elias thought the real reason was just because they like to watch her ride. He knew he did. Kim was an attractive woman with an athletic build, but more than that, she was a born rider and more graceful in the saddle than most could ever hope to be.
During a two week leave she finally coaxed him up onto one of the gentler mares and gave him a few riding lessons. Like everyone else in his past, he had tried not to think of her too often, having long since given up hope that she was fortunate enough to have been spared.
It had been a couple of days since he had left the convent and Sister Irene back in Salina. He was now heading south to Houston hoping to get out from under an impending blizzard before it covered Eastern Kansas in a heavy white blanket. But if he didn't, at least he would not have to worry about the wraiths.
He had spent the night before in a Dodge Caravan that had come to rest under a tree some fifteen years ago just east of McPherson. The farmhouse he had come to that evening proved unsuitable. A tornado had ripped the roof off a few years back so the house was uninhabitable. There were not that many houses along this stretch of I-135. So by night fall his options were somewhat limited.
The little van was resting under a big maple at the end of the drive. Dirt and debris covered it to a degree that he could not determine what color it had been originally. But all the windows were intact. The sliding door was stiff and he did not think he would be able to get it open, but he slipped a couple of fingers into the track under the window and pulled out while pulling on the door handle. The door moved like it had sand packed in the tracks. The interior was a bit stale smelling but the door seals were still good. A few vacant wasp nests had clung to the sagging cloth head liner but he knocked them down and swept them out. He slept curled up on the back seat and stabled Penny in what was left of the nearby garage. It was not perfect, but it was the best he could do. The little van proved to be dry and a few candles carefully placed in cup holders with heavy foil bowls under them provided enough heat in the small confines of Caravan enough that he was reasonably comfortable, even with the front window cracked a quarter inch. But the next morning he had a few moments of panic when no matter how hard he tried, he could not get the doors open. He kicked out the rear side window and crawled out dragging his pack with him. He slipped on a layer of ice as soon as his feet touched the ground. It had drizzled in the night and froze on contact. The doors were frozen shut. It was a struggle to get back up to the house until he abandoned the drive and walked on the grass, His feet crunched through the ice with every step but did not fall ... much.
But tonight it looked like his luck was better. His going had been slower, even with four sturdy legs under her, Penny was not immune to the ice. She had not fallen yet, but he had not wanted to risk pushing her any further than necessary. But by the time the sun had started going down he had come to the small town of Hesston. A great many of the residences had been ripped apart by a tornado about five years ago, but the Mennonite church had been untouched. He brought Penny in through the big glass doors at the south entrance.
There the two of them rode out the blizzard that raged across Harvey County and most of eastern Kansas for three days. The church food pantry supplied all he needed for Penny in the form of canned wheat, oat meal and various vacuum packed dehydrated fruits and vegetables he found in plastic bins.
* * *
It had been quiet for some time. Deek had been following the old man's advice and laying low, but he just had to have a look around. The old man appeared to be asleep so he went to the window and peered out.
The lake was frozen over but a youth's lifetime experience hunting with his father told him that it was not yet thick enough to support his weight. It had snowed and the bike had been abandoned. To his horror, he felt his body moving forward to the frozen edge of the water and step onto the ice. A sudden memory of an incident in his childhood of his brother falling through the ice bubbled to the surface.
He stood there on the edge of the frozen little stream watching as his brother chased after the little deer. In the dim understanding of his six year old mind he knew it was wrong. But his brother knew better and followed his own council on this matter. When the ice cracked beneath him like thunder he stood there a moment in mute surprise before the rotten ice collapsed completely beneath him. He vanished under the cold black water. Deek just stood there not knowing what to do. He was still standing there when his father found him two hours later. The water was already filming over with ice.
The beast was three steps out on the ice when a loud cracking sounded. He froze and looked down at his feet. There were no visible cracks but he did retreat back to the shore of the lake and rethought his plans to cross the ice. He hunted around shore and found a large rock that was not frozen to the ground. It weighed about sixty pounds he estimated. He skidded it out onto the ice about ten feet. It sat there for a moment. Just as he had about determined that it was indeed safe the rock broke through and disappeared.
Deek watched, relieved as his captor seemed to change his mind about crossing the ice. He felt the old man's hand on his shoulder.
"You handled that well," he told him, but Deek had no idea what he was talking about.
The beast headed west along the lake shore. It was going slow. It did not like the cold and had bundles up so heavily it was almost immobile. The one lone slave he remaining of the trio he had started with had been unable to continue so he had shot it and was now travelling alone. But that was fine with him.
He came to a little bay and and headed north along a small side road that lead up to a main county road. He had no idea what road he was on but knew the general direction he needed to go. He would have to get new host that could read or find a companion or hostage that could. The county road went due west in one direction and north east the other way so he turned to the west. Half a mile later the road ended in a "T" and he took the southern path. He took a few steps and pulled up short. There were fresh tracks in the snow. Wide tracks made by big off road tires. He deiced to follow them. Perhaps it was someone he could hitch a ride with or use.
* * *
They had planned to go into the little town of Elkhart Lake to find a place to stay for the night. But two tractor trailer rigs lay tangled under a blanket of snow completely blocking the J Road junction so they headed south along Co Rd P. They passed the thinly frozen lake that the town to the east had been named for. A short distance from that they came to a tiny stone chapel. It was set back a little bit from the road but the winter bare trees did little to hide it from Dotty's sharp eyes. She did not immediately see any access to the chapel so she backed up the road a bit till she came to a slightly overgrown drive leading to a parking lot. The south edge of the parking lot was about a hundred feet from the chapel. No one like the idea of leaving the vehicle that far from where they would be sleeping so they pulled the Hummer as close to the chapel as they could.
The chapel was a small stone building with thick walls and deeply recessed doors and stained glass windows. The front door opened on the east was a heavy iron bound wood affair with a small window and set in the top half and a pointed arched stain glass window at the top of the door. Directly above that was a little round porthole of a stained glass window. The gabled roof was steeply pitched to so it could easily shrug off thick winter blankets of snow. Inside they found that most of the pews had been removed. There were three stained glass windows on the north and south side, just after the third window was a large stone arch lending its support to the vaulted roof. A large wooden crucifix dominated the west wall. A fire place had been added to the south side where another doorway had once been. This would provide heat since the wall heaters were cold and dead. A once neatly organised kitchen area was set up around the fireplace and a bed was set nearby. Furs were filed here and there and there were a few work areas set up, some with unfinished projects still waiting to be completed. A small blue plastic kiddie pool sat in the center of the chapel. But what really drew their attention was the dead man hanging from the ceiling, directly above the kiddie pool. Suspended beneath him, hanging by a heavy chain leash and a steel choker chain, was a large German shepherd. Allison would forever think of him as the Zombie Dog Walker.
"Well, there's something you don't see everyday." Dotty whispered.
Dee was just glad that Duke was out guarding the Hummer.
It took them about an hour to find a ladder and get the dessicated remains down. Dee wished that Pastor Tom were here to say a few words, but they just settled on a moment of silence while the placed the remains in a nearby garden shed.
Although the others seemed quite comfortable once they had a fire going and the place warmed up a bit, Dee felt a little uneasy, like she was being watched. She wondered if she was just being paranoid.
* * *
He peered through the stained glass as best as he could but it was covered in a decade and half of unwashed dirt and grime. He did not dare to wipe any away for that would surely draw their attention. He thought of setting fire to the little chapel but it was stone and they could be outside and looking for him before it caught enough, besides that damn dog would alert them if he even tried. He would love to get a his hands on the fucking mutt too. But it was better that he just go. But there would be paybacks, oh yes.
He backed away with a sadistic gleam in his eye, unaware that he was being watched.
© 2010 R. Keith McBride