December 18

She can smell me.

I peer around the counter of the empty bar. She stands poised in the open entry to the bar, her long grey skirt swishing against the tops of her pointed black boots. She spreads her fingertips evenly across a damp pine tabletop and breathes deeply, trying to find my scent. The wooden floorboards creak under her boots as she inches forward. She slithers around the soggy benches, making her way toward the counter. I hold my breath as she approaches. The damp, foggy scent of snow fills the room, cut with some bitter metallic undertone I can't quite name. Her long fingernails click against the benches as she brushes past.

There's a sudden rush at my back. An icy draft whips through the open door and burrows under my collar. She jerks her head up and stares through the open doorway. For a moment her black eyes flicker, like sunlight flashing across an oil puddle. Safely out of view, I shiver, rubbing my hands to warm them. I choke down the urge to make a run for it. She'd be on me before I could make it through the kitchen. And even if I got outside, the street is completely empty. There's no one out there to help me.

She turns away and goes back to searching the benches. I hold my breath and shuffle back against the wall, careful not to clink the tidy rows of glasses under the counter. The thin whine of a train whistle echoes in the distance. My heart thuds in my chest. I bury myself in the bruised evening shadows pooling behind the bar, but I know it won't matter. She'll find me soon enough.

The smooth knots of wood in the floor are hard under my fingers. I trace them as I try to think. A creak sounds from the floorboards in the center of the bar. I peek out again. She moves stiffly up the row of benches, her head cocked as she glances underneath the tables. Her hand grips the wooden tables for balance. She breathes in sharply, pale nostrils twitching.

I lean back against the wall and turn my head away. Row after row of bottles stretches out before me – brandy, cognac, rum, and a good selection of vodkas. If I'm quick, I might have enough time for a last swallow before she finishes me off. I'd better pick an expensive one.

From my position, I can see wiry hairs poking through the top of her tightly-wound bun. She rounds the bend and starts creeping up another row of benches. She'll run out of rows soon. I have minutes left, at most.

I try to close my eyes and think, but something grabs my attention. I look again at the row of bottles glittering in the fading light. My hand slips absently into my jacket pocket and fingers the cool metal of my new lighter. I peer behind me into the kitchen. On the far side, snowdrifts are piling up like cotton candy in the back doorway.

I'm running out of time, but there's enough left for one last chance.