Prologue: Open Wounds
Brenda went to bed late – nearly midnight – hoping that she would be able to fall into a deep, dreamless sleep. She didn't like where her subconscious took her. The terror she often woke with. How it tore open wounds she wanted desperately to heal. Yet they wouldn't because the events continued to haunt her.
Crawling between the plaid, flannel sheets, already prewarmed with the mattress pad, she pulled a thick, downy quilt over it all and pulled it all the way up until it muffled her ears, mouth, and nose. The warmth soothed her, her exhaustion dragged her down, and before she knew it, she was asleep.
She knew she was asleep, because the nightmare started at once.
The cocoon of warmth evaporated, giving over to dry, bone-chilling cold. The soft welcoming texture of the sheets roughened until she was gripping scratchy bedding. Her back and hips began hurting as her thick mattress compressed into too thin padding between her and the ground.
"No," she mewled, not even needing to see her surroundings to know where she was – to know it was nowhere she wanted to be again.
She tried to keep her eyes pinched shut, tried to deny her vision the power to terrorize her – like her shrink told her to. But some influence outside of herself pried her lids open, lifting the curtains of her vision to reveal ice blue and white. The puffs of her heaving breaths couldn't disguise the torture chamber she'd been returned to. She swallowed – the images so indelibly stamped into her brain that no amount of medicine or therapy could whitewash it.
There they were. The pegs pounded into the walls of ice, holding multiple weapons: machete, crossbow, and shotgun. Beneath the display was the tall, hastily erected, wooden table. Staged, as always, in the middle of the length was the rolled-up leather, protecting his surgical tools.
Brenda pushed up, trying to breathe, her gaze darting one way and then the other, knowing what was coming next. It was always the same, and no matter how many times she tried to channel this nightmare into something she could control, nothing about this horror ever shifted.
Sure enough, the crunching of boots on snow reached her like icy fingers – causing a shiver to escape her. It came, not from the entrance as it had in real life. No, it came from the section of the ice cave that smelled of rancid blood and death – a place she always imagined he stored the meat of his victims.
Acid welled in her as she wondered if her calf was still there.
The thought was swept away as the crunching grew louder, the stench grew stronger, and his shadow stole into the room to announce his approach.
Her throat locked up – unable to get any sound at all to escape her.
"Well, well," Enrique said in an unexceptional voice, his grin jaunty and crooked. The man was plain by anyone's standards. A face that got overlooked. A frame that drew no real attention. The ultimate way to blend into human populations. Until, of course, he revealed his true nature.
Then? He was terrifying by everyone's standards.
Enrique's right side sagged at the shoulder, more exaggerated than before – more like an evil hunchback twin. His stolen shirt was stained with blood so through and through it was hard to tell what color it had been – if it had a pattern or not. The cloth shimmered, soaked as it was, and she could see and hear the drips of black blood as they impacted and then froze on the icy floor.
Those thin, chapped lips peeled back, revealing wicked, inhuman canines, which were stained almost brown after so much blood consumption.
"I see it's just about mealtime!" he crowed, snatching up his roll of tools and snapping it open with a flourish.
Without looking, a long, curved knife came to his hand – as if by kinesthesia, and he darted across the room, trailing reddish-black polka dots in his wake.
It was ludicrous, a surgeon wouldn't use that kind of knife. She knew her subconscious was exaggerating events. Yet, she couldn't help how she tried to crawl away from him, only to come up short – blocked from retreat by the icy walls at her back.
He didn't give her the courtesy of hypnosis, descending upon her intact leg and having a go at her knee joint, severing the soft parts in long slicing motions.
The searing pain tore a scream out of her.
And the scream always woke her from the nightmare. She bolted upright, heaving cool air into and out of her lungs. Her face was wet with shed tears, channeling down the deepening wrinkles on her terror-pinched face. They pattered against her thick, blue comforter making little noise as the fabric absorbed the moisture.
Loosening the stranglehold of the fitted sheets as her arthritis barked at her, she lifted both hands and ran them over her face and into her slowly graying hair.
Prematurely graying hair, she might add – all because of Enrique.
She could only sit and tremble and cry and wait out the helplessness that kept her frozen in place.
"Enrique, you fucking bastard," she growled when she was sure her voice would sound strong and angry rather than weak and terrified.
And there was only one way they were going to close. Not with shrinks, not with medicine and exercise and therapy.
The only way she would find peace was if she could verify the dhampir, Enrique's, death.
Or kill him.
Only, she had no idea how to do either.
A thrill went through is middle to see it, even when it just rose above the deep blue water stretching between here and the horizon. He was finally back – a pang of excitement and anxiousness cramped his middle for a moment.
At odd intervals a sickly, echoing bell-like sound announced impact of the hull with ice floes passing by, growing thicker the closer they moved to shore and aspiring to be icebergs when they grew up. The sound of it reminded him that this part of the world was swiftly headed for winter.
A slight change in lumens commanded his attention, and he glanced to his left. The morning sky no longer held the deep indigo, beginning to stain with soft color. This sunrise didn't have the thrill of reds and oranges that the sea to the south did. This was pale, flat, and rather uninspiring.
Not much longer, he thought.
He'd been on boats for too long already. Much, much too long, and the sight and smell of solid land was most welcome.
A frown worked over lips, the expression barely visible from beneath the almost brown strands of his mustache and beard. Further disguising it, the heavy hood of his foul weather parka kept anyone who might see him paused out here from witnessing his internal struggle.
The timing of their arrival in Qaanaaq was not ideal. With the sun rising, hours of daylight stood between him and his objective. Until the sun dipped below the horizon once again, he would not be able to venture off the ship.
He was not pleased with the wait to set foot on terra-firma after so long adrift on the oceans, nor did he want further delay getting to his purpose in Qaanaaq.
A sigh escaped him. "It'll wait," he muttered, unable to convince his anxious gut. He had no choice, though.
As the sun tried with feeble strength to pull above the horizon, he took an involuntary step back, deeper into the shadows. He hesitated, debating between watching Greenland grow larger on the horizon and arguing with even a weak sun. His better judgement won out, and he ducked further into the interior of the fishing vessel.
After a casual chat with the captain, he'd been assured that the vessel was going to be in port for a couple of days. The man's crew needed a breather, and the ship needed restocking before escaping the coming winter floes and heading south once again.
The ship's crew showed no real intrigue about his off-the-wall requests and odd schedule. Nor did they bat an eye when he said he'd depart that evening instead of just after they secured their berth.
A small grin cropped up on his face as he pushed the hood off his head, not about to question his good fortune. He needed no busybodies prying into his life or past.
As he was headed towards berthing, one of the crew popped into the tight hallway. She looked as if she had just risen from sleep. Her thick blonde bob practically hid her face, her shoulders hunched forward, and a stagger that was more than the motion of the ocean. He twisted and flattened himself against the bulkhead to give her the room she needed to get by him. He nodded as she passed.
"Good morning, Greta," he said.
The woman grunted at him, sketching a less than friendly wave before heading to the weather deck. He watched her go briefly, before turning right and heading down the ladder well leading to the belly of the beast – or rather the berthing.
Stripping once more from his foul weather gear and hanging it near his rack, he leaned down to untie and pull off his boots. He parked them in a small niche to prevent anyone tripping on them, before pulling himself into the upper bunk. With a quick check to ensure the windows were still blocked off and tightly curtained, he rolled over until his back faced the wall.
Though tired, he doubted he'd get much sleep. Not with Qaanaaq so close – not with a promise left unfulfilled waiting him there.
Still, he pulled his light blankets over him and tried to sleep the day away.
A/N: As you may have noticed the chapters of Lost and Found have been removed. There was a certain nagging feeling I've had since starting this story that it wasn't going the direction I intended. It wasn't following in the footsteps of it's prequels: tense, frightening, horrifying. As one of my readers told me, it was coming off more slice of life rather than supernatural horror.
Completely not the intent. So I have a bit of Dilemma to work through, because the character building is actually something I really like about the early chapters.
So here is the new intro chapter to the entire story in an effort to give a much sharper hook to the opening of this story. From here I have to really buckle down to decide what events are necessary and what are fluff so we can get to the heart of the story faster.