“We dipped into the mystery a little too deep this time,” he said. The revolver held steady under his chin. His eyes locked onto hers, a glimmer of hope shining in the pupils. The hope hit hardest, suggesting that after all they’d been through, all they’d survived, maybe some relief existed in death.
“We dipped into the mystery just a little too deep,” he’d said, then pulled the trigger and was gone, leaving her alone in that sullied cabin. The idea was to fix the place into a summer home, but now she was left alone with her dead boyfriend’s forsaken dreams: her, the cabin, and that damn book. The hefty volume had been kicked into a far corner, and now showed the sketches they had decoded and the text they’d translated. Nearly a year of their lives was in those pages. They had kept to the course. Like obsessed treasure hunters, they’d kept to the course, and this was their reward.
Frank’s blood seeped into the floorboards of the cabin. Outside, the wind rushed through the trees. The monster was close, stirred by the gunshot and the smell of blood. She’d never laid eyes on the thing, though there had been sketches and drawings smudged onto scraps of paper, all passed down from others who had dipped too deep. Vague images that fueled the nightmares and the paranoid thoughts. Images that hadn’t prepared her for what waited outside the cabin. Just a blur of mismatched details: skin the color of charred meat, the jagged bone structure of a feral animal, and the hollow, calm eyes of calculating terror.
“It’s our own fault,” Frank had said. Just after their associates, colleagues and contacts had all been murdered in their homes–chopped apart, opened and arranged meticulously into the symbols and geometries of gore–just when it had become undeniable that they had crossed the point of no return, Frank had laughed. “Our own fault. It didn’t want to be found. Not yet.”
Now her eyes fell to the gun in Frank’s relaxed hand. The index finger still poked through the trigger loop. Of all things, the thought of sliding that finger free held her from retrieving the weapon.
Snap out of it. The thought hissed in her mind and compelled her to move closer. When it was over, Frank’s hand landed on the floorboards with a thud. The sound filled the room and made her want to vomit. Instead, she sank into a corner and attempted to merge with the walls. To vanish. She waited. Maybe the monster had given up, or maybe Frank’s sacrifice had been enough. No. The door softly rattled. Something was testing it. It shook harder, and she couldn’t repress a shrill, clipped bawl of horror.
She aimed the revolver at the door, then her focus shifted to the bulky gun itself, the familiar doom in her hands. The doom she could visualize and accept. She wondered if Frank had the same thoughts in the moments before turning the gun on himself.
Somewhere, a voice demanded that she fight, demanded she not end up like the cowardly fuck who said he’d love her until the oceans dried to salty dust. The motions, however, had already begun. The revolver’s firing direction was reversing, and all that was left of her resolve was fizzling to whispers. She prayed for the comfort Frank had found before his end, that glimmer of hope, but she’d seen the aftermath of his actions; nothing was hopeful in that. Hope, said a fear-shrunken voice, was found in the fight.
Something fluttered through her and soon the gun was reversing again, in a direction that deserved the havoc it would create. And maybe she was imagining it, but in that brief moment before the door was ripped from its hinges, Isabella felt the corners of her lips curl in a determined (though not quite hopeful) grin.