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To the Bone

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It was a dark and stormy night, late in the Fall at a time when Josiah swore the veil between the living and the dead was at its thinnest. Chris had never set much store by old superstitions having seen and experienced enough hurt and pain in real life not to go looking for any supernatural cause. He had heard of people seeing ghosts, and he had felt the creep of cold fingers along his spine once or twice in his life but not from any hellish form or reason. Still, this night gave him cause to falter in his staid beliefs.

Even before the darkness fell the sky had taken on a sickly yellow hue, and the moon had hung heavy on the horizon, big and fat and putrid in color. As the sunset the moon rose higher but the tinge of sickness never left its surface. The wind had picked up as night fell, the clouds darkening, hanging over the moon to cast deeper shadows that stirred unnaturally. He heard the foreboding rumble of the fast approaching storm, still distant, and figured he and Vin had maybe twenty minutes before the storm clouds were overhead.

"Gonna rain soon," Vin stated, his gravelly voice drifting away on the wind.

"There's an old cabin ahead. Figure we could hunker down. Ride out the storm 'til morning," Chris yelled back before pulling his handkerchief back up to protect his face from the stinging grains of sand kicked up by the wind.

He looked back when Vin remained silent, unable to read his face but sensing unease in his posture even while hunched over in the saddle. The cabin had a reputation for being haunted on account of the strange happenings and stranger deaths surrounding the property, and Chris resisted the temptation to mock Vin for his belief in campsite ghost stories. Instead he nudged his horse onto the overgrown track leading off to one side, checking to make sure Vin was following, albeit reluctantly. The old cabin loomed out of the darkness as the clouds parted across the sickly-colored moon, casting an eerie glow off broken window panes, only to fall back into black shadows moments later. His horse hesitated, stopping and backing up several feet with a nervous wicker, but Chris kicked him on.

By now the storm was overhead. Forked lightning illuminated the cabin, and Chris thought he saw the deeper shadows inside the cabin move in a sinister way, his hand dropping to his gun instinctively. Another deep and almost deafening rumble made the ground tremble followed almost immediately by another flash of horizontal forked lightning illuminating dark clouds swollen with water. He felt the first cold drops on his upturned face that quickly became a deluge, and he pressed on, dismounting and leading his horse into the relative cover of a lean-to alongside the dilapidated cabin. Vin crowded in next to him, tending to his horse and though he felt uneasy, neither unsaddled the horses as if needing the illusion of a fast getaway should trouble occur.

Vin's usual easy posture was gone now, muscles tense and movements deliberate, mirroring Chris's growing ill ease. It made Chris wish he'd pandered to Vin's superstition and rode on through the storm, but they were here now with shelter barely a few steps across the rotting porch planks.

Gun drawn, the door creaked open to his touch. A flash of lightning illuminated the interior for a moment but revealed nothing sinister hiding in the shadows at the corners of the room, and yet still he felt uneasy. Chris grabbed for the remnants of a candle lying on its side on the floor, lighting it with a match and dripping a little of the wax to bond it to the wooden floor while Vin hung up the remnants of tattered curtains to cover the broken windows to keep out some of the cold wind. Chris found a few more candles but no oil lamp, and he lit them all before moving over to inspect the fireplace. Someone had laid wood and newspaper at some point in the past but the newspaper was yellowed with age and layered in dust like the rest of the room. He shook off the worst of the dust, noting the newspaper was dated several years earlier, before crumpling it and stuffing it back down between the wood and setting light to it, encouraging the paper to catch and burn the wood until he had a small fire going. Slowly the heat from the fire pushed into the room, warming the chilled air.

What furniture remained had rotted away, fit only for firewood so Chris broke down a few more pieces of an old chair and stacked them up beside the fireplace to use later. In the meantime Vin had fetched in their bedrolls, a small cooking pot, tin mugs, supplies and coffee grounds. Between them they had enough provisions for a hot meal tonight with any leftovers for the morning.

Chris glanced across as Vin settled down crossed-legged by the fire, his blanket wrapped around his shoulders. The coffee brewed quickly, heating them from the inside, and they ate in comfortable silence not long after, just a simple meal but filling.

"Place still gives me the creeps," Vin remarked as the wind rattled the broken window frames, howling around the outside of the cabin.

"Better than caught out there," Chris replied, but the pained groaning of old wood set his sixth sense tingling unhappily as he glanced up at the ceiling. "We should get some sleep."

There was little point taking turns on watch as no one with bad intentions would be out on a night like this. Knowing they were alone Vin moved into the circle of Chris's embrace, sharing a gentle kiss that spoke of love more than passion this night. The warmth of the fire and the familiar scent of Vin in his arms lulled Chris to sleep quickly.

'Chris. Chris."

Voices whispering his name called to him in his dreams, sometimes taking the billowy form of people he had once known, good and bad. Sarah held out her arms to him and he sighed and moved towards her, looking down at the pressure against his legs and ruffling the fine hair of the small boy, Adam, with small arms wrapped around him.

"Chris! Chris!"

The call was more urgent and he opened his eyes as he felt the chill deep in his bones, thinking the fire had gone out, only to find himself seated upright. His warm breath plumed in the frigid air and took misty form.

Sarah... and yet he knew instinctively that it wasn't her, that it wasn't anyone he had known in life.

Her familiar features morphed into a dark haired woman with a homely face that distorted further in rage as she rushed at him, and he cried out as the cold cut him to the bone, confused at seeing his own body as his dampened senses rushed back strange and subtly different. He was looking at himself as if in a mirror and yet when he glanced down his dark clothing had changed into a familiar buckskin coat. He could see brown curls of hair hanging down by his face, and looking across he saw the shock reflected back from green eyes in his own face. Yet even though the eyes were his, Chris knew who was truly behind them.

"Vin?"

His voice was a different timbre, familiar but not his own; Vin's voice sounding out his words.

As Chris watched in fear, his true body's hands reached into Vin's saddlebags and pulled out a medicine bag and sagebrush, setting the sagebrush to smoldering, and he heard a litany of Cherokee or Comanche words spill from his body's lips in a singing incantation, low and throbbing. The heady scent of sagebrush filled the small room and he gasped as suddenly smoke poured out of the mouths of both of them, taking on the strange, enraged woman's form for a moment before dissipating. Chris felt lightheaded, the timbre of the chanting voice changing from his own to Vin's more gravelly tones, and when Chris opened his eyes again he was looking across the few feet separating them into Vin's deep blue eyes, back in his own body.

"What the hell happened?" he demanded hoarsely.

"Don't know and don't wanna wait to find out. We're getting out of here," Vin ordered, gathering up their few belongings swiftly while Chris did the same.

As they left the cabin Vin kicked over several candles, and Chris saw the flames catch the remnants of the tattered curtains. By the time they were mounted up and riding away the cabin was burning behind them, a bright orange glow against the darkness of the stormy night, and as it burned the winds seemed to die down and the skies cleared until Chris could see the pinpricks of stars in the cold night air. They pressed on until they came to the shelter of small copse set atop a hill, quickly making a fresh campsite. His own cabin was still a few hours ride away to the south but Chris felt too tired and drained to stay in the saddle any longer. He dropped down wearily, only relaxing when Vin sank down beside him, one arm wrapping round him beneath the heavy blanket Chris had draped over them both.

"Weren't your Sarah," Vin murmured. "Figure it must have been the woman who once lived there. Heard she was murdered by her husband when he fell for some call girl's charm in town. Maybe she'll rest peaceably now the cabin is all burned down."

"Maybe," he replied, but Chris could still feel how her icy fingers had cut deep into his bones; he could still feel the rage and hatred that had consumed her.

A few years back he had been just like her, raging at the world for the loss of Sarah and Adam, full of black thoughts and a blood-thirsty need for vengeance. He'd been the lucky one though, with Vin's love banishing the darkness in his soul and giving him reason to live again. Silently he wondered if a soul as empty and angry as that woman's spirit could ever rest in peace. The thought made him shiver bone deep, and he tightened his hold on Vin, quietly praying he'd never lose the light of Vin's presence in case next time he damned his soul to join with hers forever.

END