Gods & Monstersbybeautyb0und©
I made my first mistake when I volunteered to hike with Simon and Luke. Big Sur is a beautiful place, but it's wild. People tend to forget. With state-of-the-art gear and all the arrogant baggage that goes with 21st century conventional wisdom, we step out of our depth when we step into the wild.
I broke a leg a few years back. They pinned it, but it's never been the same. It's just in the past few months that I've felt confident enough to do any serious walking on it. So when Luke mentioned that they were going on a hike by Ventana wilderness, I asked to tag along--proving once again that there are no victims, only volunteers.
I brought my Camelback and CD player. The Camelback was a necessity, since some of the creel amd spring water is not potable. The CD was there in case Luke decided to start singing. He's a sweetheart, but he can't carry a tune in a bucket. He's especially fond of 50's pop music. Believe me, hearing Mockingbird Hill or Canadian Sunset five times in thirty minutes would frighten the condors into extinction.
My second mistake was expecting Simon to take my bum leg into consideration. You'd think we were trying to beat the rush hour hiking trail traffic. He's built like a bear, but he can move like a manic gazelle when the mood strikes him. I kept falling behind. Luke would stop and wait for me. We'd both have to holler at Simon to get him to slow down. It worked, occasionally.
We were halfway up the ridge by noon. The plan was to make the crest, stop for a picnic lunch and hike back down. But there's an old saying, men plan, the gods laugh. The Santa Lucias had caught the high fog and trapped it. The forest dripped and the sun shone milky and cold through the treetops. We'd dressed for warm weather. I'd worn my waterproof hiking boots, so I was better off than Luke in his Nikes and Simon in his designer walking sandals.
We came to a switch back. The trail split into a "Y". None of us had a map, and someone had defaced the trail head markers so that they were illegible. Luke shook his finger at the graffiti and Simon frowned.
"Now what, gentlemen?"
"How the hell should I know!"
"I thought you'd hiked here before, Sy."
"Not since they graded it after the fire."
Luke shrugged and shifted his day pack on his shoulders.
"Let's flip a coin."
Simon shot an evil glance at him.
"Thanks for asking my advice, guys."
They both stared at me.
"We're all ears, Miss Marple."
I flipped Simon off and sat down on a rock by the signs.
"It just seems like we need to take the high road. Maybe it'll take us out of the fog."
Luke looked up suddenly.
"Do you hear that?"
"There was bird song all the way up until we hit the fog. It shouldn't be so quiet at midday."
Simon rolled his eyes.
"Mr. Audubon speaks."
"He's right, Sy. And this is summer. We should have passed other people on this path."
"Whatever. I'd say take the high road, but you've been limping for the past half hour."
"It's all right. I just need to take it easy. The damp aggravates the pin in my leg."
"Maybe we should have just gone to Point Lobos."
"Maybe we should have just gone to Point Lobos. Jeez, Luke, she knew this was a real hike. Didn't you Kay?"
I was remembering why I didn't spend much quality time with Sy.
"Why don't you two pick a path and go ahead. I'll catch up with you in a bit."
Simon grunted and adjusted his pack. Luke smiled halfheartedly.
"Let's take the high road. Do you have a watch, Kay?"
Simon looked at his wristwatch.
"It's 12:20 now. If you don't catch up with us in 30 minutes, Luke will come looking for you. Do you have your cell phone with you?"
I pulled it out and flipped it open.
"No signal up here."
"Figures. Well, we'll see you in a bit."
Simon turned and started up the trail. Luke patted my shoulder and handed me a Cliff bar.
"Just in case you get hungry."
He trotted off after Simon, whistling Lazy Days of Summer--off-key, of course. I contemplated the Cliff bar and decided that I wasn't that hungry, not yet. I took a sip from my Camelback and shifted on the rock. The fog was getting denser and it was starting to mist.
I flexed my ankle and put off getting up for a few more minutes. Luke was right about the silence. There were usually scrub jays and woodpeckers this time of year. It was eerie. I stood up and stretched. The leg still ached, but I couldn't let them get too far ahead.
I started up the trail. I walked for about ten minutes when I came to another "Y" with defaced trail head posts. I groaned out loud and tried to find footprints. It was drizzling. Little rivulets of water had washed any tracks that might have been visible away. I looked at my pocket watch. It was 12:40. I wound it and put it away. Luke wouldn't come back for another ten minutes. There was no place to sit and wait. It was beginning to really rain.
I walked a few yards down the left fork. It ran toward a clearing that looked like it may have been burned out during the big fire a few seasons back. It was almost a perfect ring with a hollowed out redwood growing in the center. The trees formed a canopy around it. It looked drier than standing out in the rain waiting for Luke. I pulled an old receipt and a pen out of my jeans pocket and wrote a note for him. I set it under a rock on the trail head post and walked back to the clearing to wait.
I found a place to sit on a fallen log. The atmosphere was still and hushed, like some living cathedral. The mist was so thick that I couldn't see the trail from where I sat. I was able to put my leg up, which helped a bit. An owl hooted. It startled me a bit. It was the first sound I'd heard since we'd entered the woods at midmorning. I smiled and hooted back. I instantly realized that it was a mistake. The forest got even quieter than before. I fidgeted a bit.
"You shouldn't be alone out here, Miss."
I nearly fell off the log. A man stepped out of the mist. He was tall, lean and a little on the shaggy side. I'd never seen eyes that color of green before. They were nearly topaz. I stifled the urge to panic and stood up slowly.
"I'm not, actually. My friends will be along any minute."
"You don't sound too sure about that."
He grinned. He had perfect white teeth. He started to approach me. I shook my head and backed away a little. His expression softened. He held out his hands, palms up.
"I don't bite."
I laughed nervously.
"I don't suppose you have references."
"None local, at the moment. My name is Jan."
He held out his hand. I hesitated for a moment before I offered him mine. His palms were calloused hard. His fingers were long and thin. His hand dwarfed mine.
"I thought you were a deer, at first."
"Nope. No Bambis here."
He chuckled. He shook his long gray hair over his shoulders and stroked his close-cropped beard.
"What's your name?"
"Kay. And my friends really are waiting for me. I came into the clearing to get out of the rain. It was sunny down at the Nepenthe."
He nodded and peered through the trees at the sky.
"The weather has a mind of her own here. Not many people come this way, anymore."
"I'm surprised. Big Sur is usually overrun this time of year."
He chuckled again.
"I've lived here for a long time. Tourists have never been a problem in this part of the woods."
"Well, I should go back out to the trail head. Luke should be along any minute now."
I pulled out my watch and checked the time. It had stopped at 12:43.
"Damn! My watch stopped. I really do have to go back. They'll have the rangers out scouring the trails for me."
"I seriously doubt that, Kay."
His eyes gleamed for a moment. I felt a chill and looked over my shoulder toward the trail. The fog had closed like a curtain. I wasn't even sure if I was looking in the right direction. Jan must have sensed that, because he watched me with concern.
"If you're not sure of your way, you could get lost easily. There are wild things in this forest. Why don't you come with me for a little while. I just put a stew on the stove. My cabin's not far. You'll be safe with me."
I sighed and slumped my shoulders. I was chilled to the bone and damp. The Cliff bar sounded even less appetizing than before. He spoke gently. I really didn't have much choice. If I got lost and the weather didn't break, I would never find my way back.
"Just for a little while, then."
He walked ahead a few yards. We stepped out of the clearing and onto a game trail that wound between the trees toward the sound of rushing water. He waited at the creek and helped me walk across and fallen tree to the other side. We came to his cabin in a few minutes. Smoke curled from a stovepipe chimney. It was made of rough logs, with a small porch, a Dutch door and oil paper windows.
He stood beside the stairs and made a gesture for me to go first. He followed me up and got the door for me. I could smell something cooking. A kettle bubbled on the wood stove. A fire crackled in a stone hearth. The room was Spartan. A crossbow and quiver hung by the fireplace. There were two sitting chairs, a double bed and a kitchen table with stools. Clothes hung on pegs by the foot of the bed. There was a cupboard to the left of the stove with enameled plates and bowls, like the stuff they sold at REI. He stirred the pot with a ladle and took two bowls from the shelf. He took a loaf of bread from a bread box on the table and cut off a couple of thick slices.
"Please, sit down."
I took a seat at the table. He ladled me a bowl of stew and set it in front of me. He got a tin spoon from the cupboard and handed it to me. I took a spoonful of the broth and sipped it.
"Hunting's been good this season. I've been able to make enough pemmican to get me through the lean months. I found some wild garlic and sage for seasoning."
I finished the bowl quickly. I hadn't realized how hungry I was. He brought me a mug of water. He watched as I ate, but didn't join me at the table.
"Aren't you hungry?"
"Not at the moment. Besides, a cook always appreciates it when his creations are well-received."
I mopped up the gravy with my bread and drank my water. I felt tired. My leg was throbbing from the damp. I started to stand up, but had to grab the table to steady myself.
He rushed to my side and took my arm.
"Come sit by the fire. You need to rest. You walked a lot farther than you know, Kay."
He helped me to a chair. He threw some more wood on the fire and put a blanket over my lap. I was dizzy and disoriented. I stared at the flames and yawned.
"Aren't the flames beautiful? You can see anything you want, if you look hard enough."
His voice was quiet, yet commanding. I watched them flicker and dance. The dizziness became a dream state. I sank back in the chair and sighed.
"Look at me, Kay. Tell me what you see."
He had dropped down on his haunches in front of me, so that we were at eye level. His eyes glittered like the fire. It had to be a trick of the light.
"Your eyes are like jewels. Like amber or topaz. Beautiful."
"What else do you see, little one?"
His voice was warm and melodious. I tried to reach out to touch his cheek, but I couldn't raise my hand. I sighed.
"I see hunger. I see need and desire."
"Then you see yourself there, Kay."
I swallowed hard and tried to wake up. He stroked my cheek and hushed me.
"Close your eyes."
My eyelids drooped. I knew I should be afraid, but it was pointless. I felt him lift me up and carry me to the bed. He hummed softly in my ear. I felt his breath on my neck and shivered. His mouth was close enough to my skin to feel it curve into a smile. He stroked my hair. I felt him doing something with my clothes. Then he kissed my wrists, tied them and pulled my arms above my head.
"Are you happy, little one?"
I nodded lazily and smiled.
"So am I."
I felt his breath on my breasts and long sharp fingernails running the length of my torso to my hips. I moaned. His beard brushed against my nipples. His mouth closed over my right breast. His teeth pierced the flesh gently as he suckled.
"You're as lovely as any doe I've ever hunted, Kay."
For some reason, it pleased me enormously that he said this. I felt those sharp nails tease me, the fingers probing my sex insistently. I gasped. He chuckled like he had in the clearing. He crawled into bed beside me, naked and warm. I felt his erection pushing against my side. I tried to open my eyes, but it was useless. I struggled weakly against the leather thongs that bound my wrists to the bed frame.
"That's it, Kay. Don't surrender quite yet."
He was sniffing between my legs, nipping at the flesh on my inner thighs. My whole body tingled with excitement, especially the palms of my hands. I more than wanted him. I was born for this. I squirmed a little. My feet were bound. Fear rose up again. He stroked my body and kissed my sex deeply. Something primal and wild obliterated my fright. I growled softly and sank into his desire. He climbed on top of me and buried himself deeply with a single thrust. A howl shook the rafters. I felt his breath in my ear. He whispered softly.
"Your friends were delicious, weren't they? We mate for life, you know."