By: R. Lyle Wagner
I didn’t think it would be good for her to drive across town to pick me up. I had just arrived in Bozeman by regional bus, which was delayed a few hours by the weather. A storm system was chasing us, bringing significant snow and blizzard conditions. This early December evening was dark and bitter cold. Thankfully, if I hustled, I could catch the last local bus to make it close to her house. I had let her know I would be a little late and I’d take the local bus. The storm was close, light snow was falling and it was getting windy.
Bozeman had buttoned up pretty tight and looked dismal. There were very few cars on the streets; businesses had empty parking lots and I was the only one on foot walking rapidly to the bus stop. I only had my small roller-equipped bag. I would barely make the connection at the University that would drop me off within a mile of Ronna’s house. My cell phone was out of juice, so I would either walk the mile to her place or stop at the local bar & grille and call her to pick me up. I’d see how bad the storm was by then and decide.
I had met Ronna four weeks earlier on an online dating site. She met me in Great Falls, about 3 hours from Bozeman, for lunch and a walk in the park. She was very attractive, my height with shoulder length auburn-brown hair. We hit it off well after our initial awkwardness. She had a knack for reading people, as I quickly learned. While we sat at the park, she stared into my eyes as I talked and commented that I had a deep sadness about me. Briefly startled, I admitted I had a divorce almost 5 years ago that took part of my soul. I said, “You must be half Wiccan,” and we both chuckled. “No,” she replied, “Not half Wiccan. I just read people well.”
I went to visit her In Bozeman two weeks after that, and I agreed to come back in another two weeks. Her home was warm and inviting and I felt very comfortable there.
I thought we might sleep together soon and I tried to imagine what her body would look like and how she would feel to my touch. As I transferred to the other bus, those thoughts left me and I was stuck with brief wait in the cold and dark. The driver of the last bus was not messing around. He clearly wanted to get home and off the roads and he hustled away. The only other passenger on my final coach was an older woman, quiet and sullen, but not appearing frightful of the weather. She sat 3 rows behind me, dressed in black with a thin, long coat that looked like a wrap or a cape. Odd, I thought, that she would be out in this weather by herself and without a good coat.
The bus barely came to a halt and I hopped off with my bag. The bus took off in a blur, the snow caving into the air as the bus broke through the dark night. I looked all around and there was no one in sight, not even a car on the main road coming out of Bozeman to the surrounding communities. The bar & grille appeared closed, no cars were in the parking lot. The lights were amber and low and not the usual white glare to attract customers. Even the streetlights were gloomy and dim. The winds swirled, and the snow beat against my face. I began the trek thinking I’d have to walk since the bar was closed. The only bright lights were the gas station ahead and across the street where the two main roads met. I proceeded to the intersection, having to cross and then backtrack North about 3/4 of a mile to get to her house. A quick and pleasant walk in the Spring and Summer, but a daunting and cold walk on this night.
It was useless to push the pedestrian button at the crosswalk and wait for the green avitar to light up. No cars were in sight, so I started to walk, dragging my luggage behind me. Halfway across I heard a whispery sound like straightening cotton sheets on a bed. I turned my head and saw something black and large fly sideways away, it was gone in a millisecond. Trash? The wind must have picked up something and tossed it about.
The wind was stronger now and threatening to push me back. My hands and feet were freezing, and I needed to keep moving. I got across the intersection and turned North, nearly running. I had no fear of not making it to her house, but at the same time there was no reason to dawdle.
Another sound startled me, and I glanced back – nothing. I had almost turned around to proceed, and there she was. My mouth went dry and my heart felt like it was beating out of my chest. The apparition floated just above the ground, black layers of clothing flapping in the wind. I could not tell if it was me screaming.
I heard the scream, but it seemed to be coming from somewhere guttural, distant from my rational thought. I could see her face as the ebony satin drifted back and forth across her body. A yellow face wrinkled beyond time; eyes bluish-white with no pupils, and aged teeth that were sharp and dripping like a predator after a kill. She stared at me, marking me and ready for me. As I turned to run I lost grip of the suitcase handle, but never looked back for it. I ran in blind panic, knowing I had to make it to Ronna’s.
I saw the terrible face in my mind as I ran stumbling, and catching my pace again. My knees ached after years of athletic abuse, but I ran as fast as I could, half full-out run and half skipping when my left knee threatened to crumble. If I fell, I would die a horrible death. I could hear the whushing sound behind me as she stalked me down the sidewalk, toying with her intended prey. I could see the lights of Ronna’s house ahead, which gave me hope, and I continued pounding on my knees, oblivious to the shooting pain.
As I neared the small ditch to cross onto Ronnas property, I felt the evil, bony, decrepit fingers on my shoulder and a wetness on my thighs. My bladder had lost control. I pushed away as hard as I could and bounced through the ditch and into Ronna’s yard. I knew it would be too late. The ghoul would catch me and begin feasting as I fell onto the porch and fumbled with the door.
I tripped on the stairs and slammed into the door. Reaching up for the handle, I pulled up my legs to avoid the pain of being bitten. The door was mercifully unlocked. I stood and pushed the door open and blasted inside, slamming the door behind me. Ronna approached the far side of the entryway, deeply concerned. I I stumbled forward and hit the floor hard. She attempted to catch me, “What’s wrong,” she stammered, “Are you hurt?”
It was quiet. I listened for a few seconds and could hear nothing outside, except the wind. No whushing or scratching fingernails at the door. What did I see? This is insane. Am I insane? It must be the weather or my imagination.
“I’m all right,” I said as I stood. I began to tell her about the image I saw but thought better of giving the details. I told her the wind was fierce and tossing debris in the air – it scared the hell out of me, so I ran. I lost my bag, but I told her I’d look for it in the morning.
She noticed the wetness in my pants. Embarrassed, I explained I was so scared I didn’t even realize I’d wet myself. “C’mon,” she said, “you can take a shower and put on one of my robes. Let me start some coffee and we’ll talk about what happened.”
I spent 20 minutes in the shower and although the water was hot, I shivered. It wasn’t from the cold, it was from my vision… or what I thought I saw. Well, Ronna wasn’t too grossed out from my bladder issue, I thought. Maybe she won’t kick me to the curb after my dramatic entrance. Maybe she likes me? I was very happy to be there. I toweled off, put the robe on and walked out to her living area. It was as warm and inviting as I remembered.
Ronna was dressed in her velvety robe when she brought me the steaming coffee. She sat with me, not pushing, but encouraging me to tell her what happened. I could only stammer that it was just my imagination. The cold, the dark, the wind, and years of loneliness – followed by healing and living life again. All those emotions crashed in my mind like an atom being split. We talked for an hour and I relaxed. The images of cold and snow were gone.
“Let’s go to bed,” she said, “I’m ready if you are.” I replied with just a nod. She rose and went into her bedroom. I straightened up the couch pillows, rinsed out the coffee cups in the sink and walked into the dimly lit bedroom, ready to be with her.
As I walked through the doorway, there she was… 6 inches above the ground, a black robe floating about her body and head. Her face was sallow and wrinkled, and bluish eyes filled the empty skull. Sharp and protruding teeth snarled… bony fingers reaching out for me…
I knew it was me that was screaming.
Written by: R. Lyle Wagner
(All Rights Reserved)