"How long you reckon to stay, honey?"
Lola smiled politely. "I paid for the cabin for two weeks." Despite the forced etiquette of her smile, her tone hinted no such decorum. The man's marauding stare raking up and down her body made her skin crawl. It was likely unwise to antagonise him, especially seeing they were in the middle of nowhere and if he actually tried something on her no one would hear the scream. Still, Lola wasn't about to back down even though the caretaker's sneer turned into a snide chuckle. "So two weeks it is," she added stiffly.
"Yeah, okay," he said, as though he held more than the key to the cabin. He leaned against his rusty half ton and stuck a hand-rolled cigarette between his knife thin lips, cupping the match so that the stiff wind off the water wouldn't kill the flame. He sucked the cigarette hard, blowing smoke out his nose like an infuriated dragon. It evaporated within seconds. The smile, such as it was, suddenly dropped off his face. "But I highly fucking doubt it."
He stood there, staring at her with black, sunken in eyes. Obviously he wanted her to squirm. It worked. Her skin crawled. She was very anxious for him to give her the key and leave.
"Why would you say that, Mr. Darci?"
Those beady eyes shifted sideways to the cabin. Then back. His mouth pinched a grin. He thrust his hand in his jean's pocket and passed over a key. When she reached out to take, it he took hold of her wrist. He squeezed.
She stiffened, fearing the worse.
No one will hear me scream.
His breath stunk of nicotine. Intermingled with it was a whiff of whisky. "Don't touch the typewriter," he growled, barely moving his lips. He hadn't blinked. "Its former owner wouldn't like it."
"Why?" The question fell out, not because she wanted this conversation to linger but because she was frightened while trying hard not to show it.
He leaned forward, his mouth against her ear. "Don't say you ain't been warned, Honey."
He let go of her wrist, wrenched open the door to his truck, and hopped behind the wheel. The window was down. He shifted the gears. The truck slowly rolled backwards. "Bottle of Jack in the fridge," he said, the cigarette hanging out one side of his mouth. His voice cracked with sinister laughter. "You'll need it."
As defiant as she'd tried to be, a deep foreboding, like a fever, flushed her flesh. Was it the old man's sadistic mannerism? He was playing some pathetic head game on her, perhaps? Why? She was a recovering alcoholic, but he had no way of knowing that. He was a complete stranger.
Strangers. Strangers had been known to force themselves on other strangers. Sometimes they even killed other strangers just for the thrill of it. The old man was getting a sadistic pleasure out of scaring her. She knew his name--the property's owner had told her the caretaker would meet her with the key--and they were both strangers. Lola sighed. Even those we think we know, those we even profess to love, can turn out to be complete strangers.
A long shadow over the freshly mowed lawn coaxed her to hurry inside the cabin. She took her suitcase from the backseat of her compact, leaving the sketchbooks and pencils until last.
The step leading up to the veranda squeaked beneath her foot. A mouse scurried under the pile of wood within reach of the front door. The screen bumped slightly in the growing breeze. And just as she pushed the key into the lock and heavy sigh drifted over the back of her neck.
Mournful. Desolate. Isolated.
She froze for the moment, letting a wash of misery pass through her and sink from her heart to her stomach, weighing her down like a heavy black stone. And then she softened. The melancholy flowed through her, taking nothing of her soul with it as it passed, which gave her the distinct sensation this sadness was not her own.
She was, however, being watched.
Nothing. Nothing except the stabbing thrill of the unknown in her gut.