Preview:  Into the Mist 


Cheyenne usually took her time leaving after one of her and Brent’s spats, in the hope that he would stop her, apologize, and all manner of doom would be averted. But not this time. Not pausing to pack a single item, she snatched her handbag from the bottom of the nightstand, flew down the hall, down the stairs, and out the door.

She shoved her hand down into the bag and haphazardly raked through the contents for her keys.

She couldn’t believe this was happening. He couldn’t have. He didn’t.

But he had. Jesus. She needed to get out of there. And she didn’t know if she ever wanted to see him again. Either way, come hell or high water, they were through. She was done.

Rounding the back of the car, she registered a blur of movement off to the side and heard her neighbor Susan call out, “Hey stranger!”

But Cheyenne wasn’t having it. Not today, lady.

A high-pitched buzzing intruded upon her shock as she flung open the door and climbed inside. Blinking at the bright spots dancing before her eyes, she realized both her ears were ringing loudly and she might be in danger of actually passing out.

“Dammit,” she croaked, her voice breaking. Damn him. Trying to control her trembling limbs, she sucked in a breath, stuck the key in, and cranked the engine.

The sordid scene she’d just walked in on played through her mind again—undeniable, irrevocable. This is it, she thought. This is really it. Her face creased in anguish for a moment at what she knew it meant, then she couldn’t take it anymore and had to push it out of her mind.

“Just go,” she whispered, shifting into Reverse. Go.

Not even glancing at the front of the house to see if he was coming out—it didn’t matter if he was; she wouldn't be talking to him—she took her foot off the brake and, blinking away tears, accelerated down the driveway.



She drove aimlessly, making huge roundabout circles from one end of town to the other, and then headed for the next one over, traveling mostly by back roads. She didn’t trust herself on the main streets. Though she hadn’t had a drop to drink, she was having trouble concentrating.

She couldn’t seem to think what to do. She had no home now. No matter what, she would never be sleeping under that roof again. And that left … nowhere. Her best friend Jill had recently moved several states away; her mother lived in a tiny one-bedroom apartment that contained only a loveseat and a chair in the cramped living room; and her father had died four years before. She wouldn’t have wanted to stay with him anyway. His live-in girlfriend—he had never remarried after her mother—had been the reason for her parents’ divorce and Cheyenne had little love for her. She couldn’t go to her brother’s, either. He shared an apartment with another guy who slept in the only other bedroom.

Focus, she told herself, realizing she’d drifted over the center line. Easing the car back over, she looked up and spotted another road not far ahead. Good, I can let this guy get around me.

She turned onto the road and thought she’d succeeded in losing the truck that had been following close behind her, but then she saw it turn as well. Dammit. Wiping at her eyes, she speeded up a little. A hotel was what she needed. Somewhere to go until she could figure out what to do. And tomorrow would be soon enough for that. For now she just needed somewhere to stay and get some sleep so she could stop picturing what she’d walked in on, a sleazy tableau that kept playing over and over in her mind.

With a start she realized she’d zoned out again and had been momentarily oblivious to the fact that she’d slowed way down and was being seriously tailgated by the man scowling at her in the rearview.

She increased her speed as far as she felt comfortable with on the narrow, twisting road and held it there. The guy matched it for a while as if he could will her to go faster, or was maybe contemplating pushing her out of the way, then finally backed off.

He was no longer on her bumper, but she could see him back there, trailing at a steady distance. And to make matters worse, now that the sun had started its downward slide, a slight mist had formed, reducing the visibility.

She came around a curve and started down into a dip, and the car was suddenly enveloped in a thick haze, nearly obscuring the pavement ahead of her. She hit the brakes, then let back off again, afraid the guy would rear-end her.

She thought when the road leveled out it would clear up, but if anything, it only seemed to worsen. She peered through the windows, trying to see past the whiteness she was moving through, but only caught glimpses of bare winter trees.

Her nerves were so taught, she was ready to pull the car over and let the man go around her, but she knew the conditions were too dangerous.

Was it never going to end? All thoughts of Brent and what she’d seen had left her head and all she could think about was how badly she wanted that truck, which had reappeared behind her, off her ass. As if it were some physical manifestation of the monstrous knowledge she now had, it seemed to be looming back there, following her, and just as inescapable.

There! An opening in the trees.

She slapped on the blinker, hit the brakes, and whipped it in. She bounced in her seat as the wheels jolted over what she saw was scarcely more than a buckled strip of asphalt in the process of being covered over by the encroaching greenery. Clearly it hadn’t been used in a long time.

Lights reflected off the side mirror, and she glanced up and got a quick look at the truck as it accelerated past. Lowering the window, she listened to the dwindling sound of it as it moved away. And then it was gone.

And she was alone.

She slumped in her seat, exhaling in relief. After a second, she straightened up and clicked her beams to bright and then back to dim again in an effort to see. The mist rising up from the ground seemed to be even heavier here off the main road surrounded by the forest.

She pressed down on the gas pedal and started creeping forward to find a place to turn around in. The only thing she wanted at this point was a nice hotel bed. She could have a hot bath and maybe a glass of wine. And try to forget. For one night, she could put it to the side, and forget.

Bumping slowly along, she was just beginning to think she might have to attempt to back her way out, when she came upon a track leading off what was left of the old pavement, which had been steadily narrowing and becoming more eroded the farther she went. She veered to the right and found herself in a section so overgrown with vegetation it had climbed overhead into a sort of canopy.

This might have been a mistake, she thought as the longer branches scraped their way down the sides of the car.

Then suddenly she was out of it and turning onto a gently curving section that had fared better than the previous part. It appeared to be an old driveway that would hopefully continue on around so she could make her way out of there.



The house the drive led to was old and obviously abandoned but still magnificent. It was fairly large and encompassed so many elements it was hard to take it all in. She brought the car to a stop and studied the complicated structure. The Victorian façade featured an eclectic array of windows—rectangular, arched, oval, and bay—a steeply pitched roofline with actual turrets, an inset balcony, and a long verandah that ran the length of the home and wrapped around the side. White columns braced on rocky bases seemed to be holding up the gabled roof of it fairly well, except for one section that was leaning a bit. Lengths of gingerbread woodwork hanging from the top matched the bigger columns and posts of the second-floor balcony. And below the verandah, latticework covered the dark space underneath. She raised her eyes. In the center of each of the octagonal turrets, wrought-iron embellishments pointed at the sky. Lightning rods?

All in all, including the basement, which she could see the windows of in the brick foundation, she counted four levels. The basement, two stories, and probably some attic space in between the turrets.

Just left out there all alone to fall into disrepair and be forgotten. What a waste. She turned her head, shifting in her seat, to gaze around at the land immediately surrounding the home. Except for the driveway, the areas between the larger elms and oaks and hedges had nearly filled in with undergrowth. But the bones of what must have once been a beautifully landscaped property were still apparent.

Directly across from her she could see something white, a fountain or some sort of statuary, through the trees. There was a muddy circle of water over by the house amongst rotting benches and tangled rose bushes that had probably been a fishpond at one point. And circles of rocks around some of the slightly less-overgrown spots, loosely bordered by rocks, spoke of gone-to-weed flower beds with their few remaining blooms still clinging to life.

She twisted back around, shifted into gear, and started forward again.

Switching off the headlights, she rolled to a stop across from the front steps.

All was still. And silent, she noticed, listening. No animals rustling through the undergrowth; no birds chirping in the trees. It seemed odd. But maybe her arrival had temporarily silenced them. She sat there a minute longer and then tentatively cracked open the door and stepped out.

Set back off the main road like it was and practically hidden by the messy, wild trees, shrubs, and other woody invaders, the place was completely isolated. And although it was on its way down, the late afternoon sun was still bright enough to pierce the pines on the other side and cast dappled light onto the verandah floor.

Had she missed a No Trespassing sign? Possibly, but wouldn’t there be another one here? Clicking the car door shut, she peered up at the weathered exterior of the house, expecting to see at least the faded remnants of a “condemned” notice, but there didn’t appear to be anything posted on or by the double doors.

Who would know if she looked around a bit?

It was abandoned, wasn’t it? She had seen other houses she’d thought were empty over the years that upon closer inspection had proven to be inhabited. She started to walk around the back to see if a vehicle was parked there and then didn’t bother. It wasn’t just that the place was so obviously of a different era on an overgrown property with leaning columns, sections of sagging wood, and falling-down latticework—it was that the windows were completely dark and … so lifeless. The place radiated barrenness and neglect.

The windows above her were too far away to see in, though the curtains had been left partially open, and most of the ones on the lower level were completely covered by drapes.

But not the panes in the double doors.

She turned around and inspected the front of the property again. Unless someone came down the ancient road and then drove up the driveway, no one would ever know she was there. And there weren’t any signs warning people away. How much trouble could she possibly get in?

For that matter, I can say I was looking to maybe buy and restore it. They couldn’t fault her for that, could they?

Feeling marginally more at ease, she crossed the weedy dead-leaf-covered lawn and started up the pitted stone steps.

At the top she stopped and surveyed the planks that made up the verandah floor. They looked sound enough. But to be sure, she moved one foot forward and gradually rested her weight on it until she knew it would hold her, and then proceeded carefully across.

Even though she knew it was irrational, she steeled herself and gave three quick knocks before looking in.

Shifting around on the creaking boards, she waited, idly staring at a moldering trunk left inexplicably parked on the end by a corroding metal swing, then leaned in to peer through the glass set in the righthand door.

She couldn’t see much, merely the shadowy outline of a chair and a table against the wall on one side and across from them a staircase rising up into the darkness. Her eyes traveled upwards and then widened at the huge chandelier hanging down from the high ceiling—a massive, opulent light fixture that seemed to float over the foyer like a cluster of ornate balloons. It was made up of three layers of large white globes that matched the tops of the banister posts and seemed to gleam in the fading light.

Pulling back, she blinked her eyes, and walked over to the nearest window. She peered in through a crack in the drapes, but it was too dim to make out a lot.

She glanced back at the car, then moved over to the rusting swing, motionless now in the momentary stillness.

Who were the people that once upon a time sat down and gently set it to swaying on sultry summer days, or chilly autumn evenings like this one in the last rays of the setting sun? Who had ventured out onto this verandah in the coldest months to gaze out at the winter wonderland it must have become when the land froze over and the snow fell?

She would have loved to have grown up here. What a different world it would have been.

She reached out to give the swing a gentle push and then froze at the sound of a click behind her followed by a slow creeeeaak.

Lowering her hand, she turned her head and looked over at the double front doors. One of them now stood ajar.

A cold fingernail traced its way down her spine at the same time she noticed the mist which had shrouded her arrival earlier had deepened into nearly a fog that was creeping up from the overgrown lawn through the railings.

And the sunbeams, which had reached across the swing in yellow stripes, had faded, leaving the surrounding forest dim and full of shadows.

It was time to go.

She strode across the warped boards, but then couldn’t help herself and paused by the cracked-open doors. Something attracted her to the home even as it repelled her.

As if her hand had a mind of its own, she watched as it slowly extended and pushed on the open door. Sparing only a brief glance behind her, she stepped over the threshold.

The stained-glass window above her had been set aglow by the sinking sun, lending everything a warm amber hue. Why, it isn’t some decaying, dreary ghost of the past at all, she thought, moving on in. It still held furnishings and things in the rooms to her left and right. And were those portraits on the wall?

She gazed through the wide doorway to her right at the desolate, dust-covered space and imagined how it could have been back in the day with other furnishings—a sofa, maybe, and rocking chairs, small cloth-covered tables, and brightly lit candles and lamps—arranged around the one lone settee remaining atop the faded rug in the center.

Suddenly she wanted nothing more than to lie down in this sepia-tinged montage of the past and let the real world recede. She was so weary, from the shock and trauma of what she’d walked in on, and from everything she would have to face now.

She just wished she could go back to before everything happened and exist there for a time in those bygone days.

Had any of the people who had resided there long ago … those ghostly previous inhabitants who had truly existed and been made of warm flesh and blood exactly like her … ever wondered about the future dwellers that might come after they were gone? Had they wished they could meet them?

A chill wind blew through the open door, sweeping into her briefly, eliciting a shiver, and she became aware again of how dim it had become around her. While she had been lingering mesmerized, the sun had dropped even farther, leaving only the merest glimmer low on the horizon.

Full-on dark was approaching fast. She turned and marched back out of the house, grabbing the doorknob to close the door. Wincing at the sudden frigidness of it, she yanked it shut, and hurried down the steps and across the crackling leaves littering the walkway to the car.

Once inside, she locked the doors, then immediately started the engine, switched on the headlights, and took off down the weed-infested drive, which did indeed circle around to the old back road. At least the weather seemed to be clearing, she noted as she cranked the wheel to pull out.

In no time she had made it back to the main road and was on her way to Woodville, where she hoped to secure a room for the night at the Days Inn, where no questions would be asked and no one would care if she had any luggage.

End of excerpt