The golden Aspen trees shimmered as the morning breeze whispered, causing their branches to stretch. The brilliant blue sky and crisp autumn air cracked with invigoration on the chilly Friday morning. This was a long awaited getaway to the mountains; celebrating friendship, brotherhood and the glorious weekend in late October. Scheduling time when all seven of the Denver ATF team seven co-workers were free, was no easy task. But they'd done it and now were halfway to a rustic cabin overlooking a mirrored lake.
Josiah Sanchez, the team's spiritual advisor, nodded to four of his teammates from the gourmet coffee corner in the large mega-market. He was reclined with a steaming mocha-latte nearly hidden in his large hands.
"Josiah, you got no shame." Nathan Jackson crowed, his dark face breaking into a grin.
"Age has it's privileges..." Josiah smirked, "I'll sit here on the porch while you youngsters rustle up some vittles."
"Josiah, you best get that fancy coffee finished and get your ass in gear." Buck Wilmington warned. "We're already late." He shot, disappearing down the pasta aisle.
"Now, now..." Josiah pleaded, leaning forward over the small railing that separated them. "It's not my fault Brother Vin is a mite impatient today." He called after the tall agent.
"A mite..." Ezra Standish's eyebrow raised, as he placed a large bag of shrimp in the cart. "Surely you jest."
"Vin's dancing around out front like there's somebody shootin' at his toes." Nathan grinned, looking down the long aisle and out through the window.
Vin Tanner and J.D. Dunne were outside, having been banished by Chris Larabee, the team leader. In less than ten minutes the twin terrors had been reprimanded twice by the harried store manager. He apparently didn't share Vin's enthusiasm for J.D.'s budding talent at juggling oranges. Nor did he appreciate Vin and J.D racing shopping carts and Vin pulling wheelies in the paper towel aisle.
"You about done?" Chris appeared with his list completed. He'd divided up a large list and each was filling their carts.
"I'm done, Chris." Nathan said. "Josiah...get on out of there."
"Well?" the man in black eyed the ex-minister suspiciously.
"I'll see you at the checkout." Josiah said calmly, tossing his cup away and winking as he approached his empty cart.
"What the hell is taking them so long?" Vin growled, stalking the perimeter out front.
"Beats me..." J.D. replied, lounging on a bank of shopping carts. "I think I'm insulted." The raven-haired youth was wearing a Colorado Avalanche jersey and jeans. He referred to the shopping trip he and Vin made the day before. The results of which merited this trip and a dressing down from the team leader, who didn't share the two youngest's penchant for junk food.
"Yeah, I hear ya kid." Vin agreed, hands on his denim clad hips, under his trademark buckskin jacket. His shoulder length brown hair lifted as a breeze passed by. He eyed the glass in annoyance as his five friends finally approached the checkout. "It's about damn time..." He caught their eyes and pretended to be loading a pistol. He held his 'gun' to his temple and fired. His body spasmed and collapsed out of view.
Chris just rolled his eyes at the theatrics, which sent the others into a fit of laughter. Buck leaned on the handle of his cart, just behind Chris. Nathan and Erza were in the aisle next to him. Josiah was already bagging his order.
"How come that boy can spend hours cramped up in a tight, dark loft with his rifle and not move an inch," Buck wondered out loud of the sharpshooter to Ezra, who was next to him. "But twenty minutes outside a supermarket and he's jumpin' out of his skin."
"Sustenance and forbearance." Ezra replied, his jade eyes twinkling at the antics of his antsy friend outside.
"Come again?" Buck asked, his handsome face frowning as he placed pasta, sauce, cereal, coffee, sugar and other dry goods on the black conveyor belt.
"Mr. Tanner is very selective of his digestive system on days when he is called upon to spend long hours peering through the scope of his rifle." Ezra replied, placing the shrimp, egg rolls, deli selections, meat and cheese on the belt, "On the other hand, when his sharpshooting talents are not required, he manages to ingest an exorbitant amount of sugar. The resulting invasion into his bloodstream is what you are witnessing."
"Damn Ezra..." Josiah admired, "you're good. Bet you even know what pajamas he wore last night."
"If you are offering to partake in a wager," Ezra grinned, "I'm all ears."
"You're kidding, right?" Nathan turned around, having loaded his dairy products and bread. "How on earth would you know that? Vin's the most private person I know. Ain't no way, he'd disclose that."
"I, my good healer, am a student of the world." Ezra piqued, "Observation is what I do best. Well, any takers?"
"I'm in..." Buck said, "For five bucks. You're full of shit, Ezra."
"I'm with Buck." Nathan agreed, rolling his dark eyes. "Josiah?"
"I'll pass. This whole conversation has taken a bad turn."
"Mr. Larabee?" Ezra edged, getting a glare. "I'll take that for a pass."
"Alright Mr. Fancypants..." Buck nudged the smug Southerner, "Let's have it."
"An attractive shade of tan, which occasionally hints of blush."
"Huh?" Buck squinted, "Wait a minute..." He grinned, realizing what the Conman was referring to.
"How would you know that?" Nathan handed the clerk money and began loading.
"You got something you want to confess there, Stud?" Buck joshed, wiggling his eyebrows at the unamused face of Ezra Standish. "Not that there's anything wrong with that..."
"Certainly not..." Ezra shot back, over Nate's and Buck's laughter.
"Wait a minute..." Nate wagged his finger at the Southerner, "Did this information come to you via a car accident by any chance?"
"How I came by it is of no concern. You both are in arrears of five dollars."
"Car accident?" Buck frowned, pulling out his wallet. "Oh...I get it..."
"That fancy car of yours got into a fender bender during the night near Vin's a couple months back." Nate nodded.
"Yeah...seems to me I recall you walking to Vin's cause your cell died. Vin gave you a ride home. Hey was he alone?" Buck nudged, seeing Ezra's Cheshire grin. "Aw hell, what'd she look like?"
"A vision of loveliness the likes of which you'll never encounter." Ezra replied, palm out. "My money?"
"That don't mean he's was 'au naturale' last night." Nathan argued.
"Did you forget so soon that I picked up our reclusive Romeo this morning on the way to Buck's?"
"You dog you..." Buck laughed, "That's why you were so early. I can't believe he'd answer the door like that..."
"Of course he doesn't answer the door in that state," Ezra retorted sharply, "He was clad in denim pants, and the pained expression on his face suggested he rushed his actions a bit..."
"Ouch!" Buck winced out of experience. "Same girl?"
"Unlike yourself," Ezra chirped, "Mr. Tanner prefers a monogamous relationship...and if you saw the stunning creature, you'd understand why."
"Drop it." Chris issued, in a no nonsense tone.
Buck watched the back of the blond's head following Vin's frantic pacing and irate facial gestures. He saw the start of a grin tugging at the handsome man's lips. The green eyes were lit up in mirth. The tall mustached-agent glanced at the window and caught Vin's profile. His heart softened for the man who'd given his oldest friend life again. Since their meeting, Chris smiled again, laughed again and was living again. For that, Buck Wilmington would be eternally gratefully to the shy Texan. He saw Chris turn back, wearing a sly grin.
"Wanna have some fun?" He teased, getting their immediate attention. Before Vin, that mischievous grin Larabee wore wouldn't have surfaced. They all enjoyed seeing the change in him. "Watch this..." He smirked, putting on his game face. "Can I borrow those?" He asked the cashier of her large stack of coupons, a compilation of the day, which was a good three inches thick. Chris fingered the coupons and waited until Vin turned to look in the window. He heard the riotous laughter behind him and looked up in time to see Vin's face, a cross between shock and rage.
"It would appear as if Mr. Tanner is about to give birth." Ezra decided, grinning.
"Here they come..." Nathan predicted, seeing the sharpshooter's mouth firing colorful rounds. "One...two...three..."
"Four...five" Ezra watched the expletives emerging. "That's one even I haven't heard before..."
"Six." Buck laughed, "I think that...oops...seven" He corrected, shaking his head. "...boy set a new record."
"Josiah, I hope you brought extra soap." Nathan chuckled, "Somebody needs to wash his mouth out."
"Uh-Oh..." Buck grinned, "Here he comes..."
"Nathan you might want to warn that lovely young lady to cover her child's ears..." Ezra warned, as Vin stormed in, wasting no time in getting in Chris's face.
"What are ya doin'?" His crabby face matched his voice, "Y'all been stockpilin' them like some fu.."
"Vin..." Nathan smacked him and nodded to the wide-eyed five year old staring at him.
"Uh...like some squirrel." Vin corrected. "I ain't never seen so many coupons. Hell, y'all don't even eat home that much."
"Something wrong Vin?" Chris said calmly, keeping a straight face. By now the cashier was laughing outright and Vin realized he'd been had.
"I bet y'all think that was funny. I damn near had a heart attack. Skinned my arm gettin' in the door." He showed the reddish mark to Nate, who shook his head.
"Hell, it was hilarious." Buck chuckled, "You should have seen your face..."
"Highly entertaining..." Ezra agreed, smiling.
"Ezra, what in the hell kind of chicken is this?" Vin demanded, holding up a package of meat from the top of the Southerner's bag. "It some kind of reject? It looks like it smoked a lot when it was little...stunted its growth. Lessen it's feed was from some Nuclear Radiation place."
"It's not chicken." Ezra huffed, "They are Cornish Game Hens."
"Did y'all look at the price on here?" He crowed, eyes wide, "Yer crazy...them scrawny chickens ain't fit fer a rag picker."
"You aren't in any position to complain." Chris replied, shoving the full cart at Vin. "If you and the other idiot had seen fit to buy real food yesterday, we would be there already."
"We did buy real food." Vin argued, as they wheeled the carts outside.
"Vin..." Chris exasperated, "Some of us like meat, vegetables and potatoes."
"Salad, shrimp and fruit." Ezra added, heading for Buck's Trooper.
"You listenin' to this J.D?" Vin asked, as J.D. stood next to him in support.
"It pains me," J.D. threw a hand on his chest, and the other arm around Vin's shoulders. "It truly pains me. Besides, we got meat."
"Oh, how could I forget." Chris turned, placing the last bag in his truck. "Cheese and Bacon filled hot dogs. You'll excuse my ignorance."
"Just fer that, Y'all can't have any." Vin scoffed, J.D. nodded in agreement.
"Mr. Jackson," Ezra placed a hand on Nathan's jacket. "Please check my heart to see if it's wounded."
"Shut the hell up, Ezra." Vin sassed, over the group's laughter, "Y'all got nerve makin' fun of my food. At least I ain't fixin' on eatin' some retarded pigeons."
The Seven finished packing the two cars and they piled in, heading for a quiet weekend. After a hearty lunch and a couple games of touch football, they had a fine dinner and played some of Buck's drinking games. Saturday they set out to explore individual pursuits. Buck and J.D. went canoeing, Chris settled on the front porch with a Tom Clancy novel, Josiah and Nathan went off to debate theology and Ezra disappeared inside the cabin.
Vin was packing his backpack when Ezra entered the kitchen to get coffee. The ex-bounty hunter was not as perplexed as his friends were when it came to the Southerner. They couldn't figure out why Ezra came. He didn't like outdoors and wouldn't set foot in a canoe. But Vin understood Ezra. Maybe it was his years of experience as a bounty hunter and the ability to read people. The team was the closest thing Ezra had to family and he sought out the companionship at his own level.
Ezra watched Vin place fruit, bottled water, peanut butter crackers, a sandwich and some granola bars in his pack. He saw the expensive camera and lenses lying nearby. He recognized the quality. They too disappeared into the bag. He eyed the Fortune and GQ magazines lying nearby and the book he'd brought.
"Fixin' on doin' some readin'?" Vin asked, seeing Ezra perusing the material. "There's a right nice spot 'bout ten minutes from here. I'm goin' right by, iffen ya like to come along. Got a pretty view of the lake."
"You twisted my arm," Ezra nodded, pulling his Irish sweater on. He grabbed a plastic bag and tossed in some fruit and water, along with the book.
"See ya." Vin tossed as he passed Chris, who waved without looking up.
Ezra picked up his pace to keep up with Vin. "I noticed your equipment. It's a very good camera."
"Thanks." Vin slowed up, hearing the catch in Ezra's voice and realizing he was straining. "It's new. Figured it was about time to upgrade my stuff. Now that I have a place to hang my hat," He stopped to let Ezra catch up. "I can afford to expand a bit. Just set up a darkroom too."
"Really?" Ezra didn't hide his curiosity.
"Like to see it sometime?" Vin paused, hearing the interested tone.
"Very much." Ezra nodded, "I've always admired the ability to capture the essence of a subject. It one of the reasons I haunt Art Galleries. How long have you been studying?"
"Dunno." Vin shrugged. "Found a beat up Minolta years ago and started foolin' around. Took a likin' to it. When I was still trackin'," He alluded to his bounty hunting days, "I got around quite a bit, into New Mexico, Utah and Arizona. Got some real nice shots."
"Beautiful country." Ezra commented, watching Vin pause and pull his camera out. He scanned the wooded area, unsure of what Vin was seeing. He saw the ease of which the equipment was handled. The telephoto lens came on and Vin squatted. Ezra was squinting and then he saw a small fawn, quite a ways off. The doe was nudging her and the young deer raised its head to touch her. He heard the click at the exact moment they met.
"Impressive." He murmured seeing Vin smile. "How on earth did you see that?"
"After awhile, ya get a feel fer it." Vin shrugged.
"Is any of your work on display?"
"Display?" Vin walked to the right into a clearing. "Well...I give Chris one after he come out of the hospital last month. It was a wolf I caught last winter in the Rockies."
"The one hanging on the wall in his office?" Ezra turned, as they reached a group of flat rocks. Vin had been correct, the view was breathtaking. "You are far too humble. That's an exceptional photograph. I'd be very interested in seeing you work Vin."
Vin took a long swig of water and stopped next to Ezra. The Southerner saw the wistful expression in the blue eyes facing him. "Really?" Vin's voice dropped. "You'd take a look at 'em fer me?"
"It would be my pleasure, Vin."
"How 'bout next Thursday. Y'all can make that veal and pasta with wine sauce again."
"Am I to understand you are inviting me to dinner and I must provide the food and then cook it?" Ezra inquired, trying to hide a smile at he cocky grin that looked back at him.
"Yup." Vin grinned, "Seven works fer me. Chris wants me to start buildin' m'self up. He's got me workin' out three nights a week at the gym." He turned and took several pictures of the lake, including close-ups of Buck and J.D. in the canoe. "Well, I'll see ya back at the cabin."
A marathon poker match followed the buffet style dinner. Vin was up early the next morning and dressed while it was still dark. He crept into the kitchen and packed his bag. He made coffee and threw a fast omelet together. He gulped down a large glass of juice and two doughnuts, before pulling a sweater over his flannel shirt. He pulled his jacket on, tossed his pack on and headed outside. He made his way to the scenic spot he'd shown Ezra and took a spot on the rock. He pulled out a thermos of coffee and embraced the warmth. The darkness gave way to a deep blue, which bled rose and pale violet as Dawn awoke.
"Mornin'" He tossed, hearing the footsteps. "Ya almost missed it." He handed Chris a cup of coffee. The blond nodded gratefully and settled on a rock a few feet away. They watched the sunrise together and Vin took several shots. His soft voice broke the newborn air.
"She smiles at the departing Eve and her radiance lights up the heavens. Oh to have the glorious Dawn as my lover and touch the face of God.
"You do have a way with words, Vin. Chris gave his best friend a warm smile. He was honored that Vin shared his beautiful poetry with him. The eloquence that flowed naturally from the quiet Texan left him breathless. It as something that Chris treasured and felt humbled by. It was during moments like this he felt like they were sharing the same soul. He cast his green eyes heavenward and sent a silent thank you to the man in charge.
Vin turned and then set up a self-timer and sat next to Chris, with the lake and mountains in the background.
"That should be a good one." Chris noted.
"Yeah, 'ceptin' yer face is in it." Vin teased. "Headed back?"
"Yup. Josiah's cooking breakfast. Don't be late. We should get started back by three or so."
"I hear ya." Vin nodded, his eyes twinkling mischievously "Hell, Chris I made breakfast. It was right good too."
"All right," Chris paused, eyeing the smirking Texan. "I'll bite..."
"Hot Dog and peanut butter omelet..." Vin quipped, eyes dancing.
"Aw, God, Vin." He wrinkled his face up, "That's disgusting."
"Snob." Vin tossed, heading out and leaving the team leader a grin he wore all the way back to the cabin.
Halloween Eve, 4:30 p.m.
"Damn this blew up fast." Vin commented, from his seat between Chris and Nathan in Larabee's black truck. "News said it weren't supposed to get here 'til later tonight."
"It's gettin' nasty..." Nathan noted of the ice storm.
The sky had grown completely dark and the strong winds rocketed by, shrieking and sending debris everywhere. Freezing rain and ice pelted the windshield and quickly turned into a torrential downpour.
Chris gripped the wheel and felt the traction underneath deteriorating. The narrow mountain road was tricky in good weather, during a storm it was downright deadly.
"Aw shit..." Chris gritted, seeing a huge tree strewn across the road. He slowed to a stop and jumped out. "Stay put..." He called over the gale to Vin and Nate. They watched him pull his hood up and soon Buck and Josiah joined him. The trio carefully made their way forward. Buck slipped and Josiah steadied him. Then Chris slipped and Buck went down with him.
"Looks like an ice rink..." Nathan noted. The trio converged and had a brief discussion before heading back. Chris opened his door and shouted over the wind.
"Vin, you know this area?"
"Yeah...come through here lots of times."
"Any kind of shelter ahead?"
"On foot..." Vin paused, narrowing his eyes before nodding. "I recall an old place...don't think it's too far."
"Grab the extra poncho in the back." The leader directed, "We'll take a look. No sense everyone getting wet. Grab a couple flashlights too."
Vin grabbed the dark slicker and knelt on the seat. Nathan got the flashlights and tested them before handing them to Chris. The dark-skinned healer then helped Vin get the large poncho over his coat and he slid outside. Chris leaned in, "Stay put until we get back."
"How long's that gonna be?" Nate asked, "It's dangerous out there. What if you two get lost?"
"Vin? How far?" Chris tugged at Vin's shoulder.
"Been a couple years..." He turned his face away as the stinging rain pelted him. "I recall it bein' somewheres after Exit 9. We passed that, right?"
"Yeah...couple miles back. Which way?"
"Uh...Let me think..." Vin trudged over to the fallen tree and spotted an incline. "Wait here..." He shouted and climbed up.
"Geez...look at Vin go." J.D. said, eyeing his partner from Buck's SUV.
"That boy is half monkey..." Buck shook his head as Vin disappeared from view.
Vin's hands were freezing by the time he climbed to the top of the small ridge. He was soaked and his hair was plastered to his face. He took a good look around and spotted the top of the building in the distance. He carefully made his way to the edge and waved Chris up.
It took them twice as long to get up to the road. The force of the wind pushed them backwards. Finally they paused at a large Iron Gate. The center of which housed an old crest, on the top of the gate was a large dragon with glass eyes. The path beyond the gate led up a winding drive covered with vines and branches. At the top of the drive was a large, gothic mansion.
"Think Morticia and Gomez are home?" Chris shouted, eyeing the eerie atmosphere and the garish gate. "Come on, let's have a look." The blond pushed the broken gate and started up the path, until he realized Vin wasn't with him. He turned back and couldn't see him. "VIN!" He screamed over the howling wind and staggered back to the entry. Vin stood to the side of the gate, not budging. "What?"
"I only seen it from far off. I didn't know it was this place, we should go..." His voice sounded strange, almost trance-like. His eyes were wide and transfixed.
"Go where?" Chris growled, "The Holiday Inn up the road? We gotta take shelter, there's no tellin' how long that storms gonna last. Can't stay in the cars...too dangerous to be on the road. You saw that tree, what if one fell on the car?"
"Yeah, I know..." Vin flinched, as he looked over Chris's shoulder. The eyes of the dragon glowed blood red. His breath caught in his throat and his blood ran like ice water. He covered his face with one hand and looked again. The eyes were now back to normal. He tried to step forward and swayed.
"Yeah." Vin pushed forward "Let's go."
He brushed past Chris and bolted through the gate and up the curving drive. He paused several yards from the massive, cathedral-like stone structure. The four-story house had a steeply pitched roof, arched, pointed windows and decorative tracery. Grouped chimney's and pinnacles scored the edifice; battlements and parapets gave it the appearance of a medieval castle. Leaded, stain glass cathedral style windows and smaller clover shaped windows met his eye. Spires rose up to the sky from the peaked roof. A hideous pair of gargoyles squatted on the corners of the roof over the verandah. They raised on up their haunches and roared, baring their teeth and talons, when the tracker looked at them.
"Shit..." He swore softly, covering his face against the pelting ice and the horrific vision.
Chris fought his way forward as the icy shards slashed his face. He eyed the mansion and shivered. He placed a drenched arm on Vin's shoulder and the younger man jumped, gasped audibly and dropped his flashlight.
"What's wrong with you?" He demanded, seeing the unnatural trace of fear in his best friend's wide eyes.
Vin felt his sure his heart would jump right out of his chest it was pounding so hard. He felt his throat constrict and fought to breathe. He was grateful the large poncho covered his trembling limbs so Chris wouldn't see how bad he was shaking. He glanced back at the verandah, and the stone gargoyles were squatting again. He covered his face with his hand and shook his head as if to clear it. He finally dropped his hand and found Chris Larabee's face inches from his own.
"Talk to me..."
"I'm okay..." Vin coughed, covering up the trembling tone. He took the flashlight Chris had retrieved, but didn't move.
His legs wouldn't go and Chris pulled him forward under the verandah and up to the front door.
Chris pulled his hood down and wiped the water off his face. The raingear did little good; both men were soaked through. Chris's short blond hair was plastered to his head, creating a golden skullcap. He tried the door, which was locked.
"Try the windows...I'll go east...you go..." He frowned, spotting a fleeting traumatic look on Vin's face, which had drained of all color. His blue eyes were darting and Chris could hear the uneven, raspy breathing. "Vin, don't you pass out on me." He ordered, clamping an iron hand on the shaking shoulders of his friend. He felt the trembling and furrowed his brow. "Hey, get yourself together." He pointed to the other side and motioned. "Find an open window."
Vin took a deep breath and nodded. Chris seemed satisfied and gave his shoulder a squeeze as he left. Vin winced as the shards of ice beat down, stinging his eyes. He was halfway around the house, trying the windows that he could reach, without any luck. He turned to retrace his steps and a bolt of lightning lit up the blackness. The accompanying boom of thunder caused the shaken tracker to jump. He stumbled backwards and fell, landing on his butt. His flashlight rolled away. He looked up at the window above him, on the second floor and saw the unmistakable form of an elderly man staring back at him, wearing antique attire. His mouth went dry and his limbs were paralyzed. His heart thumped in time with the thunder and seemed just as loud. He had to remind himself to breathe as his alarmed blue eyes were locked onto horrific sight. The specter's eye's sockets were deep black holes and he was only formed from the waist up. He floated and swayed in the window and bared his teeth in an evil grin. Blood ran from his mouth and the ghoulish laugh seemed deafening to stricken sharpshooter. The lightning died down and he was engulfed in blackness, still frozen on the ice patch. Another bolt of lightning illuminated the window, which was now vacant.
Vin scrambled to his feet and took off, slipping and sliding heavily into the side of the house. He felt himself falling and his frozen fingers grappled along the wall to stop his fall. He landed hard on his side and his foot became stuck in some iron grating that covering some casement windows in the cellar. He struggled unsuccessfully and his stiffening fingers tried to pry the bars apart. With one final tug he freed his foot and felt the ground moving beneath him. Before he could react, he was tumbling backwards down a dark passage. He landed hard on a cement floor and whacked his head. He glanced upwards as the opening through which he fell was rapidly closing.
He was now in utter darkness. He winced as his icy fingers found the newly forming lump on the top right side of his head. He felt along the floors, encountering decades of dust, mold and dirt. The rustling and shuffling of tiny feet filled the immediate area. He didn't need to see the invisible creatures, as the rats ran by and he moved to rise. He managed to get to his feet and took a few tentative steps. He walked into a large object; his groping hands felt the unmistakable form of a woman.
"Aw, hell..." He scolded himself, realizing it was dress dummy. He felt dizzy and the inky atmosphere didn't help. He trudged along a few more feet and his toe encountered a step. Sighing a bit, he started upwards. His foot went right through the third step, the rotting wood not able to support his weight. He swore softly and tried to pull his foot loose, grasping the rail for support. He felt an icy blast of air engulf him, causing him to shiver uncontrollably. The hairs on his neck stood up as phantom icy fingers brushed over his hand and wrist. His mouth went dry and he tried unsuccessfully to utter a sound of some sort. He looked up to where the door should be and saw a pair of glowing red eyes. They began descending and he heard a feral growling sound from behind him. He struggled frantically, trying to free his foot and glanced up to see the eyes just a few feet away. He bent over to tug at the stubborn leg and felt a pair of icy hands gripping his throat.
Chris's head shot up and he froze as the bloodcurdling scream bearing his name filled the air. "VIN!" He answered, "VIN!" He moved as quickly as the icy ground permitted, sliding along until he found himself on the other side of the massive house. The ice stung his face as he squinted into the whipping wind through the darkness. He edged his way along the structure, his unease building. He couldn't see the ex-bounty hunter anywhere. A cold fear gripped him as he saw the eerie glow of Vin's flashlight. He made his way over and picked it up, eyeing the surrounding terrain. Overgrown bushes of a once carefully crafted garden were a tangled mess. He flashed the light on the area along the side of the house. There was no trace of his friend.
"VIN! VIN! VIN ANSWER ME!" He screamed. The only reply he got was the wind shrieking at him and the boom of thunder. "Fuck..." He smacked the flashlight against his thigh in frustration. Maybe Vin went around the back and ended up on the side that he had already covered. He walked along the side of the house, calling for Vin. He turned and jumped the two steps onto the verandah, keeping his head down against the assault of the icy downpour. He ran into a solid object and lost his footing. He felt two hands grab at him and shoved back hard, swinging the flashlight.
"Watch it, Chris..." A voice defended the blow, "It's Buck."
"Jesus Christ, Buck." He angered, rubbing his wet face; "You damn near gave me a heart attack. What are you doing here?"
"Looking for you. We got worried and sent J.D. up for a look. He spotted the tower of this place and we followed you. Josiah and Nathan are bringing some clothes, food and stuff in bags. Where's Vin?"
"He's gone..." Chris shouted over the howling wind.
"Gone?" Buck hollered, shielding his eyes from the biting storm. "What do you mean gone?"
"Gone...disappeared...not here..." Chris growled. "The door was locked, so we split up to find an open window. I heard him scream for me. By the time I got there, all I found was his flashlight." He hissed, "Dammit..."
Buck sighed and leaned against the door, wiping his face. He saw Chris's expression change and the leader's lips starting to form a thought. But before he could react, the solid form behind him gave way and the tall, mustached man tumbled backwards into darkness.
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