this where they found that woman’s head?” “Relax,” he
told her. “You’re
girl pretended to shiver, and he slipped his free arm
around her waist. She snuggled closer and he smiled to
break had come early, but Left Hand Canyon remained untouched
by the official change in season. In their shaggy winter
coat the foothills held no appeal for the hikers who
would dot the trails once the days lengthened and penstemons
and Indian paintbrush burst into bloom. Here
the grade was steep, the terrain rugged, and the snow
that streamed down the gutters in Boulder clung to the
walls of the canyon like cascading ice.
glanced in the rearview mirror. They’d left the
lights of the valley behind, and when the SUV in front
of them finally turned, they were alone. He slid his
arm from her waist and let his hand drop to her knee.
are we going?” she asked.
moved his hand to her lap and tugged her skirt across
this where that CU girl was raped?” she asked.
was lower down, at a picnic spot. And they caught the
don’t like it here,” she said. “Can’t
we go back?”
he negotiated the sharp turn onto gravel, the wheels
spun and he held his breath. It was his dad’s car
and being towed would mean a lot of explaining. Or, worse,
being grounded. And if she saw that DEAD END sign. .
. They gained traction and he slowly exhaled.
scoped this spot in daylight, but now nothing seemed
familiar. A log house under construction loomed to the
left and his hands tensed on the wheel. No pickup trucks—the
workers had knocked off for the day. Two hundred yards
later a dirt drive led to a finished dwelling hidden
in the trees. At the cul-de-sac the gravel ended. He
pulled onto the berm and switched off his engine.
said you’d show me something neat.”
reached for her but she slapped his hands away. Just
hard enough to show who was the boss. He leaned back
in his seat. Plenty of time. No need to rush. After a
moment, he gave her knee a conciliatory squeeze and this
time she let his hand remain.
cul-de-sac was framed by forty-foot pines and the wind
carried a sharp scent. He felt the girl slide towards
him on the seat. No resistance as he slipped his hand
under her sweater, but when he reached behind to unhook
her bra she suddenly twisted away. Before he could react
she jumped out of the car.
this what you wanted me to see?”
pointed to a barbed wire fence with a metal sign. PRIVATE
LAND— NO ACCESS TO NATIONAL FOREST. But her tone
was light, more teasing than bitchy. Offended that he’d
read her so well—or simply prolonging the chase?
he followed her through the shadows to the clearing at
the edge of the cul-de-sac, his feet sank in soft mountain
gravel. Past the fence the terrain was studded with moss-covered
boulders and towering trees shielded the ground from
snow. A trail hugged the hillside beyond the barbed wire,
and a small cabin across the ravine, perhaps a quarter
mile away, was barely visible in the twilight. The scent
of pine was very strong, the only sound the wind rushing
down from the Continental Divide. He looked up at the
first stars emerging in the inky sky.
brighter here,” he said. On cue, a full moon began
is beautiful,” she agreed, and gave a little shiver.
Now that he was playing by the rules, she no longer had
to pretend she was angry. As he came up behind her and
drew her close, he knew she’d forgiven him for
his busy hands and the earlier scare. Emotional contact,
isn’t that what they said? A little of that went
a long way…. He led her through a break in the
fence to a stand of trees. The branches sheltered them
from the wind and the ground beneath them felt warm and
dry. Relaxing in his embrace, she let him pull her to
the fragrant carpet of pine.
wish we’d brought a blanket,” she murmured
as he began kissing her throat. The needles were springy
and it wasn’t until she stiffened that her words
registered. He stopped fumbling with his belt.
one in the trunk.” Would she make him use the backseat
of the car?
OK,” she said. Knowing how primed he was, just
wanting to see how far he would go to please her. As
she reached for his fly he forgave her. He would have
forgiven her anything.
that?” she whispered.
sound seemed to come from a long way off. From the direction
of the ravine.
lied. A small animal, maybe a fox, certainly not worth
it is again!”
thrashing was closer, interrupted by branches cracking
underfoot. It was coming from the trail on the slope
to their left. Did foxes drag their prey? The girl sat
up and quickly buttoned her blouse.
nothing,” he said, to reassure himself more than
her. Heavier than a fox, maybe— a cougar? But the
gait was all wrong. As he zipped his fly, he tried to
remember where the break in the fence was, how far it
was to the car. He heard a dull clank, like metal across
the moonlight he saw it.
the trees lurched a naked figure, a dark slash at its
throat. Its feet were h obbled—was that a chain?—and
steel gleamed dully at the wrists. It stumbled, landing
on all fours. Now he saw the other end of the chain was
threaded through a ring attached to the back of the neck.
As it struggled to regain its balance it stared directly
at him. From the gaping mouth came an unintelligible
whimper, but the eyes issued an unmistakable plea.
on bare feet, the apparition held out its hands in supplication,
revealing a ghostly V from hips to pubis and pale lines
from collarbone to breasts. Only then did he register
the chestnut hair, matted and looped in a knot halfway
down the back, and the silver rings on three slender
girl, not much older than they were.
now he recognized the pattern made by those ivory bands
of skin. Bikini marks, he thought, she’s a CU coed
who just spent spring break in—
the shrieking behind him, he moved to catch the girl
as she pitched forward. He caught her and she began to
jerk so violently she almost slipped from his grasp.
Something rigid encircled her throat, forcing her chin
up and holding it at an unnatural angle. She was so thin,
the blanket!” he shouted.
He heard the crunch of gravel and his trunk pop open. As he eased the girl to
the mat of needles, still warm from his own body, her chest fluttered frantically.
The handcuffs sliced into bruised and swollen wrists. Her eyes were wild, almost
feral. Jesus, where was the blanket? His gaze dropped to the band of leather
at her throat.
babbling sounds were getting fainter. He clawed at the
metal studs, tried to undo the buckle, then gave up when
he realized he had only succeeded in tightening it.
did this to you?” he cried.
She jerked her chin in the direction of the ravine. The gesture brought fresh
pain to her eyes and suddenly they were human again.
she passed out.