The Guardian

His breath blossomed into a white puff.

He hated the cold. The snow. In fact everything winter related. Just meant more work.

He was lost in thought as he trudged through the deep snow. He had been walking for what… hours or days now? He had lost track of time in this mountain forest. All he knew was that he was supposed to head this way.

His heavy boots and jeans did not keep the snow out, and his thick leather jacket with the hood pulled up did the same with the cold. The leather gloves that adorned his hands were just… well, not sufficient. About the only thing that worked were his googles. At least he could see where he was going.

The snow had been coming down heavily for some time now and kept his pace slow. He had to make sure he was oriented in the right direction. Heaven forgive him if he was tardy.

Ahead through the gloom of snow a figure started to take shape. As he neared it, it took on the form of a man, sitting down slumped against a tree.

Pausing he looked down at the corpse. It was fresh, very fresh. The guy must have died just the hour before.

This was the place, and just in time too.

The man’s tracks had long disappeared into the snow, but scanning around he was able to spot two large shapes in the distance. A house and a barn if he was not mistaken.

Approaching the buildings he could see lights on in the house and smoke billowing form the chimney. Someone was home.

Instead of going straight to the house, he turned and headed to the barn. There was no lock or latch so he tugged open one of the doors.

Stepping into the darkness of the barn, his hairs stood on end. Yes, this is the place all right. He closed the door behind him to shut out the storm. He was engulfed in darkness.

Fishing around in his jacket he pulled out a small maglite and turned it on. The interior of the barn erupted into view.

Along the outer walls sat tool benches and shelves. Many of the tools looked dull with age or use. The benches and shelves were made of wood with plenty of wear. In the center of the barn sat several large and thick wooden tables. In the back there looked to be a ladder up into a hayloft. Lastly, he could see under the hayloft what looked to be some sort of brick furnace or oven.

He approached the center tables noticing that these had some sort of groove work carved into the top. Looking more closely the grooves in fact were channels that followed the rim around the top and convened at one end of the table into a spout. The table surface way spotted black. Old blood stains most likely.

Moving past the tables he worked his way to the ladder and up into the loft. The place reeked.

Shining the light around he could see traces of hay, the remains of tattered clothing, and some bones.

Turning around and shining his light down into the barn he could see the pattern of what happened here.

Victims were brought in, diced up on the central tables with the tools from the benches. Their remains were then hauled into the furnace below, “cooked,” and picked clean. Anything remaining or removed prior was discarded up here.

After descending the ladder he moved to the tool benches. Dried blood caked most of the tools and bench surfaces. He only shook his head. No one cleans up after themselves. He opened several of the drawers on one the benches. Some more tools, papers, junk. Inside the last drawer he opened was a well oiled old Colt .45 Revolver. He studied it for a moment. It was well used and cared for, plus it was fully loaded. He shoved it into his pocket.

A glint off one of the saws on the bench caught his eye. Turning he looked up. Up amongst the rafters dropped hundreds of chains of varying sizes. On the tips of some of them were hooks. strands of cloth dangled many of them.

Having spent as much time as he could stomach in the barn, he ventured out into the storm. He turned off his light, slowly opened one of the barn doors, and peeked out.

Everything seemed the same as before. Heavy snowfall, with the vague shape of the house nearby, lights on, and smoke coming from the chimney.

He stepped out of the barn and closed the door behind him. It was time to get to work. Steeling himself, he slogged through the snow to the front door.

He came to a stop at the front door. Pondering what would be the best corse of action. Knowing that any thought would really be fruitless, he shoved it aside.

Quickly he knocked on the front door before he started thinking about it again.

After the second round of knocks there could be heard faint scrapping sounds from inside as if a chair was being pushed back. A few mumbled unidentified words, and the turning of a latch. The door creaked open just an inch and the distinct shine of a chain lock was visible below the brown eye that stared out at him.

“What the fuc…” was all the man could say before he kicked the door open with a force that threw splinters of wood into the air from the chain housing. The man was thrown to the floor in complete shock.

He pulled the gun from his pocket and advanced on the man, pointing it directly at the man’s face.

“Hey… wow buddy, wait…” the man said while scouting himself backwards with one hand held out in front of him with a stopping motion.

He slowly advanced keeping the weapon drawn.

“Hey look man… we can come to an arrangement. Whatever you want, you name it.”

He lowered the gun and with a deafening roar in that small cabin shot the man’s knee. Blood splattered everywhere as the man screamed in pain and covered up the wound with his hands.

The man sat there rolling around for a moment before he could speak. “Fuck… you…”

He raised the gun back up towards the man’s face.

“You…don’t have… the balls to kill me… do you.”

He stood there for a moment, then said, “You’re right.” With one quick move he slammed the butt of the revolver down onto the side of the man’s head, rendering the man unconscious.

“You certainly have a way with words,” said the strange little girl.

He ignored her and continued cleaning up the mess. The man was laid across the dining room table, bleeding quite liberally onto the decorative hand sewn table cloth. Repairing the damage was not easy for him. Making it was his specialty.

“Why bother with cleaning him up? He deserves his sentence.” The little girl was dressed in some bizarre old fashioned dress. Her accent… peculiar.

“I find this more effective.”

“Suit yourself, it is your job after all.”

All he could figure out was that they must have sent her. Probably to train her. Sad that she died so young.

Turning back to the man’s knee he got back to work.

The man woke up with a start. The bed sheets flopping into the man’s lap. Where was he? What was going on? Who was that stranger?

Slowly the man caught his bearings and discovered he was in his own bed, inside his home on the mountains.

As remembrance dawned on the man he quickly threw aside the blankets and inspected his knee. All perfect and intact.

The man shook his head a few times to shake the fog. It must have been a dream the man mused.

The cold bit into the man and he realized the house was without heat. The furnace must have shut off or ran out of gas over night. No worries the man thought, I will just get some wood and start a fire this morning.

The man quickly got dressed and headed for the living room.

Huh… the man mused as he stood staring at the empty fireplace and log bin. It looks he man will have to go outside to the wood pile and gather some supplies.

The man put on his coat and boots and headed for the door. He slammed face first into the wood as the door would not open. He looked down at the handle, made sure it was not locked and tried to open the door again.

It would not budge.

Stepping back, the man wondered what was going on. That’s when the man noticed the strange symbols carved into the door frame. As the man stared at the symbols he swore they started to glow. The man rubbed his eyes, and looked again. The symbols were still glowing.

Quickly the man took several steps back, almost knocking over an end table with a lamp.

The man was starting to shake. He quilled his fears and bolted to the back door. Those same symbols again, and he was unable to open that door as well.

In a near panic he went to the nearby window. The same. The man quickly moved backwards and with a running start jumped into the window. He found himself bouncing off the window and crashing heavily onto the floor.

As he slogged through the snow, he wondered how the girl could move about so freely. He was knee deep in this white hell where she barely left a mark.

“That was… interesting,” she said with a perplexed look on her face. “Why would you lock him in the cabin… it’s not like you were tasked with saving him.”

He stopped once again by the corpse against the tree. A scream of desperation sounded out from the cabin.

Looking down at the corpse he gave it a quick kick. Knocking the body of the man into the deep snow.

“I’m protecting everyone else,” he said as he walked off into the winter storm.

Lance Terry Hildebrand