There used to be a window in one wall. I can see the outline, like a porthole. The opening has been chinked up with fresh-sawn logs and mud. It is new work, and does not have the same craftsmanship of the rest of the cabin.
In the fireplace, a cauldron hangs from a hook that can swing the heavy iron pot in and out of the fire. I smell flesh and blood in that pot and move to look inside. I appears clean and scrubbed within. The outside is caked with soot. He has wiped it clean with water and a rag, but not enough to take the evidence of cooked human flesh beyond my seneses.
I know now there is more than I see here!
Vampires do not cook, and neither do they devour the flesh of their prey. Were-creatures, likewise, do not cook. They eat flesh, but prefer it raw, even when they are in human form.
Someone — something — cooks human flesh over this fire, boiling it in the cauldron, and roasting it over the fire. That thing is dangerous, but I still do not sense it here. I would feel such a predator. I would know the animal if it was in its den. It is not here, but it is not long gone. I smell it. Male: its pheromones speak rage.
The blood is female. The scent in the cabin is male.
And more scents, now. They filter through my conscious mind. Odd that I did not catch them earlier. I must pay more attention. Yet, I taste in the air at least three other human females. Their blood is not as fresh, and it is their blood that I taste. Theirs is older. It has been weeks — months — since any other woman than the first was here.
And she is here.
I taste new blood in the air. She is cut and bleeding. But where is she? This tiny cabin is too small to hide her: the cabinets; the fireplace; the coffin bed. She is not in any of them, and they are the only places to hide. There are no closets or drapes, nothing else to hide inside or behind. But she is here. Somewhere.
There! A groan?
The floor planks are smooth from a century of a hunter’s steps. But some of these planks look new. They fit too well into the grooves.
There it is again. A muffled groan, and it comes from beneath the floor.
These planks move. They come up, not nailed nor pegged into place. She is under the floor. A grave, perhaps? Shallow like those in front of the cabin?
I will find her. These planks weigh nothing.
Now this is a surprise. A basement, hand-dug long after this cabin was built. A narrow shaft, braced with new timber and lights below. The room is off-center to the shaft. Better that way, I know, to hide the cries. But I hear her plainer, now. Still not screaming, her voice is muffled, as though gagged. Mewling sounds.
Goddess, the stench from this hole! This is a slaughterhouse into which I descend. Butchery, plain and simple. But no animal scents: not deer, nor pig. All of carcasses below are human. This is no hunter that lodges here, not even vampire hunter is so casual. This man is an animal. A were? Some of them prefer to butcher even in their human forms. No. Weres do not cook. Whatever this man is, he is human.
The ladder is cut into the earth, and it takes me into bowels beneath the cabin. It angles sharply to one side, then the steps end. I drop into the hole: it is larger than I expected.
Kerosene lamps provide a smudgy light. There must be a vent somewhere, else the lamps would steal the oxygen and go dark. None the less, the air is stale in this hole, rank with blood and sweat and piss. Burning kerosene competes with the meaty aroma.
I see her. The back wall. A cage. She is bound hand to feet. Pulled backward, her belly bows out. She is blindfolded, a rag-gag tied around her head, a sodden mass in her mouth. She is naked and bleeding. Hundreds of cuts, some clotted and old, others fresh — only a few hours old.
She does not hear me. Not yet.
It must have taken years to dig out this room. I am tall, and I have head room. Shovel marks score the earth as though he is expanding the room. Yet, already it is large enough for a butcher’s table, stocks and pillory, and a wall of whips and chains. That explains the headroom: Swinging a whip requires space.
He is not here, yet reminds me of someone.
No. I killed him!