Chapter One

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Meltwater Ridge was warm beneath a light sheet of snow as Kenna baked cookies. She would open the lodge's door to her first round of guests in the morning and wanted everything to be perfect.

The weather had other plans.

"... predicting record snowfalls this week as a blizzard blows in from..."

Kenna slammed the oven door harder than was necessary and dropped the hot baking sheet on the counter. "No snow. Please." It was becoming her mantra.

Everything has to be perfect.

She'd been living in the little one-room cabin behind the lodge for months, ever since her uncle had died, leaving her enough to buy Meltwater Ridge. It had been a wreck – a dusty, worn-out old bed and breakfast no one had stepped foot in for decades. But she'd cleaned it up, sold almost everything she had, called in every favor with every friend-of-a-friend and relative she knew, and managed to turn the place into a cozy little six-room lodge.

"... the National Weather Service advises people to stay indoors..."

The wind threw a branch against her window, a light tap-scrape whining against the glass. Every inch of the cabin, and the lodge itself, groaned as the storm wore on.

It'll be picturesque, she rallied, popping another tray full of heart-shaped dough into the oven. The snow will be good for skiing.

"... brief relief from the snow tomorrow morning, with a possible 8 feet of snow by tomorrow night ..."

A heavy thump came from the attic and Kenna frowned at her ceiling. It was barely an attic, more of a crawlspace, and there were no windows. Please don't let something else be broken. She opened the closet by the bathroom and pulled down the ladder. She heard another thump, and a sound like a something rolling from one end of the cabin to the other.

What the hell?

She wound up the flashlight her brother had insisted she have. It flickered for a second, then died, and she wound it up more. The wind whistled against the windows and the branch kept its scraping.

Another thump from the attic.

What if it's a racoon? Or a possum? She wound the flashlight faster, until it finally gave a steady beam of light.

The attic was thick with dust and cobwebs, littered with junk left behind by the cabin's previous owners. She hadn't gone through it yet. There hadn't been time.

Something dark moved in the corner of her vision and she swung the flashlight in its direction. But there was nothing there.

Mice, she thought. A place this old is bound to have mice. She would have to get tupperware containers for all her food, seal it up tight.

Thump. Roll. She heard the sounds again and made another pass of the light, but saw nothing moving in the attic, at least not from where she was standing. She'd have to crawl further into the filthy space, around the rotting cardboard boxes and old crap. Heaving herself up off the ladder, she bent halfway and slowly made her way into the attic.

She stepped around a broken wicker chair to where she thought the sound had come from. In the harsh light from the flashlight, she saw traces in the dust on the floor, curly-cue patterns, like someone had traced a finger through it. Kenna bent lower, looking closer.

The arcs were solid, smooth, too elegant to be made by an animal.

Thump. The sound had a hard edge to it, like the crack of billiard balls. This time, when the roll came, she saw what was making it. A smooth white ball rolled out from beneath the clutter and hit the side of her purple ballet flats. She picked it up. It was gritty, dusty, but smooth, and made of glass. A marble?

She rolled it in her hand, and a painted blue iris stared back at her.

A glass eye.

Kenna gave a light laugh. "Stop being stupid," she said aloud. Being freaked out by a glass eye is like being scared of a cane, or a hearing aid. She set the eye in the seat of the wicker chair, glad to be rid of it, and made an awkward circle to go the way she had come.

A large clump of snow broke off and slid down the roof and she jumped. Snap out of it, Kenna. It was just a-

Clack. Roll. She heard the eye rolling on the old wooden floor, tracing its way through the dust, sounding as if it was coming in her direction.

She turned slowly, the flashlight flickering on the floor, reflecting off the smooth glass eye as it made a beeline through the smooth, clean spaces of her footprints. Her breath grew ragged as it stopped in front of her, the painted iris looking directly at her.

In the flicker of her flashlight, the eye almost looked to be blinking.

And then the light went out.

"Shit!" She startled, dropping the flashlight. She fumbled for it in the dark, pawing through the dirt and filth until she found it. Hands shaking, she wound it as fast as she could until a low, intermittent light broke the darkness. The beam was visible now in all the disturbed dust, a solid cone of light illuminating the clutter, the dust, the floor.

But the glass eye was nowhere to be found.

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Murder-You-Vote begins in earnest Feb 3rd, with updates every Wednesday. For more information, including profiles of the characters and authors, check out: http://www.jayleejames.com/murder-you-vote! 

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