The dead bear stared at her with wild ferocity frozen in its black pools and an empty threat hanging from its wide-open jaw.
Aversion sat between her eyebrows, before Lynn clicked her tongue and turned her gaze away from the stuffed animal to glance at Dana, who had approached the moment she had stepped inside the house.
"I hate that," her good friend stated in a voice full of distaste. "I fail to see the fun in it. Who's the beast here: the bear, or the hunter who kills it to stuff it and exhibits it in his living room?"
Lynn had to agree with her, but decided against fuelling her indignation and glanced around. Besides, there was a question dying to see the light and receive an answer she already had but needed to confirm. Anxiety crawled inside like a snake, wrapping around her heart and squeezing with malice.
"Have you seen Nick?"
"No, but I've heard him whistling on the second floor. I'm telling you, he would've made the perfect replacement for any of Snow White's dwarfs."
She should've felt relieved about finding out Nick was inside the house, not drowning in the lake like her exhausted mind had tried to convince her of. But Lynn was certain she had seen someone there; someone that looked and acted like Nick and knew her name.
Shaking her head, she pushed away the uneasiness. She wasn't sure about what she had witnessed anymore. Maybe I am that tired. I'm imagining things, her rational side whispered to her confusion.
"Aside from the dead bear, how's the rest of the house?" she asked, in an attempt to change the subject and stop spiralling.
Dana shrugged, finally taking her eyes away from the source of her temporary irritation. "It's not bad. I like the living room; there's no signal at all, which means Mark won't be able to interrupt my reading with cat videos."
"I'll just download them in the bathroom and show them to you later," commented said man as he walked out of what-looked-to-be the kitchen, mouth full of ketchup-flavoured crisps. "We can watch them together, like the good friends we are."
"I'd rather stick needles in my eyes."
As Lynn slipped away without them noticing, she wondered if — deep inside — they enjoyed their banter. She wondered if, were she to lock them in a room to solve their problems, she would open the door to both of them dead or to a completely-unexpected situation.
Focusing her attention on her surroundings, she hummed in approval. She had only seen a couple of pictures of the inside of the house, and the reality didn't disappoint.
The walls were an extension of the forest outside and had been painted with shades of brown and green, and a few drawings hung from them; nothing too striking, or colourful. Just abstract paintings embraced by light-ochre frames. Dark wood had been used to build the floors she walked on, and some of them were covered by thick carpets to keep the warmth inside.
As she wandered about, Lynn noticed the lack of contemporary furniture. It made sense; after all, Mrs. Houston was an old woman who'd probably never felt the pull of technology and still enjoyed the simple yet meaningful things — a walk around the forest, a swim in the lake, or a good book by the warm company of the fireplace.
Dim light came from artificial candles that hung from the walls, making the interior look inviting at first sight. However, as her eyes took in the stretching shadows of furniture as the curious moon peeked inside to kiss those nooks that swam in quiet darkness, a shiver crawled up her spine.
Exhaustion kept playing tricks to her eyes; she could've sworn the shadows — alive, powerful, with purpose — moved towards the window instead of away from it, as if refusing to lose the battle against moonlight.
YOU ARE READING
*ONC 2020 SHORT LIST* Something evil dwells in the black lake by the misty woods, something that will claim the souls of those who dare to dive into its realm. Lynn Morris is ready to enjoy some well-deserved holidays in the company of her closest...