Stone Cross (Arliss Cutter #2) - Marc Cameron
Sarah Mead pictured her husband’s face on the log she was about to split. She wasn’t the murderous sort, not really, but the spot between his vaporous eyes made the perfect target for her axe.
She was mid-swing when the terrible cry suddenly rose again from across the river. It had plagued her all afternoon, but was louder now, and caused her concentration to wobble. Out of habit, her axe fell true, splitting the upright log perfectly in half. She scanned the dark line of spruce trees across the river, ignoring the newly split pieces of wood as they clattered, marimba-like, to the pile at her feet. The cry made the tiny hairs on her arms stand up. At first, she thought it might be a wolf—low and long, and so incredibly sad.
The sun had just dropped into the muskeg to the west, leaving the gurgle and slurp of the freezing river sounding even colder than it had just moments before. It would be dark soon. Dusk didn’t stick around long this time of year. Vapor blossomed around Sarah’s oval face with each panting breath, but it was quickly ripped away by the wind. Apart from a few pockets of trees, there was little but open tundra and a few caribou to stop the bitter blow that was kicking up out on the Bering Sea—a scant hundred and fifty miles away.
Her eyes were still glued to the trees; her brain worked in overdrive trying to pinpoint where the mournful sound was coming from. She’d grown up in Alaska, but in all her twenty-seven years had never even seen a wolf except in the Anchorage zoo, not until she came out here. They were big things, wolves, monsters really. No, that wasn’t right. If Sarah had learned anything in the month she and her husband had been at the lodge, it was that wolves were neither good nor bad. Internet memes notwithstanding, they did not possess human emotions. They were beautiful and efficient, but they were not monsters any more than they were angels. They were just wolves doing what wolves did without thinking about it. They ran and raised their young and hunted and killed—sometimes even each other.
Sarah told herself she was being stupid for fixating on some phantom noise. She placed a new log on the stump and raised the axe over her head. As if on cue, another baleful moan, thick, almost visible against the gathering darkness, rose from the trees across the churning river. The noise made her flinch, causing the axe to ping off the upright spruce log. She prided herself on her aim, her uniform pieces. It was a Zen-like practice, splitting stove wood—at least it could be without this god-awful sound.
No. That was definitely not a wolf. At this point, a wolf would have been welcome.
Whatever this was, it was less than a hundred yards away. Thankfully, most of that hundred yards was across a river. Silver ice laced the rocks along the shore. The whole thing would soon freeze up completely. It offered Sarah no small measure of calm that for now at least, the water was too cold and deep to cross without a boat.
A tiny drop of moisture hung at the tip of her red nose. She dabbed at it with the forearm of her long sleeve T-shirt, still holding the axe with both hands. It was getting too dark to see anyway. The screened meat-shack was already little more than a black blob just a few dozen yards from the main lodge to her right. Below her, two aluminum skiffs lay tilted on the bank. The river was freezing too fast to leave them tied up in the water for even one more day.
Sarah toed the split wood to one side with her rubber boot, making a path to the main lodge behind her in case she had to run. Running. That was a joke. The stuff that killed you out here only killed you more quickly if you ran. The rational portion of her brain told her she was being foolish, but it was easy to be foolish when you were alone in a place like this.
The last paying fishermen had gone back downriver a week before. That left Sarah, her husband, and the handyman, Rolf Hagen, the only human beings for miles. Nighttime temperatures dipped into the teens now. Each morning there was more ice on the river, inching out farther and farther from the bank. They were losing five