The Everland Gazette
Traps set to catch thieving beast lurking near the old Beaumont Plantation.
New owner begins renovations on haunted eyesore.
Jacqueline’s claws dug into the dirt as she came to a stop in the shadows of the overgrown forest that surrounded and encroached on her childhood home. A growl tore from her throat as she padded back and forth along an invisible line, her fierce gaze turned toward the dilapidated back porch of the once stately mansion.
What the hell is he doing? She’d never seen the man before. He had no right to be in her bedroom!
She settled on her haunches and eyed the interloper through the French doors that framed her view of the room she’d claimed as hers over a half-century ago.
There was little she could do as the immortal beast she’d been cursed to be. Hers was a never-ending nightmare of a solitary existence—a lone wolf by day, forced to scavenge for its survival around the perimeter of an extravagant, sheltered life she’d once enjoyed—a forlorn waif by night, obligated to hide from all she’d loved until one by one they passed on and she’d become the stuff of legend. As if she were a ghost.
Sadness engulfed her tired body as she watched the stranger ransack her room. She should burst into the house, snarling and howling, and scare the shit out of the man until he ran screaming from the place, but that would only bring more trouble down around her already precarious situation. Hadn’t she avoided enough pitfalls lately? The damn trappers and vandals were getting more dangerous all the time.
After the death of her parents several years earlier, her existence had gone from bad to worse. By day, she’d had to avoid hunters and trappers, and she’d spent many nights scaring off the curious and stupid from the only home she’d ever known. Most were kids who were susceptible to persuasion and easily frightened by things that went bump in the night.
The tall man in her room today was no child, and he didn’t look the type to be easily frightened. He wore a dark, short-sleeved shirt, and faded blue jeans that hugged his tight ass and strong thighs as he climbed up a stepladder to change several bulbs in the room’s chandelier. He hopped down with lithe agility after he finished his task and flipped the switch.
He appeared young, though not too young, and strong. Very strong, she corrected as his biceps flexed when he hefted a big box of items plus the stepladder and hauled both of them out of the room.
In addition to the chandelier that illuminated the room for him while he worked, he’d already removed the dark drapes that had covered the French doors, so additional daylight streamed in.
That had been what first captured her attention when she arrived at the edge of the tree line. Her paws slapped the ground as she began to pace once more with pent-up frustration. He was ruining everything!
The rocker her father had used while holding her in his lap and reading her bedtime stories was no longer hidden beneath white cloth. In fact, all of the furniture had been unveiled. Only the wall mirror and her portrait remained covered for now, but she was certain their dust covers would wind up on a growing pile that lay on the floor in one corner; he’d yet to pick that up and carry it from the room. He’d already stripped her bedding, too, replacing it with a set of onyx-colored linens and forest-green duvet.
He’d also boxed up every piece of bric-a-brac that her mother had left untouched after Jacqueline vanished into her cursed world. All of the souvenirs of her youth, and her only connection to the life she’d once had. The sting of that thought almost made her howl with sorrow, the pain and loneliness as raw today as it had been decades ago.
She wondered why the stranger focused his efforts on her room, and what did that mean for the rest of her childhood home? Had he already stripped the other rooms, too? She wasn’t opposed to fixing up the place; it was obvious that it needed a little tender loving care—something she longed to do but couldn’t. But that didn’t mean she wasn’t furious over his presence in the house…in her room.
After her parents had closed off the room in despair over her perceived death, she’d at least been able to have a safe haven in which to rest by night before the curse and sunrise forced her back into the woods.
But now some strange man was destroying all of that!
She glanced at the orange orb hanging low in the sky. The sun would slip below the horizon soon. She had to be inside when that happened, but how could she with him there?
How the hell had he opened the bedroom door, anyway? Knowing her parents would never return to the room that held so many sad memories, she’d reinforced the door’s lock herself years ago by barricading it with furniture while they were away one night. And she’d used several scarves to reinforce the deadbolt on the French doors, too.
She’d always made her entrance into the room via the secret crawlspace in the closet that she’d discovered as a child. The old home was littered with secret passageways, but he couldn’t know of them, could he?
No! Not my— She growled again. The thieving asshole would pay for ever daring to enter her sanctuary.
She watched him dump a dresser drawer full of clothes onto the bed and seethed with impudent fury as he went through her most personal articles of clothing.
Her tail swished as she paced an ever-lengthening loop of helplessness. What was she supposed to wear each sunset after her change if he ridded the house of her wardrobe?
Something caught her leg, causing her to stumble and face-plant into the ground. She struggled and gave a firm yank as she tried to regain her four-legged stance, but one of her paws was trapped. She looked and saw it for the first time, just off the path. A snare, unlike the metal-toothed claw traps they’d peppered the property with before, this one was harder to spot and undeniably less painful, but just as effective. The thin rope held her back right leg in its firm grip. When she tugged against it, the attempt to pull free only tightened the snare.
In a panic, she faced the setting sun and let loose a howl of remorse over her own stupidity.
It’s all his fault! Her distraction over the strange man in her domain could be her ultimate downfall.