Briar Rose

Babes

Rebecca grunted and skidded to a stop as her jeans got caught on the chain of her bike. Her Walkman fell out of her hand and landed with a nasty crack on the pavement.

“Fuckin shit!”

She bent to yank the fabric out of the gear then picked up her CD player. Brushing her choppy hair out of her eyes, she inspected the device.

“Well, doesn’t look broken,” she mumbled to herself. Pulling off her backpack, she shoved it inside along with the headphones. A light rain was beginning to fall, further drenching the bottom of her jeans. “Ugh, perfect!” She screeched.

The nineteen year old was starting to regret her decision to bike to Chicago instead of pay for a bus ticket. But, she reminded herself as she stooped to cuff her jeans, if I paid for the bus, I wouldn’t have enough for the plane ticket. And I definitely can’t bike to LA. So Rebecca fixed her jeans, adjusted her backpack, and began pedaling down the wet road.

Los Angeles was only her destination because she had a cousin that lived there who had agreed to put her up for a few months and get her a waitressing job. She didn’t really care about California or waitressing for that matter. All she wanted was to be somewhere more accepting. Her little Illinois town wasn’t “down with the times”, in fact, sometimes it felt like she was trapped in another century; one where she was expected to marry a nice boy, have 2-3 kids, and live the rest of her life in a small kitchen simply because she had a vagina.

“That’s not going to be me,” she said through gritted teeth as she climbed a hill.

After mapping out her route and talking to her cousin, she’d snuck out in the middle of the night with just a note to her parents. Draining her bank account of its measly savings, she bought a bike and a tent. Since it was mid-April, it was chilly for camping, but in the week she’d been cycling, the weather had been fine. Today it looked like that would change as the light rain turned into a heavy downpour.

Finally cresting the hill, Rebecca looked down over a dreary valley. It was misty and quiet with no cars on the road ahead or behind. The hill she was on was quite steep, but the young woman was happy for a bit of downhill after the brutal climb. She took a deep breath of fresh air and pedaled through the rain.

As she picked up speed, her short, dark hair flying away from her face, she quickly realized that the hill was more formidable than she had given it credit for. The bike sped faster and faster toward the base despite her efforts at lightly applying the break.

“Oh shit, oh shit!” Her tires hit gravel, the breaks screamed in protest, and Rebecca went skidding off the road. Her left leg hit the dirt followed by her handlebar and her elbow. She slid several feet down a bank of mud before the front of the bike careened into a tree, stopping her with a jarring crunch.

In too much shock to even swear, Rebecca just lay in the dirt grimacing in pain. The rain fell over her whole body soaking her from above and seeping into her clothes through the mud below.

A chill breeze finally roused her, motivating her to move before she froze. Getting up carefully, Rebecca was glad she didn’t feel any breaks. Her body was stiff with her elbow and the knuckles of her left hand covered in dirt and blood. She could feel the road rash sting.

“Fucking great job, Becks. Now you’re going to get some weird forest infection and die.”

When she inspected her bike, she found that the chain had fallen off and the handlebars were bent. Sighing, she picked it up and began pushing it along through the trees. The bank of the road was too steep to climb in the rain so she walked the easiest path through the woods, hoping for the road to level out with her soon.

As she walked, Rebecca began to notice that the path she threaded wasn’t just a random opening through the trees, but an actual two track. It was overgrown and subtle, but she could make out deep ruts where several vehicles had once passed regularly.

“Dammit, I hope some isolated, Illinois woodman doesn’t shoot me for being on his property.” She rolled her bike over a few mud puddles and felt the squish in her shoes.

After nearly an hour of walking, the rain let up. Rebecca was panicked that the road never seemed to even out with her. She tried scrambling up the bank a few times but only ended up muddier and exhausted, so she continued on the two track, weaving through the woods. Her digital watch beeped six o’clock. It sounded oddly out of place in the quiet wood. The only other sound being the patter of rain on leaves.

Stepping around a particularly large mud puddle, something rectangular and white caught her eye. Ahead on the path was a faded sign. Rebecca dropped her bike and pushed some of the brush out of the way to read it.

Briar Rose, est. 1876

Pop. 314

Rebecca leaned around the sign and saw the path led past it into the mist beyond the woods. It was then that she noticed the trees seemed to be izmit escort bayan thinning, getting fewer and further apart as the path went on. She stared ahead, silently willing the mist to lift. A crunch on the ground behind her had her spinning around in fear.

“Oh my, you are a mess aren’t you, dear?”

Standing there in the center of the hidden road, wearing a pretty blue cloak, was an old woman. She had silver hair and light eyes, which were raking over Rebecca’s disheveled appearance with the disapproval of a school nun.

“I fell off my bike.”

“Well yes, I can see that. Come on, we’ll clean you up. You can’t go into town looking like roadkill.”

“But I-“

“Come on, dear. This rain is only going to get worse tonight and I doubt that tent of yours could hold up under the deluge.” The woman turned and marched off into the trees.

Rebecca waited a beat, then picked up her bike and hurried to follow. “How did you know I have a tent? Where are we going?” She tripped, trying to keep up with the surprisingly quick woman. “Hey wait, who are you?”

The woman stopped ahead and as Rebecca neared, she saw a small stone cottage camouflaged by the forest.

“You certainly have a lot of questions,” the woman chuckled. “But first, let’s get inside. Some food and some dry clothes before the answers.”

The cottage door burst open and two more old women tumbled out, one tall and thin, the other short and round.

“Flora, did you find her?!”

“Oh goodness, look at you dear. Come inside, both of you,” the tall one scolded. “You’ll catch a cold out here in this.”

Rebecca dropped her bike in front of the cottage and stumbled onto the porch. Immediately, the three old women ushered her inside. The teen was too tired to feel any apprehension at entering a strange house. She only felt relief at finally being out of the cold rain.

Strong, bony fingers gripped her shoulders and steered her toward a chair by the fireplace. A mug of something warm was pressed into her hands and a blanket thrown over her shoulders. The main room of the cottage appeared to be the kitchen, the living room, and dining room all in one. Three doors lined the wall on one side, most likely leading to other rooms.

“Poor dear, I knew this weather would cause trouble,” the short, fat woman scowled. “I bet it’s all her doing too.”

The one who’d walked her to the cabin spun around, “Oh I hope not! That would mean she knows of the plan!”

“Hush you two!” The tall one admonished. “It’s just a spring storm. Now, off you go! Get the bath ready.”

Rebecca found the mug in her hands was full of broth. It tasted salty and warmed her insides immediately. She knew she should be more leary of the strange, old women, but she was exhausted and they seemed kind. As the fire thawed her out, she heard bustling behind her with sounds of sloshing and quiet chatter. The three women had pulled a large silver basin to the center of the room and were filling it with a pot of water that had been hanging over the fire.

Maybe they’re witches and they’re going to boil me, Rebecca thought with a delirious giggle. Her body and mind were giving out on her. She barely noticed when the tall woman picked her up and carried her to the basin. When they stripped her wet, dirty clothes off her, she grunted in protest, but couldn’t do more as she was immediately dumped into the warm bath.

A gentle touch scrubbed at her battered left arm, clearing away the blood and gravel. Another set of hands scrubbed the heels of her hands which were also dirty and raw from her fall. When they finished scrubbing her, she sank into the sudsy water up to her chin.

“That’s a good girl. Now come on, you need sleep. You’ve got a big day tomorrow,” one of the women cooed.

“Quiet, Meriweather. She doesn’t need to worry about that yet.”

“Oh shush both of you!”

Rebecca was lifted from the tub and wrapped in soft towels. They led her to a sofa where a heap of warm blankets was piled onto her the minute she laid down. Her eyes were so heavy and her entire body felt the exhaustion of the past week. Biking miles and miles, living off granola bars and jerky, and sleeping on the hard ground all took a toll on her. She drifted in and out of sleep as the three women worked quietly around the cottage.

“I don’t know, Flora, she’s awfully skinny,” whispered one of them.

“That doesn’t matter, dear. She’s brave.”

“How do you know that?”

“Look at what she’s doing! Traveling alone and such a long way. It has to be her. I know it. Besides, it’s been a hundred years. What do you suggest, wait another hundred for someone with bigger muscles?”

“Quiet,” came a sigh. “She’s the one. It’s time…Let’s just hope she’s enough.”

_ _

Rebecca didn’t remember falling asleep, but when she woke, the bright morning sun streamed into the silent cottage. Dust danced in the sunbeams as her eyes raked over the room, looking for any sign of her hosts. The fire izmit eve gelen escort had gone out and was just a pile of black ash. She pushed herself up off the couch.

When the blankets fell away, Rebecca realized with a start that she was still naked. She scrambled to find her backpack but it was nowhere in sight. Instead, she found an outfit laid out on the chair she’d occupied last night. It consisted of a white button up blouse with loose, three-quarter length sleeves, a full-length, deep green skirt, and some sort of black belt. Not wanting to be standing naked in the middle of the room when the women returned, Rebecca put on the old-fashioned clothes.

“Well, I feel silly,” she said as she tightened the thick belt around her slim waist. She flicked her short bangs out of her eyes and looked around the room again. On the table, there was a plate of food, some bread and fruits. Figuring this was also for her, she ate a little while perusing the cottage.

After a while, she was sure none of the women were inside, so she stepped out onto the porch where she found a pair of black boots next to her bike. Surprisingly, her bike had been repaired. It looked good as new.

When she pulled on the black boots, another surprise clanked onto the wood of the porch. A silver dagger about as long as her forearm lay in stark contrast to the dark wood. Rebecca shivered at the sight of the blade, but that’s not all that she saw, a bow and a quiver of arrows leaned on the cottage wall next to her bike. Her eyes snapped up to the surrounding woods. Why would the women leave her weapons? Was this forest dangerous?

Fighting the sudden urge to run back inside the cottage, Rebecca gingerly lifted the knife and tucked it into her belt. Growing up in rural Illinois, she knew how to use simple weapons. She’d even gone bow hunting with her father on occasion, though she didn’t know how a bow would help her while riding a bicycle. Still, she strapped the bow and quiver over her shoulders and hiked up her skirt.

Her bike tires thudded onto the dirt as she stepped down from the porch, but no other sounds and no creatures greeted her. Climbing on in a dress was difficult, but once she did, she was off through the woods. Following what she assumed was the same path from the evening before, the only thing on her mind was to get to town and find out where she was. All her money and possessions were in her bag which she hoped was just in one of the rooms at the cottage. She made a plan to find a ride in town, someone who could take her to Chicago, then she’d go back to thank the women, get her bag and hopefully be on the road before the afternoon.

Rebecca knew she was on the right path when she passed the same sign marking the way to town. The woods fell away as she pedaled yet the same mist still covered the valley as the day before. The sun, which had been out earlier, now hid behind the clouds, leaving a chill in the air. As she wound her way through the last few trees, the valley opened below her and she could make out a few houses and buildings in the fog.

Taking the descent carefully, the teen made her way toward the outskirts of a farm. Deciding that a cut across the field would be safer than the bumpy, steep road, she opened a rusty gate and went in.

The sound of the gate clanging closed echoed through the valley like an alarm. That’s when she noticed just how quiet the town was. No sounds of animals or people broke the thick atmosphere and from her vantage point at the farm, she couldn’t see anyone either.

“Okay, that’s not creepy at all,” she muttered to herself. “Maybe it’s Sunday, they could all be in church. In a small town like this, church is probably the only thing to do.” Her bike kicked out dirt behind her as she threaded through the field to the edge of town.

As Rebecca approached, she was glad she hadn’t taken the main road down. Something about it felt off. She slowed her bike and crept around the first few homes that dotted the landscape. They were all simple houses, mostly whitewashed wood, with old, dark windows. Parking behind one of these buildings, she stood on her tiptoes to peer into a room. It was a simple bedroom with wood floors and a small bed. In the bed, she could just barely make out two figures who appeared to be asleep.

“Maybe the whole town is still in bed,” she mused as she watched one of the people breathing deeply, chest rising and falling rhythmically.

She slunk away from the window, feeling her apprehension rise as the streets continued their silent vigil. When she rounded another building, a great mansion caught her eye. Standing just past the center of town, the large stone house looked formidable, but something about it drew her there. Rebecca had the sense that if she could make it there, she’d find someone who could help her.

Hopping back on her bike, she pedaled up a side street to the town’s center. A small park occupied one side of the square while izmit otele gelen escort a row of shops, all closed, bordered the other. The mist was thick in the air, hovering over buildings and blocking out the morning light. The sight of it made Rebecca uneasy as her bike flew over the gravel and cobblestone streets.

As she entered the square, the hair on the back of her neck stood. She sensed eyes on her. The manor house was just ahead, she could already make out the gate to the overgrown garden. A chill ran down her spine, but she pedaled on.

Suddenly, out of the mist on the left of the mansion a huge shadow materialized. Rebecca gripped her brakes until the bike skidded to a stop on the cobblestones. Her knuckles were white.

The sound of laughter echoed off the buildings around her. It was low, feminine, and dripping with malice.

“I know who you are,” the voice called. “I know why you are here.”

Rebecca swallowed and forced her fingers to release the brakes. She instinctively reached for the dagger at her hip as the shadow started to form a shape, bending grotesquely around itself. A silhouette of a woman appeared in the fog. She was tall, broad, and her eyes seemed to glow yellow in the muted light.

“You’re not going to make it out alive, little one.” Her voice dropped into a growl as she stalked forward. Her shape changed again, hunching then sprouting hair along her back. The cloak of darkness she wore melted into her, forming a huge, black wolf. The wolf bared its teeth and a growl rumbled the earth. Rebecca hesitated, horror-struck at the sight, then she kicked her bike around and fled back through the streets. The wolf let out a deranged howl and followed.

The teen steered her bike around curve after curve, trying to lose the wolf in the buildings, but it was following her at the same pace. She couldn’t get enough ahead. The four massive paws pounded the dirt behind her, causing her adrenaline to spike.

“Leave me alone!” she screamed desperately.

The wolf only growled.

Ahead, Rebecca saw a squat building with no windows. The tiny door hung open slightly, yawning black in the dim light. She made a split decision based on the size of the wolf. Her bike hopped the porch, slid over the wood, and through the open door. As she passed through the doorway, she leapt from the bike, grabbed the door, and slammed it closed. Closing the door plunged her into darkness. She felt a beam on the wall and pushed it down. It fell across the whole door frame and barricaded her in.

Not stopping to see if the wolf-woman would get in, Rebecca stumbled around the counter into a back room. A tiny window on the far side of the building illuminated the room and she saw two people lying across the desk. They were dressed in the same way she was, in old-fashioned clothes, and appeared to be asleep. A staircase to the right caught her eye and she ran up just as a furious thud hit the front door. The thud was followed by vicious pounding and rattling. She wasn’t sure how long the door would hold and she needed another way out.

Ascending to the top of the stairs, she found an open bedroom with a window out to the front and overlooking the back. The second floor was more of an attic, so Rebecca had to crouch as she crept along the wood. The pounding downstairs echoed in her chest, but she had no time to make sense of the crazy attack.

On reaching the far window, she found it was a short climb down the drain spout to the ground. Not even a full ten feet. I could jump, she thought. Then she did. Right as her feet hit the dirt, the sound of splintering wood let her know the wolf had breached the door. She took off at a run.

Out of the corner of her eye, the mansion loomed above all the other buildings. It seemed to be calling to her. Without meaning to, her feet fled in that direction again. As she reached the block, now approaching from the west, a frustrated howl sounded behind her. The wolf was coming back.

With no other options, Rebecca remembered the weapons on her. She pulled the bow and knocked an arrow. Her left arm screamed in agony as the scabbing skin broke open again. But she ignored it and got her arms into position just the way her father had taught her. Backing into an overgrown hedge, she used the natural elements to conceal her position. Just as her skirt swished out of sight, the wolf rounded the corner and came careening toward the manor.

“You are no match for me, little one.” The voice reverberated in her skull rather than in the air around her. “I’ve held this valley for a hundred years and I shall hold it for a hundred more!”

As the black beast barreled toward her, Rebecca watched its yellow eyes glow brighter, hungrier. She pulled back her elbow and took aim.

“I can smell your fear!” Screamed the wicked voice in her head.

Rebecca counted, One…two…three! And loosed the arrow directly between those yellow eyes.

A snap like a thunder clap echoed through the square as green lightning spiderwebbed from the spot where the wolf had been. Shielding her eyes from the lightning, Rebecca felt a hot gush of air rush past her face and ruffle her skirt. When she looked back to the spot the wolf had been, she only saw a black burn mark on the cobblestones.

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