The young woman staggered, leaving tracks through the deep snow, hugging
an unconscious child to her breast, shivering, exhausted. She paused,
gasping, attempting to gain her bearings. She turned to the left, the
right, whirls of snow casting the high desert into a blinding rage of
white. Everything was white, cold. The blizzard air turned to fire in
her lungs, seared her throat with each ragged breath. Her legs were past
the point of aching; they felt numb, heavier, and stiffer with each
stumbling push forward. She could go no further. She pushed on.
An hour earlier, the question had been one of escape. Now, it was one of
survival. After the van had been left behind, its front-end buried in a
snow embankment, rear wheels spinning uselessly when she’d attempted
to rock the vehicle back and forth and out of the snow wall, the Ski-Doo
had slid from the back of the van without too much trouble. Its engine
turned over on the first attempt, and hope once again reared its
wondrous head, though only too briefly.
Even with no helmet or face shield to protect them from the elements,
she’d made due, turning her collar to the wind, and holding on to what
little bit of hope she could grasp as her face went from stinging cold
to numb. All the while, little Valerie rode at her back, mittened hands
clinging tightly, her red-cheek face pressed against her mother’s
back, fighting the icy cold wind. Even with no destination in mind, with
no idea what direction they were heading – even in a blinding blizzard
– there was hope: as long as they kept moving, they’d eventually run
into a house, a street, a passing vehicle, a gas station, someone whom
she could flag down and beg for mercy. That hope, however, ended when,
after the snowmobile took them perhaps three or four miles further into
nowhere, the machine simply died.
If she’d thought things couldn’t possibly get worse after that,
she’d been wrong. The nightmare crept up on her again. And it was too
late; she was too tired. But her child...She had to protect her baby.
She knew the signs that preceded the attacks: An acrid smell, like
burning rubber, growing stronger. The air came alive as if electrically
charged. And the sound it made was that of an angry swarm of bees
defending the hive. It drew closer. She knew of no way to stop it. But
her little girl...
Her resources were nearly depleted, yet she had to try. The woman fell
to her knees, dropping the little girl in the snow as the scent of
burning rubber overtook her. There was only one way to save the little
girl, one last resource left to tap. The effort alone could prove deadly
to the woman; it would magnify the attack tenfold.
The woman dropped her head back until she gazed straight up at the
overcast sky. The blood drained from her face, leaving her complexion as
pale as the snow around her. Her breathing became increasingly slower,
shallower, sending small frosty plumes into the air. A light scent of
roses replaced the stench of burned rubber. She pushed the buzzing sound
to the back of her mind. The air became soft and mellow, neither hot nor
cold. She muttered an oath beneath her breath. Her expression went
funny, upper lip snarling, body twitching, eyes rolling back until only
the whites could be seen. Every muscle tightened, pulling inward.
Moments passed, bringing a greater pain. Then all at once, the pain
The child's eyelids fluttered and came open. "Mommy...? Mommy!"
The woman crumbled over on her side, losing her grip on the child,
nearly losing her grip on consciousness. "Go, sweetheart," she said,
lips trembling in a stammering whisper. "Hurry. It's coming."
"No!" the girl shrieked. She shook her head in disbelief. "I won't leave
"Look for shelter, a light. Run!”
The child got to her feet, not bothering to wipe the snow from her coat
or jeans. Tears welled up in her eyes and clung to her long lashes. Both
mittened hands balled into desperate fists as she looked around her,
taking in the blinding snowstorm. Her bottom lip quivered as she hitched
for air. She was only five years old, but old enough to understand the
danger. It was one she'd lived with for more than half of her life.
She grabbed her mother by the wrist and pulled back using all her might,
crying, feet slipping in the snow. Her face was red and stinging from
the cold. Her voice shook. "Mommy, I can't! Please. Please. I can't
leave you! Mommy...Mommy! Please! You gotta WAKE UP!"
Shortly after dark, John removed his wool trousers and turtleneck
sweater and slipped into silk pajamas. He extinguished the flame of the
last candlestick and now stood, cane in hand, staring into the warm glow
of the fireplace.
The blizzard was forecast to hit the northeast portion of Arizona late
tonight and had arrived a bit early. Due to the last several days of
overcast skies, his electrical supply was low. The solar panels had been
rendered all but useless, and the numerous candles placed throughout his
home, though not quite an absolute necessity, presently served as his
main lighting. There was, however, a gas generator for back up and
enough fuel – if rationed carefully – to take him through the next
He’d grown accustomed to inclement weather. His hometown of Dover,
located a couple hours outside of London, had left him with a full
appreciation of all four seasons. Here, however, in the upper desert
region of northeastern Arizona, the snow meant total isolation. There
were no stores within reasonable walking distance. No gas stations; not
even a police station. The closest neighbor resided over a mile away –
as the crow flies. With the way the snow was coming down, his Land
Rover, parked across the yard in the garage, would not see daylight for
at least another week.
The bedroom he had claimed as his own was a generous thirty by
thirty‑five and made the king sized, four-poster bed seem almost
Standing before the stone fireplace, he stirred the embers, tensing
briefly as sparks jumped then briefly danced like fireflies. John bent
low, grasped and tossed in a couple of sticks of wood, one at a time. He
lingered for a moment to bask in the dry, crackling heat.
Across the stone mantle, rested several snapshots of his wife and young
son. One by one, he gave each of the six photos his full attention,
wanting – needing – to remember their every detail. Each evening,
each morning, the ritual was the same. He was alone. The photos were all
that was left of the ones he had loved most.
Times such as this, if not for the hiss and occasional snap of the fire,
the silence in the house would surely consume him entirely. John dropped
his gaze to the gray slate hearth, watching as it reflected a muted glow
from the fire. The flames popped, crackled, and the lyrics to one of the
songs he'd written some twenty years before came to mind. His grip
tightened on his cane as he recited the first passage of Yesterday's
Dreaming of You softly to the fire.
Two hundred sixty acres of desert wasteland had been purchased and the
house had been built about two years after the helicopter accident and
after one quasi-successful attempt at an on‑stage comeback. Quasi,
because his heart had not been in it. The property was situated twenty
miles from the nearest town, nine miles from the nearest paved road, and
was just about the furthest he could get from civilization in this
desert state, and still have access to the town’s supplies.
"Bear" padded into the room, curling up on the braided rug at the foot
of the bed. The old dog whined and regarded his master with large
soulful eyes as if troubled by the storm.
"Merry Christmas, Bear," John said as he turned from the fire. "Looks
like we’re going to be snowed in for a while." Christmas – he'd
almost forgotten. It was strange how the days all blended together and
passed so quickly. How a single day could seemingly stretch into
He scratched the black chow behind the ear, then turned down the sheet
and slipped into bed. He listened to the wind shriek and howl as if it
were a living thing. The storm had moved in with great intensity. A
distant loose shudder flapped and banged against a stone wall. In
response, Bear's whining grew louder, more desperate. And despite it
all, John drifted off to sleep, returning to a time before Rap music,
before Disco, to an era when Rock ‘n’ Roll ruled the charts with
John awoke and sat up in bed, eyes stinging, dry. Smoke filled the air.
His throat felt sore, parched. He got to his feet, using the
five‑foot-high posts and frame of the bed to maneuver his way to the
wall, where he drew up a nearby window. Outside, the storm waged war,
spitting snow into the room, backing up the chimney. He reached the
fireplace just as he heard Bear barking from halfway across the house.
Judging by the sound, the dog was in the foyer, wanting to go outside.
A moment later, the dog came and stood in the doorway, then edged into
the room at a reluctant pace, looking towards John, then back towards
the doorway, then back at John again. Bear whined, nudged John's hand
with his muzzle, then took hold of his master's pajama sleeve with bared
teeth, tugging, as John attempted to throw open another window.
The dog whined again, but refused to give up its hold on the silk
"All right, all right. Let me get my cane, and I’ll let you out."
It only took a moment of gentle persuasion and Bear let go. The dog
returned to the doorway, stopped, and turned around, issuing a quick
bark as if he didn’t quite trust the situation.
"Go on, boy. I'll be right there."
By the time John had the smoke mostly under control and reached the
living room, Bear was already in the foyer, pawing at the large oak
"You're going to freeze out there," John grumbled, tucking a flashlight
under his arm. "You sure this is what you want?"
Bear turned around, meeting John's gaze with a pair of urgent dark eyes.
The dog issued another bark in response.
John retracted the deadbolt, pulled open the door, pointed the
flashlight's beam outside and said, "Off with you! And hurry!"
Bear started into a fit of barking as he edged further onto the porch.
Instead of continuing his advance, the chow started backing slowly
towards the doorway as the storm spit icy bits of snow into the foyer.
As Bear moved back, John moved forward, going out into the storm.
Halfway across the snow-covered porch, he dropped the cane and went to
his knees. A spike of pain shot up his bad leg, yet the agony was
secondary to a different kind of distress.
He shone the flashlight upon the object in question. There was a beige
overcoat. A child's coat, dusted with snow. Huddled within was the
owner. Too small to be an adult. Too small to be a young teen.
"Dear Lord." Dropping the flashlight, he scooped up the child – a
little dark-haired girl. She fell pliable against his chest and he held
her close against him as he struggled to his feet sans cane. "Can you
hear me?" John attempted to rouse her, his warm hand holding her cold
face. She wasn't conscious. But as he pulled her closer, he could feel
her warm breath against his neck as he made his way inside. "Bear, get a
She couldn't have weighed more than forty pounds and yet getting her
through the living room without the aid of his cane was a struggle. John
silently cursed his mangled leg. He cursed the helicopter accident that
had left him this way, and then gritted his teeth against the pain as he
made his way past the Steinway, to the couch in the main sitting area.
He gently set the child down and brushed a hand against her icy red
cheek, while his other hand searched for the lamp switch.
The little girl was about the same age as his son, Ryan, when the boy
had died. Four, maybe five years old. The situation was beyond
imagination. The child had to have parents, guardians, someone who was
supposed to be in charge of her welfare, and yet here she was, nine
miles from the nearest paved road, left in a blizzard. And the nearest
hospital was over twenty-five miles away. No snowplows would be out in
this kind of weather. Neither ambulance nor police would be able to make
it here through the blizzard. The roads would be closed, possibly for
several days. The Land Rover would never make it up Disaster Hill, upon
which his property bordered, not even with a set of chains. Not only was
the hill steep, but it was also filled with deep ruts and littered with
boulders – both large and small – and one wild curve where the land
fell sharply away into oblivion. A slip of the tires at the wrong moment
and there wouldn't be enough left of his Land Rover for a tow truck to
pull away, or enough of the vehicle's occupants to warrant an ambulance.
When Bear returned dragging a blanket, John sent the chow on another
errand for a pillow. Now that she was inside, and the snow on her shoes
was melting, John could see that they had become soaked clear through.
He slipped them from her feet, removing a pair of wet socks. Thankfully,
both feet were a healthy shade of pink. He noticed no whitish
discoloration around the toes, no signs of frostbite, which was a
miracle in itself. He had no idea how far this little girl had walked,
but it was probably at least nine miles. Because the dirt cutoff from
the highway that led out here had been impassable by car since the
snowfall of last week, and her face wasn’t one he recognized from the
She may have fainted from exhaustion. Then again, it could be something
much more serious. Whatever the reason, he had to get her body
temperature back to normal. He quickly undressed the child to her
underclothes and had her wrapped in the blanket by the time Bear came
dragging a pillow.
"Thanks, boy," John said, scratching Bear behind the ear. "I'm going to
grab my cane and draw a cool bath. Watch her for me."
John struck a match to the stovetop and set three kettles to boil. For
the first time since he'd moved out here, he battled fear. Prior to
tonight, he had considered himself prepared for any eventuality. The
pantry stood stocked with a year's supply of food, some of which he had
canned himself. The chest in the master bath had a wide assortment of
medicines. He had solar panels to take advantage of the Arizona sun, a
gas generator for back up. He had a library of books to challenge the
mind and keep him amused. A generous stash of pain medication for when
his leg acted up or when he was just plain bored. What he did not have
was a telephone or CB, or Internet, or transmitter of any kind. It had
never seemed necessary before.
While the water heated on the stove, John went into the guest bath and
lit the gas heater to take the chill from the air. He left the bathroom,
closed the door behind him, and went into the living room to check on
the girl. A few feet from the couch, he stopped short, eyes still red
and watering as the scent of smoke hung in the air, meeting the child's
gaze. She had awakened and lay trembling beneath the blanket, eyes wide,
and teeth clattering.
"My name is John. You’re safe here. How are you feeling?" he asked,
edging closer. "Are you hurt?"
"My mommy," she uttered in a voice so small that John found himself
leaning closer. "She’s hurt."
Until the child spoke, it hadn’t occurred to him that there was
someone else in need of rescue. Hurt. Somewhere out in the blizzard.
John attempted to maintain some semblance of composure, as much for the
child’s sake as for his own. He eased into a sitting position next to
the child, maintaining a grip on his cane. She was definitely not one of
the children from the five-mile stretch he referred to as 'the
neighborhood.' He couldn't imagine why this little girl was so far from
home – especially on Christmas and during a blizzard. "Where is your
"Outside. She got hurt."
A tear slipped down the girl's chipmunk face. She swallowed hard,
wincing, shivering, teeth clattering. "By the big hill. Flat hill.
Excerpted from "Hidden Doors, Secret Rooms" by Jamie Eubanks. Copyright © 2013 by Jamie Eubanks. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpts are provided solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.