Snowflakes drifted lazily to the frozen white carpet that carpet the covered the roads and grounds. Rutherford looked up from the obituary page as dark shadows moved past the living room window.
"Brent," Rutherford Zucks asked, "are we expecting company?"
"No, Master," Brent Field replied, looking up from his snowmobile magazine. "Is someone outside?" He stood up and walked to the window as two men walked away in the distance, their shapes illuminated by the full moon. They wore orange hats and carried green knapsacks and hunting rifles. "I reckon they're just cutting through to hunt up on the mountain ridge."
Rutherford shivered. "This is a night to stay in. It's cold enough to freeze the blood in these old veins."
"Master, how about a ride on the snowmobile? There's a full moon."
The older man answered, "No, what I'd love right now is a hot toddy to take the chill from these old bones. Or hot apple cider like Momma used to make on winter nights like this and sit in front of the fireplace.
* * *
Snow crunched beneath the men's boots as they reached the mountaintop. The bright moon peeked out from behind tall pine trees. The older man with gray beard said, "Phil, you get some wood for a fire and I'll start some hot grub."
Soon a bright fire crackled in the cold crisp night. The young man stood up, rubbing his hands together over the hot red and yellow flames. He wore an orange toboggan hat, and his nose was red. He swiped at his dripping nose with his sleeve. "Hey, Darren, I need something to warm me up."
The older man said, "Got her right here." He grabbed a can of beer from a small ice chest and tossed it, "Heads up!"
With a P-38 can opener on his key chain, Darren opened cans of chili beans and poured them into a large aluminum pot. Then he added a can of pork barbeque, stirring the mixture up and doused it generously with red dots of Diablo #10 hot sauce.
Phil belched saying "Ralph" in the same breath and beamed in pride.
The older man said, "That's nothing. I learnt better than that in junior high. Won many a belching contest saying over half the alphabet." He took a swig from his beer can and belched. "Now, that's a man burp. I'm full of gas," he said and laughed.
"Well, get away from the fire, for gosh sake."
The older man dished out the hot bubbling brown mixture and said, "More hot sauce?"
Phil took a sniff. "Nah."
Darren challenged, "I bet your eyes water before mine."
"Probably so, but no more hot sauce. Give me a slice of bread in case this stuff sets my tongue on fire." Phil got another beer from the cooler and sat down on his sleeping bag. He took a long, long drink and crumpled the can against his forehead, throwing the can into the fire. He belched. This one came from deep in his belly and gained strength as it rose to his throat. "Now that's a real burp. I don't care who you are." He tasted the bean mixture and exclaimed, "OO-wee, them's hot as firecrackers." He tore off a piece of bread to put in his mouth to soothe his burning tongue. His cheeks turned red, and sweat ran down his forehead.
"You trying to kill me or something? I need another beer." He took another big swallow and sighed. "Now, I gotta go to the trees."
"Watch out for bears."
Phil said, "Oh, geez, you're a laugh riot. It's too cold out here for bears."
Darren warmed his hands over the fire. A few minutes later, a scream of terror made him stand up and run to the bank.
* * *
Brent sat down and opened his magazine. "Master, did you know there are snowmobile rules of etiquette? Says so right here in this article. Let's see, headlights on at all times. Pass on the right of other riders. Use hand signals -- "
Rutherford reminded Brent, "We're in a very remote area, remember?" He pulled the red lap robe over his legs, his feet warm in red fuzzy houseshoes. "These slippers are right nice that Amanda ordered over the internet for me." He wiggled his toes. "I wonder how they're doing. In this cold, her friend won't need purple lipstick to have purple lips."
"I'm sure looking forward to Biker Week again -- warm sunshine, Blue Motorcycle drinks, sandy beaches --"
"Stop, you're making me feel colder than I am. You know, I think this year I'll try to build up my tolerance for a drop of whisky in my daily nourishment."
A loud pounding on their door interrupted Rutherford's thoughts. Brent opened the door, and a gust of cold wind wrapped itself around him. A man stood there, snow frozen in his gray beard. "Need to use your phone to call for help. Got a man missing."
Brent said, "Our phone is in the kitchen. What happened?" Rutherford stood in the kitchen doorway.
The man took off his gloves and blew on his red hands. "My buddy fell down the mountain with a blood-curdling yell." Rutherford's eyebrows raised at the word "blood."
Brent frowned at him.
The man continued, "Last time I saw him was by the tree. I looked down over the bank but we'll never get him without help." He dialed the operator.
Soon the Sheriff was at their door. Brent showed him into the kitchen where they sat at a kitchen table. The Sheriff took a sip of hot steaming coffee as Brent poured a cup for the hunter, now shivering as he tried to get warm. Rutherford sat at the head of the table with a hot cup of coffee before him but not drinking.
Brent said, "I've got a snowmobile and we'll go out looking if you want."
Rutherford said, "I know exactly where that young fellow went tumbling. I'll direct."
The Sheriff said, "Okay, my deputy is on the way with a snowmobile. You two go on and get a head start. He had to stop and help Old Bart. Was out on the roof in long johns, thinking he was Santy Claus and got stuck in his chimbly. Full moon brings them all out."
Outside Brent revved the bright red snowmobile's engine and turned on the lights. He looked over in pride as the Master now wore a black snow suit with black gloves, a helmet and goggles. "Cold?"
"No," answered Rutherford. "Amazing. I packed a blanket and a flask of whisky for that young fellow. He must nigh be froze to death."
"Okay, Master, tell me the way once I get to the top of the first hill." The snowmobile roared up the mountain trail.
"Turn left over towards those pine trees," Rutherford yelled.
At the steepest point of the mountaintop, Brent and Rutherford followed by foot the footsteps indented in the snow. "Hey," Brent yelled. "Can anyone hear us?"
The night was deadly still. Brent shook his head. "I don't hear a thing."
Rutherford held up his hand. "Wait, vampire bats have extremely sensitive hearing. I think I hear something down that way," he said and pointed down the bank. "He sounds really weak. I'll need that blanket."
Brent said, "Wait and I'll get it with the flask."
The two men looked down the steep bank. "But how will we get down there? It's a sheer drop off."
Rutherford said in a quiet voice, "There is a way."
Brent gasped. "But, Master, the last time you turned into a bat, it took a week to turn back to human form. The next time, who knows?"
"I know, but I have to try. Put that blanket over my shoulders." Rutherford closed his eyes and concentrated. Five minutes later, nothing had changed. He sighed. "This sure looks easy in the movies. Let me try one more time." Two minutes later, the Master's thin face resembled a fuzzy bat. He flapped his wings, careful not to lose the blanket or flask, and disappeared into the darkness of the trees down the mountain.
The sound of a snowmobile motor got louder as headlights showed the campfire the area. Brent yelled and waved at the Sheriff and deputy. He pointed down the hill. The Sheriff cut off the motor and said he would climb down to see if he could find the young man. The deputy tied a rope to him, just in case. Brent, helping the deputy, held onto the rope and listened to the quiet night, in vain, for the sound of flapping wings or the sight of a skinny-legged bat.
The deputy ducked and yelled, "Watch out, a bat just flew over my head."
Brent watched as the bat flew up and landed on a tree limb. The bat closed his wings and shivered, probably longing for fuzzy red house shoes and a warm fire. Brent shook his head as he heard a distinctive bat sneeze. Oh, no, Brent thought, will the Master catch pneumonia? And if he couldn't turn back to human form, where would he find a vet who treated bats?
To purchase a copy of Beverly's book, Gothic Bedtime Stories, contact her at P. O. Box 803, Alderson, WV, 24910 or by email: hbpoe(at)excite.com. The cost of the book is $15.00 -- mention the Piker Press for free shipping.