Riley cut through the slab of ruby red meat with purpose. He didn't waste any motions in filling his mouth with the rare beef and quickly emptied the plate. Any thoughts I had of food had been chased away seeing how all he'd done to 'cook it' was that he basically charred the meat in a steaming hot cast iron skillet then pulled it from the stove and now was eating it nearly raw. It wasn't blue but pretty damn close. The pool of blood on his serving platter, that he used as a dinner plate, was growing nearly as quickly as the hunk of beef was disappearing. He took a moment to find a loaf of bread from the cupboard and pulled out a half dozen slices. He tore off a paper towel from the spindle next to the sink and put the bread next to his plate. Then he used the slices of bread to sop up the blood and chewed rather politely with his mouth closed. It still made me queasy.
The small kitchen was heavily cloaked with the scent of the burnt grease from his frying the beef in the sizzling blackened skillet. Glancing around the room, I saw that the smoke had nearly coated every available surface. Even with the window opened there hadn't been enough time to clear out the smoke. I sneezed.
He mumbled something that could have been a blessing or a curse. Either way I had been raised well, so I said, "Thank you."
A grumble and he polished off the meat and swabbed the small pool of blood remaining on the platter with the last piece of bread he'd pulled out from the loaf. I was pretty well freaked by how quickly he'd finished the meat, not to mention six slices of bread. I seriously underestimated the amount of food he could consume. The blizzard outside reminded me that it would be at least a day or two before I could venture out again and buy anything more.
The howling winds pelting down an icy mix of snow and hail must have hit a local transformer because the lights flickered and then went completely off. The entire house was silent. I could hear the relentless weather pounding the small house and fingers of icy cold added to the already uncomfortable chill.
Werewolves had very good night vision I knew, so I wasn't overly surprised to hear Riley get up from the table in the deeply shadowed house. But admittedly I was shocked to hear him humming softly while washing his plate and flatware. I hadn't pictured him as domesticated in any way, but the sounds of water splashing and the smell of the dish soap proved he did know his way around the kitchen.
Sighing, he sat back down and said, "So Esmeralda, why again did you think winter was the ideal time to pop into this particular abandoned salt mine?"
Somewhat paraphrasing my earlier statement I said, "It's less likely I will be seen."
"But wasn't this nasty blizzard predicted for the past week on every local news station?" He was sounding a tad put out but then he had flown from sunny Southern California for many hours to end up chilling -- literally -- in Michigan at Uncle Harry's decree. I hadn't asked for any assistance, but unasked, Uncle Harry had read between the lines and sent Riley to be my backup.
"Riley, the local weather stations predict epic storms nearly every week during winter around here. 'Lake effect' or 'seasonal' -- it doesn't really matter. The weather folks talk about blizzards every single time there are two or more clouds in the sky. Like, they don't even have to be near each other for the drama to begin and the show-interrupting notifications of the watches and alerts. I have been here a while and I've been told that the approaching storm was going to be the blizzard of the century at least a half dozen times and we never got more than a few inches of snow -- a half a dozen at most." I defended myself while rubbing my hands over my shoulders. It was really getting cold inside. The radiator Riley had gone down into the basement to fix hadn't even got the temperature above twenty degrees and with the lack of power I wasn't sure if it would keep running. What I knew about furnaces and radiators could maybe fill a post-it note if I wrote very large.
"Okay, so you finally are getting your blizzard. Is that going to change the trip down under to the salt mines or is it all still a go?" he asked without inflection in his tone. I was amazed he was trying to be reasonable. Uncle Harry must have really given him some boundaries for dealing with me.
Looking at him through my foggy breath I said, "Pretty much has to be a go soon because next month there are talks of reopening the mines and starting up the business of breaking out the rock salt. The mines are one of the largest continuous veins of salt around from what I've read."
He made a disgusted noise and said, "Tonight during this blizzard do you plan on popping down there?"
"Actually, no. Initially I had thought I would but there are a few more journals and books that I want to flip through before I do the jump." I also was a bit unsure of the maps I'd found during my research because there were some major inconsistencies between dimensions and distances.
Funny how I didn't want to end up in the middle of a closed off finger of the main tunnels and get trapped by the salt. It was a horrible thought being stuck to slowly die of starvation if the lack of water didn't get me first. Neither options seemed in the least attractive to me nor did the idea of Riley having to rescue me. Either way it didn't thrill me to be in such a dilemma. He was basically a backup plan that Uncle Harry supplied and now I was stuck with -- oh what fun.
The sarcasm surely was on my face because I knew I was in a mood. The ice cold room certainly wasn't helping any. I seriously doubted that the landlord would be showing up to fix the problem any time soon. Riley's discovery in the basement had been pretty much an eye-opener coupled with finding out that my thermostat was fake and didn't raise the temperature one bit. I seriously doubted that the power outage was going to be resolved in the middle of the blizzard. I knew that without bothering to call the power company.
"Okay, so then where am I going to sleep?" The large werewolf glanced around the small cottage with an arched eyebrow.
It was tough, but I resisted smacking him just because I was fairly certain he'd just punch me back into next week automatically. Werewolves did play rough; I'd seen that more than once when around Uncle Harry and his menagerie of misfits. He rarely let me meet up with the vampires because I was still a secret for all practical purposes, and the werewolves didn't care about much but their own little games. He had long decided that his werewolves weren't going to go tattle to the Vampire Council minions about me because of the help he'd given them over the decades. I'd had on and off companions when growing up that just happened to be weres. Bobby, one of the first werewolves I'd met, had been tasked with watching out for me like an older brother or cousin. He had taken the role seriously but werewolves liked to be around other weres because it was their pack nature. So over the years I'd been able to see how they interacted with a 'human' near. Also since Bobby had vouched for me there was probably more that I'd been witness to than most normal humans.
Looking at Riley, I figured I'd better give up my bed so he could get some sleep. His somewhat sunny disposition wasn't going to last forever and he was growling slightly at the freezing conditions inside my rented cottage. Finding that the landlord had a fake thermostat in the living room had been a shock but before the power went out Riley had taken the time to fix that problem. Feeling generous, I pointed to the bedroom saying, "Knock yourself out."
I didn't add 'literally' but I was most assuredly thinking it loudly. He simply ignored my comment and headed to the room without another word. But I guess that since he'd just finished a couple pounds of meat he was probably busy digesting all that food, and a nap could possibly help improve his social skills. I giggled softly at the notion of Riley possessing a set of social skills beyond what I'd seen so far from him. As the door slammed I figured my slightly mocking giggle had been overheard. I was good at self-entertaining and if Riley tried to pounce on me for snickering, I knew that I could pop out of range just inside the house without attracting any attention from the snowbound locals. Uncle Harry wouldn't be happy if his pet werewolf didn't play nice with me. I knew that went without saying.
Figuring I had at least an hour or two before Riley woke I decided to research some of the areas in the salt mines that were concerning me. I didn't plan on spending a month down there so I had to refine my search before I jumped. Thankfully I had thought to buy a few fake kerosene lamps while at Wal-Mart. They were battery operated and I had bought a ton of batteries, so I quickly loaded three of the six lamps and placed them around the papers I'd assembled. I didn't want to find myself a foot beneath the floor of the mine because I hadn't bothered to do my research.
The biggest worry was the absolute exact distance from the top of the mine to the floor of main chamber. I could withstand a drop of a foot or so without getting harmed; I'd figured that out long ago on one of my many little treasure hunts. The highest point in air that I'd fallen from had been a good five feet above the ground and that stung -- but luckily I hadn't broken my leg. Mostly I was able to calculate the spot within a foot easily. I'd never popped beneath a site floor and didn't want this little trip to be my first time.
The one diary I'd liberated a few years ago seemed to have been written by a very crafty man. He'd been a miner and a foreman for years. Over time he'd found many of the abandoned nooks and crannies that had yielded various bits and pieces. The man freely admitted in his journal that he stole whatever wasn't nailed down and a few things that were. He didn't much care for the company and felt he'd got a raw deal with it came to the pay and perks. He was self-educated and he felt quite deeply that he was treated as little more than an old donkey to be put in the traces and worked until death.
His words weren't always correctly spelled and his punctuation was seriously lacking for the most part, but still he crafted a story that had me returning to again and again to read. There was something he'd discovered that he wasn't easily able to explain that perplexed him long past his working hours. I rustled through the pages I'd copied out of the book; the journal had been heavily handled and I'd resorted to photocopying the pages to preserve the words as best as I could.
Quickly I was pulled back in time with the journal.