The stops were more frequent now. Caroline no longer knew if they were even still in the wretched county but she knew there was some kind of change amongst the travellers. The rest of the crew that she had left with had been further reduced in number. After their last stop, another two had perished in the cold and a few had gone missing prior to this. The cold in the caravan increased ten fold for lack of their body heat and their packages remained. Those that remained were untrusting of the man who had arranged their travel. There were whispered rumors among the others that these men meant to kill them all eventually. There was even a cruel and terrifying rumor that perhaps they were not even headed towards the houses in the woods after all. It was made all the worse when there was one among them that had recognized this area that they had most recently stopped in. That man had run off shortly after though he’d brought his package with him. The package returned but he never did.
Caroline had never seen this newest stop before. Curiouser still was that they were stopping during the day this time. Until this moment, they had made a point to wait until night fall to conduct whatever business was to be done. It was always done outside of the range of hearing for the caravan and each time it was done, they would be shuffled out with their packages, Caroline’s specifically held like a child and treated as such. She wondered idly if they were simply getting careless or if they were outside of the range of any danger of getting caught by those they knew. She knew better on the second part, however. It was clear from the surroundings and the way they spoke that they were still in Courtland County but where remained a mystery to her. It was out of the way of town, for sure. There was talk among some others that it was a few miles out of the township proper and that one would need a reliable automobile to reach it. No one might stumble on it by foot which was a part of its expressly limited charms.
It was a sorry plot of land fenced off from the back roads they had travelled. There were obvious signs that someone had been there more recently from the fresh tire tracks in the snow but it was hard to figure on whom that might have been. There were no people there now as they filed out of the caravan. No one, except the men who had arranged for this wretched journey. It was a wonder that any of them had survived this far though a few of them were even looking worse for their struggles. With each stop, they looked more wretched and closer to the death they’d already delivered to most of the party. Caroline would rather see all the brutes perish in the misery that they had bestowed upon them all but it was all for the better that they survive to get them to their destination. She knew that they had done some unspeakable things along the way and it was for the best that the other ladies were all dead now. They had not had to see what manner of filth they were travelling with. Had they not been suffering through the dead of winter, she imagined they would not have survived anyway. All the better in the end though. The women were her biggest competition in getting where she was going. Being the only one left, she now had the best chance she would ever have to get her fingers into the cracks of that foundation and ruin that house forever. Still, there was the issue of surviving the rest of the journey and this newest stop appeared to be something of a challenge already.
The area was deserted with a heavy border of trees around it but there were trails not that far away. Roads, she heard in whispered tones, that were used only by certain men in this area. Men, she heard, that were not to be trusted because of whom they were associated with. It was a dangerous area for sure, but the property that they stood upon had an air of danger to it all its own. First of all, the road here had been wretched and difficult to travel. Because it was difficult to find and not often travelled, this trail was set apart from the more violent areas close by but the snow here was treacherous and deep. She only knew of the true hardship of the road by how often they’d become stuck and had to engage the other passengers in the caravan to move the vehicle forward. The cold, it seemed, was also brutally forceful here and it seeped through all their layers with a wicked bite. Anyone coming here seemed to have a death wish, she thought to herself.
But someone had been here. It was curious to her that she could see the former tracks that had been left. They were not fresh tracks and there had been at least a snowfall or two between when they’d been by and since the caravan’s arrival. It was a wonder that they’d made it there at all. There were areas the caravan had been stranded that Caroline could see the other vehicle had become quite vexed as well. Still, the few tracks that might be there did not seem to have gotten quite as stuck. By contrast, it looked as though that vehicle had come and gone with more ease than their own heavy vehicle could. She had thought to herself for the rest of the journey that it was must have been a sturdy vehicle to have made such a trek through this kind of hazardous journey. She wondered who would be so foolish as to come to this place other than the likes of the desperate? She knew that the driver could not have been someone who had done some pleasure ride through town either. No, this person had to have been someone who might have some skill behind the wheel. Her heart turned to stone as soon as she realized that one probably hired such a driver when they knew of such skill. They would hire a professional to keep them safe from their own incompetence. And that vehicle must have been quite an expensive one to be able to drive through such a harsh winter. Why, she had seen some wretched winters out in the rural areas of her beloved France, had she not? And who might be better to drive out to these forgotten wastelands than one who would know such conditions? There were few people in the county with cars that were able to travel in such conditions. Caroline felt her heart seize with greater anger when she realized that a richer family might be able to do something like this. Oh yes, a richer family might have a bigger car or the means to get through these wretched roads. One that harbored her enemy and the one that she sought. She remained quiet but vigilant as they approached and finally found their way into the compound of the horrible little area with a house that was failing under the weight of the heavy snow.
The loveless building before her only seemed to reflect her own shadowy heart. She hated it but she knew that it was only fitting to be standing here amid the winter winds of this awful place. She did not know for certain that this place might be connected at all to that wretch but she could not imagine that Vivian’s wealth could not be used to reach such a place. The true wonder is what might be hidden in such a vile sight that might attract her. She was a society witch, after all. There was no overt reason for her coming to such a wasteland for pleasure and there seemed to be no merit in it on the surface. Then again, there was no true reason that she could find that they were standing there now. She had long since assumed that their travels to the forest were a front for something and her suspicions were all but confirmed as the deaths continued to come and no one was concerned in the slightest about the lack of laborers to come to work for the wealthy. It was true, they were nothing more than the downtrodden, but this hardly mattered when it came to hired help. Those in the forest were always in need of something. Why they wouldn’t be clamoring now for the aid, she did not know.
The remaining wretches who had made this terrible journey were standing in a small shelter but only Caroline was allowed to keep her bundle this time. She’d taken to carrying it like a child so often now that no one seemed to notice it was not. In fact, some people had commented on the lack of covering for the bundle, though it was obvious to all that it was not a child in her arms. They huddled together, eating the meager scraps that they were allowed. Still, Caroline was less hungry this time around. Her mind was aflutter with trying to piece together how to get to the forest faster. To figure out what might take her there and how she might yet get to Vivian. He answer came sooner than she expected.
“You sure about that man?” one of the men called to another. He was further away and no one seemed to pay him any mind but Caroline stayed still and quiet, listening. “He ain’t working for nobody, right?”
“Boss is a dead man, you know that,” the man she’d first spoken to replied as he hauled bundles away and into the shadows of the house. “Heard that lady in town got him good. Heard she was the same one that got old Johnny boy too. Served him right, trying cross the bigger man.”
“You think this is White behind this one?”
“I heard rumors but that’s about it,” the second man shrugged. “Tell you what, Gray is a slippery bastard but if the Brothers trust him, I won’t question that. Besides, White’s got some clout in this town. He gets things done and considering that Johnny Boy was holding us up, if that viper got him, no big loss. He was getting too flashy anyway.”
“I heard she’s still out there,” the first man warned. “Heard she’s a bit rough around the edges but still a looker. Gotta be careful around that one.”
“Oh she’s safe as safe can be in that house out in the woods,” the second man chuckled. “Kent must have her under control by now. Last I was told, he had her under lock and key and knowing that house, she won’t be causing much trouble anymore. Nothing for us to worry about in any case when we make our next visit.”
“He does have a way with the ladies,” the first man agreed.
The voices of these men trailed off but Caroline could feel her heart racing. The Kent house. Her enemy was so close now and she knew that these men knew how to get there. She had to go. She had to make them take her when they arrived. Now that her wings were clipped, her bird of prey was ripe for the taking. She just had to find a way into that house and revenge was hers. She cooed at her imaginary child, humming to herself. It would all be in her hands so very soon.