She turned off the car's headlights and drove by moonlight. The birch trees stood tall along the nearly abandoned road and the full moon shone brightly through bare branches. The air was serene. Now she turned off the radio and listened to the road, hearing her studded tires break through the thin crust of snow and scrape against the ice below.
The one-lane road was once a favorite training route for the local dog teams. Encroaching development had cut the trail in pieces, and even the strong Iditarod lobby had been unable to protect it from the builders. It worked well for her, though. Her cabin was far enough away from the main road to make it unattractive to developers. Too close to the protected State-owned land. Too expensive to wire for electricity. Impractical to hook into the plumbing and the virtually non-existent sewage system of the nearest town. So, she was able to stay out here on her own as long as she was willing to draw her water from the well and rent a snowplow to clear the road a few times each season. A few hardy neighbors lived in the area, but her four-acre lot generally provided her with enough isolation to satisfy her reclusive instincts.
Morgan relaxed her foot on the accelerator, let the car slow to a crawl, and steadied the steering wheel with her knee. Her hand shook as she fingered the manila envelope on the seat beside her and lifted it to rest on the steering wheel. She examined the typed address label on its front. She had read it a dozen times. Her name-Mrs. Richard Mayfield-and her address, done on a computer printer. No return address, no postmark. Hand delivered.
She found it this morning, shoved through the mail slot in the front door. She had argued with Richard when he bought the door the last time they remodeled. "It's silly, Richard. No one uses a mail-slot anymore-the postman drives a jeep and insists on curbside boxes. He grumbles about even having to come to the door with packages. Besides, isn't it a security risk, having an opening in the door like that?" But Richard had brushed aside her objections with a wave of his hand and pronounced the door bought and installed. "It fits the 'look,' Morgan. And it's no more a risk than the dog door you insisted on for the kitchen." And so it was done.
There were eleven pictures inside the envelope-large, grainy, black-and- white photos apparently taken with a telephoto lens and blown up to show grotesque detail of the subjects. There was no doubt it was Richard. The camera was obviously a good one, and the photo clarity left no questions.
In several pictures she could see the small scar on his cheek, a reminder of their honeymoon. During an especially active round of newlywed lovemaking, her ring had caught him near his eye-she was unaccustomed to the stone-and he had bled all over the pillow. He often joked that it was his "battle scar." In her more irritated moments, she often thought it was the one feature that added character to his face. Richard hadn't grown well into middle age. Instead of aging gracefully with his face taking on distinguished lines and personality, his features had become pudgy and soft. Where she struggled to maintain her appearance and figure, he scoffed at her outdoor lifestyle and rigorous pastimes in favor of rich, fancy dinners and long nights of drinking with business clients at the local "gentleman's" club.
Although the scar was not visible in every picture, there were other ways to tell it was he. The photographer had snapped the picture at just the right angle to show his mouth, his lips, his fast-talking and faster- moving tongue hard at work. Yes, he was always good with his tongue. She could recognize the line of his back, the soft angle of his jaw, and the weak shelf of his chin. The kneeling curve of his hips and the soft pocket of flesh above his buttocks were unmistakable. Even from behind she knew it was Richard. Bile rose in her throat as she looked at the pictures. She swallowed angry tears and refocused on the road unwinding under her car tires.
The edges of the pictures bent as she shoved them roughly into the envelope and tossed it into the back seat. It was too distracting, too tempting to open it again, too tempting to examine the faces, to see Richard's face locked in what looked like a painful grimace. She knew it was the look she had seen countless times over the years, the almost near snarl when he came. She could hear in her head the grunting exhalation that always accompanied that look. She could feel his weight as he thrust deeper into her, pounding her against the mattress.
It was always the same when he came. Despite how they started, despite how many times they rolled and shifted and changed positions, he always ended up on top, between her legs, when he wanted to come. She had tried for years to change that. She had tried riding him until her legs trembled, clenching him tightly between her thighs, matching his thrusts with her hips. She had wanted to match his intensity, grinding hard against his groin, rushing her own orgasm, trying just once to change the routine. She'd tried bringing him to orgasm between her lips, drawing her tongue across his cock, flicking the ridge under the tip of his penis like she had seen in the films Richard kept hidden in his night stand.
She'd tempted him in the kitchen, the living room, crawling on the floor between his legs as he sat in his office, anything to change the pace, anything to add spice to a sex life that had become stale and routine. But he didn't respond. Sex was for the bedroom, and when she clung to his hips, pushing him into the bed, he tensed, pushed back. He always pulled out, flipped her on her back, and pounded into her until he came between her legs. Always the same. So, yes, she knew that look.
Caught up in her own thoughts, Morgan almost missed the turn-off to her cabin when the narrow road opened to a bell-shaped turnaround marked with a "Private Property" sign. She shifted the car into park and sat with the engine idling softly. An unmarked and almost overgrown path led from behind the sign through the trees. The path never did get used much. Richard hated the cabin, hated the rustic "work-for-it" life she sought out during their infrequent vacations, so she only managed three or four trips a year to the cabin she had inherited from her father when he finally died.
Daddy had held on for so long. He and Morgan would come out here every summer, spending weeks fishing on the lake behind the cabin, tromping through the woods along familiar paths, enjoying each other's company, arguing about books and politics and movies.
They had stopped coming about two years before he died, when he could no longer make the short, quarter-mile hike from the parking lot to the cabin. Morgan had offered to have the path paved, to bring out a contractor to widen it and make the trail accessible to him. But Max Carter was stubborn. "Its perfection is in its natural state, Morgan. Let it be." So she did, and at his wishes, she continued coming here every summer. Richard refused to come with her. "If I want to draw water from a well and chop wood, I'll move to the Third World," was his standard argument. "We've evolved past that, Morgan." So she came alone.
She turned off the ignition and opened the door. Her boots crunched on the old snow. The weather had been in a strange freeze-thaw cycle, and there was a layer of ice over what would normally be soft powder. Hers were the only boot tracks in the lot, although she could see evidence of a moose and several snowshoe rabbits crossing from the trees on one side of the lot to the trees on the other. She saw a track that didn't belong, and in the moonlight she knelt down at the edge of the clearing to examine it more closely. She fingered the edges, but there was no doubt as to what it was. "Strange," she muttered. "The bears should be asleep by now."
There were several caves close to the cabin, and she knew that occasionally a bear hibernated not far from the stream. This late in the season it was unusual to see evidence of one still up and around. Unusual, but not unheard of. Some of the dog mushers on neighboring lots would occasionally tell stories of early-spring or late-summer bears surprising them during training runs. She made a mental note to keep her trash in the locked shelter outside the cabin instead of hauling it down to the car each day. Car tires were notoriously hard to resist for a chewing bear.
She opened the back door of the car and turned her focus to the envelope now sitting on top of her warm winter coat. Morgan again fingered the flap, opening it enough to see the now-crinkled edges of the plain photograph paper. They were apparently home-developed, for there was no watermark or other identifier on the back or edges of the prints, only the single line note taped to the back of the first one:
"Thought you should know. From, A Friend."
Nothing else to help her track down the person who took the pictures and dropped them into her life, unasked. Nothing to help her figure out who had troubled to expose Richard's ugly little secret. It wasn't surprising that her "friend" would want to remain anonymous, given the nature of the pictures. She could only assume that her "friend" was the other person's lover or spouse. Nor was it surprising that the pictures were amateur, developed in a workshop dark room, probably in someone's garage. Most professional places frowned on developing pictures of people engaging in oral sex. She closed the envelope and put it carefully in the front pocket of her backpack. She shouldered her pack, took her walking stick from the trunk, and started the hike to her cabin.
.... There is more of this story ...