Chapter summary: Me? Hug trees? I'd rather be waltzing at a cotillion than be caught dead — ha-ha — by a forest cabin. What next? Wear flannel and grow my hair long? Oops, doing that, too. Sigh! Trot out the painted baby seals ... mmm, seal: yummy!


I swung my head around, looking to see what happened, looking for Rosalie, and I missed her on the first pass, but then her scream alerted me to her presence. It was just like the one she wailed in the cabin.

But it was much shorter, and sounded like it was cut off, as if she was being choked, or, most likely, had run out of air in her lungs.

She stood about fifteen feet away from me, ramrod straight, arms pressed stiffly against her sides, her hands clenched into tight fists. Her head was thrown back in a scream that now made no sound. She stood there, like that, for five, then ten, more seconds. As each second passed, I became more scared. Rosalie, in her silent scream, was more terrifying than as she was as a banshee.

I was partially lying down in the snow still, my hands pressed into it lifting my upper body and head from the white blanket in my search for my resident vampire. My hands and legs were starting to freeze, but now was not the time to call attention to myself. Maybe she'd run away again?

No such luck. Her head snapped back down to her usual chin-held-high position, and her eyes fixed on mine. They weren't black, but they were cold, determined, and furious. They seemed to harpoon me, fixing me to the ground. Her face hardened into set lines, and, if anything, turned whiter. The standoff lasted a second that stretched on for ever, and then she seemed to come to a decision. Her jaw clenched.

It looks like I had crossed some uncrossable line.

She lifted up her left foot and planted it into the ground in front of her. This is the first time I had ever seen her break the snow's surface when she walked, and the ground actually trembled as she advanced as the snow exploded away from her penetrating foot. Her right foot lifted and planted itself through the snow onto the ground, which shook again. I could feel her eyes on mine as she closed the distance purposefully, but I couldn't look into those terrifying orbs. I only saw her powerful stride and the snow parting like water as she advanced. And then I realized what she was going to do.

She was going to kick me. She was going to kick me to death.

I rolled up into a ball, my hands and arms over my head and my face down in the snow. If I couldn't see the blows landing, I reasoned, maybe it wouldn't hurt so much. I felt her third stride through the snow as the ground took the blow of her foot. As I would be taking that blow. The next stride her right foot planted right by my face, and I shook along with the ground. I readied myself for the hammer blow, trying to be brave.

I could almost feel as her left foot came up over me ... I couldn't suppress the tightening of all my muscles in anticipation of the blow. I tried, I really tried, not to whimper in fear ... and it came down hard.

A few feet beyond me.

Did I dare look up? Maybe not just yet. The next step thundered a few feet beyond the last one. Then the next one, and then the next one. And then silence.

I peeked. About thirty feet away, Rosalie seemed to be holding on for dear life to a pine tree with a trunk about as twice as wide as she was. I watched her in fascination. What was she doing? And, as I watched, I saw her hands sink into the sides of the trunk. Then, her arms began to sink into the tree, too. Was she merging with the tree? Had my guess been completely wrong about her being a vampire? Was she some kind of dryad instead? Was that why she was angry, that I had insulted her by calling one thing when she was another?

Did dryads drink blood?

As I was watching and pondering, I heard a deep and low groan come from Rosalie. Wait, I thought she was out of air in her lungs ... how could she groan like that without air? Then another groan came. It didn't come from her, I realized; it came from around her: from the ground and from the forest itself. And, as I understood this I saw Rosalie and the tree begin to sway from side to side in a slow dance of death.

So, maybe not a dryad, but a vampire that took the essence from trees, too? Was there such a thing as vampires eating plants? Was she like some kind of vegetarian vampire?

Crack!

A sound like thunder from lightning striking right next to me, like from lightning striking the tree Rosalie held, almost knocked me over in its intensity. The swaying dance between Rosalie and the tree suddenly became jerky. I sat up and scootched back a bit, clasping my arms around my knees.

Crack! Crack!

The reports were like gun shots, but I now saw what was causing them: the roots around the base of the tree in Rosalie's embrace were snapping. Rosalie was uprooting the massive pine right in front of my eyes. Snow fell in clumps around the tree as it was loosed by the struggle.

Then Rosalie bent her knees and lifted. The tree gave one final tremendous groan and was held, suspended in the air in Rosalie's arms. Its tap root snapped free with a sound like the end of the world.

She had staggered before, in the cabin, when I had had the first cramps of my period, but now, with this massive prize in her arms, reaching nearly to heaven, she merely turned. The tree now faced me.

I looked the tree up and down. Why kick me to death when she would need to take care of hiding the body later? The tree facing me had a different answer. Two birds with one stone. I would die and be buried out of sight from anyone who cared to look just as soon as she let go. I couldn't see her, but I could tell she was moving, because the tree seemed to walk toward me. It stopped about ten feet away from where I sat.

Then she let the tree go.

I didn't look away this time. It was going to be quick, but I wanted to see every glorious second of it. How many people in the world can claim they died by being flattened by falling trees? Not many: maybe a few loggers. But how many of them got to watch it all happen as it was handed to them by the world's most beautiful — and terrifying — woman? Me, that's who.

I had front row seats to the greatest final show on Earth.

Timber. The tree came down with a crash. I watched as it fell ... three feet from where I sat in the snow. From just a bit further than ten feet away, Rosalie glared at me with eyes narrowed to slits.

I really needed to talk with her afterward about her working on her aim.