(Here we go! The third installment of the Dawn Addison/Raven Series. For anyone who is curious about what happened earlier, here is a link to the finale of Raven’s Game.)
Standing on the outskirts of the pack, Trina pulls her large coat around her body and bounces on her toes. Her breath comes out in puffs, the freezing upstate New York air more bitter than she ever imagined. The college freshman begins to question why she came so far north for school, but the sight of two attractive sophomores eyeing her makes the young woman forget her worries. Not being a pledge, Trina stands out from many of the other girls because she has no Greek letters on her face or streaks in her hair. If it was not for losing a billiard game to her roommate, she would probably have remained inside. Instead, she is standing at the western point of campus in front of an already chuckling crowd. Feeling the icy chill nip at her nose, the black-haired student waves to another girl who walks over with a tray of shots. With a shivering hand, she takes one of the drinks and downs it to feel a burning that runs down to her belly. It is only after Trina is done that she considers alcohol might not be the best thing to have before going through with the challenge.
A sharp whistle silences all the runners and they turn to where a couple are standing up ahead. The man and woman look warm in their winter clothing, but their exposed hands still shiver as they grip their trashcan lids. When another whistle goes off, they slam the metal lids together and hurry to the side of the road. All the runners scramble to strip completely naked and begin the yearly winter streak that will take them across campus. Cheers from the crowd see them off, those in the middle of the pack feeling more comfortable than those on the edge. Only those that are completely drunk show off with a small dance before rushing to catch up to the others.
Being totally exposed, Trina does her best to shield herself while following the rest of the group. The only thing that prevents her from falling behind is that she did track in high school and still runs every morning. Even though she has only been on campus for a few months, she knows the route along the lake. It is a smart decision since it puts the streaking students behind the dorms and shields them from view. The only way they will get in trouble is if one of the many people looking out the windows or hanging out by the water calls security. A realization that she could be arrested drives Trina to run faster, but the darkness and bumpy ground make it difficult to build up speed. It does not help that some of her fellow runners are beginning to get a little too grabby, which forces her to move further away from them.
“Hi, I’m Bryce Hall,” a blonde-haired woman says as she gets closer to Trina. She smiles as the other student stares at her toned body, but the friendly expression quickly turns to a blushing frown. “Can you keep a secret? Nobody will hear us over here. I’m cheating. Put some pasties and a flesh-colored, side-tied thong on once we got into the trees. I’ll take them off as we get close to the end though. You don’t look like you’re pledging either.”
“Isn’t there a dorm named Bryce Hall?” Trina asks, immediately regretting her question. She notices how tense her new running partner gets and reaches out to give a friendly pat on the shoulder. “Sorry about that. I guess you get that a lot. I’m Trina Marks and I lost a bet. Didn’t think my cruel roommate would pick this as my dare. I was only going to have her eat an entire pint of ice cream since she’s always trying to stay in shape. It wouldn’t be the first time I saw her cheat that badly on her diet anyway. Why are you here?”
“My therapist says I need to take more risks and expose myself.”
“I’m a psychology major and I don’t think that’s what your therapist meant.”
“Honestly, I’m fine like this and probably would be okay naked.”
“What degree are you going for?”
“Physical education and nutrition with a minor in biology, but it’s really because my family used to vacation at a nudist colony.”
“You overshare to people far too quickly.”
“Yeah, I have to work on that too.”
The two women laugh, which draws attention from some of the other runners, who are gasping for air. Feeling more comfortable, Bryce takes off her underwear and pasties, but sucks in a breath at the sudden cold. Trina is about to ask a question when a flicker of movement catches her attention. She looks out over the water and swears that there is a figure moving on the shifting pack ice. Without slowing down, she watches the agile form leap and spin in the same direction as the race. The person becomes clearer by the second, her brown hair covering her face, except for a glint of gold beneath the thick tresses. Trina is surprised by the details that she sees, her eyes picking out every wrinkle in the dancer’s dark red gown. She is partially aware of the hairs on the back of her neck rising and goosebumps appearing on her arms. Even though her body is trying desperately to warn her of danger, the freshman remains mesmerized by the mysterious figure. The runner is stirred from her trance when she trips on a rock and stumbles several steps before regaining her footing. Looking back at the lake, she sees no sign of the woman, but there is an unnerving red hue to the edge of the ice.
“People have bonfires on the shore,” Bryce mentions, pointing at her nose. She takes a deep sniff of the air, the faint aroma of burning wood making her smirk. “They don’t want people going out there, but you always get a few idiots. Last year, two students fell through and one was never found. Don’t get scared though. This isn’t a college where people are dying every year, so no need to transfer. I’m just a local, so we exaggerate. You out-of-staters and down-staters are always good for a laugh.”
“Just for that, I’m beating you in this race,” Trina says, her voice showing more confidence than she really has. She races ahead with Bryce a few steps behind, the other runners cheering them on or groaning in misery. “This isn’t your sport, Bryce, so don’t hurt yourself. Still, I’m always up for a challenge. Loser has to buy the first round of shots.”