Stranger or FriendAcross the gravel road Zoe’s childhood home looked smaller, as if shrunken under the weight of life. Smoke from the chimney caught the moonlight in a slow dance, blurring into the night sky. A place of happiness, but Zoe knew better. She pushed the car door open and stepped out, ready for her final visit home.

The porch light illuminated the road cracked by time and weather. Beyond it, darkness stretched over the wilderness. She shut the door and walked to open the trunk, her heels poking the frozen ground. How can it be so cold and dark?

A twig snapped behind her. Zoe turned but saw no one. Sounds carried through the cold air from the distance. A rustle of branches. Someone wheezing? Another glance over her shoulder showed only the woods she’d explored as a child, the winding paths of apple orchards stripped bare by winter. She opened the trunk. Having been away from the nature so long, wildlife rustling unsettled her nerves.

All right, loosen up. You’re home.

A shaft of light escaped between the window curtains. She should’ve called, but Mother often misplaced the phone. Last time, Zoe found the handset in the pantry. She pulled her carry-on out of the trunk, and shut the cover loud enough to chase the memories away.

A light turned on at the new neighbor’s house, followed by a series of distant shrieks. Must be the winter wrens; she never tired of their wilderness call.

The front door opened and Mother, leaning on a cane, waved. “Hello, dear.” She grabbed the doorknob to steady herself. “I’m glad you didn’t get caught in traffic. Radio man said it’s messy on Old Highway.”

Zoe dragged her carry-on up the dirt road to the house. “I must’ve missed it.” She matched Mother’s smile but her heart sank at how frail she appeared. “You look good.”
“I’m getting my strength back.” Mother let out a sigh. “Get the rest of your bags. Must be piles of papers.”

Atop the steps, Zoe put her right arm around Mother’s shoulder. “Work’s in my computer.” She kissed her cheek. “This is everything.”

The wrinkles had deepened into scars on Mother’s face, carved by the mark of life. She flashed her proudest smile, then turned to lead the way. “Let’s go inside, dear, before icicles drip from our noses.”

Hand on the doorknob, Zoe turned to face the road, listening. That sound a minute ago, so strange. Nothing but stillness lay over the countryside now. She shut the door, turned the lock, and followed Mother into the kitchen.

You can read more about Zoe in Stranger or Friend, published by Solstice Publishing.

Stranger or Friend
L.A. lawyer Zoe Sinclair finds her Wyoming hometown reeling from the murder of its most popular resident: her best friend, Lori. Not less unnerving are the strange cries coming from the woods. The lawyer inside the woman is prompted into action, but she meets resistance from a town wary of outsiders. When a second body is found and Zoe is threatened, the case turns personal. Under pressure from the sheriff to leave the probing to the police, and taunted by the killer’s subtle messages, Zoe finds herself trapped in a game of hunter and prey.

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Meet the author
Silvia Villalobos, a native of Romania who lives immersed in the laid-back vibe of Southern California, is a writer of mystery novels and short fiction. Her stories have appeared in The Riding Light Review, Pure Slush, and Red Fez, among other publications. Stranger or Friend was released by Solstice Publishing. She is constantly drawn to premises filled with questions, which arouse feelings that are often beyond imagination yet seem real. The author can be found at

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