Saturday, March 23, 2019
By Daniel Skye
Isaac was seriously lost. The narrow, unmarked trails had led him astray. What started out as an idyllic hike had turned into a harrowing nightmare. He tried his best to navigate his way through the treacherous woods. But the further he ventured, the further he drifted from civilization.
Sunlight faded rapidly, and the darkness swept in. And as the darkness consumed his surroundings, the fear and paranoia consumed his mind. The anxiety was overwhelming. His legs were rubbery, his chest constricted, his lungs struggling to regulate his labored breathing. Beads of sweat accumulated on his forehead and rained down the sides of his face.
He checked his cell phone. No reception. It was an old flip phone, one without a light. The pale, bleak moonlight was the only thing guiding his way. He eventually reached a clearing which paved the way for two distinct paths. He choose the path to his right. The path was broader than the other trails. He couldn’t see, but he felt dirt and gravel under his feet, could hear the crunching of dry leaves and the snapping of fallen branches.
From there, it was all uphill. His calves burned and his thighs screamed as he ambled up the steep incline.
When he reached a hilltop, he stopped to catch his breath and rest his aching, burning legs. The terror still coursed through his veins. What if I can’t find my way out of here?
“Get a grip,” he said aloud for nobody to hear but himself. “You got lost. Don’t panic. Panicking won’t help. You’ve got to find your way out of here before the temperature drops. You get stuck out here all night, they’re going to find you frozen against the trunk of a pine tree.”
It took a few seconds for his eyes to register the sight at the top of the hill. It was a lone woman, short and thin. Emaciated would be the better word. She was young, younger than Isaac by at least a few years as far as he could tell under the veiled moonlight.
What’s she doing out here? He wondered. Maybe she’s lost too. Or maybe she knows the way out of here.
“Excuse me, ma’am,” he called out. “Can you help me? I got lost on a hike. I can’t seem to find my way back to the main trail.”
The woman didn’t turn to face him. She didn’t even flinch at the sound of his voice. She stood with her back to Isaac.
“You’re not supposed to be here,” she said.
“What?” he said, bemused. He wasn’t sure if he had heard her correctly. He moved closer. The girl didn’t stir.
“You’re not supposed to be here,” she repeated.
He got close enough to see how pale her skin was, almost transparent. He reached out to tap her shoulder and she spun around. Her eyes were milky white, as if coated in some kind of clear film. Her irises discolored, her pupils faded. The skin of her face was drawn back, as if being stretched and pulled by some invisible force.
“Where’s Jeremy?” she asked, hostility in her voice. “Where’s Jeremy?” she repeated, practically screaming it. “You’re not Jeremy! You’re not supposed to be here! Go away!”
“Please calm down,” he pleaded. “Are you lost too? Maybe we can help each other find a way out. Do you need help?”
“You can’t help me! Nobody can help me!”
“It’s alright,” he assured her. “It’s alright. Just calm down, please.” He grabbed her wrist; she was cold to the touch. Skin like the dead of winter.
A flashlight beamed across the hilltop.
“Hey, you!” another voice shouted. He glanced over his shoulder. A man trudged up the hill, wearing camouflage pants and a bright orange vest. A rifle slung over his left shoulder. “What are you doing out here?” the man shouted. “You know it’s hunting season? Wandering around in these woods after dark is a good way to get yourself shot.”
“I’m sorry,” Isaac called out. “I got all turned around. Couldn’t find my way out. And my cell phone isn’t working. Do you have a phone I could use? This girl needs help.”
“Girl?” the hunter asked as he drew closer to Isaac. “What girl?”
Isaac turned to look, but the girl was gone.
“Impossible,” he whispered. “She was just here.”
The hunter approached him with more caution than he expected from a man carrying a 12 gauge rifle. “You okay, son? You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”
“I think I did,” he muttered. “You really didn’t see the girl?”
“Son, I have no clue what you’re talking about. You were all alone when I first saw you.”
“I must be losing my mind.”
“It’s alright, son. I’ll give you directions back to the main trail. I’ve even got a map. Hmm…” the man trailed off.
“What is it?”
“Nothing, it’s just…you said there was a girl here? By herself?”
“Yes. I’m telling you, she was right here. Why, what is it?”
“Nothing, just reminded me of a story years back. A real tragedy. Girl committed suicide up here.”
Isaac had a vague recollection of the story. He’d seen it in the papers, even caught wind of it on a few local news stations. He couldn’t remember all the details, but the hunter filled him in on what he failed to recall.
“Jennifer was her name. I knew her family. I mean, we weren’t best friends, but I used to see her father around town a lot, we’d chat for a few minutes here and there. See her mom in the market. She was always kind to me. Jennifer and her boyfriend used to come up her at night to fool around sometimes. One night, she was supposed to meet him out here, but he never showed. He died in a car accident. A firetruck was racing to a call and they ran a red light, plowed right into him. The whole car was in pieces. Nobody could have survived that crash. She took her own life shortly after, right here on top of this hill. Damn shame, if you ask me. She was so young. Had her whole life ahead of her.”
“The boyfriend, what was his name?”