First chapter of a mystery/horror story about keeping & protecting what's yours.
| The old Impala’s suspension is really rolling around the curves and bouncing through the dips of the patched up state road that winds it’s way through The Forest. Jim hasn’t been down this way in some years. The last time with a bunch of the old gang from high school hiking, camping, drinking in the Black Bear Wilderness area. A little twinge of nostalgia and regret rises up from his gut. That was the night Suze finally gave it up and it wasn’t a week later, with no regrets at the time, that Jim moved on to Penny. Ah, Penny. So cute and sassy in that dance troupe outfit.
It was a dark night with the nearly full moon breaking through the clouds from time to time illuminating the thick under growth and trees flying by just feet from the side of the road. The Forest is hundreds of square miles of national forest land with the Mulberry River winding through it. Cutting out bluffs along the Northwest Alabama landscape making for some beautiful hiking, camping and some great fishing. The federal government owning most of the land, although some was still in private hands. Mostly long held family property passed down for several generations. The feds were content to let the families keep their land as long as they abided by the rules and regulations, mostly to do with logging guidelines.
"I wanna rock ‘n roll all night"…Jim’s ring tone. While negotiating a turn a little too fast for his worn tires, he looks and sees that it’s Samantha.
“Hey Sam, what’s up?” Jim said into the phone simultaneously turning down the car radio and his knee helping to steer. All the while the Chevy rattling along the dark highway.
“Where the hell are you at?” Samantha asked more playfully than irritated. “You were supposed to be here twenty minutes ago. Please don’t tell me you’re still in Monroe.”
“Naw, but I am still about fifteen minutes away,” Jim said but knew he was still at least thirty from getting to the apartment.
“Always fashionably late, everyone else is already here. Well, except Heather. She’s worse than you. Where are you?”
Jim and Samantha, along with Heather, Nick and Justin were getting together for their Thursday night ritual. Burritos, Tacos, Jose…as in Jose Cuervo, and karaoke at Las Margaritas Mexican Grill. They’d all been friends since before high school. Jim had dated both Samantha and Heather at different times, but they were all just friends now. Well except Justin. He would never admit it, even though it was painfully obvious and everyone knew anyway, Justin was head over heels for Samantha. Puppy dog, awkwardly in love. Sad really, Jim thought.
Justin was a tool, but Jim and Nick had always looked out for him. Justin had the uncanny ability to draw the ire of the huge center on the football team or biggest shit-kicker Hank, Jr fan. He took a few lumps during high school. But never when Jim was around and never by the same cracker hillbilly more than once, Jim made sure of that.
“Not too far away,” Jim told her. “I’m on 246 headed your way.”
“Highway 246?” now the irritation beginning to creep into Sam’s voice. “In The Forest? What are you…eh. Jim no. Not that skank again.”
“Oh c’mon Sam. She’s not that bad. Tess wanted to get together after work. And what can I say, she needed a little Jimbo delight,” he laughed.
“Huh, Tess,” Samantha teasing now, “you mean Terrible Teresa!”
“Hey that was when we were thirteen. And a lot has changed since she was thirteen, A lot.”
“Spare me the details, Jimbo…and going through The Forest, with all the curves and at night---it’s not a shortcut.”
In his best NASCAR southern slang Jim said, “Sure it is sweetie, when you can slide it through the corners like I can!“ Something caught his attention ahead. “What the hell?…” He said this more to himself than to Samantha. Something in the misty darkness on the road ahead. If it had been a clear night, the moon would have brightened the murky way ahead. But the moon was behind some clouds making distant objects sometimes appear disoriented. Like when in the distance you see what seems to be a coyote, small deer or hobgoblin, but becomes only a mailbox when you get closer. Whatever Jim was approaching at seventy miles an hour didn’t resemble a coyote. It was bigger. It was a person---a woman to be more exact.
“Samantha, there’s somebody walking beside the road…” Jim let off the Chevy’s accelerator and began to slow down. Not just a woman, she was entirely naked. Not a stitch on. He could see now that she wasn’t really walking, she was just standing on the shoulder of the road. Her back to him, he could now make out she had long, ratty, black hair that hung down the length of her pale bare back. Stopping just short of her exposed bottom. She didn’t even have shoes on.
“Jim? What is it? Someone on the road, out there, this time of night? Are you sure?” Samantha said with the humor leaving her voice. “Jim?”
“She’s naked, Sam. I don’t…oh good Lord,” Jim trailed off and let the phone drop as he put both hands on the wheel now. He was still maybe fifty yards from this---woman---yes, she was a woman, but the closer he got the less she seemed like a woman; the more she began to take on that hobgoblin quality. Her ashen skin; her long, skinny arms and legs. Almost like thin branches growing out of tree. She was just standing there. Her back to him, not moving or acknowledging the approaching car. He’d slowed the Impala down to about thirty, eventually going to stop; thinking he’d give her some assistance.
Now just twenty yards from her and Jim had the car to a slow crawl, she began to turn toward the headlights. Something about the way her shoulders and head began to twist around at the waist made Jim wished she wouldn’t turn around. He could hear the tiny, metallic sound of Samantha coming from his dropped phone. Now coming up from his gut, like the regret of the memory of Suze just a few minutes ago, but this was something more like panic. Fight, flight, or freeze. His senses telling him something was just not right about this woman.
"Well, no shit. She’s out on a deserted road at night bare-assed naked," his mind laughed at him. It was more than that though, much more. As the woman’s upper body turned to reveal her face, Jim knew there was something much, much more out of place than her nakedness.
Fight, flight, or freeze. The woman in the dim glow of the headlights and now Jim could see her face. The sharp nose; her maliciously wicked smile; and those blank, dead eyes. At that moment his instinct was not fight or flight. She was the one caught in the headlights, but it was Jim frozen like a deer waiting to be run down by the hypnotic light rays of an oncoming car, transfixed by those dead, cold eyes.
“Jim?! Hello? Are you there? What’s going on!?” Jim could faintly hear Samantha’s voice coming from his phone. A distant far off clatter.
Jim was not aware of the car stopping, he wasn’t even sure if it had come to a complete halt. He was very aware though of the woman, who was just seconds ago all but motionless; just the slow turning of her upper torso, revealing those empty, vacant eyes. Very aware that somehow, inexplicably she was now on him, pulling him out of the vehicle. “When did he (or she) open the door?” he thought.
Very aware of the horror and revulsion of being so close to that face that held those eyes---and the putrid, decaying smell of her breath.