You are being hunted.
It watches you through the treeline as you walk home in the dark, clutching your last paycheck. You got laid off–it’s not you, it’s us. You don’t know what you’re going to do now. What would you tell your wife? Your kids?
It watches as you open the door to your house. It watches you through the window. You turn on the lights, and you are illuminated to It. It sways at the edge of the forest. No wind blows and yet Its handless arms limply bump against its bone-thin legs.
Nerves frazzled from a long day’s work amounting to nothing, you step outside to smoke. The cigarette is a comfort between your fingers, the lighter a sight for sore eyes, and the smoke sweet in your mouth. After pocketing the lighter, you turn around to face your house. In doing so, you turn your back to the forest, turn your back to It. You’re not thinking so much of the heavy shadows behind you as what you’re going to do with your house–will you have to sell it? Will your family have to move?
You breathe out a plume of smoke
Every kid in Ravensbury knew not to eat the apples from the tree on the hill. Its trunk grew gnarled and knotted, and its leaves shone the shade of a dull silvery gray, but the fruit itself hung perfect. Golden. Shiny. Every kid knew not to eat it.
Our parents told us the story of Veronica, the girl who died eating the apples. Every kid knew about her, and every kid knew what happened. In this story, the fruit was still full and bright, and the tree still creaked in the wind like an old man’s back. Veronica ate the fruit and her face went blue and her tongue went purple, her fingers turning cold before she was even dead. They said her blood curdled in her veins, and when they autopsied her all the organs in her gut had shriveled up. Every kid in Ravenbury knew the story.
“It’s not real,” Piper said, the bravest kid on the block. She always puffed her chest out and kept her hair short. To us, she was godlike. “It’s just a scary story to keep us from eating the fruit, because of the pesticides.”
Despite her big words and grin, she still didn’t eat the fruit. That was why none of us believed her. Of course, we never said it outloud–we were terrified of what she would do to us. Until McNully, that is.
The McNully family moved into the house at the end of the cul-de-sac, the oldest house on the block. Their bright eyes and smiles told us they didn’t belong here. So did McNully’s swinging, hopping gait, like he was happy just to be walking. He was one of those kids who introduced himself by his last name, which made him a curio amongst us who just used our plain first names.
“Upstart,” Piper called him. We didn’t know what that meant, but we all laughed anyway. The threat of being excluded from her heavenly sphere was too great.
McNully wiggled his way into our gaggle, his smile winning all of us over. Except Piper, but not even her snide comments and tough nature could stop us from being friends with McNully. He was New, and that meant he was Interesting.
One day, when we were playing in the orchard, he asked about the apple tree on the hill. Hastily, we all told him the story, happy to provide him with the information he wanted. “It’s poppycock,” scoffed Piper, crossing her arms. “The adults just tell us those stories to scare us away from the tree. It’s pesticides, you know.”
“Pesticides?” echoed McNully. “I thought this grove was grown organic.” If we weren’t terrified of Piper’s rapidly reddening face, we would have let out an audible gasp. Not only did McNully know what pesticides were, he stood up to Piper!
“Well, even if there are pesticides,” Piper said, puffing out her chest, “I’m not scared of any fruit, no matter what the adults say.”
McNully seemed to feed off the silent, vibrating energy of the crowd. He cocked a brow. “Prove it.”
Piper deflated, and the red in her face bled away. “What?”
“Prove it,” McNully said. He jerked his chin to the hill. “Eat an apple.”
Silence settled over us. We didn’t dare tell Piper not to do it–either because we were too scared to look weak in front of Piper, or because we didn’t want to go against McNully’s word. We were stuck between a god and a god.
“Fine,” Piper said. “I’ll eat the apple.”
We watched as she trekked up the hill, fists clenched, heading for the golden fruit. We watched as she reached up, picking the lowest-hanging one off the tree. We watched as she raised the apple to her mouth, watched as she bit down.
She turned around, victorious, arms outstretched toward the sky. We could hear her triumphant laughter. We cheered with her, but not McNully, who simply looked impressed. Then her laughter turned to choking, and even though we were at the bottom of the hill, we could see her body convulse and shiver, and we could see as she dropped to her knees. Nobody spoke, not even when her body began to tumble down the hill. The apple rolled out of her blue-fingered hand, her face twisted and purple. Her tongue was like a fat worm, hanging out of her mouth. Nobody spoke or breathed or moved.
McNully picked up the apple, which had rolled to a stop by his feet. Even though he didn’t show us, we could see the big, fat mealy bugs crawling through the jelly flesh of the apple, devouring it as they had devoured Piper.
We screamed. We screamed and we ran. Looking over our shoulders, we found McNully frozen in place, staring down at Piper’s corpse with the apple still in his hand. Despite our fear, we stayed and begged him to follow us.
He simply let the apple tumble from his hand. We didn’t think he was breathing.
Ravensbury had a rat problem. It also had a mold problem, a stink problem, and a weather problem. Most of the time, if there was an issue, people would blame it on the thick, low-hanging fog that seemed to frequent the town more times than not. Except for the rats. Nobody could link the fog to the rats, and nobody knew where the rats came from.
The first time I heard the scratching, I knew I was doomed. “Your mother was complaining about rats too,” Marcus the bartender said when I stopped by for a quick drink after the funeral service. I had left Ravensbury before I was old enough to set foot in its only bar, but its inhabitants still treated me like an old friend.
“Did she ever find any?” I asked as Marcus poured me another beer.
“Never,” he said. “She was muttering about them towards the end. We checked, but…you know. Your mother was sick. Could’ve been anything.” He sighed. “She was also raving about the rats after your father left, so. Could’ve been anything.”
I understood his unspoken words. My mother had always been fragile, and even the littlest things could throw her over the edge. Fucking asshole! my mother screamed the morning my father left. She had broken three plates, one vase, and six mugs. The talk around town was that he cheated on her. My mother would never say. She raised me on her own until I left. Sometimes I believed my leaving is what made her sicker.
After visiting the bar, I bought as many rat traps, poison bottles, and whiskey as I could. If I was going to catch these rats, I wasn’t going to do it while sober. I also wasn’t going to listen to the whispers about me while sober. Yeah, I left Ravensbury, I wanted to shout at them. Want tips or something?
In the movies, they show a little gaping triangle in the wall where the little animated mice came out. I had those too, but at the top of the wall near the ceiling and on the ceiling and in the cabinets and under the floors. I didn’t place traps anywhere near those holes, though. I placed them by the old bricked-up fireplace.
My mother had boarded it up after my father left, because he had been the one who stoked it and fed it and brushed the ashes out. She wanted nothing to do with the traces he had left scattered in our lives. Even if it meant freezing in the dead of winter.
Despite the lack of soot and fire, my mother never let me play on the hearth. And even though I was grown now and my mother was dead, and it had been seven years since I set foot in this goddamn house, I still skirted the hearth. My mother’s body was in the ground, but her voice in my mind was not. Without a husband, she had to be harsh–it was one of those things you never realized growing up, but only after your parents were dead.
The fireplace was also where the scratching came from. Constant nail-on-chalkboard scratch, scratch, quiet enough that if I had the TV on, I couldn’t hear it. But sometimes, if I stayed still and became very, very quiet, it was like I could hear it no matter where I was in the house. Constant. Unending.
Scritch, scritch, scritch.
Sometimes I found myself staring at the rust-colored brick, listening to the scratching beyond the wall. How many rats were back there? Why did they scratch so much? How could it be that I heard it from all corners of the house, despite knowing in my bones that it came from the fireplace, because that’s where I stood now, staring at the taunting red brick, scritch, scritch, scritch–
The sound was so jarring that I jolted out of my trance, the scratching suddenly gone. Then the screaming began. It was more like shrieking, squeaking, please-God-I’m-dying squealing, the sound of it so terrible I almost bit my tongue against the sudden rush of adrenaline in my veins. It came from the corner of the living room, beside the bricked-up fireplace. Slowly, despite both the scratching and shrieking grating on my ears, I approached the trap. A shadow writhed and moved in the dark, and the screaming grew louder. Turning on the lamp, I braced myself for the carnage. I was not prepared.
A rat the size of my hand struggled in the trap, half of its body torn as the trap barely contained its size. I could see its pearly white ribs, the mangy flesh torn away to reveal the grit and sludge underneath. The blood across the floor resembled a crime scene: just as ugly, only on a smaller scale. And the rat screamed and screamed and screamed.
I have to do something was my singular thought. If not to put the rat out of its misery, then to stop the screaming that was somehow almost as loud as the scratching against the fireplace beside me. Painfully slow, I reached for the pile of extra bricks that sat on the hearth, a pile of exactly seven that I could never manage to find time to throw out in the two weeks I had been here and that my mother could never manage to throw out in her fifty years. Now it would come in handy, I thought ruefully, the brick heavy in my fist.
“On the count of three, my friend,” I whispered. The rough edges of the brick cut into my palm, and the scratching grew louder. “One. Two. Three.”
I dropped the brick on the rat’s head. It stopped struggling immediately, but its insides popped. Brain and blood and bone splattered over my slippers and across the floor, and the rat was no more. I was grateful the rat was dead. No more of that horrible, awful sound.
My relief was short-lived. Immediately the scratching came back again, invading my mind, invading every inch of my brain, filling my head until it was all I could concentrate on. Fuck it! I was going to tear down that wall even if I had to take it apart by hand!
Lucky for me and my poor, murderous hands, there was a trowel and a bucket of grout in the garden shed. There was no possible way I was going to leave that fireplace gaping open, especially if there were rats beyond the brick. I was going to take a brick out and put it right back in its place.
I had my trowel chipping away at the old grout before I was even on my knees. It fell away like dandruff, the off-white snow falling to the hearth. Soon I was able to extract the whole brick. I tossed it on the hearth, barely hearing the dull thunk of stone on stone as the scratching grew more incessant, fanatic. I pressed my eye up against the hole, trying to see inside. Pitch black. One brick, I had told myself, but I went for the second, the third, the fourth, the skin on my hands torn, my heart in my throat, the scratching in my head.
Scritch scritch scritch
“Shut up,” I called out hoarsely. “Shut up, please, I’m begging you–”
The trowel was taking too long. I attacked the bricks with my hands, not caring that the soft flesh of my palms was starting to look more like the dead rat on the floor than actual hands. Blood dripped on the hearth as I tossed the fifteenth brick aside, chest heaving from the strain of taking apart a wall.
A skull stared back at me.
The skull was connected to a full skeleton, its bones faded gray and brittle. It sat up against the back of the fireplace, its sockets boring into my eyes and its wide grin laughing at my terror.
“Who are you?” I asked, voice hushed. The scratching was long gone.
father trapped grown old
The voice sounded like nails on a chalkboard in my head. “Father?” He had left. He left Ravensbury, hadn’t he? Hadn’t he? That’s what my mother always said–that fucking asshole left us–but I could see the small crater in the skull. He hadn’t left all. He’d been inches away from me my whole life.
Don’t play on the hearth, my mother had shouted at me. She was keeping me from my father, wasn’t she?
lonely’n’cold nothing but rats
come keep company?
He hadn’t left me at all. I could feel a smile spread across my face, as big a grin as the skull’s. “Sure,” I said. “I can keep you company.”
Maneuvering into the hole, I sat in front of the brittle bones, careful not to disintegrate them with my living hands. He hadn’t left me after all.
close blinds go sleep
“Of course.” Reaching my arms out of the hole, I dragged the grout into the fireplace with us, followed by the trowel.
Then, brick by brick, I sealed us up, father and son and rats.
IV. There is Something in the Woods
October 1st, 1984
I am starting this log to track the ongoing investigation to find my sister.
They still haven’t found her. Most people in town are discouraged, and so is Mother, but I will not be. Not even though the police have stopped looking. I’ve begged them to open up the investigation again. She’s only been gone for two weeks, so why won’t they look? Even though she disappeared into thin air, they should still look. They keep telling me to let her go, that we’ve been through this so many times before, that I should shut up and stop bothering them. Suzie is my sister–I will not abandon her.
I am the eldest sister, which means Suzanna is my duty. I am supposed to be watching over her, and I was supposed to be watching her that day in the woods. It was my fault. Why won’t they let me correct my mistake?
They say a bear must have gotten her, or a mountain lion, or she fell into a ditch. I know that’s not true, because if it was, I would have heard her scream. We would have found some evidence by now. I keep telling people she just…disappeared. They don’t believe me. But as much as I hate to admit it, sometimes I believe finding pieces of her is better than not finding her at all.
Tomorrow I’m going out to the woods. Maybe I’ll find her tomorrow.
October 2nd, 1984
I couldn’t find her. I searched and searched but I still couldn’t find her.
Mother didn’t catch me this time, even though I took Father’s rifle with me. Father was long gone but Mother still kept his rifle by the door. I took it in case there really was a bear or a mountain lion. There was nothing, not even birdsong. The tall trees were eerily silent, like a
predator had entered the tree line and all the creatures went quiet. Not even a wind rustled their green boughs.
I couldn’t shake the feeling of being followed. I knew it was in my head, me hoping Suzie would be there when I turned around. There wasn’t, of course. Just my overactive imagination.
I am writing this by candlelight so Mother won’t catch me. I am planning to return to the woods again. This time I’ll start in the clearing where she disappeared.
October 3rd, 1984
I had that feeling today in the woods again. The following feeling. There was a moment in the clearing when the birdsong stopped. All quiet. Not even a rustle in the undergrowth. Yet there was something there, surrounding me.
I tried to go through the events of the day she went missing. The clearing looks the exact same as it did–the rotted log on the farthest side, the mushrooms growing in the moss, the tree with the knotted trunk that made it a perfect spot to sit and read. Nothing had changed.
I took the same path to the clearing, sat in the same spot, opened the same book. Suzanna had been far in front of me, playing with stones and twigs on the mossy ground. When I looked back up, she was gone. Disappeared into thin air.
When I stood in the spot she had been that day, I couldn’t see any holes or tunnels or hills she could have tumbled down. Could she really have wandered off without me knowing? She couldn’t have; we would have found her. I would have found her, I just know it. If anybody can find her, it’s me.
I am going to find her.
October 4th, 1984
oh god oh god there was something in the woods and i looked It in the eyes
October 5th, 1984
Last night I was too terrified to write what happened. Now, in the safety of the morning, I can write what I saw.
I am not going into the woods today, not after what happened. It’s waiting for me, I just know it. I looked It in the eyes.
Stupidly, I went back to the clearing where the following feeling was the strongest. I just hoped that maybe, just maybe, it was Suzie visiting me. Maybe she felt guilty for running off and wanted to see me. Maybe she wanted to say goodbye before moving on. Whatever it was, I had hoped it was Suzie. How terribly wrong I was.
The birdsong stopped again, the forest barely breathing. I almost held my breath too, but I let myself breathe out Suzie’s name, hoping she could hear me. No response. Turning a slow circle in the clearing, I hoped to catch a glimpse of something. Then a shadow moved at the corner of my eye, and I turned to it, and oh, God, I wish I hadn’t done so.
There is something terribly wrong about It. Even I could tell from ten yards away, and even I could tell despite half of its body hidden by a tree. I’ve seen a deer corpse once. The rotting flesh, the ribs clearly defined, the not-rightness of it. This is what It was.
It swayed, gently, like dancing to a tune only it could hear. Its handless arms, covered in the same thin gray membrane as the rest of the body, bumped rhythmically against its spindle-thin legs. I have never seen an animal with a skull like that, almost deer-shaped but no deer I knew had teeth like that or antlers like that or a skull like that.
And I looked It in the eyes.
Almost immediately, It took a jerking step towards me, Its whole body lurching in a way that made my skin crawl. I ran. I ran as fast as I could, not caring about the branches scratching at my face and my clothes. I didn’t stop running until I was home, the back door safely locked and Father’s rifle in my hands.
I looked It in the eyes. I looked It in the eyes. I looked It in the eyes. I looked It in the eyes. I looked It in the eyes. I looked It in the eyes. I looked It
oh god Its outside my window right now at the edge of the forest oh god oh god oh god
October 6th, 1984
I can’t look outside my window in fear of seeing It again. I must sleep with a candle on now–the dark is too terrifying. For some reason, I believe It cannot cross the creek at the border of the woods. If It could, It would be knocking at my door right now. It sounds ridiculous, I know, but I do believe It’s chained to the trees.
It has to be.
It won’t stop staring at me from the edge of the forest, still swaying in place, still staring. Tomorrow I think I am going to try and kill It.
October 7th, 1984
That was not Suzie.
I went out to kill the creature this morning, grabbing Father’s rifle on the way out the door. With the weapon, I could remain far from the creature yet kill It like the deer It was not. When I walked out onto the back porch, rifle raised, It was not there. In Its place was a young girl, about seven years old.
Rifle still raised, I marched out onto the thick band of grass running between my house and the woods. I did not dare cross the creek. Instead I stood at the foot of the bridge running across it, staring at the little girl on the other side. Immediately I recognized her as Suzie, but it wasn’t Suzie, not completely–her grin too wide, teeth too pointed, eyes too dead. She swayed, her arms dangling limply by her side.
And Suzie has been missing–dead–for five years, hasn’t she? How could I forget? Why do I always forget?
When It lurched towards me, Its too-wide grin widening more, threatening to tear the skin It had stolen, I shot it. It didn’t die. When I went back to the house and looked down at It from the safety of my window, I could see It dragging itself back to the woods it came from, Its stolen limbs bent in grotesque friezes.
I am going to burn this journal. Nobody should know what is in those woods.
October 1st, 1985
I am starting this log to track the ongoing investigation to find my sister.
V. A Curious Thing
Mr. Adam Cartwright, author of The Paranormal Papers, had a passion for the uncanny. Or, perhaps, the uncanny had a passion for him. He was never without a pen and notebook, because one could never know when something supernatural would pop up.
Naturally, he was drawn to Ravensbury. Despite its small size, Mr. Cartwright considered it a focus of the supernatural. The uncanny congregated there, not to mention the horrors and the haunts. He had been studying Ravensbury for a while now, reading the headlines: Mutilated Corpse Found Again! Children Going Missing! Deer or Monster? and the like. There was something about the small town that drew in the uncanny, and whatever it was, it was drawing Mr. Cartwright in too, for better or worse.
Car engine sputtering, Mr. Cartwright drove past the Welcome to Ravensbury! sign. Ravensbury was crossed out with poison green spray paint. Written underneath was your worst nightmare, so the whole thing read, “Welcome to
Ravensbury your worst nightmare!”
“Charming,” Mr. Cartwright said cheerfully. Already he was off to a great start. The best place to begin when inspecting a town for the paranormal was the general store. There, one could gather supplies, such as flashlight batteries, a map, a compass, a newspaper, and maybe a cup of coffee if there was a cafe attached.
The general store was near the entrance into town, which heightened Mr. Cartwright’s mood. An easily accessible general store was always a good sign. However, when he exited his coughing car, he was dismayed to find the general store closed. Closed! On a Sunday afternoon, no less!
Despite the C L O S E D sign, Mr. Cartwright attempted to open the door quite unsuccessfully. “Damn,” he said when the door held fast. He pushed his glasses up his nose, as they had fallen in his altercation with the door.
A dull slapping sound tore his attention away from his locked adversary. Down the sidewalk from where Mr. Cartwright was, a group of four girls and one boy were playing hopscotch. Currently it was one of the girls’ turn, the sound of her feet hitting the pavement filling the empty silence. Perhaps they would know about the state of the general store.
“Uh, excuse me,” Mr. Cartwright called to them, clearing his throat. “May I ask a question?”
The children raised their heads, and the girl playing hopscotch stopped her jumping, landing on the seventh box. Their stares were unnerving. They each had sunken cheeks and dark circles around their eyes, the eyes themselves dull and dark. The sight of these haunted children made Mr. Cartwright stumble over his words for a moment.
“Oh, I-I-I was wondering if there might be a place where I can inquire after some goings-on in this town,” he eventually stammered out. “Are there any adults that can show me around the town?”
“It’s the seventh of October.” The boy’s voice was no more than a croak, like he had screamed so often his throat turned raw.
“Of course, of course,” Mr. Cartwright said uneasily, pretending he knew what the boy was talking about. “Well, do any of you know where a man like me might find someone to show me around town? An adult, perhaps?”
“We don’t talk to strangers.” The hopscotch girl resumed her game, hopping up and down on seven, switching feet every time.
“I know where the adults are.” The boy stuck his hands in his pockets. He exchanged a look with the other three girls, the fourth omitted from the shared glance due to her continuous hopping.
“Wonderful,” Mr. Cartwright said, hoping his smile didn’t waver at the unnerving-ness of the children in front of him.
“Name’s McNully.” The boy reached his hand out in greeting. He stepped around the hopscotch, his step strangely shuffling, like he didn’t have enough energy to pick his feet up. When Mr. Cartwright took it, he found the boy’s hand to be cold and clammy. He resisted the urge to wipe his palm on his coat after giving McNully a firm shake.
“Mr. Adam Cartwright,” Mr. Cartwright said. “Pleased to make your acquaintance.”
The boy made some non-committal noise. He raised his finger, pointing to a storefront in the distance. “Over there you’ll find the adults.”
With that, he shoved his hand back into his pocket, turned, and continued watching the girl playing hopscotch. Puzzled, Mr. Cartwright pushed his glasses up his nose and faced the direction McNully pointed to. Just as he was about to head down the sidewalk, McNully heaved a sigh behind him.
“Yes?” Mr. Cartwright spun back around to find the children staring at him. Even the hopscotch girl had turned around, still hopping on seven.
“One word of caution.” McNully’s gaze didn’t waver. “If you find a tree with yellow apples, do not eat the fruit.”
It was on that word, not, that Mr. Cartwright heard the first evidence of any emotion coming from the boy. He gulped. “Noted,” he said hoarsely.
Nodding once, McNully seemed to be satisfied. He turned to the hopscotch girl, who hadn’t broken eye contact with Mr. Cartwright. She opened her mouth and began to sing a song.
Oh Veronica, Veronica,
She ate the yellow fruit,
Died by rotted root,
Who could forget?
Her match she has met!
The words, said in monotone, made a shiver run down Mr. Cartwright’s spine. Uncanny, without a doubt. Despite his discomfort, he couldn’t help but feel excited about the prospect this town brought. Even if he could get one story about this town, just one, the readers of The Paranormal Papers would be satisfied.
With a polite nod, Mr. Cartwright turned his back on the children and began to walk away at a brisk pace. He could hear them continuing the song behind him. It was only when their voices became whispers behind him that he let himself relax.
The store McNully pointed to wasn’t a store at all. Rather, it was a bar, and judging by the early hour, nobody would be in there. Mr. Cartwright opened the door anyway, and was shocked to see almost every seat full. The patrons were engaged in whispered conversations that seemed to have no place in a bar.
The conversations stopped and thousands of eyes turned to Mr. Cartwright when the door shut behind him. Like the children, the patrons’ gazes were dull and dead, like none of them had slept in the past week.
“Can I help you?” The voice was gruff, belonging to the man behind the counter. The bartender, Mr. Cartwright presumed, was big and broad, with salt-and-pepper stubble that looked rougher than sandpaper.
Mr. Cartwright shook himself out of his shock, clearing his throat. “Yes, hello,” he said, stepping towards the bar. He was aware of the eyes following him. “My name is Mr. Adam Cartwright, author of The Paranormal Papers. I was wondering if someone would be so kind as to show me around town? Maybe I can interview–”
“We don’t need any more reporters.” The bartender jerked his head to a man sitting in the corner, staring at the bottom of his glass. “We already have McNully.” Like the McNully outside, the man had blond hair and a haunted gaze. Mr. Cartwright guessed he was the father.
“Oh, I’m not a reporter.” Mr. Cartwright pushed his glasses up his nose. “You can call me a freelance journalist, if you would like. I investigate the paranormal.”
“The paranormal, huh?” The bartender exchanged an amused look with one of the patrons at the bar.
Mr. Cartwright got the distinct feeling he was being patronized. He sniffed. “Yes, the paranormal,” he said. “Now, would anybody be so kind–”
“You can help Catherine find her sister!” The shout came from the back of the bar. The bar erupted into raucous laughter. Mr. Cartwright jumped at the sudden noise as the patrons stomped their feet on the floor and slapped tables.
“Catherine?” Mr. Cartwright echoed when the noise died down. “Her sister?”
“Does the name Suzie Kellerman ring a bell?” The bartender asked the question with a taunting grin. “Surely, if you’re an investigator of the paranormal, as you put it, you would know her.”
“Do you–do you mean Suzanna Kellerman?” Mr. Cartwright asked, alarmed. “Wasn’t she abducted? Hasn’t she been missing for six years now? Her sister is still looking for her.”
“Yeah.” The bartender was suddenly grim. “It’s the seventh of October.”
“I-I-I’m sorry,” Mr. Cartwright spluttered, remembering McNully said the same thing to him. “Am I supposed to know what that means?”
“If you want paranormal, find Catherine,” the bartender said. “She lives in the house at the edge of the woods. She’ll be hunting around this time.”
At that, he began wiping the bar with a towel, and the rest of the patrons returned to their hushed conversations. Mr. Cartwright took that as his cue to leave. Backing out of the bar, he tried to keep his resolve. For some reason, he had a feeling he had gotten farther into his mess than he would have liked.
The house at the edge of the woods was a charming cabin with a beautiful garden and a white picket fence. Gently, Mr. Cartwright flipped the latch on the gate and stepped inside the garden. The steps leading up to the door creaked, which is why he figured the woman knew he was there before he even knocked on the door.
“Who’s there?” The voice sounded like it came from the back of the house, around the wraparound porch.
“Oh, um–” Mr. Cartwright peeked around the corner of the house. “Hello, my name is Mr. Adam Cartwright–”
“You need to leave. Now.”
Mr. Cartwright swallowed. He rounded the house, taking the porch to the back. There, a woman–no more than a girl, really–sat on a wooden chair, staring at the woods beyond the garden fence. A rifle leaned against the wall beside her. Gulping, Mr. Cartwright tried to stay as far away from the weapon as he could.
“S-sorry to bother you,” Mr. Cartwright stuttered, “but I am the author of The Paranormal Papers, and I was wondering if I can get an interview from you. I’m assuming you’re Catherine Kellerman?”
“I’m assuming you ran into Marcus at the bar?” The woman smirked. “And he told you to come to me? Asshole. And no. No interview. I’ve had enough of those as it is.”
“Because your sister was abducted?”
The woman’s head snapped to sight, anger suddenly flaring in her dull eyes. “Do not talk about her!”
Mr. Cartwright jumped back, fearing for a moment that Catherine would grab the rifle and shoot. She didn’t. So Mr. Cartwright pushed his glasses back into place and cleared his throat. “That’s fine, that’s fine,” he stammered. “We can…we can talk about something else.”
“Whatever.” Catherine shrugged. The anger was gone, and the dullness was back. “S-so I was wondering,” began Mr. Cartwright, fishing his notebook and pen out of his coat pocket, “if I may ask you about the most recent disappearance?”
“Hilda Mae’s son?” Catherine raised her brows. “I dunno. Came back here a couple weeks ago for her funeral. Started raving about rats. Disappeared.” She stole a quick glance towards the forest, and the briefest flash of fear crossed her face. It was gone so quickly Mr. Cartwright was sure he had imagined it. “We all figured he just bolted back to whatever city he made a name for himself in. Left his car though. Strange.”
“Strange, yes.” Mr. Cartwright offered her a thin smile. “And about the other disappearance, a Mr. Thomas Payne–he was reported missing by his wife the night he got laid off his mining job–”
“Sorry to cut our conversation short, but I have something to do.” Catherine stood up abruptly, grabbing the rifle beside her. “You would best leave, Mr. Cartwright. In fact, I command it.”
She marched off the porch, already raising her rifle. Startled, Mr. Cartwright followed her. “Excuse me, Miss Kellerman, but I still have more questions–”
Suddenly Catherine stopped, her rifle raised and pointed towards a little girl standing at the edge of the woods. She was swaying on her feet, grinning, completely unaware that a gun was pointed at her.
“What are you doing?” Mr. Cartwright exclaimed. “That’s a child!”
“That’s not Suzie.” Catherine’s voice shook and Mr. Cartwright could see tears gathering in her wide, terrified eyes. “That is not Suzie.”
“Your sister?” Mr. Cartwright shouted. “She’s been missing for six years, why–”
“Dead.” Catherine swallowed hard. “She’s been dead for six years, hasn’t she?” The horror in her voice raised the hair on Mr. Cartwright’s arms. “Yeah. I remember now.” Despite her shaking voice, Catherine’s hands were steady enough to shoot the thing that was not Suzie in the head.
As a recent graduate from Saint Mary’s College of California’s creative writing program, Chey-Marie Torres strives to present her voice to the world through her writing. She worked on SMC’s literary magazine riverrun as Editor-in-Chief, publishing student voices that would catch the attention of the campus population. She is also a self-taught writer, excelling in her creative writing classes from fiction to nonfiction to playwriting. Her love for reading is what jump started her love for writing. Even from a young age, she knew she wanted to write stories that captured readers’ hearts and minds.