For Caleb Chance, the nightmare began the day his fate crossed with that of Echo; a woman with a private agenda to be fulfilled no matter who gets in her way.
Hijacked by Echo, Caleb is forced on a journey into the wilderness that leads to a violent discovery and a mystery that is almost 250 years old.
When the sun fades below the trees, it will take an uneasy alliance for Caleb and Echo to stay alive.
Something is waiting in the forest.
Hungry for prey.
And it is not human...
They were always there; always in pain.
Day and night.
He had long since learned to live with their silent vigilance, not that the figures became any less menacing. It was the reason he spent so much time in the park. Somehow, their company was less disturbing in this place, with the whistles of the dog walkers and the rhythmic slap of tennis rackets from the courts nearby. But at some point he would have to go home. Face them within the loneliness of the apartment.
He tried not to think about that time.
A park lamp flicked on behind him and he ruffled the pages of a journal, picked a pen from his breast pocket and prepared to write. He fingered the pale scar upon his throat and took a breath of the early evening air as he gathered his thoughts. The crisp smell of damp foliage conjured memories of the night when it all began. Memories of her. Could fifteen years really have passed?
A wail shattered the air.
The man glanced up to see one of the watchers sitting cross-legged on the grass, not far from the tennis courts. Still, the players danced and weaved beneath the floodlights of the courts, unaware of the tortured figure that clawed frantically --uselessly-- at its hair.
“I’m going to end this,” whispered the man.
The figure continued to scream and ravage its scalp in the moonlight, uncomforted by the words.
“I promise you all, I’m going to end this.”
Slowly the man turned his attention to the journal, and he wrote.
June 7th, 2014
I see dead people...
Isn’t that the famous line from that ghost movie with Bruce Willis? It amazes me how Hollywood can take such a frightening concept and boil it down to a nifty little marketing blurb that fits nicely onto T-shirts and cheap gift cards.
I see dead people...
Well I see them too. And you wanna know something? They aren’t the morose spirits of dead psychiatrists. They’re not lost romantics, nor are they escapees from some Gothic fantasy. The dead people I see are twisted, bloody phantasms, torn from the ravaged womb of mother earth. They’re as restless in the harsh light of day as they are in the dark hours.
Messages for the living?
They’re too busy wrestling with their own torment to pass on their love to Auntie Agnes, or forgive hubby for screwing the secretary when he was supposed to be working late. When they speak --if they speak at all-- it’s a brief snippet of something unintelligible that might just be a prayer for release. And good God, when they scream... when they scream it’s a terrible noise that reverberates though your bones and makes you sick to your soul. A reminder that this life we enjoy is nothing but a tiny sunlit island awash in an ocean of darkness; a brief reprieve from oblivion. As the saying goes, you’re a long time dead.
I never used to be afraid of death, but I’m terrified of it now. The worst thing is... she’s among them. I see her more frequently these days; her quivering lips pleading for someone, anyone, to do something. I can’t even imagine the suffering she endured in her final hours, but I know the ones who were responsible.
I know what they are.
And now I know where they came from.
If I’m to be true to her; if there’s one thing I can do to release any of these souls from their agony, then I must face the nightmare again. I have to go to the place where it began...
Hunched trees guarded the stony rest where the camper was parked. The three kids stopped in their tracks, wary of the still vehicle. The dirty windshield gave a muted reflection of late afternoon sun; the siding was worn and grimy. The door to the habitat area swayed in the breeze, yet no children played beside it, and no middle-aged father sat on the step drinking a cold beer. Something about the camper reminded Sara of a coffin.
“Sure is quiet. You think anyone’s inside?” asked Leon, scratching the inflamed Skeeter bites that mottled his bony arms.
“Maybe they broke down; went off looking for a garage,” said Sara, craning her neck to see farther down the densely wooded road.
Leon scratched harder. “Kinda stupid leaving the door open though, if that’s the case.”
Tom laughed. “I told you to use more repellent, Mr. Furious.”
“Well shit, it’s too late now. Either of you guys got anything?”
Sara shook her head.
“I’ve got some spray that’ll numb it,” said Tom, after a deliberate pause. He eased the straps of his rucksack over his broad shoulders and huge biceps.
“C’mon, man. Before I claw myself to death.”
What an odd pair, Sara thought to herself. The Dumb Jock and the Nerd Prince. Not something you saw often, but then again, Tom and Leon were both much more than the sum of their stereotypes. Tom, while keenly athletic, was one of the most atypical Jocks she had ever encountered. Smart and funny, with an incredibly caring nature that he tried his best to hide from his peers.
Indeed, it was his ‘soft center’ that caused Tom to intervene when he and Sara came across three wannabe tough-guys terrorizing Leon outside a locker room, last October. Tom’s formidable presence had caused the students to cease the beating and slink away from their prey, sheepishly. But in a twist of events, Leon simply thanked Tom for evening the odds, then called for the leader of the pack to come back alone. Tom and Sara both watched as the scrawny character lunged forward and delivered a spirited thrashing to the tormentor-turned-victim. As they yanked the frenzied Leon off, Tom had uttered the historic phrase: “Whoa, Mr. Furious! Time to turn back into Ben Stiller!”
It was a classic line that none of them had forgot, and was the birth of a friendship that had brought the three of them out for a summer hike through Northern Ontario.
So why did something suddenly feel very wrong?
Sara tuned out the sarcastic banter between Tom and Leon and fixed her eyes upon the camper again. Her guts twisted, like when she was eyed by the occupant of a slow cruising car at night.
“Guys, I don’t think we should be here.”
Tom was already at the creaking door. “What’s got you all spooked?”
Sara shrugged. “I don’t know. Where are you going?”
Tom opened the door, ready to peer inside. “I wanna check if there’s anyone here. If not, it’d be polite of us to at least close their door, don’t ya think?”
The breeze picked up momentarily. A group of errant clouds sent shadows skittering across the camper as they passed the sun and Sara found that her arms had broken out in gooseflesh.
“Man, this stuff rocks!” proclaimed Leon, entranced by the heavenly freezing spray upon his bites.
“Feel a little better?” asked Sara as she tried to get her jitters under control.
“Hell, yeah! Tom, you’re a life-saver!”
“Tom?” she called as she and Leon cautiously approached the side-door.
A faint but repellant odor of spoiled meat seeped from the vehicle.
Leon scowled. “Tom, quit clowning. What’s going on?”
The steady thump of feet within the camper.
Sara’s heartbeat sped up. “Tom?”
Leon climbed the stoop and slipped through the half-open door. “Yo! Tom!”
Sara fought the impulse to bolt.
Mumbled voices within the camper.
Sara ran her fingers through her hair; searched left and right for interlopers in the forest. A crow startled her as it launched from a tree, shrieking a warning to none who would listen. She snapped back toward the camper. Nothing was right. They had to leave this place, now. Ignoring the waves of fear that threatened to drown her, Sara pulled open the door and looked inside.
It took a second for her eyes to grow accustomed to the dimness, and the disgusting smell. A squadron of houseflies buzzed her as they patrolled the fetid kitchen area. Half-eaten food withered on the dining table. There were no plates or eating utensils.
Sara’s eyes skirted over the filthy walls and a floor caked with muddy footprints, until she came to the cluttered living area. A torn magazine pullout of a nude woman, her legs spread wide as she fondled her genital area, was pinned upon the wall beside a shelf that held a portable television. A police scanner and a Game Boy lay upon the coffee table in the center of the room.
She was relieved to see Leon and Tom rummaging through the stuff. Tom screwed up his face in revulsion as he wiped the remnants of a decayed banana on his top. “These guys need a housemaid in the worst possible way.”
“What are you doing? Get out of here!”
“Chill girl. We’re just scoping out the place. Looks like we got us some Par-taaay Boys.”
Possibly, but Sara was not totally convinced. While not the bone-strewn lair of the family from Texas Chainsaw Massacre, the camper had an atmosphere about it. Tom passed her and inspected the kitchen.
Leon scurried over to a door that, she assumed, had a small bedroom beyond. “Hey! This must be party central!”
Sara jumped inside the trailer and ran toward him. “We’ve got no business...”
The door swung open before she could grab him.
Leon froze. “Oh shit...”
Sara stared over his shoulder.
The room was barely lit by a curtained window, and in it was a single bunk with a bloodstained quilt. A length of frayed rope and some torn articles of clothing lay on the bed.
A pink bra.
The air was thick with the imprint of recent screams, and Sara realized that this secluded area of woodland would be the perfect place to dump a body. Leon backed past her, not taking his eyes off the bed. “Tom, we gotta split!”
“Sorry dude, you left the place open. We thought you broke down.” Tom was not replying to Leon. His words were directed at a newcomer.
Sara’s stomach turned to water.
Outside the main door of the camper, framed by the fading sunlight, was a bulky, motionless silhouette. She could not discern any features as the figure was partially overshadowed by Tom, but its wispy hair reminded her of a scarecrow.
Tom continued to explain their presence within the vehicle, then suddenly he tensed up.
“Whoa! Don’t even...” He threw a punch, but the scarecrow grabbed his fist in mid-swing. Tom wrestled to free his fist from the crushing grip that held it fixed in space.
The gleaming blade of a machete, sneaked into view.
Between Tom’s legs.
“DON’T!!!” he screamed.
Time crawled as the brawny youth struggled with his assailant, and it occurred to Sara that this could not possibly be happening; they were far too young, and only minutes before it had been a bright, bloodless afternoon. How could her world possibly melt into madness in the space of seconds?
Sara clasped her hands against her head.
She would not accept this.
Suddenly, the machete whipped upward, hacking deep into Tom’s crotch. He let out an agonized howl that caused Sara’s bladder to release its contents down her legs. The machete was slowly withdrawn, and Tom fell to the floor of the camper in a writhing, wailing heap.
Leon panicked, yelping as he darted left and right; a rabbit trying to escape the stink of its own impending slaughter. As the scarecrow climbed inside the camper, Sara momentarily saw another figure beyond.
Leon dropped to the ground in a last-ditch attempt to scamper around the attacker’s legs and out the door. Scarecrow lashed out and grabbed Leon’s neck, lifting the boy up, smashing his head against the ceiling of the camper.
Sara wanted to help her friends; wanted to fight for Leon, but God forgive her, all she could think about was escape.
The bedroom window.
She dashed into the room and slammed the door, sliding a tiny lock. Instantly, she was on the bed, but as she tore away the curtains of the window, the sight of a wire mesh screen greeted her. It had been placed against the glass to stop such attempts to evade the death trap. Sara threw herself against it, crying now as she tried to tear it away.
But the screen would not budge.
Sara pressed herself against the wall of her cage, sobbing frantically as she pulled her arms about her knees for protection from the assault that was inevitable.
And beyond the door, a horrific sound above the clamber of feet in the camper.
Leon was screaming.
Sara huddled in the darkness, the blood vessels in her eyes ready to burst as she stared at the locked door. Leon was mercifully silent now, but her head was a haunted place, filled with the echoes of his torment; begging to live, then, in the end, praying to die.
The camper was still.
How many hours had it been?
They would be coming for her any second now.
Maybe they never saw her. Maybe they were too filled with the things that they wanted to do to Tom and Leon. Perhaps they had had enough killing and had left the camper, their bloodlust satiated.
The door handle creaked, then rattled angrily.
But it had to be her dad. Yes, surely it was dad, rattling to see if she was awake yet; bringing her coffee in bed to rouse her for school, because he was caring like that. And perhaps she had exams today. Or was it Saturday?
A tremendous smash and the door almost split.
The lock fired across the room and landed in the center of a huge crimson stain on the bed where she must have spilled fruit punch. Sara realized that it could not possibly be time for school, for moonlight spilled through the curtains.
Why would her dad be waking her in the middle of the night?
“Daddy, is that you?” she whimpered.
A nightmare filled the doorway.
And then there was pain...