It was late August when Arthur noticed the new neighbors rolling up to the house that had lay empty next door for so long.
Four years ago, a young family moved into 291 Eden Road. They seemed like any other family. The husband/Dad, Andre, seemed nice enough. He worked at the hospital as an anesthesiologist, and his wife Molly worked at the Dentist’s office as an assistant. Pretty thing, with a welcoming smile, always bubbly, cheery; often came over to Arthur’s with a container of fresh muffins or cookies she had baked. She was a real sweetheart. Then there were the girls. Sadie was nine and Carrie was six. Little blonde cherubs with masses of unruly curly hair and big ponds of blue eyes. Arthur liked to watch the little ones play outside in the summer. Full of energy, full of life.
The Popovs got along nicely next door for a good year or so before the town turned into a media circus when the family simply vanished. Andre never showed up for work at the hospital, Molly never made it into work and the girls never made it to school. No one had seen or heard anything from the family since. They found the father’s empty SUV driven down an embankment near the river, doors open. There was no forensic evidence to be found other than the family’s own fingerprints and hair. There was no closure for the town and every so often they’d mention the mysterious event on the local news hoping for new leads. There didn’t seem to be any signs of struggle or any traces of blood in the Popov home either. People started to speculate that the family was murdered, or that Andre had been involved with some shady dealings, but there was no hard evidence to support either theory. It was just a random mystery.
The girls. They were so sweet. Arthur thought of them often. Arthur would lie in bed with his memories until he drifted off.
The next day he was shuffling out to get his mail when a man emerged from the home next door.
“Hi there neighbor.” He approached with a hand held out, Arthur took it and shook it. “We just moved in yesterday, the name’s Dan.”
“Yeah I saw you unloading yesterday. The name’s Arthur. That house has been empty for a while, it’ll be nice to have some life next door again. You have little ones?” Arthur asked.
“Yeah, two girls, nine and five, Lucy and Shelby, I’m sure you’ll hear ‘em outside.” Dan gave a little chuckle.
“Where you working Dan?” Arthur inquired.
“I’m a software engineer, I work a lot from home. Which is great, I get to spend time with the girls while Deanna is at work. That’s my wife, she’s a nurse. Long shifts.” Dan pursed his lips in a what are you gonna do kind of way whilst giving his shoulders a shrug.
“Anyhoo, pleasure to make your acquaintance Art, I gotta run out for supplies, thinking about having a barbecue this weekend, we’d love to have you if you’re free.”
Arthur secretly resented being addressed as Art, it seemed demeaning, less dignified and less respectful. Like he didn’t win all those medals, seeing his fellow men slaughtered while killing a few men himself over in Panama and the Gulf. But he smiled nonetheless and accepted the invitation. He didn’t get many home cooked meals these days.
Arthur had frequent nightmares about the Popovs. The unresolved mystery hit the town hard and it was on the news constantly for a good year or so. It was traumatic for the entire community. In Arthur’s dreams he saw the youngest Popov girl, Carrie- his favorite. Her long messy curly blonde hair would sometimes float above him when he woke in the middle of the night. She would be staring down at him, loose dirty curls hanging down low enough he thought he could feel them tickle his nose. It was her face that startled him. It wasn’t right. Her face was distorted and blackened, her throat-gashed wide open to show putrefying bone and cartilage beneath, and there were two empty black holes where her eyes should be. She was often screaming out, he couldn’t hear the scream, he merely saw her face contorted in fear, but mostly rage. On those nights Arthur would have to get up and shuffle to the bathroom to splash some cold water on his face. One night as he did so, he saw the lovely Molly appear briefly in the mirror behind him. Her face black and blue with decomposition, throat slashed open in the same manner as Carrie’s, that same rageful empty scream. Carrie definitely had her mother’s eyes and Molly’s were black empty sockets as well. That was the night Arthur decided to go see a doctor. “Maybe some sleeping pills would help.” He muttered to himself as he shuffled back to his bed.
When he was able to get in to see Dr. Stern, it was explained to him that he may be suffering from post traumatic stress disorder, with the time served in the army, and being so close to the victims of such a horrific crime. It clearly impacted him. The good doctor also mentioned something about night terrors and offered a prescription to help him sleep. Arthur doubted the jackass’s mambo jumbo but he filled the prescription and took three that night before bed and slept like a log. No dreams, no floating angry decaying children.
Later in the afternoon Arthur sat out on his deck sipping a cold root beer watching the new neighbor girls play. The small one was already his favorite. Full of sass, dancing like no one’s looking. The older girl was off doing cartwheels when the little one fell and started crying.
Arthur grabbed a couple of cold root beers out of his cooler he kept beside his deck chair and lumbered across the yard gently getting down to one knee as laid the cold root beers down.
“I think you’ll live, don’t you darlin’?” Noticing her striking eyes he handed her a cold can of rootbeer and popped the top which alerted the attention of the older girl. “So which one’s Lucy and which one’s Shelby?” Arthur asked as he handed the older girl a cold beverage.
At that moment a very frazzled mom came tearing out of the side door, screen door banging against the side of the house. “Jesus what happened?” She demanded.
“I think the little one took a tumble, she’ll be ok, you know kids.” Arthur responded.
“Where did you get the root beers?” She asked both girls.
“The nice man gave them to us, nice and cold!” Answered the older girl.
“Hi.” The mom stuck her hand out. “I’m Deena, this little one is Shelby, the superstar over there is Lucy.” Lucy had sat her root beer down and had resumed her cartwheels. Arthur watched the little girl bounce and giggle. He smiled.
Deena interrupted his thought when she mentioned, “We’re having a barbecue this Saturday, we’d love it if you could join us. Is there a Mrs….?” She asked.
“Nader. The name is Arthur Nader. And no there is no Mrs. Nader, she passed away some years ago. We have a son, Ethan, he serves his country, so we only get to see each other a few months out of the year when he vacations. Watching the little ones makes me smile. I’d love to come to your barbecue, Deena.” He thanked her and shook her hand. He began to lumber his way back over to his own property before taking his off and waving it over his shoulder.
“Have a nice day ladies.” He shouted behind him.
“I asked that nice man, Arthur, next door to the barbecue Saturday.” Deena told her husband at dinner. She passed a bowl of corn to Shelby. Lucy talked eagerly about her day at school. While both Deena and Dan pretended to listen as they continued their own side conversation.
“Oh yeah, I met him outside. Seems pleasant enough. It would be nice to get to know our neighbors.” Dan agreed.
That night Arthur tossed and turned in his bed. His thoughts kept fleeting back to the day’s earlier events. Pretty blonde Lucy doing her cartwheels. Little Shelby’s glassy green eyes, wet from crying. There was something just so innocent about a little girl crying.
He got up to use the loo at some point in the night. As he reached for the towel to dry his hands he saw a ghastly sight peering back at him in the mirror. This time he saw the face of Sadie Popov. She was floating there in pajamas. The nine year old’s face was dry and cracked looking. Black holes where eyes should have been. She opened her mouth and let out a dire scream that made Arthur clasp his ears. A loud audible scream. The medicine cabinet, all its contents and the mirror shook in response. With Sadie’s mouth agape, torrents of maggots started pouring out of her eye sockets and mouth. They started plopping into the sink making black cruddy smears in the white porcelain. They were covered in something grotesque. Decomposition. Arthur started to shake as one landed on his hand. He screamed and shook it off. His clothes were drenched in sweat. He tried to settle himself. Telling himself he was just dreaming, but here he was standing in the bathroom. He heard the floor creak behind him. The old pine floors made audible creaks when you walked on them. This was coming from behind his bedroom door. He sat up, his heart was racing. He didn’t like this feeling. Feeling scared. The door swung out and closed with a bang. This made Arthur jump and yell. “You get the hell out of my house! I have guns!” A figure slowly walked forward and in the moonlight coming in through his window he could see Molly’s face. Lovely Molly. She approached in a yellow sundress, smiling at first with a basket of muffins. Arthur rubbed his eyes, and when he opened them her face was an inch from his. No longer lovely but angry. Her eyes were black. Her mouth open revealing two rows of long razor sharp teeth. He felt ice cold hands around his throat and as her face bent backward revealing those horrendous teeth, ready to seemingly eat his face- he awoke. This time the phone was ringing. It took him a moment to realize what was going on, whether he was truly awake or still in this nightmare with the Popovs.
“H…H… Hello?” Arthur’s voice shook as his eyes danced furiously around the bedroom. It was daytime now.
“Dad? Dad, are you alright? You sound weird.” It was Ethan, Arthur’s son.
Arthur slid on an argyle knit vest over his collared shirt for the barbecue. He felt it made him look smart. As he approached the property he could smell grill smells. Propane, meat, sweet sauce. It made his mouth water. Making his way into the yard his eyes were immediately drawn to the children. Lucy and Shelby were hopping excitedly up and down with a few other kids he hadn’t seen before.
“Art!” Dan waved with a beer in one hand, spatula in the other.
Ugh, Arthur grumped to himself but returned a forced smile and hesitant wave while gritting his teeth. “Hey Dan, nice day for a cookout.” Arthur responded. He walked up to Deena who was setting out condiments on the patio table. She wore a green halter sundress that matched her eyes and and her long auburn hair tied up in a ponytail. She looked… Lovely.
Everyone was introduced and Arthur learned that the extra people at the barbecue happened to be a co-worker of Dan and his wife and their son and the other couple was Deena’s sister, her husband and their two daughters. Arthur played the kindly neighbor well. No one really knew him. Not even his wife, June, really knew him. Ethan knew him better than his wife. Arthur learned Dan had a business trip coming up which would coincide with Ethan’s visit. He was eager to introduce the girls to his son.
As Deena cleared plates, the kids all retreated to a tent that was propped up in the backyard. The women went to the kitchen to clean up the dinner dishes and the men were gathered around the beginnings of a campfire. Arthur took it upon himself to walk towards the tent at the back of the yard, just out of sight of the men and their fire.
“BOO!” Arthur yelled to five squealing kids. When they realized it was just the nice old man they stopped and a couple of the girls giggled. Lucy told him, “Mr. Nader! You scared us! You could have been a real monster!” The kids all started to giggle as Arthur made a funny face at them.
“A monster? Oh I’m no monster my dear.Sleep tight, don’t let the devil bite.” Arthur sang out to the children as he turned away.
“Bedbugs.” It was Shelby’s sweet melodic voice. “Don’t let the bedbugs bite Mr. Nader.”
Arthur hesitated, looking back over his shoulder. “Right… Right… Bedbugs. Good night kiddos.” He made his way to the kitchen to see Deena before he’d make his way home.
“That was a great meal Deena, I thank you very much for having me.” He looked into her green eyes. He loved green eyes. It was the very same eyes that sweet Shelby had.
“Well we’re glad you came to join us Art, is that OK? That I call you Art?” She was polite enough to ask.
“Of course Dear, you can call me Art, just don’t call me late for dinner.” He laughed, exposing yellowing crooked teeth. It gave Deena the willies.
“OK, well, have a good night Art.” She ushered him out feeling suddenly uncomfortable.
“You too my dear.” He responded melodically. While he walked away he licked his lips nervously and uncontrollably. Like a man who hasn’t had a drink in days. He felt that excitement again. The excitement that made him keep going.
Arthur retired to his bed that night thinking of the faces and eyes of Deena and young Shelby. He imagined restraining them and looking deeply into those hypnotizing green eyes. He bent down to reach the box. His special box. Inside he removed a lock of blonde curly hair and inhaled deeply. He placed it back in the box and removed another lock of hair, and another, and another. Smelling them all individually. It brought back so many fond memories. The faces of children smiling, laughing, crying, dying. So much joy.
That night Arthur would pass away in his sleep but not before being visited by each of his victims. Mostly little girls with a few mothers sprinkled in. In his last moments, he thought about his son, Ethan. He thanked him for being a good son. He shared a special bond with his son that not many men get to experience with their sons.
Once the body was found and removed, police found the box of trinkets Arthur had kept for so long. Photos of little girls, locks of hair, and most disturbing of all, several human eyeballs. Perfectly preserved in little containers. It would take Forensics and Missing Persons a while to figure out who each individual victim was. One thing they found however was a photo, a little blurry, but it was clear who it was. Carrie Popov.
When the news of his father’s death reached Ethan overseas, he was eager to get home. He had a box of his own that needed burying.
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Keisha woke up to the sound of her phone blaring WAP. It may be as filthy a bop as it gets but as far as alarms go, this one actually perked her up in the morning. Like most 16 (almost 17!) year old girls, the first thing she did in the morning was check her socials and throw a 15 second vid out into the world. Filter : cat ears. Greeting : peace, love, and good vibes from KeishaKittyKat0604😸. As routine as brushing her teeth and getting dressed for the day.
Despite the school’s strict no-cellphone policy, Keisha was able to surreptitiously check her socials between classes – or in class, if it was math. She was already on a calculus level when the rest of her class was struggling with algebra. Makeup trends, dances, true crime stories, she had her favourites. She was also a whiz with analytics, which was as much fun as the content itself.
By the time the final bell sounded, Keisha was on her way home to go spend more time on her phone. Extra-curriculars weren’t an option. “We don’t have money for that!” became such a repetition that she didn’t even bother to ask her parents anymore. Not like they noticed. They were too busy fighting.
Her parents always fought but it had gotten much worse lately. It turns out that grown ups use social media too, but they tended to use it for airing the family’s dirty laundry. Embarrassing. Most nights now ended with raised voices and slamming doors. Her sister, Chloe, was two years older than her and often just cranked up her music. Megan Thee Stallion, Rico Nasty, Playboi Carti, King Von…Chloe only liked the freshest of the fresh on her playlists. Keisha would sometimes tag team content with her sister. They had some good sibling rivalry happening on social media. Everyone knew they were sisters. Keisha always reminded Chloe that she had way more followers, but it was all in good fun. They were pretty tight and often tagged one another in videos and posts.
The videos were a good distraction from the fact that their world was falling apart around them.
It was a Friday night when their Dad finally packed up his tattered suitcases and left the house.
That’s the night Keisha went live to pour her heart out to her followers. She received the usual love and support she was used to getting from half a world away. A few new people joined the live stream but one name stood out. DemiGod666 😈. Keisha found it hard to believe they’d have anything in common. “What if they listen to like, Marilyn Manson? Ew.” It just made her uncomfortable. Mixed in with names like PinkPixie99 and Fairy_Felicia, it just seemed out of place. After she told her her followers what just happened at home, she let them know she’ll likely be making some different type of content to take her mind off things.
“Drop you suggestions in comments Guys, I need something different to take my mind off all this crap. Have a good night fam.” She flashed the peace sign, offered a pout and ended her stream.
She joined Chloe in their shared bathroom. Time to scrape off the day’s makeup. They’d usually talk about their videos, cute boy followers that slid in their DMs, giggle and sing. Tonight was different though. The mood was somber. Chloe didn’t even have music playing on her phone. Just silence.
“How was your night? Did you go out?” Keisha broke the silence.
“I did for a little while. Me and Jasmine went over to Darrell’s house but then the boys showed up and it got boring so we jetted. You?” Chloe answered.
“Nah, I just stayed home in case Mum needed anything. She hasn’t gotten out of bed much today. I got her to eat some toast and tea after school, but she just went back to bed. Didn’t want dinner. I just made some KD. You should see her hair right now. Don’t think she’s showered in a few days,” Keisha said.
Chloe responded, “I know. She looks awful. I feel so bad for her. I’m really mad at Dad right now, I really don’t want to see him but he says he wants to see us this weekend. Ugh.” She wrinkled her nose.
“He’s still our Dad.” Keisha reminded her sister.
“Whatevs, let me be in my feelings right now,” Chloe retorted.
Chloe wasn’t one to hide her anger. She was a bit of a hot head. Typical Aries. They both recently watched a video that explained the traits of the zodiac signs. Chloe was her birth sign through and through. Keisha was a Gemini – she thought meant that she had this deep dual personality, but the video she watched said that she’s simply addicted to drama. Touché.
Keisha went to bed, face lit by her phone as she checked her stats and messages. Over 110 000 followers and counting. One comment suggested she start doing some scary videos as part of a little series. Like dare videos. Keisha always saw herself as being pretty tough and she enjoyed the creepy side of the internet. She liked true crime stories and scary movies. She watched all those paranormal shows where the people hunt ghosts with special equipment.
She let the idea roll around in her head, coming up with scenarios while she drifted off into an unrestful sleep.
A few of her followers suggested she partake in some 3:00am ghost hunting challenges where she and her sister would play with a spirit board and various apps on her phone. They played Charlie Charlie, which caused both girls to scream and end the video. The creepier the content she shared, the more followers and comments she got. It was a rush. She went deeper. Keisha was aware of a new trending app that mixed adventure, creepiness, and coincidence. As long as you believed…
Rando-Journey insisted that the user try to “manifest” their end result. Want to find money? See a dog? A colour? Think hard, set your intention and then generate a location through the app. The girls started small. “Show me purple,” Chloe said, rolling her eyes. This was one step above a child’s treasure hunt. She was sure she had better ways to spend her time right now. The app generated a location, and off they went.
They walked mere blocks before arriving at the location. The girls looked around and saw nothing but streetlights, a SLOW CHILDREN PLAYING sign, and the bus stop they used to use in elementary school. This was their neighborhood and they knew there was nothing purple around here. Chloe sucked her tongue, aggravated at the waste of her time when Keisha spun her around.
“Remember that tall-ass hedge around the property behind the bus stop?! We always wondered what was behind those bushes!”, she hissed.
Chloe nodded in the affirmative. And then she saw it.
What was once a thick, some-type-of-evergreen-looking hedge that completely disguised what lay in the offing was gone. Nothing but sawdust, and stumps that suggested whoever cut them down was a chainsaw rookie.
And a purple house.
How had they not noticed that before.
Keisha was pumped. Chloe was not.
“So someone bought the property, painted the house purple, and cut down the hedges. So?”, she said.
“It’s still purple.” Keisha said firmly.
Chloe knew her sister was right.
Subsequent journeys manifested a friendly dog, a not-so-friendly cat, and $40. Keisha figured they could have just manifested the chicken nuggets they bought with the money to skip a step, but Chloe reminded her that this way they got the nuggs – and got to keep the change.
The girls became more and more detached from reality as they spent almost all of their waking time online interacting with strangers. Retreating into their bedrooms more and more, the house itself became a ghost.
Struggling to fall asleep as ideas for new videos ran through Keisha lay in bed struggling to sleep, with ideas running through her head like a freight train. 2:14am. It was Friday night so there was no school in the morning. She sent Chloe a text.
K: 3 a.m. Rando-Journey? 🧭
C: Dude. No.
Sneak out with me?
TONS OF VIEWS GUARANTEED ☠️
They had agreed when it came down to these adventures that they would never do it alone.
An anxious Keisha broke the rules that night.
She carefully grabbed the car keys off the table downstairs, and left quietly through the back door. She had just passed her driving test making it legal for her to drive, although she was supposed to have a licensed driver in the vehicle with her. She drove down the street out of sight and parked. She had her iPad for the app to generate coordinates while she filmed inside her car. She hit the “Live” button.
“Ok Guys, so I’m going on a Rando-Journey, I know, I know, I’m by myself but my sister was being a wuss so…” She gestured to her virtual audience. “I’m going to document everything and take you all with me.” She proceeded to warn the hundreds of people slowly joining her live not to be stupid and do it alone. “I just feel confident tonight guys, I’m going to be careful don’t worry. I have my pepper spray with me. You like the 3am challenges so much that I thought, why not go on a late night Rando-Journey and see what happens.” She continued, “Tonight,” she spoke aloud, “show us something unexpected, no death, I don’t wanna die or anything, but show us something unexpected.”
A few moments later she had her coordinates, which she shared with her viewers. She narrated while driving, pausing only briefly to pull over and respond to comments. Some viewers were saying that they knew the general area she was in. Some people recognized a few landmarks nearby. Then she saw him again. DemiGod666😈💀💀. He had added a couple of skulls. She never interacted with him, he never commented. She just all of a sudden felt a quiver of unease go through her. She knew she was being watched by more than a thousand viewers but this time, she actually felt like she was being watched.
The coordinates led her to what felt like the end of the earth. The pavement dropped off and all of a sudden she was on a dirt road in the middle of nowhere. Alone. It was then that Keisha concluded that this may not have been the wisest of choices.
“Guys, I’m a little creeped out right now, I’m not gonna lie. This road is so bumpy and dark. Ooof, my mother is gonna kill me if I bottom out in her car.” It was right about then that an old abandoned house came into view. Now, Keisha and Chloe grew up in this area their entire life. They’ve driven everywhere and thought they knew all of the abandoned creepy places in town. So how did this, too, not end up on their radar?
“Looks like an old abandoned farm house guys. This is unexpected most def. Chloe and I have lived here our whole lives and we’ve never seen this place before. Never knew this road even existed. I brought some gear, let me grab my flashlight.” She looked into the camera on her phone when she saw a shape coming up behind her. She felt something hit her hard on the back of her head, everything went black. The livestream cut out.
Chloe woke up to her phone buzzing with notifications. She tried to ignore it, thinking one of her videos must have just gotten a lot of hits. She looked at the time. 3:44am. The notifications kept coming and she got a sinking feeling in her stomach.
They were all notifications from “CLICK”, her video app. They weren’t notifications though, they were DMs.
Something happened to Keisha! Exclaimed one user.
Someone’s got Keisha. Another user.
Call the police now! A regular viewer.
Call the cops, I recognize that area. Another user in their circle.
I think I may know where that house is. From Pixie_Girl19, which was not just a random user but a friend of theirs from school.
Chloe’s heart raced as she checked her sister’s empty room with its unmade bed and then dashed into her mother’s room shaking her awake. “Mom, something’s happened to Keisha, she went LIVE and people are saying something happened to her”, Chloe blurted out. “We need to call the police.”
In that instant, Donna sprang out of bed and threw on some clothes, all while dialing 911. Chloe hadn’t seen her mother move that fast since she tried to do one of the girls’ dance videos with them – the time she popped her knee out and had to stop.
Within minutes it seemed the police were knocking on the door. Chloe pulled up her CLICK app and hit the LIVE button.
“Ok Guys, I need your help, I need to know what happened during Keisha’s Live. Fill me in, the police are here now and we need to find her.” She pleaded on the screen. A few eyeball emoticons started popping up in the video.
“She was driving down the old highway that cuts off near Elmsdale,” advised one user.
“She was heading north towards the old Oak pass,” another person chimed in.
Chloe was watching the comments closely and relaying the info to the police officers at the same time. She heard them radio an alert for the area, and a BOLO for Donna’s Toyota.
“I think she could be at the abandoned Fairclough Mansion, I’m almost sure of it. Someone came up behind her and hit over the back of the head. She’s gotta be there!” Thank you, Pixie_Girl19.
The police sped off to investigate. Officer Browne and his partner Cruz responded first and found the old road that led to the Fairclough property.
“Man this place has grown wild over the years,” remarked Officer Browne.
They parked further down and turned off their headlamps ready to walk.
“Wait! Is that the Toyota?”
The two officers got out of their car, flashlights in one hand, the others resting on their pistols.
It seemed to be the girl’s car. Her purse was still in it and her cell phone on the ground nearby.
The two men kept walking, approaching the doorstep of the creepy old house. Weeds had taken over the stairs now. Browne motioned for Cruz to go around back while he went through the front. The front door wasn’t locked.
Cruz cautiously stepped around the back of the house trying to not step on any twigs to make a noise. He went in through a busted old window, landing in the kitchen. He met Browne in the lobby.
To the left, at the end of the hall there a soft glow of light. The two men approached, floor creaking beneath them. When they approached the lit room at the end of the hall they drew their guns and entered yelling, “Police!” The room was empty other than a small woman’s pink an black hoodie draped over a lone chair. The only other thing in that room was a lamp on the floor with no shade on it, giving off a harsh blinding light.
The officers scoured the rest of the building and called for backup to search the nearby road and fields. The GPS had been turned off on the phone making it impossible to ping and locate. The last known location was this house.
For three weeks volunteers from the community led that search, stapling posters of a smiling innocent Keisha in her favorite pink and black hoodie. No one had heard or seen anything. Leads went nowhere and the trail simply grew cold.
Donna and Chloe tried their best to keep it together although a large piece of them was now missing. Chloe was still trying to get ready for college but had major hesitations about leaving her mom. She had been accepted with honors to the Sciences program. Her plan was to become a microbiologist and Keisha would have been the mathematician, always with her stats. God, Chloe missed her sister, the pain weighed so heavy on her heart. That night she cried herself to sleep and dreamt about Keisha.
Keisha tied to a chair, being beaten, abused, starved, or worse. Keisha’s colorless face looking up at her through lake water with dead eyes. Keisha with worms and snakes coming out of her mouth and eyes. Keisha’s dismembered body being found in a suitcase somewhere. The nightmares were always the same. She figured she’d have them for the rest of her life.
Eight months later. Chloe’s home making dinner for her and her mother. While she waited for the lasagna to bake, she opened an app she hadn’t opened since shortly after her sister disappeared.
The bright light of CLICK opened, with a video immediately playing. Right away she noticed messages that had gone unread. She went through them one by one. Friends sending their love and regards. Sending prayers to the family. She was even tagged in a few videos made by fellow creators discussing the case, still trying to find answers.
When she got near the bottom of her message list. There it was. KeishaKittyKat0604😸 with a video attached. Only the video was dated three months ago. Chloe’s heart raced as she opened it not knowing to shout for her mother or not first. The video was only 60 seconds long. You see a dark warehouse with one lamp on, no lampshade. A male voice is heard, “Welcome to the show Chloe, by the way… You will NEVER find her.” He followed that up with a loud obnoxious, maniacal laugh. The video ends with one close-up large brown bloodshot eye and, “I see you…”
Kaia had no idea where or how far away from home she was. At seven years old she wasn’t much for directions or telling time. She only knew that the sun was going down and if she didn’t find her way out of these trees she’d miss dinner and tonight it was lasagna, special for Aunt Janice’s birthday. Her favourite. The whole family was gathered for the celebration, including grandma and her world-famous baked goodies. Her cousins were over, too. Sara and Ivan. Jerks. Kaia wished she could hang out with the adults. They were gathered in the kitchen, which was enourmous. Kaia figured her parents were rich, probably gazillionaires. They always threw these big fancy parties where all the food was bite sized and everyone drank out of long fancy glasses.
That’s how it started. Everyone was celebrating, her mom fussing in the kitchen, the children being too loud.
“Why don’t you kids go outside and play until dinner,” her Dad suggested.
Off they went.
With a backyard that consisted mainly of a small garden plot and trees, the obvious place to play was in the trees. Kaia and her cousins would do things like build forts with tree branches and climb the enormous trees, but their go-to was hide and seek.
Sara hid first, but her efforts were futile. She was not a tiny girl and she wore a pink, fluffy sweatshirt. It may as well have been a beacon for the seeker. Sara was nabbed in a minute’s time.
Ivan was a little more creative. That bummed Kaia out, she didn’t feel like searching for him anyway,. Kaia didn’t really enjoy playing with her cousins that much because they were bullies. Picked on her her for being skinny, mocked her long curly red hair that sometimes got knotted up and fluffy-fuzzy. “Your hair looks like a toilet brush,” Sara would say. Ivan would laugh hysterically over the unfunny joke every time.
Kaia wanted to outsmart them on her turn to hide. She ran quickly through the brush. She could feel the burdocks grabbing at her purple sweater as she ran, but she didn’t care. “The longer it takes for them to find me the more peace I get,” she thought.
She found a tree, hustled up as high as she could, and scrunched herself into a little ball. Trying to make herself invisible. She heard her cousins yelling in the distance.
In the distance.
How far had she run?
She waited and waited for her cousins to come find her but their cries just got more distant and further away. A feeling of panic washed over Kaia. She descended the tree, not that graciously though, scraping her leg and leaving an open bleeding gash on her right calf. She cried out.
Sitting on the ground at the foot of that tree Kaia cried until snot came out of her nose, which she angrily wiped on her purple sweater. “Ok, enough crying,” she told herself. “I gotta get home or I’m going to be stuck out here in the woods all alone all night.” The very thought prompted more tears. She gathered herself and decided to find home.
She had been running, dodging trees and bushes, for what felt like an hour. She finally accepted the fact that she was lost and alone. She collapsed on the ground, exhausted.
When Kaia opened her eyes, the sky had grown much darker. The woods were beginning to make their night-time noises. The peepers were out, a few frog noises, an owl. The noise of rustling brushes. That scared Kaia enough to dart out of the thicket.
“I didn’t know this was here,” she said out loud as she came upon a pond. She bent over and cupped her hands to take a drink of water. The moonlight lit an eerie glow over the pond. Kaia could see her reflection and the forest behind her as though she was looking into a mirror. She saw a tattered- looking girl with dirty clothes. Her mom would be pretty mad that she put a hole in her pants from that tree. The blood was clotted and dried in a perfect circle of red on her kitty-cat leggings. She could see her stupid face, freckles and that mess of curly hair, matted with sweat and sticking up everywhere. Out of frustration she smacked the water with her hand.
Her reflection changed. It was still her but her reflection was smiling and Kaia wasn’t smiling. Quite the opposite. Just then, the reflection winked at her.
She had hoped that her terrified ear-splitting wails would draw her family near. To come save her. No one came. She was still alone, the image from the pond seared into her memory. An eerie, pensive calm washed over her. “What if the face in the pond can talk?” she thought. “What if it can help me find my way home?” She approached the shining pond slowly, cautiously. She closed in on it, until she could see her reflection again.
“Who are you?” she asked.
“Why, I’m you silly! Can’t you tell?!”, The Reflection responded with a giggle.
“Reflections don’t talk,” Kaia retorted.
A shiny object in Kaia in The Reflection’s hand grabbed her attention.
The thing twirled around and around The Reflection’s finger.
“You can have this locket, it will help you get home,” The Reflection began softly . “It has a compass inside and it will point where you need to go.” The locket. Still twirling around that one finger. It caught the moonlight, the reflection dancing across the pond’s surface. Hypnotizing.
Kaia motioned for the locket, but it was just out of her reach. The Reflection swam out a little further. Kaia chased the treasure into the water. This was her locket. This was her compass. Her ticket home.
Kaia was shoulder deep.
“Follow me Kaia, reach for my pendant,” The Reflection encouraged in a whisper. “Stay with me.”
Kaia found herself kicking, struggling to stay afloat. She was not a strong swimmer. She wouldn’t even put her face under water, causing her to lose out on her swim badge in Brownies. Dipping under. Swallowing acrid, metal-tasting water, the grit of sand in her teeth. More kicks. In one swift motion she breached the surface, gasped for air, and dipped under. Kaia was gone. Only a few bubbles remained floating at the surface.
Bill Powell walked alongside Sheriff Ruiz. “Used to be an old mill and pond around these parts back in the 1960s,” Powell noted. The entire community was two days into an intense search for the missing seven year old.
If you needed a town history lesson, Powell was your man.
“Yessir, back in, I wanna say ’67, ’68, a young girl named Eloise Harris went missing,” he continued. “The whole town went looking for that little girl. Sweet little girl, red curly hair, freckles,” he described. “Decade later, all they ended up finding were bones,” Powell said. He turned to face the Sheriff. “That mill shut down after some accusations that one of the workers had done something to that little girl, andthat pond all but dried up over the years,” Powell continued, explaining how Eloise Harris was found. “That’s when they found her….well what was left. Just a skeleton clutching a locket. I think it had a compass in it if memory serves me.”
“I seem to remember coming across that case in my files when I took over here in 99’, they never actually pinned anyone for that did they?” Ruiz asked.
“Nope. But these woods are full of secrets, there are probably trees here older than man itself. Some say she accidentally drowned, some say she was dumped here, some say the ground just seemed to open up and swallow her whole, spittin’ out her bones, but… no way of proving nothin’,” Bill said in a grunt. His hips were killing him.
The search party found their way to the clearing on an unseasonably warm Saturday afternoon. Right where the old mill and pond used to be, right where Powell said it would be. Sheriff Ruiz saw something in the distance. He walked toward this patch of colour, kicking up dust and sediment as he strode across the dried out pond. A girl’s sweater. Purple.
Kaia’s mother identified the sweater as hers. There were no remains to be found. Tucked up into the sleeve was a gold locket. Ruiz popped the locket open, revealing a compass with a shattered screen. On the back, the initials E.H. were neatly inscribed.
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When Amanda awoke all she could think of were those sharp hooves breaking through her windshield. Lying next to her in her overturned pickup truck was a bloody mess of hair, glass and blood. She felt a prick in her arm. Antlers. Attached to those antlers was a set of stone cold dead eyes. Life completely drained; pupils mid-dilated. For a very brief moment she felt compassion because this wasn’t in her plan. As she admired those eyes and lifted a hand to stroke its face, an unexpected kick of the beast in her car knocked her out once again.
This time when she woke, The Buck had disappeared. Like it had never been there in the first place. Broken glass shards remained but no blood. Had she dreamt it all? Didn’t she just hit a deer?
She unbuckled her seatbelt, brushing the bits of glass shards out of her hair and off her lap. She tried to get her bearings, but saw nothing familiar. She looked to her left. The road looked like it may have been used regularly at some point, but those days are clearly long gone. Cracked, crumbling pavement. A thick forest full of trees in various stages of decay lined the disused road. A glance in the other direction offered the same view. Same cracks. Same crumbling pavement. Same trees. Then she saw it. The Buck. Standing across the road, not a single scratch on him. Easily a ten pointer. Daddy hunted her whole life, Amanda knew that she was staring at a coveted prize.
It made no sense. Must be a different deer. She looked over to where her car lay crumpled up in the ditch. “Damn Japanese cars, ain’t worth a shit!”, she heard her father’s voice in her head. He died three years prior from lung cancer. A grim scene snapped her back to reality. There she was. Laying on that seat, face pushed up against the driver’s side window. She was still in that car.
Amanda looked herself in the eyes. One had started to turn black and bloody. Lying next to her was the eviscerated Buck. She turned quickly to where she had just seen the Buck only seconds before. It was gone.
She heard what sounded like hooves clacking on that crooked, busted up road. She turned around slowly.
It wasn’t The Buck. It definitely wasn’t the deer. Instead, some kind of blasphemous beast towered over her. Something straight out of the Old Testament. It… He must have been at least eight feet tall. From the waist down it was almost human, only more grotesque. Transparent skin revealed giant green and blue pulsating veins. Muscular legs tapered to hooves instead of feet. Like some centaur from hell. The top half could only be described as a wolf/man, some six hundred pounds or more of pure powerful, frightening muscle. Its head. The horns. A ten pointer. The creature met her gaze. She fixated on its yellow, shining eyes.
She must have been holding her breath without noticing, because the next thing that hit was the smell. It was visceral. She recoiled at the stench as it leaped forward, stopping inches from her face before letting out a terrifying howl. The creature’s breath replaced the air in her lungs. Like a combination of hot garbage, sulfuric fish rotting out in the desert sun. Amanda coughed, gagged and screamed.
Her instincts kicked in and she bolted – or tried to. She didn’t even make it off the road into the thicket of trees before she felt the hairy, otherworldly strength of that beast pull her back. Back… back… She felt herself being lifted and carried while the beast ran. She felt the whips of branches and foliage leaving bloody gashes on her face. She had no idea where she was going… but a curious mixture of clairvoyance and dread told her she wasn’t coming back. She knew she only had herself to blame. She had been killing since she was a teen. Her Daddy showed her how to hunt and gut. Hunting became her obsession. It began small with neighborhood cats and dogs before the inevitable escalation. Children went missing in her small town. No one ever found them, and that was the plan. Outrun the rumours. Leave before being caught. People were already talking and in small towns…rumors hold weight.
She used her obsession to liberate her father. At the end, when her Daddy was sick, she felt the most compassionate thing to do would be to slit his throat and end his suffering. She knew he appreciated it even though he seemed unprepared, maybe even a little shocked. But she knew. He knew. He always knew.
This was her fate.
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