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The Secrets of Another -- Part 2

The Secrets of Another -- Part 2

When Jennifer returns to an old habit, she's confronted with something sinister.








The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown.


—H. P. Lovecraft


The forecast called for heavy cloud cover, with a high chance of rain into the evening. The overall temperature slightly increased as the week went on, and averaged somewhere between forty and fifty degrees Fahrenheit. The wind had dulled and was no longer present. More and more leaves fell as each day passed, clumped together in large piles along roads, sidewalks, and lawns. Riverhaven itself, bustling with activity within small stores and markets in anticipation of Homecoming, soon after followed by Halloween.

Jennifer spent a great deal of time at the Wolf’s Den Café over the few days, since she met the wonderful stranger, William. She held out hope that he would return, with the intent to see her again, as well. Craving those unique white eyes to look upon her own, her soul begged for the rush of danger and the exciting fright his very presence sparked within her. But he never once came back to the Den. In a town where news and gossip burned like wildfire from every mouth to every ear, there was no talk of any new young stranger.

On a Thursday afternoon, when the students of Riverhaven High School were released from class, Jennifer had decided to take up her recently deceased habit of long walks through the town’s trails and recreational areas. She knew a long stroll through the artistic colors and scenes of nature wouldn’t clear her swarming thoughts of William, but it would help to make sense of all that had happened three evenings ago. The beauty of Mother Nature had that effect on her.

She drove into a small and empty parking lot, where the entrance to Wildwood Trail broke through the dense orange and yellow trees, and skeletal brush. She parked in the first available space and sat within the car for a few minutes. There was a voice from within her, an unmistakable sensation throbbed in the back of her mind: What if William is at the Wolf’s Den Café right now? The sensation was followed by an almost unshakable urge to go there, to see if he was indeed waiting for her where they had met. She sighed and gripped the steering wheel with firm, tight hands. She held back and forced herself to step out of the car. She headed in the direction of the trail opening and refused to let herself look back at the lonely silver Pontiac.

The air was much cooler within the woods; she tightened the blood-red scarf she wore around her neck and pulled the loose sleeves of her light gray sweater over her hands and fingers. The path was covered in yellow and red and orange leaves, the concrete pavement hardly exposed through the mesh of leaves, twigs, and pebbles. The bushes at the edge of the path were not much more than skeletons of winding and twisting branches, while the trees towered over all else, and still grasped many leaves that had yet to fall. The few pine trees there were, forever that familiar dull green. The thick clouds overhead layered the world in a deep grayish beige tint. While Jennifer certainly enjoys a bright summer’s day, there was something special about the cloudy weather, and the dreary atmosphere it formed. The fiery mixtures of autumn, the somber browns of dormant plants, and the overlapping grayish tones created a sense of renewal within the young woman’s heart.

She was no more than a mile into the woods, and it began to seem as though she was the only living thing left in the world. Not a soul was to be found on that trail, and there was no more distant rumble from engines, no more distant sirens from emergency vehicles, not even the flutter or song of a single bird. No, she was completely and undeniably alone.

There was something that caught her attention, something deep in the woods and far away from the trail, something that didn’t fit into the irregular shapes and patterns of nature. The thing itself blended into the environment, its combination of grays and browns camouflaged it well within the woods. But Jennifer had picked up on the geometric design of it; too artificial to be a work of nature. Curious of the discovery, she headed off the trail, and into the woods in its direction. The closer she drew, the more defined the thing became, and it soon became clear that it was an old structure of some sort. Ruined by the elements of nature, only three walls survived the test of time, one of which had an open window. The stones and bricks that made up its foundation crumbled with jagged edges and mossy patches, as the now dormant plants stretched their limbs and vines to take back the space. She marveled at this curiosity; an old building abandoned to history, yet so new to her. The stone was coarse against her hand, the brittle granular of dust and dirt fell in tiny fragmented pieces to the leaves below. When was this built? she thought. And by who? Why here? Just a few questions, with limitless answers and possibilities. Humbled by its very existence, she thought of the faceless people that once lived and used the now abandoned property every day of their lives. Although in ruins, it lived on through the decades, only to be touched by Jennifer’s soft skin. Who else, one or two centuries ago, could have touched the same brick her hand rested upon? It was a momentary connection to generations long dead, and to time and history itself.

She turned around and leaned against the rough wall. She had crossed her arms below her breasts and looked out on the hibernating forest to bask in the silence and stillness. William, the man who haunted her memory, crossed her mind once more. Where could he be? She asked herself. In a town where everyone knows each other’s last name, where generation after generation grow and live and die, where so many familiar faces cross my path every day, it’s like he vanished. Like he never even existed. She looked up, passed the branches of trees, at the deep gray clouds above; they moved across the sky with great speed and brought an omen of imminent rain. She chuckled to herself, and said out loud, “Maybe, William was a ghost or a figment of my imagination. Was any of it real? Was I really there at the Den, or had I been dreaming the whole time?”

She took a deep breath of cool air and sighed. Although there were the common fresh smells of the outdoors, she detected something different, something rotten. She sniffed the air, and a light breeze carried the horrid scent of decay. The aroma led farther away from the trail, deeper into the dense woods, the fragrance of death growing more intense as she drew closer. If it wasn’t for the dark red flow of blood, she might have missed what was so delicately hidden against the ground. She found a large deer laying in the dirt, its beige pelt camouflaged among the leaves and twigs. Its throat, and only its throat, had been torn open, and formed a pool of life’s essence around its neck and head. The fragrance of decomposition filled the air around the animal; Jennifer gagged at each breath she took. It had been dead for a day or so, that she could tell, for maggots had begun to dine on the wound.

Suddenly, she was no longer comfortable within the woods. A sense rushed her—she was no longer alone—she could see it, in the right corner of her eye; a shadow among the trees, a human silhouette, standing in the distance, watching, waiting. She looked—nothing. Nobody there. But now in the left corner of the other eye—she could see it again; that shadow among the trees, that human silhouette; lurking in the distance, stalking, prowling. She looked again—nothing. No one there. Icy tendrils of fear crawled up her spine. She breathed heavily; the only sound within the deafening silence. Hands quivering.

By the time she had reached the trail, she was practically jogging. She wheezed, sweat dripped from her brow. Her body, hardly able to keep pace with her legs as she walked, as though her bones were about to jump out of her skin. And that nagging pulse, that primal instinct, that infantile fear, throbbing in the back of her mind; it was right on her heels—that inky silhouette, that stalker in the woods, that dominating and ancient source of horror, might reach out and grab her at any moment. She had to see the prowler’s face—she had to. But no. No, she couldn’t—she couldn’t bring herself to look—no, she couldn’t do it. She needed safety. Stability. Security. She wouldn’t risk losing sight of the path.

The entrance of Wildwood Trail came into view, and when she was within twenty feet of returning to her silver Pontiac, she finally glanced over her shoulder. A thick fog had sneaked through, far into the trail and forest, and clouded sight of the area she had just come from in a grayish mist. But, she would swear upon her mother’s life, within that fog stood the shadowy lurker.

Watching. Waiting.



This story is protected by International Copyright Law, by the author, all rights reserved. If found posted anywhere other than with this note attached, it has been posted without my permission.

Copyright © 2018 ― Zachary W Mahnke

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the author, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews and certain other noncommercial uses permitted by copyright law. For permission requests, write to the author.

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