I’ve been furiously editing and revising for a few months now. This is the final, final product for my prologue. Please forgive the lack of proper paragraphs–I blame it on the formatting of the blog roll. I hope you like it!
Devil’s Bath Hot Springs, Uintah Mountain Range, Utah
Four years ago
The deep ruts from early spring runoff and the roots of stubby evergreen trees reached up from the ground, plaguing her path with ankle twisting obstacles, as the young woman sprinted down the rugged mountain trail. She slowed her pace after she nearly fell, slipping when her heel skidded on loose scale dropped from the higher elevations. The developing fog made for slick travel. The woman panted into the rapidly chilling air and glanced nervously behind her, still not seeing anything to justify her panic. The dim light filtering through the gloom of the cloudy day told her it was late afternoon. She knew she had plenty of time to make it back to her car before sunset.
Clutching her Swiss Army knife to her chest, the woman continued down the trail at a fast pace, adeptly jumping over large rocks, fallen branches, and mud puddles. The knife was more of a security blanket than a potential weapon. Her husband had given it to her on their first Christmas together, and she always brought it hiking. The woman was especially grateful she had it with her as she scrambled anxiously down the trail. It was a short hike, only two hours from the parking lot to the hot springs, but being alone on this hike was making her jumpy.
She had taken her time drying off after her hour-long soak in the sulfuric, hot springs. She knew that she had plenty of flexibility in her unusually empty day and as she patted her cool skin dry, she relished the break away from her responsibilities of wife and mother. She intensely loved her family, but it had felt great to get away and relax for the day.
At first, the feeling of eyes on her as she dressed, only slowly enveloped her consciousness. Then, with the sharp sting of realization that she was being watched, she took off at a run, no longer laxidasical. She felt that something was after her—something predatory.
Now, halfway down the path, the frightened young woman tried to slow herself to a calm, collected walk, but could not. Just beyond her normal senses of hearing, sight, and logic there was a place in which she knew something was chasing her down. It was irrational, she knew that, but she felt it nonetheless. She hopped with panic-addled awkwardness over another obstacle in the trail. Being married to a cop had taught her to trust her instincts, and at that moment, her instincts screamed, “Escape!”
Since she had been running instead of hiking, she couldn’t tell how much farther down the trail her car was parked. Whether it was from her urgent fear or simple inattention caused by running so blindly, the path, once so familiar to her, suddenly seemed too narrow, too cluttered with overgrowth. She slowed again, disoriented, and came to a stop to make sure that she knew where she was. The woman turned to face the direction she had come from, but couldn’t see anything through the burgeoning fog.
The fog meant that it was going to rain soon, and at this altitude, this time of year, it could very well be snow. She strained to hear any sign of the danger she sensed, but there was no noise behind her—no footsteps or sounds of sticks breaking, nothing to say she was being hunted. She turned and ran anyway.
The woman lost all track of time as she fled, and in doing so panicked, thinking that she had strayed from the trail again. Then saw the Bureau of Land Management sign indicating the parking area was only two tenths of a mile away.
“Thank god,” she panted, and slowed her pace. She felt foolish for her haste, now that safety was only a few feet away, and decided to cool down with a slow walk for the remainder of the hike. She even chuckled to herself, knowing she would have a great time telling her husband the story of how she had frightened herself.
“What’s so funny?”
The woman jumped when she heard someone speak, and then froze. A tall, incredibly handsome young man, dressed in black stood just off the side of the trail ahead of her, leaning against a tree. She wouldn’t have even noticed him until she was standing right next to him, if he hadn’t spoken. There was something off about him and instinct again shouted at her to turn and run, but she felt hesitant, wondering if the young man might need help. “Besides,” she inwardly chastised herself, “hikers are always so friendly.”
She waved and gave the man a small smile as she slowly approached him. She slipped her knife up her sleeve; she didn’t want to insult the young man.
“Hi,” she greeted him. At the closer range, she saw that he was even younger than she had first thought; maybe even still a teenager, and she realized what was off about him. The young man was dressed for a dance club, not a hike. His long leather jacket reminded her of the garb from a futuristic cowboy movie, and his boots looked like motorcycle boots, not at all good for hiking. Her heart fluttered nervously.
The boy emanated the distinct swagger of overconfidence that she saw in the addicts she often treated in the emergency room where she worked as a nurse. He possessed the extreme confidence of someone with a false sense of immortality, someone hyped up on a good trip.
The woman’s innate desire to help people switched on. Even though instinct kept trying to push her back, away from what she should have known was danger, she couldn’t help herself from reaching out to someone who may be in need. The young man, if indeed high on a hard drug, may be lost or injured, and she had to help him.
“I said, ‘what’s so funny,’” the boy repeated. He sounded sweet, coy even, but there was an edge to his tone that sent an involuntary ripple of fear through the woman.
The woman stopped walking, and tried to pretend that she didn’t hear the menace resting beneath his words. “Do you need help?” The woman paused and added, “You aren’t dressed for hiking, and the trail is quite long.”
“I’m not hiking,” the boy explained and pushed away from the tree. “I was waiting for you, actually.” He advanced on the woman.
“Me?” The woman chuckled nervously. “Why were you waiting for me?” Her eyes flickered around her for an escape route. She knew she had to run, but she couldn’t turn away from the boy; she couldn’t make her feet take her away from him. New fear suddenly sliced through her mind, rooting her to where she stood, as if the boy had her entranced with fright.
“You have something I want. Something I need,” he crooned, a mere foot from her now.
“I do? What do you need from me?”
The boy stopped moving. A terrifying grin that never reached his icy black eyes, twisted his handsome face. “I need your life,” he said, too quietly.
The woman set her feet free and whirled around, running full speed back up the trail, feet beating the loose ground, heart pounding against her ribcage. To her horror, the boy materialized before her in the path, and she collided with him before she could slow herself down. The impact knocked her to the ground as if she had slammed into a brick wall.
Lying on the cold, damp ground dazed, but conscious, the woman saw the boy lean over her, his beautiful face too close to hers. Her warm, brown eyes frantically searched for a way to escape the terror she knew was planned for her. The boy’s lips were moving but she couldn’t understand him; she wondered if she had a concussion. She shook her head, scrambling to try to get back on her feet, knowing she had to run. She had to get away from this evil boy. Sound crept back into her ears just in time to hear his frightening question.
“What’s your greatest fear?” he asked as he pinned her to the ground with strong hands, thwarting any attempt to flee.
“This,” she thought, “this is my greatest fear.”
It was not, as it turned out, her greatest fear. Again, a leaded sense of immobility overtook her.
An uncomfortable buzzing filled her ears, as the boy’s awful, inky black eyes bore into her, captivating her. The sound overwhelmed every other sense, paralyzing her with a crippling pain in the front of her brain. To her horror, she found that she was incapable of looking away from him, as the mountain trail and cold fog disappeared around her. Then she found herself immersed in the actual nightmare that she feared most.
The woman was suddenly walking to the front door of her home. Utter dread filled her soul as she put her hand out to open the door, knowing what waited for her. Her pounding heart seared as adrenaline poured into her chest, creating a strong need to run from the truth that waited on the other side of the door. She no longer remembered that she was lying on the damp ground in the mountains, but completely believed that she was home, in the middle of the night, answering the knock that every police spouse fears with their entire being.
When her shaking hand finally succeeded in opening her front door, two police officers stood before her with sympathetic, but strong, expressions on their grim faces. She whimpered; she knew what was coming next. This was her greatest fear.
The woman had dreamed this nightmare a thousand desolate nighttimes. She shook with the awful knowledge before the police officer even said the dreaded words, and she collapsed in a heap at their feet. In this, her greatest and most private fear, she learned that her beloved husband was killed in the line of duty, leaving her alone, lost in inconsolable grief.
She witnessed her worse fear come to life. She screamed and screamed and screamed, until her lungs emptied of air and life.
When the young woman he had pinned to the ground, stopped thrashing under his palms, the boy smiled greedily, lost in the reverie of killing, and sated by the life force he had stolen from her. As the blissful haze cleared, he looked into her lifeless eyes, and grimaced. The familiar, but always fleeting, sense of regret in his damaged conscience flared, then rapidly abated. As he stood up, he wondered, as he always did, what exactly her greatest fear had been. What terror had his Song brought forth from her mind to horrify her as she gave her life?
He spotted a blue Swiss Army knife lying next to the woman’s body and snapped it up with inhuman speed. It was an expensive model worth keeping. He turned it over and saw an engraved message: “To My Maria, so you will always be safe. All My Love, Manny”
“Isn’t that sweet,” he sneered, as he slipped the knife into his pocket. Then the handsome, young man vanished into the air.