Let me share some wisdom with you. There is evil in this world we cannot see, not because it is hidden from us, but because our minds refuse to accept its existence. But once we are able to get past what everyone says should not be, it becomes our responsibility to stop the evil we now see.
This insight wasn’t given to me until a year after I lost the most important person in my life: Bryce Rowan. Now, after another death at the same spot where he died—the overlook, where the mysterious lights dance amongst the trees—I begin to wonder if they were accidents after all.
Lucky for me, I’m not the only curious one in town. Cooper, a ghost hunter (aka chaser), and his sister Jada have moved to town and are starting to ask questions.
But the more we find out about this town and the people who live here, people who I have known my whole life, the more I begin to think there are those who would rather keep the evil secret, even if it means we will never be safe, and that more will die.
July 11, 1972
Once again I’ve fallen prey to MaryAnn’s pleading, and I follow her out the window, my stomach churning with dread, a contrast to her excitement. I don’t know why I let her talk me into these things. She’s always getting us into trouble, has been since we were little. Yet, here I am, still following her after seven years of mistake after mistake. There’s something about her I can’t say no to. I’ve always thought of her as my sister, not my cousin, and considering we were born only two days apart, we are more like sisters—look like it too. But still, even sisters tell each other no every once in a while. Not me. This time though, I should have.
Our tiny flashlights give off little light in the dark forest, mine unsteady as it shakes in my hand. Thorns scrape at my skin and I look back, hoping to see a light in the cabin on and my grandfather coming out to see where us girls have run off to. No such luck. The small, two-bedroom cedar cabin is dark, its frame nothing but an outline against the trees around it.
“I think we should go back,” I whisper, my voice trembling.
“Will you quit whining, Ester? This is no different than walking through the woods during the daylight.”
I beg to differ. During the day, the green leaves look welcoming, not over-powering and creepy like now. I don’t feel trapped and afraid when walking these familiar woods when the sun is shining bright, but now I do.
“But, MaryAnn, grandpa said—”
“He was just trying to scare you,” she hisses, as she shines her light on a raccoon scavenging for food. It rushes off to hide from what he perceives as danger and we continue on through the thicket.
No matter what MaryAnn says, I know she’s wrong. I saw the fear in our grandfather’s eyes as he told us the story of the thing that haunts these woods. MaryAnn had been enthralled as she sat by the fire, her eyes bright, her body unmoving as she absorbed every word. I had been terrified. Our grandfather has never been a skeptical man, always saying rumors and legends are nonsense. “What you don’t see with your eyes, don’t witness with your mouth.” So to see the fear in his eyes as he witnessed the story he told us tonight is enough to convince me he was telling the truth, and not just some tale to scare his grandchildren.
An owl hoots overhead and a chill slowly creeps up my back, making me shiver.
“I think we should wait. I don’t have a good feeling about this.”
MaryAnn ignores my pleas, knowing I won’t go back alone.
The leaves rustle as a slight wind picks up. I can no longer see the outline of the cabin. I don’t know if it’s from my fear, but our lights seem to grow dimmer, making the darkness feel as if it is weighing down on us.
A small clearing comes into view, with timber laying hazardously along the ground.
“We are almost there,” MaryAnn whispers. “This is where grandpa and his workers have been logging close to the overlook.”
Good. Once we reach the overlook and she sees it is the same during the night as it is during the day, we can go back to the safety of the cabin. I can already feel the relief of being back under my blankets, eagerly waiting for morning, with the fresh smell of biscuits baking in the oven and bacon frying in the pan filling the air.
“What was that?” I ask, panicked, and spin around in a circle, my flashlight shaking with more force.
“Ester, please stop this nonsense. I’m sure it was nothing.”
Once on the other side of the clearing, we start the mile hike up the incline and once again I wish we had stuck to the main road instead of taking the shorter path through the woods. The ground is slick from the rain we had yesterday, and with every step I take, I lose two as I slide back down.
MaryAnn grabs my hand, steadying me, as we both use our weight to climb the impossible hill.
“Did you hear that?” she asks, her voice a bit higher than before.
I close my eyes, my stomach tensing. She better not be playing any games with me. I will rat her out in a heartbeat if she is.
“Yes. What do you think it is?”
Before she can answer, a strange mist builds in front of us. I examine it closely and point it out to MaryAnn, but before it takes on a shape, it’s gone.
Whoosh. Whoosh. Whoosh.
A strong wind spins around us, and not caring about what MaryAnn thinks, I let go of her hand and tumble back down the hill, scared for my life. My feet are unsteady as the land levels out again and I fall over a log. Seconds later, MaryAnn lands on top of me.
“Come on!” she screams, terror in her voice. “We have to get back to the cabin.”
“What did you see?” I demand, as I race after her, dodging fallen limbs. But she doesn’t answer. She keeps running, looking back to make sure that I am close behind her.
A strong force comes from behind me and I’m shoved into MaryAnn’s back, making us both lose our footing.
Tears pour down my face as we scramble to our feet, our flashlights lost in the darkness. We try our hardest to run through the darkness with no light to guide our way. MaryAnn grabs my hand, our sweaty fingers clinging as tightly as they can while we try to make out where we are.
When MaryAnn screams, her body jerked away from me, I feel as if I can’t breathe. Something is trying to take her from me. My grip on her hand tightens, my small twelve year old frame pulling as hard as possible against whatever is trying to tug her away.
A movement behind her catches my eye as we struggle, but I can’t make out who or what it is. It’s shrouded in a black cloak, practically invisible under the blanket of night. I do make out the grey mist behind it, as if it’s drifting and waiting for its prey.
My heart thrums, feeling as if it’s trying to escape out of my chest, and my throat grows tight as I choke on my tears. MaryAnn screams, begging me not to let go of her, as our fingers begin to slip.
Why can no one hear us? We have to be close to the cabin.
A sharp pain explodes in the back of my head, and I pitch forward, disoriented. My legs slip out from beneath me, and I can feel myself losing consciousness. MaryAnn’s fingers slip out of mine as I land against the damp leaves on the ground. The last thing I hear is her pleading for me to save her.