Chapter 21

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A child's giggle. Such an innocuous, often gleeful sound. It fills schoolyards and daycares, echoes down the halls of homes and fills the hearts of countless parents and caregivers. For many, that simple melody is one of the sweetest sounds ever conceived. But for Derek and Jessica, it would be a sound fit only for nightmares.

Back in the day every town had its own version of lover's lane. Some place teenagers disappear into when the sun goes down and they want a little alone time. This town was no different, though no one would venture as far as to call it a lover's lane. An abandoned campground, the chain around its rusted gate long torn off and lost, served the purpose better than any other spot in town. And the best part was, the police almost never bothered to drive through the rough and ill-maintained dirt roads that wound like tangled rope through the grounds.

When Derek and Jessica pulled past the gate in his souped-up jeep he didn't even bother to stop and close it, unaware that a pair of bright eyes were tracking their every movement from a high perch in the darkness. Neither turned back to the gate, too busy with each other to notice a small, childish form closing it for them. Moments later as the jeep lumbered around a corner the ground beneath the gate bulged and cracked as thick, thorny vines grew from the ground like immerging snakes. They wrapped around the gate, layer after thick layer, winding themselves around the rusted metal in such thick tangles that soon the gate had vanished completely. Replaced by a nearly solid mass of leaves and thorns, the gate was effectively sealed.

The figure followed slowly, always staying within the shadows of the trees as he hummed an ancient tune. Further and further he ventured into the park, stalking his prey. Large eyes reflected even the tiniest hint of light like pale mirrors as he quietly spread his magic about. Saplings of trees and shoots of thorny wines popped out of the ground at his feet, spreading across and along the campground roads like a virus. They grew quickly, rising from the hard-packed ground as if they were corpses summoned from the grave by the darkest of magic. He continued slowly, allowing the full strength of his magic to saturate the earth. Following him like children to the Piper, the growth spread out in thicker and thicker patches until the road was impossible to distinguish from the forest it once encroached upon.

They didn't hear the sound of softly approaching footsteps over the jeep's radio, didn't notice the subtle rocking of the vehicle wasn't being caused by their own amorous activities as thick, thorny vines grew and wound their way throughout the jeep's underside and through its wheels. But they both heard the giggle. It echoed through the trees, impossibly loud, coming from all directions at once.

"What was that?" Jessica asked, her eyes darting back and forth in an attempt to locate the source of the noise.

"Don't care, hold still!" Derek said irritably. His clumsy fingers were having no luck with Jessica's bra, causing his frustrations to block out what little attention he actually had for anything else.

The giggle came again, this time followed by the sound of flapping wings as dozens of large black birds settled within the branches of the trees surrounding the jeep. "Stop it!" Jessica squealed, trying to push him back. "Someone's out there!"

"The hell are you talking about? No one's out here but us!" His frustration was beginning to peak, he had finally managed to unhook the bra and here she was trying to push him away. The giggling came again, this time with a hint of malice. Jessica's eyes widened with fear. She pushed Derek's hands off of herself and pressed the unhooked bra against her chest, trying to keep herself as covered as possible.

"Little whore, wants no more!"  A voice sang out mockingly from the shadows, fueling Derek's rage.

"Who's out there?" he screamed, flinging the door open so hard it slammed back against the side of the jeep. He didn't know what enraged him more, the taunts or the interruption they caused. Either way, he'd make whoever was out there sorry.

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