Chapter One: Darkness

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The rode was dark and the headlights were dim. The full moon hovered, glowing with radiance as glistening stars scattered around it; and the trees that lined the road carried all the beautiful colors of autumn. Inside the car, Nevaeh drove listening to the hum of the engine as her little brother, Danny, began drifting into a -rare- blissful slumber. She turned up the heat and turned down the music to offer her brother a little more peace when suddenly there was a loud thud as the car rammed into something.

            Immediately, Nevaeh slammed on the breaks, bringing the car to a screeching halt.

            “Shi-” she started as the leather seats in the backseat squeaked, causing her to look in the review mirror. Danny had awakened and was now staring at her with an eyebrow raised, waiting for her to swear- waiting for the chance to give her the same lecture she had once given him. “Oot,” Nevaeh finished. “I said shoot, so don’t give me that look.”

            Danny’s blue eyes filled with a disappointment that made Nevaeh laugh. Her brother had sworn once and Nevaeh heard it. She reprimanded him and he made her promise she wouldn’t swear anymore then. Not ever, and ever since then, he’s been waiting to catch her.

            “You were going to swear,” Danny remarked, his nose crinkling. “I know you were.”

            “You have no proof,” she laughed softly while turning her attention away from him. A grimace quickly took over her face as she leaned forward to look over the hood of the car, hoping to catch a glimpse of what she might have hit. But there was nothing there. “Stay here,” Nevaeh ordered as she slipped out of the car.

            It may have been autumn, but winter’s chill didn’t hesitate to nip at Nevaeh’s skin. She zipped up her thin sweater and crossed her arms over her chest to keep what body heat she had close. Cautiously, she made her way towards the front of the car, but again there was nothing there.

            Strange, Nevaeh thought knowing now that the second chill crawling up her spine had nothing to do with the cold. Just to make sure she truly didn’t hit anything, she bent down and looked beneath the car. Shaking her head and finding nothing for the third time, Nevaeh gave up and climbed back into the car.

            “Alright,” Nevaeh sighed, shivering away the cold. “Are you buckled up back there Danny?”

            But there was no response, causing Nevaeh to whip around in her seat. The back was empty; there was no trace of Danny. Her heart slammed against her chest as she flung herself out of the car.

            “Danny!” Nevaeh cried, not recalling the sound of his door opening. “Where are you?!”

            Panic gripped her heart as she looked up and down the road. How far could he have gone? Nevaeh wondered as she went back into the car, frantically searching for a flashlight and finding one. She clicked it on and shined its light into the surrounding trees, calling his name a few more times.

A caw echoed out above her from the bird that always reminded Nevaeh of death, and her stomach sank as she began walking towards the trees.

“Danny! Come here now!” she demanded once again, her heart continuing its frantic hammering while tears stung her eyes. She wiped them away so her vision would be cleared, but it made no difference. More tears streamed down her cheeks, continuing to blur her sight as she grew deeper into the line of the trees that seemed to go on for miles.

“Help!” a small voice cried from in the distance, and Nevaeh took off running towards the sound, heart slamming, mind racing, breathing shallow. She knew it was Danny; she would know his cries anywhere because she heard them more times than she cared to remember.

Branches and thorns reached out and clawed at Nevaeh as she ran deeper into the dense woods, but she wouldn’t let it slow her down. His voice grew louder and nearer; he had to be somewhere close, but when she reached a small clearing, the cries suddenly stopped.

“Danny?!” Nevaeh called out to him, voice cracking, as she pointed the flashlight in every possible direction. The light revealed nothing but trees and more trees. There was no sign of life out there.

Somewhere close by a tree branch crunched, but before Nevaeh could turn around, something smashed into the back of her head causing a wave of dizziness to send to her to knees. The flashlight fell from her hands and something hit her again, sending her face first into the forest ground. The frozen blades of grass poked at her cheeks and the cold night air consumed her body as her fallen flashlight was picked up by a tall dark figure of a man.

He walked towards the fallen girl, but she couldn’t hear his footsteps crushing the icy grass or snapping the fallen twigs; it was like he was a ghost. Fear took hold of Nevaeh, and all she wanted to do was run and scream, but she could do neither. Her throat had felt swollen and an unseen force seemed to hold her down until the man was less than a foot away. Using the flashlight, the dark figure hit the back of Nevaeh’s head for a third time causing another round of shooting pains and darkness as she fell unconscious.

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