Chapter One - The Girl and the Mist

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The sun rose over the vast forests and endless fields of Dark Hollow county, one of the last rural paradises left in eastern Pennsylvania. On Old Route 13, single-lane and graveled, a solitary truck hauled a load of garbage past sleepy farms to the local landfill. The trucker liked to get an early start—before those damn school buses take up the whole road.

The fetid mound of trash came into view. From a distance it appeared majestic, gray smoky wisps circling its gull-infested peak. Stretching out before it, the mirrored surface of the lake appeared on fire, brightened by the early autumn sun that had begun to melt the frost from the tall grass surrounding it. The trucker remembered when this was a vacation spot, before the county sold the land to a multi-state waste conglomerate posing as an environmental-friendly recycling center. Recycle my ass, the trucker groused. It all goes in the same hole.

As grateful as he was to have a good union job with a pension, he knew the garbage dump destroyed what had once been a beautiful place. Contaminated the water. Killed the wildlife. He had spent many summers there as a boy, fishing with his father, swimming in the lake. Now the cabins and piers that had once proudly edged the shore were left to rot. Friggin shame, he mumbled, downshifting to second gear as he made the sharp turn onto the narrow, steeply pitched lane leading to the dump's private road.

He saw it first as a flash of bright pink in his left side view mirror; a flock of gulls scattered with ragged caws in all directions, setting his nerves on edge. Then, on the side of the road a teenage girl appeared barely taller than the grass she'd pushed through. His truck made a loud tsss as he applied the brake. In the mirror, he saw her coming toward his truck. She appeared dazed; her face dirty, her pink gown torn and soaked as if she'd just waded out of the lake. She stopped when she reached the side of his door so that she was no longer visible in the mirror, only the top of her matted, wet hair.

He leaned across the cab and opened the passenger door with a grunt. "You okay? You need help?"

The girl said nothing. After a moment's hesitation, she hiked up the skirt of her gown (thin shoulder straps and a wilted silk flower pinned to the waist), hopped into the cab, and closed the door.

"Were you in an accident?" He asked. Guessing from her appearance, she wasn't taking a swim, although he hadn't noticed a vehicle or any marks on the road. She sat in the cab staring straight ahead.

He assumed she had an accident and was in shock. "You want me to drive you into town?"

With eyes wide open, hands flat on her knees, she sat staring straight ahead, as silent and still as a statue.

"I'm gonna drive you into town. I just gotta turn around at the end of this road, okay?"

The girl said nothing and continued to stare straight ahead. The truck started down the hill, gaining speed on the steep grade.

The trucker shot her a glance. "How'd you end up all the way out here? You fall into the lake or something?"

He noticed her hands, bluish white, clutching tightly at the skirt of her dress.

"Are ya cold? I have a jacket behind the seat." He reached for it, taking his eyes off the road for a second.

With a high-pitched shriek, the girl lunged at him, her nails reaching up to scratch his face.

"Jesus Christ!" The truck lurched from side to side. As he tried steering with one hand and fighting her off with the other, she sunk her teeth into his bare forearm, drawing blood. The trucker screamed as the truck flew off the side of the road, tires spinning in the air, suspended for mere seconds before it crashed in the gulch below.

* * *

Adam Gares' 1970 Mustang made a streak of glossy maroon and chrome through the morning mist that had crept in suddenly that morning. Next to him, sixteen-year-old Hannah tugged at the skirt of her school uniform. Her shoulders stooped and her complexion pale, she appeared more anxious (and decidedly moodier) than usual. This he thought, but didn't voice. The last thing he wanted to do was set her off, but the silence on their drive to school unnerved him.

"Are you excited about the new term?" He tried not to judge how his own voice sounded to his ears: forced and theatrical in a way he'd often criticized his acting students for.

Hannah's answer came out like a sigh. "No. Should I be?"

"All those wonderful things to learn, all those possibilities?" He mused, more to himself than her. He swerved to avoid a pothole, causing Hannah's Styrofoam cup to bounce and splash coffee on her hand.

"Sorry about that," he said, shooting her a smile, and hoping to get one in return. She scowled and looked out the window.

Adam slowed the car down. The mist was thick, the sun hovering low in the sky, making a white dot in the span of gray. "What I wouldn't give to be a student again."

"That's you," Hannah said, instantly regretting her rudeness. She loved her dad, but his attempts to be cheerful so early in the morning were annoying. Plus, this was the first day of school and although it wasn't something she felt comfortable admitting (not even to him), she was anxious. Very anxious—the mist wasn't helping. That was something she knew they were both feeling, although neither one would say it. She was about to make some conciliatory remark to ease the tension when they both noticed ahead of them a flashing red light cutting through the mist fast and steady, like the pulse of an elevated heartbeat. 

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