The road stretched out in front of Heath like an unending black serpent. He hated this byway. It gave him the creeps. Gnarled and twisted trees lined the road, their branches reaching towards the asphalt like grisly fingers. He turned the music up, hoping the boppy beat would take his mind off the knot in his stomach.
“Shit!” He cried, as a huge deer darted across the road. He slammed his foot on the brake, yanking the wheel to the left. The car skidded, its headlights illuminating the trees before the brakes locked and it careened into the ditch. He was thrown forward, his seatbelt cutting into his flabby stomach, before knocking him back into his seat.
He swore and rubbed the back of his neck with a calloused hand. Aside from a slight twinge, he was unhurt. The engine was still running, but the car was sitting at such an angle, moving it would be impossible without a tow truck. He switched off the lights and the engine, fishing his cell phone from his pocket. He pressed a button, frowning when the cell didn’t light up. The battery was dead. He searched the console and glove box for a charging cable.
“Damn!” He said, banging his hand against the steering wheel. He looked out the window into the dense forest and felt his chest tighten. The nearest town was probably a two-hour walk and it was nearing ten p.m.
“Nope, I’m not heading out there,” he muttered to himself. He would wait for a passing car and flag it down. As the minutes turned to hours, Heath drifted off. He eventually woke up shivering and checked his watch. Almost three a.m. He sighed, rubbing his arms with his hands in a futile attempt to warm up as he contemplated his situation. Sleeping in the car overnight was not ideal, but neither was walking for hours to a small town that would be asleep at this time. As he scanned the area, he noticed some lights in the distance. He squinted, trying to figure out if they were house lights. The bright orbs weren’t moving, but he doubted there was a house hidden in this part of the woods.
“Only one way to find out,” he said, then he stepped out of the lopsided car, and headed towards the beacon.
The thick canopy let only sparse moonlight through, and Heath had to worm his way between tightly packed trees, the branches scratching his arms and flicking his face as he moved deeper into the woods. It was strange, he’d been walking for a good ten minutes, but he didn’t seem to be closing the distance between the lights and himself. Suddenly, the orbs disappeared and he was blanketed in darkness. He turned, intending to head back to the car, when they reappeared. While he considered whether to continue or head to the road, the lights vanished again.
The bright beacons reappeared, but this time on his left. Heath spun around, confused. If the light source were there now, in which direction was his car? He squinted through the gloom, trying to locate the road, as his pulse thudded in his ears. Unable to see beyond the trees, he stood, unsure how to proceed when he heard a sound that made him shudder. It was an eerie high-pitched wail.
“Weeee seee yoooouuuu.”
His jaw tightened and he sucked in a breath, looking around hopelessly as the dizzying lightshow continued.
“Weeeee seeeee yoooouuuu.”
It sounded closer now, like a loud whisper. A slight breeze blew passed his ear. Or was it a breath? The hair on the back of his neck stood up and sent a shiver down his spine. When he heard the sound of rustling leaves behind him, he bolted towards the floating orbs, stumbling over fallen branches, bashing his shoulders against tree trunks, but he kept moving forward, desperate to get away. The whispers echoed behind him. He tripped and fell forward, arms splayed, crashing onto the hard ground. A high-pitched squeal rang through the air, followed by an eerie childlike giggle. He spat dirt from his mouth as he scanned the forest, unclear which direction the sounds had come from. His head darted from left to right as he scrambled to his feet. A tiny black figure dashed behind a tree and his heart lurched. No bigger than a toddler, it moved on two legs, as fast as lightning. Then another. Heath ran off like a frightened hare, his breath coming in ragged gasps as tears streamed down his face.
“Please, please, please, please” he muttered under his breath. A desperate prayer to a God he didn’t believe in.
“Weeeee seeeee yoooouuuu.”
Finally, the trees began to thin and he stumbled into a clearing. He spun around, his eyes darting from side to side, but saw no evidence of the small creatures. Did I really see them? He was sure he did. He stood, staring at the forest, his heart pounding against his ribcage as he tried to catch his breath. Sweat stung his eyes and his hands were grazed and bleeding. But he could no longer hear the voices.
He leaned forward, resting his hands on his thighs as he fought for breath, trying to understand what he had seen and heard. After a few minutes, he turned and scanned the clearing, searching for the lights. They seemed to float a few meters in front of him, hypnotically. But when he stepped closer, they retreated. He kept moving forward anyway, unable to resist their welcoming glow. Soon he was standing on the precipice of a huge quarry, the jagged rocks along the side jutted out like knives.
He stared at the blackened bottom, the moonlight reflecting on the still dark water below. As he stood there, watching the rocky base of the quarry, he swayed, his mind feeling hazy. He shivered as a cold wind blew against his sweaty skin. His heartbeat quickened and his hands began to tremble. The floating orbs were gone. Part of him wanted to step away from the edge, but he also had an overwhelming urge to jump. Almost as if his mind was being manipulated, taken over. Tears began to stream down his face and he sobbed, wrapping his broad arms around himself in a hug as he rocked back and forth, teetering on the edge. He stared through blurry eyes across the quarry at the small black shapes gathering on the other side.
“Nooooooooo.” A mournful cry escaped his throat and he shook his head vigorously. His mind was a blur, words formed, but he couldn’t make sense of them, as though he was viewing them through a windscreen during a storm. He squinted at the black figures across the quarry. They stood still, lined up along the edge like a tiny army. The fog that clouded his mind was wiped away, and a word whispered in his consciousness.
“Nooo,” he said again. He tried to step backward, but his feet were rooted in place. He thought of his wife and son. Jacob’s birth flashed in his mind and his face split into an anguished smile. His heart swelled with the love he felt for them both, and it ached just as strongly at the thought of leaving them behind. Heath’s hands dropped to his sides as he stared at the creatures. The tears that wet his cheeks dried as a soft breeze blew. His breath became calmer and his rocking ceased; his hands no longer trembled. His mind was clear; he knew what he had to do. Understood how to quiet this uncontrollable desire to leap. His unwavering need to feel the wind rush through his hair as he fell; to feel the still water envelope him as he sank to its bottom. Smiling to himself, he took a full breath, closing his eyes as his lungs expanded, then he stepped forward…