by Ester Latifi
She drew in a long, calculated breath. The panic that had sent her running had finally settled down, and her mind was clear enough so that she could untangle the maze of thoughts that had been crashing around in her head. It had been just hours since she and Mark had been on their way to Jasper; the October air was crisp, his car was loaded, and their much-needed mountain getaway had finally come. She remembered every song on the playlist she had prepared. She remembered the rest stops, the pictures she’d taken, the moment that they had both been laughing so hard that Mark almost lost control of the steering wheel…
And then, as quick as a blink, the laughing had turned into screaming as the car coming from the opposite direction swerved into their lane, going into what would have been a head-on collision.
But it wasn’t. Mark swerved, and before Shiloh could fully process what was going on, they were barrelling into the ditch just before they hit the cluster of trees. Suddenly the twilight, which had seemed almost magical a few minutes earlier, was cold and menacing. The crickets seemed to be harmonizing a symphony of dread, and seconds later, everything faded into black.
When she had come to, the crickets had stopped, the wind had died, and the air held an unforgiving chill. It had taken her all of three seconds to realise that Mark was gone, the door of the driver’s side wide open. The sudden, low hoot of an owl had sent her running into the trees, screaming for her fiance.
Mark opened his eyes. “Shiloh?” he called. Silence. Pitch blackness. He did not know where he was; he blinked hard, but it was to no avail. The blackness could not be pierced. “Shiloh!”
He tried to stand but his legs gave way as he cried out, pain searing through his body. “Shiloh!”
A sudden noise put him in stony silence. He heard breathing, but it wasn’t Shiloh’s. For the first time in his life, Mark felt complete and utter terror. After a long, menacing silence, a smooth, quiet, horrible, and familiar voice came from somewhere in front of him as every hair on his body stood on end.
Coming to a stop, Shiloh’s initial rush of adrenaline turned into full-on panic. She fumbled for her phone, and to her relief, she still had service. Remembering that Mark’s phone had died earlier in the day, she dialled her best friend, Jae, who picked up on the second ring.
“Shiloh? What’s up?”
“Oh my god, Jae, I don’t know where I am, Mark’s gone, it’s dark and I’m cold, I just–” Shiloh lost it at that moment and broke into whimpering sobs.
“Hey, hey, calm down, where are you? Did you guys make it to the lodge?”
“There’s been an accident, I–” the line dropped suddenly. “Dammit!” She tried to dial once more, twice, three times–it was no use. Suddenly overcome with the feeling that she was being watched, she began to walk–first slowly, and then speeding up until she was sprinting through the woods once again.
She was brought to a sudden halt as she became aware of the sound of footsteps that were not her own. Without stopping to think, she ducked into a crevice between two large boulders behind a wild bush and held her breath. The footsteps drew nearer, slowing down until they had stopped. Shiloh’s heart was beating faster than it ever had before, and after what felt like an eternity, the footsteps began to fall in the opposite direction before completely exiting her range of hearing. She reached up to wipe the sweat from her forehead, leaning back against one of the boulders–until she realised that it was not a boulder and that she was falling; she began to scream, arms and legs flailing until her whole body finally hit the ground at the bottom.
Whimpering, she pushed herself up and became aware of another presence. It was quiet–too quiet, save for the breathing of whatever else was there with her.
Hot tears rolled down her face. She dared not move or make a sound.
A sudden moan. A familiar one. She gasped. “Mark!!!”
“Shiloh.” A smooth, female voice, one that almost seemed familiar…
A light went on. A low, frightening chuckle followed. Shiloh drew her gaze up, and what she saw turned her legs to liquid as terror seized her and her whole being yielded to gravity.
In front of her stood Jae, who was standing over a fallen Mark.
A knife was lodged in the middle of his chest, blood slowly seeping around him and towards Shiloh. Jae gave her a mirthless smile. “Did you miss me?”