My music was cranked up to high volume as I cruised along the dark woodland road, singing along at the top of my lungs, to my favorite song. My Chemical Romance - Welcome to the Black Parade.
“Sometimes I get the feeling she’s watching over me, and other times I feel like I should go. And through it all, the rise and fall, the bodies in the streets. And when you’re gone, we want you all to know, we’ll carry on...”
“Oh shit!” I screamed.
I slammed my foot down hard on the brake, forcing an emergency stop. I’d been way too preoccupied singing along to my music, that I hadn’t seen the bear that had wandered out of the forest and onto the road.
I was deep in the middle of nowhere, heading towards a town past Forest Lake. I hadn’t planned on stopping on an unlit road. My new boss had warned me about bears roaming free; I guess he wasn’t kidding.
It was a huge grizzly. It stopped dead in its tracks in the road ahead. I couldn’t see it all that well in this light. Its amber eyes seemed to reflect in the beam of my headlights.
Shit! What do you even do when you’re confronted with a bear? I haven’t the slightest clue.
My finger pushed the side button on my door to close the window. My heart was pounding inside my chest like a jackhammer. I let out a terrified sob as the huge scary-looking animal approached the driver’s side. I had been getting drowsy and that was why I’d rolled down my window to let in some fresh air. I thought that if I had my music blaring full whack that it’d help to keep me alert.
I scrunched up, cowering away as it stopped at the side of my window, scenting the air. I looked directly into its eyes as its gigantic head turned to peer through the glass and I’m pretty sure it locked onto mine too. I was certain it tried to open the door with its claws. But nah, that was just stupid.
I’ve got to stop imagining weird shit.
It dipped its head low and nudged the side of the car, causing it to rock from side to side. I shrieked with panic, starting up the engine to race off down the road, applying my foot down firm on the accelerator.
“Fuck! Oh shit, that was close!” I panted, panic-stricken.
I was shaken and spooked, but I had to be careful as I drove. There were no street lamps to light the way ahead. I had to rely completely on my headlights to illuminate the road. Anything could’ve come out of those woods from either side.
There was at least another three miles until I reached the nearest town. My car had taken quite a blow, and I needed to find somewhere safe to pull over and assess the damage. I screamed, slamming my hands on the steering wheel in frustration. I probably had a huge dent in the driver’s side door.
Great. This was just fucking perfect. I hadn’t even had this car a month.
My shoulders began to relax and I blew out a huge sigh of relief the minute I reached civilization. The woods creeped me out, especially at night. There was something spooky about the darkened forest. Not only that, I had bad memories from when I was younger.
I was lucky to have noticed the sign for a guest house: Evans Retreats. Because of poor visibility, I almost drove straight past. It didn’t help that the bushes were overgrown and were blocking out half the sign.
I pulled into a free space and cut off the engine. After three attempts to open the door, I resorted to slamming my whole body weight against it, in order to get it to open.
Just as I feared, there was a substantial amount of damage done to the driver's side door. Which meant, I’d need a new one for sure. I could’ve cried in temper. I shouldn’t be here. I was already running late. I was supposed to be checking into a five-star hotel room right now. Now it looked as if I wouldn’t make it until much later on, if at all.
I grabbed my phone from the holder above the radio to call my boss and tell him that I was going to be late, only to notice that my battery was flat. Cursing myself for not having charged it before I left, I stormed out of the car, making my way over to the main entrance of the guest house.
I dragged my feet, bone-tired over to the front door of the main entrance. Once inside the fairly modern building, I was greeted by a grey-haired man in his late fifties.
“Hi there, do you have a reservation Miss?” He asked politely.
“Um no, I don’t, could I please use your phone? Mine’s out of battery,” I asked, hopefully.
He gestured to the phone on the desk. “Sure, here, but be sure to press the hash key before you dial an external number,” he replied, returning a kind smile.
“Thank you so much,” I breathed out, relieved.
I snatched up the handset then began to dial the number to the office where I was due to start work. I was going to be working for Wade Internationals. The billionaire CEO, Mr. Wade was an old childhood friend of my mom’s. It was either, I worked for him or I had to choose between my parent’s companies.
I was supposed to be starting tomorrow as Mr. Wade’s new intern. Not that I needed the cash. It was Mom’s way of punishing me for being such a brat. I’d been handed everything on a silver platter for far too long. Now, mom was threatening to disinherit me if I didn’t start pulling my weight.
Mr. Wade’s secretary answered in a confident, professional manner; all I had to do was make my excuses and I was home and dry.
“Hello, can you put me through to Mr. Wade’s office please, it’s Riley Griffiths. Yes, I can hold.” There was a twenty-second pause before Mr. Wade’s deep baritone voice came through the speaker.
“Hello, Miss Griffiths.”
“Hello. Yes, Mr. Wade, it’s Riley.”
“Riley, have you arrived in town already?” He asked, enthusiastic as to my arrival.
“No, I haven’t,” I informed, “I had an accident on the way.”
“That’s terrible. I hope you’re not hurt?” He exclaimed, showing concern for my welfare. “Call a recovery company if need be and let us take care of the costs.”
“I’m fine Sir, and I’m sure everything will work out fine.”
We had a brief exchange of pleasantries before I hung up the call. I turned to the guy on the reception desk and smiled with gratitude.
“Thank you so much, that phone call may have just saved my job.”
It wasn’t so much the job, it was the prospect of facing my mother’s wrath I feared most of all.
“That’s quite alright Miss, you don’t have to thank me, have a safe journey now,” he replied curtly, swatting the air as if it was no big deal.
I walked back out of the building and over to my car, blowing out a forced breath at the state of the door. I climbed inside and tried to start the engine, hearing nothing but a concerning splutter.
“C’mon,” I muttered in frustration.
Nothing was happening. The engine wasn’t firing up as if it was completely dead.
“Shit,” I yelled, hitting the wheel with the palm of my hand.
I sat with my forehead resting on the wheel for a moment. I could have just sat and cried. Today wasn’t my day. I wished I could’ve erased the day and started over from scratch.
It didn’t look as if I would be going anywhere so I stomped out of the car in frustration, slamming the door and stalked over to the guest house. The nice, friendly-looking guy, looked up from where he was sitting at his desk, surprised to see me again.
“Excuse me,” I announced, “you’re not gonna believe this but my car won’t start. You don’t happen to have the number for an auto repair company, do you? I can’t believe my bad luck today,” I explained.
A sympathetic look creased the corners of his eyes. “I do, but they don’t open until tomorrow morning. Your best bet is to wait it out and give them a call first thing. We have a room spare if you need it.” He offered, throwing me a much-needed lifeline. I breathed out a sigh of relief, not wanting to spend the night in my car.
“That’d be great, it’s been a long day and I’m actually pretty tired,” I confessed. All I wanted to do was take a hot shower and crawl into bed.
I handed over cash to pay for the room, signed my name inside the guest book and he handed me the white, plastic key card.
“Well, my name is Joe. Call me if you need anything. I hope you enjoy your stay here Miss Griffiths, breakfast is at seven-thirty.”
“Thanks...Oh, wait!” I remembered my belongings were still in my car.
“I’m just gonna go grab my things and I’ll be right back,” I told him, as I rushed back outside to get my overnight bag and laptop.
I hurried to my car, opened the passenger side door and grabbed my belongings from off the seat. I had a strange feeling that there were eyes on me, watching every move I made. I slung the holdall over my shoulder, glancing around to see if anyone was around. It felt like I was being watched from across the road, right where the edge of the forest was. I squinted as I scanned the tree line but couldn’t see anything moving out there.
A cold wind blew around me, lifting my hair off my shoulders and I shuddered. I hate the woods during the day, let alone at night. I slammed the door shut and hurried back into the warmth of the guest house.
Joe was busy sorting through tourist pamphlets as I darted back through the door, closing it over with a soft rattle.
“It’s creepy being this close to the forest,” I muttered, hating how spooked I felt.
He raised his brows at my comment.
“Oh, you don’t wanna go into the woods around here Miss, it’s not safe. There are all sorts of wild animals roaming around in there. Folks have been known to go missing,” he replied solemnly as if he was deadly serious.
I readjusted my grip on my overnight bag, balancing my laptop on my hip so I could carry everything. Joe’s words sent chills that seeped straight to my core. I had zero intentions of stepping foot in the woods, not even for a billion dollars.
“Don’t worry I won’t, I hate the woods,” I spoke, telling him the truth.
I hated the woods, ever since I’d got lost in them on a school trip when I was seven. I remembered Dad’s words: ‘Riley if you ever get lost, stay where you are and help will come’. So I sat on the ground and cried for hours. Eventually, much, much later, I was rescued but not before it went dark. The atmosphere of the woods completely changes under the moonlight. My mom had to pay for me to have therapy because of it.
I said goodnight to Joe and shuffled off to my room. As soon as I stepped through the door, I dumped down all my belongings and began peeling off my clothes, fully intent on having a shower.
The bathroom was clean and tiled from ceiling to floor with blue and white tiles in a nautical theme. There was a free-standing bath with an overhead shower faucet that shared the same set of taps. The mirror ran the full length of the basin wall, and there was a heated towel rail opposite the toilet.
I released an exhausted sigh as I stood under the steamy hot shower, allowing the jets to massage my aching muscles.
The worst part was getting out. Those first few seconds of cold as the air envelopes you. I hated that. I much preferred heat as opposed to the cold. I dried and dressed quickly, then set to work drying my hair.
My eyes raked all over the room, drinking it all in with appreciation. I had to admit, it was lovely. It was a clean, modern room with crisp white walls and soft furnishings. I particularly liked how it was complemented by the odd red accessory. It looked rather classy for a guest house.
I then rummaged for my phone charger and connected it to my phone, plugging it into the socket closest to my bedside table. After a few minutes of charge, I was able to set the alarm for seven a.m, then placed it down on the side table next to the bed, screen side up.
On top of the dark, wooden wall unit that stretched the full length of the far wall, there was a kettle, two mugs, spoons, eight miniature cartons of long-life milk and a small dish that was filled with individual packets of teas, coffees, and sugar.
I had never stayed in anything other than a five-star hotel before, so that intrigued me. Nor had I ever tasted instant coffee, so I decided to give that a miss, opting to sleep instead.
“Mmm,” I mumbled, reaching out for my phone so that I could check what time it was.
It felt as if I’d been asleep for longer than usual and wondered if I had perhaps forgotten to set the alarm correctly. My hand felt around for the side table, finding nothing but thin air.
I cracked an eye open to see what I was doing wrong, only something seemed different.
I could’ve sworn the décor was all crisp white with the odd red accessory. I didn’t remember the room having blue curtains, or the wicker, wooden chair, or the cowboy hat that hung from the corner of it.
Oh god. Is this some freaky weird dream?
As soon as I realized, this wasn’t a dream and that something was amiss, my whole body stiffened with fright. The second I held my breath, there was the distinct sound of someone else breathing in the room. A large, muscular arm draped over me, pulling me back into a rock-solid chest and my eyes bulged wide with fear.
But not before I raised the roof with a glass-shattering scream.