With my music cranked up to high volume, 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. I hadn’t seen the bear that had wandered out of the forest and onto the middle of the road.
I was deep in the wilderness, somewhere on the edge of Nowhere-Ville, heading towards Stayridge City. From the edge of the road, on either side of me, was just dark dense woodland. I must've taken a wrong turn somewhere because I didn't recognize the road signs that I'd passed. Where the fuck was Forest Lake? I didn't want to have to pull over on an unlit road to check Google Maps. Now I'm glad that I didn't.
The forest is crawling with bears!
A huge grizzly lopped onto the road and looked right at me. The scent of burnt rubber filled my nostrils from my abused tires. My eyes rounded on the wild animal. Its amber eyes lit up like neons as they reflected in the beam of my headlights.
Shit! What do you even do when you’re confronted with a bear?
In a fast attempt to armor myself inside my shiny red Bugatti Chiron, which was probably like a red rag to a bull, I closed the window and waited.
My heart was pounding inside my chest like a jackhammer. I thought it might continue on its merry way, but it only seemed to grow more curious. 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, not attract a fucking bear. I only thought that happened if you left food lying around.
Curling into a ball, I cowered 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. It began clawing at the door handle as if it was attempting to open the door to get in.
"Go away!" I screamed. "Leave me alone!"
It dipped its head low and nudged the side of the car, causing it to rock from side to side. I shrieked with alarm, my fingers shaking as I started up the engine, slammed into gear, and sped off down the road. I was lucky that I didn't crash because I could hardly control such a powerful vehicle.
“Fuck! Oh, shit! That was so close!” I panted, panic-stricken.
I was shaken and spooked. There were no street lamps to light the way ahead. I had to rely completely on my headlights to illuminate the bendy 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 whimpered, hitting my palms on the steering wheel. There was likely to be a huge dent in the driver’s side door.
Great! This was just fucking perfect. I hadn’t even had this car a month.
The farther away I got, the more my shoulders began to relax. I blew out a huge sigh of relief the minute I reached civilization. The woods creeped me out, especially at night. There was something sinister about being lost in a dark forest. I should know because it had happened to me once.
Lucky for me, I noticed the sign for a guest house: Evans Retreats. The overgrown bushes were blocking part of the sign, so I almost drove straight past.
I pulled into a free parking space and cut off the engine. After three attempts to open my door, I resorted to slamming my whole body weight against it 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 that I would need to call my insurance. I could’ve cried in temper. I shouldn’t even be here. This was bullshit! I was already running late. It was going to take me hours to backtrack to the freeway. Why did I think this was a shortcut?
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 as I made my way to the main entrance. Once inside the 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, but could I please use your phone? Mine’s out of battery,” I asked, hopefully.
He gestured to the phone on the desk. “Sure, it's right 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 work for him or I have 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. Mr. Wade, it’s Riley.”
“Riley, have you arrived in town already?” He asked, seeming enthusiastic about 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 just fine.”
We had a brief exchange of pleasantries before I hung up the call. I turned to the guy at 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 that 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, frustrated.
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 long moment. Honestly, I could've just sat there 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 temper, 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 entire night in my car.
“That’d be great. It’s been a long day and I’m pretty tired,” I confessed. All I wanted to do was take a hot shower and crawl into bed.
I hardly carry cash on me, so I paid for the room using my debit card. All I had to do was sign my name in the guest book and I was given a 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 said, remembering that I left my belongings in the 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 door, and grabbed my belongings from the passenger seat. I had a strange feeling that eyes were following me, watching every move I made. I slung the holdall over my shoulder, glancing around to see if anyone was around. It was like the forest had eyes. Spooky as fuck! I squinted as I peered at the tree line. It was way too dark to see anything moving out there.
A cold wind blew around me, lifting my hair off my shoulders, causing me to shudder. I hated 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 inside. The door closed with a soft rattle, making him glance up. He flashed a friendly smile.
“It’s creepy being this close to the forest,” I muttered, hating how scared 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 those trees. Folks have been known to go missing,” he replied, solemnly as if I ought to heed his warning.
I readjusted my grip on my overnight bag, balancing my laptop on my hip so I could carry everything. Joe’s chilling words seeped into my soul. 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, honestly.
My phobia of the woods started when I got lost in them during 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 washing the day away with a nice hot 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 water jets, allowing the pressure to massage my aching muscles.
The worst part was getting out. Those first few seconds of cold as the cool 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 damp, fiery red tresses. Then I completed my regime by applying moisturizer to my creamy pale skin. My electric blue eyes seemed a little washed-out after enduring a long journey. Usually, I'm chauffeur driven everywhere I go.
My weary eyes analyzed the crisp white room, drinking it all in with appreciation. It was clean, modern, with white cotton bed sheets and red accessories. It was more like a five-star hotel than a guest house.
I remembered that my phone was dead and rummaged through my bag for my charger. 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, two spoons, eight miniature cartons of long-life milk, and a small dish that was filled with individual packets of teas, coffees, and sugar.
I decided against making coffee, needing a full night of unhindered sleep to begin a fresh new day.
“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 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 that the décor was all crisp white with the odd red accessory. I didn’t remember the room having blue curtains, or a wicker linen basket, a rickety wooden chair, or a cowboy hat that hung from the corner of it.
Oh, God. Is this some freaky weird dream?
As soon as I realized that 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.
Long, languid, nasal respirations as if someone was sound asleep.
As if right on cue, a large muscular arm draped over me, pulling me back into a rock-solid chest and my eyes bulged wide with terror.
"Argh!" I raised the roof with a glass-shattering scream.