In the Shadows of Dryden

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CHAPTER 4 - Making friends

Claire POV

Dryden High school was a big building with four floors. It was entirely made of light brown bricks mostly covered with vines. Autumn had just begun and with the new season, the once green vines were now painted in the different colors of the sunset.

The building’s front door was ajar and there were two students sitting on a bench just outside talking. Inside the big white room was a double staircase made of dark wood with marble railing. There were students everywhere. Some were talking in groups of 3 or 4 and others were either typing messages on their phones or probably playing games. On the right side was the information desk, which had some people waiting in line for their turn. On the opposite side was a corridor with a big sign saying ‘Teachers rooms’. Besides the information desk, was an elevator and, by the door plaque, the principal’s office next to it.

I entered in line to ask for some information about my classes and whatnot. It was a relief that it didn’t take long for my turn. I hate waiting!

“Hello! I’m Claire Minett. I’ll be starting school on Monday and would like to get my class schedules, please?”

“Sure. May I see your ID?”

“Oh, of course!” I quickly scrambled my jacket to find in which pocket I had placed it in and quickly handed it to her. The lady checked it and typed on her computer. After a little, the printer started working. When it was done printing, she stapled them together and handed them to me with my ID card. “You’re welcome to go upstairs and learn your way around the school if you want. I attached a map of the building for you to find your classes.” The lady flashed a bored smile at me and pressed the button for the next person in line.

“Yes, thank you!” I moved away and looked through the papers to get the said map before placing everything else in my backpack. After studying the map for a moment, I decided to head upstairs.

The floors were more or less the same except for the wall colors. The second floor was painted in a light yellow, the third floor in light green, and the fourth floor in light blue. They each had two bathrooms, one for each sex, and several classrooms. The fourth floor, or blue floor, had five computer rooms and a long glass corridor in the middle of the floor heading to another entirely different building. The library!

Excitement got the better of me and before I realized it, I was walking down the see-through corridor. It was a fantastic view of the city, with part of the central park showing behind some buildings. The beautiful autumn gradient of colors made the forest a sight to be seen. I could definitely understand why they made such a structure connecting the two buildings.

I felt my jaw fall open when I came inside this library. I’ve never seen so many books together in my life. There were bookshelves upon bookshelves, all the way from the floor to the ceiling and everything organized in sections and alphabetic order.

On the right side wall was a coffee store named ‘The Bookworm Café’ where many tables were occupied by several people reading and sipping on their coffee. I walked close to it to see what they sold and take a mental note of the things I could potentially eat while on break from school. They sold some sweets, different kinds of coffee, tea and the like, and five different kinds of salad and sandwiches to choose from.

“Pretty big, huh?” I got startled and turned, seeing two girls dressed in school uniforms. One of them was a lean, dark-skinned girl, with long curly black hair. A bright red curl fell down the side of her face. Her dark brown eyes shone like diamonds. She was beautiful with her exotic look. The other one, apparently the one that talked with me before, wasn’t as lean but was just as pretty with her short brown hair and brown eyes.

“Yeah. I was just looking at the number of books in this place.”

“I’m Jayne Armstrong, by the way. This is my friend Tahice Fergus. “The second girl smiled as she waved at me. I gave her a quick wave back before her friend continued talking. “We live near the police station, right next to the playground. We’re next-door neighbors.” She smiled proudly.

“How about you? Are you new in town? We’ve never seen you around before.” Said Tahice with her eyes full of excitement as she stood next to Jayne.

“Yeah. My family just moved into town. I live right by Tazia’s lake, at my grandmother’s house. I’m Claire Minett, by the way.” The two girls stared seriously at each other as I mentioned where my house was. “Hmm… what is it? Is everything alright?”

“Hmm…” Tahice looked away avoiding my gaze but Jayne just looked around and quickly dragged me to a remote corner.

“Be careful when you come to town, especially if you’re coming through the forest. Kodoku forest is extremely dangerous.”

Tahice had followed right behind us and with a low voice, she added.

“The forest got its name because of a young kid that got lost in it years ago. She was never found and presumed to have died alone. You see? Kodoku is a Japanese word that means loneliness.”

My eyes opened wide as I gaped in horror for a few seconds but then I thought that they might be trying to ‘pull my leg’.

“Uh… are you two trying to scare me? Next thing you will say is that there are hobgoblins, unicorns, fairies, and all in the forest.” I crossed my arms and tapped a foot on the floor, sure that it was just an initiation joke. The two girls maintained their seriousness and vigorously shook their heads no. I stared at them waiting for some sort of explanation, still keeping a slight hope that it was a silly joke.

“No. It’s true!” Said Jayne as Tahice just nodded.

“O… k….” I wasn’t sure if I should believe what I just heard or not.

“If you don’t believe us, check the online journal in the library. Everything is archived there.” Tahice pointed to a nearby computer, inviting me to check it for myself.

“Ok, I’ll bite it! Will check it up. I don’t have much to do right now anyway.” I shrugged, trying to be matter of fact.

“Tahice, we gotta go.” Jayne gently pulled on her friend’s arm, getting a nod in return. “Classes are about to start. We gotta hurry!” She took a pen and paper that was laying on a table and wrote her phone number before handing it to me. “Call me whenever you want. Maybe we could meet up sometime. “I took the paper looking down at the number in it and gave her a firm nod.

“I sure will! It will be fun to go out with you girls! We might even meet up again on Monday when I start school.”

“Definitely! See you around, Claire!” They both said it in unison while waving goodbye to me. I waved back at them and turned to go check what they had said on one of the computers.

After researching the database for the little girl’s disappearance for about four hours, I was finally able to find some interesting articles. In one, the headline read “5 years old vanishes” and dates to about 500 years ago. Apparently, whatever law enforcement they had at that time and the town’s folk, did an intensive search for her in Kodoku’s forest. Unfortunately, they didn’t find any trace of the girl anywhere. Though they did find her stuffed bear, the only other clue found, was footsteps near her toy and… “Huh???” ...a single long white feather??? They had brought some hounds to try and locate the girl or even a possible perpetrator of the kidnap if that’s what it was, but the dogs couldn’t find anything.

Another article states that her family moved away from town because they couldn’t bear the many memories they had of her here. Especially their house.

As I read through more articles, I came across one that showed a picture of the little girl and her parents. They were standing by Tazia’s lake pier, with my granny’s house in the back. Its headline read “The Talzian’s family moved into town” it seems like her parents were quite famous. Her dad was a renowned shoemaker and her mom made expensive dresses for the nobility. ‘Interesting!’ They were planning on building a house a bit up the lake and at that time, they were staying at granny’s house.

Crossing all the dates and information would take some time, so I decided to take a few notes of the case and even print some of the articles. I could always ask dad to have a look at it later.

One interesting detail I found was that they were renting granny’s house when the incident occurred. Because of that, many people in town believed that the lake house was cursed.

The town’s folk were already afraid of the forest before the incident and since they never found her, nobody dared to venture inside that forest since. All this looked so mysterious. Those girls were telling me the truth.

Satisfied with my research, I looked at my phone to see the time.

“It’s already 3 pm? Oh my, time flies here!”

I sent a message to mom, letting her know I was gonna stop by the church before walking home. After that, I gathered everything I had printed into my backpack and headed outside the building. From there, I followed down the road on an almost straight line until I was on the other side of the town.

In between the edges of Jade Valley woods and Kodoku’s forest, stood my final destination. A wide stair had been carved into the stony ground all the way up the hill to the entrance of the rustic church. The entire left side was totally covered with autumn colored vines that spread all the way to the front porch’s archway. There, people were met by a tall elongated double door with something carved in Latin around its edge. The top part of the church had a tall tower with a pair of bells on the very top.

I pulled one of the doors open and stepped in. Candle lights illuminated the place giving it a feeling of tranquility to it. Long benches were carefully arranged in two rows for the congregation members. There was a huge organ on the second floor, directly on top of the altar, and a door on each side of the altar on the first floor.

“Ah! Welcome to our humble Church! It’s so nice to see a youngling visiting our church.” A man’s voice behind startled me so much that I couldn’t help to jump in surprise. With my hand over my chest, I turned to meet the said voice. By the looks of his religious attire, I guessed he was the priest. He was an old man with a chubby beer belly and bald on the top of his head, with white hair like a laurel wreath.

“Oh! Hello, father!

“I’m sorry miss. I didn’t mean to startle you. I’m father Ronah Kykelviyk.” He greeted me with a gentle smile.

“That’s alright, father. It serves me well to be daydreaming like that. I’m Claire Minett. Nice to meet you. Your church is beautiful!”

“Oh, thank you, Claire. This church has been here for over five hundred years.” We walked together towards the altar as father Ronah told a bit of the history of the church.

“My family has been leading this congregation for generations. My father was the priest here before me and his father before him and so on.”

“How interesting father. So, this is a Lutheranian church?

“Yes. It’s…” A knocking sound behind the nearby door interrupted him. “Excuse me, Claire. It must be mister Roger. Feel free to look around. That door to the right will take you to the back of the church, where the cemetery is located. It is a peaceful place if you want to have a look.” He momentarily pointed to the door and excused himself going through the opposite door.

I stared at the door he had pointed to and shrugged.

“Why not? Most people would probably consider visiting a cemetery a bit morbid but I’m not most people.”

It was a vast cemetery with some trees here and there. Obviously, there were several graves and a few mausoleums around. Surrounding the place was a tall black iron fence. As I walked through on the neatly kept gravel pathway admiring the many flowers adorning the graves until I got to an open gate. Indeed, it was a very calm place to be. It gave me so much tranquility and peace of mind just to be there.

By the open gate, was a big metal post with arrows indicating the direction to three places. One to Dryden Wood, the other back to the church, and the last one to Kodoku forest. It was a bit ominous to see a red skull beside ‘Kodoku Forest’. To be honest, it gave me the chills but as always, I shrugged and took the path leading into Kodoku’s forest anyways.

I must have walked for about an hour through the dense canopy forest. My phone GPS seemed to be showing me the right way but I didn’t think it would take so long to walk back, especially taking a direct straight line home.

“Hmm… why did I have to forget my bicycle at school? Guess I will message Clarisse so she can pick it up for me before she heads back home.”

Again, I checked my phone and quickly typed and sent a message to her.

“There!”

The thing about walking and typing on a cell phone is that you don’t really see where you’re going. My feet got caught by a tree root, making my phone fly off my hands and land somewhere far away.

“Great!” I got up, angry with myself, as I looked around for it. “With my luck, it probably broke.” *Ugh!*

The sun was starting to set, slowly giving way to the moon and stars. I was alone in a forest, without a lantern or my phone. To top it off, this was the same forest in which Jayne and Tahice warned me about, plus the countless articles I read and the red skull on the direction plaque. Everything seemed to be warning me about the dangers of this forest, even the stupid chill I felt when I saw that darn skull.

‘Why did I decide to walk home through the forest again?’, I thought to myself.

After a good half hour looking for my phone, I finally found it. I reached to pick it up with a big relief expression, placing my other hand down on the floor for some support to get up.

“What… is this?” I could feel some kind of mark or pattern right under my hand. Quickly, I turned on my phone to inspect it. I gasped as the light shone down on the ground, revealing what it was.

“Oh, shiiiiit!” A loud howling came from around me as if the realization of the ‘pattern’ being a paw print bigger than my hand, wasn’t enough to scare the living hell out of me.

Thanks for reading! :)

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