There's Something in the Woods- Excerpt

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Chapter 4- Newcomers

“There’s something I need to tell you,” Jack remarked as they stepped out of his Sheriff’s car.

He rubbed at his nose as he glanced at Riviona out of the corner of his eye over the car bonnet.

Her flat boots crunched softly on the autumn leaves that had strayed to the parking lot that served both the Rangers’ Station and anyone looking to venture to the north side of Piper Woods, which included the Red Maple Road. At Jack’s words she stopped at the front of the car and gazed over to him calmly.

“You’ve had a few deaths here before,” she said in a matter-of-fact tone, “around ten years ago.” She spoke in a tone purposefully a cool calm, giving nothing away but her stance had become stiff, her right hand rising to rest on her hip whilst her pale eyes took on a hint of iciness as they fixed upon Jack.

“Should I have led with that when you arrived?” Jack quipped dryly as he stared back at her with his own calm. “I wasn’t hiding it, just building up to it.”

“I imagine it will be all over the news soon,” Riviona dismissed his defence, “journalists love nothing more than anniversary kills.”

Jack stepped towards her suddenly, raising a finger to point at her angrily as he did.

“Now wait a minute, that ain’t what this is,” he snapped irately. “Those were deaths, probably a wild animal did it, what we have here are definitely murders. It’s different.”

Riviona lowered her hand back to her side as she tried to adapt a more neutral pose.

“Sheriff I am on your side,” she said as she continued to hold his stare. “Withholding from me is hindering us both. You want me to see that these two things aren’t related then let me review the files of the case ten years ago and compare. You’re going to want my support because you will have a real hard time convincing journalists on your own that two separate bloody deaths on the same trail ten years apart aren’t connected. They live for this kind of crap.”

Jack lowered his hand but the tense lines in his brow remained as he faced the detective down. His thin mouth fixed in a line as he tried to get his emotions in check.

Riviona almost broke eye contact and took a single step back unwittingly as she observed the growing anger in Jack’s eyes. Her chest heaved slightly and her mouth parted just a little and she wondered why she suddenly felt such fear. Angry with herself, she took two deliberate steps forward and focused her anger into her gaze as if it were a weapon to wield back against Jack.

“Can’t share cases with me sheriff, just pancakes?” she queried sarcastically.

For a moment Jack remained as he was but then he took in what she had said and a quiet laugh escaped him. He shook his head as he continued to smile and murmured, “well that was a terrible line but yes, point taken.”

Jack reached up with his right hand to scratch the top of his nose before he gave the detective a warmer look.

“I apologise Riviona, I shouldn’t have snapped at you,” he said in a gentle tone as he tried to restore the familiarity he had been attempting to build between them. “Ten years ago is personal for me and I was building up to telling you all this too because you’ll learn it anyway, it’s common knowledge around here. I just don’t make a habit of telling people I’ve only met the life story of my family.”

“Because they’re not your kids,” Riviona stated it calmly, trying to keep any sting from her voice knowing what she said sounded harsh despite her being certain that her words were fact.

Jack’s pupils fixed upon Riviona sharply, two tiny black dots frozen in a pallid sea of blue, and his dark eyebrows pushed fresh wrinkles into his brow.

“You...you worked that out then,” he tried to sound aloof as he spoke but his shock caused a slight stammer in his voice.

Riviona nodded back to him as she folded her arms, exposing the cuffs of her cream shirt as the sleeves of her tan blazer shifted back with the movement. Seeing Jack’s gaze dart down prompted her to look down as well. She frowned at her own defensive stance and immediately dropped her arms back to her sides.

“You had a few photographs in the hall and living room,” she explained, “but they only seemed to go back so far, no baby pictures or kindergarten. I figured maybe you had them boxed up but there isn’t a single picture of a mother either.”

Riviona’s eyes dropped down to Jack’s gloved hands before they darted up to his face again as she watched his expression carefully.

“I noticed you didn’t have any markings suggesting you wore a wedding ring but some people don’t I suppose and if she had died, there would be pictures. I wondered if the divorce was rough and if maybe the children didn’t speak to their mother either, which is why there’s no evidence. It’s speculation on my part and if you have actually had a bad divorce I am sorry.” Riviona tacked on an apology hastily and raised a hand to her hip again.

“I also saw the board in the kitchen with Cassie’s painting age ten, and Matt’s gold certificate for school attendance when he would have been about thirteen. Strange milestones and you have them behind plexiglass with nothing else.”

“Is that it?” Jack queried quietly.

Riviona parted her hands slightly. “Well, all three of you are tall with dark brown hair and blue eyes, on the surface it fits but you all have different noses, Cassie’s hair is straight, Matt’s has a wave to it as does yours but yours is curlier and your eyes are all different shades of blue. I knew I was reaching with that, I’ve known kids with red hair and blue eyes to be born to parents with dark hair and dark eyes, family resemblance isn’t always something to go by but when you put it with the rest of the evidence, it adds up.”

Jack nodded as he reached up to rub the back of his neck. “I suppose it does,” he murmured. He lowered his hand again. “Alright, you’d learn it anyway as I said, I had just hoped I’d know you for more than a day before you got to know my life so well. Matt and Cassie are both adopted and I’ve never been married by the way, you’re right about that too.”

Jack’s voice took on a listless tone as he started to speak quickly, trying to get the story over and done with even as he only began it. “I took Matt in when he was ten, the sole survivor of a robbery that went wrong and turned to murder. His entire family were killed while the assailants left him for dead. Matt had no other relations so when he got out of intensive care he went into the system.”

Riviona listened on keenly, aware that Jack was being vague on purpose, avoiding Matt’s original surname and what were probably the more gory details of the case. She took in the revelation with surprise. Matt seemed so happy go lucky she found it hard to imagine he had went through so much trauma.

“I worked the case as a deputy so I kept contact with him. He talked to me, we got along and I saw him suffering in care so I fostered him and since that seemed to improve us both I adopted him.”

“That was very good of you,” Riviona praised softly.

“It was good for me,” Jack corrected. “I love Matt, he is my son blood or not. That certificate you saw, that was the first time he ever made full attendance in high school, I was so proud of him, it had taken us so long and so much to get there. He went through things no child should and he survived and he got back on the horse of life and he keeps going, he’s a great kid.”

Riviona gave a small smile at this, agreeing with Jack that he was Matt’s father, biological or not, only a father could speak with the pride that he did.

“And Cassie?” she pried.

“Cassie is the sole survivor of what happened ten years ago,” Jack admitted grimly. “Matt found her, I always think it must have been fate. He came out here with his friends, teenagers always hang about near the lake, it’s down the hill off Red Maple Road, I’ll show it to you soon.”

Jack retained his listless, fast talking voice as he tried to get through a horror that he had lived and been haunted by for years. For the sake of his family he wanted these tales in the past but he knew as Riviona had pointed out that Cassie’s history would get dredged up again purely because of where and when these recent bodies had been found.

“They saw a body floating in the lake, Matt saw the trail and bloodstains on the hillside that indicated it had come from up on the trail. He went up there, foolish, he told me after he just knew he had to do it. He found two more bodies up there on Red Maple Road, all but tore apart, and there hidden under a fallen, rotting log was Cassie.”

Jack cocked his head slightly, looking towards the way they would soon be walking up to that trail where far too many had ended up dead now.

“I don’t know how he found her,” Jack admitted softly, “she’d been so quiet, but when I got there she was already in his arms, still like a little statue.”

Jack looked back to Riviona as he continued the dark story. The detective listened on with a serious stare.

“She’d been there all night, we worked that out from the M.E’s report that said they’d all been killed in the evening. She had a few cuts on her but they seemed to be from hiding not getting attacked. She’d hid and watched it all. Never spoke to anyone except when we tried to get her from Matt then she all but howled the whole place down.”

Riviona found it easier to see the scars of trauma with Cassie than with Matt. The way Cassie had yelled at Matt not to collect the takeaway in the dark, and the light garden she maintained all made sense now. She had gone through such a terrible experience whilst smothered by the shadows of a forest caught in the grasp of night. Riviona found it understandable why the teenager never wanted there to be that kind of darkness again.

“It took a while before we confirmed they were all related- father, mother, and two daughters but they had no identification, no clue at all as to who they were. Well we had a campaign of course, country wide advertising to try and get Cassie reunited with someone. We had the usual cranks calling to claim some connection to the deceased but none rang true, not one serious soul came forward to identify them. Cassie ended up coming to stay with us in the meantime because she wouldn’t speak to anyone but Matt so it made sense. Time passed and we knew she would be staying so I made it official.”

“You are an honourable man Jack,” Riviona praised quietly, “taking in both of them like that. Not many would even attempt to raise one troubled child but two...” She almost sounded bitter as her voice faded to silence and for a moment she seemed to be looking past Jack at something he couldn’t see.

“Were you in the system?” he pried.

Riviona’s gaze snapped back to him as she shook her head. “No but I did wish often that someone would put me in it,” she confessed.

Jack raised his eyebrows slightly at this but chose not to press the issue. Despite having listened to Jack reveal all he had, Riviona chose not to divulge any further.

“Well let’s head up to the trail then,” Jack suggested, “we’ve stood here chatting long enough, the others will be waiting. It’s just better you know the background for when those press jackals come ranting about ten years ago but it’s not the same,” he said flatly.

Riviona thought about how she had been informed that the three hanging bodies had been ripped up and wondered if Jack could be so desperate for it not to be a repeat that he would ignore any similarities in favour of the differences.

As she followed after the sheriff she considered grimly the hazards for a cop involved in a case that felt personal to them. She knew first hand just how badly it could go when emotions clouded judgement.

Jack could hear every loud crunch of leaves and smack of leather sole upon tar that Riviona made as she hastened to keep pace with his long strides. Despite being heavier, his steps were a lot softer in comparison from years of learning how to be subtle when checking out crime scenes that often had foliage about them instead of the familiar concrete streets of the city. He knew he was being unfair, it wasn’t like they were trying to sneak up on anyone right now so perhaps the detective did have a favoured step for surprising potential assailants in a forest but he had his doubts. Her attire smacked of city life, sure she’d had to pack quick and wouldn’t have had an outdoors only outfit lying ready in her wardrobe but Jack worried a little that Riviona thought today’s outfit her best for this environment.

Riviona reached up to close the top button of her blazer. It didn’t do her much good as it closed only just above her bust leaving much of her collar bone, throat and neck vulnerable to the cold morning. Her shirt hung thin against her skin, designed for style not comfort and the vest under it would only have been good if it were thermal. Envy filled her for Jack’s heavy, moss green sheriff’s coat and she wondered if she could maybe procure a spare from the station later.

Jack grinned as he heard Riviona slide her gloved hands into the pockets of her loose, tan trousers. Even the gloves weren’t an asset, they were maroon suede, stylish and fine for keeping her prints off things but not much good for keeping the chilly air of another autumn morning in the woods out.

A large timber cabin stood raised up from the parking lot on the left marked out with large, green letters that stated- Rangers Station. A small sign on a wooden podium at the bottom of the path that wound up to the doors noted the parking area as the Forest Park’s North Parking Lot. A laminated map to the right had the consoling ‘You Are Here’ in bold red and a sign with an arrow noting toilets, which were just behind the station itself.

Jack led the way through the single entrance door into the station.

Riviona immediately filled with relief at the warm air that met them coupled with the scent of freshly brewed coffee and warmed bagels.

A large area with four spaced out desks acted as the entry room. One desk acted as a central point for visitors with a sign hanging above it stating Information. On the walls were various newspaper cut-outs, laminated posters and photographs of wildlife, all kept neatly secured behind thin sheets of plexiglass. A glass cabinet stood depicting a few framed photographs in black and white, and a variety of items all of which were labelled with cards fading to yellow written up in black ink.

Riviona smiled at the sight of a small collection of plush animals resting together on the desk at the left. Her smiled widened as she spied both a raccoon and a fuzzy, brown monkey-esq one with wide, demonic red eyes that she suspected might be a Bigfoot or Sasquatch.

“Morning sheriff,” Ranger Koji Kuriyama greeted as he waved from his seat at the front desk.

“Morning Koji,” Jack retorted with a smile, “and stick to Jack, no need to impress current company. In fact I’m trying to get Riviona here to stick to Jack too.”

Jack glanced back at Riviona as he retained his smile before gesturing from her to Koji. “Detective Riviona Moon meet Ranger Koji Kuriyama, and vice versa. Riviona is here to assist with our case.”

The door at the back swung back and Matt stepped out carrying two cups of steaming coffee followed by another young male carrying a plate of bagels which oozed melted cheese.

Matt glanced over to his father and smiled before turning his smile over to Riviona.

“He hasn’t chased you off yet, good,” Matt praised.

Matt set one cup down at a free desk before carrying the other over to Koji.

“We’ve already gotten ten calls from reporters and it isn’t even nine yet,” Matt complained as he glanced at his watch. “They’re coming dad,” he added in a more serious tone.

Jack nodded. “Well we knew they would. Johnny, is your dad here yet?” he asked as he looked to the ranger that followed Matt out.

Johnny deposited the plate of bagels on a spare desk and inclined his head over to Jack with a smile. “Yep, here before we were and scolding me for sleeping when there’s murder about even though I got here for seven forty-five and don’t start until eight.”

Jack gave a wide smile at this. “Good man,” he praised. “We’re heading out to him, I’ll see if he will hang about for the press, no better man than your father for dealing with unwanted visitors.”

The ranger laughed and shook his head. “That’s cruel Jack.”

Johnny’s olive and flint gaze shifted over to Riviona curiously.

“Introductions again,” Jack mused as he saw Johnny’s questioning look. “Ranger Johnny Black this is Detective Riviona Moon, she’s helping us with this case.”

Johnny bobbed his head in greeting.

Matt stepped up to Jack and Riviona and asked, “do you want any coffee or bagels?”

“Not at the minute Matt, we’ve got to get up there,” Jack advised.

Riviona, busy taking in the features of the station, looked back to Matt gratefully. She wondered again how he had grown up to be so happy and outgoing considering what had happened to him.

“No thank you,” she said politely as she saw his expression waver for a moment and wondered if she had shown her grim thoughts on her face.

Matt nodded even as he kept a puzzled stare upon her as he tried to guess why she had been scrutinising him so intensely.

“Right,” Matt murmured awkwardly before he cocked his head back in his dad’s direction. “Well we’ve got the trail closed off like you asked but the rest of the forest is still open for business.”

Jack nodded back. “Matt, do you have any spare ranger coats? Detective Moon understandably doesn’t have a uniform for here and I don’t need anyone mistaking her for a civilian. I’ll get her kitted out back in town of course but if she could have a ranger coat in the meantime.”

Matt glanced back to Riviona and smiled again. “Sure thing, might be a little big but it’ll do.”

He turned around and headed through the door at the back. He returned just a minute later carrying a glossy green coat that matched his own.

“I dusted it down,” he reassured as he held it out to the detective.

She accepted it gratefully and slipped it on. It immediately dwarfed her but she didn’t care as she felt happier to have something to feel a little warmer in.

“Thanks,” she said as she zipped it up.

“Suits you,” Jack jested. When he saw the slightly hostile look he got in answer he added on, “I mean that, green’s a good colour.”

Matt watched the awkward exchange with amusement. “Do you need any of us along?” he queried.

“I’ve got those dolls for you,” Koji interrupted. He took a sip from his cup as he fixed a calm, bright eyed stare on the sheriff.

Jack looked his way as he queried, “wasn’t Officer Jespen taking care of those?”

“Maybe,” Koji mused with a grin as he stretched back in his chair, “but they’re here. All sealed and boxed up separately with a numbered card with each one to indicate where they were.”

Jack looked impressed prompting Koji to laugh. The movement that came with the laughter forced the ranger to sit upright again in his chair as he gave Jack an apologetic smile.

“I only wish I could take the credit but Dan supervised all that.”

“And yet neither he nor Officer Jespen thought about getting them to the station?” Jack remarked sarcastically. “If Rory wasn’t such a good cook I really would fire his ass,” he grumbled.

“Oh speaking of,” Koji remarked chirpily as his syrupy brown stare twinkled up at Jack, “he said he’d been making some bear claws, if you could remind him to send some this way I’d really appreciate it.”

Jack looked Riviona’s way pointedly. “Got any keen cooks in your department or is it just an Angel Hollow thing?”

“Everyone’s got a hobby,” Riviona retorted neutrally. “Can I see those dolls?”

“We can do that at the station,” Jack answered, “I don’t want to break the seals on those boxes up here. Let’s just get to the crime scene.”

Jack looked over to the three rangers. “Boys be good and try to keep the gawkers away.”

Koji gave him a mock salute. “Will do,” he assured with a smile.

Jack shook his head before leading the way out of the station.

---

Wednesday morning and being midweek was the only thing Robin could be grateful for. He sucked in a sigh as he looked up at Angel Hollow High dubiously. Oh sure the exterior differed to Millbrook High’s but he was willing to bet everything else was just the same. He entered with the rest of the sheep, making a point of avoiding eye contact as he shuffled in the direction of the reception.

“Excuse me,” a female squealed at him in a high pitch as his bag brushed against her accidentally.

Robin paused and glanced back at her, catching a bright blue stare framed by golden-blonde bangs, well hell wouldn’t that be his luck. He willed himself to try and make a good impression this time as he forced his eyes to stay pointedly upward, meeting her glower.

“Oh God what are you wearing?” she queried in a tone of genuine disgust as she folded her arms and glanced back to her friends for support.

“I just moved here,” Robin attempted to explain his somewhat unkempt appearance, “don’t have all my clothes yet,” he added lamely.

It was a lie in a way, he didn’t have all his clothes but there was no yet, they weren’t coming.

“And you thought they were the ones to bring?” the blonde sneered, prompting several giggles from her friends.

“Right,” Robin retorted with a smile, “so I got the shoes wrong.”

“You got everything wrong loser,” she mocked before turning away from him. “This school is getting worse,” she grumbled to her friends.

“Good to meet you,” Robin grumbled to her back sarcastically before he turned and continued on his way.

Once Robin finally made it to reception it took close to an hour for him to be properly enrolled by the disinterested admin staff there who advised him six times that he was the first out of towner they had had to the school in five years before they sent him on his way to English class feeling very much like an intruder. When he finally made it to his first class he felt a familiar dread creep through him. Here it came, the moment to be centre of attention.

Robin pleaded with himself not to blow it before he knocked on the door and walked in.

All eyes were on him, some vaguely curious, and most relieved at the distraction from the monotone drone of their middle aged teacher.

“Hi,” Robin greeted the teacher awkwardly, “I’m Robin Moynihan, I just transferred here today.”

“Well isn’t he lucky,” a male student in jeans and a plaid shirt remarked sardonically to his female friend.

“Hey Hayley,” a brunette female near the front sneered loudly, “isn’t that the loser from earlier?”

Robin bristled slightly as he found his dark brown gaze flickering to the left. He realised he’d entered Hell all over again.

The blonde from earlier, Hayley, looked up at him with fresh disgust. “He looks poor,” she muttered to her friends.

“Aren’t they just so welcoming,” the plaid wearing male commented sarcastically as he heard the jibe.

“Well take a seat Mr. Mongan,” the teacher instructed wearily as she gestured to the other students carelessly.

“Moynihan,” Robin corrected hastily.

The teacher just stared at him tiredly whilst several students giggled.

Robin moved swiftly to the first free seat he saw and sat down on it quickly before turning to the occupant to the left of it, certain they could not reject him now that he had sat. Her hair shone deep almost sable brown save for the streak of white on one thick strand on the right side. He tried not to stare at the streak and instead forced himself to meet her curious gaze. Surprised filled him when he saw she offered him a smile and he found himself put off-guard by it.

“Robin Moynihan,” he introduced.

“Cassie Tanner,” she answered brightly. “Welcome to town.”

Robin nodded, stopping himself abruptly as he thought how dumb a response the gesture was. “Yes,” he said unconvincingly, “I mean, thanks.”

Cassie giggled prompting Robin to frown before he decided that it didn’t sound quite as bad as the grating, mocking giggles of Hayley and her friends.

“Did you move to Jackrabbit Lane?” she pried quietly.

Robin nodded. “How’d you know?”

Her small smile widened slightly showing the dimples in both cheeks.

“You’re across the street from me,” she explained. “I saw the For Sale sign vanish a couple of days ago and my dad said people moved in last night. I wish I’d known that it was someone my age, I’d have waited for you this morning.”

“Well it’s alright, I got here fine,” Robin replied brightly.

He turned his attention to the lesson though he felt reluctant as he disliked English. The classroom had the same bland and generic vibe as every classroom he’d sat in before it, off-white walls and almost grey tiles, the idea for the repetitive design Robin thought might be to have the classrooms bright but the reality was to keep the design cheap.

Robin fumbled through his bag for a pen and a notepad as he realised he should actually be trying to learn. He only had a small notepad, another penalty for not being able to pack a lot for the move.

“Shit,” he let the curse slip out before he could help it when his pen ran out after only three paragraphs.

The expected low snickers came from the students nearby who had heard but mercifully no reaction followed from the teacher who kept talking without pause.

“Here.”

A fresh pen loomed into Robin’s view as Cassie reached it over to him. He glanced over to her gratefully and found himself smiling.

“Thanks,” he mouthed it out quietly as he accepted the pen and resumed writing.

Robin filled with relief when the bell sounded ten minutes later to indicate an end to the lesson but the relief succumbed to fear when he realised he didn’t know where he should be going next.

Chairs screeched, shoes smacked off the tiles impatiently and the door clattered noisily as it swung back and forth repetitively in the hands of escaping students.

Robin hunted through his bag frantically again, conscious that the footfall seemed to be fading and he soon he would be the only one left here.

He tugged out the timetable he had been handed by the administrator and stared at it dubiously.

“Do you need a hand?”

Robin looked over in surprise. Cassie stood patiently, offering him a small smile as if she had nowhere to go. She had one hand raised to support the pretty crimson satchel which shared a shoulder with a small, pink, silk bag.

For a moment Robin wondered what the smaller bag contained before he realised Cassie still waited for an answer.

“I’ve got Art next,” he mumbled, “with a Mr. Dixon, and I’ve no idea where that is.”

Cassie’s smile widened and Robin felt his unease slip away with it. When she released her satchel strap to extend the hand out to him he stared down at it in confusion.

“You’re with me,” she said cheerfully. “Come on.”

Robin just stared down at her extended palm before snapping back to attention to pack away his timetable before he took her hand. He felt a jolt run up from his hand, surprised by the firm grip she took before tugging him to the door.

The crowds in the corridor had thinned leaving Robin and Cassie to walk briskly with a group of scattered, lagging teens.

“I’ve made us both late,” Robin muttered.

“Don’t be silly,” Cassie said happily as she pulled him along, “they give us time to get there you know.”

She pulled him up a staircase to the right and down a corridor to the left. Robin tried to pay attention to the route knowing he would have to learn it but the brunette who moved just half a step in front of him held his focus.

Cassie Tanner, his new classmate and neighbour because apparently a silver lining could be had in this miserable situation. He watched the pink bag jostle up and down on her shoulder and saw a white outline on it depicting ballet shoes. His brown stare darted back to her taking in her tall, lean form and he could see how she would have the figure for ballet dancing.

“Here we go,” she said chirpily as she released his hand to open a wooden and glass door on the right.

Robin followed her in to a large room full of colour and the odour of drying paint and fresh clay. As with Millbrook High, Art seemed to be the only class allowed to revel in chaos as the room had artistic pieces and projects dangling from the ceiling, coating the walls and part of the windows, and littering the back benches whilst art materials and utensils seemed scattered about every surface and each desk had stains that in their own right might be considered forms of art.

“Hey Cassie,” a blonde haired male greeted politely.

He stood behind a chair, ready to pull it out until he had spied Cassie entering the room. His large, black schoolbag sat half-slouched over the table untidily.

Cassie halted and glanced his way. “Hi Graham,” she sounded out the man’s name quietly

“I heard the news, how are you?”

Cassie dipped her head slightly, pausing to push at the hair on her right side, shifting forward some long dark strands to conceal the one anomaly of white.

“Fine,” she answered quickly.

Cassie turned around and offered a smile to Robin that no longer reached her dimples.

“Let’s get a seat,” she suggested.

Robin nodded as he followed her to the middle of the room where he took a desk with some curious ink stains on it that had him thinking of the ink blots psychiatrists used.

“Cassie I just heard,” another voice remarked as a striking looking brunette stepped into the room. Her voice called out in loud, commandeering manner drawing attention to it.

Robin looked over instinctively as she entered in a pair of tall, dark heels that gave loud, firm clacks on the tiles. Probably average height without the shoes, with them she had been boosted to stand out amongst the crowd, given an extra few inches to her slim legs, which were further lengthened by the short cut of her pleated, brown and pink tartan skirt.

“Ten years from the day, that’s a weird coincidence,” she continued to talk, acting as if she were addressing Cassie though she purposefully amplified her voice to be heard by everyone else in the room. “Has it got you worried?”

Robin found her tone odd considering the question, she made the question of concern sound careless and the stare she had on Cassie only held the illusion of care, her eyes were like a topaz stone- beautiful but cold and void of emotion.

“No more than my History assignment,” Cassie remarked sarcastically as she looked up at the teenager.

“Really? I’m worried, three teenaged girls savaged in the woods, could’ve happened to any of us.”

She spied Robin out of the corner of her eye and turned to face him with a smile. She had a small, mouth that had a thin, sheen of appealing rosy gloss on it, which helped to plumpen her lower lip and highlight the gentle curve of her mouth.

“Oh dear, you must be the new guy everyone’s talking about, how very unlucky for you to come to our lovely town during such a tragedy,” she marvelled. She pushed a hand up through her thin, glossy, dark waves before stepping up to Robin’s desk, immediately putting him in her shadow.

“Well, I guess I still need to show some manners even if there is a killer roaming about. I’m Vicki Zhou.”

“Hi.” Robin stared up at her, trying to give a friendly smile unaware of how wide his eyes had become. “I’m Robin Moynihan.”

She raised her thin eyebrows at this and laughed. “And they say my name is hard to get right. Well, welcome to Angel Hollow Rob.”

She walked off, heading to the back of the room where a single desk waited for her surrounded by a group of chatty females who were quick to start gossiping with her and shoot glances over to Cassie.

Robin watched her go and when he saw the looks Cassie got he looked too. Cassie had bowed over her desk making a point of staring down hard at the blank sketchpad she’d tugged out.

“Do you think this looks like a bird or a sheep?”

Cassie looked up in surprise at Robin’s question. “What?”

He gestured to a black ink stain on his desk. “See I think the outline is kind of round like you’d draw a sheep but then there’s this streak here like tail feathers. They always say if you see one thing it means something and if someone sees something else well that means something different. I always seem to be the one who makes the choice that implies stupidity so I wanted to be careful with this one and get a second opinion. So what do you think, bird or sheep?”

Cassie pushed her back behind her right ear before leaning across the gap between the desks to have a look at the black splodge.

“Huh, you know I definitely see a rabbit there.”

“What?” Robin queried in mock surprise as he stared at her. “No way, there’s no rabbit.”

“Uh huh see here,” she tapped at a streak to the right of it, “that’s a pair of ears.”

“No that’s a beak.”

Cassie tilted her head up to him exposing an accusing stare. “Just a second, if it’s a sheep then what’s that?”

“A mouthful of grass.”

Cassie let out a loud laugh that prompted several more curious stares to look her way.

She leaned back to her chair as the door opened again, expecting Mr Dixon to appear running late.

The classroom fell to silence as a youthful man in a pale grey suit entered the room carrying a large, black folder. He closed the door behind him quietly, strode to the centre of the room in front of the whiteboard and faced the students with a bright, wide smile full of polished white teeth.

“Good morning,” he greeted in a voice full of charm, “I am Mr Bergese, your substitute for Mr Dixon.”

“Two newbies in town, what are the odds?” a girl’s voice remarked with amusement from the back.

Cassie remained still as she stared at Mr Bergese. She felt as if his stare stayed fixed upon her rather than the class as a whole and for a moment she felt that she couldn’t move. Her violet-blue eyes were turned up to him unblinking as she studied his features.

Mr Bergese’s smile widened a fraction and his large, grey eyes brightened as he heard the remark from the back of the room.

“Oh I’m not original then,” he said cheerfully. “Who else is new to town?”

Robin frowned and sank back against his seat slightly, wishing he could sink through it to the floor. What was it about people and bringing others to attention for something as mundane as moving?

“Me,” he said grudgingly as he raised his hand slightly.

The grey gaze fell upon him, amused as the teacher’s mouth seemed to stretch up creating two lines in his sharp cheekbones causing shadows to make a smirk of the smile.

“And who is me?” he queried in a tone still light and cheerful.

The waiting teens snickered as expected and Robin’s frown deepened at the corners of his mouth as he felt his palms start to sweat. It had come as expected, the joke and with Robin as the butt of it as usual. It seemed unfair that a teacher instigated it but even that was nothing new to Robin. A Mrs Tate, who he felt quite certain his father must have had some sort of inappropriate relation with, had started to single him out for his less than stellar grades in Maths making it public in every class irregardless if others had performed worse. It had prompted Robin to wonder if his father had ended whatever relationship he had had with her.

Angel Hollow High served as a copy of his previous school, only the names had changed.

“Robin Moynihan,” he said bluntly.

Mr Bergese nodded. “Well, I came with the tourists,” he admitted, “Angel Hollow has always been on my list to visit and I was advised there was no better time to do it than fall. Then I saw they were looking some temporary cover for Art and I couldn’t resist as art really is a pleasure for me.”

Something in the manner that he said the word ‘pleasure’ had a few of the girls tensing a little in their seats and giving coy little smiles like some secret joke had been exchanged.

Cassie tensed up too but her stare stayed frozen as her pupils shrank with alarm as her mind kept telling her to look away from the man. She could feel her eyes begin to sting from the dryness of the air, she needed to blink but she couldn’t. She felt transfixed, watching him as he watched her with his wide, steely eyes.

“Now,” Mr Bergese continued, “I’m not sure where Mr Dixon left off or what lesson plan he had for you so I’m going to suggest we start fresh. That is one of the joys of art, there can be creativity in so many ways. I’m going to recommend since I came for the fall that we make art pieces with that theme.”

Cassie watched and listened on but she wasn’t taking any of it in. The wind howled outside the window. She could hear it, rolls of angry air being tossed about mercilessly and screaming its rage through the night sky. She tensed at the thought, reminding herself that it had not turned night, it remained day, morning in fact and the sun burned faintly out there, hidden behind clouds of pale smudged grey but still present.

She snapped back to attention when she saw the whiteboard and realised she must have zoned out for a few minutes. Mr Bergese had brought samples of artwork in his folder and had displayed them up there. There were vibrant photographs of crimson red leaves, paintings of black trees and midnight blue skies, and charcoal etchings of shapes amongst forests, almost hidden, seen but unseen and impossible to properly describe. In the centre of them all a construct of mixed medium- black fur or something akin to it decorated the board with a pencil and marker underlay and vibrant crimson paint. An A3 sized image of a wolf, it stared her down from the front, muzzle parted to expose teeth formed with white card and shaded in subtle hues of pale cream pencil with a disturbing touch of carmine and brown paint flecks whilst eyes of amber that almost glowed against the sable black coat glowered down at her.

She heard the howling again and jumped up suddenly from her desk.

The class, which had been muttering excitedly amongst themselves about the issue, fell silent once more as everyone looked to Cassie.

She moved in a hurry without a word, escaping out the classroom door as quickly as she could.

Mr Bergese stood up from his desk with a look of surprise. “Did she ask for a bathroom break?” he queried dumbly as he faced the class in confusion.

“No sir,” Vicki answered. “You maybe didn’t hear and I don’t want to put you off,” she added hastily as she put on an expression of woe, “but we had a terrible tragedy here last night. They found three girls dead in the woods.”

“I did hear that,” the teacher admitted. “I was advised they weren’t from here and it was better to keep you all distracted from it.” He scratched as his honey-gold stubble and gave a slight frown. “I think it’s better to talk about these things but I’ve only arrived here and I don’t want to upset anyone. Did she know them?”

“No sir,” Vicki continued with her self-assigned role of class spokeswoman as she drew herself upright in her seat, “but she went through something a little similar herself ten years ago.”

“Vicki,” Graham chided quickly as he leaned over his shoulder to give her a glower of scorn.

Vicki shrugged. “Everyone in town knows about it, why shouldn’t the newcomers? Don’t they need warned?”
“It’s not good for the tourism Vicki,” a girl in a pink top beside her muttered under her breath, “think of your daddy’s votes,” she added snidely.

“What’s it to do with Cassie?” Graham demanded crossly as he waved his hand about, expressing his anger as he talked. “What are you warning about there?”

Vicki looked to the blonde male in annoyance. “Her potential for breakdowns.”

Mr Bergese raised his hands. “Class, that will do. Please resume the lesson,” he ordered in a gentle tone.

Robin watched as the teacher took his seat at his desk and wondered why he didn’t go after Cassie. Shouldn’t the teacher be concerned by something like this? Robin supposed leaving a class up to its own devices probably wasn’t a good idea either and maybe she’d darted off to the bathroom but it didn’t seem right that she’d been allowed to bolt from the classroom without anyone chasing after her.

He thought about Vicki’s words and wondered what that was all about and if this could somehow normal for Cassie. What in the hell did ‘something similar to ten years ago’ mean exactly? He didn’t even know much about what happened last night never mind ten years ago.

Robin glanced over to the window as he heard the wind howling. A storm started to show out there and he could see the clouds starting to darken to iron promising rain. He figured glumly that he was probably better off in here if only because it was better than out there.

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