The first thing that I saw when I opened my eyes was my mom staring back at me. My eyes hurt and the room was dark. I didn’t know where I was. Once I saw the tubes attached to my arms it became apparent. The look of worry on my mom’s face was more than I could bear. It had been ten years since I had seen that level of sadness in her eyes. Despite the tears trailing down her cheeks, she smiled.
I asked her where I was. She said I was in a hospital, in a town called Weaverville. A deputy from the Sheriff’s office had contacted her. Five days had passed since I arrived. My leg was stitched and bandaged. My mother asked me what attacked me. The doctor told her that my back appeared as if it had been torn apart. They were talking about skin grafts and other surgeries to repair the nerves in my back when they had first spoke to her.
“The strangest thing, Charlie,” she paused.
She took a breath. Tears jumped off her chin. Her hands shook as she struggled to find the words to say. Finally, she looked at me and smiled.
“Your back has almost completely healed itself. In only a matter of days. It’s unbelievable.”
“Must be a first rate hospital,” I said.
My voice cracked when I spoke. I could feel the dryness of my lips as my tongue passed over them. It was hard to follow what my mother had just told me. My head hurt and my eyes still seemed out of focus.
“The doctors have no answer. They are astonished. I think it is a miracle. Someone is looking out for you, Charlie Noble.”
It made me think of my time on the other side. Not the other side of life, where death waited ever so patiently, but the other world. When they healed me before, there had to have been some lasting effect. Something they did now helped my body rejuvenate.
“Why didn’t you tell me about Becky?”
What did she know about Becky? Did she make it back? Did something happen to her?
“The police say that she is missing. And not just her. The Sheriff and the Mayor of Pine Brook Falls have also disappeared. They were asking me if your attack was connected to their disappearances. The State and local police have been searching around the area but so far nothing has turned up. It’s been all over the news up here.”
“So, they didn’t find anyone up on the hiking trails. No one?”
She gave me a puzzled look. She was not a stupid woman. She was good at reading people. She was reading every expression on my face.
“Charlie Anthony Noble. What are you not telling me? Do you have anything to do with this? If you know anything, you need to tell the police.”
“I don’t know anything, except that Becky went missing. I didn’t want to worry you. I think I know where she might have gone but I don’t have any proof. At least, nothing I can tell the police.”
She gave me a long look. The silence in the room was unwelcoming. I knew if I broke eye contact, she wouldn’t believe me, so I held her gaze as uncomfortable as it was. I hated holding anything back from her. She had done so much for me but there were truths I had learned that would have upset her way of life. She was not a devout Catholic but she held her beliefs close to her heart. Anything I could say may drive a wedge between her and her beliefs. It was best to say as little as possible.
“Is Becky in danger?” My mother asked.
“No, she’s safe. But I need to get out of here and find her before she gets into any trouble.”
“And you think telling the police anything won’t do any good?”
“I have no proof of anything. I have seen some things. Some people know things but they won’t tell the police. But they will tell me.”
“Well, the doctor will be in to see you and they say you have to spend a few more days here before you can be released. Then we can talk about it when we get home.”
I didn’t have the heart to tell her that I wasn’t going home. I had to go back to Pine Brook Falls. There was no helping Becky if I went back to Los Angeles. Too much had happened for me to give up now. I had survived a horrendous experience and because of that, I owed it to my sister to push on. She needed me.
I was exhausted. My eyes fluttered. There was no fighting the fatigue. My eyes closed. I floated in a sea of darkness. Images of vampires and werewolves invaded my dreams. I saw Becky in a few of them. She was calling out to me, crying for help. One dream brought me right out of a dead sleep. I was sweating and gasping for breath. My mother was not in the room when I woke, thankfully.
I lay there. The room was dark. The machines on my left hummed and beeped. I licked my dry lips and sucked in a deep breath. My body felt beaten. Torn. A heaviness lay on me I couldn’t shake.
My tired eyes sought closure once more. Even with all my will, I could not keep them from succumbing to the weariness that persisted. Sleep was the mending remedy my body sought and needed. My mind, on the other hand, tried to fight the insurmountable perils that sleep would bring. As much as I tried to stay awake, this was a battle I didn’t win.
I was in the cave again but this time, there was no opening. It was closed up all the way around. Everywhere I looked, there was a rock wall staring back at me. I heard voices on the other side of the wall. A man was screaming. A child crying. Then there was Becky calling out my name.
“Charlie, please, go back. Get away. Run.”
I pounded my fist against the wall. Feeling around for a lever or switch that would open some magical door. But I could find none. The voices seemed to be coming from all around me. I kept turning in circles, not sure which side of the cave was the one that would let me in. I called out Becky’s name. She kept repeating her warnings. More voices. More crying pleas beckoned for help. I stood there helpless.
I moved to the far wall. When I put my hand on it, I felt it vibrate. I leaned in with close and heard what sounded like a diesel motor. It was low at first but grew in intensity the longer I listened. The walls began to shake. The ground rumbled beneath my feet. Shrill voices screamed in unison. I covered my ears and fell to my knees. Rocks started to fall from above, hitting my head and back. The motor grew louder still, drowning out the screams.
A crack formed in the wall in front of me. Black sludge began to seep out and spread along the walls. I was disoriented. The thumping of the motor drilled into my ears. The sludge traveled along the ceiling of the cave. I looked back to the crack that was formed on the wall in front of me only to find a pair of eyes there to greet me. The motor hadn’t been a motor at all, but rather the snarling of something my ears could not comprehend. It was tall and big. I couldn’t discern its actual size because of the blackness all around.
Everything stopped shaking at once. A steady pinging rang in my ears. I no longer heard the churning sound of the thing in front of me. I moved my hands from my ears. I got back on my feet. Something stared back at me. Complete contempt spurned out of its evil eyes. It stepped forward.
“Charlie, run. Get out of there,” Becky screamed.
I sat up in bed, trying to draw my breath. My chest hurt. The machines in the room began beeping. Three or four people dressed in white came running in. I looked to my right and saw my mother’s horrified face. Hands pushed me back down. A woman, a nurse I think, injected something into a tube that was connected to my arm. I instantly swam in the darkness once more.