Authors: S.E. Akers
Copyright © 2011 by S. E. Akers
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This eBook is a work of fiction. The names, characters, places, and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, actual events, locales, or organizations is entirely coincidental. All rights are reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission from the author.
For my loving mother, Sonia . . .
You will always be in my heart and
on my mind,
every single day
. . .
Table of Contents
I KNEW DADDY WOULD BE HOME SOON, but it was such a perfect day…and I just
What little girl could?
The cloudless sky had to be the most vivid shade of blue I’d ever seen. You could just imagine flipping it upside-down and pretending to dive in for an early swim. The mountains that stretched across the countryside were smothered in so many greens and every one of their lush mounds begged to be explored. They were a far cry from the barren brown canvas that had plagued my eyes for months in-between our winter snowfalls. Even the air smelled like a sweet mixture of fresh grass and wildflowers. The lilacs seemed to stir my senses the most. The land was alive once again.
Who could resist nature’s tug on such a mesmerizing day?
I climbed over the weathered fence with a determined nod, ignoring my parents’ repeated warnings about venturing out on my own, especially out on Shiloh Ridge — the land that bordered our modest mountainside home, a ridge which I’d been
named after, and the only thing that now stood between me and my father on his birthday. It was a convenient shortcut down to the Riverside Pocahontas coalmine where Daddy worked, so the stroll was a necessity. I wanted to be “the first” to acknowledge his “special day”,
. He was always the first to wake me up to wish me a “happy birthday” and present me with a secret cake for just the two of us. And after all, I had the bouquet of wildflowers that I’d picked earlier all ready and waiting in my tightly clenched hands…all I needed was
And who doesn’t like a “surprise”? Even adults? He wouldn’t be mad.
WHY WOULD HE?
Let’s face it, nothing ever, EVER happened around here. Not in my backyard.
Not in Welch, West Virginia
, I mused with a five & fearless grin.
Step by step, my bare feet carried me across the serene ridge. I loved it out here. I always pretended like it was a magical place, my own secret “enchanted forest” the would-be princess in me had decreed on many occasions. One person’s random patch of woods was another’s paradise, and this was mine. All mine. Something about the sights and sounds on the ridge seemed particularly beguiling today. Maybe because this was my first jaunt across it alone? Daddy had always insisted on being with me.
That could have been fueling the blaze of its beauty today? Or maybe proving that I was a “big girl” now added to my excitement?
My carefree stroll began to slow the deeper I trekked. I looked up through the dense mask of the trees. The vibrant blue sky was no longer visible. The leaf laden towering oaks and soaring pines had seen to that. I stopped for a moment. I couldn’t hear any of the wild songbirds that had been accompanying me merely seconds ago. I scanned the woods, listening intently for their melodic chirps. I didn’t hear a thing.
. Nothing at all that is, until something that sounded like a voice began to rustle the leaves. The faint whisper seemed to be calling out to me like a gentle breeze, and oddly, calling me by my name.
Shiloh . . . SHILOH
,” the frail voice chanted over and over. A creepy feeling inundated my senses. I felt as though someone was watching me somewhere up ahead through the dense landscape and veiled by the trees. The voice spoke to me again, but it was now too low and muffled for me to make out “what” it was saying. Then all of a sudden, a smell ignited my nostrils like dynamite. The intoxicating mixture of lilacs and pine had been replaced with an odd stench of
. The scent was so pungent I could taste it on the tip of my tongue and reminded me of the rotten Easter eggs I’d found hidden in the bushes around our house only yesterday.
The next thing I knew, my entire body had been besieged by a blinding
. I was helplessly paralyzed right where my naïve little frame stood. I closed my eyes for just a few seconds as my little-girl instincts took hold and tried to magically “wish” the feeling away. When they opened, the sanctuary of my enchanted forest was filling with a dense black fog at an alarming rate. It covered the ground and was creeping towards me,
. I stood there — still unable to move — apprehensively watching the fluid mist as it rolled closer and closer to me like waves reaching for the shore. Then it stopped and hovered near the tips of my toes. I was frightened, but found myself awestruck by its mystical presence. Gingerly, I stretched my toes towards the black mist. As soon as my bare foot grazed its edge, a jolt of pure pain shot up my leg —
a pain so excruciating it felt like someone had set my foot on fire and was stabbing me at the same time. Without delay, the fog began to coil itself around my leg like a snake as it tightened its grasp and then jerked me down onto the ground.
My freshly picked flowers flew out of my hand and into the air. They littered the ground where I flailed about in a violent fit for what seemed like forever. Somehow I managed to wiggle free —
— and ran back to my house as fast as I could. Countless twigs raked my limbs as I tunneled my way to safety. Every one of their harsh scrapes urged my tiny legs to make haste. Though I never looked back, I could feel whatever had attacked me was still hot on my tail and like any predator, closing in for the kill. Breathless and scared, I quickened my pace as soon as I spotted the fence that bordered our property. With one strenuous leap, I hurled myself over the pickets, slicing my leg from my knobby knee straight down to my ankle and landed face-first in the grass on the other side…
I AWOKE IN A THROATY GASP and clutched my wildly beating chest. Automatically, I swiped my hand down my right leg to see if I was bleeding. I wasn’t. Not a drop. It felt as smooth as ever. Even the throbs that pummeled every inch of my lacerated arms had disappeared. I sprang to my feet and gathered any sensory data I could. My heavy breaths became more controlled as the muddled, yet familiar sights filtered through my rattled head.
Oak mantle…Mirror…My father’s leather chair…My mother’s glass curio
and her stash of wine bottles
. I looked down at the sofa and then over to the pale flush of the TV. The same one I’d left on and apparently fallen asleep watching after I’d come downstairs around midnight, when I was unable to sleep. I collapsed onto the sofa, thankful that it was only a dream.
Well, at least
The recollection was so jarringly vivid and despite my firm realization of “the present”, this soon-to-be eighteen year-old felt rightfully alarmed. I took one more deep breath and exhaled as much of my panic as I could. Part of me couldn’t believe that I’d dreamed about THAT DAY, let alone thought about it, especially in such horrifying detail. It was a single incident that happened almost thirteen years ago. A day I consciously chose not to dwell on for my own sanity. But I guess even a girl’s defenses are prone to take the night-off. I should have known my nighttime slumber would be full of troubles. I went to bed feeling downright pissy. Granted, my shift at the Sterling Drive-In was rough, but I suspected something else was at play.
. There wasn’t a doubt in my mind that my horror-show had been graciously manifested by an overactive psyche all because of a “simple request” —
, coerced by my maliciously manipulative mother and equally scheming little sister.
, a string-laden act of kindness that had twisted my arm (and my nerves) into submission, wrenched at the hands of the travel agent for guilt trips and the apple-of-her-eye trainee.
, I grumbled. The cringe that rocked my body alone could have put me in the Seizure Hall of Fame. I thought it best to put that “good deed” out of my mind.
’Cause Saturday will be here soon enough
, I affirmed with a nauseous roll.
You would never know it now, but my mother, Charlotte Wallace, seemed to actually “care for me” when I was little, or at least she pretended a lot better. Over the years, she had grown so cold towards me, even in light of my generous and appeasing nature. To say we were “distant” would be like declaring the Grand Canyon was “just a ditch”. In fact, things had gotten so bad between us that I’d stopped addressing her as “Mom” when I’d turned 16, two years ago — but
around my father. That was way too disrespectful in his book, and I would never,
want to disappoint him in any way. But to be quite honest, Daddy didn’t even know about our little feud, and I sure wasn’t about to tell him. Charlotte waited to unleash her wrath when he wasn’t around and covered her icy words with sugar whenever he was.
I had to think back a ways (a really
ways) to time when things weren’t so bad between us. My head fell back as I let out a laugh. And as crazy as “coincidence” can be, it was actually around the time of my harrowing run-for-my-life stroll across the ridge.
I remember my mother had just stepped outside to hang up some wet laundry when she found me lying on the ground, trembling and terrified. She dropped her basket and rushed over to see if I was okay. I asked her to look into the woods, at the ghost-like fog that had been chasing me. She didn’t see anything at all and insisted I must have imagined it. Once I’d calmed down — ironically — she gave me a spanking and ordered me to never go back out there, ever again! Truthfully, nothing could’ve been further from my mind. I told Daddy about it as soon as he came home from work. He seemed to be the only one who believed me, or at least he acted like he did for my sake. The incident scared me so much that I snuck into their bedroom every night for a week, just to soothe the sting of my repeated dreams. Then one day after school, Daddy surprised me by painting my bedroom door a lovely lavender color. He insisted that the door was “magical” and nothing bad could harm me while I was in my room sleeping. His imaginative scheme must have worked because I haven’t had a bad dream since. Then again, that was also around the time my mother gave me, and my little sister, Chloe, our matching
I lifted the little gold oval locket off my chest and gave it a few comforting twists. Her surprise gift was honestly the last “motherly” thing I can remember — her final show of maternal kindness that would be second nature to most. She even had them each engraved with our initials in an elegant script. I could never get mine to open — no matter
I tried. Daddy ended up taking it downtown to Stowell’s jewelry shop. After several unsuccessful attempts, Mr. Stowell feared he might damage it if he tried to pry it open. Our mother had placed something special in them. Chloe’s held a picture of Mom on one side and Daddy on the other. Since I already knew what was inside the locket, the need to open it diminished and eventually passed. It was more precious to me knowing it was a present from my mother, given out of love. I
took it off. I never wanted to. The little gold locket gave me a sense of security, and I always found myself reaching for it whenever I was upset. It was a gift that reminded me of one thing — that my mother was once capable of loving me
. Deep down, I think it also gave me hope that maybe one day, she could feel the same love in her heart for me again. In spite of all the unwavering turmoil between us, I
A small tear began to form as I clutched the little oval locket. My fingertips traced the finely etched line of the curly “S”. I flipped it over to the side I kept hidden. The side that had been engraved with my full “first name.” I quickly released the locket and wiped the corners of my misty eyes. Now there was a slap in the face reminder, which only added insult to injury — right now in particular. I was
after that creepy ridge and reminded of that unsettling fact on
occasions. However, ever since
— when I saw that “THING” or whatever “IT” was — not only did I never want to step one foot on it ever again, but I didn’t even want my name associated with it. In an attempt to distance myself from the unnerving event, I changed the “i” in my name, to a “y”, strategically manipulating it into “Sh
loh”. That really pissed off Charlotte, but it helped me —
. No one else has ever officially acknowledged the switch. A few of my teachers have even knocked a point or two off my assignments for what
viewed as being “an error”. But even as grade-oriented as I leaned, as long as I still made an “A”, their deduction was
fine by me
. (Yes — Totally “psycho-silly” and pathetically true)
I couldn’t help but let out a caustic little laugh trying to lighten my gloomy mood. Regardless of what made my bad dreams come to an end, whether it was her gift or Daddy’s trick with my bedroom door, I’ve never seen that fog-like creature again, or even dreamt about it until today. Realistically, those tactics only work when dealing with the mind of a child. Psychological ploys aside, I knew it was only because I’ve stayed the Hell off that ridge and nothing would make me go back out there again.