From the back cover
When tragedy strikes, Rae makes a terrible choice and struggles with the aftermath. In the wilderness of the Tongass rainforest, she finds herself hunted by creatures of hell, monsters she never dreamed could be real. A hidden world, an ancient race, and a secret she discovers by accident give a new meaning to her life but only if she can escape and return to civilization. If she is to survive, Rae must comply with Ari, her reluctant hero, and allow him to wipe away any memory of this realm. Knowledge is power, but is it worth dying for?
Genre: Dark Fantasy, Supernatural, Adventure
Below you can read the first 10 pages of Forget Me Not (Chimera, Book 1)
She ran through the darkness of the forest without looking back. Rae ducked under the low hanging branches the way she had a million times before. A howl from nearby brought her to a halt. Smiling, she wiped the sweat from her forehead with the back of her hand and whistled. He was close enough to hear her.
“They found me! Take everyone back to safety, and I’ll take them off your trail. I’ll see you later!” Her words came out in a rush but she had no doubt he understood. Without wasting another moment, she ran in the opposite direction. This wasn’t her first rodeo with the forces of evil.
A dark cloaked silhouette emerged from the cover of a thick tree. His voice was hoarse, and he mumbled something under his breath. As Rae got closer, his words got clearer. He was chanting words in a language she didn’t understand, yet their effect wasn’t lost on her.
A debilitating headache almost blinded her. She fell to her knees, grasping her temples, breathless, as blood trickled from her nose. A sharp pain tore through her head. An ear-splitting scream left her lips with what she imagined was her last breath. It was a signal for the others to keep running and not look back. They were on their own. The pain stopped as suddenly as it started, and she panted, filling her lungs with air again.
Rae rubbed her eyes and waited a few moments to regain her sight while she used her sleeve to clean the blood up. The cloaked man knelt and sobbed while someone’s face buried in the crook of his neck, long blonde curls cascading over his shoulder. Seconds after the sobbing stopped, the man dropped to the ground. Blondie stood up and turned towards Rae.
“Are you OK?”
“I am now, thanks to you!” She recognized her sister’s voice and felt at ease.
“It’s my job to look after you, Rae.”
“Maria, it’s almost dawn. You should find shelter. Run as fast as you can! I’ll be fine on my own. I promise I’ll be careful!”
Maria stopped for a moment and smiled. The full moon lit her face in a grotesque picture of pitch-black eyes, bloody lips, and protruding fangs. She took a deep breath, and her face morphed back to human. Her eyes reverted to their natural blue, revealing the pretty girl behind the monster.
“Please be careful! You’re getting cocky, and that makes you reckless. That was one of their elders. You’re no match for them. You were lucky I got here when I did. As a shadow, too many lives depend on you. We can’t afford to lose you!” Her voice softened. “I can’t lose you!” After a quick hug, Maria disappeared in a blurred motion into the darkness.
Closing her eyes, she took a deep breath and listened for any sound that would give her stalker away. She counted the bodies she left in her wake, adding the one Maria killed. There was at least one more hunting for her. She couldn’t be taken by surprise if she expected an attack. Rae didn’t have to wait long. A twig snapped at her right. She pivoted with grace on the ball of her right foot and faced the threat. A man stepped out from the treeline holding a dagger and glaring her way. She rubbed her palms to create friction, a blue flame balling up between them. He didn’t stand a chance. Her lips curled into a smirk as the blue flame shot from her palms and hit him on the chest, stopping his heart. She was getting good at this. Another confirmed kill. This is where she belonged. Believing her actions kept the Resistance safe from the Council pleased Rae. She was part of a greater plan, more than a mere pawn in the grand scheme of life. She mattered!
She was about to give herself a pat on the back when the smell of brimstone tested her gag reflex. That scent always came with bad news: hellhounds! She couldn’t outrun them, and her power was useless on them. Her best bet was to make it back to her car and drive like a bat out of hell. Her legs started working long before she finished her thought. She rushed towards the treeline where her car was waiting, and she almost made it. Almost! Her sprint was brought to a halt by a hunk of a man leaning shirtless against her car. His eyes caught her off guard: endless pits of smoldering fire. But his stare was ice cold. Just then, a waft of brimstone and coal tickled her nose and made her eyes water. Hellhounds were the most vicious chimeras: only used as enforcers by the Council. No one figured out what they looked like because no one lived to tell the tale.
Rae woke up gasping and covered in a sheen layer of sweat. Reality came down with a vengeance. This kind of dream took a toll on her.
It all started the night Maria died. They weren’t on speaking terms and Rae hadn’t even known that her sister was sick. Rae loved reading fantasy and paranormal books, so when she woke up from her nightmare, she assumed it was all because of her late-night readings. Then that dreaded phone call came and changed everything.
A woman claiming to be Maria’s next-door neighbor gave her the bad news. These dreams plagued her each moment she managed to get some shuteye. Rae had trouble accepting the sudden death of her sister, so she imagined her dreams came as a coping mechanism. Her brain changed Maria into a vampire so she would live forever. She believed it wasn’t real, but it made her feel better. Despite being almost always nightmares, Rae welcomed them. In her dreams, she was amazing: fearless, strong; a fighter who could shoot blue light from her hands and save the world. In her dreams, she became a hero, and her sister was still alive. In real life, none of these things were true. She was meek, scared, and alone.
It was so unfair, she thought, feeling useless as she stood in the rain that day, at Maria’s funeral. Raindrops molded with tears on her cheeks, failing to wash away the pain.
Dealing with her sister’s death was hard on Rae. She tried to find comfort in the thought that Maria’s suffering was over.
Inside Rae, a dam broke and she was overwhelmed by everything coming her way: regret over not mending fences, deep sorrow, doubt, fear, and rage. Her mind flooded with conflicting thoughts, leaving her numb. She wondered about the meaning of life and the dull patterns it follows. People are born, they grow, go to school, make friends, lose friends, get married, have children, grow old, and die. Rae had just turned nineteen that summer, and up till then, her life had followed roughly the same pattern. She had lost her parents in a car crash when she was eleven. Her sister Maria was all she had left.
Maria had been 19 at the time of the accident. She had to raise Rae since they had no other family left. Actually, that wasn’t entirely true. There was aunt Gwen, their mom’s estranged sister. The girls would spend most summers at her house on the outskirts of Skagway. They loved it there, and they loved Gwen and her funny stories. Mom’s younger sister had a way of attracting wildlife to her house. Curious animals would visit them daily and almost act tame. Rae remembered fondly how cute and soft the ermines were and how exciting it was to feed the deers. Summers with Gwen were magic until that dreadful night. Rae was too young to understand what was happening and Maria never talked about it. Their parents came to Skagway in the middle of the night. There was screaming, yelling, and cursing. They took the girls, and Gwen was forever banished from their life. Less than a year later, the car crash left them orphans. Gwen didn’t show up at the memorial, nor at the funeral and Maria refused to talk about her. Strange as it felt, Rae stopped asking questions when she wouldn’t get answers. So without any notice, Gwen disappeared from their lives.
After a while, Maria sent Rae to a boarding school in London. Rae never asked where she got the money from. She assumed that Maria used her college fund because she never went to college afterward as planned. Maria always wanted to become a teacher, she loved kids. However, she never married, nor had any offspring of her own. Rae blamed Maria for sending her to London, away from her. She had felt abandoned at the time and turned a cold shoulder to Maria. But all that was water under the bridge. All that guilt and remorse felt pointless now.
A knock on the door woke her from her inner musings.
“Hey…you ready?” Diane asked. Diane was Maria’s next-door neighbor. She had been a good friend of Maria’s, and she helped Rae with the funeral. Once it was over, she offered to take Rae to the airport.
“Hey, Diane. Yeah, I’m done packing. Thanks for everything, I couldn’t have done it without you.” Rae meant every word. She felt lost, and her appreciation was genuine.
“Don’t mention it! It was the least I could do. I wish we met under better circumstances.” She actually looked apologetic.
“I’ll go get my bags, and I’ll meet you outside, OK?”
“Sure thing, honey. I’ll go wait in the car for you.”
“It’ll only take a minute…” That was all she needed to say, her final goodbye to her past: to Maria.
Rae had a one-way ticket to Alaska where her aunt Gwen lived. There, in the woods of Skagway, was where she and her sister spent a lot of summers when Rae was little. Living in a remote area of the town, the forest started from her backyard. It was exactly what she needed right now, just some time to regroup and figure out what to do with her life. That and Gwen’s comforting teas and delicious pie. She’d always loved Gwen’s cooking. She hoped to find solace in a familiar place and counted on reconnecting with her aunt. Surely Gwen wouldn’t hold a grudge. It wasn’t Rae’s fault her parents stormed out with her and Maria when they were kids. Gwen would understand and would take her in. Being there with her aunt would help ease the pain and clear her head. She needed moral support now more than ever.
The flight was uneventful, and Rae sensed a wave of relief to see the familiar airport once she got off the plane. Everything looked the same as if frozen in time. She hadn’t been there in at least eight years. Would Gwen still recognize her?
Rae had no trouble finding a supermarket on her way to Gwen. Since auntie wasn’t expecting her, Rae thought it would be considerate of her to go grocery shopping and not show up empty-handed. She remembered her aunt always kept a bottle of Juniper Gin and enjoyed a glass before dinner. As soon as she spotted a bottle, she took one hoping she wouldn’t get carded at the cashiers.
Rae sighed with relief when she recognized the cashier. Gloria was now in her sixties and had the same sweet smile Rae remembered from when she visited. Gloria was a regular visitor at Gwen’s house. She’d be there every Sunday afternoon and wait patiently for Gwen to give her a Tarot card reading. Gwen didn’t like to mingle and socialize much with others, except for Gloria of course. Rae also enjoyed her stories, which most of the time were shameless gossip but the woman knew everything worth knowing in that town.
“Hi, Gloria! How are you?”
The cashier peaked over her glasses at Rae and smiled.
“Hi, sweetheart! Have we met?”
“Years ago. It’s me, Rae.”
The cashier’s smile never faltered but the puzzled look on her face told Rae that Gloria hadn’t recognized her. Presumably, she had changed a lot in eight years.
“Rae Davis; Gwen’s niece. You used to stop by every Sunday afternoon for – ”
“Tarot readings, pie, and Gin,” Gloria finished the phrase for her.
“You’re a grown-up now! Look at you, such a lovely young lady! Oh, how time flies by…”
“Well, I’m not quite sufficiently grown-up to buy this, but,” she nudged at the Gin bottle.”It’s for Gwen. I know she liked it.”
“Back from where?”
“You don’t know? She disappeared eight years ago. Around the same time your folks died. I thought you knew.”
“I didn’t. What happened?”
“She was upset the last time I saw her. She said the cards warned her about danger coming to town and that she would have to leave for a long time. I didn’t think she would leave right away but next Sunday she wasn’t home. I’ve stopped by from time to time and peeked through the windows but there was no sign that she was back. After a couple of years, I stopped.” Gloria mourned the loss of a friend.
“I didn’t know that. I came here straight from the airport…”
Gloria patted her hand and continued scanning the products, including the bottle of Gin.
“Well, I hope wherever she is, Gwen is fine and will come back home. I miss her, too.”
“Thanks, Gloria! Especially for the – ”
“Don’t mention it. I’m sure Gwen will enjoy it when she returns.”
Rae paid for the groceries and said goodbye to Gloria. She hadn’t expected that Gwen wouldn’t be here and wondered what had happened to her.
Once she was done, she took a cab and gave directions to the driver. She had no idea what to do if Gwen wasn’t home. Was she going to break in? She couldn’t afford a hotel for more than a couple of nights.
After a short drive, they ended up in front of Gwen’s house. She paid the driver and took out the groceries, leaving them on the porch to knock on the door. When no one answered, she tried the door. No such luck! She went around the house to see if the old oak was still there. It was. Gwen had shown her a small birdhouse in the old tree. She told Rae that she always left a key there for her and her sister just in case she wasn’t home when they came to visit.
Rae didn’t expect Gwen to leave a key for her since she wouldn’t have expected her, but what did she have to lose? Rae’s fingers traced the symbol carved into the tree’s bark. Three spirals connected in the middle, an ancient symbol whose meaning was lost on her. She’d asked Gwen about it but it was too many years ago to remember. Rae sighed and looked for the birdhouse. It wasn’t as high as she remembered, or maybe she got taller. Rae didn’t even have to climb the tree anymore, just standing on her tiptoes she managed to reach inside the birdhouse. To her surprise, the key was there. She retrieved it and went back to the front porch where the groceries were waiting.
Rae turned the key in the lock and opened the door, its creaking noise bringing a chill to her spine. A pile of magazines and bills cluttered the floor beneath the mail slot blocking her entrance. Once inside, Rae tried the light switch. No light. It made sense if no one paid the bills in so long, the power would be cut off. Since candles weren’t on her shopping list, Rae hoped to find candles somewhere in the house. Stale air, musty, and dry greeted her as she took a quick look around. Nothing opening a window wouldn’t fix. Dust and cobwebs confirmed Gloria’s story. Gwen hadn’t been here in a long time. Rummaging through the kitchen drawers, Rae got the much-needed candles and a box of matches. No need to go back to the store. That was good because she didn’t have any energy left.
She had counted on aunt Gwen being here. Sensing panic rise in her chest, Rae decided to keep busy for a while. Once all the windows were opened, and the summer air came rushing into the house, she retrieved the groceries from the porch and stocked the cupboards. Taking advantage of daylight, she wiped the dust off so she wouldn’t spend the whole night sneezing. The cottage was small, a cozy living room with a pull-out couch and an open kitchen on the ground floor and a bedroom and bathroom upstairs. It didn’t take Rae a lot to get it cleaned. She checked the faucet next, and to her surprise, there was running water. That was good, she could take a shower later.
The bookshelves near the fireplace reminded Rae of all the fairytales she had read on a picnic blanket under the old oak. Smiling at the fond memory, Rae brushed her fingers over the neatly arranged books on the ledge. She picked one and placed it on the table with the candles. The sun was going down, and soon, it would be dark. A shiver went down her back. Rae wasn’t ready to be on her own but she didn’t have a choice.
Eyeing the book, she wondered if it would be enough to distract her. When she needed an escape, she’d always find it in books. Lots of worlds to discover in those pages. The best part was that they always had a happy ending – real life rarely did.
It was getting dark now, and she lit the candles and placed them on the table. The room was now dimly lit and cozy. Cozy was good. Rae hadn’t felt cozy in a long time. Her stomach let out a loud growl reminding her she hadn’t eaten anything since she got off the plane.
Rummaging through the groceries she brought, she took out everything that wouldn’t keep well at room temperature. No power meant no fridge. Some of the food would spoil, but there was nothing she could do about it. Rae fixed herself something to eat and then opened the box of chocolate she brought for Gwen. With a shrug, she opened the gin bottle. Gwen wouldn’t mind. This was a special occasion, after all. She lost her sister, and the only person who could comfort her was missing. Her whole family was gone in the blink of an eye.
She found a tumbler and poured some gin, taking the drink with her. Setting the glass on the table Rae picked up the book and got comfortable on the couch. There was nothing left to do, and the book was the only thing standing between her and a meltdown. Shaky hands opened the book. In the dim light, reading was hard but not impossible. She read the first paragraph twice because she couldn’t focus enough to follow the story, and then her vision became blurry. A tightening in her throat was the only warning before tears started rolling uncontrollably down her cheeks and landed on the pages with a plop. Fear and frustration would no longer be denied their release.
As she sat on the couch, she dropped the book and hugged her knees to her chest, drenching them. Try as she might, nothing could distract her. Losing Maria was hard enough when she thought she could lean on sweet aunt Gwen for comfort. But Gwen was missing and that both scared and worried her. She wasn’t ready to be on her own. Rae spent minutes that felt like hours gazing mindlessly at the flickering flame of the candle. Images of Gwen, Maria and her danced in front of her eyes as tears dried on her cheeks. Memories of happy times flooded Rae’s mind. Happy times with Gwen, happy times with Maria, happy times that weren’t coming back, people that she wasn’t going to see anymore, words that she wasn’t going to say – or take back. Complete hopelessness turned into tears once again. Rae expected she would cry herself to sleep – as she had often lately – but this time rest didn’t come.
She took a gulp from the glass and winced at the keen burn down her throat. Perhaps gulping was a bad idea. She took little sips, and it went down smoothly, leaving a warm tingling sensation in its wake. The novelty of Gin drinking was a temporary distraction. It didn’t escape her notice how the alcohol seemed to turn down the volume on her thoughts. Staring without aim, she noticed the box on the counter. She’d filled the box with the contents of Maria’s nightstand. Rae stood up and fetched the box. Placing it on the table, she studied the items: a couple of books, hand cream, an envelope with pictures and a couple of bottles of pills. Scanning the labels, she figured they were painkillers and antidepressants. Among the side effects listed, impaired thinking stood out.
Rae stared at the pills scattered on the table, near the Gin glass and the candle. Her gaze shifted back to the pictures lying in her lap. Taking the images out of the envelope, Rae opened an old wound. There were a couple of pictures of them as kids; happy moments she missed dearly. What she didn’t expect were pictures of herself in London taken over several years. Rae examined the images with great interest. In one of the photos, she was studying in the library chewing at the end of a pencil. Another one showed her having fun at a concert with her roommate.
Seeing those pictures was like watching a fast forward movie of her past years: a walk in the park holding hands with her first boyfriend, playing cards with her friends at a picnic, shopping alone on a rainy November afternoon, drinking a latte in her favorite coffee shop while working on a school assignment, going out for drinks after the exams were over and finally the last picture: graduation day. The forlorn look on her face reminded Rae how lonely she felt when there was no one in the crowd cheering for her. That was still fresh. She thought Maria abandoned her to have a more comfortable life but evidence suggested otherwise. Maria kept tabs on her; she cared. She must have had someone in London, keeping an eye on her. Guilt and remorse ate at her. Chewing on her bottom lip, she wiped her eyes not needing another round of crying. She took another sip of Gin, the burning sensation a welcome distraction from the mixed feelings confusing her. She took another glance at the pills. Impaired thinking didn’t sound half bad right now. She took a couple of each and downed them with the rest of the Gin – probably more than she needed to calm down, yet not enough to overdose. A nagging voice at the back of her head told her that was a dangerous mistake. Drugs and alcohol don’t mix well. But desperate people do stupid things. She was somewhat of an expert in this field, always doing crazy things, yet somehow still landing on her feet. After a while, her mind started to get a little hazy. ‘Mmm, the pills must be kicking in…’, she hoped with relief. Her mind drifted towards the fearless girl she was in her dreams.
The promise of impaired thinking was delivered swiftly. Truth be told, the Gin did part of the work even before she swallowed the pills. It didn’t take long for the pain to be muted. It felt like she turned off a switch, and the incessant buzz in her head stopped.
In need of a breath of fresh air, Rae considered going into the back yard. It was a full moon, so there would be plenty of light. Enjoying the brief reprieve in her emotional turmoil, she stepped outside.
The crisp night air greeted her, seeping through her jacket. The full moon peeked through the branches. Crickets and other night critters broke the silence with their chirping. Nature was anything but quiet. As if under a spell, Rae felt drawn to the woods. She’d played at the treeline as a child. It was a favorite spot for hide and seek. Her unsteady steps carried her deeper behind the treeline with every second that passed.
She took a deep breath, the scent of damp earth and leaves after rainfall invading her lungs. A cold breeze blew out of nowhere, making Rae shiver. It was only then that she realized how deep into the woods she had gotten, that she could no longer see the cottage. The path was lit by the full moon, giving Rae easy access.
Heading aimlessly through the darkness, she was oblivious to the dangers lurking in the shadows. Rae’s inner voice told her the forest was dangerous at night, yet that didn’t make her return. Rae assumed that her newfound courage was due to the drugs. Arguably, she was nowhere near this brave, or better said, reckless. Rae kept walking forward, not knowing where she was going – not that she cared much at this point. It had been a long time since she had felt so at peace with herself. Yeah, that was definitely the drugs! She decided to live in the moment, reveling in her newfound peace of mind.
Rae was still under the spell of the moment when a howl echoed far away. ‘There must be wolves in the forest,’ she thought. Against her better judgment, Rae kept walking. At some point, despite the fog clouding her mind, she realized her feet hurt. She had been walking for quite a while. In the moonlight, Rae spotted something that looked like a log. She walked towards it and sat there, resting for a while. A little light-headed, Rae found it challenging to focus. She wondered if she was sober enough to find her way back to the cottage. Her next thought was that she didn’t really care. For once, not caring felt good.
The stinging sensation in the soles of her feet brought her gaze down. Covered with scratches and dirt, Rae’s feet were a mess. She was barefoot. How hadn’t she realized this sooner? That should have hurt, yet the stinging sensation barely bothered the girl. While she was studying her wounds and relishing in the absence of pain, Rae heard a howl again. Wolves. Too far, deep in the forest to be concerned.
Curious eyes watched Rae from a safe distance. Who was this girl, and what was she doing this deep in the woods at night? Didn’t she expect it to be dangerous? Several pairs of eyes joined in, drawn by the scent of fresh blood. After watching mesmerized for a minute, one set of eyes parted from the group.
“Where are you going?” he whispered so he wouldn’t startle the girl sitting on a log with a blank stare on her face.
“I want to take a closer look, see who she is,” a female voice whispered back.
“That could be dangerous…” the unmistakable sense of authority echoed in his voice, even when whispering.
“She doesn’t appear dangerous to me.”
“You know what I mean.”
“You mean it’s dangerous because of the Council; the Code? I know. I won’t reveal what I am. Unless it’s safe.”
“How would it be safe?”
“Maybe she hates her life and wants to end -” A warning growl made her pause.
“Don’t reveal what you are. You’re looking for trouble and that never ends well,” he gave her a stern warning.
“Rules are boring. I can’t remember the last time I had fun hunting. You’re not my sire; I’m not your problem! So, back off!” With a heavy sigh and a headshake, he walked away. Stirring trouble held no appeal for him.
Unaware she wasn’t alone, Rae relaxed, staring into the darkness. She wasn’t grieving anymore, but there was a restlessness inside her that she couldn’t overcome. Rae had the inkling that, no matter what she did, her world would never be right again. She would’ve been frustrated if she hadn’t been so numb.
Rae noticed something, voices, whispers, and branches cracking under heavy steps. Shadows moved fast; so fast that Rae wasn’t even sure what she had seen. For a moment, she closed her eyes and took a deep breath to clear her head. Was she hallucinating? When she opened them again, two green eyes stared back at her. At first, Rae didn’t react but just gazed back. She put her lack of reaction on account of the drugs. Now she sensed nothing…no fear, no worries, no pain.
“Hi there,” the green eyes spoke to her. Rae didn’t respond, she stared back at her. Rae wondered if she was hallucinating since Snow White was looking back at her. Was that the woods she got lost into? She mentally slapped herself at that thought. Now what?! Should she wait for the seven dwarfs to come singing? Trying to reign her thoughts in, she took a closer look at her new visitor in the forest. The moon lit her face, and she appeared pale with contrasting dark hair that almost reached her shoulders. The girl seemed to be in her early twenties and had mesmerizing green eyes. Her full lips were moving as if she was talking to her. Rae had no idea what she had been saying as she was staying there fascinated by her beauty. She tentatively, as if not to startle Rae, stepped closer and sat on the log next to her.
“Did I scare you, sweetie?” she asked, bemused at Rae’s lack of response. She had a beautiful smile.
“No, not at all,” she answered without hesitation.
“Mmm…fearless, aren’t we?” she cocked an eyebrow studying Rae’s face. Then Rae thought she saw her sniffing the air around her.
“Fearless indeed,” she mused to herself.
“Who are you?” Rae whispered.
She seemed to consider Rae’s question for a few seconds before answering. Rae doubted she didn’t remember her own name. Perhaps she wasn’t sure she wanted to share that piece of information with her.
“Sofia,” she answered with a smile showing perfect white teeth. Perfectly aligned and so unnaturally white. If she hadn’t been in front of her, Rae would have sworn they were PhotoShopped. Rae chuckled at that bright idea, and made a mental note: don’t leave the house, if you mix drugs with booze! It makes you silly.
“You find my name…amusing?” the woman asked in a confused voice.
“No… I was just thinking about how perfect your teeth look and how white they are… They look edited,” she snickered again.
“They’re sharp too,” she stated triumphantly with a mischievous grin.
Rae didn’t know what to make of it, or how she should respond to such a statement. Of all the qualities of teeth, sharpness wasn’t one she often thought about. That was…unexpected.
“Do you have a name?”
“And are you going to tell what it is, or do you want me to guess?” she replied obviously bemused.
“Rae,” she answered, suddenly embarrassed by her manners…or so to say, their lack of.
“So… What are you doing here, Rae…so late at night?”
“I…” Rae tried to find an answer, but what could she say? Hey, I just felt like taking a walk and forgot to put on my shoes, and now I’m resting on a log and watching my bloody feet?!
As if on cue, she eyed Rae’s bare feet. The woman didn’t wince at the sight of scrapes and blood. Rae noticed that she actually licked her lips. That was odd; Rae thought that she must have been imagining things. Rae was still considering her answer when a voice behind her suggested an answer.
“Do you have a deathwish?”
Rae was shocked at the bluntness of the question. Suicide wasn’t on her mind when she came deep into the woods at night, neglecting all the dangers that surrounded her. As if it read her mind, a wolf howled again. A sad smile played on her lips, thinking that perhaps she did have a death wish after all, but was too messed up to know it.
“Don’t worry, they don’t come here, it’s not their land,” the voice spoke again.
“I’m not afraid,” Rae stated matter-of-factly.
“And who are you?” Rae asked the voice behind her. She sensed his approach and felt odd as he sniffed Rae’s hair passing by. He stopped in front of Rae so she would see him.
“I’m Ari,” he offered his hand with a distant smile. Rae shook it and noticed that it was smooth but hard at the same time, and cold. She stared at it for a second, then decided not to make a fool of herself and started to introduce herself.
“Rae… I overheard…”
Then she remembered his previous statement and decided to ask for an explanation.
“You asked if I had a death wish…”
“Why would you think that I came here to die? You don’t even know me.”
“A young woman comes alone in the woods at night. With all the dangers lurking in the dark, the wolves howling, why else would you be here? It was an educated guess.”
“Oh…” it was all Rae managed to say. She was trying to find a hole in his theory but since it was reasonable enough, Rae decided to deflect.
“Then I could say the same about you. Do you have a death wish?” she offered with a smirk.
“No?” Rae repeated, annoyed by his answer.
“I come here often, I know the woods like the back of my palm. Besides, I’m not alone. You see, wild animals hardly ever attack people if they’re a group.”
“Two people are not a group,” Rae said, sounding like a mother chiding a child.
“We are not alone here, there are others close by.”
“Are they hiding?” The moment she uttered the words Rae realized how silly she must have sounded. And he didn’t seem too eager to explain either.
He didn’t answer. He must have thought it was a rhetorical question. Sofia, on the other hand, seemed to consider Rae’s question before answering.
“No, they’re hunting.”
“Oh, OK,” Rae muttered not knowing what else to say. She wondered if people actually hunted at night, or they were mocking her. Rae knew nothing about hunting, so she decided to drop the issue. Before she had any time to think of another question, he spoke in a deep voice.
“You should leave. You’re not safe here. Go home, your family must be worried sick.”
“I don’t…I…” Rae stuttered. She wanted to say that she no longer had a home, no longer had a family, but the words wouldn’t leave her mouth.
“Are you lost, little one?” Sofia asked, looking more curious than concerned. At that moment, she seemed much older. She sounded like an old woman talking to a little child.
“Tell us where you live, and we’ll get you back to safety.” Ari did seem concerned.
Confusion struck. Rae sat there like a deer caught in the headlights. Their little chit-chat had distracted her from her grief but now it all came back to Rae.
“No…I’m fine. I think I’ll just stay here for a while,” she said with a sigh.
In a split second, Ari was crouched in front of Rae, his face only inches from her. He was staring into her eyes like he was trying to see what dark secret was hidden behind them. Rae was startled by the intensity of his gaze but tried not to flinch. As she waited for him to either say something or back off, Rae started to take in his appearance. He couldn’t have been more than 18. His face had soft lines and a boyish look, he was fit but not muscular and had short brown hair. His baby blue eyes were peering at Rae, trying to figure her out.
“You need to leave…Now!” he said with all the authority he could muster.
“But I want to play!” Sofia mocked him in a child’s voice.
“Not while I’m here. Go!” he snapped at Sofia, and she got up and left without a word.
“How would you know what I need?” Rae replied, breaking his gaze. She shifted uncomfortably on the log and looked away in the dark.
He sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose.
“It’s dangerous to be here. I smell alcohol on your breath and something else. You’re not thinking straight. You must leave now!” he replied in an even voice. He searched Rae’s eyes for a reaction as if daring her to oppose him. She didn’t. It wasn’t because Rae thought he was right but because she was tired of this conversation. Her heart was a mess. Her head was in overdrive, and as confused as she was, Rae didn’t feel like spilling her emotional guts to a complete stranger. But his gaze made her skin crawl, so, again, she looked away.
“You’re stubborn but I won’t force my help on you. You’ll have to figure out on your own why you took a bad decision,” he added unfazed.
“I…” Rae sighed. She waved her hand at him in a ‘take a hike’ manner trying to regroup.
“OK, then. It’s your choice. What a pity, though…” he squinted his eyes, his lips pressed tight.
He stared for a few seconds then briefly touched Rae’s shoulder with his hand and inhaled, or so she thought he did. What was with these people and sniffing? She had the urge to sniff at herself to make sure she didn’t stink. She lowered her head and did just that. Nope, no bad smell. As she raised her head, Rae realized that she was, once again, alone. How could anyone move so fast without making a sound? she wondered.
Rae’s head snapped to her right where she heard movement behind the trees nearby, followed by complete silence. It was almost creepy: no crickets, no frogs, no birds, not even a breeze of wind through the branches. ‘How do you silence nature?’ she wondered out loud to herself. It started to look like one of those movies where the silly girl goes alone in the woods in the middle of the night. To no one’s shock, she gets butchered by the serial killer that haunts the forest. Rae burst into laughter at the thought. On second thought, being alone in the woods at night was not smart. Actually, it was kind of creepy.
She stood up and stretched her bones. Just like that, nature stirred back to life. Somewhere above her head, an owl made its presence known. It reminded her what Ari had said about the forest being dangerous at night. For a brief moment, she considered going back to the cottage where she’d be safe. Yet there was a part of her that didn’t much care whether it was safe to be there, on not. Rae’s mind went back to Ari and what he had said. Was he right?!… Did she come here to die? No, that couldn’t be it… No way. Sure, Maria was gone, her parents were gone. Apparently, Gwen was gone too. She was alone in this world. Fear and rage crept back in her heart. Rae felt helpless and useless, bad things were happening all around her, and there wasn’t a single thing she could do about it. There was nothing she could do to change things. And then it struck her. She wasn’t looking for a reason to die, she was looking for a reason to live and coming up short.
Rae had no hopes, no dreams, no faith. Not even the guts to face the world. What she had, however, was pain and anger, frustration and disappointment, and rage. And most of all, undiluted madness. Ari might have been right, perhaps he sensed something was off about her. Once the drugs muted all the disturbing emotions that were driving her crazy, it all seemed clear. There was no great purpose in life, no master plan, only the daily grind. Day in, day out. Follow the rules, break the rules; it doesn’t matter, in the end, it’s all the same.
Her world had fallen apart. She lost bits of her soul, her faith, hope, and the ability to feel anything other than despair, rage, and disgust for the limitations of her fragile human being. Despite knowing that her judgment was clouded and she shouldn’t make any life-altering decisions in this state, Rae couldn’t find the will to care.
Clenching her jaw, she decided that there couldn’t be a better time for this. She’d never be brave enough when sober, she’d never dared to end her miserable life. If she gave herself enough time and a clear head, she would cave. Rae felt like a coward. Her indecision was written all over her face. Holding her eyes squeezed shut and her fists clenched by her side, Rae let a sound of frustration escape her lips. After a couple of deep breaths to calm herself, she made up her mind. She couldn’t regret it if she didn’t live long enough to sober up.
Rae held her chin high and smiled. Maybe bad things were happening all around, and there was nothing she could do about it. But at least she got to choose her fate. It was HER choice to leave this world, a hell no one gets out of alive… She figured that even though her life had been nothing but regular and… dull, Rae could make her exit fabulous. Not for others, because there wasn’t an audience, but for herself. For once in her life she felt she was actually in control of her fate…but it was too little, too late.
Rae remembered a cliff she’d used to climb on as a child. It had a fantastic view. The forest seemed almost magical, and she used to pretend that she was a pixie living in a fairy-tale. That place would make a perfect grave, Rae thought. She planned to go there and enjoy the view one last time. Lit by the full moon, there was something magical about the forest. They say that right before you die, your whole life passes through your eyes. Rae was anxious to relieve the happiness. She recalled memories as a child in those woods, and she couldn’t think of a better place than that cliff. Then, to compensate for the numbness that she now felt, Rae would take the dive. She imagined the adrenaline pumping through her veins, making her feel alive one last time. The cliff was high. There was no chance she would survive. The soft grass at the base of the cliff would be her grave for a while, but the wild animals would make sure that her remains will never be found. How beautiful and tragic it seems. So different from the dull life Rae had been doomed to.
Rae felt bold. Maybe she was just stupid but for once she had no doubts, no regrets. It had been ages since she’d last seen that cliff and the fact that it was dark would only make it harder for her to find it. ‘Well then, my last adventure!’ she snorted.
Several minutes went by as Rae was wandering in the dark, hoping to come across the path that was leading to the cliff when she heard him. His voice was low, like a whisper that came from nowhere:
“You shouldn’t be here…”
She turned around but saw no one.
“Who is this?” Rae asked. She knew it wasn’t Ari because this voice was a lot deeper. Rae kept her cool, trying not to sound afraid, although she was.
“Don’t be scared. I mean you no harm,” he added as he stepped closer to her and into the moonlight so she could see him. He was older than Rae, mid-twenties maybe, tall, well built and he seemed very relaxed, like he wasn’t standing in the middle of the night in the forest, but in his own backyard.
“I’m Jason but friends call me Jay,” he added as he stepped closer to Rae and raised his hand to shake hers. All awkwardness aside, Rae shook his hand – his icy and hard hand – as she introduced herself.
“I’m Rae… And friends call me Rae, except… I don’t really have any friends,” she said, and the awkwardness came back. Rae didn’t know what struck her to give such a silly reply, she just assumed she was overwhelmed by his presence. He looked big and imposing but more of a goofball than scary. He smiled at her, and Rae could see the dimples in his cheeks.
“It’s not that I’m not pleased to meet you but you really shouldn’t be here,” he advised.
“You know, it’s the second time I’ve heard that tonight and I didn’t like it the first time!” Rae said. This whole ‘meeting strangers in the woods at night that know what’s best for you’ was getting old pretty fast.
“I can tell…” he added with a smile.
“Hmm…” Rae sighed, not knowing what else to say.
“Why?” Jay asked as if she knew what he was talking about.
“Why what?” Rae asked in a monotone voice.
“Your death wish. What’s so wrong with your life that can’t be fixed?”
Without answering, Rae cocked an eyebrow and stared at him defiantly.
“You don’t look stupid. You didn’t accidentally get lost in the woods at midnight, miles away from any form of civilization.”
“I live in a cottage at the edge of the forest, a couple of minutes away from here, not miles away. What makes you think I have a death wish? Maybe I just couldn’t sleep and went for a walk.” I shouldn’t have said that she admonished herself, the words sounding loud and clear in her mind. She just told a stranger, who could very well be a serial killer for all she knew, where she lived. Maybe her death wish was stronger than she realized.
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