Release Date: November
Synopsis: Coming Soon
About the Author
When my stepfather heard this, he decided to take me to a used bookstore with the belief that the best way to improve my reading skills was to read. Some of the books were hard to get through at first, but with his encouragement I refused to give up. We made many trips to that bookstore, and I especially loved the science fiction and fantasy sections.
Then one day, after complaining about the ending of a particular book, he told me that if I didn’t like the books that I had been reading, then to write one myself—so I did. My first attempt resulted in a horribly written western when I was fourteen, staring a cocky gun slinging cowboy by the name Curt Calhoun. Curt along with his seven brothers, who all shared C names in common, may never have seen the pages of a book, but that was the day I started writing, and never stopped.
I have over fifty books on my computer which I've written in various genres, all of which are waiting to come to life. Even though my ability to write has improved over the years, I am humble enough to admit that I cannot venture on this journey alone
Sincerely yours, Shawn Reilly
Shawn Reilly lives in Mt. Comfort Indiana with her husband, and three daughters. She is the author of the Union series. She writes in various genres, which include paranormal romance/urban legend, science fiction, dystopian, fantasy, suspense, and dramedy.
(Unedited. This work is currently in the hands of my editor)
EVERY THIRD FRIDAY
I stood in the clearing in the heart of the woods where the stars looked down upon the night. Head tilted back toward the darkened sky, eyes closed, I listened. The woods bordered my house—all one-hundred and thirty-something acres. Every little sound, every gurgle, rustle, bustle, buzz, hiss, peep, screech, hoot, cry, creak, crack or croak, I knew well. Harvest came every third Friday of the month. On that night, regardless of the weather, I carried the leather pouch into the woods to collect my mother’s specimens.
I had done this for as long as I could remember.
Yes, I knew the woods well.
I probably knew them better than anything else in my life…including me. I was often reminded on a daily basis of things I didn’t know. Outside the norm, the everyday consistencies that made up my somewhat problematic existence, my life was a haze.
The woods however were different.
I had to know them.
A lot of strange things lurked in the shadows. I had come accustomed to the sounds of the night…and yet this one I did not know. The small sound bought with it a strange disturbance to the order of things. To me it seemed everything else had purposely become and remained quiet so this one noise, unfamiliar and out of place as it was, could be heard.
Occasionally mom added things to her so-called grocery list that threw me. This time it was the root of the white sassafras that had me stumped. Unlike the more common trees, such as ash, oak, beech, spruce and maple, the white sassafras wasn’t as abundant in my woods, so I was working on memory alone. I was standing there thinking hard, trying to recall the last time mom asked for sassafras, when a distant memory came to mind. There was this guy with long dark hair sitting at a table drinking tea from a mug…and that’s when I first heard it, the strange sound.
Briars pulled at the hem of my long black skirt and tugged at the laces of my combat boots as I moved along. On the upper half I wore a baggy hooded sweatshirt, worn in my typical fashion with the hood over my head—double knotted around my throat. On my hands I wore black gloves. Every inch of my skin was carefully concealed. Even my legs, under the skirt, were covered in tights. My appearance had nothing to do with the briars though or the woods for that matter. Other than the grease paint smeared over my face, this was pretty much my usual getup.
The sound grew louder as I approached taking me farther away from where I needed to go, and that was to look for my mother’s sassafras. But from the moment I first heard it, I knew I was going to investigate. Soon clouds would cover the moon, my only light source, making the navigation of the woods a far more difficult task, and still I trudged on.
There was no denying it. Something inside compelled me to move onward. I had to find out what was making the noise. The series of whistled-toots reminded me of the sonar on a submarine. However, as I soon learned the toots didn’t come from a machine but instead something very much alive, more specifically…a bird.
I had considered a vole, rabbit or flying squirrel somehow trapped or caught, but what I saw baffled me. The only owl I was familiar with was the common short-eared owls. Even though they preferred to nest in the grasslands they still often hunted the woods at night. This however was not a short-eared owl. This owl was small, not much more than five inches in height and as far as I knew, none such as this had ever existed in the woods before.
From a small white face, two big yellow eyes stared up at me. Not even when I stepped out of the trees and removed the heavy pouch did the tiny creature stir. Reaching back I unfastened the specimen belt from my waist, a sort of apron with lots of pockets, especially fashioned by my mother, for holding the items collected during harvest. Jars holding this month’s insects and spiders clanked noisily together as I laid the belt on the ground, and still the owl did not budge. Instead he just watched me with a set of very inquisitive and humanized eyes.
Very carefully I lowered down on one knee but the moment I reached for the tiny creature, he surprised me by darting upward with lightning speed. I had seen the fishing line tangled around his body only seconds before it snagged on a tree branch and held in place. As the line reached the end the owl somersaulted backwards with a horrifying jolt. Letting out a pathetic screech he began to flap his wings, which only proceeded to send him in a circular sort of aerial dance that ultimately wound the fishing line tighter and tighter around his pudgy little body like a spool of thread.
With each flap and toot I did my best to grab hold of him, perfectly aware that my feet were moving closer and closer to the edge of the bluff with each attempt. The moon was full and cast a golden hue on the blackened surface of Lake Michigan below. The tips of my worn boots were just inches from the edge, and the little owl just would not give.
“Hold still little one. I won’t hurt you.” Even though my voice had a notable affect on the owl, he still didn’t stop flapping his one wing, since the other was completely bound to his body at this point. By now I figured he had taken a good look below to the sharp edges of the rocks given the fact the thread snapped and he fell.
I could feel the ground beneath my toes slipping away, like sand in an hour glass, down the side of the bluff warning me I had little time. My bet was on the owl. Even with one wing he could fly well enough to cushion his fall. I, on the other hand, would chalk up one more injury in my long line of past inflictions. Impulse and I often went hand in hand. This was no different than numerous other occasions when fast thinking, or in this case action without thinking, was required.
Situations like this I was used to.
The second I saw the owl was within reach I quickly cupped my hands together and caught him. After that my senses took over. I could feel the softness of his feathers against my sweaty palms, along with the tiny fluttering of his heart. The wind touched my cheeks and cooled my flesh, but all was quiet. The only thing I could hear was the loud pounding of a pulse within my ears. The slightest tilt forward would send us both over the edge and yet strangely I was not afraid.
Still… no matter how life defying my actions seemed to be, I knew I was in control. I wished all moments could be like that.
This was my woods and I knew them well.
One step back—just like that I was out of danger.
I looked to the waves crashing against the storm wall, and then followed the outline of the coast. Just yesterday, while skimming through magazines at the library for something interesting, I read an article that acclaimed my home town to be one of the best small towns in the Midwest. South Haven was nestled along the mouth of the Black River, and sported five miles of sandy beaches. People came for miles to watch the sunsets, but nearing midnight in mid-September only a few walked the shoreline. With a disgruntled moan, I recognized all too well those that did.
Eager to be free the little owl squirmed in my hands so I lifted him up so I could see him better. His heart strummed even faster than before, stronger the closer I drew him near. When my breath ruffled the feathers on top of his soft downy head, I seriously believed he was pondering what was about to take place. Very adamantly his big eyes twitched to my mouth and his antics made me chuckle.
“I’m not going to eat you.” I said as he let out the most pitiful whimper of relief ever. I was only guessing, but I got the feeling he wasn’t sure on that. “Honestly I saved you’re life, shouldn’t that account for something? Well, technically I guess you weren’t really in trouble just stuck in a rather precarious mess before I came and scared you over the edge. But…you were calling for help weren’t you?”
At the completion of my words the little guys eyes did something strange. They narrowed as though he were thinking, as though he knew exactly what I was saying. But how could that be? He was, after all, an owl—a creature of the woods—something not human. Still, I watched him, how his tiny face scrunched up as though deeply pondering my words, articulating more expression than I had seen in a long, long time. I watched his eyes as they widened in something close to surprised and then, strangely as though an afterthought quickly followed, narrowed once more.
I had seen the look before, but usually it was when someone recognized who I was that didn’t want to recognize who I was. I got that often in town and at school…actually I got it everywhere I went, even at home. This time, though, the look was different. The toots and excited chattering that followed seemed like the little owl was actually thrilled to see me…or maybe reassured was a better clarification of the situation. Whatever the reason, he no longer seemed afraid.
“See, I told you I wouldn’t hurt you. “I said pulling my hand back to reveal a small smudge of blood on my palm. “O-o-o-h, you poor little thing, you’re hurt.”
Lowering to the ground clouds sent shadows dancing over my hands as I gently tried to unwind the fishing line from the owl’s body. When that proved to be too hard of a task, I pulled the pouch over, reached inside and fished out the scissors I used to cut leaves. The clouds continued to pass over, at moments sending me into complete darkness, but I couldn’t let that stop me. I had to hurry. There was no way the tiny thing could understand my predicament, the trouble and pain I endured every third Friday of the month, and had since I was a small child old enough to enter the woods on my own. There was no way he could, because even I didn’t understand.
To understand, to grasp some knowledge of what would ultimately conclude this night as every harvest night before it, required answers—answers that I did not have. Long ago I had stopped trying to make sense of things…but that didn’t stop me from trying to prevent them from happening. Each month I tried just one thing—one thing—no matter how small with the hope I could change the inevitable from taking place.
So far my luck on that stunk.
Firmly yet gently holding the tiny owl in place, I worked the blade of the scissors under the fishing line. I had to work fast. I was losing time but it wasn’t the darkness I was afraid of now. Once the line was cut free, I carefully moved the owl’s feathers aside to inspect his wound. From what I could tell there wasn’t any real damage, just some surface scratches. Had circumstances been different, I would have taken him home to allow my mother to treat his injuries before I set him loose, but there was no time. Opening my hands I tossed the owl into the air. For a second he floundered before he found his wings and started flying, and I…I started running.
Trouble was the strange tooting that had drawn me to the owl to begin with was back. Sure enough one glance back, I saw the little white faced owl, with the large yellow eyes flying after me. As I slowed he caught up and I felt the tips of wings brush against my cheeks and lips.
“Look I’m glad you appreciate the fact I helped you out but honestly it was nothing. I swear it.” I swatted at him and spit feathers. “Now go away, please before they hear you.”
Through even more excited toots and whistles, the tiny creature continued to flit about my head, completely making himself a nuisance in every way. Stopping I coughed and hacked, and tried to catch my breath.
“Pah, go away.” Removing a feather, as minuscule as the nail on my pinky finger, from the tip of my tongue I started to move but then came to an abrupt stop instead. The owl lighted on my shoulder—the rapid rhythm of his heart and breathe mixing with my own. At this particular moment with all his prior fuss I found it strangely odd that not only was he watching the three dark shadows approaching through the trees, he appeared to be warily cognizant of not giving our presence away. Then it donned on me that maybe, just maybe, the tiny creature had been trying to warn me that they were coming when he chose to tag along.
“Shsss,” I whispered softly, “they won’t hear us if we stand still. This isn’t a part of the routine. This isn’t where it happens. They won’t see us.”
Taking deep breaths I watched curiously as the shadows veered to the right and headed off in the direction I knew they would, and that was the creek bed, where I was supposed to be, where I would have been had it not been for the distraction of a little owl. I had to give the little guy kudos for that. After years of trying, I had been at a complete lost for new ideas as to how to alter events—or at least try to alter them.
Then, I realized something as I stood there, just like I always figured—the unidentified fourth body—the one I called the night stalker or just stalker—wasn’t with them.
“Hmm, I was right,” I said and the little owl mimicked my gesture. The situation was an odd one...indisputably odd. With the slightest movement of my head, I shifted my eyes from the disappearing shadows to the small creature on my shoulder. His already round eyes widened even more and arched upward the same as mine in blatant question, which at that precise moment ridded my mind of all doubt that he was copying my gestures.
“This is an interesting…aah, predicament. You’re a peculiar little guy, if indeed you, umm, are a guy. Not that I plan to look under your tail feathers or anything.” The owl gave a sudden short peep and I laughed at his response. “Strange, I get the impression you know what I’m saying. Can’t say I’ve ever known an owl to be so un-owl-like and of course so darn puny. “With that, he let out a string of toots.” No need to argue, didn’t mean to offend, but truth is you should probably go your own way, no matter how small and cute you are. Hanging out with me can be dangerous, especially tonight. ‘Sides, I seldom go home without all of mama’s things and I haven’t got her sassafras yet.”
One little hop, that’s all the little owl did. One hop straight up on his tiny feet, whereas upon immediate touchdown he tilted back his head, and let go of a string of beeps, toots, whines, and whistles, just like he was telling me an old story—one that held some relevance to us both. Funny thing was, at times it even appeared as though he were laughing. Still, despite the fact I found him very endearing, I knew I had to get rid of him. Reaching up I plucked the owl from my shoulder and held him on my opened palm. Sometimes I tended to question my sanity but when those huge yellow eyes looked at me I knew he was real.
I knew he understood me.
“As much as I…” Before I could finish, the owl hopped up again but this time he completely turned his back on me. Even though there were no visible ear tuffs anywhere on his minuscule bulbous head, I knew he was listening to something or someone coming. The sudden silence around me that permeated throughout the entire woods sent my heart pounding, but not half as much as seeing the lone shadow moving toward us through the trees.
Finally the night stalker had appeared, and just like the other three I knew he didn’t see me. Soon though he, along with the others, would come after me, they always did. Nothing would stop this night from ending the same.
I watched the figure move through the trees, storing the image to memory, hoping someday that it might come in handy. Very few times I actually had the chance to observe. There was something about the way he walked, the way he carried his shoulders and head that always seemed oddly familiar, but that was impossible. Apart from the encounters on harvest night, I was sure I did not know him—this fourth person—if indeed he was a person.
I didn’t have time though for much analysis. The other three were coming. There had been time for them to make it to the creek bed to learn that I wasn’t there. That typically was the starting line. This month a little owl had tricked them all and I was sure the only one that would pay the price for that, in the end, would be me.
There had been times when I lied awake questioning things—the events of the night that would take place beyond this moment, but nothing ever seemed to make sense. Taking a step back, I made an attempt to move when the lone shadow suddenly stopped, turned around, and looked in my direction. Instantly freezing in place, I protectively put my hands around the little owl when he let out a pathetic whimper. I had come to learn over time that the stalker hid his identity under dark clothing so I couldn’t make anything out. But one thing I could was the fact he was now coming for me.
Deciding it was time to make a run for it I started to back up again when my heel came down on a small branch, snapping it completely in two with a loud crack, causing it to echo throughout the quiet woods, and again I stopped. The stalker did as well but this time he turned his head in the opposite direction as though listening for something else…the others.
They were now coming—running through the woods calling my name. “Go…go now.”
The stalkers voice startled me and sent a surge of trepidation throughout my body. I had never heard him speak before, but he was right I had to go—regardless of my legs that felt like rubber.
“It’s time to go little buddy,” I said to the owl as I opened my hands. “I told you that you weren’t safe with me.”
I meant to give him another toss into the air but before I could the little guy disappeared. The owls disappearance wasn’t just in theory either or a description of him bolting upright and flying away but exactly that. Poof, the little guy was there one moment, gone the next.
So I did what I did every month—what had come over time for me, instinctual. I ran. I ran as fast as my legs could carry me through darkened woods with boots that were to snug, feeling very much alone. But then again every month on the night of the harvest I tended to feel the same…and that was typically the moment the taunting began and I wished I was alone.
“Where are you going Bug?” they called after me. “You know you can’t outrun us. Save us the time of having to take it from you and just hand it over.”
Every third Friday of every month it was the same, they chased I ran. I ran until my legs ached. I ran until they caught me. This night was no different. I could hear their bodies crashing through the trees behind me as we descended down the bluff. The moment I broke through the trees, I braced myself for the sudden transition of sand under my boots and dug in harder. Heading for the water’s edge, I ran on the firmer packed sand in the direction of home.
Theoretically I lived above on the bluff but there was no getting there from up top, at least not one I considered—unless I wanted to trek through creepy, dark, forbidden, woods. Spotting the crate with the big glow in the dark arrow painted on the side that I had painted long ago as a directional marker, I veered off toward the seawall; knowing my house was close.
The distance wasn’t the problem, but the means I had to take to get there was. White tuffs spilled out onto the night as I stopped to catch my breath. The cool air burned my lungs. Fall had taken over the wind blowing in over Lake Michigan and spoke of an early winter. Clouds rolled over the moon causing the view before me to dance in shadow but one glance back I could see them coming so I rushed onward to the stone wall.
“Where are you going Bug? You know you can’t outrun us!”
The rocks loomed before me. In one small fleeting thought, no matter how often I was proven wrong, I thought this time I just might get away. I thought this time I just might escape. This night was different after all. Wasn’t it? They seemed so very far behind me. Usually they were closer.
In one brash move I leapt for the rocks as adrenaline rushed, mixing and mingling, with the tidbit of hope that coursed through my body. I fought for footholds on the crumbling rock, quickly grabbing for the rope, strategically placed for my use in the dark. With every ounce of strength I had left in my cold sore body I fought. I fought because this time I was sure things would be different. The little owl had altered things, I was sure of it.
I was higher than normal…farther than normal…
And then, it happened just as it always did.
My world spun out of control as a set of abnormally strong arms grabbed me from behind, proving that once again things weren’t different, that for me nothing would ever change. I was used to this, getting caught just as soon as I made the first attempt to hope.
I was so sure…so so sure this time.
I stood there panting deep and hard, staring up the rocky ledge of the bluff. Where other houses had nicely built decks and stairs that led down to the beach, the rocks before me represented what once remained of a seventeen century stone staircase. They were nothing now but rubble—broken down relics of something that existed long ago. I could see lights glowing from the nearest house while above on the bluff my house was dark and quiet.
I always wondered what would happen if those stone steps were fashioned into a useful escape or if there was someone—anyone that would come to my rescue. But that was just more wishful thinking. For me there would be no help, no one to notice...ever.
The numerous jars and bottles strapped around my waist clanged together like wind chimes as he turned me roughly around. I checked to make sure everything was intact and none of the specimens were harmed or injured, and then after working the buckle free, I bent over and gently placed the belt on the sand for safekeeping. What they wanted was inside my sweatshirt…or was it?
On impulse my hand slipped into my front pocket and felt the slight bulk and sound of crunching plastic. But that was impossible…
Because of mom’s sassafras and the little owl, I had yet to make it the distance to the creek bed…
Time and events were altered…
My pocket was supposed to be empty but it wasn’t.
Nothing changed. Nothing!
I should have known better.
The other three neared and I dropped my head in defeat. I could hear them painting and taking deep breaths as they filed in around me. They said nothing to the stalker holding onto me—the one who had prevented me from going up the wall—like he did every third Friday of every month. They never did. Head lifting, chin pointed I faced my tormenters while the stalkers gloved hands kept me in place before him. There was no point denying them or pleading so I simply pulled the plastic bag, that wasn’t supposed to be there, from my pocket and held it out.
“I’ll give you credit,” I boldly stated handing over the bag, “you keep a good calendar.”
“Haha Bug-girl, “Nathaniel Mitchell jeered as he jerked me forward away from the stalker. I felt the pinch of his fingers in the back of my bicep and he cared not that it hurt. With his free hand he snatched the bag of pot from my grip and tossed it behind him to his girlfriend. Three stood before me, including Nathaniel. The other two were his girlfriend Tawny Pierce and Jimmy Briggs. Unlike the mysterious fourth presents that remained carefully hidden in the shadows the three of them were well known in South Haven.
“You are such a pathetic ugly mess.” Nathaniel said, “Why do we even put up with you?”
“We got what we came for,” Jimmy said taking the bag from Tawny, “come on now, let’s just leave.”
Often I thought Jimmy didn’t want to be where he was but just like me every month on the night of the harvest he was.
“Oh, what fun would that be if we didn’t teach Bug a lesson?” Nathaniel jeered.
“Yeah,” Tawny slapped me across the face. “I owe her that after her little stunt in English today. You really made me look like a fool.”
I felt him again, the stalker, move suddenly behind me but he didn’t do anything but just stand there. Still, there was something strange in Jimmy’s reaction to him that I couldn’t quite place.
Even though I was used to such treatment from Tawny, and my ear stung despite the sock cap I wore under the hood to help absorb blows, I couldn’t help but laugh. “I beg to differ, Tawny,” I replied, “you made yourself look like a fool when you referred to John Hancock as Herbie. Had you just done the report yourself maybe—”
I didn’t get a chance to finish. Tawny shoved me so hard that my left shoulder made contact with the stalkers, throwing me off balance, and caused me to fall to the sand. Landing hard on my side, I just laid there trying to catch my breath. Regardless of the pain I was slightly impressed by Tawny’s strength. Nathaniel kicked sand on me but just as quick as the assault begun it ended with the three heading off down the beach with their prize. My thighs ached from running and my lungs burned but not half as much as the humiliation and pride that tore through my veins.
Each month it was the same, they chased and caught me. They knocked me down and abused me for a Ziploc bag full of creek grown weed, and then just like that they were gone. On the other hand as their laughing voices faded off into the distance to get high, and I swore somehow, someway, I’d get even, the true nightmare began. Sitting there with my knees pressed to the cold sand, tears threatening to spill, something broke. I knew better to speak, to make one noise, but I was tired…so very tired.
“Nothing will ever change. Nothing will ever be normal…but nothing should be impossible.” I uttered.
Lowering my head and shoulders I braced myself.
One minute passed, then another. I heard a soft sigh, a rustle of clothing…still nothing. Just like in a movie when the scary music began to play and I knew something bad was about to happen, time lingered in tense silence. I knew he was there and my heart pounded faster with each lapsing second. When again nothing happened I opened one eye.
“Are…you trying to scare me cause it’s really, really working,” I said.
“You’re breaking the rules.” A soft voice uttered, the moment I started to move. I felt a hand on my shoulder. I wasn’t supposed to look behind me or acknowledge that he was there in anyway what-so-ever. Impulsively I jerked my arm free, then quickly regretted it the moment I felt his breath close to my ear.
“Don’t fight. I don’t have the patience or strength tonight. Just behave like a good little girl and this will be over before you know it.”
Usually I did fight. Usually I made another break for the rocks. Usually I begged and pleaded to be left alone because no matter how hopeless I was at that moment, fighting was my nature.
This time I didn’t.
Possibly I was a fighter by nature, but this night all fight was gone.
So with eyes closed I turned around, faced him, and lied back on the sand. This part was a game that he always seemed to enjoy. With a sigh he dropped down beside me. Long ago I had come to the conclusion that the other three, Nathaniel, Tawny, and Jimmy could not see him. Long ago I had come to the conclusion that nothing I did, no small matter of altering events could change the final outcome, and this time despite the efforts of a little owl it would be no different.
For several seconds I just lied there on the sand with my eyes pinched together before he forced my head to the side. I could tell by his breathing as he pulled back the hood of my sweatshirt to expose flesh that somehow I had affected him. As his fangs entered my neck I clenched every muscle of my body tight, expecting his bite to sting more than usual this month, since I had obviously upset him…but it didn’t. With his venom flaming through me like lava I loudly moaned and once again I felt the heat of his breath against my ear.
“I hate this. I truly hate this.” His words, although harsh and fierce, shocked me, if for no other reason than the fact he seldom spoke and this was the third time tonight he had. This time when he did it was more than his typical warning to behave. I knew the words weren’t an invitation to speak but as he moved back to my neck to finish the job I couldn’t resist.
“Then why do you do it? Why me? Am I the only one that feeds you?”
My rapid questions didn’t stop him, they only frustrated him more. Tightening his grip on my head, to prevent me from looking or moving, his fangs bit with more urgency than before into my flesh. I knew he didn’t like it when I reminded him that I was a person and not just a food source. Still, even knowing I was making things worse on myself, I couldn’t stop the words from flowing.
“I’ve been good,” I said. “I haven’t tried to tell anyone since that first time. I’ve always done what you told me to do…So why can’t you just be fair and answer my questions?”
He bit harder which caused me to yelp in pain. I didn’t care. I fought against his grip, freeing myself enough to turn my head before the paralytic effects of his venom took hold. Once he sat back, obviously frustrated, I looked straight up at him. The full moon rested over his shoulder which cast his upper half in shadow. He wore a black sweatshirt or robe of some kind with a hood that was left loose to drape down over his face. The way his head was bent I couldn’t make out anything other than his mouth and chin.
“You broke the rules,” he slowly looked up.
I saw them then—his fangs as his lips curved upward to form a sneer. They weren’t what I thought they would be—the sharp dagger like weapons of a vampire, but instead his fangs curved inward like an insect or snakes would. Fear washed over me. He lifted his head higher so I could see him better in the traces of the moonlight.
My mouth opened but nothing came out.
The matter was his eyes. They were bright yellow and they were glowing. As he leaned in closer I couldn’t look away from those yellow, glowing eyes. He had me locked in a trance, a trance that made my whole body tingle and feel numb.
“You broke the rules,” he said, “now you will be punished.”