This story is by Kristin Skelton and was part of our 2021 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Marcy glanced up at the sky as a gust of wind swirled bright leaves high above her head. The wind blew her curly brown hair in front of her glasses, trapping a loose strand in the frames. She sighed as she pulled it out carefully, trying to hold back her hair at the same time. She adjusted her backpack slung over one shoulder and glanced toward the woods on her left. She usually loved walking home this way, but the avenue of trees on either side of the road had created an unpleasant wind tunnel. The woods offered a shorter path home. She made a last-minute decision before reaching the end of the road, and ditched the rough stones for the hard moist earth.
The earthy smells of the woods still wet with fresh rain filled her nose and she breathed deeply. The bright reds, oranges, and yellows almost made up for the deep shadows the trees cast at sunset. The wind died down for a moment and the eerie silence made her pause. She reminded herself that these were her woods. Her imaginary world as a kid, playing in the streams and hidey holes with her brothers. She knew every inch of it.
She glanced back quickly before the wind picked up again and she pressed forward. The underbrush seemed to grow taller around her as the minutes collected. The long shadows turned into small dark figures, watching as she passed. She picked up her pace, keeping her eyes straight ahead.
One more bend. Turning the corner quickly, she tripped and fell over a tree root. She huffed in exasperation, realizing in the same moment that the tree root must have been hollow and rotting because it was softer than she’d expected. She could have gotten up and kept going. She could have jogged all the way home, joined her brothers for their favorite show, and been none the wiser. She didn’t have to turn around to look. But she did and in that instant she knew. The color drained from her face in the pale light as she realized what she’d found.
A leg lay in front of her, a human leg. She could tell it was a big man from the girth of the missing plants in the underbrush. In the fading light, she could see a hand, which looked scratched. She couldn’t make out a face, but she didn’t think she wanted to. Finally, her body moved. She scrambled up, running away as fast as she dared. The seconds felt like hours. At last, she spotted the edge of the woods and dashed into the clearing. She took a left and darted up the hill, only pausing once she stepped foot on her back porch. Breathing hard, she leaned on the siding with her hand and realized she was shaking. She tried a few calming breaths.
“Marcy!” One of her little brothers burst from the sliding doors. She jumped so high, she nearly hit her head on the porch fan.
He frowned. “Oh, I didn’t mean to scare you.”
“I-I’m okay,” she said, smiling weakly.
“The best show in the world is about to start! Hurry!”
She followed him inside and numbly sat down as her twin brothers cheered at the start of their favorite show. Had she really just seen what she thought she’d seen, or had it been a dream? Now, in the comfort of her own home it seemed surreal.
That night, after her brothers went to bed, she told her mom what she’d seen.
“We have to go to the police!” Her mom said. “They’ll need to figure out what happened. I hope it isn’t anybody we know…are you okay, honey?” Marcy had choked on her water at the thought that she might know the poor person. She nodded. Her mom called the police.
Marcy looked around the interrogation room. It was just as dismal as in the movies. Three police officers stood in front of her. Her mom waited in the lobby.
“Can you tell us exactly what happened this evening?”
Marcy carefully recounted the story from when she left school until she arrived home.
“Did you see anybody else in the woods?”
“No, I was the only one.”
Two officers glanced at each other while the third wrote something down on his notepad.
“Are you sure?”
Marcy thought hard, but she knew she had been the only one there.
“No, I’m sorry. I didn’t run into anybody else.”
“We are sorry miss, but seeing as there are no other witnesses, we’re going to need to keep you here while we figure out next steps.”
Marcy’s face paled. Next steps? Her heart started to race. Did they suspect her? It was true, no one else had been around, but how could they possibly suspect a 17-year-old girl? If she couldn’t prove her innocence though…would she have to live out the rest of her life in prison? She had read stories…she could be falsely accused and have no way to defend herself. She started to tear up.
The door burst open and a man entered, out of breath. “The body’s gone!”
The three officers stared. “What?”
“The body’s gone. You better come check this out.”
“Wait, what body?” Marcy looked from the officers to the man. “The body that I found?!”
The men left the room without an explanation. “Wait!” She contemplated going after them, but thought better of it.
It was spooky waiting alone. To distract herself, she listed all the ways she could defend herself. She didn’t have enough time to kill a man and hide the body. People had seen her leave school at 4. Her family would defend her…
She was so lost in thought that she didn’t notice the lights flicker twice, until they turned off. What the…? She tried the light switch. Nothing. Then she tried the door, but it was stuck and glowing a pale white…how strange. She turned around, and flinched! She could barely tell in the dim light, but there was a big man standing there. How had he gotten in here? He said not a word, but reached out his hand. That’s when she noticed the scratches, very familiar-looking scratches. Fear flooded her body as the man took a step forward, her momentary fear of prison replaced with something far more sinister – the unknown. His eyes were glowing a pale white and he was moving slow, as if in water. She tried the door again. No luck. At the last second, she darted underneath his outstretched arm, and backed against the opposite wall. He approached her again. Every muscle stiffened. She was trapped.
Then she gasped. Now that her eyes had adjusted, she could see the curve of his face, the mop of dark hair on top. He was older now, but there was no mistaking it. He was the teenager she had saved from drowning two summers ago. Her panic died down. She knew him. He was sweet. As she looked closer, she realized his expression was strained, as if he were trying to break free from…whatever this was. As she watched him, it hit her. He wasn’t reaching out to attack her; he was reaching out for help! Empathy filled her. She instinctually reached up and gently touched his face with her hand, “Darek.”
Marcy was in the woods, running from…something. She could feel the panic rising inside her, mixed with regret. What had she done? She tripped and fell. When she went to get up, she saw her hands. Big hands. She was Darek. Darek turned, but it was too late. A glowing white thing was above, bearing down. Then it went…inside him. He began to relive all the regret he had ever felt. Memories flashed by, one by one, weighing him down. His rough childhood. The teasing he let go on. He tried to escape them, but they kept coming, over and over. He lay in the woods, stunned, trying to break free. An image of Marcy appeared. The girl who had saved him! Through his pain, he reached out to her. A hand reached up and touched his face.
Darek’s eyes stopped glowing, his expression returned to normal. Now alert, he looked at Marcy. “Oh no!” he said, as Marcy began to glow white.
Marcy felt the detached memories shift. Suddenly it was her life flashing before her eyes, her regret weighing her down. The outside world was gone. She closed her eyes, trying to fight it. It felt like ages passed before she finally heard a voice. “My baby!” Her mom! Then, another voice: “You can’t touch her ma’am, or you’ll be trapped.” The panic rose. She moved her arm, but felt a strap holding her in place. She tilted her head to the side and saw a lab, bathed in a white glow. She didn’t want someone else to suffer, but… would this be her fate, forever?!