*This is not a continuation of the previous issues about Kate Paxton. This is an entirely new edition, but the Kate Paxton stories will be continued at a later date.
Sparks danced into the humid air on the night of the attack, and the oblivious campers sat around the leaping flames. Nobody knew the terrors that summer night would bring. Of course they didn’t! How could they?
Most people believe that you would simply feel it, some encroaching darkness creeping into your soul, like a tendril of blackness that reached out before a tragedy. Most people think wrong. To the teens around that fire, everything was perfect as they laughed into the night. Little did they know what lurked in the woods, waiting for the moment to strike…
“Who wants s’mores?” Nick exclaimed. The other teens responded with wild cheers and he promptly began roasting the marshmallows to a delicious golden brown crisp. A chorus of laughter carried on the wind, a sweet whisper of joy slicing the darkness of the night.
Tara giggled as her friends recalled funny moments and memories they had experienced over the years. The group of friends were rather diverse, a melting pot of boys and girls of all shapes and sizes, five in total.
Thomas, a lanky redhead with freckles that stood out like copper coins on his face. Tara, who was seemingly the vision of beauty, with a sheen of mahogany hair cascading over her shoulders. Her face was tanned evenly to a rather flawless olive complexion, and she wore a feather in her hair the matched her striking sapphire eyes. Yes, Tara was no doubt the prettiest of the group, and yet, nobody seemed to notice… or care.
Nick was a buff, looming figure that towered above the rest. His arms were corded with muscles that rippled under his skin with every movement, and he sported cropped black hair like a military buzz cut. Tara had always had a crush on Nick, and little did she know that the feelings were reciprocated…
Never mind that. That is a story for another day. The other two were the Tenda twins, Asian girls with jet-black hair and striking eyes. Though not everyone could tell them apart, their personalities were worlds away from each other, with Marie completely focused on athletics and Jade dead-set on being a fashion designer and directed every ounce of her energy to the next trend, the next outfit.
Now you may think that you know everything about them, but so did the dark figure that lurked in the trees…
Tara looked up through a thick curtain of lashes at Nick as he took a seat beside her on a log. Her heart pounded wildly in her chest, thudding away insistently as she gazed shyly at the muscles that bulged beneath his bronzed skin.
She quickly averted her eyes as he looked over at her conversationally. Somehow, the most confident, prettiest girl in their whole college was reduced to rubble every time she looked at him. Tara’s cheeks flamed a bright red and her stomach flipped at every sidelong glance.
“So the quarterback completely flukes and the ball fell out of his hand! Naturally, he tries to backpedal and get it back, but he trips on the football and goes flying to the ground!” Nick exclaimed. Tara noticed the veins standing out against the muscle of his arms, like live wires rippling with tension. He stood and reenacted the scene, tumbling unceremoniously to the grass.
Tara threw her head back in laughter, looking up at the starry night sky. Until she heard a sickening thud. Snapping her head back, she surveyed the people around the fire.
Jade, totally enveloped as she stared at the silky fabric of her kimono, taking in each detail as if a single thread could change the world; she hadn’t seemed to notice the sound, or that Nick had talked. Jade never really noticed anything that wasn’t about fashion.
Marie right next to her, still laughing at Nick’s story and jabbering on about her basketball team and stupid things her teammates had done.
Nick, nodding animatedly as Marie told her stories. And Thomas was starry-eyed, staring at Jade with a dreamy look in his eyes, like an astronomer looking lovingly upon the stars. Tara would’ve grinned at his obvious crush on her, but now was not the time. Her heart was beating wildly in her chest. Not because of Nick, no. Not this time.
The thud came again, a dull thump like a shoe slamming the grass. Surveying the group frantically, she saw with dread that not a single one of them had reacted to it. Not a single flinch, or pause in speech. Feeling as though she was going insane, Tara interjected loudly,
“Did nobody hear that noise!?!” They whipped their heads to look at her. Shrinking under their confused stares, she let out an embarrassed squeak. Maybe I just imagined it? Tara thought. But no. She shook her head vigorously, wisps of hair swinging around her face and covering her eyes.
Impatiently pushing the tendrils out of the way, she looked around again, and was again met with bewildered stares. Doubt crept in around the edges of her mind. No. I know I heard it… Did I? No! I did!
The faces shifted from confused to concerned. The fear was written all across her face, from her wide blue eyes that burned with a near-crazed intensity to her cheeks that were flushed feverishly. Nick laid a concerned hand against her arm.
Normally, her pulse would have leapt and her stomach cartwheel at his touch, but something felt off. Like the night thus far had been a jovial melody and someone had just strummed a discordant note, tinny and out-of-tune. A note that nobody else could hear, but that rung loud and clear in Tara’s ears.
“I- I- um…” Stuttering, Tara knitted her brows and bowed her head. Again, like an echo in her thoughts, a distant thud sounded off, another out-of-tune note singing into the warm evening air. Panic struck hot in her veins, a flash of lightning exploding down from the heavens.
“Nobody heard anything? It was a thump… from the woods. I swear!” Silence fell over the clearing like a black shroud. The warm, flickering glow of the flames in the dark no longer seemed friendly or inviting… it felt ominous, like a torch’s dying light rather than a heated blaze.
Thomas seemed about to speak, to protest that there was no sound at all, to argue that they all would’ve heard it-
Thump. Thump. Every nerve in her body tingled, the wispy hairs on her arm prickling up. Nick blinked. Once, twice, three times, the shock evident on his face. Tara was too apprehensive to utter a half-hearted, “I told you so.” A small surge of relief pounded her heart. They had heard it too! She wasn’t insane! There was no time to breathe or let her worried mind be consoled. It came again, steady and pounding and terrifying. Thump thump, thump thump, thump thump.
A woodpecker. Two bucks clashing antlers. Something. Anything but… She grabbed a silky strand of hair and twirled it anxiously around her finger; yanking it out and wincing at the bite of pain.
Thump. Thump. Thump thump, thump thump, thump thump. Even Jade looked up at this, her pale face a mask of confusion. Thomas cleared his throat quietly, and Nick glared at him, whispering the words,
“Don’t move. Don’t talk. If it’s an animal, it might go away.”
But Tara knew it wasn’t that. She knew exactly what it was. The truth was horrifying. The truth was better unstated. Her breath sawed her throat, each inhale labored and each exhale sharp and painful, a razor scratching away at the soft tissue of her neck. Tension clung to the air like a heavy mist.
Thump. Thump thump, thump thump, thump thump. Tara squeezed her eyes shut for a moment, grasping Nick’s warm hand like a lifeline. She blinked. No… it’s not any kind of animal. I know that sound… the rhythmic thud-thud moving through the dusk. She thought, dreading it but knowing she had to admit it to herself or it wouldn’t feel real.
“Nick…” Tara said softly, squeezing his hand. She felt his vivid green eyes on her; she knew them so well, had studied his animated glances and the tender gazes to the point that she could imagine them clearly in her mind: a dark emerald with speckles of bottle green like shards of broken glass. Wide black pupils. A soft glimmer of laughter in his eyes.
But she looked over at him anyway. There was no glimmer of laughter and joy. Just wide pupils dilated in fear and a sheen of sweat scintillating on his forehead. His lips parted as if to form a word, and Tara put up a slim finger to stop him. With a whisper that was ever so soft and slow, she uttered the terrifying truth,
“That’s no animal out there,” she paused, her whole body tensed in anticipation of the words. Frozen in time for a single second, where the world stopped spinning and the birds no longer chirped. The only sound was dull thump thump, thump thump, thump thump. Rasping in a breath and gathering together small shards of her shattered courage, she said it.
“Those are footsteps.”
In that moment, everything happened at once. Nick leaned in to comfort her, and Tara was distracted by the burning electricity that ran through her veins where they touched. Enough that she didn’t notice the looming figure until right before it pounced.
Jade shrieked, a piercing note that reverberated in the air and shattered the silence like glass. They looked over at her, to see her crumpled behind the log, unconscious. Her tight face was loose, her mouth was slack and open wide in a scream. Marie shouted something Tara couldn’t hear.
“What?!” She screeched, but she didn’t understand Marie’s frantic gestures and shouts until it was too late. Turning slowly, she saw him. A figure of a man stood silhouetted in the moon, holding in his hand… a gleaming axe. Spattered with crimson blood.
Tara screamed, a blood curdling cry that ripped at her throat. Nick tugged her arm viciously, shrieking at her to run, but she was plastered to the spot in horror. I am going to die. I am going to die. I am going to die.
The axe swung down, shining silver in the dancing firelight. Tara, the beautiful, vivacious brunette girl was reduced to a terrified rubble. She squeezed her eyes shut tight in anticipation, waiting in horror to feel the sharp slice of the blade against her neck.
Her life flashed across her eyes: dancing colors and visions of her family, her brother and mother and father, countless sleepovers and jokes and shared secrets, and finally, a pair of gleaming green eyes.
Run! Run! Run! Her mind screamed, but she couldn’t move. Couldn’t breathe. Opening her eyes, she saw the moment. Frozen in time.
Nick was at her side, mouth wide open and his bottle green eyes smeared with emotion. Jade, unconscious on the dirt, inky black hair spread out over the ground. Marie, stopped in the desperate motion of pulling her sister to safety. Thomas, pale as a ghost and jaw unhinged as he looked up at the man with the axe… frozen in the action of tripping over the log, trying to run on weak legs.
Reality crashed in and the moment returned to full speed. Every inch of Tara’s body screamed in anticipation. Run! Run! Run! But terror had her standing there helplessly. An immobile stone statue.
The sharp tip of the axe pricked her throat-
TO BE CONTINUED…