Friday, October 29, 2010

Two Big Changes

November is bringing two big and exciting changes to Tangled Fiction.

First! Anne Marie will no longer be tangling her fiction with ours, which takes us down from 4 writers to 3. We wish Anne all the crazy writing success in the world. Good luck, Anne!

And Second! The three of us have been having thoughts. Oh, yes, we have. They are both terrifying and sublime! Inspiring and insane! Exciting and ecstatic!

What would those changes be? We are boosting our signal, putting our posting schedule on speed, and pushing our collaboratively creative capabilities* to the max. Tangled Fiction is going to a Monday, Wednesday, Friday sequence. Yes! You read that right! We'll be producing one collaborative short story a week.

This means that you will be able to find 3 complete short stories here each month. On the fourth (and occasionally fifth) weeks, we'll change things up a bit with single authored shorts, entertaining discussions on the stories of that month, and more!**

November will follow the schedule listed below and after that, if you are curious, you will be able to find the schedule for any given month on our info page.

Thank you all for reading and spreading the word about Tangled Fiction! Get ready for more. ;)

Lacey, Valerie, & Natalie

November Schedule:
Week 1 - Lacey, Natalie, Valerie
Week 2 - Natalie, Valerie, Lacey
Week 3 - Valerie, Lacey, Natalie
Week 4 - Turkey. Lots of it. But not on the blog.
Week 5 - Individual shorts by all!

*This post brought to you by alliteration.
**Now taking suggestions!

Photo by mfajardo via Flickr Creative Commons

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Uncharted (Part 4 of 4)

“You may leave with one of your friends.” She extended one hand to Connor, still wincing and gripping his side like it would fall apart if he didn’t. “Or you may stay here with me and your two friends may go.”

Her other arm floated up in the opposite direction and I turned to see Luke standing at the edge of the water a short distance from us.

“Alex,” he said, “Connor, I’ve found the way home.”


My gaze flashed between Luke, Connor, and the woman. All the memories that I shared with my friends came crashing back to me. Bus rides to our basketball games, where Mason would moon unsuspecting passersby. Our corner table in the cafeteria where we once got Luke to drink chocolate milk mixed with ketchup and salt. Dances in the gym where we sat in the corner on folding metal chairs and Connor and Trent made fun of the girls who danced all slutty to impress us.

I had a choice to make.

“Okay,” I said, trying not to crack. “I’ll stay.”

She cocked her head to the side and smiled. Then she flickered in and out, and disappeared.

“Dude!” Connor yelled. He grabbed my sleeve and pulled, but I planted my feet on mucky ground. “Forget this. Let’s go!”

I shoved Connor off of me and he stumbled back, knocking twigs and stones into the pond. The black water rippled and Trent’s white face and grey t-shirt seemed to come closer to the surface. The woman disappeared as the ripple moved out toward the center of the pond.

Beneath the surface of the water I saw them: The three missing hikers—one girl and two guys, probably in their twenties. And another woman. The mother of the dead kid we saw in the woods. And countless other nameless faces. All of them trapped there forever. Wrapped in the warmth that only death could bring in a place like this.

Alex. That sickening sing-song voice called my name. The woman was gone, but I could still feel her. Still smell her.

“Go, man!” I yelled at Connor. He stood there wide-eyed, staring down into the water, shaking his head.

“Guys, c’mon!” Luke shouted from somewhere far away. I couldn’t see him anymore.

“I saw Luke over there.” I tried to spot a way around the pond but there was no path. The thick trees pressed in making the forest around the pond so dense there would be no way to navigate it without getting too far off course. I swallowed down my fear. “We need to find a way across the pond.”

“I’m not touching that.”

“We don’t have a choice.” The woman was still nowhere in sight. My leg shook uncontrollably, jostling the loose change in my pocket. “C’mon.” I knew she had to be here. She had to be watching. I told her I’d stay, as long as she let Luke and Connor go. Maybe she’d take my stepping into the pond as proof I wasn’t backing out.

Connor grabbed my jacket just as the toe of my sneaker broke the water. “Wait. What if you can’t get out? What if we get stuck like them?”

He was right. What if I stepped in the water, and it washed over me, numbing me and making me forget. I couldn’t forget. I couldn’t lose myself.

“Pain. It helps you focus.”

“So what? I punch you, you punch me, till we make it over?”

That didn’t sound like the best option, but it was the only one we had. “Maybe not punch. But I cut my hand. What about you? What hurts?”

“Well, you socked me in the lung with your head, so there’s that. And this.” He pulled the neck of his shirt out so that I could see a dark gash on his collar.

“Good.” I squeezed my hand. It hurt like hell, and I wasn’t sure I could keep it up on my own. “I’ll keep pressure on your cut, you squeeze my hand, and we’ll get across without losing it. Deal?”

Connor cursed under his breath. “Yeah. Yeah, deal.” Connor took my hand in his and crushed it.

I winced and took the first step, careful not to step on Trent. I’d expected to sink to at least my knee, but somehow the water between bodies was shallow, like a sand bar. “I think if we step between them, we’ll be okay.” I dug my fingers into Connor’s cut. He gritted his teeth and his breath came in short puffs, clouding the air in front of our faces. He nodded at me, and we started our way across the pond.

The icy water wormed its way into my sneakers, lacing between my toes.

Alex. You promised.

I focused on the pain in my hand. Putting one foot in front of the other, stepping over faces that seemed to sink below the earth. One foot after another until we were almost there.

The smell hit me like a wall. Citrus and roses and underneath it all, the stink of decay. It swirled around me. Between my legs, crawling up my spine, and brushing the back of my neck, I felt it. Cold fingers.

“Alex! Connor!” Luke’s voice grew nearer. One more step and we’d be free. Connor let go of my hand and bolted for the trees.

“Connor, wait!” My mind told my body to run after him, but I couldn’t. My feet were stuck just at the edge of the pond. I could feel the numbness working its way past my ankles and into my calves. I squeezed my hand so hard I cried out.

The glowing mist thickened until I couldn’t see the forest. I couldn’t even see the edge of the pond.

Alex. Everything is alright now. You’re safe. Her voice burned into me. I clamped my hands over my ears, trying to drown her out. The icy fingers covered the backs of my hands, pulling them away.

“No!” I fell to my knees in the water, the frigid cold shocking my senses, and dug my hands into the muck. When I brought them back to my ears, they were caked in mud. Thick, stinking, mud. Mud so thick that could muffle the screams of those trapped beneath the water. Mud that could muffle that voice.

I packed the mud into my ears, choking back the bile the crept up my throat every time I caught a whiff of it.

You’re safe, she said, but it was muddled. I couldn’t hear the melody that had come along with her voice. Relief loosened my shoulders. I’d done it. Almost. I was still stuck.

I pounded my fist into the muck. Hot tears streamed down my cheeks. I bit the inside of my mouth. Anything to inflict pain and keep my head, while I tried to pull my feet from the muck.
With a slopping sound, I got one leg free. The feel of solid ground beneath my foot was enough to make me shout. “Luke! Connor!”

Even if they had called back, I probably wouldn’t have heard them. I fell onto the ground and pulled my other leg free. The thick mist dissipated, slinking back into the trees, looking for the next unsuspecting car on that lonely road.
I’d done it. I was free.

I fell back into the grass, panting and shivering from cold and relief. Her voice was gone. The smell was gone. She was gone and I was free.

I gathered myself up off the ground, knocking mud from my ears. “Connor! Luke!” I stepped toward the tree line where Connor and Luke had gone, but what I saw locked my knees in place. Instead of thinning trees and a way out, thick black trunks clumped impossibly close. All of them with leaves like tiny hands, fingers locking together and closing me in.
Alex. Her voice pulled me back.

The mist over the pond gathered itself into a solid mass. It twisted and pulled together, like a rose blooming over the placid water. Her robes unfurled like white petals and there she was.

The most beautiful woman I’d ever seen.


Photo by Moa Svensson (Miss Moa) via flickr.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Uncharted (Part 3 of 4)

Her porcelain face twisted into a nightmare. That smooth flesh looked ripped from her skull. Her dress was torn and tattered. I could make out leaves and twigs in her tangled hair. Where once she had been silvery light, she was replaced with shades of grey and darkness.

I did the one thing that made sense to do: I ran.

The night air was frigid and harsh in my lungs, but I ran; harder than I’ve ever run with a nightmare on my heels and no idea what lie ahead of me. It didn’t matter. Nothing could be worse than that freezing pond, that eerie light and nothing could be worse than her.

If I’d had breath left to call for Connor or Trent or Luke, I’d have yelled every step of the way. I hoped they were at the car. I hoped I was heading for the car because useless and horrible as it was with Mason’s body stuck inside, it was my only point of reference in this place.

With every step, I focused on two words: Get out. Get out. Get out. Branches and saplings, too small to see in the dark, slapped against me. They snatched at my skin, stinging my arms, my face, my legs. I stumbled and felt pain snap through my hand like fire, but I didn’t stop. I ran to the refrain on endless repeat in my mind: Get out. Get out. Come back.

I ran until my limbs were warm and the pain in my lungs was a distant, beautiful burn and I knew I’d be able to run forever if I needed to. It was the moment I craved on the court because it was the moment I knew I’d become unstoppable. I’d be able to go until the final buzzer sounded and it didn’t matter how good the other team was, I was in the zone and nothing was so exciting and so relaxing as being in that place of knowing that your body knew what to do before you did.

Come back. Come back. Come back.

With some space between me and the pond and no sound of being pursued, the forest seemed less dense than before, less dark and ominous and I moved through it with all the ease of a good offensive play. The air, though still cold, was sweet and didn’t burn my throat as it had. Still no sign of my friends or the crash, so I kept running.

I ran until the ground became soft and I found myself again standing at the edge of a pond. The same pond I’d been racing to escape with that same light hanging in the mist above it. My forgotten panic reasserted itself full force and I felt all my limbs fill with spiders and jelly. I wasn’t sure I could run again – not that it would do any good – and cast around for any sign of that woman.

It took a second for me to recognize that the shape crouched by the bank five feet to my left, was a person. Light glinted off dust colored hair and the shoulders were angular and wide. Strong as he was, his letterman jacket always made him look scrawny.

“Connor!” My shoes slipped in the mud as I sprinted to his side. His shoulder rolled beneath my grip, soft as dough. “Connor, what are you doing? We have to get out of here.”

He didn’t look up at me. His eyes remained fixed on the water; wide and confused, like he’d just dropped his cell phone in the toilet.

“It’s Trent. He found the way out.” One hand stretched toward the still water. “She showed him the way out.”

I was pretty sure I didn’t want to know what he was staring at, but I turned my head anyway. I didn’t see it at first. The water was so flat and dark that all I saw was black until Connor’s fingers broke the surface and made three little holes my eyes could follow. And there, just beneath his fingertips, were Trent’s eyes – unmistakably huge and dark – looking right back up at Connor.

“Let’s go,” Connor said as if we were deciding to go to a party.

It sounded reasonable. Rational, even, which wasn’t typical for Connor, but Trent was right there, waiting for us in what was clearly the way out of here and Trent was reasonable. Trent wouldn’t do anything that didn’t make sense or benefit him in some way and there was no reason to believe this was any different. I stared down into the water and Trent’s eyes and knew that Connor was right, this was how we would leave. But where was Luke and how would he find us?

He’s coming, Alex. Her voice soothed my mind. Come this way.

As if he’d heard it too, Connor stood and prepared to jump. He looked calm and determined and very tall standing over me.

“C’mon, Captain. Get up.” He said it with a smile, the glow from the pond washing him in pale yellow and blue. I knew it was wrong, because Connor wasn’t the smiling type. He was the brooding, quick to anger type, but it seemed okay, like things were finally going to be okay. We’d found the way out.

Pressing my knuckles into the ground for support, I pushed and pain flashed through my right hand. It sailed right up my arm and straight into my head, clearing of all the mist that’d gathered there leaving only the insane reality of what we were about to do.

“Connor,” I said, sharp and low. “Back away from the pond.”

He only shook his head in response and bent his knees. We leapt at the same time, my body crashing into the side of his. I felt my shoulder connect with his ribs and then we were on the ground and Connor was spitting curses.

“Dude, you just broke my lung!” He was holding his side, but sitting and frowning, looking much more like the Connor I knew: pissed off and confused about it.

Pain. He was in pain and that was clearing his head of whatever was messing with us. I squeezed my hand, sending a fresh wave of hot knives coursing through my blood. It sent a cold shiver down my spine, but I wasn’t having thoughts of finding home at the bottom of some fathomless pond. I considered that an improvement.

“Alex.” Came the whispered voice in my ear and dread balled up in my stomach as the light coalesced over the pond. I didn’t need to look to know she stood there. Connor’s face said it all. “Alex, stay with me. I will keep you safe. I will keep you forever.”

I could feel her voice worming its way inside me and nibbling at the pain in my hand. It was starting to feel good and right. I made a fist to clear my head and thought of Trent and how he’d just worked up the nerve to ask Amanda Miller to prom and now he never would because this thing had convinced him it was safe in that pond. Armed with pain and memories, I turned to face her. She was much closer than I’d imagined and her face was pristine and enticing. But I knew what was waiting behind that fa├žade and I didn’t want to see it again.

Beyond her, I could see now that the forest on the other side of the pond was thinner. The trees looked younger and very different from those around us now. If we could get there, past her and to the other side of the pond, I was sure we could get out of this place altogether. I was almost sure.

“We are leaving,” I said with all the authority I could dig out.

She didn’t frown. She didn’t make any expression, but I felt more than saw that she was more than a little displeased.

“Very well, Alex,” she brandished my name as if it were a weapon. “You have a choice.”

I felt the dread in my stomach expand like a star about to go supernova.

“You may leave with one of your friends.” She extended one hand to Connor, still wincing and gripping his side like it would fall apart if he didn’t. “Or you may stay here with me and your two friends may go.”

Her other arm floated up in the opposite direction and I turned to see Luke standing at the edge of the water a short distance from us.

“Alex,” he said, “Connor, I’ve found the way home.”

Up next: Part 4 by L.J. Come back next Tuesday for the final piece!

*Photo courtesy of Dia via Flickr Creative Commons

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Uncharted (Part 2 of 4)

“Alex! Don’t go in there!” Luke. He sounded panicked.

I had only a second to wonder why before I was enveloped by trees with leaves like tiny hands.

When I looked back, I couldn’t see past the leaves, trunks, and darkness. It was as if the forest had grown up around me the second I took that first step. My eyes tried to focus on the soft glow in the distance. Alex. I’m waiting for you.

“Who’s there?”

Just to be sure I didn’t have brain damage from the car crash I carefully checked my head, face, and neck with my fingers for bumps or cuts. Nothing, except pieces of leaves and shards of glass. I wasn’t hallucinating a sound or smell that twisted like a serpent through the underbrush. Now that I was standing still, it felt like an outside force was tugging me deeper into the woods. I briefly thought: I should find my friends. Only I couldn’t remember which way I’d come from.

Tonight started off so great. We’d won our fourth straight basketball game. Being seniors, we drove instead of taking the team bus. The whole ride up had been full of jokes and farts and fart jokes. The team went out for dinner after the game -- paid for by Coach -- and there was more laughter. Why did my best friend have to die? Why wasn’t he wearing his seatbelt? How many times had we ragged on him that belts weren’t only made for old folks? Now he was dead, smashed into a thousand pieces, and I was alive wishing our places had been switched.

The question now was: Why hadn’t anyone survived to tell the authorities that their friends or family were dead in the woods? Maybe everyone’s injuries had been mortal, and they died somewhere out here in the dark trying to find help. I silently thanked my seatbelt for keeping my own injuries to a minimum. Basketball had allowed me to keep in shape. All the running Coach made us do every practice would definitely help me walk as far as I needed to find help.

Behind my closed eyelids I replayed the memory of Mason’s last seconds before the crash. It was true there hadn’t been anything in front of the car, only something in it. Something that forced us off the road, killing my best friend in the process. Trent looked like he didn’t have any serious injuries, and he still went into the woods without a word to us. I couldn’t leave him alone to deal with whatever might be taunting us.

“Trent?” I shouted into the blackness. “Luke? Connor? Anybody?”

The echo of my voice was the only response. The adrenaline wore off and left me shaking. Everything inside me told me to curl into a ball and sleep until I couldn’t dream. Then sleep some more. Seeing your friend mutilated by trees and glass will do that. In place of swift adrenaline there seeped in anger and a little fear. Steeling myself for whatever I was about to face, I broke off a tree limb, snapping it in pieces until I had something that resembled a spear. If a second-grader were in charge of weaponry, that is.

There were tiny pieces of glass embedded in my shirt and jeans that glinted in the light ahead. It reminded me of an action movie I saw where the guy wrapped his hands with cord, then dipped them in oil or something, and then rolled them in chunks of glass to make them more lethal. Would tree sap and the tatters of my shirt work? Alex. Don’t keep me waiting.

The soothing tone made me forget about glass and destruction. I might have dropped the stick too because the next thing I knew, I was standing in front of a small pond. It glowed like a firefly on a humid summer evening, although it wasn’t warm at all. The air felt like I’d dumped a bucket of ice water on my head. It crept past my clothes and into my very bones. My teeth began to chatter. The smell was so thick here that if it had hands, I’d swear it was holding me tightly to that spot. Still, it remained light and refreshing and familiar. Almost safe.

In the faint light of the pond, I noticed blood and dirt caked onto my hands. It wasn’t that Mason’s blood disgusted me, exactly, it was more that it kept reminding me how he’d died. I rubbed them together as best as I could then wiped them on my jeans. The evidence was still there, dark smears across my skin. My fingers were frozen, and I was about to stick them in the pond. Realizing exactly how cold the water could be when the air was barely above freezing stopped me. Instead, I clenched them into fists and put them under my armpits. The core of my body trembled in response.

That’s when the voice spoke so close to me, I jumped. Alex. Cherished. Nothing will hurt you if you stay with me. If this voice could produce heat, I’d definitely consider it. You won’t need warmth if you stay. I’ll protect you. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw glowing mist rise from the pond in a delicate wisp like cotton candy in the wind. As it rose, the smell changed from tangy to something richer. Meatier. The light faded from the water and began to move into a more defined space like a glass being filled with milk.

The image become solid and formed a body before my eyes. It was the most beautiful woman I’d ever seen, and I spent a lot of time downloading images from the Vicky’s Secret catalogue. Though her ears weren’t pointed, she could’ve easily passed as one of the elves in the Lord of the Rings. The woods behind her and the pond beneath her disappeared, as all my attention was directed at her. She looked timeless in flowing robes and long tresses, although she remained the color of chalk and starlight.

“Alex,” she said in the sweetest sing-song voice, “I’m so pleased you came at last.”

“How do you know my name?”

She smiled. It wasn’t quite right. Her lips stretched too far, trying too hard to be perfect. Like a magazine cover that had been airbrushed. “You told me.”

I’d remember telling someone like her my name because it would’ve been followed with my cell phone number. “Where’s Trent?”

“I called you, not him,” she whispered, cocking her head to the side, her large eyes staring into me.

At least that meant Trent, Luke, and Connor were alive wandering in the dark somewhere. I hoped they’d been able to find each other. And that they’d come looking for me. But it didn’t explain why I had heard Mason arguing with someone and pulling the steering wheel in the opposite direction. This chick was lying. She called Mason first and he’d refused her, so I guess that made me a sloppy second. The fresh smell of wet pine and grass from a recent rain cleared my head of her essence.


Her porcelain face twisted into a nightmare. That smooth flesh looked ripped from her skull. Her dress was torn and tattered. I could make out leaves and twigs in her tangled hair. Where once she had been silvery light, she was replaced with shades of grey and darkness.

I did the one thing that made sense to do: I ran.

Up next: Part 3 by Natalie. Come back next Tuesday to read what happens next!

*Photo used with permission. Copyright © 2007 by ~EvidencE~

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Uncharted (Part 1 of 4)

It wasn’t Mason’s fault. We were on a remote stretch of road – some weird detour the highway signs told us to take – when he lost control of his mom’s mini-van, crashed through a guardrail, and sent us soaring down into the ravine.

I got lucky; I was belted into the passenger’s seat. Mason had his window down and we fell through a grove of trees before landing at the bottom on the driver’s side. Let’s just say it wasn’t pretty. In the fragments of moonlight that broke through the thick canopy of leaves, it was hard to tell where the tree began and Mason ended. His body took the brunt of the branches, leaving me with just a few scratches and lifetime of nightmares.

We were all lucky, except for Mason. Connor, Trent, and Luke were strapped in and asleep in the back when it happened. They didn’t even wake up until we’d landed. I was the only one that knew we swerved for no reason. That Mason yelled “No!” before the wheel jerked to the left, taking the car across the center line and over the cliff. It was dark and I’d been zoned out until I heard him shout, but I swear the steering wheel moved by itself, and Mason was fighting to pull it back to the right side of the road when we crashed.

There was no way to untangle what was left of Mason from the tree, but the rest of us crawled out the back of the van to where we stood now, trapped between a dense forest and a sheer rock wall, hundreds of feet below the road. So far down that I couldn’t even make out the edge of the cliff in the dark. A grim thought sent a chill down my spine. Mason was the first to die, but he might not be the last.

Luke paced back and forth near the van, mumbling. He seemed oblivious to the cut on his cheek that oozed blood. Trent and Connor had their cell phones held high.

“Alex, you getting a signal?” Connor asked me.

I slipped my phone out of my pocket and checked. No bars. “Nothing.”

“Damn.” Connor pocketed his phone. “Where are we?”

I shrugged. “No clue. We took a detour a while back and ended up on some two-lane road.”

“Damn.” Connor said again. He kicked a tree limb that had broken off during our fall.

Trent finally put his phone down and turned to me. “So you saw what happened? What was it, a deer or something?”

They all looked at me, even Luke stopped pacing and turned his haunted eyes to me. I didn’t want to tell them nothing happened. That the van drove itself over the edge. I was probably wrong anyway. “Yeah, a deer.”

No one said anything. Trent just shook his head. Luke went back to pacing and Connor kicked the branch again.

“I’m sure once it’s light out someone will see the guardrail we broke through and come find us.” I sounded more sure of myself than I was, a skill I’d learned as team captain.

“I don’t think so.” It was Luke, he’d wandered away from the rest of us, down the narrow path formed by the space between the cliff wall and the edge of the forest.

Connor spoke up. “Don’t be an ass Luke, of course someone will find us.”

“Like they found them?” Luke pointed into the dark. I could just barely make out a shape in the shadows. He started walking toward it, determined. My hands broke into a cold sweat, but I followed.

Behind me I heard Trent ask, “Do you guys smell that?” But I didn’t ask what he meant. I was too busy trying not to freak out.

Luke stopped in front of a hunk of metal that had once been a station wagon. Tall grass grew around it and through the open windows. It’d definitely been here a while.

“That doesn’t mean anything,” Connor said. “Maybe it was too hard to get it out so they left it here.”

Luke’s shoulders sagged. “And left a little kid’s body behind?”

I circled around the car to where Luke stood. Moonlight shone through the windshield, lighting up the interior. A small skeleton, still wearing a blood-stained sundress, lay in a heap in the backseat, a tree branch sticking out of one eye socket. The little bit of hope I’d managed to hold onto was slipping out of my grasp. If rescuers were able to reach the survivors, they wouldn’t have left the little girl behind, would they?

Connor peered into the car. “Damn.”

Without another word, Luke spun on his heel and continued on the same path he’d started. Connor and I followed, praying we wouldn’t find another wreck. One car was a coincidence, but two... I kept replaying the seconds before the crash in my mind. Mason said “No!” and then the wheel jerked to the left, like he was telling someone not to do it.

“What about this one?” Luke’s voice was stretched thin. The haunted look he’d had while he was pacing intensified.

This wreck was an SUV. It didn’t look like it’d been there too long. Inside were four big hiking backpacks and a cooler. A partly mummified body lay on its back a few feet from the wreck, a shirt wrapped around its head like a bandage.

Luke was pacing again. “Where did they all go? Huh?”

I glanced at Connor. Even in the dark I could tell he’d gone pale. He shook his head slowly. “This’s messed up.”

“They probably went into the woods, looking for a way back to the road,” I said.

Connor’s voice got higher with every word he spoke. “And what? They never made it out?”

Something tickled the back of my neck. Alex. I wasn’t sure if I’d actually heard my name out loud, or if it was just in my head. Unless… A burst of adrenaline shot through me. “Where’s Trent?”

Connor and Luke both snapped out of it enough to look back the way we came.

Connor swore. “I thought he was coming with us?”

We all broke into a run, shouting Trent’s name.

The mini-van was exactly the way we left it except, no Trent. I listened past the sound of our panting, hoping to hear Trent yelling back at us, or at least, his footsteps in the brush. There was nothing.

The scent crept in so subtly that at first none of us noticed it. Even when I did, it was more like background noise than anything else. Until Connor asked, “Do you guys smell that?”

And I remembered. “That’s what Trent said.”

We glanced around at each other, suddenly wary. I knew what they were thinking, Is this what lead Trent away? What lead all the others away?

It wasn’t a smell I recognized but somehow it felt familiar. It had a sort of tang, like citrus, and a sort of silkiness, like roses, but it wasn’t either of them. It was the scent of something beautiful, and strange, and... scary. Because I knew in my gut that a scent like that shouldn’t be in the middle of the woods. It was wrong.

Alex. It was a whisper, but not. In my head, but coming from deep in the woods. I knew it. The scent seemed to be moving. Like a body with a tail, there was a cluster where the scent was strongest and it was slowly heading toward the forest. I realized we were all shifting slightly, leaning towards the smell. In the back of my mind, I knew it could be dangerous, but the more I breathed it in, the more I wanted to follow where it lead. It held a promise. Alex. Come with me and everything will be alright.

I took a step toward the woods – there was something glowing in there – and heard Connor and Luke do the same. I wondered if they could see the light too. I took another step and the rest of the world faded, like someone had put it on mute.

From behind me I heard a faint, “What the hell?” I stopped to look back over my shoulder, but was overwhelmed by the scent and that whisper-that-wasn’t-a-whisper. Alex. Come with me, it’s the only way out. Yes. How could I forget? We needed to get help. I turned back to the woods and walked faster.

“Alex! Don’t go in there!” Luke. He sounded panicked.

I had only a second to wonder why before I was enveloped by trees with leaves like tiny hands.

Up next: Part 2 by Anne. Come back next Tuesday to see how the story unfolds!

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