Hello all! I thought it might be fun to send out my first chapter of a manuscript I'm currently working on. It's only about half complete, but moving pretty quickly. This is a story of a girl, Zoe, who stumbles across a murder. But this isn't an ordinary murder, and soon Zoe's life will be turned upside down.
“We are going to have to split up.”
The statement shocked Zoe. “What? No!” She knew she looked like a gaping fish. They were in the middle of nowhere.
Her friend Susie nodded as she folded a map while juggling a flashlight under her chin. “Yes, Zoe. Only twenty-five minutes left until the deadline, and we only need three more items. We are so close. Imagine,” she cajoled, “how nice it would be to spend some of your vacation time in Las Vegas. It would be such a nice break from work.”
Zoe moaned at her friend’s tone and tried not to shiver at the image of Susie lit up like a blond-haired Halloween freak show under the beam of the flashlight. “It’s so dark out here. What if I get lost?” Twirling a lock of short hair, she glanced around, but only saw darkness. It had felt like a bad idea to get on a chartered bus and go on a Halloween night scavenger hunt, but here she was, doing exactly that.
Tiffany, the third wheel of the adventure, sidled next to Susie. “You’ve lived here longer than I have. Come on, Zoe, don’t be a downer. I am going on my own, too. We are so close to winning this scavenger hunt.”
“I didn’t know we would be splitting up in the middle of the woods,” Zoe snapped. She realized she sounded like she was whining, but didn’t care. She was whining. “It can’t be safe.”
Susie held out an extra map to Zoe while she shone her flashlight on the surface. She pointed a painted fingertip toward the middle. “Here is the Boston Cemetery, and it is only five minutes away down that walking path. You just need to go there and make a tombstone rubbing from the year 1864. I will go up to Johnson’s barn to find a pitchfork. Tiffany, you can go to the gas station near the bus. It says to get coffin nails, which by my estimation means cigarettes.”
“This is the worst list,” Zoe complained. “Who asks people to walk around at midnight to find pitchforks, coffin nails, and tombstones?”
“Where is your sense of adventure?”
“At home in bed.”
“We don’t have time for this,” Susie huffed. “We’re going to win, but not without your help. We did so well on the other items. If we all hurry, we’ll meet back at the bus in less than ten minutes. We’ll be done before everyone else gets to the tour bus. We’ll win!”
“Fine, but I’ll have you know, I don’t appreciate being the one to go to an abandoned cemetery.” Zoe gazed at the two women with narrowed eyes.
“You’ll be fine. Now, go! Remember Las Vegas and how awesome it’s gonna to be. Come on, Tiffany, let’s get moving.” With that, the two other women started jogging away from Zoe. Their flashlights jumping with each stride.
“Remember Las Vegas,” Zoe mimicked sarcastically as she pulled her lightweight jacket tighter around her. She’d run up the trail and find the damn grave. Then she’d give Susie and Tiffany a piece of her mind, and she would claim ownership of the biggest bedroom in their Vegas hotel. Shining her flashlight in front of her, she set out toward the cemetery.
The Ohio cemetery wasn’t overly large, due to the fact that Boston Township was nonexistent now. The government had bought out the entire village more than forty years ago and declared it a natural park. Rumor was the buyout was due to some sort of chemical spill, but no one could provide positive proof of such an occurrence. Eventually all the houses were demolished, and the last lingering soul moved from the city years ago. So, out went the townsfolk and in came the ghost hunters and paranormal weirdos.
Now you’re one of the weirdos, her brain teased.
Zoe shook her head and continued to shine her flashlight on the tractor path leading to the graveyard. Two minutes later, she illuminated the trail in front of her with her slim flashlight and stared at the paths that veered away from each other. She’d been here a time or two before, but didn’t remember the path splintering off. Taking the path on the right, she walked a few feet, but grew confused when she came to another fork.
In front of her, a broken fence rose eerily in the moonlight, and she startled when she thought she saw a shape move in the darkness. Zoe picked up her pace, but soon realized she didn’t see the cemetery that should have been right in front of her. Quickly bringing out her cell phone, she turned on the GPS, and typed in the cemetery in the search box. Her phone stated she was three minutes away from her destination.
Shining the flashlight in front of her, she stared at the screen and followed its directions. Finally spotting the raised area that protected the old cemetery plots, she picked up her pace. She put her cell phone in her jacket pocket as she took in the occupants of the deserted town’s cemetery. A twig snapping somewhere beside her caused her to squeak in fright. She stopped and listened, but only the rustling leaves overhead sang to her.
She told herself it was just her imagination. She knew she had plenty of it. It also didn’t help that the cemetery was known to be home to an odd satanic cult or two. Her heart beat faster. “1864,” she repeated to herself. “Find the grave and get out of here.” She quickly shined her light on the waist high gravestones. All the years were wrong, so she kept walking in search of the elusive 1864.
Another sound, a gasp, floated through the cemetery. She whirled to frantically scan her surroundings for some sign of person or animal, but she could see nothing in the utter blackness outside her feeble light. She took a deep breath to calm her jumpy nerves. Circling to shine her flashlight around her, she searched the gravestones for the needed year. Off to her right side, she spotted a potential. Quickly walking to the grave, elation filled her as she spied the date.
She hit the jackpot! She reached into her purse, grabbed a piece of folded paper, and scratched a pencil across the paper and gravestone. It wasn’t a professional gravestone rubbing, but she wasn’t about to whip out a water bottle, take time out to tape up her paper, get rubbing wax, and create art. She just needed a date to verify she was in a cemetery in the middle of the night, by herself.
She was a fool.
As she berated herself, another sound drifted from behind her. What was that? A strange gurgle emanated somewhere outside her field of vision. The darkness spoke, terrifying Zoe. Her flashlight beam jumped from gravestone to gravestone.
A deep voice, a chant, rose from the graveyard, stopping her in her tracks. Zoe pulled her cell phone out of her pocket. She realized this probably wasn’t her brightest idea, but she was curious enough to investigate. It was possible teenagers were in the midst of a Halloween prank, and she was about to go viral on some punk’s webpage. But if she caught them on camera first, she might be able to turn the tables.
The chanting grew louder and more feverish, and Zoe moved forward in search of the culprit. The smell of something vile and rotten permeated her senses. Suddenly Zoe found herself standing in front of a man crouching over a body lying prone on the ground. Leaves rustled around the pair, shifting and whispering. Without thought, she picked up her phone and pressed her finger on the picture button. The area lit up with the camera’s flash just as the man raised a long knife above the body on the ground.
Zoe screamed as the man slashed the knife forcefully downward. The man’s hands jerked at the sound of Zoe’s voice, but the knife buried to the hilt in the victim’s chest. The body writhed and gasped. Horror gripped Zoe, holding her immobile.
The man incredulously stared at her as she came upon the scene. His eyes glittered dangerously, signaling retribution of the interruption. Long, dark hair fell over his brow and plastered across his gaunt face. Dark clothes hid his shape.
Zoe pulled her gaze from the man to gawk at the body. The light from the moon illuminated a young man with bright blond hair who stared sightlessly into space. He was dead. Her brain barely registered the thought before her body’s flight or fight response kicked in. She instantly spun around to run and slammed headfirst into the outstretched arm of a praying angel. She stumbled backward and cried out as pain sliced across her cheekbone. Lights sparkled across her vision.
Grasping her cell phone, she ordered her limbs to aid in the escape and sprinted as fast as she could out of the cemetery. She pumped her arms and legs and flew over the tractor path. She’d dropped her flashlight in the cemetery, but the nearly full moon illuminated the path. She ran past the spot where Tiffany and Susie argued with her, she ran past the field where they pulled a corn husk from, and she ran past the beaten down sign declaring the road closed to Boston Township.
As Zoe ran, fear nearly choked her with every stride. Oh my God, I just saw a murder! Disbelief clouded her brain. Blood dripped down the side of her face from her run-in with the cemetery statue, but she continued her escape to safety. She didn’t want to die, and she had no idea if the man followed her. She didn’t look back for fear of stumbling on the rocky terrain, so she concentrated on the ground in front of her. Her ears strained to listen for chasing footsteps, but pounding of her heart made it impossible.
She tripped over a rock, her phone flew out of her hands, but she wasn’t about to stop and search for it. She continued to run. Every step she took seemed to escalate the fear that attempted to claw its way out. She pictured the murdered running behind her, sinking his knife in her back, and she pushed the thought away. She steered her mind away from the horrible images and forced herself to concentrate on the path ahead, not the possibility of the monster behind her.
The lights of the awaiting tour bus came into view. Zoe used one last burst of speed to get to safety. The man wouldn’t be idiotic enough to chase her into a crowded bus, would he? Her side ached, and she knew she was nearing the end of her endurance. “Help me!” she screamed as she ran closer. “Please! Call the police!”
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