By all accounts Autumn Grace appears to be a normal sixteen year-old. She is preoccupied with the same things as many girls her age: boys, school, having fun with her friends. Brought up as an only child, Autumn has a good relationship with her parents and despite partying on the weekends and getting into occasional mischief, she keeps good grades and never gets into any real trouble. About to finish her junior year of high school, the soon-to-be seventeen year-old should be eagerly waiting the long summer ahead and then entering her senior year. However, everything becomes derailed when Autumn starts learning about a secret. In fact, this secret is about to turn her life upside-down and take her on a harrowing journey through the darkest regions of mankind.
Autumn’s secret starts off with a little girl in the woods. However, like ghostly pieces to a macabre puzzle, only parts of this secret are exposed, little by little. But the more Autumn learns, the more the mystery seems to deepen. Why was this secret even revealed to her? What does it mean? How can she even possibly know the things she does? Is it real? Where will it all lead? These are all questions Autumn must answer in order to solve this haunting puzzle and free herself from its sinister grasp. But this is far from just a case of deciphering some riddle. This mystery will take Autumn places that she never knew existed –even in her darkest nightmares. It will make her question her own sanity, question reality. It will take her face to face with evil in its purest form. It will stretch her bounds of fear and sorrow beyond their breaking points. And even if she finds all the answers, she will never be the same again.
The foreboding darkness of the starless night stretched into infinity. The only light: the ominous glow of a crescent moon that hung above like a beckoning sign of doom. There was no mistaking that evil lived here. It lurked within the coldness of the air and in the damp scent of the ground. It howled in the cries of the wind that brushed against the hollow trees. It suffocated any last lingering thoughts of hope.
Just below the bare, brittle branches of the trees stood the faceless silhouette of a little girl that could not have been more than ten years old. Draped in a dirt-covered nightgown she stood there silently, her small, bare feet against the hard, cold ground of the woods. Who was she? What was she doing there? Was she oblivious to the monsters that surely lurked, waiting in the darkness? Clearly she must have been lost, but how could such a young girl wander so far from innocence into a world, which knew none. As her ghostly silhouette slowly came into focus, it appeared that the dirt that covered her nightgown was not dirt at all… it was blood! It was smeared all over and looked to be still wet and dripping.
Suddenly, a piercing scream echoed through the darkened woods like the sound of a thousand last breaths. Oh, what a hideous noise! Where could it have come from? It was hard to tell, because it reverberated from every direction, as if it came from the trees themselves. But it was a human scream. Someone was out there in the nearby distance meeting a most torturous fate. But it was too dangerous to try to find whoever it was. It was too perilous to venture any further into the waiting jaws of the woods. Was this some kind of test? Was it to see if someone would risk their own life to save another? Perhaps any good person would, but standing there, it was not such an easy decision. Evil never felt so evil. Hope never felt so hopeless. Hell never felt so real.
Covered in cold sweat, Autumn lunged straight up in her bed in a moment of panic. After taking a few seconds to gather her composure and look around, she realized it was just a bad dream – a nightmare. Still out of breath, the sixteen year-old used her arm to wipe the sweat from her forehead. Yet it still dripped down the rest of her body. The red glowing numbers on the small clock that sat on the nightstand read 6:15am. Wanting to do anything but fall back to sleep, Autumn turned off the alarm that was set for 6:45 and decided to get ready for school.
After a long, hot shower Autumn finished getting ready and headed downstairs. While going into the kitchen for a glass of juice, the high school junior was stopped by her mother, Joanne. “Autumn Grace, didn’t I ask you twice yesterday to take out the garbage?” She squawked in a stern, but controlled voice.
Autumn let out an exasperated sigh. “Sorry, I forgot.”
Mrs. Grace, who was already dressed and ready for work, crossed her arms. “Well I guess that makes it okay then, doesn’t it?”
“C’mon mom, it’s no big deal. I’ll just take it out now. I didn’t hear the garbage truck come by yet.”
“It’s too late, I already took it out.” With her day already off to a dismal start, Autumn waited for what was coming next. “You know Autumn, if you can’t even remember to take out the garbage how can your father and I feel confident about leaving you alone next month when we go away?”
Since her parents booked their cruise over two months ago, they had been hounding her about being responsible and taking care of the house. It was the first time Autumn would have the house to herself. As any sixteen year-old would, she was looking forward to it, but was fed up with the way her parents –especially her mother – dangled it over her head. “Okay mom, I said I was sorry. My God, it’s not the end of the world or anything.”
Realizing there was no use in pressing the issue any further, Mrs. Grace changed the subject as she walked over to the refrigerator. “Did you study for your history test?”
“Yessss,” Autumn replied while grabbing a glass from the cabinet.
“I still can’t believe they’re making you take tests so close to finals.”
Autumn held out the glass as her mother filled it with orange juice. “Well it’s kinda like trial tests to prepare us for finals. I’ll tell ya’ though, by the time school is finished I don’t think I’ll ever want to see another test again as long as I live.”
Her mother smiled. “We all had to go though it Autumn.”
Before heading off to work, Joanne gave her daughter a kiss on the forehead and wished her good luck on the test. It was then time for Autumn to finish her juice and stand in front of the mirror one last time before catching her ride to school. With great concentration she made sure that her long, brown hair was perfectly in place and that the subtle make-up she wore was precise. The bangs had to hang just right. The mascara couldn’t be too thick. Everything had to be perfect. After all, where was appearance more important than in high school? Autumn might not have been conceited, but she was a sixteen year-old girl.
Suddenly, a car horn broke the silence of the house. It was Kelly. After grabbing her faded black, backpack and turning off the bathroom lights, Autumn rushed outside. The bright, blue Arizona sky seemed a drastic contrast to the dark and ominous world she had awaken from only an hour earlier. Ready for the long day ahead, the brown-eyed teen threw her backpack in the back of the 1986 Ford Mustang and jumped into the front seat.
“Hey Kell,” she said with a smile. “Ready for another day?”
“I guess so,” Autumn replied. “Thank god there’s not too many left before summer.” With that, the two teens were off under the already hot May Sun.
Autumn and Kelly had been best friends since sixth grade. Although in high school, their social circle expanded, the two remained inseparable. As freshmen they even dated two guys who were also best friends. They were not the most popular girls in school, but were far from being loners or outcasts. In fact most people knew who they were and most guys would have jumped at the opportunity to go out with them. However, Kelly was stuck in an on again, off again relationship with some guy she had been seeing for over a year. Autumn, who had dated several guys over the past two years, never seemed to find a lasting relationship.
Two of the guys cheated on her and the other one – well they just weren’t compatible. For all their misfortunes in finding true love though, the girls still had each other. They were a team. They looked out for each other.
As Led Zeppelin played on the radio, Kelly weaved in and out of the sporadic traffic that lined the open Arizona roads.
“So what are we doin’ tomorrow?” Kelly asked as she unknowingly cut-off a car.
“I don’t know,” Autumn answered nonchalantly.
“I can’t believe its Thursday already and we don’t even have any plans yet. Usually we have the weekend all planned out by Wednesday afternoon.” As a car drove by with two guys hanging out the windows whistling, Kelly gave them a flirtatious wave. Then it was back to mapping out the weekend. “Hey, you know Jason Krull is having a party tomorrow night. We can go there. Whatdya’ think? There should be at least a few cute guys there.” Kelly paused to let Autumn respond, but there was no reply. “Hey Autumn, are you even listening to me?” There was still nothing. “Autumn,” Kelly nearly shouted.
Finally Autumn turned her head. “What?”
“You didn’t hear a word I said did you? What were you zoning out or something?”
Autumn lowered the volume on the radio. “No, I’m sorry,” she replied in a drab voice. “It’s just that I haven’t gotten much sleep the last couple of days. I’ve been having these fucking nightmares about this little girl in the woods.”
Stopping for a red light, Kelly turned to her friend. “A little girl in the woods?”
“Yeah,” Autumn answered in a serious voice. “I’ve been having them for the last couple of days. The other night I woke up in the middle of the night and it took me an hour to get back to sleep.”
“Well what’s so freaky about a little girl in the woods,” Kelly asked in a voice that was more inquisitive than mocking.
Autumn stared aimlessly out the windshield as she recalled the reoccurring dreams that had never plagued her before. In fact she rarely even remembered her dreams, let alone had ones that kept her up at night. “I don’t know. It’s kinda’ hard to explain. I guess it’s more of a feeling than anything else. It just seems like such a spooky place. You know, it’s all dark and gloomy and the trees feel like they’re watching you.”
“What about the little girl?”
“Most of the time she’s just walking around like she’s lost or something. The other night she kept pointing to something, but when I went to look all I remember is waking-up, covered in sweat. I don’t remember seeing anything, but something must have scared the shit out of me. And then this morning I had a dream that her nightgown was covered in blood. Then I think I remember this person screaming.” Autumn paused. “I guess though the freakiest thing about the dreams is that they feel so real.”
“You know what? I betchya’ this is all because of those two girls that were abducted. It’s been all over the fucking news.
I betchya that’s what it is. I mean it is scary shit when you think about it.”
Autumn shook her head. “Yeah, maybe you’re right.”