toanend

To An End
By KJS

Disclaimer: The Blair Witch Project and its characters are not mine. I make no profit off this story, I do it of love, and acknowledge the creative genius of its creators. :) The Twana quote is taken from blairwitch.com. This whole story was based on excessive theorizing based on the first film. I'm a huge Mike fan, so I continue to believe that he's alive somewhere. Anyway, I'd like to give big hugs to all the people that have reviewed this story. I'm surprised at the response my tale has gotten over the past months, and deliriously pleased.

12/02/00: This story first posted.
4/22/01: Story updated with a few spelling errors fixed and some basic alterations to try and smooth out the phrasing.
6/28/01: Further revision of the story. Fixed some phrasing, added description, just had some basic renovation.

****************************

"Twana: -The dark power in the forest has access to multiple planes of reality.
-The planes are timeless realms-elements of the past, present, and future interwoven
into other dimensions.
-The arrangement of stones in a pattern similar to the characters in an ancient alphabet
called Twana opens portals to other dimensions."

****************************

"What...."

The winds howled around him, leaves dancing lightly across the skies, hesitating above him before landing on his face. Leaves. Something familiar.

"Heather...."

Faces. A memory. Something else familiar. With a slight groan, he tried stretching his arms out but a sharp pain racing up his side quickly made him regret it. Clutching his side, he attempted to push himself to his feet. The mud underneath him quickly made it a challenge. Slowly, painfully, he rose and staggered forward, slipping all the while. He blinked for a moment, staring around him as he retained a precarious balance. "It wasn't a dream," he mumbled, trying to take another step forward, but sagging to his knees instead. A dream? That what was a dream?

Then it hit him. He had been in these woods, he had been screaming, running in terror. Those faces were his friends.

He knew it didn't make sense, that it *had* to be a dream. This wasn't where it had ended, where he had heard that final scream before blacking out. No. It wasn't a scream. *She* was the last one to say anything, not Heather. No, certainly not Heather. God, he wanted to hate Heather for this, for everything. But he couldn't, and a part of him could only feel pity. She seemed to want the project so badly. He even remembered her saying that the witch probably wasn't so bad... Bullshit, he now knew. They'd all screwed up, really, but it wasn't really their fault: it was *her*. Not him, not them. Another wave of nausea passed through him, the excruciating feeling in his side keeping him from trying to stand up again. A second moan left his lips. As everything swam around him, the trees blurring together, twining like the leaves in the sky, he tried in vain to recall what she had said to him, the words just before he had blacked out the second time.

'I'm finished.' It echoed through his mind for a moment, the sleepy feeling overpowering him. Mike passed out to the sound of faint shouting in the distance.

****************************

"Hey kid."

"Nmmph?"

"Son, are you awake?" A friendly, low voice forced itself into his mind, the hazy visions of unconsciouness finally fleeing. Mike blinked for a moment, noting that the pain had lessened before trying to sit up. Oh god. There it was. Every inch of his body felt bruised, every bone like it had been ripped apart and hapharzardly pieced back together. Even his brain felt like it had gone through a meat grinder.

"Man, I've got such a fucking headache, *shit*....," he mumbled, just shaking his head. God. The dreams... Passing out had brought a vivid barrage of those last moments, of the entire time in the woods. Walking, sunlight glaring into his eyes, the wispy images seen from the corner of his eye as he took a terrifying dash through the woods, Heather's voice piercing it all... But this time he could always see her eyes, following him, waiting. They scorched him, slow embers waiting for a chance. Luring him to the house, that fucking *house*. But now he was awake and the sunlight streamed into the room, a faint comfort accompanying. When it was day, he was safe. He knew that. He could trust that. It was the one thought he could cling to that might preserve his sanity.

The man that loomed over him looked like something out of one of Mike's history books in high school. Even in a small town like Burkittsville, the residents had dressed in the jeans and t-shirts of modern-day America. This guy was... different. Mike squinted for a moment, trying to capture some sort of explanation. His eyes strayed to the rest of the room, noticing there was something very, very lacking. Hospitals always had that smell to them, those clipboards and various medical equipment that just sat there, looking all sinister and pointy. Not this room. Where *was* he?

The stranger responded with a raised eyebrow, his expression one tinged by slight shock, turning into a sharp stare. "I'd be careful with that mouth, son." Shaking his head slightly, the figure just leaned over slightly and stared down at him. Mike felt himself twitching slightly under the gaze. God, he felt confused. "Who are you? And what were you doing out in those woods, anyway? You looked like you'd been hitting the bottle pretty hard when we picked you up."

"No, I haven't had a drink in days...," he answered, his voice slightly hoarse. Far too long. He felt the urge to drink something, *anything*, to get rid of the fear. "Mike, I-I'm Michael Williams. I go to Montgomery College, I was out here on a project... Making a documentary on the Blair Witch," he stammered slightly, still glancing about. Yeah. Makin' movies, he thought, a slight sneer in his mental voice. So maybe he was a little bitter, but the resentment had lost any particular direction. A more pressing question came to his mind. "Where am I, anyway? And," his voice caught slightly, "was... was there anyone else out there?" There was a nagging prick in the back of his mind, a sinking feeling that swelled up and told him that there wasn. But he had to try. Even with the faintest chance, he had to try and believe that they might have gotten out as well, and escaped Her. He had, after all.

"No, sorry. 'Mike', you said?" Mike felt any hope within him immediately wither, and he let his head droop. No. Josh. Heather. Even if they had both managed to annoy the hell out of him at some points, he wanted them to live. Fuck it, he needed them there. Maybe he could have been friends with Heather after the project, and gotten to know Josh better. He could almost see them hanging out at the college, laughing, going over to watch all the footage they shot. Someday, we'll laugh, she said. He almost missed the man's next statement. "I'm Mr. Meyrs, I'm the doctor 'round here... You had quite a few bruises and cuts, they wanted me to take a look at 'em. Where is this Montgomery College, anyway? I've never heard of it."

"Well, it--" Mike was cut off as he nearly slumped back, another wave of dizziness passing over him. The room was swimming, its dusty shelves suddenly seeming like the ceiling, the walls swirling until something caught his eye. A calendar... The month turned to May? Wait. "What day is it?"

"May 24th," Mr. Meyrs responded, only pausing for a moment as he gave Mike a curious glance. "Don't you remember?" Shaking it off, he offered Mike an arm to lean on as the young man staggered to his feet, grateful for something to support him. "Let's go and get you out of those strange clothes... You're covered with mud." The doctor's light blue eyes turned up on his knit hat, critically. "What is that design on your cap?"

Automatically, Mike's hand reached up to feel the familiar Woody Woodpecker embroidery. "Woody... Was a present from my mom. Wait, *May*?" Before Meyrs could stop him, he stumbled forward, eyes widening as he stared at the calendar. '1941', it proclaimed in its black script. "Is this calendar right?!" Desperately, he whirled around to face the doctor. This was too much, too painful, and his eyes pleaded for it to be wrong. 'This can't be, what the *fuck* is going on here?'

The doctor's brow furrowed, concern etching itself on his expression. "Please, sit down, whatever you've been through has confused you. Of course it's accurate. How long were you in those woods, did you say?"

Mike slowly made his way back to the hard cot, sitting back down with a thump. Blankly, he stared at the calendar, ignoring its mocking number, the way it seemed to be the only thing he *could* look at. He didn't understand. Shit.

"A week, I'd guess. Heather, Josh, and I. It was just a project. A scouted out project. Just for a few days."

A few days of hell. Every second since they got out of that car and entered those woods was hanging on him, and he could feel his eyelids beginning to droop. He just wanted to escape it all. Sleep began to overpower Mike, even with the questions running rampant through his mind, and it seemed more enticing with the faint hope that maybe, just maybe, he wouldn't wake up. Curling back up on the bed, ignoring the doctor, he let himself fall back asleep. It wasn't safe in the dark, but he couldn't care. Everything he knew, his job, his parents, his brother, Jennifer, all of it was over fifty years in the future. And he didn't have an idea in hell about why.

Darkness slipped around him, with the call of an owl heralding his dreams.

****************************

"Heather! Josh! Josh, where are you?!" Mike's screams ripped from his throat, echoing among the trees. No answer came, not any of the sounds that had plagued them, not Heather's similar shrieks, not even the howling wind through the trees. There was nothing. Once his shouts died away, he found only silence. Somehow, that was more unnerving than anything before. It seemed to hide things better than the darkness.

Before he knew it, he had begun to run. He didn't know where, he didn't even know why. He just had to get out of there, hear the sound of the ground crunching under his boots, find *something*. He didn't care what it was at this point. His friends, the witch, the police... Dammit, he didn't care. Just something.

Soon the path looked familiar. Too familiar. As the trees bent overhead, blocking out even the silvery glare of the moon, he found himself dashing past strange surroundings: piles of rocks rose from the ground, stick figures hidden among the trees began to glow a sinister crimson. That's when he found himself in front of the house again, and just as before he climbed the steps. No screams led him this time; it was something inside him. Something drawing him forward. Another panicked sound came through his throat. "Anyone?"

Rushing through the house, the leering symbols still followed him. Blazen against the cracked paint of the crumbling walls was that damned stick figure symbol. Other, splashing symbols were scrawled about, along with hundreds of child-sized handprints. But still it was silent, except for the creak of the boards below his feet.

Faster, faster, he tore down the stairs. The cellar. That's where Mike wanted to be, strange as it sounded, even to himself. He *needed* to go down there. Damn, now he was even confusing himself.

Step by step, every creak and stumble led him closer to his goal, and every step made him want to go faster. Finally, he reached the bottom. Everything was as it was before, just for that moment. Then something sent a chill up his spine, a bit of color in the corner of his eye. Whipping his head around, a slow look of horror worked its way across his face, mechanical walking driving him towards it. He wanted to close his eyes, he wanted to scream and cry, but he couldn't. Mike stood over the two piles, the tears finally dripping down his cheeks. God. No.

The stench of decay wafted around the area, accenting the sight. Bones were piled in two stacks, bits of flesh and muscle still clinging to them. Dark hair mingled among the other strands of blond and brown. Scraps of fabric, soaked with blood, poked through the carnage; one pile had ripped camouflage, a few torn strips of a pale blue and white flannel shirt. He knew that shirt, had seen it too often... A final note was a claw pendant, the white piece matching the bone below.

The other had a blood-soaked, purple scarf that seemed more maroon now... Hers. A compass, broken, was the final mocking point among the remains, barely seen under a small group of bones attached by a few messy ligaments. This was all there was of his friends. The tears continued to blur his vision, when something else was noticed; a flicker of movement was dancing in his peripheral vision.

Spinning around, he found himself face to face with that corner he remembered so clearly, but this time, it was already occupied. Staring quietly was a young boy watching him with dull, lifeless eyes. Not uttering a sound, the boy raised his arm slightly, beckoning to Mike. Those bloodshot eyes just watched him, reflecting something that the college student didn't want to contemplate. Terrified, he found himself edging forward slightly, reaching out himself. He touched the boy's hand, before feeling a sudden coldness surrounding him.

Then suddenly, it wasn't that strange boy anymore; it was himself, staring back at him with those same frightening eyes that the child had focused on him. Mike found himself staring into his own gaze, when once more he was facing the corner.

That was when he started to scream.

****************************

"Mike! Sonny, are you okay?" Mike found himself awoken by shaking, Dr. Meyrs standing over him and grabbing him by the shoulders.

He just shook his head slightly, trembling. "God, that was..."

"A nightmare," Meyrs finished, sitting down beside the shaking young man. "Want to tell me about it?" The patronizing tone made Mike wince.

"No," Mike mumbled, staring down at his feet as he clasped his trusty Woody Woodpecker hat tightly in his hands. It reminded him of the woods... But also of home. Still, he relented slightly. Maybe it would help exorcise his demons. "I was back in the woods. With my friends. I-I couldn't find them, and when I did, they were dead." The tears once more threatened him. He wanted to scream, jump up and punch the fucking wall, *anything*. I'm not going crazy, I'm not going crazy, he chanted inwardly, his mind screaming. Fuck, why does it matter? I was insane in the end in those woods, and damned if I'm not now. God, why the hell did that comfort him so much? I'm never gonna leave this, am I? Insanity, the woods, he was trapped in that corner.

Meyrs just stared at him for a moment, before giving Mike a slight pat on the shoulder. A pathetic attempt at comfort. "Well, we're going to go talk to the Sheriff tomorrow, see about your friends. I think he'd like to hear your story. I think *I'd* like to hear your story. All of it."

Mike just gave a slight nod, dazed still from the dream. It was 1941, how the hell was he going to explain it? Maybe he was dead. Or in a dream. It wouldn't hurt to tell the truth, would it? Of course not. No. Certainly. He was going to wake up, or find the light, or whatever the hell was required of him. If some shitstorm had come and he truly *was* here, well, it couldn't hurt that much. Not at all.

Sleep once more came over him, and again he was haunted by visions that made the tears roll down his face, falling silently onto his pillow as he slumbered restlessly.

***************************

Mike awoke to the sound of slight clattering in the next room, the clink of glassware. Mumbling a few curses under his breath, he slowly rolled off the cot and got to his feet. Still here. Dammit. His uncertain steps carried him towards the door, when Mr. Meyrs suddenly strode in, bumping into him and nearly knocking him over.

"Oh!" Meyrs seemed startled, a hand reaching out to steady Mike before he fell again. "Hey, you shouldn't be wandering around. But since you are," he paused for a moment, before a crooked smile appeared on his face, "let's go chat with the Sheriff."

Soundlessly, Mike gave a slight nod and leaned against the doorframe, taking a few deep breaths. Okay. I'll wake up soon, I will, he mumbled in his mind, before trying to put on a smile. It looked more like a grimace.

With the town doctor's help, Mike was able to stumble and make his way to the rickety building at the corner. He stared at it for a moment, watching the screen door swing back and forth slightly, a slight squeaking arising from each small movement. There was something odd in this little town. A few people were out at this time in the afternoon, the sun already beginning to dip towards the horizon. Every one of those gave him an odd look, but there was something else. Something was unsettled in this place, a tension that hid underneath expressions.

"Mike?" Meyrs voice broke through his thoughts, and the college student peered over at where the doctor stood, planted by the screen door. His shuffled pace speeding up, when he arrived up the stairs he was greeted by another stranger. "This is Sheriff Damon Bowers. Sheriff, this is Michael Williams."

"Um, hello," Mike quietly greeted. The sheriff just stared at him for a moment, eyebrow raised slightly. He jerked his thumb towards the hanging screen door, the wind making it squeak as it swung gently.

"Let's go inside and chat, shall we?" Mike gave a tiny nod, follow after the dark-haired Sheriff. A dream. Yes. He could keep telling himself that.

Mike followed the pair of proud-striding men inside, dully staring about. It was a cramped office, papers neatly stacked everywhere with pens scattered and a small radio unobtrusive in one corner of the desk. But something drew his eye, and the college student quickly slipped over to the desk, sliding past one of the wooden chairs to stare at a few pieces of paper tacked up on the wall. A series of eight pictures made him freeze. All were of children, blank faces that didn't matter much to him, but there was one that did. One that stood out, made him peer closer. Oh god. "Who is this?" He quickly turned his head staring at the two puzzled men. He jabbed a finger at the picture to emphasize his point.

"That," the Sheriff stated, stepping over to Mike's side, "is Kyle Brody. Nine years old, and vanished a little while back." His voice immediately became curious, even suspicious. "Why?"

Kids vanishing... Mike blinked for a moment, lowering his head slightly. Too familiar, he had heard it all as he recorded it on the DAT. "No reason. He looked like someone I once met. That's all." Met... No, those eyes were staring into his head. That was more that meeting. He had been haunted by Kyle Brody, plagued. Why this kid?

"Now, Michael," the voice cut through his musing, and Mike turned to face the Sheriff. "A couple of fishermen found you out in the woods a few days ago, and the doctor says you've been babbling something about your friends. Mind some explanation?" As if remembering something, probably due to the jab in the ribs by Mr. Meyrs, he shoved a chair gently towards Mike. "Sit down, and tell us what happened. In order."

Mike sunk into the chair, staring up at the two men with a bleak expression painted across his face. What could he do? Now was the time to decide. The truth? Fuck, what should I do... I mean... I... With his thoughts breaking down, he just slowly shook his head and mumbled his explanation quickly. "We were out in the woods, me and Heather and Josh. Working on Heather's project, about the history of the Blair Witch--." He was cut off.

Sheriff Bowers glared down at him, muted hazel eyes taking on a spark of irritation. "We don't need any of this talk about that witch nonsense, had enough of it with the kids disappearing!"

Mike felt his own irritation flare, offering a hard look back. "Do you want the story or not? We were researching the legend, and wanted to go... take pictures around the woods." Best not to get into the video cameras, he knew. "We got lost. Heather claimed to understand the map, but we never got to back out of the woods. Then Josh," his voice started to break up slightly, the fragile grip on the memories already starting to slip, "vanished. Just wasn't there. We thought he left for help. Heather and I kept going, we had to, y'know? But we were still lost, and we couldn't sleep, and then..." He was shaking, voice trailing off as the thoughts that had danced in his dreams resurfaced. God. Fuck. Even the memories hurt. "Then..."

"Take it easy," Meyrs reassured, placing a hand on Mike's shoulder as he cast a significant look up at Sheriff Bowers. "I think that's enough for now. His friends probably got lost, maybe fell in an old animal trap or something. After this much time with no sign, I don't know how we'll find them." Once again he glanced down at his patient, noticing the tremors running through him.

Bowers wasn't quite satisfied, giving the student a sharp look. "If you've been researching the witch legend, why haven't we seen you around?"

At this, Mike just looked up, a sad smile crossing his face. "We looked it up somewhere else. Somewhere far away," he murmured.

The interrogation was interrupted by the clatter of footsteps racing up the creaky wooden stairs. "Sheriff!" A voice frantically yelped as it echoed into the room. A shaggy blond man quickly darted inside, showing himself to be the voice's owner. Fear glinted in his eyes, the lean figure bending over slightly as he attempted to catch his breath. "Something... odd... thought... you... should... come."

"What's up, Riley?" Bowers immediately asked of him, giving the man a hearty thump on the back. "You okay?"

"Fine," Riley gulped, giving a vigorous nod. "But Rustin came into town, and is acting a little strange."

Mike just stared for a moment, no longer forgotten as he blurted out, "Rustin Parr?" He remembered too well the name, the lingering image of Kyle Brody's eyes upon him, along with a suspicion of what look must have been on each of the children's faces as they died.

All three of the others looked at him sharply, remembering his presence with a soul-piercing stare. "You know that name?" Bowers was the first to speak up.

"I've heard it," Mike mumbled, before giving a slight nod to the affirmative. Riley just shook his head, continuing rapidly.

"He came into town, said he was 'done' with something... It's suspicious, Damon, mark my words. Think a few of your men could go up to his house, maybe check around?" Riley gave the Sheriff a hopeful look, pleading in his eyes.

Sheriff Bowers gave a slight sigh before nodding, just shaking his head ruefully. "I'll go up with them personally. Keep an eye on Parr while I'm up there. Doctor?" Suddenly he turned to face Meyrs, a slight glint in his eye. "Would you and Mr. Williams here care to accompany me? Since he was found in the woods, I'm curious...." Whatever remained unsaid was enough to make Mike slump farther, even though a nagging part of him wanted him to go.

"Well," the doctor stammered, surprised, "I supposed. I mean, if Mike's willing to go, then certainly." The attempt at a smile showed another bit of nervousness. His skills might be needed, and that was the worse potential of all.

The Sheriff gave a small nod, before his gaze flickered over to Mike. For a moment, he just sat there, staring down at the wooden floor, shifting slightly in his chair. Here was the choice, to go see what or who was out there, or stay here and rot with his sanity. There was little difference to him. Everything was a bad option. After a few long seconds, he gave his quiet answer. "Sure. I'll come."

Quick steps against the floor, Sheriff Bowers was already halfway out the door, following Riley. Meyrs gave one concerned look back at Mike. He still hadn't moved. Why am I going? He's gonna get me if I go back to that house, I know it, I'm gonna die..., he inwardly cried, before he shook his head and slowly got to his feet. Shuffling towards the door after the doctor, he didn't try to hide the pained look on his face. The house. Great.

****************************

He thought the walk through the woods would take longer. Maybe it was the relentless hiking with Josh and Heather that had made him believe that, struggling against the weight of the pack, walking in circles when they had checked the compass every few minutes. This time, there wasn't that frustration.

Mike was nervous at first as they stepped into the woods, traveling up the trails, the sounds of dried leaves crunching below their feet. Six other men had accompanied them, grim looking officers who only gave Mike a quick once-over. Soon, though, came the realization that they were actually going somewhere. Breathing slowing, he managed to remain calm, fighting the hysteria threatening to bubble over every time a flash of memory came, every time a tree or bush looked familiar.

It took less than an hour to get there. Trudging up the hills, a strange sense of urgency among them, they soon arrived before an older building, still in good repair. Mike could only stare at it, letting out a breath he didn't remember holding, and feeling the tightening of fear in his chest. The house was much different in daylight, far less ominous, and in much better repair. But he still felt uneasy, partially from remembering what had happened inside to the children, what none of the other men knew yet.

"C'mon, let's take a look inside," Bowers stated, waving at the milling group to follow him through the door. Walking past the woodpile on the front porch, Mike just quickened his pace, following on the sheriff's heels. He had to see, had to see for sure...

They'd barely entered when they saw the first horror. Just inside the door, leaning against the door frame as if it were the only thing in the world to hold him up, was Kyle Brody.

He was different than in the photo, but Mike could so easily recognize him. This wasn't the stolen child, this was the one from his nightmares. The healthy pallor had died, the boy's face ashen as he stared at them. He had certainly lost weight, his limbs far too skinny and his cheeks sunken. It was his eyes that made the sheriff look away, that made Mike cringe slightly. They held a fear, a deadness that none of them had seen before, a terrifying look held within the gaze of a trembling boy.

After a second's stunned pause, they rushed forward to the child, all spouting questions at once.

"Where are you?"

"What happened?"

"What about the others?"

It all came pouring out, but Kyle just covered his ears, shaking his head as he mumbled. For a moment, he looked up at Mike, staring into his eyes. The older survivor felt a chill on his spine, a silent eternity passing between them. Those dark eyes reflected his every fear. Then it was gone, and Kyle finally managed to speak.

"He.... He put me in the corner. Made me look away while he killed them. But I could hear them screaming. He... he wouldn't stop hurting them, he said she made him do it," Kyle cried, tears streaking down his face as he clung to one of the men, a gentle-faced older man. Pure terror seemed to wrap itself around the boy, and the man seemed to almost want to draw back for a split second.

"There, there," the man reassured slowly, resting a thick hand on the boy's dark hair. "We've got him, and it'll be okay. We're going to take you back, okay?" Leaning back, he made a point of staring into Kyle's eyes. "It's going to be okay."

God. The chilly sensation once more swept over Mike. He knew it wouldn't be. It would never be okay again. He shook his head slightly as his own hands began to tremble. Sheriff Bowers just looked down at Kyle, resting a light hand on his shoulder as he glanced at the man comforting him. "Nick, you take him back to town," he quietly said, before nodding towards the interior of the house. All the others stepped back, even Mike, while Nick took Kyle's hand and led him out as quickly as the weakened boy could walk. Out of there, it was the only place they wanted to be.

Mike looked up, stepping forward as his eyes widened with shock. It was just as vivid as it was the first time, even without the blind horror sharpening every sense. He faltered, pain flashing before him. Every wall, every bit of peeling plaster was the same. Symbols he couldn't define, random triangles and shapes, were smeared on the wall, while a stench of death and pain seemed to linger in the air, something that made the men turn to each other, murmuring uneasily.

Bowers summed it up for all of them, eyes scanning the room, not understanding the implications. "Shit," he muttered, "What the hell happened here?" Kyle's testimony had only driven the fear into them harder, more painfully.

"Where to first?" A lanky young man stepped forward, disturbed expression still surveying the area as he bit his lower lip. He must have been a bit younger than Mike, slightly muscular and definitely nervous.

"Split up. Eric, you and David go in there. Jared, Bill, and Pete, you look for a way upstairs. The doctor, Michael, and I will try over through that way and look for a way into the cellar. Look for anything odd, anything at all you can think of," Bowers quickly ordered, though by the expressions on the faces of the men, all of whom were glancing about the room again, it was easy to tell their thoughts: what here *wasn't* freaky?

Mike didn't say a word during the orders, just hanging his head as he tried to shut out the images, the dark symbols that leered at him from the walls. Even closing his eyes didn't help, they'd still remain, burned into his eyelids. The doctor rested a hand on his shoulder, jolting him for a moment as he looked up with a slight attempt at a reassuring smile. No. He couldn't let them know how much he wanted to scream, to ram himself into one of these damn walls over and over until he passed out and died.

"C'mon, Mike. Let's check out this place," Bowers managed to state with an upbeat tone. Almost. The confidence was wavering, and they all knew it.

The three slipped through the house, the creaking boards below their feet as the came to the top of the stairs. The Sheriff didn't waste time, cautiously darting down the steps with Meyrs on his heels. Mike just paused for a moment, closing his eyes as he inhaled the thick air around them.

'Josh! I'm coming, Josh!' He could hear his own screams, panicked, while Heather's were only a distant pleading to him. He couldn't feel then, couldn't think. He could only run.

Once more, Meyrs managed to shock him out of his pained haunting. "Mike?" The nervous question was all it took to get him to sigh and begin to trudge down the stairs.

I. Will. Forget. I. Will. Forget, he thought, each step punctuating the mantra. Yes. He could.

Finally, they arrived in the dark, damp cellar. Bowers immediately pulled a flashlight out of his jacket pocket, tossing a second one to Mike, who absently caught it and flicked the light on. The beams barely pierced the darkness, but the faint illumination was all they needed to reveal what they were looking for.

"God almighty...," Meyrs whispered, making a quick prayer before squeezing his eyes shut.

The basement was as Mike remembered it for the most part, dingy with its cracked walls and dim corners. Now, there was something else. Crimson smeared itself across the ground, sinking into the dirt. The blood was splattered across the walls, The three fell silent for a moment, before the flashlights picked up something else. The recently-turned soil had something else sticking out of it: a piece of cloth, tattered dark blue. Another piece nearby, of sunny yellow, now stained.

Bowers took a shaky step forward, crouching before the blood-dripped cloth, not daring to touch it. "Eric Norris.... had a jacket of this. He always wore it, always saw him walk past in the afternoons wearing it," he murmured, his tone somber and low with the effort of hiding the sorrow and fear that wanted to lurk their way into his voice.

The muddy ground squelching below his boots, Mike took a few steps forward as the beam illuminating about to the unsettling site. He didn't know quite where he was going, until he found himself wandering along the wall, the light shining against the foundation's wall. Something, something.... 'What is it?' He whispered to himself, reaching out tentatively to brush the stones. They were cold, so cold... Mike knew there was something prickling at his brain, something *there*. Not yet, not yet, and he spun away from the line of the wall, only to find he had inadvertently wandered to the one place he didn't want to be. Breath caught in his throat, he heard the Sheriff's last words before he collapsed.

"We'll have to dig, God, this is going to be bad... Hey Mike? Mike!"

Josh..., he thought distantly. Heather? Darkness had overwhelmed him, drowning out the sight of where both broken basement walls met, while dreams had finally taken over his reality.

*******************

The opening of 'The Last Train to Clarksville' blared out of the radio, drifting from the police's car's window as the sweltering afternoon heat forced the officers to go over the data inside. Sheriff Cravens paid no attention as the men sat in the chairs in his cramped, oddly-organized office. His concern was the stack of papers on his desk, which he promptly held up for the investigators assembled. "It's one damned hot day, isn't it?" He tried to start the meeting out with a smile, but was greeted only by a few half-smiles or weary glances.

"Certainly... Strange for a day in November up here, isn't it?" FBI agent Casey Stanson was game for a little light conversation, deliberately giving a smile to the disgruntled local Sheriff. "But that's not the only odd thing that this place seems to have."

"I don't know what you mean," Cravens stated, folding his arms defiantly over his chest. He wasn't going to be drawn into this.

Stanson just give his wide, smirking grin as he pushed forward an open manila folder. Paper clipped on the inside were a series of photos and newspaper articles. "Well, aside from this town's history of having people disappear or die," a few discontented murmurs from the local officers arose, "there was an odd incident back with Rustin Parr."

"We all know about that," the Sheriff was quick to interject, ignoring the folder entirely. "That psychopath isn't something to be brought up lightly."

That didn't deter Casey Stanson, who still pushed the folder forward insistently. "Yes. But that wasn't the only strange thing to happen at that time. According to some of the town records found in the library, there wasn't just disappearances at that time... There was an appearance, a young man described as around twenty years of age, by the name Michael Williams." The dark eyebrow raised on his tanned face, grin turning beseeching. "Doesn't that seem a little odd to you?"

"What seems odd to me, Mr. Stanson, is how this has anything to do with this case." Cravens once more retreated back to his desk, his papers and presentation forgotten.

"I still find it strange how you insist that these kids faked this footage," he said with his voice growing increasingly loud, intensity flaring up. Stanson didn't understand how the town could be so blind, so close-lipped. "There's enough strange things involved with it as it is. You don't think it's odd that a kid of the same name as one of the missing students had mysteriously appeared previously, with the doctor recording some of his ramblings about him having been in the woods with two friends?"

"Did they get the names of them?" Sean Byer, a local officer, was quick to insert his quiet form of diplomacy. It worked, diffusing a few of the heating tensions that surrounded them. Deflating, Stanson had sat back in his chair.

"No," he said with sigh. "The records for that were lost shortly after. It probably wasn't regarded as important."

Byer didn't let that be the end, continuing with his train of thought. It was best to deal with these matters to the end, and he turned his gray-blue gaze upon Stanson. "Is there any way we can contact this Michael Williams? He'd be in his, what, seventies?"

Unfortunately, Stanson had to once more shift in his wooden chair, folding over the corner of one of the articles with nervousness. "Well, we can't do that. He died only a few weeks after coming out of the woods."

"What cause?" Byer's question was out of his mouth before he could help it, blinking slightly as the younger man's grin returned, if wilted.

"Suicide." Forestalling any inquiries into that, he continued with the story. "This kid had gone a little insane after coming out, prone to nightmares which led to hallucinations and ramblings within days. He was institutionalized, and found dead one morning, having hung himself in the corner. He rigged a noose with his bedsheets." A classic move, it seemed.

"That's all?" Cravens snorted, hunching over his desk and clearly not impressed. An eyebrow raising, he just shook his head. "Sounds to me like the kids heard the story and decided that since their friend shared that common name, they'd recreate some of that story. It's fake, men." He tossed another file folder, giving a disgusted sigh.

Byer just traded a look with Stanson, touching the younger man's hand as he looked like he was going to jump up with a harsh retort. Now was not the time. Clearing his throat, Byer slowly got to his feet, continuing on as if nothing had happened. "We've finished up those interviews, and again found little information. The students said...." The usual report, the usual lack of information about the case. Stanson didn't believe it was a fake, didn't believe these kids had so simply gotten lost. There had to be something else to it, to this odd tale that was just a footnote in the county medical records. But there was nothing he could do. The truth had died in a corner.

~Fin