chapter one

There were things about this town that were off. It wasn't hard to notice: the unusual number of animal deaths by animals they could never name, the bare human footprints in the depths of the woods, the missing hikers, the lack of answers from the town, well-dressed people that seemed to have some knowing glint in their eyes. But no one paid attention, not the wrinkly skinned old men with heavy white beards or the mothers with young children on their hips. It's like they didn't want to notice. They shed tears at the strange deaths of the people they knew but never asked for answers. They had search parties for those who disappeared behind the thickness of the trees but never asked what else could be in there. No one asked the right questions, no one even thought to.

I did, though. I knew there was something wrong. I first noticed this unsettling wrongness when my brother disappeared. My brother, with heavy laugh that rung in your ears, disappeared into the woods smelling of whiskey and weed and came out a pile of bones. They told us it was suicide. My father cried, shoulders shaking at the death of his oldest, but I stood in our backyard and stared into the woods because I knew there was something in there that did that to him, because he would never do it to himself.

I noticed it again when the boys in my classes who never looked me in the eye started dropping out of school. They would walk on our dirt roads with bare feet and walk out of the prickly woods with no cuts. They jumped off cliffs and surfaced unscathed, with hearty laughs that ricocheted off the cliff walls.

There were noises from the woods that kept me up at night and thunder when there was no storm. Bodies disappeared and police found bare human footprints in the winter. And while the people around me grieved and then forgot, I watched.

I kept track of it all. I isolated and hide from others. I obsessed over police logs and newspaper articles and kept them all in a journal, with a list of theories and the death count of hikers and civilians in the area. Because I knew there was an explanation for the death of the people who entered in the woods behind my house and I knew that it was hiding under my nose. When I looked out into them, I could feel it, like something was looking back at me, challenging me to come and find it.

The day I went looking for it was the one-year anniversary of when my brother went missing. Three things went wrong that day.

First, I lost my book. Another one of the freshmen boys had disappeared, dropping out of school and becoming something different. I heard it from the whispers of the students around me; Seth Clearwater dropped out. Apparently he's being home-schooled now. He was the sixth Quileute boy to drop out and become 'home-schooled' since my freshmen year. And all six of those same boys hung around in the same spots in town, wearing the same thing with the same tattoos (yeah, they did give a fifteen-year-old kid a tattoo. I'm not sure how; but I know they all have them).

So, I shuffled through my things, looking for the thick, worn leather-bond journal that kept track of everything that was wrong in this reservation so I could mark down that another fifteen-year-old kid was abducted into some supernatural cult and illegally tattooed. But it was gone. There was a science book, a math one, and some Shakespeare compilation, but no journal. This could be bad for a number of reasons, the primary being that if I lost that book, I lost all bits of evidence and theories I had developed in the year of my researching. Also, anyone who found it and saw my name scribbled on the front cover would know that I am an absolute freak.

When the bell rang and spring break was officially commenced, I sprinted out of my chair and rushed towards my locker. I always had the journal. I always had the journal because there was always something wrong, something new to track in it. Like the induction of Seth Clearwater into whatever tomfoolery was going on with the Quiluete dropouts (which was important because he was the youngest one they got so far). But it wasn't in my locker either. I tried to rack my brain for that mornings events to remember if I had left it at home, but I knew I put it in my bag, which meant it could be anywhere.

The second thing that went wrong was Kim Conway came up and talked to me. "Hey, Remy," she called, and I slammed my locker shut at the sound of her voice. "I can't cover for you tonight."

"What? C'mon, Kim, you promised." Kim and I had a very strange but long-lasting and surprisingly strong friendship. Our bond didn't come from childhood memories or similar interests and hobbies, but instead a continuous need to lie to our parents. Me, so I could set up cameras in the woods and drive to Port Angeles after school to buy strange books, and Kim so she could spend more time with her boyfriend (who, by the way, was one of the six Quiluete dropouts, and I had a suspicion she knew what was going on with them). And sometimes, when we were both bored enough, we would get pizza and drink wine she stole from her parents.

This type of friendship had gone on for six years, without either one of us ever bailing out. Until now.

"Look," Kim said, shifting weight between her feet like she was nervous, "I just don't think it's a good idea to go out into the woods alone, alright? Like, it's not safe."

"According to who?" She didn't answer, just looked away from me with a little eye roll. "C'mon, Kim, you've covered for me before. I'll bring bear mace."

Kim leaned against the lockers and looked at me with pleading eyes. "You've never camped out all night before. I just don't think it's a good idea. Why don't you just like, come over and we'll drink and watch some Bigfoot documentary or something?"

I bit my lip. "It's a full moon. The stars are really gonna be out tonight; I really don't wanna miss it. We can do that tomorrow night."

Yeah, that was the excuse I gave to Kim. Whenever I snuck out at night and needed to cover, I told Kim I liked astronomy, and I needed to track the stars. I told her my parents were paranoid and wouldn't let me go out on my own, even if it was something as simple as stargazing, which was true. I didn't think telling Kim I was investigating her boyfriend and his friends in my several working conspiracies about the town.

I didn't feel bad lying to Kim, because I knew there were things she probably wasn't telling me either.

"Look, if you wanna camp out in mountain-lion infested woods with nothing to protect you but a can of bear-mace, be my guest. But I'm not gonna lie to your parents for you. That being said, the Bigfoot offer still stands."

Kim turned and strutted away with those quick words, leaving me groaning against my locker.

I left the hallways with slumped shoulders, feeling defeated, and dragged my feet all the way back to my car, which has survived in my family tree since 1994. It was adorned with patches of rust and a bumper sticker that said, HONK! if you love your Persian cat! I had tried to peel it off, but to no avail. It was stuck on the back of my car forever, forcing me to be shocked by random and short beeps from people who love their Persian cat.

We didn't even have a cat.

The drive to my house from the campus was short and quiet and didn't leave me enough time to come up with a game plan. I pulled into our driveway with no ideas and dismal thoughts. Upstairs in my room was a backpack with the world's small tent, granola, and a video camera with a twenty-four hour battery I used all of my allowance to buy. They asked me, Remy, what are you gonna do about this little setback? We don't wanna go to waste.

"I don't know," I complained out loud and dropped my head on the steering wheel. Even if I were to find something out, to discover something extraordinary, all of the research I had done of the past year was lost, and there was nothing for me to compare it to. I groaned.

I turned my head to look at the dashboard, where I taped my brother's school picture. He was smiling his signature smile: charming and sweet. Bear always had something about him that was so inviting; you just wanted to be his friend. I wasn't sure if it was the dimple under his eye or the warmness in his eyes. But it was something.

My fingers reached up to the photo. "I'm gonna figure out what happened to you," I whispered, and in a brilliant moment of sorrow-induced brainstorming, I had a bad idea.

Kim was the only number I had saved on my phone besides my family's. She answered on the third ring. "Hey, Rem."

"Hey, Kim. I uh, I think you were right. It's kinda dumb to stay out in the woods all night alone. Do you mind if I just come over instead, like you said?"

"Ugh, yes, thank god. If you had actually done something stupid like that I might've killed you myself."

I chuckled. "Heh. Yeah. I'll be over in like a few hours. I just have to like, run some errands for my mom first. Okay?"

"Yeah, I'll see ya," she replied, and promptly hung up.

I threw my phone back into my bag and exhaled. This was going to take some careful steps.

Step one: tell my parents.

Before Bear died, our house was typically messy, with random clothing articles strewn across the furniture and there was an ever-present smell of my dad's work boots that drifted into every corner of every room. My mom never cooked; we were more of a takeout every night type of family. But then, when we got the news, something switched in my mother, and she spent almost every minute of her time at home cleaning, disinfecting, and making some sort of food. She wasn't very good at it, but I guess the continued effort was what really counted.

She was pulling something burning out of the oven when I stepped through the door. The smoke practically hit me in the face when I stepped through the front door. "Jesus, Mom, what are you making?"

Her hair was flying out of its ponytail, sticking straight up. She looked distressed, which is typical for her cooking. "Well I was baking a casserole for Sue Clearwater. Her husband just died, and I thought it would be nice to bring it over. But I guess I could just order them a pizza," she trailed off, batting the smoke with an oven mitt. I made a mental note to add the death of Harry Clearwater to my book whenever I found it.

I leaned against the kitchen counter. "I heard her son's gonna be homeschooled from now on."

"Oh, well, he's such a…a sweet boy…probably…hit him hard," she grunted, losing the battle to the smoke. "Will you go open all the windows before the smoke detector goes off?"

"Sure," I replied, pushing off the counter. I walked from window to window, pushing them open and trying to push some of the smoky air out with it. The smoky smell was infuriating my brain. "God, what kind of casserole was this?"

"Fish!" she called back at me. Someone had to give this woman cooking lessons. This was just abysmal.

Once I had flung open the windows, I made my way back to my frazzled mother. "So, I think I'm gonna go sleepover Kim's tonight. She invited me over for a movie marathon."

My mother hummed. "I don't know, Remy. I think it might be a good night for all of us to stick together."

I inhaled sharply. This was the reply I was waiting for. "I mean, I guess. I just kind of wanted to, get my mind off of things. Distract myself from getting sad, and just," I look around the smoky house and then down at the ground before speaking again, "it's just hard to be home right now."

Now, I felt like shit for pulling this on my mother, my poor, emotionally vulnerable mother who was just trying to protect the last living kid she had, but I just felt in my gut that tonight was the night I was finally gonna uncover something. So, I had to pull out the big guns, because I had to know what happened to Bear.

And I knew it worked when my mother let out a pained, "Oh honey," and pulled me into a hug. "You have fun with Kim tonight. It'll be nice for your father and I to have a quiet night together, anyways." She pulled out of the hug and looked at me with watery eyes. "Just be safe, alright?"

I gave her a strained smile. "I will, Mom. I promise."

Step one was completed.

Step two would be easier, and involve a lot less lying, but would be considerably more time consuming.

After receiving the blessing from my mother, I ran to my room and grabbed my little camping bag, filled with probably insufficient supplies, and tossed it out the window. I then filled a different and smaller bag with sweatpants and a toothbrush, and walked out the front door, shouting my goodbye to my mother.

I retrieved my camping back from the bushes outside my bedroom window and threw it in the trunk of my car. If there's one thing I learned from my years of living in a highly wooded area, it's that you never want to set up a tent after dark. I mean, you could learn that even from like, one single survival show, but still.

I drove my little car to the spot I had picked just a few days before. It was just a little way off a hiking trail, a little clearing that allotted me enough space for my tent. It was a twenty-minute drive from my house if I went the speed limit, but I didn't, so I got there in fifteen.

From the mouth of the trail, it was a ten-minute walk down the cleared path, and another ten minutes off the path. I had successfully made this walk three times before, in sort of a test run. I used the compass on my phone to guide me.

Technology these days is great.

The grass in the clearing was brown and dead, and it itched my ankles as I dropped my backpack and started to set up. For amateurs, setting up a tent took about thirty minutes. For me, it took a cool and impressive twenty-five.

When the tent was set up, I got the bungee cords I had stored in my backpack and attacked my video camera to the top of the tent, ready to capture anything that passed by. Before I left, I turned it on a hit record.

And just like that, step-two was done, and by the time I got back into my car, it only took an hour and twenty minutes.

Which meant it was time for the longest and most exhausting step there would be, hanging out with Kim.

She was ready at the door by the time I got there with my very light sleepover bag. She swung open the door and said, "You have a leaf in your hair. Do you want a glass of wine?"

"No thanks," I brushed past her and made my way into her living room. "I don't think I'm gonna drink tonight," I said and plopped down on her couch.

"Oh, c'mon. Jared doesn't like it when I drink and I never get to do it anymore."

"So you let your boyfriend tell you what to do?"

She frowned, sitting next to me on the couch and unpausing the movie she had playing. "No, he just doesn't like it, so I don't' do it around him. I have to do it with you, because I'm not gonna drink alone."

Against my better judgement, I took the glass of wine out of her hand and took a little swig. I winced at the taste. White wine was disgusting. "Where is your beefcake boyfriend anyways? I thought you guys were like, virtually inseparable."

Ever since Kim started dating Jared, they had spent almost every second of free time together, and our wine and pizza nights abruptly came to an end. It's not that I really minded, it's not that we had them that often anyways. And, I didn't really blame her. She had been crushing on Jared for years before he finally started to pay attention to her. I was happy for Kim and her cult boyfriend.

"He's with his friends tonight," she said and snatched the glass of wine out of her hand.

I stretched out my limbs and laid on my stomach, looking up at Kim. "What do they even do anyways? Besides walk around the town without shoes on."

My question was innocent enough, but still, Kim shifted and took another sip before answering. "Hell if I know. I think they all like, play D&D together, or something like that."

I gaped at her. "You're telling me your boyfriend and his friends all take steroids and play fucking Dungeons and Dragons together?"

"They don't take steroids, Remy."

I shrugged. "Could've fooled me. Where's the bottle?"

"Kitchen counter."

I pushed off the couch and went to get my own glass. The sun was just setting, and I had plenty of time before Kim fell asleep, so I didn't think one would hurt. Besides, if I had one, Kim would have more, and probably fall asleep that much quicker. I poured a large glass.

Kim was lying upside down with her legs over the top of the couch by the time I got back. "Hey, Remy, if I asked you a question, would you be completely honest with me?"

"Hmmm, probably not. Why?"

She turned her head to look at me and her eyes were pleading. "Do you think that I've been a bad friend ever since I started dating Jared?"

I pursed my lips. For a moment, I thought about how I was using Kim as a cover to sneak out into the woods to investigate the death of my brother. I thought about the several working theories I had about her boyfriend and his little gang. I thought about the amount of lies I had told her even just tonight. "No, Kim. I don't think you're a bad friend. I just think you're in love."

She gave me a warm smile. "Thanks, Remy."

"Now can you please put on the Bigfoot documentary I was promised? I'm tired of watching 27 Dresses."

Hanging out with Kim was easy. It was very easy once she drank almost an entire bottle of white wine by herself, because I didn't really have to talk that much. It was actually almost a little concerning; she seemed a little eager to get her lips around the bottle, and didn't really care that I had spent the whole time working on one glass.

Kim talked a lot when she was drunk. She told me about how lonely she was when her parents weren't home, which seemed to be more and more often. She told me about Jared, and how much she loved him, but that he also seemed to be overly concerned about her safety to the point where he was hesitant about her having any fun. She also disclosed to me that Jared was not my biggest fan. "It's not that he doesn't like you, I guess. He just thinks you're kinda weird, and worries you're not a good influence on me. But I mean, I'm kind of weird too, and I think you're really fun to be around," she told me when she was a little more than halfway done with her bottle, and I hadn't spoken in about twenty minutes.

I could kind of understand why Kim needed this bottle to herself.

She talked straight through the Bigfoot documentary, and then the Mothman one, and it wasn't until about halfway through the Goatman documentary, when she had plowed through the whole bottle, that her slurred speech started to slow and her eyes closed completely.

And just like that, step three was done.

There was a heavy darkness that settled when I stepped out the front door. It was almost midnight, and I knew Kim would be totally knocked out for the night, giving me a few hours to stake out my spot and mark things down in the fresh notebook I had.

Feeling brave, I drove to my campsite, bare mace in one pocket, and pocketknife in another.

When I arrived at the trail, the only light I had came from the bright screen of my phone. I used the flash it had to navigate my way to the tent. It took considerably longer than it did during the day, and the rocks I would normally avoid kept knocking me to my feet.

By time I got to the clearing, I had scraps on my hands and little pebbles stuck in my palm. Still, my tent was firmly planted in the middle of the clearing, with the camera still running, so I considered it a success so far.

I unzipped the tent and started to crawl into it, ready to wrap myself in the blanket I had left in there, when the third thing went wrong.

Behind me, there was a snap of a branch, and I whipped my head around to see what was there.

And what was there was a giant wolf, probably the size of a horse, with its lip furled back in a sinister snarl. A low growl ripped through the clearing, and my heart stopped in my throat. For a second, I stared at it, studying the chocolate brown coat it had and the large eyes and then finally it's sharp teeth that were probably larger than my nose.

It was the teeth that knocked me back into reality.

I feel on my ass and struggle to get the zipper up. Once I did, I scurried to the edge of the tent and reached into my pocket for the half-full can of bear mace. I prayed that it still worked and cursed myself for not testing it out earlier.

With a shaking hand, I pointed the can at the front zipper of the tent, and hoped that this giant animal didn't have abusable thumbs.

What was it gonna do? Scratch its way into my tent with it's razor sharp claws? Bite through the polyester with its ungodly teeth?

Probably.

I held my breath in the tent, waiting for a noise, any noise at all. My head was void of all rational thought; I could only come up with escape routes. Could I make a run for it? No, the unzipping of the tent would put me at a disadvantage. The only other realistic option I had was to wait it out: to wait for the animal to disappear, or for him to come knocking at my door.

How do you even work bear mace?

There were snarls that ripped through the heavy silence, and I shook so intensely that I doubted I could even protect myself. Fear was running through my veins, and my stomach was doing flips. I kept asking myself how I could survive this.

And then, in an even more horrifying turn of events, I heard a shrill laugh.

I thought I was going to piss my pants right there in the tent.

Because that was not the laugh of a human in the face of a deadly and snarling animal. That was the chilling laughter of something else.

I sat in the back of the tent, as far from the entrance as I could, waiting for something to come after that laughter, but there was nothing. The cold was starting to drain feeling from the tips of my fingers, but I was so frozen in fear I couldn't reach for the blanket.

I remained still for about twenty minutes, my finger shaking on the button on the mace can. And I knew I couldn't stay there all night. With all the courage I had, I moved towards the front of the tent again, listened once more for the sound of a threat, and when there was nothing, my fingers reached for the zipper.

God, if you're out there, I'm sorry for all the lies I told. I don't wanna be mauled to death tonight.

With a shaky exhale, I ripped open the tent and sprinted, legs moving faster than I knew they were capable of. I could hear my heartbeat as if it was pressed against my eardrums. As I ran, my finger never left the can. I held it up in front of me in case something, anything, appeared in front of me.

I didn't know what it would be, but I wanted to be prepared.

When I broke through the trees and landed on the trail again, my lungs were burning and my legs felt as if they were going to collapse, but I pushed through, and didn't stop running until I was flung back into the driver's seat of my tiny little rusted car.

And once I was, I fell against the steering wheel and broke into sobs.

My whole body was shaking like a leaf. The still photo of Bear watched me as I sobbed; I could feel his paper eyes on me. The pressure of the photo was a lot more now that I had a better idea of what ended his life.

A jolt ran through me as I came to the realization that I needed to get the fuck out of there. I pulled out of the little dirt parking lot, and sped all the way back to Kim's house.

I didn't realize until the next morning, when I went back in daylight to collect my things, that the camera I set up on my tent was gone.


this covid-19 self isolation thing really got me coming up with new ideas

this is gonna be an embry/oc story, cause ive been so mean to embry in my other story, but there will be a lot of friendship content as well. this is the first time ive started a story with a crystal clear image of where i want it to go. if i do it right, it'll be a slow burn.

review if you liked the first chapter/ if you're interested in where its going! i like this one a bit more than the others ive done so i hope you agree.