Ahh, done with chapter one, and went back and added a prologue. Because chapter one was booooring. Now, at least something happens to whet the whistle before the meat begins.
Prologue - The Dark of Night
Somewhere in Vermont...
"I can't believe you talked me into this, Scott!" a woman cried out.
"Oh come on, Alison, it isn't that bad!" Scott replied.
The young woman, Alison, wrapped her arms tight around herself, trying to ward off a chill as it seeped deep into her, even through the light blanket she had draped over her shoulders.
"It's cold, there's bugs, and I have to take a crap in the woods!" She glared at her boyfriend with large eyes, a mixture of annoyance and growing anger shooting from them. "So yeah, it can be that bad!"
Scott tried to reach out to the small brunette, almost a foot shorter than him, although you could never guess based on the way she acted. Alison was not someone with a small personality. Her arms were often flailing in the air, her voice was loud, but never shrill. Her actions were bold, and bright. She acted like someone twice her height. And heaven help a person if she got angry.
Before his hand could touch her, Alison spun around. She moved so fast, it was like she was facing the other direction without moving a muscle. In an instant, it was as if her face was merely on the other side of her head. Scott's hand only felt the snap of the blanket as it whipped around behind her like a cape. It bit his palm with such ferocity, he pulled it back like he had grabbed a burning log.
"You agreed to go camping!" he protested.
She didn't turn to face her boyfriend. She didn't have to. She knew he would be making those puppy dog eyes at her, and pouting. Somehow, he was as good at currying sympathy with his eyes as any woman was.
"I thought you meant some nice cabin somewhere in the woods, or maybe a campground somewhere! I didn't think you'd surprise me by taking me up into the middle of nowhere, Vermont for our anniversary!"
Scott flung his hands in the air and turned away from his girlfriend, their backs facing each other as they yelled. "I thought you liked the outdoors!"
"I do," she barked. "As long as there's plumbing!"
Scott sputtered, unable to even come up with a retort for that. Part of him, the part that loved this girl, this oh so very frustrating girl, even wanted to laugh.
The couple's argument was cut short though when they heard a howl off in the distance. But not far enough off in the distance for Scott's liking. Alison would have disliked it no matter how far away it sounded. Scott had lived near woods like these for most of his life, and knew the wolf wasn't far from where they were. To Alison, a city girl born and bred, it could have been miles away, or standing right next to her.
In an instant, the argument was forgotten. All Scott cared about was getting to relative safety. They had hiked almost a mile into the woods to the spot by the lake he used to come to as a child, so there was no way they would reach their car in time.
He grabbed Alison by the shoulders and ushered her towards the tent he was glad for putting up so fast. The fabric would do little to stop a wolf, but Scott had to hope the beast would find something more interesting elsewhere, or not want to bother with the tent if it could not see any prey in sight.
Alison climbed through the entry and crouched down by her sleeping bag. "Scott," she gasped out as her boyfriend remained outside.
He motioned at her to be quiet, and he glanced around the clearing that was passing for their makeshift campsite. Darkness was almost upon them, but the full moon was high in the sky already. If they had not gotten into their argument, Scott would have already made a fire. Which was fortunate, since several logs and branches were handy, gathered up by the previous users of the site.
Scott grabbed a branch from the pile that was a little longer than his entire arm, and fit with ease into his clenched fist. It was a little larger than an average baseball bat, and had some good heft to it. He hoped it would not be necessary to use it, since he feared all it would do would anger any attacking wolf, but it was better than nothing.
He joined his girlfriend inside the tent and zipped the doorway closed. He turned off the one small electric lantern they had, and the couple sat in darkness, save for what moonlight streamed into their tent.
It seemed like an eternity before they heard anything else. Alison was just about to ask if it was safe, when they heard another howl. Even the city girl could tell it was much closer that time. Much, much closer.
Mere moments passed before they could hear crunching leaves outside, and snapping twigs. The wolf was near, drawn by the scent of the humans, and their food.
Scott held Alison close with his free hand. The other held his makeshift cudgel tight, ready to swing if need be.
The need arose, but never an opportunity. Just as they noticed the moon casting a dark shadowy beast against the wall of their tent, they heard an increasing growl. Scott could see nothing more than the black form created by moonlight, but knew from instinct that the creature was staring right at them.
The growl grew louder, and before anyone could react, the side of the tent gave way like wet tissue paper to the wolf's claws. The couple didn't even have enough time to scream before the wolf took them. Alison never even saw her attacker, her face was buried against Scott's shoulder, knowing that as she died, she at least did so in his arms. The thought of it being his fault, his idea, never even occurred to her. It didn't have the time to, not that it would have anyways.
As the forest grew quiet, the wolf sated for the night, it crawled back off into the woods. Any other nearby creature was too frightened to make a noise, too afraid to draw the wolf's attention and be its next victim. It may have fed, but one could never be too careful.
The silence would remain unbroken until another howl cried out in the night as the sun began to rise. The forest began to stir, but with trepidation, just in case. It was not until a growl not unlike a wolf could be heard off on the distant highway, but it was not a wolf. It was the sound of a motorcyle revving up and driving away.
And just like that, the lakeside forest returned to normal. The sounds of man breaking the eerie silence and cueing everything in the forest that all was well. All was well, save for what remained of two campers celebrating their anniversary, a love cut too short.
Chapter 1 - A Chance Encounter
Every life is a series of choices. Most of them are small choices. Do I get up in the morning? Or maybe lay here for five more minutes? What socks should I wear?
Some choices are bigger than that, and we all get the chance to make those. Where to go to college, what job to pick, what house to live in. True, life-changing, life-making choices.
Once in awhile, someone comes along and makes a gigantic choice, that affects everyone. Which country should I bomb today? Those choices, if we're lucky, are few and far between, and many of us will never have to make them, but someone has to.
Then there are those choices we don't make. The choices we can't make. The choices that get taken from us, or others make for us. Those are the worst kinds of choices, because we do not have any control over them, or how they affect our lives. But just like those big choices, it happens to each and every one of us, whether we like it or not.
In the late summer of 2012, the only choice on Colin Hemming's mind was how he could make the last day of his summer break last just a little longer.
He was not looking forward to another school year. It was the start of his junior year, 11th grade, and he should feel accomplished that he was almost free of high school. All Colin could think was how instead of feeling almost free, he felt more trapped than ever before. He may be higher up the societal totem pole than the freshmen and sophomores, but there was still the seniors above him to keep Colin and all the juniors in their place.
Rather than feeling accomplished, or crushed beneath those who felt they were better for the simple reason they were older, Colin could only feel like he was trapped in limbo between the two states.
A situation which reflected on Colin's life in general. He knew other students were beginning to make their college plans, but he had none, and no plans to make plans. Colin felt just as trapped by society as he did by the small town he lived in.
There were precious few opportunities for someone like Colin in Kraftsbury, Vermont. He felt like the state offered very little to any resident, but Kraftsbury in particular was the bane of his existence.
As if it was mocking him, Colin tossed aside that day's paper, grimacing at how the wolf attacks from the 1st of the month were still making headlines. The most exciting thing to happen in the entire state, all summer long, and it wasn't even nearby. The excitement was all happening upstate in the state forest. If not for an anonymous tip, the bodies might not even have been discovered yet.
Colin could not name a single person who had gone on to do anything memorable or noteworthy. And being a typical teenager, if Colin had never heard of them, they must not have been important, despite his incomplete knowledge.
Instead, he was trapped in a one-stoplight town, in the middle of nowhere, in a school which he felt offered a laughable education, where nothing interesting ever happened. The most noteable things in recent years were a few students dying, but Colin didn't think that was anything special, either.
The most Colin felt like he could expect out of life was living out the rest of his days in Kraftsbury.
He was not a straight A student; in truth, he wasn't even a straight C student. He knew his prospects for college were miniscule at best. Colin figured he would be lucky if he even graduated. Which led him to not getting out of this town for college, which led to him getting a job right here in town, which led to him ending up dead not far from where he was born.
It would not have surprised Colin if someone appeared from the future and told him he would one day have a heart attack right on the same park bench he was sitting upon. Colin was positive Kraftsbury would be the death of him, and he saw no way out for a person like him.
Colin tried hard to shake the dire thoughts of his not-so-immenent demise from his mind. He knew most of these dark thoughts were coming from the fact that he had to return to school tomorrow, and nothing more. They didn't make these thoughts any less true to him, but he was young, and he knew he was more worried about school than anything else.
Rather than continue to dread the impending school year, Colin struggled to pull his thoughts elsewhere.
For a day in late August, there was an unexpected coolness to the air. It was still warm, still very much summer, but the breeze would not let up. The fingers of the wind brushing through Colin's lengthy, unkempt hair that shone like the shade of mahogany in the sun reminded him he needed a haircut. He had meant to do so before school began, but the summer had been distracting, and all too short, as time had slipped away from him.
Still, the change in weather from the weeks of sweltering heat was a welcome change, indeed. The summer of 2012 had been unseasonably warm in Vermont, and Colin was one person who was ready for fall to begin, even if it did bring with it a dreaded return to Kraftsbury High.
This taste of brisker weather was just what Colin needed. Something good to focus on. He may not like his lot in life, what he perceived as a lack of choices, but the coming of Autumn was always a pleasant time for him. The shift in weather was relaxing, and more comfortable than the summer heat. The changing leaves made things more interesting, as colours dotted everything, changing things from a solid green blanket to a speckled, sparkling coat of reds and yellows, draped over the nearby Polar Mountain as if it was a king putting on its fanciest robes.
Colin stared at that same mountain, the hub of the town's ecconomy, and where Colin feared he would work for the rest of his life. In his mind, the mountain made him think of an ancient, giant creature that tried to rise long ago, tried to stand but found its own weight too much for itself, and never quite made it to its own feet. Instead, it remained there, hunched over, waiting for a better time to awaken.
Even in these waning days of summer, with the mountainous creature's back covered in trees, wearing its slumbering blanket of greenery, he could still see the scars carved into the forests, the lines that come winter would be transformed by the snowfall into trails for skiers to take from the top of the mountain to the bottom.
For Colin, there really was very little else of interest in the town, save for the mountain's monolithic form that would soon block the sun from view and bring on the night. The park he sat in was at one of the four corners of the intersection dominated by the town's not-so-proverbial one stoplight.
Even though the road he was staring at was a highway, it only had one lane traveling in either direction, and was indistinguishable from almost any other two-lane road. Even the amount of traffic didn't make it seem like more than any other road. In fact, Colin was surprised at how little traffic there was, most of the time. It was clear why no one saw any need to have ever made the road any wider; it accomodated traffic just fine the way it was.
That situation would change come winter, and the influx of skiers, but until then, a town that had a highway running through the center of it remained rather quiet.
Which wasn't to say that the road was free of traffic, far from it. Cars still traveled in both directions; coming into town, and some doing what Colin wished he could do by leaving it.
Colin found the slow but study thrumming of the cars to be relaxing, in a way. It made Kraftsbury seem more important than it was in his mind. If the streets were empty, that would have made the town seem even more pointless, more dead, and make him despair all the more. Even if the cars were just driving through, they were still parts of a mechanical arterial system that kept pumping through the heart of Kraftsbury.
The sound of the vehicles passing by was almost uniform. It rose, it peaked, it fell off. Sometimes it was constant if there was enough traffic, but even that fell off at some point. But all the sounds merged together into this almost perfect hum that consumed the air. Colin almost could have fallen asleep to that rythmic, almost hypnotic sound. Even when a car that did not sing the same song as the rest drove by, it was nothing more than an instrument taking its place in the spotlight, before rejoining the chorus.
Colin relaxed and used the orchestra of cars to relax and let his thoughts drift down the river of sound that encompassed him. He leaned back on the bench, spreading his arms across the curved ridge, and stared up into the trees overhead. He stared into not much more than shadows, as the sun was still high enough and bright enough to blow out most of the colour, leaving the branches and leaves overhead little more than shifting shapes of blackness.
He didn't know how long he sat there, staring into the great nothingness of the trees and the azure sky beyond. Colin's thoughts were lost amongst the trees, and drifitng along the sounds.
Not until a new instrument came into the orchestra was he shaken from his meditations. Not until the music of the engines reached a new crescendo was he stirred from his reverie.
The new sound was louder than the rest, drowning out almost all of the other cars. This was made easier by the low tide of traffic passing by at that time. Even so, the new engine would have been heard above all others Colin had heard that day. His attention shifted to it in an instant.
It was easy for Colin to recognise the new sound; it was the engine of a motorcycle. Even someone who had yet to get his driver's license could recognise that different pitch, that almost whining hum that singled it out amongst all others.
Colin heard the noise long before he saw the motorcycle. Sound carried well in the valley that Kraftsbury sat in, in particular those sounds like engines. It remained obscured even longer by the natural bends in the road as they curved around the corner, following the contours of Polar Mountain.
It was an almost magical moment, a singular experience, for Colin as the motorcycle came into view. By the time it rounded the corner, traffic had fallen away to nothing. The only cars within eyesight of Colin were parked along the sides of the road.
Some may have described their memory of the moment as if time had slipped into slow motion, romanticising the moment in their minds, but not Colin.
What stuck in his mind was just how fast it all happened. Colin had no way to be sure, but he was pretty sure the rider was ignoring any posted speed limit signs. One moment the street was empty, and then it was there. The front windscreen caught the sunlight and flashed Colin in the eyes, but he didn't blink, and didn't flinch.
He kept watching as the motorcycle came closer, and just as he thought it would continue to pass him by and head through town, the vehicle that was - in Colin's mind - moving at an impossible speed, screeched to a halt.
The tires left a black streak on the pavement behind it, and a quite lengthy one at that. The stop was almost instantaneous considering the speed. Colin wasn't sure if it was going to come to a complete stop, or crash right into him. He wasn't sure if that wasn't the plan in the first place. At least, not until the bike did come to a stop in front of him, tilted at only the slightest of angles from the sudden, forceful stop.
Before him was parked, or maybe just stopped was a more accurate description, a shining, glistening red motorcycle. The red was as deep as the blood from a fresh cut, but sparkled in the light of the fading twilight as if it were encrusted with millions of speckled jewels. The curves were smooth and graceful, and it was almost like looking at liquid given form, a form that could disperse into a puddle at any given moment.
Colin almost could have reached out and touched the motorcycle, it had come that close to hitting him. The acrid stench of burning rubber filled Colin's nostrils and made him push himself even further back against the bench than he already was. He could feel each slat pressing back against his weight, but they refused to give.
He was unnerved by this thing before him, and he wanted to get up and leave, but his curiosity had been piqued. Why had this bike stopped right in front of him, he wondered.
Colin watched as the rider shifted their weight and with a single movement flicked out the bike's kickstand with almost no effort at all. The bike relaxed its weight onto the stand, and this inanimate object's sudden change of posture somehow put Colin at ease.
But not by much. One foot was at the ready to bolt at even the slightest hint of danger.
Colin watched the rider with a mix of curiosity and trepidation, with just a small hint of fear for dessert. They were covered in leather, almost from head to toe. Black, from the waist down, and even their tight-laced boots. Purple dominated from the waist up, save for a pair of black racing gloves covering their hands.
A purple helmet that matched the colour of the jacket perfectly, but had that same liquidy, metallic shine of the bike rested over the stranger's head. It was not a perfect sphere, or close to it even, like many helmets. The front piece, below the visor, was elongated somewhat, giving it an appearance closer to a helmet that might have been worn by a professional motorcross racer. All it made Colin think of though, was a Stormtrooper from Star Wars.
Colin tried to get a peek at this person's eyes through the black visor, but could see nothing more than his own reflection. What he saw looking back at him was the face of a slack-jawed yokel who lived in the middle of nowhere and was amazed at the mysterious stranger in front of him.
The truth of what he saw was closer than Colin would ever admit to anyone, most of all himself, but he tried to compose himself better, all the same. He did not want to come off as seeming like he just fell out of the pumpkin truck.
He didn't know how well he did trying to seem normal, and calm in his situation. All he could do was hope he looked like any other teenager who saw things like this every day. Not that Colin knew what would be special-looking about that kind of person, but he was only sixteen. He didn't know any better.
Colin sat there and waited with all the patience in the world, which was quite a feat for any curious teenager, but for Colin more than most. He wasn't just the first kid down the stairs at Christmastime, he was awake all night long, or so he thought. He once tried to wake his parents up at 12:01 just to open presents, but they were having none of that. On New Years, he tried to jump the countdown by skipping over numbers.
Patience was not Colin's strong suit.
The stranger looked over Colin, still covered in head to toe, their motives still unclear. He could read nothing of this person before him, covered from head to toe as they were. As the visor moved up and down, like it was scanning Colin with more than just eyes, he expected the figure to start breathing ominously.
If they declared that they were Colin's father, he would not be surprised in the least.
The gloved hands slid off the handles of the bike, and one of them turned the keys, shutting the idling motor down. Sounds from all around entered back into Colin's hearing from the periphary. He could hear the birds in the distance, and the regular symphony of cars resumed beyond the biker.
He watched as the hands of this stranger reached up and clasped the helmet on both sides. Colin was waiting for a sudden burst of rushing air, as if a seal had been broken on a pressurised suit. Instead, all he heard was the familiar rustling and crinkling of the purple, leather jacket they wore as their body shifted around.
The helmet rose into the air and the rider placed it between their legs, resting one forearm upon the curved top.
Colin just stared in wonderment as the rider used their free hand to brush out the mess of long, blonde hair that had been tucked up underneath the helmet.
He was less surprised by the rider being a woman, than he was by how young she was. It was quite clear that she was older than he was, but it could not be more than a few years. Colin would be surprised if she turned out to be older than 21.
It was also her beauty that entranced him, at least for a moment. She was far from the most attractive woman he had ever seen. However, she had a pleasing look to her, and a soft, round face that did not look like it belonged riding a motorcycle. And to Colin, she was far prettier than most of the girls he went to school with.
Of course she was, he thought. This was no girl. This was a woman.
He didn't realise it, but Colin's attempts to not look slack-jawed had gone right out the window the instant she removed her helmet. He did not know just how much he was staring at the blonde girl trying to get a knot that was being quite stubborn out of her hair.
Somehow, even when frustrated and making a scrunched up face of pain and concentration, Colin found himself still entranced by this mysterious stranger.
The woman soon gave up and left her hair the mess of waves it had become with a resigned sigh. She turned her attention to Colin, sitting and staring at the entire affair in silence.
Colin could tell this blonde girl was short, shorter than he was at least, but because he was sitting on a bench, and she was straddling her motorcycle, it gave her a few inches over him. She was put in the position of power. And it was not a position Colin relished being in.
The relative silence was at last broken by the woman as she leaned forward, smiling at the nervous, quiet junior.
"Hey kid," she said, and even her voice was entrancing to Colin. He had been comparing the street noise to music all summer long, but now it was as if the choirs of heaven themselves had descended down to sing a song just for him. At least, compared to cars it was. As time went on, Colin would realise there was nothing special about it. It was almost low for a girl's voice, but still welcoming, in particular when paired with the wide, bright smile she had.
These were the moments that slowed down for Colin, those moments when this woman consumed his entire world and devoured everything else he cared about. Nothing else existed in those moments, just this smiling, blonde angel sitting atop her blood-red motorcycle. Just her, alone with Colin, and nothing else in the world mattered.
The stranger regarded Colin with cool, grey eyes. Eyes that were flecked with black, making them look as if they had been carved out of solid granite and placed inside her head. She was amused by this boy sitting in front of her, the look of surprise written all over his face like a cheap pulp novel.
Colin was shocked back to reality when the side of his face was smacked. He blinked and rubbed his cheek after it was hit by the warm leather of one of the stranger's gloves. She had not hit him hard, but the jolt was more than enough to shake him out of his head.
"You okay in there?" the woman asked. Her smile had faded and a look of concern had replaced it. Colin didn't quite know how to read that look. That was normal though, he was terrible at reading women, period.
He blinked a few more times before replying, his voice sounding distant to himself, like the words were just coming out without any idea what he was saying.
"Yeah, I'm fine. Just don't get a lot like you around these parts. Motorcycles, that is. Some travel through to exhibitions in the city, but that's about it."
The woman nodded, and a smirk formed on her lips. Colin had often heard of a chesire grin, and had read of the eponymous cat from the Lewis Caroll stories, but he had never seen that look on a person before. He recognised it with no trouble, though. That mysterious grin only intrigued him more, which should have worried him.
"You've got a little drool there, kid." She gestured to the side of her mouth, and Colin was quick to wipe it aaway. He feared his face was turning as red as the woman's bike, however.
The reaction only made the woman smirk all the more, until she couldn't handle it anymore, and let out a laugh. Colin was half expecting a bubbly, innocent giggle, but instead it was a deep bellowing laugh that put him even more off balance.
Being laughed at shifted something within Colin. He was almost never loud or forceful, but he was also not one for games. Instead, he felt backed into a corner, his park, nay his very town! being invaded by this strange, and ever more rude, woman.
"Can I help you with anything," he asked, "or are you just here to laugh at the people of Kraftsbury?"
The woman considered Colin's question for a moment, her gaze drifting off into the trees where Colin's attention seemed to live a mere five minutes earlier.
"I thought I'd just laugh at the locals," she said without a hint of malice in her voice. Colin didn't know what to make of the plafulness of her response. Every time he found his footing, he found the rug yanked out from underneath him, and his ass meeting the ground.
Colin tried to recover, but had no idea how successful he was. "Well, if you want to do that, you should check out the concert on the green this weekend. All the freaks come out for the show."
A short, sharp, single laugh was barked out by the woman. Colin felt as if he had passed some sort of test, and felt more at ease.
"I'm not sure how long I'll be in town for," she replied. Something in her tone had become serious, all of a sudden. Her grey eyes looked off into the distance, as if she was lost in thought.
"I have some...business to attend to, but who know?" The pause before business was almost impossible to notice, but Colin picked up on it.
She shifted on her bike's seat, and it was clear she was uncomfortable, like she had been riding for a long while. Colin sensed there might be more reasons beyond a long, hard ride, but did not enqure any further.
"Seriously though," she continued, her eyes returning to look straight on at Colin. "Do you know where there's a good place to eat? I am starving, and could stand sitting on something that doesn't vibrate at 70 miles an hour."
Colin explained that all the best places to eat were in the opposite direction from which she was traveling, and almost 30 miles away.
"But we have a few okay places here in town, just down the street." He pointed off to his right, the same direction the red bike was pointing in. "Nothing great, just a few tiny, local places. Some decent pizza down the way, but that's the best I can recommend."
The girl nodded, and looked down the road, then turned back in the direction she had come from, a look of consternation washing over her face. Her bright smile faded to a rough frown, her full lips drawing into a tight line, disappearing amidst her thoughts.
Colin watched the wind kick up, and grab the stranger's hair, tugging it back in its grasp, waving in the breeze like a flaxen banner behind her head. Part of him hated how much he had been taken by this woman, and how quick it had happened.
He hated that these feelings had appeared out of nowhere and without warning. His heart and mind had been ambushed by this sudden infatuation, and were being held prisoner without ransom in the deepest recesses of her soul.
The wind did more to fix her hair than all the fiddling she had done with it earlier, even if it still looked like something a dog had shaken to death once the wind faded away. "I can't say I much relish driving back all that way for food. I'm not in the mood for pizza, but I guess it will have to do in a pinch. Beggars can't be choosers."
Colin gave nothing more than a silent nod. Not that his approval mattered a damn to this woman, nor was she looking at him, even if it would have.
"Well, thanks a lot for the advice, kid. But this girl has to ride. Who knows, maybe we'll see each other again." She flashed him that big smile once more, and if his heart was not already hers, it would have been in that moment.
It was a shame when she lowered her helmet back over her head, covering it up and hiding it from the entire world. Colin's world felt all the darker for it, but in truth it was just the sun fading behind the mountain at last.
Colin wanted to stop her from driving away. He wanted to say something, anything that would have kept this leather-clad stranger next to him even just one second longer. No words came to his addled mind, however. Not a single one. His words had dried up in the desert of her.
Instead, he sat there in pained silence and did nothing more than watch. He watched as she started her bike back up, and with one swift kick backwards, the only thing holding it up was her own balance and its twin wheels.
She revved the engine a couple of times, the sudden noises startling some birds that had returned to their nests overhead. The bike took off like a shot, and it kicked up some dust and rocks as it zipped down the road like a crimson streak. It failed to reach anything close to the speed it had when it came at Colin earlier. She had not far to go, and she was in a strange town.
And so the woman drove out of Colin's life much as she had entered it, but not before she turned back for the briefest of moments, and gave the young boy a nod. He felt that flutter in his chest again, and in that instant he was doomed, and Colin knew it. There was no escaping what came next.
With just that single glance back at him, Colin made a choice. He made a decision that some way, some how, he would see that woman again. The back of her helmet would not be the last thing he ever saw of her. Of this, he was certain. This was his choice, and it was one of those rare, big choices in his life.
And it was the worst choice he could have made.