In The Woods
David Jack Bell
P.O. Box 338
North Webster, IN 46555
The Girl In The Woods
copyright 2009 by David Jack Bell
Cover Artwork copyright 2009 by Mike Bohatch
All Rights Reserved.
Copy Editors: David Marty and Steve Souza
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either a product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
To Molly, of course.
And in memory of absent friends:
John Johnson and Matt Malay.
Thanks to Shane Staley and Greg Gifune for their faith, honesty, and willingness to answer questions above and beyond the call of duty. Thanks to Mike Bohatch for the cover and the book trailer. Thanks to Molly, who read the manuscript in our cold house. For guidance and inspiration, thanks go to: Tom and Elizabeth Monteleone, Ed Gorman, David Morrell, Dallas Mayr, Terry Wright, Gary Braunbeck, Scott Nicholson, Robert Dunbar, Jonathan Maberry, Brian Keene, John Marco, James Reasoner, Bill Crider, and Ron Bayes. And to all my friends, family, and readers: Many, many thanks.
Part One: Disappearances
The visions, as Diana liked to think of them, mostly stopped coming when she left her hometown of Westwood, institutionalized her mother, and moved to New Cambridge to start her life over.
She remembered one of the last ones clearly, the one that scared her so much she decided it was time to change her life and start over someplace new, far from the hold that the recent past had over her. It was a rainy afternoon, two years after her sister disappeared, and a particularly intense vision had come upon her while she was driving, erasing the present moment of traffic and stoplights in front of her and transporting her to that other place, the one she saw so often and knew so well but couldn't understand.
The clearing in the woods...the tall trees...the moonlit night...the dark, rich earth and the secrets it held...
By the grace of whatever god or power that watched over hopeless cases like herself, she managed to navigate the car to the side of the road, apparently coasting to a stop and narrowly missing not only another parked vehicle but also two pedestrians, one of whom turned out to be an off-duty paramedic. It was this man who pulled her door open and was leaning inside the car when Diana came back to reality.
"Are you okay, ma'am?" he said. "Are you okay?"
Diana knew what had happened. After two years of the visions, she intimately knew the signs. A pain at the base of her skull. A rapid heart rate. And a fatigue, a deep fatigue that crept into her bones and made her feel as though she hadn't slept in weeks.
"I'm okay," she said. "I just...sometimes I just..."
"Are they seizures, ma'am? Are you on medication?"
Diana focused on the man's face. Young, freshly shaven. Strong. Then she looked beyond him. Moving cars, falling rain. People on the sidewalk living their lives, but some taking the time to stop and stare at the young woman who clearly had something wrong with her. The rain came in the open car, fell against her arm, sending shivers to her spine.
"I'm okay," Diana said. "Really. I just need to move on."
She gently but insistently pushed against the man with her left hand, urging him to go. He moved back but kept talking.
"Ma'am, if it's seizures, you need to see a doctor. You might not want to drive."
Diana dropped the car into reverse—she didn't know how it got into neutral—and started backing away. The man moved back farther, stepped out of the way of the car. The door swung shut. She pulled into traffic, the wipers doing their work across the windshield.
"I'm okay," she said to herself in the car.
But she didn't believe a word of it.
And for the past two years, even as the outward trappings of her life had improved, Diana still had not been able to completely convince herself that she was okay, that she had moved on and slipped free of the past.
The visions had mostly stopped, yes. Her mother was, some days, stable.
But her sister was still gone. And Diana knew that the past was always there, waiting to come back and intrude.
And that is what happened the day she met the woman in the parking lot.
Diana was running a little late.
She knew enough about herself to know that her tardiness was a defense mechanism, a childish way to delay the inevitable—facing her mother and her mother's condition. Diana had quit her job and hadn't found a new one, so she had nothing to fill her time before going to the hospital except avoidance. And she was good at that, practically a master.
She scrambled to shower and dress, then paused to check herself in the mirror. She had lost a few pounds over the past couple of months, and she thought her face was starting to look too thin. Her brown hair had grown to her shoulders and needed to be trimmed before the ends began to split. Summer was ending, but she still looked pale, so she took the time to apply a small amount of make-up. If her mother was having a coherent day—more and more of a rarity—Diana wanted to look nice. She grabbed a light jacket since they kept the hospital cool, perhaps an added form of sedation for the patients whose brains were already in deep freeze. And she was out the door of her apartment and turning to lock it when she remembered the candy bars.
As her mother descended deeper and deeper into the ravages of Alzheimer's, she became more and more like a child. She refused to eat much of the time—had, in fact, lost about thirty-five pounds off an already slender frame. But she did eat sweets. So Diana never showed up without a handful of candy bars, which the nurses kept in a locked drawer at their station and doled out to her mother on a daily basis. She went back inside, grabbed the candy bars—Hershey's, dark chocolate—off the counter, and then left, locking the door behind her.
Later, when Diana looked back at the series of events that had been set in motion that day, she remembered the candy bars and wondered if everything would have been different if she hadn't gone back for them. She might have made it to the car a few minutes sooner, and Kay Todd might never have found her.
But Diana knew this was not the case. This was simply another attempt at avoidance.
Kay Todd was determined to find her.
They would have met one way or another.
Diana saw the woman approaching from across the parking lot. She looked unsteady on her feet, wobbly like a drunk, and Diana hoped to avoid her, to slip into her car and be on her way. It was a warm mid-September day, one that had started cool, with frost on the pumpkin, and was heading toward a blazing red sunset. The clouds were just beginning to flame along their tips when the woman said Diana's name.
She was an older woman with the heavily lined face of a lifelong smoker. She wore a maroon windbreaker, its tail fluttering up as she walked, pink polyester slacks and white tennis shoes that were scuffed and worn. Her hair was thinning and gray and cut short like a man's, and when she spoke again, Diana saw a row of discolored teeth.
"Are you Officer Diana Greene?"
"I used to be Officer Diana Greene. I'm not anymore." Diana squinted at the woman, scanning her face, trying to place it. "And you...?"
Someone played loud music in an apartment across the way, a thumping that Diana felt in her chest. Had she met this woman on the job, arrested her or a family member perhaps? Or, worse yet, was she someone from home, a friend of her mother's passing through town looking for an update on her condition? This seemed like a long shot since her mother had few friends, and Diana's goal of leaving Westwood and their life there far behind had worked.
The woman smiled and held out her hand. The odor of stale cigarette smoke came off of her in waves, and the tips of her fingers were stained yellow by nicotine.
"I'm Kay Todd. We haven't met." They shook. The woman's hand felt tiny and frail in Diana's, like holding a small, sick bird. "I was hoping we could talk."
"I'm actually on my way somewhere. But if this is a police matter, I'm not on the force any more. You need to go to the station—"
"I've been inside there before, honey," Kay Todd said. "I know how they handle things in there. If you would just let me come in. It won't take long."
Diana looked at her watch. Nearly five. A forty-five minute drive to Vienna Woods, and she had to be there by six. She still had a little time, but she didn't know what to make of the little, rocking scarecrow of a woman standing before her. Something stirred within Diana, some combination of pity and caution, and it must have shown on her face.
"We don't have to go inside your house. We can go to the diner up the way."
"I don't know you..."
"Please," Kay Todd said. Her eyes glistened. "Please. You're going to want to hear what I have to say."
The wind picked up, warm and swirling, tossing leaves across the tops of their shoes.
"Are you telling me this isn't a police matter? That it's something personal between you and me?"
"It's more personal than anything else at this point," Kay Todd said. "You see, I have a daughter, and she disappeared...and I know..."
She didn't finish her thought, but instead made a gesture, something to indicate that they should continue their conversation somewhere else.
Diana's heart fluttered, a quick stirring. She did want to know. She couldn't help herself now. She just followed along, letting Kay Todd lead the way.
They took a booth near the back of the Courthouse Diner, which sat on the south side of High Street, three blocks from Diana's apartment building. An indifferent looking waitress brought them coffee, and Diana added cream then sipped from the mug, hoping to prevent herself from blurting out the questions that swirled in her mind. She wanted to know what this woman wanted, but she also knew that the best way to find out was to simply wait. The story would come.
The diner was mostly empty. A couple of old-timers sat at the counter, bitching about gas prices, their voices gruff and gravelly. Diana knew they, like her, simply had too much time on their hands and used it to cook up increasingly reactionary solutions to the world's problems. But she also couldn't help but think they were studying her, eavesdropping and judging, as so many older men in New Cambridge seemed to do. She told herself to ignore them, but when someone dropped a dish back in the kitchen, a sharp and brittle sound that cut through the still air of the diner, she jumped a little in her seat.
Kay Todd didn't seem to notice. She was busy stirring cream into her coffee, the spoon making a faint pinging against the side of the mug. For someone with an urgent problem, she seemed to be taking her time getting to it, so Diana spoke up.