My mind reeled awake like the slow wind of undeveloped film. Everything was black. Very black. A shade of coal darker than anything behind closed eyes. But my eyes weren’t closed at all. They were open and squinting against a light mist that burned them like salt.
Where was I?
I couldn’t bring my mind around fast enough to remember anything concrete. But there were thoughtless flashes. The reel in my head spun wildly, more shady images skittering past the spokes. There was a forest. I was running. I was hunted down by hounds. Or humans on four legs. Their grotesque figures flickered in the woods like a waning pilot light.
“My watery grave.” The phrase floated around in my head.
I lay still. I was on my back, on top of something awkward and bony. I told my limbs to move but nothing happened. I concentrated, desperately finding some light my retinas could latch on to, to give some meaning to where I was and what was happening to me.
There were sounds, suddenly, like ear plugs were plucked out of my head. I heard muffled cries, like someone was yelling from far away and the sloshing sounds of water encompassing the space around me. I had the distinct feeling that I was floating as my inner ear rolled and swayed inside my heavy head.
All my senses were coming to me now. I could smell seawater and a putrid, decaying odor, like rotted fruit and mold. I felt dampness at my back and, bit by bit, the sensation that my hands were emerged in ice cold water.
I tried to move my arms again and this time they responded sluggishly. They had been in water all this time even though the rest of me was dry. I moved them out to the sides and they struck barriers with a force I barely felt through my numbed skin. The sound of the impact echoed around me. It told me I was in some sort of box or…or…
Panic swept through me. I moved again, feeling like I was balanced precipitously on top of something very peculiar. Whatever it was, it was smaller than the length of my body and I noticed my legs had dropped off below at an angle. I kicked them up. A spray of ice water fell up on top of my shins and my waterlogged boots thunked against something solid.
I felt all around me, wildly placing my hands and feet on whichever surface they could reach. I was in a box after all. The space above my head was only about half a foot before a damp wooden ceiling cut me off from the rest of the world.
I tried to catch my breath but the fright inside my chest was overpowering it. I was trapped, trapped in a box. A mime’s worst nightmare.
Not only that, but a box that was filling with water. I felt the liquid fingers crawling up my legs and arms and saturating my back.
I started writhing and fighting. I couldn’t keep it together any longer. I was in a box and I was going to drown in here.
I started pounding my hands against the top, hoping to break through. They were tired and without much feeling. I felt a gush of warmth flowing from them. It was my blood. It seeped freely from my tender knuckles and from the wounds at my both my wrists. I didn’t care. I had to get out. If I didn’t, I would die.
The water came in faster now and it wasn’t long before I was slightly buoyant, rising above whatever was below me. In seconds it would come over the tops of my pants. My pants, where my front pocket felt tighter than usual.
I quickly slipped my hand into the pocket on a hunch. There was the lighter in there.
I pulled it out and started to flicker it. My fingers were cold and clumsy and I almost dropped it but after a few awkward attempts, the flame came alive, the spark catching hold. I held it up and away from me. The weak, orange light illuminated the space around me.
I was right. I was in a box.
It wasn’t just a box though. No it wasn’t. I knew what it was.
My watery grave.
I swallowed hard, feeling my world jar wildly with the incoming waves. I was in a coffin, set adrift in the sea.
“Your ship has come in.” A man’s voice echoed inside my head.
Amidst all the commotion, among all the confusion over what had happened – I knew where I was and why I was here. I wished I was alone. But I knew that wasn’t true either. I knew that awkward, protruding, lumpy shape beneath me spared me of that luxury.
My left hand slipped into the water, gingerly feeling the bottom of the casket. Maybe the only way out was through the bottom. I was careful now to avoid what was directly beneath me.
The water was up to my chest now. I was running out of time and fast.
I placed my hand on the bottom and tried to stabilize one part of me while I planned to kick out with my legs, hoping that the splintery walls would give way.
Tiny, slimy fingers made their way around my submerged wrist.
I screamed but it escaped through my lips like a wordless gasp. The fingers tightened like a tiny clamp and held my wrist down, drowning it.
Something shot out from the water beside me and knocked the lighter out of my hands, enveloping the casket in darkness again. My arm was seized by another miniature grasp. It yanked me down into the water.
I tried to move, to yell, to fight, but the water’s chill had seized me like poison. I was being held down; the water was rising and almost to my face.
Something moved beneath my head. It came up close to my submerged ear. Someone whispered into it.
The voice was distorted and muffled underwater. But it was unmistakable.
“Mother!” it cried out, cold child lips brushing my earlobe.
I opened my mouth to scream again but only found water. I took it in instead of air and let the liquid saturate the life out of me.
“Mother” it said again and again until we were floating together and the world closed its eyes.
* * *
“Excuse me?” a strange voice said from behind me.
I took my change from the coffee shop barista, giving her a short smile in the process, and carefully turned around to see who was talking. It sounded more like a hesitant question and not a plea to get by.
A pleasant heavy–set man in a windbreaker, holding a coffee and pastry, was behind me off to the side of the line. He had that look in his squidgy eyes that said he recognized me. But for the life of me, I had no idea who he was.
I gave him an even shorter smile than the one I had imparted seconds earlier. I don’t get picked up all that often but it happened enough that it made me leery anytime some strange man attempted to talk to me.
“Uh huh?” I said, trying to be polite but still seem uninterested.
His cheeks puffed up when he saw my face more clearly. He let out a little guffah that stood out against the coffee shop’s irritating music.
“You’re the ghost lady,” he said, smiling, pointing at me with his pastry bag.
I frowned. Was I the ghost lady?
He took a step closer to me and jabbed the pastry in the air again, pink frosting falling off it and snowing onto the tiles below.
“You’re the one on the internet,” he exclaimed, just a bit too loud for comfort. I looked around awkwardly, feeling strangely embarrassed at what was happening. A girl in line was looking at me, obviously not impressed given her once–over, but no one else was paying attention. Typical hipsters.
I looked back at him and smiled again, despite the burning, tight sensation on my own cheeks.
“Oh. So you’ve seen Experiment in Terror?” I asked.
“Yes, of course,” he said, chuckling to himself, the jowls in his throat waving back and forth. “I just stumbled upon it a few weeks ago. I love it. It’s very Blair Witch Project. You know, it’s real. We all know the Blair Witch Project wasn’t real, but you know, this seems real. It is real, right?”
“Yeah, it’s real,” I said slowly, aware that every time I admitted the show was real it made either a believer or a disbeliever out of someone.
“I could tell. I knew that was real fear in your eyes. Sorry, it’s Perry. Perry Palomino, right?”
“That’s me,” I said, feeling more comfortable with the situation. He was just a fan of the show. A fan of my show. A fan of me. My first fan!
“Well, I’ll let you get your coffee,” he said as he aimed the pastry over at the counter, where a barista was placing my latte down haphazardly, foamy milk spilling down the sides of the cup and seeping into the cardboard sleeve. “Keep up the good work!”
And just like that, he spun around and shuffled out of the coffee shop, munching away on his confection as he rounded the corner.
I wiped off the sides of the latte with a napkin and shook my head. Not so much about the sloppy coffee presentation but the fact that someone not only liked what I was doing, but had actually recognized me enough to stop and say hello. It was unnerving and exciting at the same time.
So much had changed over the last few weeks. The trip I took to the town of Red Fox in New Mexico had done a number on me. Having nearly died at the hands of two bitter and deranged ranchers/lovers turned skinwalkers, it really made me rethink my current situation. Mainly, did I want to be involved in hosting a “shitty” internet show about the supernatural when our very subject possessed the ability to not only hurt us, but kill us? I mean, despite my run–ins with Ol’ Roddy at my Uncle Al’s lighthouse, the possibility of death hadn’t really been in the job description.
That’s all I was able to think about on the flight home from Albuquerque. Dex had gone on his merry way back to Seattle and I was alone with only my thoughts and my iPod to accompany me on the way to Portland. Too much had happened on that weekend, aside from the fact that we were exposed to a type of danger that most people would never be in. My beliefs in what was possible in this world, in my reality, were ripped to shreds. My partner, who I still barely knew, had become the closest person to me (in more ways than one). And the show began to resemble nothing more than a vain attempt at notoriety through the most amateur of all mediums. After all, who wasn’t famous on the internet these days?
On top of that, there was the fact that I was living a lie to my parents, pretending I had a job when in fact I had been fired from the advertising agency just before.
But within a matter of days of my return, when the nightmares of zombie coyotes and shape–shifting bears began to fade, everything seemed to right itself. It’s almost as if it was my destiny to keep going, to keep our web show Experiment in Terror alive, and to keep Dex Foray in my life.
Dex sent me over the footage of what we managed to capture in Red Fox, and the results blew me away. So much so that I had to watch it with my younger sister Ada; otherwise I would have probably shit myself. Though not everything was captured on film, the fact is, everything really happened and it wasn’t hard for me to mentally fill in the missing pieces we collected on digital film. Even Ada was scared by the whole ordeal. She had already known the whole story but seeing parts of it come alive must have throttled her.
It was hard to know what the public was going to do with the whole thing so I did the best I could and wrote up everything on the blog that would accompany the footage. I changed some people’s names to protect the innocent (Dex had actually blurred out the face of Will Lancaster, the man who was tormented by the skinwalkers – I think that was a guilty reaction on his part) but I told the story exactly as it happened. I knew that a lot of people (probably 80% of viewers) wouldn’t believe a word of it but it was truth, and to quote Fox Mulder, the truth was out there.