PREDACEOUS

​​A Halloween Thriller by Sherry Allred

Copyright October 2017 by Sherry Allred 


Week 1

​​​​​​Monday, October 2
Post 1: Thunderstorms and Crashes


           
The sky suddenly became dark. Although it was noon, ominous clouds cast over the sun making it appear as though it were late in the evening.

            Dayne Hudson glanced at his phone to see the time. It was 12:40 pm. He had twenty minutes to get back to school, eat his lunch and make it to his physics class on time. He was only late once to physics, and he regretted it.

            A text came. “Bring me back a burger.” It was his best friend, and wrestling buddy, Jeff Boulder.

            “Sorry, man,” Dayne texted back, “I’m out the door getting into my car.”

            Dayne laughed at Jeff’s emoji of a smiley face gone bad and looking quite emaciated.

            “You can have my fries,” Dayne added to his last text. He hopped into his 2008 silver Honda Accord and started the engine as the sky lit up and then thunder clapped loudly above him. As he pulled out of the Wendy’s parking lot, rain poured down, relentlessly.

            “Holy Cow, Batman! It’s raining buckets!” Dayne muttered, popping on his windshield wipers. Even with the wipers going at full speed, it was difficult to see the road. He drove cautiously as he approached the red light, coming to the intersection adjacent to the street leading to Viewmont High.

            Dayne glanced quickly at his phone again, long enough to see Jeff’s response. “You’re a real man, Hudson!”

            Dayne chuckled. The light turned green and he placed his phone back into the cup holder of his console.  He proceeded forward behind several cars, eventually moving into the right-hand lane to make a right turn. He didn’t quite make the turn before he heard the loud crashing of metal behind him.

            Dayne’s head whipped hard to the left, hitting the window as his car’s tail-end spun on the wet road and the horn from the oncoming traffic blared. He wasn’t sure what had happened until his car came to a rest in the middle of the road. He barely noticed his ears ringing or the blood dripping from the left side of his brow.

            Dazed, Dayne looked around. His car’s engine had killed and soon someone was knocking on his car window. It was a man. “Are you alright?” came the muffled words, as rain continued to pour down.

            The man opened Dayne’s door and looked in. “You alright, son? That car that hit you was going pretty fast.”

            Dayne squinted at the man, still slightly confused. He reached up above the left side of his brow and rubbed his head where he had hit the window. His eyes widened as he saw the blood on his hand, discovering his head was bleeding. He could hear sirens as they neared. Slightly panicked, he tried to step out of the car, forgetting he was buckled in.

            “Just stay there,” the man advised. “An ambulance is coming.”

            Within fifteen minutes, Dayne was sitting in the back of an ambulance with a blanket around him. The paramedic was administering to his cut. “Looks like you’re going to need a couple of stitches.”

            Just then, Dayne’s mother, Monica, arrived. She was slender with short dark hair, styled quite fashionably. She was escorted by a police officer into the back of the ambulance.

            Dayne was still in shock from the accident and gave his mom a spooked look.

            Monica looked equally as frightened yet relieved her son was okay.

            “Are you Mom?” the paramedic asked.

            Monica nodded.

            “He’s going to need some stitches. Other than that he checks out okay. Do you want to pay for an ambulance ride to the hospital or drive him yourself?”

            “Um . . . I can drive him.” She turned to Dayne. “You alright?” she breathed out, brushing back his dark brown hair and looking deeply into his bright blue eyes.

            “I think so.” He managed a half smile.


*****


            Dayne insisted going into the school to get his books from his locker. The paramedic had placed a temporary bandage on his wound and his shirt was stained with blood.

            Monica hung onto his arm, keeping him from tipping over. “Just take it slow, Dayne.”

            “I know.” Dayne scowled. He hated feeling weak. After all, he was a wrestler, and wrestlers were usually the most conditioned athletes in school sports.

            As Dayne arrived at his locker, the bell rang, indicating school was ending. The kids poured out of the classrooms.

            “Dayne, what happened?” Jeff quickly approached. At five-foot-eleven, he was a couple inches shorter than Dayne and not quite as broad in the shoulders but equally as built. He smoothed back his dark-blonde wavy hair and glanced towards Monica. “Hi, Mrs. Hudson.”

            “Hi, Jeff.” Monica smiled warmly. She had known Jeff all throughout junior high, as he and Dayne had wrestled together since seventh grade.

            Jeff turned back to Dayne, who was still pulling books from his locker. “So, what’s with this bandage and all.”

            Dayne finally looked into Jeff’s light brown eyes. “I got hit. Some lady going too fast in the rain. My car’s all smashed up.”

            Jeff drew in a deep, startled breath. “We all heard sirens outside of the school . . . was that you?”

            Dayne nodded. He changed his solemn expression and forced a smile. “Hey, I’m sorry I didn’t bring you any fries. I think they got towed with the car.” He chuckled.

            Jeff returned the laugh. “Hey, man, the one day I don’t go to lunch with you, and you pull this on me. That’s the last time I do homework during lunch.”

            Dayne grinned and shook his head. “Hey, this would have happened whether you were with me or not. It was storming pretty bad during my drive back. The rain still hasn’t quit.” He glanced towards the window where rain continued to pelt against the glass. “Better only one of us needing stitches.”

            “I guess I should tell coach you won’t make it to practice,” Jeff stated more than asked.

            Dayne nodded.

            Jeff’s eyes suddenly widened as he remembered something. “Hey, you’re not the only one getting hammered by this storm. It took down a small Cessna plane about the same time you got in your accident. News was all over the school and we thought the sirens were because of that. It set the mountain on fire, just above that church on the corner.

            “Really?” Dayne was partly surprised, yet still occupied with having to go to the hospital.   

            Jeff glanced at Monica, who was waiting patiently. He turned back to Dayne “I guess you better get going . . . and get your head all fixed up. See you tomorrow?” He gave him a friendly slap on the shoulder.

            “Yeah.” Dayne shut his locker and gripped Jeff’s hand with the fancy handshake they always did as they parted.

            Dayne gingerly headed out of the school with his mom, both of them ducking their heads from the pouring rain. They climbed into Monica’s car. As they drove towards Lakeview hospital, Dayne looked towards the mountain where the fire was still blazing. It was strange that the fire was so big for such a small plane, especially in the rain. Half the mountain was on fire. Luckily it was well above any houses, as far as he could see. Something else was odd. Perhaps it was his head injury causing him to hallucinate, but he thought he saw unusual colors of purple and orange smoke emitting from the blaze. 



Tuesday, October 3
Post 2: Spiders


            “Let’s set up here.” Case Andrews, a well-known news reporter from Fox 13 News, set down a bag that contained a tripod and a light reflector. “Hurry, before they change their minds again and kick us off this mountain.”

            The equipment crew, consisting of two men, rushed to set their cameras and lights in place. It was only seven-thirty, but the October sky was already dark, especially due to the lingering rain clouds. Although it had stopped raining, the ground was still saturated from the earlier downpour and everything was wet and muddy.

            The crew had everything set within a few minutes and Case Andrews stepped into place for the camera man to check the shot. “Looks good. You’re lit. You can start anytime.”

            “Thanks, Mark.” Case smoothed his dark-blonde executive-styled hair with his hand and straightened his shirt collar. Pulling his microphone to his mouth he nodded to Mark and they began filming. “We’re at the scene of a fire that happened this afternoon around twelve-thirty. It has taken us several hours before authorities would allow us to come this close to the scene. If you can see behind me, the blaze is practically out now, and firefighters say the fire is almost completely contained. Police say that shortly after noon, an aircraft crashed into the mountain behind me during the heavy rainstorms we experienced this afternoon. It burst into flames and started the mountain on fire. Even though it was raining, the fire continued to burn and spread across the mountainside, burning nearly fifty acres of land. Fortunately, firefighters were able to get the blaze under control before it threatened any houses up here. It’s very lucky that it crashed well above the firebreak road. Some witnesses described hearing a large explosion while others claimed they saw a small Cessna plane flying over this area. So far, no remains of a pilot or any passengers have been found. Inspectors from the National Transportation Safety Board responded but are puzzled since there is no record of where this plane came from and no wreckage remaining.  We will keep you posted as we receive more information. I’m Case Andrews, Fox 13 News Utah.” Case smiled and stayed in place until Mark gave him the “cut” cue.

            Case’s smile quickly dropped as he turned solemn. He looked at Mark. “Uh . . . you guys pack it up and I’ll meet you in the van in a few minutes. I want to look around.”

            “About twenty?” Mark asked.

            “Yeah, twenty minutes will do it.” He handed the microphone to Mark and took off his blazer and then headed towards the outer rim of the charred ground where a couple of firefighters were sitting down and drinking some bottled water.

            Case greeted with a sympathetic smile. “Rough day at the office?” He draped his blazer across his arm.

            Wet from the rain and soiled with ash and smoke, the fire fighters nodded.

            “Can I get you anything?” Case asked, sympathetically.

            One fire fighter blew out a deep breath. “How about a shower and a foot rub?” he jested. He drank the rest of his water and placed the lid back on the container, standing up and getting ready to check for any hot spots that might be lingering.

            “Can I ask you a few questions?” Case held his hand up in front of the firefighter.

            “Sure.”

            “Did you find any remains at all?”

            The fireman gave Case an intense glare. “Not so much as a fiber of fabric or a shard of glass.”

            “Are you sure it was a small plane?” Case asked.

            The fireman scrunched his brow, peculiarly.

            “I mean, look at how big this fire was . . . from such a small plane?” Case gestured his arm across the width of the black, smoky terrain.

            The fireman shrugged. “I just put the fire out. I don’t know much else. You can ask the investigators if you like . . . or the police might know something more . . . give them a week or so.”

            Case nodded. “Sure. I just wondered if you noticed anything right off. Thanks.”

            “No problem.” The fireman started up the mountainside again, inspecting the ground as he went.

            The second fireman finished his water and stood up. “I can tell you one thing that was odd.”

            Case raised his brow. “Yeah?”

            “The smoke wasn’t exactly normal. It was like some chemical was on that plane or something.”

            “What do you mean?”

            “Smoke is supposed to be black, grey, brown, or white . . . depending on what it burns, how much moisture is involved . . . how hot it is . . . stuff like that. It started out white and then turned black where the fire was burning grass and bushes. As hot as this fire was, you’d think the plane would be putting out black smoke or white from the rain, but it was purple and orange wherever there were pieces of wreckage.”


            “Did it have an odor?” Case asked, increasing with intrigue.

            The fireman shrugged. “I had my ventilator on the whole time. So, I don’t know. And the thing is, everything completely disintegrated in that blaze. Every piece of metal and hunk of wreckage. Even though it was pouring rain, that fire was water resistant. The water we shot on it only kept it from spreading worse. It finally stopped when there was nothing left of the aircraft to burn, and then suddenly the entire thing went out, like its fuel supply was instantly severed.” He gestured his fingers towards the charred ground. “There isn’t anything left for those investigators to even rub between their fingers.”

            “Interesting. Thanks.” Case rubbed his chin, thoughtfully.

            The fireman tossed his hand up in a loose wave and headed up the hill after his partner.

            Case returned the wave and then scratched his head, curiously. He also headed up the mountainside, but in the opposite direction of the firefighters and police. He searched the ground carefully, looking for anything . . . a piece of airplane metal, a wedding ring, a smoldering strip of rubber from the wheel. But nothing. Then he noticed something unusual, about twenty feet away from the rim of the burnt ground, just to the south of where the fire had been. He hiked towards several strange holes in the ground covered with webs. Spider webs. They looked like the type created by funnel spiders, a common species in these mountains. Yet the holes were in an octagon pattern instead of random places, as if they were intentionally plotted out as a colony. Additionally, they were large enough for a rabbit. He stepped closer to one of the holes and peered into the darkness as if it were possible to see down inside. Beads of rain lined the strands of webbing and seemed to glisten, strangely, as though the sun were shining on them. He looked around for a small pebble and picked it up. He gently tossed it onto the web and stepped back to observe. He waited ten seconds, twenty, thirty . . . then the web began to move. He stepped closer as the web continued to vibrate.

            Suddenly, about fifty spiders the size of quarters poured out of the hole and across the web. Case gasped and jerked backwards. The spiders were not like any he’d ever seen. They had bodies shaped like human skulls, with four long and pointy olive-green legs, protruding from each side of their abdomens. Their legs and bodies were smooth, not furry, and the spiders seemed to be very aware of his presence. The hair on Case’s arms stood up as goose bumps formed.  The spiders lurched onto their back legs, flicking their front legs towards Case like little dogs begging for food. Yet they almost seemed to be smelling him like a snake would with its tongue. It was very odd.

            “Case, you ready?” Case heard Mark yell from the van.

            “Uh, yeah, I’m coming,” Case hollered back. The spiders suddenly retreated, as if the yelling was offensive to them. He watched them quickly scurry back into the hole until they all disappeared. He pivoted around and headed down towards the van, deciding he would return later to learn more about these unusual spiders.



Wednesday, October 4
Post 3: New From Montana


            Dayne walked through Viewmont High’s front doors at 6:30 a.m. Since his car was out of commission, he had to rely on his mom driving him to school which meant he needed to come early so she would make it on time to work. Her job was in Lehi, and with the morning commuter traffic, it took her over an hour to get there. Although it was inconvenient to come so early, Dayne decided to make the best of things and use the time to study.  He headed towards the commons and sat down on one of the ledges.

            Three cheerleaders, wearing warm-up sweats, were practicing routines off to the side of the room closest to the gym. A few kids were sitting in the cafeteria area doing homework, probably having had to be similarly dropped off early by a parent. One boy, Herman Wagner, was sitting in a corner and leaning against the wall about ten feet away from Dayne. He was a quiet kid from his Physics class. He was reading a book by Stephen King. Dayne tried to make out the title . . . when a girl entered from across the room.

            She had silver-blonde hair that fell below her shoulders in soft waves. Her eyebrows were dark and her eyes were green or blue . . . he couldn’t quite tell from far away. She was an average height, probably about five-foot-four or five-foot-five from what he could tell. He hadn’t seen her before, and he wondered if she might be new to the school from the unsure way she was walking and looking around. He decided to be a gentleman and help her out. He stood up and strutted, coolly, towards the girl.

            She looked straight at Dayne as he approached and smiled, dimples appearing in her cheeks.

            Dayne smiled back, confirming to himself that her eyes were a brilliant green. “Hi.” He smiled, warmly.

            “Hi.”

            “I saw you come in and wondered if you might be new to the school.”

            “I am. How could you tell?” The girl’s eyes lit up.

            Dayne couldn’t help but gaze at her. “You look lost.” He turned his head and blushed, realizing what he just said. “I mean . . . you don’t look lost . . . you just look like you need help . . . oh that sounded wrong.” He bit his lip. “I guess I should stop now?”

            The girl laughed. “Don’t worry. I get what you’re trying to say. We moved to Utah last week and this is my first day at Viewmont. I thought that once I got here, it would be easy to make my way around, but it’s so much bigger than Baker High.”

            “Baker High? Where’s that?”

            “In Baker, Montana. It’s a really small town. I think they have a population of only two-thousand or less . . . something like that.”

            Dayne chuckled. “Yeah, that is small. I live in Centerville and I think they have about 16,000 people. Bountiful is the city next door and it has almost 50,000.”

            “Wow. I’m swimming in a big pond.”

            “Well, it’s bigger than Montana, anyway. Welcome to Viewmont. I’m Dayne Hudson, by the way.”

            “I’m Chandra Richards . . . by the way.”

            Dayne liked her. He was anxious to get to know her better. “I can help you find your classes,” he offered.

            “That would be great.”

            “Let me see you schedule.”

            Chandra reached in her shoulder bag and pulled out a folded piece of paper.

            Dayne took hold of the schedule when someone from behind him jumped onto his back.

            “Hey!” Dayne dropped the schedule and grabbed arms that had wrapped around his neck. He started to lean forward to flip the unknown attacker. But the attacker twisted off of Dayne’s back and out of his grasp. It was Jeff!

            “Good morning to you, too!” Dayne scowled at Jeff, fixing his tousled hair. He pointed to his friend. “This is my buddy, Jeff.” He then pointed to the new girl. “And this is Chandra. She moved here from Montana.”

            “Hi.” Jeff’s rambunctiousness seemed to quickly wear off as he stared, dreamily at Chandra.

            “Nice to meet you, Jeff,” Chandra returned the greeting.

            Dayne felt a little jealous. He smacked Jeff hard on the back to break his trance and then bent over to pick up Chandra’s schedule. “Sorry about my buddy, he’s a wrestler and he can never get enough. He even wrestles in his sleep,” he teased.

            Chandra raised her brow. “You’re on the team?”

            “Yeah, we both are.” Jeff grinned, proudly. “Dayne’s the captain and we’ve taken State the last two years,” he bragged. “We plan on sweeping the title again, especially this being our senior year.”

            “Wow. That’s impressive. I think my school has taken State a couple of times in its history, but that’s not saying much.”

            Jeff gave a puzzled look. “Why? Aren’t they very good?”

            “Montana’s just a lot less populated than Utah. Not as much competition to contend with.”

            Jeff nodded, understandingly. He suddenly took notice of the skin-colored bandage on the left side of Dayne’s brow. “I forgot about your cut. How many stitches did you end up getting?”

            “About four . . . I’ve had worse.” Dayne shrugged.

            “Why did you have to get stitches?” Chandra asked, suddenly curious.

            “Just a car accident I was in yesterday.”

            Chandra gasped. “A car accident? Are you okay?”

            Dayne chuckled. “I’m standing here, right?”

            Chandra blushed. “Sorry. Car accidents always sound so serious.”

            “Well, I did lose my car out of it. They totaled it because the amount to repair it would have cost more than its value.”

            “So, I guess this means you’ll be getting another car,” Jeff concluded.

            “As soon as the insurance sends me the money.” Dayne scowled. “And who knows when that will be.”

            “You should get a truck like mine,” Jeff boldly suggested.

            “I wish. But they cost a lot and they guzzle far more gas than smaller cars.” Dayne sighed. “My mom and I already talked about it last night.” He looked at Chandra. “We better show you where your classes are before school starts.” He glanced at the schedule. “Hey! We have English and Physics together.”

            The three of them headed off towards the English hall.


*****


            English was the last class that day and Dayne escorted Chandra there after lunch.  

            Chandra spoke to the teacher and was instructed to pick up a text book from the bookshelf by the window.

            Dayne followed her and leaned against the counter that was adjacent to the bookshelf. “So, where did Mrs. Eldridge assign you to sit?” He hoped it was the empty chair two seats away from his desk rather than the empty seat on the other side of the room.

            “Right there.” She pointed to the furthest seat.

            “Oh.” Dayne couldn’t hide his disappointment.

            Suddenly, Chandra screeched as a spider crawled out from a stack of papers on the counter next to Dayne. “Kill it!”

            Dayne glanced at the scuttling spider about the size of a kernel of corn. “It’s just a spider.”

            “I hate spiders!” Chandra shuddered. “Smash it, Dayne!”

            “It’s small,” Dayne argued.

            “It’s still a spider!” Chandra shrieked. “And they bite!”

            “Only if you try to kill them.” Dayne teased.

            “Pleeeeaaase! Now he’s crawling towards me!” She really looked terrified.

            Dayne’s expression turned serious. “Okay. I will.” He folded up his hand in a fist and pounded down on the spider with his bare hand. He looked up at Chandra and cocked a half grin. “Done,” he said nonchalantly.

            “Oooh, you used your hand!” Chandra grimaced and quickly retrieved a tissue from the teacher’s desk. She handed the tissue to Dayne.

            Dayne wiped his hand, but he didn’t tell Chandra he’d already flecked the remains off onto the floor with his finger. He scrunched up the tissue into a ball and tossed it across the room with a jump shot, making it in the trash. “Three points and the crowd goes wild,” Dayne uttered in an emcee voice.

            Chandra smiled and it melted Dayne’s heart. He stepped towards her. “Hey, I was wondering if you’d like to get ice cream tonight?”

            Chandra looked thoughtfully at Dayne. “How about taking a hike?”

            Dayne cast a puzzled look. “What?”

            “I love going on hikes. Can we go on a hike and then get ice cream?”

            Dayne cast a relieved smile. At first he’d thought that she was turning him down. “Okay. We could hike up to the V. It’s close to where the fire burned the mountainside yesterday.”

            “I saw the fire on the news last night,” Chandra revealed. “That would be interesting to see.”

            “Pick you up at five?” Dayne asked.

            “Isn’t your car totaled?”

            “Oh, yeah. I’ll use my mom’s. She gets home from work around five-thirty. Can I pick you up about then?”

            “Sure.” Chandra smiled. They exchanged cell phone numbers just as the bell rang. 


Thursday, October 5
Post 4: The Cement V


            After school, Dayne headed towards the boys locker room to dress for wrestling. Official practices for the season wouldn’t start until the first week in November, but Coach Rigby had the team conditioning for two weeks prior to that.

            After dressing in shorts and a t-shirt, Dayne followed Jeff into the gym.

            Coach Rigby was discussing some information written on a clip board with his assistant coach, Mr. Hawks. Then he noticed Dayne enter. “Hudson, come here!”

            Dayne jogged towards Coach Rigby.

            Coach placed his hand on Dayne’s head and studied the bruising surrounding his bandage. He scrunched his brow with a serious expression. “They told me you made a trip to the hospital yesterday.”

            “Yes, Sir.”

            “. . . and that you got stitches. How many?”

            “Four.”

            “Any other injuries?”

            Dayne shook his head. “No . . . just a couple of bruises.”

            “How are you feeling?”

            “Like working out, Sir.”

            Coach nodded, respectfully. “Okay, Captain. Lead the team, but if you need to sit out for a while, do it.”

            “Yes, Sir.”

            Coach Rigby gave Dayne a motivating smack on the back and turned to the team. “Okay, men, Hudson’s going to start you off.

            “Hey, man! Sorry about the accident.” Alex  Tate held his hand out and gripped Dayne’s hand as he walked by.

            “Yeah, Hudson. Trying to get killed or something?” Rin Kipling razzed. “Glad you’re alright.”

            “Thanks, guys!” Dayne smiled, appreciative of his wrestling buddies. He patted their shoulders as he passed them and proceeded to the center of the wrestling mat, standing in front of the team. “Okay, listen up,” he commanded, loudly. “Start with twice around the mat and then we’re going to work a few partner drills after we stretch. Let’s go!”


ššš
*****



            Dayne took a longer shower than usual in the locker room after workout. He wanted to make sure he smelled good before he picked up Chandra and it was already after five, so there wouldn’t be time to get showered up at home. He had texted his mom earlier to get permission to use the car that evening, and she agreed as long as he was home by ten since it was a school night. He planned to take the car the minute his mom got home.

            “You’re going to run the well dry, Dayner,” Alex teased, using a nick-name the teammates often called him. Alex was smaller than Dayne but more agile than the average wrestler. His father was a gymnastics coach and owned a gym. He was quite adept in pulling tricks during wrestling, doing back flips and front handsprings as he worked around his opponents. It usually caught the other guy off guard right before he would pin him.

            “Yeah, Dayner. You got a date or something?” Rin joined in the jesting. He dried his hair with his towel and then picked up his cologne, spritzing it into the shower at Dayne.

            “Thanks, Rin. My date likes that scent,” Dayne joked back.

            “You’re so full of it.” Rin rolled his eyes.

            “I’m serious. I do have a date.” Dayne grinned proudly and shut off the water, grabbing his towel from the rack.

            Jeff, who was tying his shoes and listening, looked up abruptly. “Don’t tell me it’s that new girl from Montana.”

            “The one and only.” Dayne dried off and wrapped the towel around his waist before strutting towards his locker to dress.

            “You’re kidding.” Jeff scrunched his brow in bewilderment. “How’d you manage that? You just met her today.”  

            Dayne lifted his chin, with a false arrogance. “When you got it, you got it.”           

            “Awe, get out of here!”

            “You Beast!”

            The guys threw their sweaty gym clothes and socks at Dayne as they reacted, all in good humor.


*****


            Dayne caught a ride with Jeff and made it home by 5:20 p.m. Monica arrived fifteen minutes later. Dayne quickly texted Chandra that he was on his way and met his mom in the driveway as she got out of the burgundy 2015 GMC Acadia.

            She left the car running as she got out, looking at her son firmly in the eyes. “Ten o’clock, Dayne.”

            “I know. I’ll be in by 9:59.” He cocked a half-smile and hopped in the car.

            Chandra lived only a few blocks away from Dayne and not too far from the mountain they would be hiking. He pulled up to her house. It was a modest, yet nice home at the bottom of the hill just above 400 East. Dayne guessed that it was probably built in the 1960’s and most likely updated since the exterior had modern trimmings. He got out of the car and headed up the walk. As he reached his hand towards the bell, he realized he was nervous as his fingers started trembling. He was hurrying so fast to get to her house, he didn’t have time to think let alone be aware of his emotions. Bravely, he rang the bell and then wiped his sweaty palm on his pants.

            The door opened and Dayne found himself looking back at a man nearly six feet tall.

            “Hello. You must be Dayne.” He didn’t smile but he had a friendly face. He was dressed in a suit and tie with his hair neatly parted on the side. His sideburns were graying, but his eye brows were dark black along with the rest of his hair.

            “Yes . . . I’m Dayne,” he stammered.

            “Well I’m Chandra’s father. Would you like to come in? I promise I don’t bite.” He adjusted his glasses, his face still serious although he had told a joke . . . at least Dayne thought it might be a joke.

            “Uh, yes. Thank you.” Somehow Chandra’s dad made him feel more nervous than ever. Perhaps because he was so solemn.

            Mr. Richards led Dayne into the living room and seated him on a beige colored suede couch. The house was decorated conservatively with nice paintings adorning the walls. Dayne could tell Chandra’s father made good money.

            “I will let Chandra know you are here.”

            Dayne nodded, running his fingers through his hair a few times.

            Chandra entered a moment later, escorted by her mother.

            “Hello, Dayne. So glad to meet you.” Chandra’s mom held out her hand to shake Dayne’s hand. She was opposite of Chandra’s dad, warm and very smiley . . . almost too smiley. She smiled so big, her eyes nearly closed, but she was very likeable and friendly. She wore false eyelashes that attractively accentuated her eyes, and her skin was smooth and soft, even though her face contained a few well-deserved wrinkles for her age. Her dark-blonde hair fell in stylish waves around her jaw and along her neck. Dayne could tell where Chandra got her good looks.

            Dayne stood up and held out his hand. “Nice to meet you, too.” He looked at Chandra. “Hi.”

            “Hi.” Chandra had a smile like her mom’s, just not as big.

            Mrs. Richards grasped Dayne’s arm. “Thank you so much for asking Chandra out. She was worried about coming here and not having any friends. And you seem like such a nice guy.” She squeezed his arm, warmly.

            “Uh, sure.”

            “Chandra says you wrestle.”

            “Yes, I do.”

            “We’ll have to come and see some of your games.”

            “They’re called meets, mom, not games,” Chandra corrected, kindly.

            “Oh . . . games, meets, tournaments . . . their all the same, right?” She laughed and then drew in a satisfying breath.

            “I’ll have her back before ten,” Dayne assured as he escorted Chandra out the door.  

            “That sounds fine. You kids have a good time.” Mrs. Richards waved and then closed the door.

            “Your parents are nice . . . although I’m not sure your dad likes me.”

            Chandra chuckled as Dayne opened the passenger-side door of the car. “He likes you. He’s just a little rigid because he’s an attorney and he’s a little more serious than most of us.”

            Dayne breathed out a sigh of relief. “Good. I was worried for a moment.” He ran around to the driver’s side and got in.



*****


            Fifteen minutes later, Dayne and Chandra were out of the car and beginning their ascent towards the cement V on the mountainside.

            “I can’t believe how much of this mountain burned in the rain,” Chandra commented, looking up the trail. “I mean, it was pouring.”

            “I know. It’s odd,” Dayne replied. “A lot of things were strange about this fire.”

            “What do you mean?”

            “Well, they never could trace where the plane was from and there weren’t any remains recovered from the pilot or any passengers. As of now they’re still unidentified.”

            “Yeah. I heard that on the news, and I thought that was a little strange, too.” Chandra looked towards the V. “So this is the famous Viewmont High School V.”

            “Yep. And it’s whitewashed every year before school gets out for the summer . . . by the seniors. They make it a big party and everyone gets pretty messy.”

            “Sounds fun,” Chandra said hesitantly.

            “You’re not quite convinced, are you?” Dayne stated more than asked.

            “To be honest, I don’t like the idea of having paint all over me. That stuff’s hard to get out of your hair.”

            Dayne laughed. “Oh, come on. It washes out if you don’t wait too long. I mean, if you wait a couple of days it would probably harden and you’d have to let it wear off over time.”

            Chandra scowled. “Ooh! Who would do that?” 

            “I take it you like paint in your hair as much as you like spiders?” Dayne asked as they approached the cement letter.

            “You got it. And I think that any reasonable and sane person should feel the same.” She stepped towards the V and brushed her hand across the top. “I always wondered what this looked like up close.” She turned around and sat down on the edge.

            Dayne sat next to her. “Well, this is it, the famous Viewmont V and the charred mountainside from a mysterious fire.”         

            Chandra scrunched her brow, looking towards a spot on the ground several feet away. “What’s that?” She pointed to a large hole covered with web.

            Dayne headed towards the hole and Chandra followed. Dayne stopped a foot in front of it. “It’s the biggest funnel spider web I’ve ever seen.”

            “Are you serious?” Chandra stepped back.

            Dayne leaned over the hole and peered in. “Look at the size of that thing. I’d hate to see the size of the spider that made it.”

            “Do you think it’s in there?” Chandra asked, her voice trembling.

            “There’s one way to find out. Let’s drop something on its web like a piece of dirt or burnt grass, and then maybe it will come out of the hole.”

            “Uh, Dayne, I don’t think that’s a good idea. Maybe we should go back to the car and get some ice cream.”

            Dayne didn’t answer, he was deep in thought. “You know what’s stranger? Besides the size of the hole and the web? The fact that the spider built it so quickly. I mean, a web that intricate had to have taken more than just overnight to build. And look over there. More holes . . .”

            “I’m done, here,” Chandra stated. “Let’s go before the . . .”

            “Wait, listen.” Dayne held up his hand. “I thought I heard someone behind that bush.” He pointed to some brush and trees that hadn’t been burned in the fire. “I think someone else is up here with us.”

            “Are you sure?” Chandra listened then quietly shrieked. “I heard it too!” Maybe we should go and get that ice cream right now.” 

           Just then the bush rustled. 



Friday, October 6
Post 5:  Unexpected


            Case sat in front of his computer in his cubicle at Fox 13 Studio, frantically searching his files. For the last hour he had been trying to locate the news clip he filmed the night before about the plane crash, but it was gone. Finally, he stood up, extremely frustrated, and headed towards his boss Howard Zurcher’s office. On the way there, he bumped into anchor, Sally Shayne. She was petite, with white blonde hair styled in an A-line cut. She wore false lashes and dark mauve lipstick that accentuated her high cheek bones. She was naturally beautiful, down to earth, and very likeable.

            “Sorry, Sally.” Case apologized, though his mind was on other things.

            “Oh, no worries.” She cast a look of concern. “What’s up?”

            “Uh . . . have you seen Howard?”

            “Last, he was in his office, but that was half an hour ago.”

            “I’ll find him.” Case nearly sounded like he was ready to take someone on. He started towards Howard’s office.

            Sally caught Case’s arm. “Are you sure you’re alright? Can I help with anything?”

            Case looked into Sally’s eyes for the first time since they had been conversing and forgot his troubles for a moment. He smiled and blew out a sigh. “No. But thanks.” He drew in a deep breath and continued on towards Howard’s office.

            Richard and Blake, two members of the news team, were in the office discussing some issues.

            “Have you seen Howard?” Case asked, his frustration quickly returning.

            “No, he . . .” Richard began, and then he looked behind Case. “Wait, here he comes.”

            Howard stepped into the doorway. He was taller and broader than Case but a little out of shape. His dark hair was receding on the top, yet was still combed attractively. He stuck his fists on his hips. “Someone looking for me?” He raised his brow and grinned.

            Case turned towards Howard and glared. “Yeah, me. Where’s my clip on the plane crash?”

            Howard’s expression turned solemn. “Rich, Blake, can you give us a minute?”

            Richard and Blake nodded and left the room.

            Howard shut the door behind them and loosened his tie. “Take a seat, Case.” He sauntered towards the chair behind his desk and sat down.          

            Case remained standing and continued to focus on Howard with discontent. “You know, don’t you?”

            “Know what?” Howard placed his elbows on the desk and calmly clasped his hands together.

            Case stepped towards Howard. “The game, Howard! It’s all a game, and you know it! Every time one of my news articles is mysteriously edited or footage of a film strangely disappears . . . somehow, nobody seems to know what happened to it and it becomes the object of a conspiracy. And it seems to be occurring a little more frequently, lately.” He leaned forward on the desk, coming closer to Howard and attempting to suppress his rising anger. “My news clip was played last night and now it’s gone. There’s no trace of it, and my guys who filmed it discovered just this afternoon that it was inexplicably erased from their cameras and the files are missing on the main computer system.” He bit his lip and waited for Howard’s response.

            Howard turned his head away from Case and rubbed the back of his neck. “Perhaps it got deleted . . . accidentally.”

            Case slammed his fist on the desk. “You’re right! All of the existing files were magically deleted at the same time! What a phenomenon! Just like my clip that disappeared last week, and the two stories in September, and the one in July! And I haven’t even mentioned my rewritten articles!” He bellowed loud enough to cause some of the news team to hear the commotion. They turned to look at Howard and Case through the glass door and gave puzzled looks.

            “Calm down, Case,” Howard commanded. “Just sit down and relax for a minute. When you’ve settled down, I’ll explain.”

            Case reluctantly pulled up a chair and sat down glaring back at Howard. “This is as calm as I’m going to get. I’ve been asking you people for the last week what’s going on, and everyone has been blaming it on technology or my lack of competency with this job. Are you trying to push me out of this station? Is that it? Am I being set up so that I’ll leave or be fired?” He rubbed the stress from his forehead.

            “Nobody’s trying to kick you off the team. It’s deeper than that and it’s out of my hands. I’m sorry that it has mostly involved your projects and that it’s caused you such distress, especially since you’ve only been with us for six months. We don’t mean to treat the new kid on the block unkindly. You just happen to be assigned to the events that the Federal Government knows something about.”

            “What are you talking about?” Case’s expression turned from anger to intrigue.

            Howard drew in a deep breath and slowly let it out. “The CIA knew something about the incident concerning the plane crash and the fire before it even happened. I don’t know anything more than that except that when the CIA gets involved, they have far more power than anyone should contend with. When they step forward, I step back. We are not the only news station that lost files about that story today.”

            Case stared in astonishment. “Who else knows about this?”

            “Several people above me. A few of the anchors suspect things but they are wise enough to keep their mouths shut . . . and play the game, as you so call it.” He gave Case a serious look. “You need to understand that the CIA is bigger than you ever realized and you should never, ever go against them or they will make sure you regret it. Don’t get me wrong, the CIA does good things. They have performed remarkable acts . . . even feats that have saved our country . . . but they have their unorthodox ways and even standards that may seem criminal. But to catch a thief, sometimes you have to be one. Do you understand?”

            Case was speechless. He appeared as though he was in shock.

            “Can I get you a drink?” Howard asked, studying the distraught, twenty-six-year-old reporter.

            Case shook his head. “So, I walk away looking incompetent but I keep my job?”

            “Pretty much.” Howard cracked a sympathetic smile.

            Case rubbed his face then stood up and started for the door. “I’m leaving for the day.” He turned back to look at Howard. “I think I’ll take tomorrow off too, if that’s okay?”

            Howard nodded, thoughtfully. “Sure, Case. Take the rest of the week and return on Monday if you like.”

            Case nodded then left, unable to conceal the stunned look on his face. He headed for his cubicle to collect his things. Suddenly he decided he would make a detour before going home to his empty apartment.



*****



            Dayne stared at the bush that had moved. He could tell someone or something was hiding behind it but the sky was darkening and it was hard to see. “Hello? Anybody there?”

            Nobody answered.

            “Maybe it was a rabbit or a bird?” Chandra suggested.

            Dayne started towards the bush. “If someone’s there, you better come out now or I’ll crush you!” He figured a little threat might encourage the situation.  

            “Don’t hurt me.” A teen-aged boy came out from behind the bush.

            Dayne recognized the kid. It was Herman Wagner, the boy from his Physics class. “Herman?”

            “Are you going to hurt me?” Herman cowered.

            Dayne breathed out a laugh. “Sorry, man. I wouldn’t hurt you. I thought you were some criminal or something.” He thought for a moment. “What are you doing up here?”

            Herman stood up, straight. “I wanted to see what the fire did. I like coming up here to write and I was worried everything would be gone . . . all the trees and bushes. Luckily the fire didn’t take everything.”

            Chandra stepped towards Herman. “You write?”

            Herman smiled, bashfully. “Yes.”

            “What do you write?” Chandra asked.

            “Mostly poetry, but I really want to write science fiction or horror novels.”

            “Like Stephen King?” Dayne asked. “I saw you reading one of his books today.”

            Herman shrugged. “Not really. I want to find my own voice, but he does have some interesting ideas.”

            “I don’t like his books,” Chandra admitted. “I’ve read some of the synopses, like It which has twisted morals and an evil plot filled with extreme murder and violence.”

            “He’s a good writer,” Herman defended.

            “It doesn’t matter how good a writer is. Writing about such horrifically violent stuff that fills people’s heads with terror and immoral ideas doesn’t make a good book. Literature like that causes people to be afraid and promotes evil. I know a lot of good books that deal with fear and violence or literary themes such as good versus evil that teach valuable principles. Writers don’t need to delve into the hard-core stuff. It isn’t inspiring.”

            “Don’t worry, I’m not planning on writing hard-core horror books,” Herman assured. “I prefer inspiring.”

            “Then maybe I’ll read them when you’ve written them.” Chandra smiled.

            Dayne started feeling a little jealous the way Chandra was interested in Herman. “Hey, why were you hiding behind the bushes, anyway?”

            Herman blushed. “I saw you guys coming, and I didn’t want anyone to catch me up here. When I write, I like to be alone. Less distracting that way.”

            Dayne nodded. “Makes sense. I guess the day light’s gone and you can’t do much writing now.”

            “Yeah, I don’t usually stay up here once the sun sets, but I started getting an inspiration for a novel from those spider tunnels so I stuck around a little longer.”

            “Don’t you think they’re kind of odd?” Dayne asked. “I mean, how did the spiders survive the fire?  Even if they hid out during the fire, how did they build their webs so quickly . . . less than a day?”

            “Actually it only takes about an hour for a spider to build an orb web, and they usually build them at night. I’m sure the same goes for funnel web weavers. They probably started building last night after the fire was out.”

            “You sure know a lot about spiders,” Chandra remarked.

            “I find them interesting,” Herman revealed.

            “Well, Chandra’s terrified of them,” Dayne chuckled. “You should have seen her scream when a little bitty one crawled out of a stack of papers.”

            “He was big to me,” Chandra defended. “Besides, they’re spooky . . . and I prefer to stay away from them.”

            “Fair enough. Let’s move away from these spider tunnels and get some ice cream from Dairy Queen.” He turned to Herman. “Good luck with your writing and stuff.”

            “Thanks. I think I’ll stay up here a few minutes more and look at these webs a little closer before the light’s completely gone.”

            “Okay. See you tomorrow in Physics.”

            “Yeah see you tomorrow,” Herman waved as Dayne and Chandra headed down the mountain.

            A few minutes later, Dayne and Chandra made it to the car. Dayne opened the door to let Chandra in when they heard a loud cry on the mountain above them where they had just come from.

            “What was that?” Chandra asked.

            Dayne looked up towards the V. “I don’t know.”

            “Do you think it was Herman? “Maybe he got hurt or something?” Chandra asked.

            Dayne waited and listened. “I don’t hear anything anymore. Maybe a spider jumped out and scared him.”

            “He didn’t seem scared of spiders. Maybe we should go check on him?”

            Dayne sighed. He wasn’t looking forward to hiking back up the mountain in the dark. He’d much rather spend time with Chandra. He placed his hands around his mouth and hollered, “Herman!” and listened. Nobody responded. He yelled Herman’s name again, and still no answer. He turned to Chandra. “You stay here in the car and I’ll run up and see. I’m sure he’s fine.”

            Chandra nodded.

            Dayne grabbed a flashlight out of the glove compartment and turned it on before dashing up the mountainside. 



Saturday, October 7
Post 6: Missing


            After leaving Fox 13 studio and running a few errands, Case arrived in Centerville and drove to the firebreak road just below where the fire had burned the night before. He was on the side opposite of where Dayne and Chandra had been hiking. He opened his laptop and started looking up any information he could find about the plane crash. He found a few YouTube videos that had been removed that afternoon that were possibly related, but nothing more. It was true. Everything had been stripped from the internet and news stations about this strange incident. He pulled out a flashlight from his glove compartment, opened his door, and started to get out of the car. A shiny black van pulled up behind him.

            “Of course they’d be here,” Case groaned and sat back down in his car. A man in a dark suit stepped out of the passenger side of the van and approached Case who was still sitting in the driver’s seat with the door open. He was over six feet tall and had broad shoulders and a strong build.

            “Out for an evening stroll?” the man asked, sternly. The van’s headlights lit up the area surrounding them.

            “What if I am?” Case answered. “Free country.”

            “We are bringing in a team of investigators concerning the fire,” the man began, ignoring Case’s comment, “and we’ll be shutting down this site for a few days. You’ll need to leave.”

            Case noticed the headlights from several vehicles approaching from behind the black van. Among them were more black vans, cars, off-road vehicles, and jeeps, all being led by a pest control van.

            “An exterminator?” Case raised his brow. “Mind if I ask why you need pest control?”

            “The man pulled his cell phone from his inside suit pocket and held it up to Case’s face. He snapped a picture and then looked at the screen.

            “Hey!” Case gasped. “Are you putting that on facebook or something? You could have a least warned me. I would have smiled,” he jested, stiffly.

            The man read aloud from the screen. “Casey Andrews, Fox 13 news.” He looked up from the phone and tilted his head to the right. “I thought you looked familiar.”

            “You want my autograph?” Case asked, solemnly.

            “How about giving you an escort down the mountain?”

            “I already have a date, thanks.”

            Annoyed, the man squatted down and glared at Case. He spoke slowly and articulately. “I’m going to turn around and walk to the van. While I’m walking, I will hear your engine start. Before I turn back around, your car will be halfway down the hill or you will be sleeping in our guest bedroom tonight at the county courthouse.”

            “Remind me to invite you to my wedding.” Case scowled.

            The man sneered and stood up, tipping his head in a final warning before turning around. As he began walking, Case reluctantly closed the door and started the engine to his car, anxiously thinking of ideas of how he could get past the government to find out what was going on.


*****



            As Dayne neared the V, he shone the flashlight through the bushes. “Herman!” he called, lasering the flashlight in front of him. Herman didn’t answer. “Come on, Herman. I got a date waiting for me at the bottom of the hill,” Dayne remarked, impatiently. He stepped towards the bush where Herman had been hiding in the first place, but no luck. Suddenly, he heard footsteps behind him. He turned around and gasped as a flashlight was shone into his face.

            “Looking for something?” a man’s voice asked. It didn’t sound like Herman.

            Dayne squinted in the light and held his hand over his eyes. “Just a kid from school who was up here a few minutes ago. Can you put that light down? You’re blinding me.”

            The man aimed the light towards the ground. “Other than our investigating team, you’re the only one up here.”

            “Who are you?” Dayne asked, curiously.

            “Agent Hammond, with the CIA. We’re clearing this area so we can do a thorough investigation of the fire. You’ll need to leave so we can close off this site.”

            “Sure,” Dayne agreed, thrilled he was talking to a real CIA agent. “So, you didn’t happen to see a skinny kid with reddish-brown hair . . . about this tall?” Dayne held his hand up to illustrate how tall Herman was.

            “No. Maybe he went down the mountain in the other direction.”

            “Yeah, that’s probably what happened,” Dayne agreed. “Thanks.” He was glad he didn’t have to worry about it. He anxiously headed back down to the firebreak road again.

            Dayne got down the mountain and climbed into the driver’s seat of the car.

            “Did you find him?” Chandra asked.

            “No, he probably left a different way than the trail we took. Anyway, there are CIA agents up there, so if he does still happen to be hanging around, he’ll be fine . . . they’ll send him home.”

            “CIA agents?”

            “Yeah, they’re closing off the area to investigate the fire.”

            “Well, let’s get that ice cream we’ve been talking about all evening,” Chandra insisted.

            Dayne smiled and they headed to Dairy Queen.


*****


            Back up on the mountain, Agent Hammond turned around and headed towards his investigating team. He shone the flashlight on the ground so he didn’t stumble on the spider tunnels. A few feet ahead of him, he noticed something near one of the spider-web covered holes and approached it. It was a notebook and a couple of mechanical pencils spilled on the ground. He picked up the notebook and read the name across the top: Herman Wagner.

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Halloween Cliffhanger Week 1

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Read this spooky cliffhanger, to add excitement to your Halloween and leave you on the edge of your seat EVERY NIGHT Monday through Saturday until October 31st, where the conclusion will be revealed . . . for a fun Halloween. 


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