By now the blood has thickened. The building is out of sight and I continue limping with the help of a branch I picked up. The cold air gnaws at my flesh. If not for the moonlight, I would be in total darkness. From far away I see something hanging from a limb. I move quickly, afraid of what I might see. It’s a noose and it’s swinging back and forth. There’s no wind. My steps grow faster as I walk away from the noose, deeper into the forest. My ankle is pulsing with pain and my sweat makes the cold sharper against my skin. I keep moving. All I see are the pine trees around me and the black between them. They are silent and still, like a crowd watching a crime take place, but they do nothing.
A breeze rushes through me with a chill that penetrates marrow-deep. With panic and sweat I limp until I come to a clearing. The pines have stopped and the moon is hidden by the clouds. In front of me I see a black expanse and it is silent. The cold air bites at my neck and hands with toothless gums while my hair stands on end. I feel blind and deaf. The wind slowly pulls its cloudy curtain off of the moon with delicate hands and the light hits the pines behind me first. It creeps slowly towards my back and over me into the darkness in front of my eyes, revealing the ground at my feet. It’s a lake. The light continues over the water. The moon reveals smooth ripples across a black blanket of water under the cloudy sky. Relaxed, I lean on my walking stick and take a deep breath.
As I watch the moonlight crawl across the lake’s surface I see an object in the water. The moon reveals black hair dripping with muddy water, sloping down onto a white dress half submerged in the lake. Her dress flows with the ripples of the lake but her face is masked in darkness. My ankle is screaming and my heart is punching the walls of my chest. She raises her hand out of the water and points in my direction but her fingers remain limp. Suddenly a cloud covers the moon, everything is dissolved into black, and I hear a whisper behind me “dead man walking.” Before I can turn around, cold wet hands grasp my ankles and pull me onto the ground, dragging me into the water. I scream and scream but the trees say nothing. I fight and thrash as I’m pulled deeper into the lake. I look longingly at the white orb above, it’s light coming through the water. The ominous deep becomes darker and the moon disappears. I lose my hope. I close my eyes and let the water into my lungs.
I awake with a startle in my bed covered in sweat. My wife has drawn the curtains and begun to get my suit out of the closet.
“It was just a dream” I say with my hands on my knees, still shaking.
“As the Governor of this town, Bright Falls, you are expected to attend the opening of the new hotel. The one Mr. Silverton is opening today on the edge of town, remember?
“Yes yes Mary, I understand. Tell Mr. Silverton I’ll arrive promptly.”
I get dressed as quickly as possible and we hop into the car. She drives as I button my shirt and fix my tie.
“It’s been years since this building’s ever been used” she says with a roll of her eyes. “Nobody wanted to use it after the, well, the accident.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well the building was an orphanage first. It was shut down by the government. Martha said she heard a girl disappeared and they never found her.”
Standing in the street in the crowd of people, I watch the ceremony take place. Mr. Silverton speaks into a microphone about the vision he has for this hotel as a successful woodland get away from the city. As he cuts the ribbon with oversized scissors, the crowd dissipates. I tell my wife I’ll walk back to enjoy the weather. With the sun on my face, my hair blows in the wind and I gaze at the pine trees towering above me. A lonely squirrel scurrying across the ground catches my attention. I watch it as it makes its way across the cobble stone street in front of me. It looks afraid of something, but not of me. It scampers over to an acorn near my feet, takes it, and runs away. Only now do I realize that my sock is stained red. As I look back up, the clouds blot out the sun and all the color in the trees turns gray. I scan the hotel’s windows and notice that one of them facing the forest is broken. Behind me, I hear a whisper: “dead man walking.”