On the surface, Nathan Grey looked like calm waters—clean, crisp, gentle—, but below the surface, there were monstrous things that lurked.
LED headlights from his SUV beamed through the night air and across the desolate highway as he drove. Hanging from his rearview mirror was a wooden cross necklace and a photo of his mother; a photo of her before the medicines had robbed her of that blushing smile. A photo of her from when she was still around for the smile to even exist.
Flickering memories would cause Nathan’s eyes to gravitate back toward that rearview mirror minute after minute, hour after hour, making the road trip seem endless. But he couldn’t keep looking back. To look back was to stare down the barrel of a .45. It was just too painful. All he could do was look ahead to the timeless sands of Myrtle Beach, the palm trees, and the saltwater ocean calling out to him and his scuba gear.
“Are you awake?” Lainey, Nathan’s girlfriend, asked from the passenger seat.
“Me? No, I always drive while I sleep.”
She gave him a playful smack on the arm. “Don’t be a smartass. I just meant, are you tired?”
“I guess I am a little tired,” he said and then yawned. “Okay, I’m tired. Can hardly tell if I’m awake now.”
“We’ve been driving for a while.” She looked at the clock on the radio. “It’s almost midnight. Maybe we should stop somewhere.”
Nathan could tell by the arch in her brow that she wasn’t asking. “Okay, fine. You’re right.”
Lainey grinned at the words as they fell from his mouth.
“I’m not sure where we’ll pull over though,” Nathan said, glancing to the dark looming trees stretching along the road’s shoulder.
With the map in her hand, Lainey reached up and turned on an overhead light. She traced her finger along one of the ink roads, glanced up at a mile marker, then said, “Looks like we’ll be coming up on Moundville, Alabama before long.”
Nathan raised his eyebrows. “Are you suggesting we stay in a hotel? Kind of boring, don’t you think?”
“What else are we supposed to do?”
With a smirk, Nathan kept his eyes on the road and stayed quiet as he continued driving. The whole point of the trip was to keep his mind busy; make him forget, if there even was a way. Nathan was out there for the adventure, and he’d settle for nothing less.
An exit with a campsite sign was passed. What fun would that have been? Instead, he took an exit where the street lights didn’t go and then turned onto a road that couldn’t be seen on the map—a road with a street sign that laid bent and battered in the overgrown grass. Nathan turned off the stereo and gripped the wheel with both hands. The SUV let out creaks while slowly rolling over the tight and uneven road. With every pothole they hit, the keys in the ignition would clink and clack together in the silence.
Lainey asked him to turn back.
“Just a little further,” he said, his teeth on edge.
He followed the road beneath the jagged and twisted branches that swayed above. One mile turned to two…asphalt turned to gravel and dirt. It seemed the further they drove, the darker the night became. A feeling of uncertainty begged for his attention, but he shrugged it off and kept going. He was in it, searching for that adventure, hunting for that thrill.
After a few more miles, the gravel road came to an end at an area where the trees began clearing away. Through them, the glistening black of water could be seen not far ahead. Nathan turned off the car, then him and Lainey looked at each other. He gave a timid smile and raised his shoulders—like a child might do when he knows he’s pissed off Mommy.
Lainey shook her head. “You are crazy, Nathan Tyler.”
“Probably. But do you see that?”
She searched his line of sight. “See what?”
“The water. Past the trees. I think it’s a lake.”
Lainey squinted her eyes. “Are you sure?”
“Uh-oh, I think someone’s starting to appreciate my stubbornness now, huh?” He playfully poked at her. “Huh? Yeah?”
Lainey pulled herself from the SUV, fighting a smile as she did. They unloaded their tent and a couple of backpacks, then made their way toward the lake. The sounds of crickets, frogs, and an owl in the distance gave them both a feeling they’d grown to associate with home.
“I guess it’s all right,” Lainey finally admitted. “Although, I do kind of feel like I’m in a scene from Friday the 13th.”
“Yeah, I guess.” Nathan checked his phone. “No, I have three bars. If this were a slasher, I wouldn’t have any. Besides, doesn’t that eerie feeling add to the excitement? Make you feel alive?”
“You’re a freak.”
“Aw, but I’m you’re freak. Now come on. Let’s set up this tent—yeah?”
The two found a space between a few pine trees where the ground was flat and began setting up their tent. Nathan was connecting a couple of rods when he heard Lainey shriek. He jumped and turned to the commotion. Lainey stood with her hands over her mouth, staring at something.
“What is it?” Nathan asked.
She pointed. Nathan turned in that direction and saw a small snake on the ground. He rolled his eyes and continued putting the tent together.
“That’s it?” she asked with a shoulder shrug. “You’re not going to save me?”
“From what? The caterpillar?”
“Well fine then,” Lainey said as she began walking away.
“Where are you going?”
“I was gonna… I, uh… I have to go pee now. Be quiet.”
As soon as he heard her footsteps fade into silence, Nathan unzipped a small pocket on his bag and pulled from it a tiny black box. With the box cupped in his hand, he gently lifted the top and peeked underneath. Inside, was the one-carat round-cut diamond on the white gold band he’d picked out a week before. Almost as beautiful as her.
Then, the unexpected happened.
The sound of a splash came from behind. As soon as it did, the once-lively wildlife suddenly went hush. Nathan slipped the box back into its pocket and went to the sound.
“Lainey? Don’t go skinny dipping without me!” he shouted.
He walked down to the lake’s edge and stood staring out at the water. It looked so peaceful beneath the clear starry sky. Calm. In it, he looked for Lainey, but didn’t see her. The smooth ripples that held the moon’s glare looked undisturbed.
“Lainey?” He waited for a response… but there was only quiet.
Nathan walked along the bank’s edge, calling out to Lainey. He wondered where she could’ve gone. Hardly a few moments had passed. She couldn’t have gotten too far—unless she was hiding. Nathan turned and walked along the bank in the other direction. He continued for maybe fifty yards before he stopped and got a feeling in his gut. Felt like he was falling. The wilderness around him gradually returned to life as he retreated to a worrisome place inside.
Hope you’re all having a decent enough Memorial Day weekend. Personally, I can’t stand all of the extra time on my hands. Me+too much free time= bad, bad things are about to happen.
Anyway, keep it cool, play it safe, don’t do drugs, and if you’re like me, don’t get caught.
Also, my mystery novel, The Killed Conscience, is available for pre-order on Amazon, Kobo, and Smashwords. Check it out ❤