That Night Under the Stars

The night was humid and thick with the warm smoke of the campfire, and, under the milky way stars, they were content. Amid the stress of being a member of society, they just needed a break, 48 hours away from it all. She’d been here before a million times. It was a second part of her, home from home, as familiar as the back of her hand.

It was just her and the group, and it was amazing. It was amazing, but they never returned home.

Lost in rural Appalachia wasn’t what was supposed to happen– she knew these woods. She wasn’t supposed to lead them to this.

It was a clear afternoon when they left for their hike. She led the way, knowing how often she frequented the trail. It was just long enough to make it back to camp before sunset. They were on track, of course, because she knew what she was doing and they trusted her. The trees became recognizable and they smelled the smoke from the fire they used to cook lunch before they set off. But, it was as if right before the clearing of their campsite, they stepped into a place that was not theirs.

They all felt it, and they all asked her what happened, was that normal, where were they? She couldn’t reply because she didn’t know, and they saw it in her eyes.

In a state of panic, they failed to notice the silence around them: no buzzing, no chirping, no rustling. They did, eventually, notice that one of them had disappeared. How long?

They called for him, but there was not a sound amongst the silence. Then, someone else had disappeared. Then another. Then another. And then there were only him and her left. They looked at each other and grabbed on for dear life because it was at that moment that they heard the screams and cries. They shut their eyes and numbed their minds, pretending not to hear and not to be noticed.

It went silent.

A whisper was heard, calling his and her name, and she knew not to ever look when someone called your name in the mountains. Her father had told her and his father to him. She knew, but he didn’t know.

He looked, and she heard him get taken. She was alone in the screams, then the silence.

Then the whispering of her name got louder and louder. I’m sorry, she said to her father and her father’s father. She looked.

The night was humid and thick with the smoke of the campfire, and, under the milky way stars, they were gone.