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Behind the Eyes
I didn’t expect anything interesting to happen this summer. Nothing ever does. But apparently, life had something else in mind.
It started the minute we arrived at our summer cottage. Mr.Deanner, an old friend of my parents, came out to greet us.
“Hello, hello. It’s so good to see you. Why Laura you have grown quite a lot since the last time I saw you. You’re, what, fourteen now?” he asked.
I had never seen him before, so I just nodded my head politely and plastered on a fake smile.
The gray-haired, lanky man led us to our rooms and left us to unpack. I was sharing with my little brother, Max. He was ten.
After unpacking, I stared out the window. Max had gone outside to play and I could see him feeding chickens. My gaze wandered over to the dark patch of forests on the east side of the cottage. I caught a glimpse of red bounding through the trees.
I don’t know why, but it sent a spasm of cold running through me. It’s just an animal, I told myself, plenty of them in the middle of nowhere.
But I knew something was peculiar about that one.
I went downstairs for a snack to calm my nerves down. I found my mother and father drinking coffee and munching biscuits at the table. My dad looked up from his book at the sound of my approaching.
“Hey, hon. You hungry? Marcus is outside fixing his tractor, but go ahead and see what’s in the cupboards.” He turned back to his book.
Fixing his tractor? It was almost sundown and he was fixing his tractor? I didn’t even see him by his tractor when I looked out the window. I pondered this as I chewed on a granola bar.
Mr.Deanner still didn’t show up for dinner so my mother found some leftover chicken and some veggies and made stew. She left a bowl on the table for him when we were done.
“This is not like him,” she remarked, “In all the years I have known him, Marcus has never skipped a meal.”
We all went upstairs and got ready for bed.
“Don’t you think something’s weird about this Deanner guy?” Max asked when were settled in bed. Max’s bed was on the opposite wall by the window so he sort of had to whisper-yell.
“Yeah. Something’s definitely off,” I responded.
We were quiet for some time, lost in our own thoughts. Eventually, my eyes closed and I fell asleep.
My eyes flew open. I could hear creaking floorboards. I glanced at the clock. Two AM. Who could be up at this hour?
I glanced over at Max’s snoring figure. He was sleeping soundly.
I got up and went to the door. On tiptoe, I descended the steep flight of wooden stairs.
When I got to the landing, I stood still waiting for telltale noises. The sound of footsteps on concrete could be heard cutting through the country’s nighttime lullaby. It came from the basement.
I silently walked over to the door and put my ear to it. Nothing. Just as I was about to turn the knob, a voice behind me whispered, “What are you doing?”
If you’ve ever been stuck in the dark and you hear a voice come out of the blackness, then you probably know how freaked out I was. If that’s never happened to you, then consider yourself lucky. I spun around, a scream building in my throat. But before I could utter a squeal, a hand came up and clamped over my mouth.
“Shh!” the voice hissed again, “It’s me, Max. Cool it, will you?”
My heart did not stop its rapid beating until I saw the familiar mop of dirty blonde hair atop a skinny, pale face. Max slowly lowered his hand.
“Now, care to tell me what on earth you are doing here?”
Once I could find my voice, I stammered, ‘F-footsteps… basement…” I paused. “Are you okay?”
Max was staring out the back screen window, looking pale. Mr. Deanner was walking up the stone steps. Max and I raced up the stairs and jumped in our bed just as the front door creaked open.
We listened to the thumps and creaks that came though the door as Mr.Deanner presumably got ready for bed.
“Alright, I am one-hundred percent sure now that that guy is a freak,” remarked Max when the din stopped.
“Don’t be rude,” I countered, “I’m sure he has a perfectly valid reason for staying out this late.”
But both Max and I knew it. This guy was seriously messed up.
The next morning, Mr.Deanner joined us for breakfast. It was pretty awkward since we had already drawn conclusions about him, but he was as cheerful as ever.
“Good morning, folks! Did ya’ll get a good sleep?”
My dad stared at him. “Yeah, Marcus. How was your night?”
Mr.Deanner’s face clouded up a bit, but it returned to its normal cheerfulness just as fast.
“Great, thanks,” he replied. He looked over at Max and me. “Say, do you kids wanna go on a walk in the woods after breakfast? It really is a beauty.”
“The woods?!” my mother exclaimed, almost dropping the porcelain dish she was scrubbing at the sink.
“Aww, c’mon Rachel. I’ve been living here since…” A slow grin spread across his wrinkled face. “Well, since the dawn of time. I know what I’m doing.”
We were silent for a moment. Then my dad burst into laughter along with my mom and Mr.Deanner.
Max and I didn’t get the joke. I think it was an inside thing.
“Sure kids,” my dad said between chuckles, “I think it’ll be a great experience for you two.” He turned to my mom. “Don’t worry Rach; they’ll be fine.”
My mom nodded and smiled.
I looked at Max.
“Do we have to?” I asked timidly.
“Well, no, but I think you’ll have more fun if you do.” My dad gave us a reassuring grin.
We agreed reluctantly.
After scarfing down the pancakes and bacon, we headed outside. The forest loomed up in front of us like a blanket of darkness. The tall tree’s limbs were gnarled and twisted and the darkness underneath the canopy of leaves filled my head with images of unknown, gruesome creatures stalking the cluster of trees. The wide gloomy forest looked so out of place in such a sunny setting.
“We’ll head through this trail here and I’ll point out some interesting things,” said Mr. Deanner.
The trail—if you could call it that—was a narrow strip of dirt snaking its way into the clump of trees.
As the blackness engulfed me, I sensed eyes piercing the dark. One look at Max and I could tell he felt as uneasy as I did.
“This place is pretty quiet in the day, but at night, oh boy, it’s just crawling with life.”
We walked on as Mr.Deanner droned on about different plants and animals. I could barely make out their shapes and kept stumbling over rocks and pebbles. I was surprised at how dark the woods were on such a sunny day. Mr.Deanner didn’t look like he had a problem with the dark, though.
After a while I became aware of the silence.
“Max?” I whispered.
I groped in the darkness for his hand and clung on to it.
I stopped in my tracks and looked around. There wasn’t much to see. It was still almost pitch black.
“Mr.Deanner!” I said louder.
“Where’d he go? Are we lost, Laura? I’m hungry.” I searched around frantically as Max talked on about his own starvation.
I don’t know how long I stood there. It might have been five minutes or maybe an hour, but the next thing I knew, a coppery red fox stood in front of me lips pulled back in a vicious snarl showing numerous sharp teeth. Its legs were tense and ready to spring at the slightest movement. Its bright electric blue eyes stared hungrily at me. It seemed strangely familiar, but I couldn’t put my finger on it.
A scream ripped out of my dry throat.
In my mind, I debated what to do. Run and risk being chased by a giant fox or stand there until it makes up its mind.
Max chose for me.
“Run!” He yelled.
We stumbled blindly though the dense wood, the fox hot on our heels.
Before I knew it, bright sunlight shone in my face, blinding me after the darkness. I kept running, Max’s hand in mine, until we reached the cottage.
We stopped, panting, at the front gate. I was taken aback.
We glanced behind us. Nothing was there. No fox. I almost fainted with relief.
Then we turned back to the scene that made us stop in the first place. Parked beside the front door were police cars and ambulances. A parade of even more cars lined the gravel driveway. My heart almost stopped. Did something happen? Are my parents okay? A jumble of emotions careened around my head.
I left Max and raced inside. My mother and father stood at the top of the basement steps, my mom sobbing in my dad’s shoulder as he gently caressed her back, comforting her.
“Mom?” I croaked.
She looked up and almost cracked my ribs in a hug.
“Oh, Laura! You’re alright.” The relief in her voice was almost enough to hurt me. Her forehead creased again. “Where’s Max?”
“He’s fine. I left him by the gate. What’s—”
And just like that the sincere moment was gone. I was pushed aside as she scurried out the door.
I looked at my dad who smiled and gave me another bone-cracking bear hug.
“Dad, really,” I gasped. He let go of me.
“Sorry. I was just so worried.”
I hesitated. “What happened?”
His face turned grave. “You’d better see for yourself.”
He led me down the basement stairs wordlessly.
At the bottom of the stairs, a cluster of men in police uniforms were congregated around something lying on the floor. People in lab coats were nearby discussing something with well dressed people.
“…been gone for almost two weeks.” I heard one say.
The group surrounding the thing on the floor broke apart and what I saw almost made me yell out.
Lying on the cold cement floor, his gray hair a mess on an ashen face, his glazed blue eyes devoid of any life, was Mr.Deanner.
Suddenly, in a flash so blinding, I realized why those fox’s eyes seemed so familiar.
It was Mr.Deanner…