Immortal Hearts – Author Raven Moon

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~ Rainelle Sterling grew up in the Smoky Mountains, so when she returned home, she made plans to visit the place where she spent her childhood.
What was supposed to be a fun relaxing weekend away with her brother, and friends changes as she learns her grandmother’s tales weren’t tales at all, but a warning as she faces a devastating loss, a fight for her life against the unimaginable.
When faced with telling her parents, she learns things that she never knew. Will the broken trust, betrayal, and deceit from loved ones break her? Can she remain strong to survive?
If only she knew then, what she knew now, maybe, just maybe, things would be different. But for now, she must fight to stay alive while she plans her revenge against the unthinkable. ~

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October Frights — Grimm’s Woods, Part 2

OctBlogHop

A short time later, Curt sat on a log just off the narrow path, his lantern at his feet, questioning his decision to bring the tour group into the woods. With a shaking hand, he brought a cigarette to his lips and took a long drag. As he slowly exhaled a cloud of smoke, he listened to the voices coming from all directions.

“Hello? My name is Tina. Is there anyone here with us?”

“Did you live in this cabin? What happened the night you disappeared?”

“Did you see that? That was an EMF spike, right there!”

“If you’re one of the Grimm family, make this flashlight turn on.”

Curt shook his head at the stupidity. What were they playing at? What was he playing at? Who knew what kind of spirit would respond to their questions? He didn’t know any more than they did what had really happened here. The only one who seemed to know anything was…

****

Evelyn sat on her own log a short distance away, hunched down in her coat, arms crossed tightly in front of her. What had started as a fun night out with Sean to celebrate their six-month anniversary had turned into a nightmare. After dinner at her favorite restaurant, he had surprised her with tickets to tonight’s ghost tour. Even after learning that they would be going to Grimm’s Woods, she had swallowed her objections and gamely agreed to go. However, she had drawn the line at accompanying the rest of the group into the woods for a ghost hunt, thinking Sean would give in and take her back to town. Instead, they’d gotten into a heated argument, during which he’d called her a wuss and then issued an ultimatum: either suck it up and stay with the group, or walk back to town by herself.

Now here she sat in the heart of Grimm’s Woods, cold and miserable and afraid, while Sean investigated with Brody and another young couple somewhere near the Carpenters’ cabin. In the silent darkness, her heart pounded in her chest as her eyes darted in all directions, watching for the unsettled souls that she could sense, but not see. Can’t they feel it? she wondered. Aren’t they afraid of what they might awaken?

Suddenly, her gaze landed on the tour guide. In the dim light of his lantern, it was hard to read his expression, but she was sure he was pleased with himself. Hoping for another five-star rating, Mr. Tour Guide? She watched the tip of his cigarette glow a brighter orange as he took a drag. The wraithlike ribbon of smoke he blew out hid his face for a moment; when it cleared, he was looking directly at her. With a curl of her lip, she turned away.

****

Seeing the young woman’s animosity directed at him, Curt made his move. He dropped his cigarette butt on the ground and crushed it with his heel, then got up and crunched through the leaves toward her.

Evelyn was on her feet before he even reached her, now more angry than afraid, and ready for a confrontation. “Why did you have to bring us out here? You could have just taken us back to town and let them investigate somewhere”—she was going to say safer—“else.”

“Yeah, right, and miss out on leading the first ghost hunt in these woods?” He let out a short laugh, trying to convince himself, if not her, that he’d been justified in bringing the group here. “Listen to them. They’re having a blast.”

Her face contorted with disgust and disbelief. She’d certainly read him right, hadn’t she? “Anything for a five-star review, right Curt?” She reached out to flick his nametag. “This should read Curt the Creep.”

Just in time, he stopped himself from slapping her hand away. It wouldn’t do to have it on record that he’d struck a customer, especially a female, even if it was justified. “What is with you anyway? Are you just a wuss, like your boyfriend said, or do you know something about this place that I don’t?”

As soon as the words left his lips, her demeanor went from combative to apprehensive, as though he’d just reminded her where she was. She took a step back and began looking around wildly, as though she’d heard something. Meeting his eyes again, she asked low, “You mean, you really don’t know?”

“Know what?” Curt exploded, throwing his arms wide. “For God’s sake, woman, if you know something about this place, then tell me! What happened out her that has you so scared?”

“No one really knows,” she said, mocking his earlier line. When he glared at her, she elaborated. “No, Curt, no one knows what happened to the Grimm family, but it’s well documented that the Carpenters found more than an abandoned homestead that morning.”

The sensation of ice water being poured down his back made Curt shiver. “What…what did they—”

A scream from the direction of the Carpenters’ cabin cut him off. “What was that? Did you see that?”

“That wasn’t human,” another voice answered. “I don’t know what it was.”

Curt had just snatched up his lantern and bolted into the trees toward the first scream when another cry came from a different direction, further off. Then a third voice cried out from the vicinity of the Grimm’s homestead. “Something scratched me!” Soon, screams—both human and non-human—came from every direction, along with the sound of crashing trees, snapping branches, and bodies being struck by…by what?

With the light from Curt’s lantern gone, Evelyn was left alone in the pitch black woods. She stood frozen, listening to the horrific sounds all around her, too frightened to even switch on her flashlight. Is that a wise thing to do anyway? I don’t really want to draw attention to myself—she swallowed hard—or see what’s out there.

As she stood contemplating whether she should stay where she was or strike out on her own to find Sean, she realized that everything had gone eerily, deathly silent. The screams and shouts had ceased, along with the sounds of death and destruction. Not even a breath of wind stirred the leaves that still clung to the branches.

“H-hello?” Though her voice came out as little more than a whisper, it was loud in her ears, and she shrank back, startled.

There was no answer.

Just as she opened her mouth to call out again, something in the trees caught her eye. She took a step forward and squinted to see what it was. A tiny, yellow point of light winked on and then off. A moment later, it winked again, a few feet further away, and then again.

A firefly, Evelyn realized. It’s a firefly.

Forgetting her fear and whatever had just happened in the woods, she hurried after it, hoping against hope that maybe it would make its way out of the woods and into the field beyond. Then she could run back to Boos in the Burg and call for help, even though she was certain that Sean, Curt, and all the others were beyond help.

Unused to running through thickly-wooded deer paths in the dark, Evelyn was soon winded, and her face and hands bore scratches from branches and thorns she’d encountered, but still she doggedly followed the tiny beacon that continued to flash every few seconds. At times she’d lose sight of it, and then stand looking around wildly, uttering tearful prayers under her breath. When at last it appeared again, she’d resume the chase, seemingly always getting closer, but never able to catch up to it.

After what seemed like hours, she saw what appeared to be moonlight shining through a break in the trees up ahead. With renewed strength, she ran ahead even faster, heedless of the branches that snagged her clothes and her hair as though trying to keep her from reaching her destination. When at last she shoved her way through the remaining brush, she found herself not in the field close to town, but instead in a place where the trees had thinned just enough to allow the moon to shine through the branches.

As she looked around to get her bearings, she had the distinct feeling that she wasn’t alone. For the first time since she’d burst into the clearing, she saw the flashing yellow point of light that had led her here. Something about the light didn’t seem quite right, and she took a step back as her thoughts cleared. It suddenly occurred to her that it was the end of September, and the weather was too cold for fireflies. Then what is it?

Fear rose into her throat, threatening to choke her, as she sensed some sinister force gathering around her like a storm. All at once, the yellow light vanished, and in its place stood a dark, faceless form. It slipped out of the trees on the opposite side of the clearing and started toward her at an impossible speed.

She screamed and turned to run back into the trees. The moon suddenly disappeared behind a cloud, as though it couldn’t bear to watch the fate of the young woman who tried desperately to escape an unspeakable horror.

****

Curt thundered through the trees, heedless of the searing pain in his twisted ankle and the blood that kept trickling into his eye from a gash on his forehead. His mind was singularly focused on getting out of these demon-infested woods and finding the others. A glimpse of moonlight through the trees up ahead renewed his strength, and he pushed forward toward his goal. As he burst out of the woods and into the field, he came to an abrupt halt, bewildered, unable for a moment to get his bearings.

“There he is! Curt! Over here!”

Relief surged through his veins as he spotted his group in the middle of the field. Some lay sprawled on their backs, while others sat half-upright in the grass. All were breathing heavily, as though they’d been running for their lives, just as Curt had. It was obvious, even at first glance, that none had come out of their ordeal completely unscathed, but from what he could gather, no one was seriously injured.

Curt barely made it to the others before collapsing in a heap, his lungs burning, and his ankle throbbing unbearably. For a moment, he lay with his eyes squeezed shut, clutching his ankle and replaying in his mind the horrific events he’d just endured. When he could bear the memories no longer, he rolled onto his back and opened his eyes to stare up at the harvest moon, which had just peeked through the clouds almost directly overhead. He blinked in disbelief, recalling that the moon had just risen when they’d arrived at the edge of Grimm’s Woods. Dear God, how long were we in there?

Sitting up, he turned his attention to the others. He shuddered as he listened to their broken narratives of the terrors they’d experienced—glowing red eyes in the trees, the growls of some unknown beast, inhuman screams and tortured human cries, shadows roaming in and around the ruined foundation of the Grimm’s cabin…

He shook his head and squeezed his eyes shut once more, trying to banish the remembered image of the tall, hooded figure that had pursued him as he tried to escape the woods. Time and time again, it had fallen behind him only to reappear again in front of him, forcing him to change direction again and again until he was utterly lost and had given up hope of ever finding his way out.

“Where’s Evelyn?”

It took a moment for the voice to break through his mental torment. “Wha…what?”

“Where is she? Where’s my girlfriend?” Sean had made his way on hands and knees over to Curt.

“I…I don’t know. I left her…by the log on the path…” Curt gestured helplessly toward the woods. He hadn’t given the timid young woman a thought since grabbing the lantern and running toward the ghost hunters’ screams.

“What do you mean you left her?” His glassy eyes blazed with worry, fear, and anger as he seized Curt by the throat and brought his face dangerously close. “You said you’d stay with her. You were supposed to keep her safe!

Too exhausted and weak to even raise his hands to defend himself, Curt choked out, “I…I’m…sorry. I…”

Evelyn!” Sean released the tour guide, letting him drop to the ground like a sack of potatoes. With a grief-stricken howl, he got to his feet and began half-staggering, half-sprinting toward the woods. Before he could make it ten yards, Brody and two other men had raced after him and wrestled him to the ground. Still struggling to free himself, Sean extended a hand toward the trees, screaming his girlfriend’s name over and over.

Curt lay on the ground in a daze, watching the scene before him, yet feeling it was all a dream, a horrible, far-away dream. The only thing that was real at that moment was the young woman’s voice echoing in his head. I…told…you…you’d…be…sorry…

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October Frights — Grimm’s Woods, Part 1

OctBlogHop4

A solitary man, tall and imposing in his heavy coat, separated from the group and turned to face the others. Their low, murmured conversations and nervous titters faded into silence as he stepped up onto the root of a gnarled, old oak tree. Leaning against the trunk for support, he raised his lantern to survey the faces before him, his eyes glittering in the yellow-orange light. Eighteen, he thought with satisfaction. My biggest tour yet. However, getting a head count wasn’t the only thing on the man’s agenda. As his gaze landed on a fresh-faced coed, his lips parted in a sneer. Bingo!

Curt Hampton had been a tour guide with Boos in the Burg for only a few months, but in that short time, he had gained a reputation of showing customers “a spooky good time.” In addition to possessing a deep, resonant voice and natural storytelling ability, he prided himself on his powers of observation. He had quickly learned that every tour group was made up of three types of people: skeptics, scaredy-cats, and those who were just there for a good time. Those who were in it for fun were usually easy to please; as long as they got a good story, they were happy, and any unexplained noises or shadows they might experience along the way were just an added bonus.

The skeptics were an entirely different story. That lot was difficult, if not impossible, to please. He had learned almost immediately not to tangle with them or to attempt to sway their beliefs; nothing short of a flaming demon from hell would ever penetrate the walls of their cynicism and make them believe in the supernatural. It was best to give polite answers to their questions and to ignore their heckling.

It was the third group that was his bread-and-butter. Curt had built the bulk of his reputation by targeting the scaredy-cats. He had learned to pinpoint the most gullible attendees and play upon their obvious fear of the supernatural. By watching their facial expressions and body language, he could determine how to play upon their fears and phobias until their nervousness spilled over into the rest of the group, making them ripe and ready to be deliciously frightened. Judging by the too-wide eyes and hunched shoulders of the young woman clinging to her boyfriend near the front of the group, he had found his target for this evening’s scare.

****

Evelyn Martin pressed closer to her boyfriend Sean, making it nearly impossible for either to walk without stumbling. When some fearsome creature with enormous wings appeared out of the darkness and fluttered past right in front of her face, she let out a loud squeal and jumped back, causing Sean to stagger and drop his flashlight. With a huff, he glared at his girlfriend as he bent down to snatch it up. “Evelyn, would you chill?” he hissed, swatting at the insect that had sought the warmth of his flashlight beam. “It’s a freakin’ moth, not the Mothman.”

“Sorry,” Evelyn mumbled as she took a step away from him, embarrassed by the snickers that erupted around them. She couldn’t help feeling jittery; for as long as she could remember, she’d heard her grandmother’s stories about Grimm’s Woods and the things that had happened there—things that still happened there. If she’d known before tonight that Grimm’s Woods was on the itinerary, she never would have agreed to this, but it was too late to back out now.

As the group approached the edge of the woods, her eyes darted this way and that, trying to see—but hoping she wouldn’t—what it was that had set her teeth on edge and made her insides turn to a quivering mass as soon as the trees had come into view. Was it just her own trepidation, fueled by her grandmother’s stories, that was making her tense, or was there indeed something waiting in the woods?

She pressed close to Sean once more, scrunching down into her coat to make herself smaller, less visible to whatever might be lurking deep within the dense copse of trees. Despite keeping herself as close to the center of the group as possible to avoid lagging behind, she still felt exposed and conspicuous, as though someone—or something—had fixed evil eyes on her and was watching, waiting to catch her alone.

Trying to dispel the unsettling notion, Evelyn swallowed hard and turned her attention back to the tour guide, who had begun speaking.

****

“This is Grimm’s Woods.” Curt extinguished his lantern, and the rest of the group likewise switched off flashlights and cell phones, plunging them into an inky darkness that the dim glow of the harvest moon on the horizon could barely penetrate. “The site gets its name not only from the Grimm family, who staked the first claim here in these woods”—He directed a laser pointer off into the woods behind him—“but also from the settlement’s grim ending.”

“So what happened to them?”

Curt’s eyes zeroed in on the silhouette of Brody, one of several skeptics in tonight’s group. Even though darkness masked the older man’s features, Curt could hear the smirk in his tone. Trying to keep his voice low and steady, he responded, “No one really knows.”

Scoffing laughter and derisive murmurs rose like a cloud of biting mosquitoes from the crowd, shaking his confidence and making him curse his decision to throw out such a trite line. Glad for the shadows that hid the bob of his Adam’s apple as he swallowed hard, Curt paused–he hoped—dramatically. Just give it a minute, he coached himself. Don’t get defensive, or you’ll lose ‘em.

As he waited for the group to settle, his gaze rested once more on the young woman. In the dim light, he could just make out her mouth, darker against the fair skin of her face, set in a straight line that suggested that Brody’s comment and the crowd’s resulting cynicism had alleviated some of her anxiety.

However, before he gave in to the fear that tonight’s tour was in danger of falling flat, he noticed that despite her outward expression of bravado, her eyes were still wide with apprehension. Certain he could bring her fear to the forefront once more and turn this crowd in his favor, he drew himself up taller and focused his attention on her as he continued his tale.

“No one really knows what happened to the Grimm family. Legend has it that the Carpenters, another family who’d settled nearby, about a quarter mile that way”—He directed his laser pointer behind him and off to his right—“came to call one morning and found the place abandoned. The cabin door stood wide open, and the ashes in the hearth were still warm as though a fire had been left to burn overnight. None of the family’s belongings were missing, including their wagon and a pair of spooked horses in the barn, but there was no trace of the family.”

****

Soft gasps and murmurs rose up around Evelyn, and a shiver of fear raced down her spine, displacing her moment of skeptical disbelief. Her gaze once again drifted behind the tour guide, to the trees that hid…what? Again she sensed some presence that watched and listened, waiting for someone foolish enough to enter the woods.

With some difficulty, she tore her gaze away from the woods and focused again on the tour guide’s face…and immediately wished she hadn’t. Milky moonlight shone on his visage, and she imagined for a moment that it was no longer the tour guide from Boos in the Burg who spoke, but rather one of the ill-fated members of the Grimm family come back from the grave to tell of his fate.

She gave her head a shake to banish both the image of a spectral storyteller and her urge to turn and run back toward town. Her scalp prickled as the tour guide glossed over the Carpenters’ findings, leaving out the grisly details she’d overheard her grandmother sharing when she thought the children were asleep. Either he didn’t know or he simply chose not to share reports of the strange markings gouged into the door of the cabin, or the way the barn doors hung askew, as though someone or something had attempted to enter.

A woman in the back interrupted the narrative to ask sensibly, “Well, what did the Carpenters do? Did they go looking for the family?”

“Indeed, they did,” the tour guide acknowledged, fixing his gaze once more on Evelyn. “They spent the better part of the day combing these woods, looking for any trace of the missing family, any clues to their whereabouts, but they found nothing.”

Nothing but some blood-stained shreds of clothing and a single child’s shoe, Evelyn thought, her eyes trained once more on the dark thicket behind the tour guide, where she was certain she had just seen a darker shadow pacing back and forth.

****

“Come nightfall, the Carpenter family locked themselves inside their own cabin, barricading the door and securing the shutters over their windows, fearful of whatever unseen evil had befallen their neighbors.” As he spoke, the back of his neck began prickling as though he felt someone watching him, unseen, from the cover of the trees. His eyes sought the young woman whose fears he’d been provoking all evening, and he once again found her attention focused on the woods behind him, as though she saw something there. Beads of cold sweat formed on his forehead as it occurred to him that this didn’t look like the run-of-the-mill, scared-by-a-ghost-story fear he was used to seeing. Running his tongue across lips that had gone suddenly dry, he rationalized that he’d done so good a job of scaring her that he’d made himself jumpy in the process…Or else she knows something I don’t.

A jolt went through him as he recalled his boss’ initial hesitation in allowing him to add Grimm’s Woods to his rotation. In fact, he was well aware that the only reason she’d agreed at all was because he’d hinted, maybe a little less than truthfully, that their biggest competitor was already considering the location for Halloween. Eager to get the jump on her rival, she’d reluctantly given him the go-ahead. I just hope this doesn’t come back to bite me, she’d said, giving him a pointed look. Or you.

Swallowing hard, he realized that in his haste to seal the deal and be the first guide to lead a ghost tour into Grimm’s Woods, he had neglected to do his usual research on the location. What if there was more to the story than he’d heard from the local teens? What if the timid young woman in the tour group knew something about the family’s fate that he didn’t?

Suddenly feeling threatened by the darkness, he picked up his lantern and relit it with trembling fingers. Tearing his eyes away from the nervous young woman before him, he rushed to conclude his story with a shaky voice. “The story goes that many times that night, the Carpenters heard blood-curdling shrieks from deep within the woods. More than once, the doors and shutters banged and shook as though something was trying to get in. When morning came, the family scrambled to throw together their belongings and supplies, and they abandoned their cabin. When they stopped in the nearest town a couple hours east and related what had happened, many of the old-timers crossed themselves against the evil that inhabited Grimm’s Woods. To this day, on a crisp, cold, autumn night, when the harvest moon is full, you can still hear the tortured cries of the Grimm family deep within this very wood.”

Chancing a brief glance over his shoulder, Curt stepped down from the tree root and gave a tight smile to his audience. “I hope you’ve all enjoyed tonight’s Boos in the Burg ghost tour. Please stay together as we make our way back to town.”

****

That’s it? As the tour guide held up his lantern and made his way back through the group, Evelyn’s knees went weak with relief. She’d been certain that he’d take them into the woods to investigate whatever remained of the small settlement, but she’d been wrong, wonderfully wrong. The tour was over, and no evil had befallen them. She beamed up at Sean, about to tell him how much she’d enjoyed their spooky date night, but froze at his expression.

“That’s it?” Sean’s words might have echoed her thoughts, but his attitude was decidedly different.

“I thought we were going to investigate in the woods,” a woman behind Evelyn whined. “I bought a new voice recorder especially for tonight.”

“This is bogus.”

“What a rip-off!”

“I told you we should have gone with Gary’s Ghost Tours. They guarantee a ghost hunt.”

As protests flew all around her, Evelyn met the tour guide’s eyes. For the briefest instant, she was certain she saw a bit of her own dread reflected on his face, as though he, too, had sensed something sinister lurking just beyond the tree line. She held his gaze for a moment, silently pleading with him to ignore the jeers and take the group back to the safety of town. Just when she thought she’d convinced him, another voice spoke above the others.

“What’d I tell you?” Brody sneered. “All these ghost tour places are fake, and this guy and his company are the fakest of the fake. At least they got the name right—Boos in the Burg. Boo! BOO!

When Evelyn saw the tour guide’s jaw tighten amid the chorus of boos, she knew it was hopeless. With one final, apologetic glance in her direction, he forced out a laugh and turned back toward the woods. “Gotcha! Of course we’re going to investigate the settlement. Follow me, but watch your step. The site is for the most part overgrown and hasn’t been kept up or improved. There are roots, rocks, and branches everywhere.”

Evelyn narrowed her eyes reproachfully as he pushed past her. “If you take this group into Grimm’s Woods, you’ll be sorry,” she hissed. “We’ll all be sorry.”

….to be continued.

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