Tying masks around their pitch faceless heads, they left their huts to go down by lake…
Martha threw down her backpack and stretched, gazing out onto the mountain range, “glad you could come out with me! You’ll love the spot I found!”
“I can’t wait to get there. You’ve been talking this place up for about a week now.” Sweat speckled Derek’s forehead as he came to the top of the switchback.
After tightening her pony tail, she tossed a water to Derek then grabbed one for herself. Fumbling a bit with the catch, he managed to keep the bottle off the ground. “Sorry, bad toss,” she said.
Derek opened the bottle then took a sip, “so how’d you hear about this place?”
“I just found it. Nice view, isn’t it?”
“Do you always come out hiking alone?” He asks.
“Yeah, why wouldn’t I?” she replied.
He shrugged, “Sometimes people get lost on hikes and need to be helicoptered out.”
She flashed him a look, her lively brown eyes seemed to say, that would never happen to me.
“I’m just saying…” he said, throwing up his hands.
Martha chuckled, then noticed on the edge of the trail was a berry bush. “Derek, look! Those look like raspberries.” Behind the bush was a steep hill that lead down to the lower lakes. The bush was close enough in to reach the berries but required enough effort that most people hadn’t bothered with it.
Running up to the bush, she plucked one and tried it, “These are really good, I’m surprised no one has cleaned this bush already.”
“Well we can fix that,” Derek said, jogging over to his backpack. “I think I may have something to put them all in.”
Martha nodded, “good idea, I might have something too.” She swung around, digging her heels into the earth causing a soft patch to sink under her. Her eyes went wide as she felt her leg slip down the hill. Grabbing the bush, her weight broke off the branches and her other foot gave way.
“Martha!” Derek cried. She slid down the hill, rolling over the bumps and the logs. She reached out for a near by tree scraping her fingers along the bark, unable to grab hold. The attempt to catch herself caused her to fly off course, slamming her shoulder into a nearby rock. She caught air, hit the edge of a cliff side before the lake, then toppled in. Submerged in icy water, she pushed herself off the floor breaking through the surface of the lake. She wiped the water from her eyes and noticed that the sun had gone down.
“Derek?” she yelled. Swimming to the edge of the lake, it began to hit her that she wasn’t in the same place. It was warmer here, and while the lake was surrounded by evergreens, it was not the same forest she had been hiking in. She climbed out of the water, her hoodie clinging to her athletic frame. Her pony tail had fallen out and her thick dark hair hung in her face, dripping water down her cheeks.
Pulling at the rim of her hoodie, Martha rung the water from it before wandering into the forest. She wanted to believe she was disoriented. That she was in the same place, but she must have passed out for a couple hours. She examined every tree and pathway looking for something familiar. There was nothing recognizable. Patches of flowers sat sparingly between trees, illuminating the area around them. To Martha, they looked like radioactive daffodils. Regardless, she plucked one to give her some light as she ventured through the dark woods.
The longer she walked, the more she felt someone was watching her. The feeling crept up on her, eating away at her nerves. Then in the bushes she saw what she thought was a flash of red rhinestones. Rubbing her eyes, she continued walking, talking herself down from her paranoia.
Looking at her flower she sighed, “this has got to be a dream.” Suddenly she felt a tickle on her head, as if someone were playing with her hair. Turning around she saw two masked shadows lifting and examining strands of her hair. Swatting them away, she turned and ran nearly running into another shadow hanging upside-down from a branch over the pathway. She backed away slowly keeping her eyes on his gold masquerade mask.
Another slipped his hand into her back pocket where her wallet was then promptly began to rummage through it dropping business cards onto the ground. She snatched it out of his hands. Everywhere she turned, there were more. Fading in and out of the shadows. She tried to get away but everywhere she went she could feel their fingers in her pockets and hair, carefully picking her apart.
As she scrambled to get out of the crowd, she saw the light of a torch, then the flash of a cloak. The cloak separated Martha from the shadows, drawing her to the side of a stranger in a plague doctor’s mask. Terrified of her options, she froze beside the stranger and watched him shoo away the shadows with his torch. One by one the shadows faded into the dark leaving her with the ominous stranger. He turned to her, beckoning her to follow him. Without any word she obeyed, trusting that he knew the way.