It wasn’t as if she knew what she was doing.
Okay. She didn’t know what she was doing.
Whitney reached into her car and grabbed her camera bag. She unzipped it and pulled out her DLSR and lens. She hooked the strap around her neck and stuffed an extra battery into the pocket of her jacket. She was slipping her phone in her other jacket pocket when it dinged.
Where are you?
She stuck her car keys in the pocket of her jeans and locked the car before answering.
At Cricket Falls. Taking pictures for class.
You’re still on the photography kick?
You make it sound like a hobby.
Listen Seth, I have spent a lot of money on classes and I need to practice. I really want to make this into something. Why can’t you support me?
Because it’s stupid and a pipe dream. Stick with the bank. You have a future there.
Whitney sighed and rolled her eyes.
Why can’t you support me?? She typed furiously.
I’m trying to prevent you from making a mistake.
Whitney was beginning to wonder if Seth was the mistake.
I can’t talk right now. I need to go before I lose the light.
She angrily tucked the phone into her other jeans pocket and briefly closed her eyes. She had been taking photography classes for nearly four months and she resented Seth for making her feel stupid. She wanted to enjoy the classes and he was making it impossible with his negativity and complaining.
Asshole, she thought.
She tugged a hairband in to push her curly black hair out of her eyes. She tested the door handle of her VW bug and set off toward the hiking trail. She hadn’t been to Cricket Falls in quite some time and she was looking forward to taking pictures at sunset.
She stopped just as she entered the tree line. She had forgotten her water bottle. She paused. She should probably go back and get it but it was already late afternoon and the sun would be setting in a little over two hours and it would take her nearly an hour to reach the falls.
She shrugged and continued down the path.
She stepped around tree roots and over smooth, flat rocks. She took deep, cleansing breaths. There was nothing like fresh air to clear the week’s cobwebs. She knew Seth wanted her to stay with the bank but she was bored. She wanted a job where she could be creative and spontaneous. She had no idea if she would be able to make any money at photography but she certainly wanted to try. She loved learning about F-stops and angles, lighting and focus points in class. It was challenging to look at something and then set up the perfect shot in order to try and capture the mood she wanted to portray.
The day was quickly cooling down and she was thankful she had grabbed a jacket. The sun was playing peek-a-boo behind distended gray clouds and it looked like a storm front was heading in. She paused to check the weather on her phone. She had to walk up an incline in order to get a better signal. Weather was definitely coming in but she figured she had about three hours before it reached her, plenty of time to shoot some pictures and make it back to her car before it rained.
Her phone dinged. She sighed and continued walking. It was probably Seth and she wasn’t in the mood to deal with him at the moment. She just wanted to enjoy the time she had and to focus on her pictures as she was hoping to touch them up and present them at her next class for critique. She ignored the text and kept moving. She glanced up at the sky. There were now more clouds than sun and she was beginning to think maybe she should head back to her car as she didn’t want to risk getting her camera equipment wet.
She was lost in thought and seriously thinking about turning around when she rounded a bend and there, in all it’s glory, was Cricket Falls.
She paused to to fully absorb the sheer magnificence of the beautiful waterfall. The falls were not as swollen as she had seen them in the past but she knew it would only be a matter of minutes after the rain started to turn the relatively calm waters into a raging, angry flow.
She heard a crack of thunder and it made her jump into action. She lifted her camera, adjusted her settings and began taking pictures from various angles. She was actually glad the sun had disappeared behind the clouds as it provided her with better light and a somber atmosphere. After taking about twenty shots, she was placing her lens cap back on the camera when another round of thunder reverberated above. She nervously eyed the sky and turned around to head back. She paused at the fork in the path and decided to take another route back to her car. She didn’t know for sure if it was quicker, but had hiked that particular path before and felt like the way back was less rocky.
She was weaving through the trees, dodging and dunking under branches when she heard a sound.
After being in the woods for over an hour, she had gotten used to the shuffling of critters in the leaves and the wind rustling the tree branches. But this sound was different. It sounded like a soft hiss, or scrape, then as if something was being dropped onto soft earth.
She broke through some trees and her phone dinged again.
She paused and dug it out of her pocket.
Another girl has gone missing. I don’t like you being out there all alone. Come home.
Whitney sent a quick text back to Seth.
You worry too much. I got my shots and am heading back.
He answered back immediately.
She dropped her phone back into her pocket and squelched her irritation. He was trying. She needed to try as well.
She entered the next clump of trees, carefully picking her way through the path when she heard the strange noise again.
What was that sound? It seemed so out-of-place in the woods and yet, she felt like she had heard that sound before.
She veered off the path and crept toward where she thought the sound was coming from. She reached out to move a low-hanging branch only for it to swing back and slap her in the face.
“Ow!” She clapped a hand over her cheek to try and quell the sting.
The sound abruptly stopped.
Whitney also stopped and stood still. She could feel her heartbeat quickening even though she forced her breathing to slow and quiet. Something felt wrong. Why did the sound stop? A flash of lightening pierced the darkening sky above her. She counted silently in her head … 1 … 2 …3 … 4 … 5 … 6 … 7 … Thunder rolled across the sky and Whitney glanced at the time on her phone. She estimated she had about thirty minutes before the rain reached her. Though she knew she needed to move, she couldn’t. It was too quiet. Though she didn’t know what the sound was, she suddenly wished it would start back up again. She instinctively knew the sound resuming was safer than not.
She continued to stay still and she silently urged the sound to continue so she could move. She didn’t know why it was so important for the sound to resume but she was spooked enough that she didn’t feel like she should move until it did.
Her phone dinged and the sound seemed to echo loudly.
“Shit,” she reached in to her pocket and quickly muted her phone. She could hear a rustling up ahead of her and she quietly moved closer to the trees, off the path and into the shadows. She felt ridiculous for playing chicken with the mysterious sound but the goosebumps on her arms was enough to give her pause.
After long minutes, the sound started back up again and she slowly released the breath she hadn’t realized she was holding.
She cautiously moved forward, careful to avoid disturbing the leaves and rocks in her way. She crept into a small batch of trees and tried to peer through.
She saw a flash of blue.
Was that a person?