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Mystery Thriller Suspense

Vance had been to many towns in his life, but never one quite like this. 

Everyone was nice, of course. He was a stranger to them but they treated him like one of their own. Unlike most places he’d visited, there was never a shortage of places to stay. Vance supposed that's why he’d been here longer, even if something about it there seemed off. 

He’d been there for three weeks now, and the townsfolk decided that he should stay with a new family every week. So today, he was going to stay with an old widow named Mrs. Crawner. 

The people there were so trusting, so accommodating. Almost... too accommodating, but Vance had the most comfortable three weeks of his life here and felt he was not one to question their generosity. 

He had been staying with the Mayor and his wife; the Miller family. Mr. Miller, Mrs. Miller, and their two young daughters named Cecilia and Melanie. The sweetest girls he’d ever met, always wanting to play. They helped him with his bags, even though they weren't ever asked to help with anything.

"I truly don't know how I could ever thank you," Vance tells Mr. Miller. "Everyone here has just been so kind..." 

"Ah, ah, ah," Mr. Miller starts in his slight country accent, despite their geographical location being far from the south. "It's just how we are here, son. No need to thank me. If anything, I should be thanking you. You've made life just a little more interesting in our little town." 

"Do people pass by often? It seems like you've all got a system down for unexpected visitors," I laugh, gathering my stray items.

"Oh, not a system, exactly. We are just a very tight community." Vance’s back is turned to Mr. Miller, looking away to pick up a bag. The answer seems vaguely evasive, but Vance shrugs it off. 

"Well anyways, it's been very nice staying with you. Tell your wife thank you for me, for all those great meals." 

"Of course," Mr. Miller chuckles. "She's sorry she couldn't be here to see you off. But I'm sure we'll see you again real soon."

"Then I'll see you around," Vance replies, and finally walks out of their home. His few bags have been piled neatly at the end of the driveway, and he gathers them all up. Waving goodbye to the Miller girls, he begins his walk down the tree-covered road. 

That's another thing about this town, it's simply infested with trees. 

Up until the city borders, it's almost a desert wasteland. You may see a lizard or a tumbleweed every few miles. but other than that, it's a large flat plane of red dirt. Exactly at the border, though, the trees are instantly a canopy covering the entire town. It's almost like a mirage, a hidden civilization covered by the rustling emerald sheets. 

But of course, it's not a mirage. And thank goodness, because Vance doesn’t know how much longer he could've stayed in that desert. 

Mr. Miller wanted to drive him down to Mrs. Crawner's house, but they drove by earlier and it's so close that Vance couldn't possibly ask him to do that. The walk over there is less than ten minutes long, and the views are too beautiful to just drive by. 

Halfway to my destination, Vance stumbles across a small graveyard. He decides to make a detour and explore. 

There are no fences around this graveyard, and all the headstones are small and plain. As he looks around, he realizes that some of them don't even have names on them. The headstones appear to be handmade, each one unique and different from the others. Vance decides that a town this small surely wouldn't have anywhere to buy proper tombstones, so they must make these crude ones themselves. 

Vance finds himself appreciating the rugged character of the graveyard. The grass is a little overgrown, and ivy crawls up some of the older stones in the back, but it's a simple kind of beauty. 

After admiring the area for a while, he starts walking back to the road. As he makes his way over the large empty portion of the graveyard, he suddenly gets the chills. The shiver races quickly down his spine, but it's gone as suddenly as it came. 

Vance arrives at Mrs. Crawner's home a few minutes late, due to his detour, and makes sure to apologize for the inconvenience. The old woman smiles warmly and waves an almost skeletal hand dismissively. 

"It's absolutely no trouble. I'm glad you're taking time to enjoy the scenery," she croaks in a shaky voice. "Our little portion of woods is quite the wonder, isn't it?" 

"It truly is," Vance agrees. Mrs. Crawner motions to a floral patterned couch, and he sits down across from Mrs. Crawner. "Do you, by any chance, know how this patch of trees grew in the middle of the desert?" 

"Hmm," Mrs. Crawner muses. "No one really knows, but there are surely some old tales." 

"Any worth sharing?" 

"Of course, as long as you're interested."

"Always," he smiles. Mrs. Crawner smiles back and clears her throat, looking eager to tell her story that she’s surely told many times before. 

"There was a traveler that was said to pass through this desert once every year to collect supplies across the desolate sea of vermillion sand. The trek was a dangerous one, no matter how many times he walked it. There was always the risk of dehydration, sun stroke, or starvation. 

"About halfway through his journey, he always prayed that there would be some kind of shade, or even the smallest pond of water. He prayed each year, but each year he reached the middle and was greeted by nothing but the second stretch of land and the stifling heat of mid-morning.

"So one year, he took his trip and decided to bring something along with him. A bag of special soil, which he scattered along the red dirt of the midway point in his journey. 

“When he was walking back to his village only three days later, there was already a strong, tall apple tree providing fruit and shelter from the beating sun. 

“The traveler decided to take a second trip that year. He went back with a thick liquid to pour on the ground, and when he was on his way back home, a shimmering pond of clear water awaited him there, right next to the apple tree.”

“But how?” Vance inquired. “And what was in that liquid? What was in the soil?”

The old woman smiles, edges of her mouth crinkling, and Vance sees a hint of playful mystery behind her eyes. “Every town has their secrets.” 

Vance, although still curious, decided to leave the rest of his questions for another day. Mrs. Crawner continues her story. 

“So every time the traveler passed through, he poured more of his elixir in the pond, and sprinkled the soil of unknown substance around the area. Soon enough, the tree turned into two, which turned into four, which turned into eight, until there was enough cover and a large enough body of water for him to bring his family to live there. 

“So they lived between the two trading posts, and welcomed any strangers passing through. More times than not, the travelers never left, becoming a part of this beautiful patch of forest forever.” 

Once the story was over, Mrs. Crawner smiled and asked what kind of cookies Vance liked. Apparently, she had baked nearly every kind the day before, so he had more than enough to eat. Of course, all that sugar was hard on his stomach, but he figured that he would eat something healthy the next day. 

Vance couldn’t sleep that night. 

He tossed and turned, restless from his stomach ache and an odd feeling building up in his chest. It felt like black tar sliding down his throat and burning gaps in the lining of his stomach. Black, thick, sticky tar. He rubbed his neck raw, for it felt sliced wide open. He got up several times throughout the night to check, but there was never even a scratch on the skin of his neck. 

When the sun rose, ending the seemingly endless night, Vance almost didn’t notice. Until about mid-day, he had learned, the thick canopy cover blocked most light from penetrating the ceiling of leaves. He was only awoken by the chirps and twitters of tropical-sounding birds. 

Thankfully, Vance woke also to the smell of breakfast- bacon, hash browns, eggs. It eased his stomach mostly, leaving only a small knot in his chest. He inhaled and found himself thinking that this place was just too good to be true. After a lifetime of homelessness and wandering, had he really found a place so wonderful to stay, even if it’s only for a short time?

And then he wondered, why doesn’t he just stay here forever? Mrs. Crawner even said: more times than not, the travelers never left, becoming a part of this beautiful patch of forest forever… 

He was a traveler, and this place was more than beautiful. 

Vance got up, got dressed, and joined sweet old Mrs. Crawner for breakfast. They chatted about all sorts of things, and Vance listened avidly as the old woman told stories of her past. 

“We should go into town,” Mrs. Crawner suggested once they had finished their meal. “I have some things I need to get done, and it will be nice to meet more of the townsfolk. Don’t you think, dear?” 

“That sounds great,” Vance agreed, and they walked into town on foot after clearing the table. Vance learned from Mrs. Crawner that most people there didn’t have cars, because the community was so small. He thought it sounded nice, walking everywhere you went. He grew to love this place more and more the longer he stayed. He was fascinated by the way you looked above you and only saw the sky in broken fragments through rustling leaves. Although he knew that the sun would be unbearingly hot, the trees created a cool and shaded cover over the entirety of the town. 

Everyone he passed was smiling. Not a single soul looked sad, or troubled, or even in thought. The entire town was happy and carefree. 

But strangely, it was also eerily quiet. 

No one talked to one another unless Vance or Mrs. Crawner addressed them. Sometimes he would hear someone ask for a newspaper at a stand, or a child would run by and giggle quietly, but otherwise, the only sounds were those of the forest life. 

It made Vance feel as though everyone was watching him, observing his every move. He knew, of course, that he was being paranoid. He shook off the feeling, and most of his worries washed away when he saw the Miller family. The entire entourage, previously walking quietly, chattered happily almost on cue as they approached Vance. He was slightly taken aback, but smiled and made pleasant conversation, happy to see more familiar faces. 

“I’m sorry I wasn’t home to say goodbye,” Mrs. Miller apologized. “I was busy cleaning out an old furnace we have. Ancient, dirty thing; we really should get a new one.” 

“That’s absolutely no trouble,” Vance assured her. 

He was having a discussion with the adults about some cafe on the other end of town, when he felt a small tug on his jeans. He looked down to see Melanie, the younger of the Miller’s young daughters, pulling shyly at his pant leg. 

“Mr. Vance, I was wondering if… if you wanted to come see my favorite place,” she said sweetly and quietly. Vance smiled broadly and crouched down to meet Melanie’s level. 

“Of course I would,” he affirmed, and a grin stretched across Melanie’s face. “That is, if it’s alright with your parents?”

“That sounds just fine,” Mrs. Miller said, her long, bleach blonde hair falling off her shoulder as she tilted her head down to look at her daughter. “As long as you remember the rules. You remember what you do, don’t you, Mel?”

“I remember, Mama. I know the rules.” 

“Good,” she smirked. “Now you take your sister with you too, alright? And don’t get lost!”

“We won’t, Mama!” Cecilia shouts, joining Melanie in pulling Vance down the road to their ‘favorite place’. They giggled and sang the whole way to their  spot, while Vance struggled to keep up with the surprisingly quick girls. They obviously had a goal in mind. 

A while down the road, they veered off the pavement and took a sharp right straight into the woods. Although the whole town was shaded by the trees, it got even darker as they ventured into an uncleared portion of the area. 

They walked for an unsettling long time. Cecilia and Melanie, who had been chatting the entire walk before, got increasingly more quiet as they continued on. Soon, the girls were completely silent and walking in uncanny unison. Every step they took, it seemed they took together. They approached a log at one point that Vance thought would break up their matching steps, but they walked over it at the exact same time and resumed on without missing a single beat. 

Just as Vance started thinking that they would never stop their trek for the rest of their lives, he saw a clearing up ahead. When they got closer, Vance saw that it was actually a large body of water with crystal clear water and red desert sand around it. 

They all finally reached the red sand, and Vance observed his surroundings. He noticed a single, very large apple tree a few feet from the edge of the water. The only tree on the sand.

“Is this what you brought me to see?” Vance asked the girls, talking to them for the first time since they entered the forest. They turned to face him, perfectly together, with absolutely no expression on their faces. Slowly, Melanie began to smile. 

“This is the best place in town, Mr. Vance. The most important place, too,” she informed him, very matter-of-factly. 

“Oh yeah?” Vance asked. “How so?”

Almost before he could finish his question, Vance was grabbed by the neck from behind him. He tried to yell out, but a strong hand clamped roughly over his mouth. He struggled violently and kicked wildly behind him, but it was all for nothing. From the corners of his blurring vision, Vance saw people emerge from the forest on all sides of the pond, even sweet old Mrs. Crawner.

He saw Mr. and Mrs. Miller walk slowly toward their daughters. Vance bit his captors hand viciously. 

“Mr. Miller please-” he tried to say, but the large man behind him slapped his hand over his mouth again. Tighter this time, and his thumb clamping down on his nose so he would be unable to breathe. 

“Nice work, girls,” Mr. Miller said to his daughters. “Another job very well done. And your timing was precise, even better than last time.” 

Cecilia and Melanie beamed up at their father proudly. 

Darkness encroached on all corners of Vance’s vision, enveloping him quickly. The last thing he ever saw was Mr. Miller pulling out a thin, sleek dagger. One second, Mr. Miller was calm and collected. But in the next, a ravenous fury, a desperate hunger flashed behind his glossy eyes. The man behind Vance let him drop, and without a moment’s hesitation Mr. Miller swung his blade, slicing Vance’s head cleanly off before his body hit the sand. 

The entire town cheered as they harvested the seeping blood from Vance’s body. They kept it in a jar painted pitch black, and threw his remains in a carefully crafted furnace that had recently been cleaned meticulously and hidden in the cover of woods. 

Once they had the ashes and blood of their visitor, Mr. Miller poured the thick, red liquid into the clear pond as he gave his daughters the honor of sprinkling the ashes through the woods.

The patch of trees grew just a bit larger that day, and the pond was expanded several gallons. Townsfolk went to their homes and rested easy, knowing that their tiny sheltered community would be safe.

For a time, at least. 

Until the next visitor came.

June 04, 2021 01:48

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13 comments

Josh C
08:09 Jun 11, 2021

Creepy. I clocked the ending pretty quickly, but I wasn't expecting the children to be involved. And I think seeing the end when the character doesn't made it all that much more uncomfortable.

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Monica June
17:51 Jun 11, 2021

Thank you for your comment! I appreciate it. :)

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Charli Britton
17:22 Jun 07, 2021

I was trying to decide how the story was going to end, but that took me by surprise. I love the idea behind it. Now I do feel like your POV's in your more recent stories have been a little all over the place, which is to like you, but I think it just requires another read through, possibly out-loud?

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Monica June
02:01 Jun 10, 2021

Thank you for your feedback!! I will definitely read it through. I don't usually write in anything other than 1st person POV, so I'm experimenting a little bit. That may explain any choppy bits. Thanks again ;)

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Charli Britton
03:10 Jun 10, 2021

Yep. :)

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Calvin Wait
03:23 Jun 04, 2021

Very scary at the end and very sudden. I like it very much.

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Monica June
03:24 Jun 04, 2021

Thank you!! :)

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Aman Fatima
07:07 Sep 03, 2021

The ending was amazing. it was so unexpected and i loved it.

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17:34 Jun 14, 2021

Well, it’s safe to say that I wasn’t expecting that. Great story!

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Monica June
03:33 Jun 16, 2021

Thank you!

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Arwen Dove
03:53 Jun 12, 2021

I love this story! Enjoyed reading. :)

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Monica June
18:56 Jun 12, 2021

Thank you!!

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Arwen Dove
20:57 Jun 12, 2021

:)

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