This story introduces new characters Alex and Lexi, and switches between the POVs. Trigger warnings: kissing scene; indirect reference to violence; and description of severe injuries.
"Let's go camping. We haven't done that in years," Alex said to his cousin Jerry. "You'll be married soon, and this might be our last chance for a while.
"Alright," Jerry said, "I will call the guys."
Later at the campsite, Alex sat moodily watching the other guys pitch their tents with their girlfriends and Jerry with his fiance. Alex thought to himself, If I had known 'camping with the guys' meant 'camping with their girlfriends also,' I wouldn't have suggested it.
Thankfully, there were cell towers nearby, so his phone worked. He already had his tent set up, and he pulled up YouTube and looked at videos, but he quickly got bored with it. That was one of the reasons he was still single. He got bored quickly. Alex had never felt the butterflies in the stomach thing either. Maybe there was something wrong with him.
"Hey, Jer," Alex called out to his cousin. "I'm going for a walk, maybe take some photos."
"Alright, man, don't get lost." He laughed, and his fiance joined in with her high-pitched nasally giggle.
"This is so much fun," Lexi's best friend Angie commented happily. "I can't believe it has been so long."
It doesn't feel as fun and carefree as it used to, Lexi thought. Or maybe I am the one who has changed. This place is just as serene and beautiful as ever.
"I'm going to go for a walk and see if I can get some cool shots for an article." Lexi was a travel writer.
"Are you ok, chickie?" Angie asked, sounding concerned.
"I'm fine," Lexi lied, waving a hand in an attempt at a carefree gesture. "I'll be back, an hour or so."
Lexi walked about a half-mile away and started recording a video of a deer that she saw a few meters away in the woods. It was a buck, his antlers standing proud above his head as he stood perfectly still for a few seconds, watching her warily.
The buck suddenly snorted and bounded away in the opposite direction. Lexi was disappointed as she saved the brief video.
Maybe she would get enough to edit it into a video later. She looked around to see if there was anything else video-worthy and was startled to see a man's face. He was peeking around the tree, his body hidden behind it, just watching her. He had a ball cap pulled low, casting his features into shadow.
"Oh gosh," Lexi said, putting her hand to her chest. "You startled me. Were you watching the deer also?"
The man just stared at her for a couple of seconds. Something about his intense, dark gaze made Lexi a little nervous. He shook his head in response to her question, indicating he hadn't been watching the deer.
"Right, well," Lexi turned and started back the way she had come toward her friends' campsite. "Enjoy your walk."
Lexi heard dry branches snapping, and she spun to face the man again. He had come around the tree and taken several steps closer to her. He was stocky and gave off a menacing vibe.
"You're pretty. I like your hair. Can I touch it?"
"No." Lexi turned and walked away quickly. Pounding footsteps behind her made her speed up and throw a quick glance over her shoulder. He had sped up also.
"Ok, Lexi, don't panic," She thought. "You can handle this. I can't lead this guy back to the camp; I need to lose him," She thought it would be easy to lose him, but he somehow managed to stay just a few steps behind her.
"Stop following me! Leave me alone!" Lexi turned her head long enough to scream at him, but then she ran into a solid wall.
She staggered, and the man she had collided with stumbled at the impact but impressively managed to stay on his feet, reflexing putting his arms around Lexi as he regained his balance.
He smirked and started to say something, then his gaze snapped to the guy behind her. The creepy guy had stopped in his tracks and was staring at the newcomer.
"You got a problem, pal?" The stranger stepped around Lexi and started approaching him, but the creep turned and ran away.
Lexi's rescuer let him leave and turned back to Lexi. "Are you ok?"
"I'm fine; he just scared me. I'm glad you were here though, he wasn't giving up chasing me."
"That's scary. These woods used to be safe."
"I'm Lexi. Thank you for chasing him off."
"I'm Alex," He replied. "You aren't camping by yourself, I hope?"
"No, I'm camping with my friends. We have been up here in years. I guess it is like you said. It's not as safe as it used to be."
"Yeah. I'm camping with a group of buddies too. We used to come up all the time too. They brought their girlfriends this time, though, so it's different."
"What about your girlfriend? Is she here with you?"
He looked down at her with amusement. Lexi noticed he was around her age and good-looking. His dark hair curled over his forehead, and his eyes were blue and sparkling in his tanned face.
"No, I don't currently have a girlfriend."
"In that case," Lexi looped her arm through his. His arm felt muscular, a sign that he worked out. Good to know, Lexi thought.
"You should come to hang out with us."
They walked back to Lexi's campsite. Alex texted his cousin to let him know where he was. Alex and Lexi were so busy talking that it got dark before they knew it. Lexi didn't want him to walk back in the dark, so she offered to let him share her tent, which he accepted. They kissed inside the tent, and it got hot and heavy, but Lexi didn't let it go farther than that. She fell asleep with her head on Alex's chest with his arms wrapped around her.
So this is what butterflies feel like, Alex thought, as he looked down at Lexi, who was sound asleep. Her sleeping bag was warm, soft, and cozy, and he soon drifted to sleep also.
"I wish I could stay longer," Lexi said the following day. "I have an article deadline coming up. I am so glad I met you, Alex; I promise I will call." She kissed him again before she got in her car and drove off.
Halloween night, seven months later
Alex's doorbell rang at 10pm. "All out of candy,"
The doorbell rang a few more times, insistently. "I said I don't have candy left."
Knock! Knock! Knock!
Alex was irritated now as he peeked out of the edge of the curtain next to the door. His annoyance turned to shock when he saw the person standing there. She still looked angelic with blonde hair curling around her shoulders and sky-blue eyes.
He opened the door and stood there looking at her icily. "Well, you never called, Lexi. What do you want?"
"I wanted to explain," Lexi said, looking at him sadly. "Can I come in, please? We need to talk."
Alex stood back and let her come in. They sat down next to each other on his couch.
"So, I thought we had a real connection that night," Alex said. "What happened?"
"I wanted to call; I have thought about you every day. Tonight is the only time I could visit. I don't have much time left."
Alex just shook his head in confusion.
"I need to show you," Lexi said, biting her lip nervously. "Don't scream."
Alex didn't have time to ask what that meant because Lexi transformed in front of him. Her hair became tattered, and clumps were missing. Her skin became a ghastly white, and her lips turned blue. Bruises appeared on her face, and an ugly rope burn appeared around her neck, scarlet against her white skin. Alex recoiled with a shout of horror and jumped to his feet.
"Lexi! What the hell happened to you?"
Her appearance returned to normal, and the horrifying injuries vanished as suddenly as they had appeared.
"Remember that guy in the woods, the one you chased off?"
Alex nodded; with a sinking feeling of dread in his stomach, he had an idea where this was going.
"He ran me off the road. He did all this, then left me to freeze to death in the ditch. This is the only night I can visit."
Alex looked confused.
"Halloween night...when the dead can walk among the living. It's not the only night," Lexi added. "The rules are complicated. Anyway, I wanted to explain; I didn't want to leave you."
"Lexi," Alex looked at her miserably. "I'm so sorry this happened to you."
"It wasn't your fault. But, I need you to do me a favor, if you can. We only have until midnight. Just listen."
Alex listened closely as Lexi told him what she wanted him to do.