Kirk woke with a start. The air was cooler and the shadows longer. He had no idea how long he’d been asleep.

“Tommy? Where are you at?” He glanced around the clearing and saw their clothes scattered nearby. Suddenly feeling vulnerable, he grabbed his boxers and slid them on, followed by his jeans. As he buttoned them he tried to see into the forest where she’d gone, to no avail. He pushed his feet into his runners, not bothering to tie the laces. He grabbed his shirt off the ground, pulling it on as he stalked toward the trees.
He hesitated at the delineation between light and dark, casting a glance over his shoulder at the dim but still well lit meadow they’d found recent bliss. Her clothes looked abandoned and he was struck by a mild panic. He ran back and collected them, tucking her socks carefully into her boots before turning toward the woods again.

It didn’t take long to find her, and there was no doubt as to why she hadn’t responded. No one lay the way her body did if they were alive. He could see the blood as a dark stain on her back, the darker tones of the churned up earth beneath her. Her eyes were open, but not seeing anything. Kirk had never seen a dead body before. Even as a kid, his parents had hidden the body of his childhood cat when it was hit by a truck.

He froze at the edge of the glade. Willing her to be playing a terrible joke. Trying to see through the growing darkness if her chest was moving, even just a little bit. He took a step forward, whispering her name, as though he was hopeful but equally afraid she would respond.

“Tommy?” She was still. His mind raced, trying to make sense of it, to reconcile this inert form with the vibrant creature he’d been kissing a short time before.
How was it possible? It wasn’t possible. This couldn’t be happening. Nothing like this ever happened to people like him. What kind of person could do this? They must have been incredibly strong. They must have been tall. Tommy is tall. Was tall? Oh god don’t think of her in past tense. Look at the wound on her back, that could only have been done by someone towering over her. Are they still here? Am I in danger? Should we call the police? Where are the police? How did I not hear it? Did she call for help? Am I an asshole for not helping? Oh my god I’ve never kissed someone who was dead before! Should I put her clothes on? What if she’s stiff and cold? Should I move her? What do I do? What do I do? What do I do?

He became aware of someone screaming, the high pitched din echoing through the woods. It was another minute before he realized the sound was coming from him. His brain seemed to be locked in a holding pattern, going around and around like an old fashioned siren blaring noise and not much else.

“Kirk!” he heard Herb shouting his name. “Kirk, where are you?” Through the trees he could see silhouettes coming toward him, one carrying a flashlight through the darkening woods. The light found him, blinded him and he raised his arms to cover his eyes, inadvertently kicking himself in the head with Tommy’s boots, which he’d forgotten he was carrying.

“Fuck!” He let out an anguished cry, dropping the boots and falling to his knees. The flashlight skittered across the ground, coming to rest on Tommy’s body.

“Oh god, Tommy, no!” Cassandra screamed, her knees buckling under her. The light waved wildly as Herb reached out to catch her. She pitched herself against his shoulder, her body wracked with sobs. Casey skidded up to the group, his dilated pupils seeming even larger in his pale face.

“Holy fuck! What the fuck happened? Kirk! What the fuck happened?” Kirk tore his eyes away from Tommy, his expression glazed.

“I don’t know. I don’t know. She was with me, and then she stepped away and then I fell asleep but I don’t know for how long and I don’t know if she called out and I didn’t hear anything and then I found her and she’s just…she’s just…shes…”

“We have to call the police!” Cassie pulled away from Herb and grabbed Casey’s arm. “Do you have your phone? Someone call 911! They need to catch whoever did this! He might still be nearby!”

No one reacted for a moment, as the implications that the murderer could be watching them even now added to the group’s rising panic. Herb was especially unsettled. He glanced around the forest, wondering at the circumstances which would bring murder to his doorstep. It had never come this close to town before. Had something changed?

Kirk stood suddenly. His eyes were wild.
“Fuck the police. They’ll never get here in time to do anything helpful. Like Herb said, there’s no one close enough help. And even if they were, what are we going to tell them? Oh hidy-ho officer! We’ve had a doozy of a day. There we were in the middle of nowhere looking for monsters and minding our own business, when one showed up and murdered my girlfriend?” His eyes bore into Casey. “You and Nate wanted to hunt monsters? Well, lucky you, getting your wish. We’re going hunting for this fucker.”

“Slow down Kirk, you don’t know what you’re saying right now. You’re in shock.” Herb settled his voice into a lower tone, intended to soothe.

“You think? What the fuck am I supposed to do? It’s either that or pummel the idiots who dragged us out here!”

“Kirk, stop it! You’re not helping!” Cassandra turned to Casey. “We can’t leave her like this. Run back to the van and grab something to cover her.” Casey stumbled more than sprinted, but returned quickly with blankets and Cassandra laid them across Tommy’s body, kneeling next to her and gently brushing the dirt from her hair. She leaned down and whispered, “I’m so sorry I didn’t see this.”

Then she stood and looked at Herb.
“What do we do now?”

Herb hesitated and then something suddenly occurred to him.
“Where is Nathan?”

Cassandra’s blood ran cold.

Photo by Mariusz Słoński on Unsplash